Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Atheistic Journey

My atheistic journey was an uneventful one. I was raised in a mostly secular home. We never prayed, we never went to church, and we never had religious artifacts or symbolism around house. I remember asking my mother at about the age of 4 with the usual child-like curiosity about what happens after you die, and I remember her responding to me that when you die, you just die. In other words, its just like it was before when you were born.

That belief didn't stop me from being sent to a Catholic preschool for a year. I still don't know why I was forced to go to this day, although I assume it was my devoutly Catholic grandmother who spearheaded that decision. My year at Catholic preschool was the only attempt that I can think of during my youth, when I was indoctrinated into religion. My parents made no attempt at home to inculcate or coerce me into faith of any kind.

As you can imagine, I am grateful for this. But even in preschool, as I was being instructed to say my daily prayer before lunch, "god is good, god is great, let us thank him for our food, amen", I knew something was bullshit. I could smell it in the room somehow. I wasn't the sophisticated, world traveling, cosmopolitan, intellectual that I am today. I had no knowledge or of science, metaphysics, evolution, or philosophical argumentation. But I did have an inner intuition of reality and reason, even at the age of 4 to see past the fallacy of religion.

Throughout my adolescence my doubt in god and religion continued, altering from mere secularism to borderline anti-theism. I always had a distaste for religion, especially Christianity in my youth, yet I never was overly pugnacious with my beliefs. I remember being about 9 or 10 or so one summer when this girl, I believe her name was Linda, came to the playground where my friends and I used to hangout. All she wanted to talk about was god, and Christ and would constantly confront us with the fate of those who disbelieve in Jesus. I immediately began questioning her rationality and one particular day I remember spending hours on a splintered old bench going into the logical inconsistencies for and against god's existence. If only I could see and hear now as an adult what took place that afternoon.

I had a brief flirtation with agnosticism for a short period later. Agnosticism was the closest I ever got to believing. I think it is really important for one to deeply question their beliefs, even for atheists. It is a bit smug to assert a metaphysical claim without a steady foundation to stand on. That's why I am a thinker. I struggled with these concepts for years and years. It was not often easy. Even now, I do not entirely rule out the position of the believer. I really try to imagine the existence of god and of all individual religions as a serious, rational, and tenable argument. But it is not before long, that the ability for easy and pathetically unsophisticated criticisms chip away at that foundation and I return to atheism.

Now in my adulthood, the new atheists, like Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, as well as the "old" atheists and skeptics like Bertrand Russell, David Hume, and Socrates have strengthened my atheism and its foundation. It is almost unbreakable. I still seek knowledge and truth and wisdom and I want to learn as much as I can during my tenure here on this pale blue dot. Philosophical and scientific argumentation is a near constant for me. In other words, my atheistic journey is just getting started.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Declaration of Independence from Religion

I am an Atheist. Not only do I not believe in god, I derive great pleasure from arguing against it. I was thinking recently of writing a declaration of independence from god, or religion. What would it be like to declare independence from religion and its oppression? Just as how the founding fathers of this great secular country declared their independence from the clench of the British empire, atheists and rationalists such as myself, should declare our independence against the totalitarian grip that religion holds.

Then I begin to ponder whether this declaration should be for just the U.S. or should it be for human kind as a whole? Surely, I would like this to be extended to all nations and to all people, especially how in light of the humanist movement, it is becoming less and less politically correct to be nationalistic when speaking of rights. I suppose it is religion that is the main oppressor, and not god. It is religion after all, that give us these outdated, unpractical, fatuous rules and regulations that one must live by. God in this case is a mere figurehead, the enforcer of these rules. A deistic god doesn't sit on the throne and take perverted pleasure in this way. It is the religion itself that is the culprit for so much of our conscious imprisonment. I shall for now focus on a declaration of independence from religion.

Rather than start from scratch, since original Declaration of Independence is so beautiful in form, I decided to basically retool the document as a fight against religion and all its forms of tyranny in place of British style despotism. The declaration then goes as follows:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for all people to dissolve the religious bands which have connected them with one another, and against one another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of humankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and that Religion has for so long, been the primary hindrance of mankind achieving such an objective.

That to secure these rights, Religious institutions among Men and Women, are not to infringe them with coercion, force, capital, subversion, theocracy or any other power they have at their disposal.

