Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Halloween Can Teach Atheists About Other Holidays

Halloween started out as a pagan tradition in Ireland where people would don masks in the Autumn in order to scare away or disguise themselves from the spirits they thought came back from the dead and were responsible for determining how cold the winter was and how well the crops and livestock handled it. Although there are many discrepant accounts as to how exactly Halloween got started, they all involve some aspect of the supernatural being acknowledged. But today of course, no one wears a costume because they think that spirits are going to do anything to them. In the modern world, we've completely removed all supernatural aspects of Halloween while we've kept the tradition of wearing costumes. And no atheist takes issue with Halloween at all because it once had a supernatural aspect to it. So when it comes to other holidays, if we can safely remove the supernatural with Halloween while keeping the ritual, we can do the same thing with Christmas too. All of the holidays have today become nothing more than commercial celebrations for big business anyway. So fear not some of you non-believers, we can still have benign holiday rituals as atheists like Halloween and Christmas without an existential crisis on our hands.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bill Maher Is Right On Islam

Many liberals are too afraid to criticize Islam lest they be accused of being called "racist" or "islamophobic." But of course, Islam is a religion, not a race, so opposing it can't be racist by definition. And I think being concerned about the threat that the Islamic world poses is more than justified. Because Muslims are a minority in the West and they've sometimes been targeted because of their religion or appearance, many liberals automatically treat them as if they're untouchable to criticism, similar to how Jews have historically been given so much protection because of the holocaust and the discrimination they've gone through. It seems to me that the only people willing to step forward and duly criticize Islam are right wing Christians and outspoken antitheists like Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

Maher called out the liberals on his panel the other week for bending over to Islam while neglecting that a very large portion of the Islamic world is antithetical to common liberal values. The same Western liberal who'll passionately protest against anyone infringing on their abortion rights, will refuse to criticize the Islamic world where they still stone to death adulterers, deny women basic equality, and jail homosexuals and bloggers for violating Sharia law. It's totally hypocrisy, and it needs to be called out, as Maher rightly does. Liberals need to stand for liberal values, no matter who's against them or where they're being violated.

A Few Of The Evil Deeds Done By Protestants

A Christian linked me to a blog in order to provide arguments that the Spanish Inquisition was not really all that bad, but what caught my attention was that it contained a list of some of the evil deeds done by Protestants that I was not aware of. Now I don't blame religion on all of the world's problems, and I don't think that every conflict between two groups of people who are of different religions or religious denominations is always entirely a religious conflict. But I do think that whenever there is a conflict between two groups of people, if they differ in religion, the problem is almost always made worse. Take the 17th century English military leader Oliver Cromwell for example. After he rose through the ranks during the English Civil war, he invaded Ireland to help spread Protestantism after some of the Irish Catholics there killed some Protestants, and in effect lead to the deaths or exile of anywhere between a quarter to a third of the Irish population. Was it religion or was it politics? There's no doubt that even if given the most charitable assessment, there's a religious component that made the situation worse. Cromwell believed his military campaign in Ireland was a judgement from god, as he thought pretty much everything that happened was. And to this, I'm reminded of the words of Christopher Hitchens who asked, when you sincerely believe you've got god on your side, what amount of violence are you not capable of accomplishing?

  • John Calvin not only banished dissenters from Geneva, some were tortured and/or executed (e.g. Jacques Gouet and Michael Servetus).
  • The Protestant Council of Zurich decided to put Anabaptists to death by drowning.
  • On the advice of Philip Melancthon, three Anabaptists who refused to recant under torture were executed.
  • Henry VIII, the original English Reformer, executed 72,000 people.
  • Henry VIII’s Protestant daughter, Elizabeth I, executed more than the Spanish and Roman Inquisitions combined.
  • Oliver Cromwell killed or exiled between 1/4 and 1/3 of the population of Ireland in an attempt to establish Presbyterianism. In one massacre alone he had 3,500 people (including women and children) murdered in a church.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Christian Admitted To Me That The Holocaust Could Have Been Moral

Technically he's a Jehovah's Witness, whom some Christians do not consider "real" Christians because JoHos don't believe Jesus was god, just the son of god. But anyway, over on the Patheos blog, The Secular Outpost, in a post about the problem of evil, a known trouble maker posed the following question in the comments section to try to challenge the atheists/secularists who regularly comment there:

How woul[d] a a neo-Aristotelian ethical naturalist answer the following: 
"If the Neo-Nazis were to attain world domination and exterminated everyone who thought racism was wrong, would that suddenly make racism and bigotry moral?"

