A Fruitful Conversation with a Non-believer

Pax Christi, everybody!

I have been in discussion with a wonderful atheist curious to know more about what theists think and why they believe in a god. When I gave him my reasons, he gave me several of his reasons for disbelief, one of which is “The Puddle Analogy,” where a puddle collects in a hole, gains sentience, and is certain that it was put there for a reason until it dries up. Unsure with what he was saying, I asked him for some clarification on this analogy, and he responded with the following:

“The puddle: It is more about fit. The hole is whatever shape it happen to be and the puddle has the shape that fits. The ground could be any other shape and the puddle would still e there just different. From the puddles perspective the fit shows intent even though we know that the water would fit anywhere. The ultimate demise of the puddle is not really a part of it. It could be the same story if it rained and the puddle grew and the new puddle perfectly fit the expansion of the bubble. The point is, what does fitting in actually show. What kind of brain/mind would ponder its fit in the universe given slightly other constants. And what mind could even be around to ponder why the constant does not allow the development of minds. Of course no minds would think that just as an evaporated puddle cannot observe the ill-fitted conditions for puddles.”

Already I cannot help but wonder: have we ever demonstrated that life could emerge in any other condition, let alone sentient life? Could a habitable universe form at all, or is this all speculation? Do I have the rright mindset about this? What do you guys think?


I like this reply to the self-selection effect argument:


It’s a false dichotomy. Nature needs no God except in some of us.

At one time, nobody had demonstrated heavier than air flight.

Is that something to raise to the level of the profound?

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Poor analogy. The reality is that life is a process of interaction. It doesn’t just adapt to the environment it alters the environment. And neither life nor intelligence is a magical addition which happens just by chance. They most certainly happen for a reason and require very complex circumstance in order to do so. (i.e. everything tells us that the “shape of the hole” is crucial) And where in this analogy is an explanation of the nature of the liquid in the puddle and where it comes from? I frankly see more magical thinking in this analogy than in the description by most theists.


We can explain some of the features of our universe by changes which can be expected from some initial state according to the laws of nature we have discovered (and even that has some glaring holes in it). But we cannot explain how those natural laws or that initial state came to be. Thus at most, we can only speculate about what might have happened if either the initial conditions or the mathematical laws or constants were a little different and since we are clearly missing key information and understanding that speculation is rather tenuous.

In that you are the one asking questions rather than assuming answers I would say your mindset is better than the other person.

I’ll play on the bumper-car court.
Your initial points appear to be, IMO:

  • You’ve been in discussion with an atheist who wanted to know more about what theists think and why they believe in a god.
  • In response to your “reasons”, the atheist gave you several reasons for disbelief, one of which is “The Puddle Analogy.”
  • “The Puddle Analogy”:
    • A puddle fills a hole, gains sentience, and is certain that it was put there for a reason until it dries up.
  • Seems to me that your atheist acquaintance draws an analogy between “puddles” and living things. A living thing that has emotions is a sentient puddle. And Some sentient puddles think they have a purpose until they cease to exist, no?
  • A personal question: is it common practice among atheists to reduce living things to objects/things like “stardust” or “puddles” or even “subsets of dimensionless points of mass”. I ask because the few distinctions between living and non-living things typically include a few more required attributes. And that’s even before we start distinguishing between sentient and non-sentient living things or between thinking sentients and non-thinking sentients. In other words, so it seems to me, atheists seem to start, often, to start with little and gloss over or ignore a lot when talking about humans.
  • The atheist’s Clarification:
    • “Fit” – What does a “puddle’s” fit show?
      • The shape of holes” filled with puddles vary.
      • A “puddle” takes on the shape of the “hole”.
      • The shape of the “hole” determines the shape of the “puddle”.
      • From the perspective of the puddle, as long as the puddle exists, its shape—determined by the “hole” [its “ground”]—is its “intent” [i.e. its “purpose”.
      • An apparent assumption seems to be that the “puddle’s” ultimate demise has no effect or consequence on the existence of the puddle. The “puddle” is a “puddle” wherever it is, until it isn’t a puddle anymore.
  • Here, the residual effects of a major surgery leave me short of wits to be certain that I can make proper sense of the following: “What kind of brain/mind would ponder its fit in the universe given slightly other constants. And what mind could even be around to ponder why the constant does not allow the development of minds. Of course no minds would think that just as an evaporated puddle cannot observe the ill-fitted conditions for puddles.”
    • I think the first question asks: What living thing wonders about whether it’s fulfilling its purpose given alternative constants?
    • I think the second question asks: What thinking thing could exist that wonders why there could be living things and not thinking things too?
    • And I think the last sentence claims that there are no thinking things that think that puddles which cease to exist worry about puddles that don’t fulfill their purposes, no?