That whenever any Form of Religion becomes destructive by infringing upon these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new forms of organization and policy, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Religions long established should indeed be changed for enlightenment and humanist causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that if no attempt at modernity be assembled, that humankind are more disposed to suffer, and it is hence better to right themselves by abolishing the religious forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Theocratic Despotism or totalitarianism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a Religion and its authorities, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of humankind; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Religion. The history of religion is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the mind, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over belief and consciousness. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Religious tyranny of all forms needs to be oppressed. I sincerely believe that it is for the good of the future of all mankind. I make this no secret in my writings. The original Declaration of Independence gave us our great freedoms that the much of humanity comes to recognize as the template for a modern society. Gone were kings and queens, and their supposed divine rights. Gone were state religions that all had to fund through taxation.

With the Declaration of Independence from Religion, let there be no despots, or religious ruler of any kind, or state sponsored religion, or creationism in the classroom, or ten commandments in front of the courtroom, or tax dollars to print holy books, or religiously inspired laws, or freedom of speech muted out of religious sensitivity. Let there instead be a rational, secular society that promotes free, scientific inquiry as a means of finding truth about our natural world, and to guide us to creating the just society.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Logically Implausible God (Part 2)

If you are reading this for the first time, please first read part 1 of the The Logically Implausible God where I introduce the contradictions in the traditional concept of the monotheistic god being timeless.

For part 2 of The Logically Implausible God, I will focus on the belief by many that god is morally perfect. As I mentioned in part 1, there are so many differences in the characteristics of god between faiths and even among individuals of the same religious sect, that it will be impossible for me to address all these concepts. I cannot stress this enough. Rather, what I will do instead, is conflate the many concepts of god into one single entity that is an all powerful, omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect, timeless being, who is essentially kind and compassionate, and who is the "first cause" in the creation of, at the very least, our universe.
That being said, I want to focus on the idea of the "morally perfect" god and how I think that this is not a characteristic of the god of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. I'm not even sure that a morally perfect being could exist in the first place.

The Euthyphro Dilemma

First of all, where does morality come from? Theists disagree tremendously on this concept. We are told by some theists that god is morally perfect, and that morality comes from him. If god is morally perfect, then his very nature must therefore also be morally perfect. Now this brings us to The Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato's dialogue Euthyphro. It asks the question, "Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?" I love this brilliant wisdom of the the ancient Greeks. Let's analyze this a little deeper. If god says stealing is wrong, is stealing wrong because god commanded it, or is it wrong independently of god's will and god agrees with it because so? If stealing is wrong only because god commands it, then morality is simply just determined by the opinion of god and can be arbitrarily decided, in other words, might makes right. But, if god said stealing is right, then it would therefore be right. I think the Islamic viewpoint has the biggest problem with this part of the Euthyphro dilemma, since it is a religion that is so dependent on gods commandments to believe what is right or wrong.

If what is morally good is commanded by God because it is morally good, then god is just a moral middleman, who is not needed in determining what is morally good. Meaning if god is taken out of the picture, the moral would still be just as moral. Christian theist William Lane Craig, who I cited in part 1, makes the third proposition that god's very nature is moral perfection and that whatever god happens to command must be morally perfect because of his very nature. This fails to refute the latter part of the Euhyphro dilemma, in that he is still falling into one of the two propositions. Even if god's very nature is that of moral perfection, if he were taken out of the picture, the morals would still be just as moral. I recently had an interesting conversation with professor of philosophy Massimo Pigliucci, about the argument from Plato's Euthyphro at a panel discussion on free will, where I gave him Dr. Craig's (who he debated twice) third proposition and he said no matter how you try to twist it, you are always going to fall into one of the two parts of it.

I haven't even expounded much on divine command theory, (the latter part of Euthyphro Dilemma) or reasons for and against objective morality here, although I have gone into greater depths in other blog postings, linked here and here.

Is God Morally Perfect?