He's a guy I've debated many times before (see here) and so I'm familiar with his tactics. He basically likes to copy apologetic arguments, often from my favorite punching bag William Lane Craig, and paste them on various secular blogs and websites. He tries to challenge skeptics with such ingenious and highly original arguments as the cosmological argument and the moral argument, as well as many other staple apologetic ineptness, but he can't really defend any of them other than to repeat plagiarized apologetic talking points. It's so annoying. So I challenged him back with this question below:

How would a Jehovah's Witness answer the following: 
Suppose god wanted to pass judgement on the Jews, and so god commanded Adolph Hitler to exterminate the Jews, just as god had commanded the Jews to exterminate the Canaanites, Amalekites and Midianites. If god commanded the Nazis to exterminate the Jews, would the holocaust then have been not only moral, but a moral obligation?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Walk Through Chinatown

I want to digress from religion bashing for a bit. For the past year or so I've been focusing intensely on counter-apologetics. I've been trying to take on the toughest arguments theism has to see if they hold any water. So far they don't. But it's always fun demonstrating so in the process, and one of the roles this blog plays is for me to share counter arguments with the skeptic community and have a repository available when I get into online debates with theists where I can simply copy and paste many of my arguments.

But since this blog is also about the city, I also want to share some of the doings about my city, New York. I recently took a walk in Chinatown in Manhattan and snapped a few pics. I loved Chinatown growing up. I remember my dad taking me there when I was a kid. I remember back in the day buying illegal fireworks there around July 4th with my older friend Jimmy so that we could  put on a show for the neighborhood folks, while nearly blowing it up in the process. The neighborhood has become a bit gentrified like all Manhattan neighborhoods, but it still retains most of its essential character.

I'm not sure if this is Confucius, arguable China's greatest and most well known philosopher, or someone else. This park used to be the site of Collect Pond, which was New York's water supply in the days when New York was a small town. See here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Ontological Argument And The Moral Argument Are Incompatible

I just noticed that the ontological argument and the moral argument that theists often use are actually incompatible with one another. The ontological argument, in its modal form, states that it's possible that a maximally great being exists as its first premise. A maximally great being is described as possessing three omni-properties (all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving). But how does one arrive at that conclusion? The proponent of the OA must assume that there exists an independent, objective metric of goodness in order to determine what maximal greatness is. This would mean that goodness cannot be grounded ontologically in god and would contradict the moral argument, otherwise the OA becomes viciously circular. Thus, the ontological and moral arguments in tandem are incompatible with one another.

To put it another way, if god is the standard of goodness by which all moral truths are measured by, then to use that same standard to measure the criterion by which we determine what a maximally great being is, it makes the ontological argument totally circular. God is being presumed in order to determine what is god is. Otherwise, how would the theist arrive at the idea that being all-loving is maximally great? And what standard would they be using to determine what an all-loving being can and cannot do? This would all have to be determined without presupposing a standard that is ontologically grounded in god, and would thus have to exist independently of god's existence.

So it appears we've got a catch-22 here with the ontological and moral arguments. I can't see how a theist can have it both ways.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Ted Haggard's Sexuality Is Symbolic Of The Relationship Between Christianity And Facts

Back in 2006, we all got to witness the spectacular decline of conservative anti-gay Christian pastor Ted Haggard, who it turned out was secretly paying a man for gay sex. I remember what a ride that one was to watch. Watching religious hypocrites fall from grace is first class entertainment for atheists. I mean, what atheist wouldn't want to hear about some ridiculous religious figure turning out to be doing the very thing they spent so much time railing against in the name of their god?

If Haggard's initial fall from grace wasn't enough, we were all further given an encore not long after when it was announced that he was declared "completely heterosexual" after being "cured" of his homosexuality through counseling. It was hilarious because any educated person knows that sexuality cannot be cured or repaired by mere counseling or therapy. Sexuality is innate. All ex-gay therapy can do is teach a gay person how to repress their desires and live in dissonance with themselves. That's all the evidence has ever shown it capable of doing. (See here.)

Ted Haggard's cognitive dissonance on his sexuality forced by his Christian belief that being gay is a sin is symbolic of the kind of cognitive dissonance Christians in general must endure in order to maintain their religious faith with the constant sting of the secular sciences and politics challenging them. Suppressing scientific facts and the moral atrocities of god in order to maintain the faith is a lot like gay Christians suppressing their sexuality. I debate with Christians all the time online and I'm always entertained by the kind of cognitive acrobatics they must deploy in order to maintain that the Bible is the word of god, and that their god is good. I've dealt with so many Christians for example who will deny the evidence for evolution at all costs to the point where they will compromise logic and sanity in order to do so.