Can you simplify that to the main ideas?

You didn’t include a :laughing: after your request, so I’m going to assume that you really want me to try to simplify the main ideas: so here goes …

  • His take away from his exchange with his atheist acquaintance is “the Puddle Analogy” which compares, IMO, humans and puddles which have filled holes, have emotions, and think they have a purpose until they don’t exist anymore, and
  • That, from a sentient, thinking puddle-human perspective, our purpose is determined by the hole we fill.
  • The remainder is my speculation and request for confirmation, amendment, or correction.
  • I suppose the big question for each of us sentient, thinking puddle-humans to ask ourselves before we evaporate/cease to exist is not “How did I get in this hole?”, but am I fulfilling my purpose while I exist? … or something like that.

My take was, “Here we are in the universe in a big puddle formed by cosmic evolution and biological evolution. No perceptible teleology or ontology to be considered, let alone eschatology.” That’s why I answered with the reply to the self-selection effect (a puddle fitting a hole): “Well, I find the house very curious and convenient…”

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Thanks, it was s serious question

Curious indeed ifn the house was made for him but but
99.999999999999999999etc percent of it would kill him
instantly if he even got close to it.

That may have been in reply to me? One wouldn’t generally be expecting to inhabit non-habitable zones. Is the sewer under the street part of your house?

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Hi Astrid!

I’m not sure one can compare the development of a technology and the birth of a habitable universe. Am I misunderstanding things?


Well - I guess let me be the first one here then, to say that I love the puddle analogy - which came from the late Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide…) stories. I’ve used it here myself (many years ago) as a pithy answer to ponder for those who see Design everywhere they look. It isn’t that I don’t believe in design (and a designer) myself - but not in such a way that can’t make room for the tremendous adaptation that obviously happens as we all evolved into our various niches together.

It isn’t that every “Design” principle needs to be shot down - it’s just that the detectability (much less demonstrability) of such a thing has never yet been able to rise to meet the apologetic need. It’s fine if we want to wax eloquent about how God gives us the sunset and the food on our table (I express such gratitude all the time). I just don’t mistake it for some sort of “load-bearing” starting point for my faith that is also then supposed to impress non-believers; or that my acceptance of the existence of farmers and grocers must suddenly, somehow be considered threatening to my thankfulness to God for my food. The puddle analogy is an excellent, and surgically aimed criticism for those who want everything around them to be useful as a sort of weaponized apologetic.


Yes. I like the reply against the shape of the puddle, self-selection argument, not that it is scientifically sufficient. It has more to do with spiritual eyesight and hearing.

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Hmm. Dunno about technology.

The fine tuning argument for gods providence
would have to apply only to a thin film on a small portion
of this planet’s surface, which is an awful small percent of the universe.

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This particular atheist agrees with all of your post

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I think you may have misjudged the point of the atheist’s comment. I get the impression the puddle analogy is more a response to fine tuning arguments by theists and intelligent design. The theists arguing for ID is like the puddle claiming the hole fits it perfectly! Though this is based on only one side of the conversation.


In this case there is only the sound of one hand clapping.

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Which would mean this atheist has misjudged theism as thinking that fine tuning and intelligent design is the only reason for being a theist. It is rather poor and sloppy mistake to think that the justifications for belief by some theists is the reasoning of all theists and advocated by all theists. That would put this in the same category as some of the more ignorant comments about atheism… which atheists (and some theists like myself) are quick to jump on and complain about.

And this doesn’t cover all the problems I see with the analogy.

At most I can concede that this analogy would look particularly inept to theist like me who is so avidly opposed to the the idea of design when it comes to living organisms.

Well fine tuning is like that I suppose – if you ignore those other problems I see with the analogy. I would say that ID (especially when talking about the origin of living organisms, which is usually what that anacronym refers to) has many more problems than just that.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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