Who dare say, that god is morally perfect? There exists a plethora of pretty solid philosophic arguments against god as a morally perfect being. I mean the commandments in the old testament to killing unruly children (Lev 20:19), homosexuals (Lev 20:13), adulterers (Lev 20:10), and for owning and beating slaves (Lev 25:44-46 & Exodus 21:20-21)are just a handful of the type of morals we consider illegal in the west today. If god is morally perfect, then why has he commanded us to do such things that we can clearly regard as immoral today? Furthermore, is god subject to the very same "objective" moral code that he has commanded to us? The answer differs depending on which theist you ask. I think most theists would say that no, god does not have to be held to the same moral commandments that he commands us to live by. But then, if god's commandments are morally good because of god's intrinsic morally good nature (Dr. Craig's argument) and if god is not subject to his own moral commandments himself, then isn't it impossible for god to be morally perfect, since he can defy his own commanded morals that are based on the will of a morally perfect being? It seems to me that if god is not held to his own standards of moral perfection, he cannot therefore be morally perfect.

For more information on the problems that arise from god and concepts or morality, please see the link here to "Discovering Religion", whose YouTube channel has dozens of finely edited and narrated videos on what religion and god are are really about, through a critical lens.

Further reading on arguments against god:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Fine Tuning Argument
Objective Morality Without God
Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good from God?" A Debate Review
Refuting William Lane Craig: The Moral Argument
The Logically Implausible God
God, Time & Creation: More Problems For William Lane Craig
The Ontological Argument: Putting the Absurd Where it Belongs

The Logically Implausible God

Although it is true that no human being, atheist or believer, can disprove the existence of god with empirical evidence, this is not a requirement for the Atheist position. I'm not in any way, going to make the claim that I will be the first homosapien to disprove the existence of god, but my doubt in god's existence relies in large part due to some logical contradictions that I think exist.

First of all, what do I mean by god? There are a myriad of different concepts of what god is, between religions and even within religious sects themselves. For instance, ask two believing Christians what they think is the nature of god, and you will get two totally different (and even contradictory) answers. With all these apparent differences in beliefs, I will try to focus on the general concept of the monotheistic god believed by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

To the three monotheistic traditions, god is an all powerful, omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect, timeless being, who is essentially kind and compassionate, and who is the "first cause" in the creation of, at the very least, our universe. Now these properties of god all have slight variations in the beliefs among Jews, Christians and Muslims (as well all the other religions) and we all know this has led to centuries of bickering and bloodshed (praise be to god!). I am not here to argue these differences, but rather I am here to make a case for how a simplified, conflated view of these beliefs in god comes across some logical contradictions, just as the religions themselves do.

Part 1: The Logical Implausibility of a Timeless God

We are told that god is timeless, but what does this mean? Believers say that god exists outside of time, but how is this really possible? If god created the universe, then there was a moment when god existed alone, before he created the universe, and then there was a moment when god exists with the universe, after he created it. But you cannot have concepts of "before" and "after" without time. In order for god to do anything, there must be a time before, and a time after he does it. Therefore, it is logically impossible for god to exist outside of time.

Now if god exists inside of time, then that brings up other problems. For example, believers say that everything that begins to exist must have a first cause, except god (how convenient). But if god does not have a first cause, and exists in time, then he must have an infinite regression of time in his past. To have an infinite regression of time in one’s past, also means that there are an infinite number of events in their past as well. To quote an argument made by the Christian theist William Lane Craig in his debate on the existence of god with Christopher Hitchens, Craig states that "mathematicians recognize that the existence of an actually infinite number of things, leads to self contradictions. For example, what is infinity, minus infinity? Well mathematically, you get self contradictory answers." Craig is on the right page on infinity’s impractical implications and is using this logical contradiction in defense of god, however he is failing to realize that the very same argument he is trying to make for god, is better applied against god. In other words, if god exists in time and therefore has an infinite past, then it would take an infinite amount of time for god to get to the present, and thus he would never have enough time get here.

If god is immaterial, does it make a difference?

Now what if you hear the argument that god is immaterial, and therefore cannot exist in time? Something that is immaterial that is also not an abstract concept (like a number) but instead is a thinking, intelligent mind that has effects on the universe, such as intermittently violating its laws of physics, must exist in the same time that the universe exists in as well. In order to be conscious and timeless, one would have to be frozen still, like being paused. Not a single thought or action would be possible. The moment it thinks or creates a temporal event, its relationship with the temporal event forces it to exist in time since you will then be able to chart the being's chronology of actions on a linear path, and this requires time.

Does timelessness exist at all?

In black holes for example, time is said to stand completely still because of the immense gravity. But this state of timelessness is only relative to events in the black hole, the rest of the universe around it carries on in time unaffected. The black hold itself still has a temporal relationship with the universe and any object unlucky enough to get sucked into the black hole is said to become frozen into immobility as it comes near the event horizon. It is hard to wrap our brains around such a concept given that we (thankfully) don't live near any black holes. Hopefully as scientists research this field in greater depth, we will someday unlock the mysteries of time itself.

Aside from the extreme conditions caused by black holes, I know of no other place where timelessness can exist. If god existed in a timeless vacuum before he decided to create the universe, what was he doing? If god is eternal, does he have a conscious eternal past? If god decided to design and create the universe wouldn't he need time to do it before he materialized his design. I have never heard any theologian adequately explain how consciousness can exist together with timelessness since thoughts require time, and I think that logical contradictions involving consciousness, time and concepts of infinity will be mutually irreconcilable.

What then do theists have as an answer to this dilemma?

So in the end, what are the best logical arguments I have heard again this problem? We are often told that god is mysterious and that our intelligence, as best as it is, will never be able to understand the nature of god. Essentially, this is a cop out. It is like saying that my explanation for the cause of the universe is far too complex for anyone to understand and so it's exempt from scrutiny. Furthermore, this opens its own contradictions. Many of the brightest theists, when asked whether god can create a rock too heavy for him to lift will answer, "no". This is because the question refers to a logical contradiction, just as god cannot create a married bachelor, or a square circle. In other words, god can only to what is logically possible. But, if my argument is correct that god cannot be timeless and is also not created by his own "first cause" (i.e. god's god), then he must have an infinite past, which as Dr. Craig argues is logically impossible. Thus, the logical plausibility of god's existence comes into question, and since god cannot achieve that which is logically impossible, the traditional concept of the god of the bible is like a square circle - that is to say a concept that only exists in our minds.

When we cut to the bottom line, no matter how brilliant our brains, or how sensitive our insights and intuitions - it still comes down to a matter of faith in the sense of accepting things that cannot be proved.

- Raqaiyyah Waris Maqsood in "What Every Chistian Should Know About Islam"

Further reading on arguments against god:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Fine Tuning Argument
Objective Morality Without God
Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good from God?" A Debate Review
Refuting William Lane Craig: The Moral Argument
God, Time & Creation: More Problems For William Lane Craig
The Ontological Argument: Putting the Absurd Where it Belongs

The Thinker's Social Dilemma

My very own mind is often my own worst enemy. In social situations, I can sometimes think of everything that can go wrong, even when there are really no outward signs of them independent of my mind. For example, I know that I'm the kind of person that doesn't easily get along with most others. It is something that I've learned to accept, although it took many long years. My interests and passions are topics that for the most part, are enjoyed by a tiny minority of the populace. For instance, I have no fucking interests in sports whatsoever. I don't care for stupid reality shows, and pop culture has never seem so dis-interesting to me.

That being said, when I am put in a social situation, such as getting a new job or meeting a bunch new friends of friends, my mind starts having these thoughts. Thoughts that I will not get along with them because the chances that they are into the kind of stuff that I'm into, are so rare. My mind is usually, actually often right that I won't get along, however I don't necessarily need someone to be interested in my passions for me to get along with them. I can chat about some off-hand interests at length, sometimes. However, without another person having interest in what I really love, there is no hope for a real close friendship. And this is why I have not really made friends with anyone at work at all. Sure I can chit chat with them, but actually hanging out and becoming real friends is impossible since the only thing they really care about is sports.

So where does that leave me? I can't change who I am. I can't get into the other shit that most guys are into. Sure I can brush up and refine my social skills and small talk, but at work at least, I don't even have the motivation to do that. I'd rather not even engage at all.

And so I am very picky about who I keep as my friends. I have a small inner circle of people who I can hold real conversations with. They are mostly atheists and thinkers. We do not agree at all about our views on god, religion, morality, politics and economics, but that doesn't necessarily matter. What matters is our interest in the topics themselves, and our ability to have stimulating and passionate conversations about them. And it's this, aside from loyalty, that is all I pretty much all I ask for in a friend.


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