Monday, October 21, 2013

No, Christianity Didn't Give Us Science

Many Christians loudly proclaim that Christianity made possible the modern scientific revolution and that other religions or beliefs would have made it impossible for science to flourish. They'll point to key figures in science who were Christian and use it to make the claim that faith and science are perfectly compatible. A Christian I was debating with made a post over on his blog arguing that faith and science are indeed compatible, and he quoted the Christian philosopher of science John Lennox to make the point. I just had to respond, given Lennox's failure to make a convincing argument. From Lennox's book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? he quotes:

C. S. Lewis’ . . . view is worth noting: ‘Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.’ It was this conviction that led Francis Bacon, regarded by many as the father of modern science, to teach that God has provided us with two books — the book of Nature and the Bible — and that to be really properly educated, one should give one’s mind to studying both.
Many of the towering figures of science agreed. Men such as Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, and Clerk Maxwell were theists; most of them, in fact, were Christians. Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it and they were not shy of saying so. The driving force behind Galileo’s questing mind, for example, was his deep inner conviction that the Creator who had ‘endowed us with senses, reason and intellect’ intended us not to ‘forgo their use and by some other means give us knowledge which we can attain by them.’ Johannes Kepler described his motivation thus: ‘The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.’

First, I’m not a huge fan of Lennox, but at least he is not, from what I understand, a creationist who denies evolution. So he gets a point for that. Second, it might be important to know that in Galileo’s day, you had to profess Christian faith. This was back when the Church was the State. If you publicly denied Christ or god you’d be burned at the stake. Galileo spent the last decade of his life under house arrest because he dared challenge the orthodoxy of the day that the Earth was NOT the center of the universe. And in 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned alive for saying the same thing and for believing there might be other forms of life out in space. Galileo was aware of this and it silenced him. Thus it took many centuries and hurdles to get scientific facts accepted because Christianity held them back.

Perfect Reaction To Angry Christians

What Came First The Atheist Or The Skeptic?

We all wear many hats in life, and carry many identities. For some of us, our race is the most important factor in our identity. Some people are black first and then an American or a Christian, or they're Latino first and then a woman. For other people, religion is first and foremost. So they might see themselves as a Muslim first, and then an American, or a Jehovah's Witness first, and then an Australian. Still others identify strongly with their gender. So for them, they might see themselves as a woman first, then a mother or a Latina. And others put nation identity first. So they might see themselves as an American first, or French first, and then male or female. And then there are those who see their occupation first. So they might see themselves as a chef first, then an Argentinian, or as a musician first, and then British.

How we identify ourselves depends on what identities we feel are most important to us. I've always hated the idea of being identified too strongly with what I do for a living because I've never really had a job that I liked a whole lot. In a city like New York, all too often you are what you do. When you meet someone new one of the first questions that you'll be asked is what you do for a living. When I would give my answer I'd feel like that person was immediately coming to conclusions about me based on what I did. I've worked in the IT industry for the past several years and I've had to deal with quite a few people thinking that I must be a computer geek who sits home and plays video games for hours on end. I happen not to be much of a gamer at all, and I'm not even much of a computer geek either.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Few Thoughts On Deism

I've been reading up on deism recently over on the site It's a site that celebrates the deistic worldview and highlights many of history's most famous deists. I think two of them, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, were two of the greatest enlightenment thinkers of all time. One can certainly be an intelligent, rational thinker and be a deist. In fact, I think of all the people who believe in god, deists are the most rational. The furthest I could ever be pushed towards the direction of theism, is deism. Given what I know, I don't think I could ever be a theist. But it is possible that I could be a deist. It's also possible that I could live comfortably as an atheist in a world filled with deists. I wouldn't even have a big problem myself with the idea of deism being true. A deistic god is a god who let's you grow and learn on your own. It doesn't command you or forbid you to do anything. It's not concerned with micromanaging every aspect of your life. As the World Union of Deists proclaim, "God gave us reason, not religion."

Deists and atheists have a lot in common. We both see the irrationality of theism and its claims of "revelation." Theism forces its adherents to believe in nonsense on little more than blind faith. Deism requires no such thing. Deism is the belief in nature's god, and only acts as a first cause. The rest unfolds according to the natural laws and order. That means there's no angels or demons, no fairies or jinns, no "prophets" or revealed wisdom. The only wisdom comes from reason, logic and empiricism.  So called prophets are frauds, motivated by selfishness or ignorance and hallucination. Religion is therefore, a great evil, a blinder limiting one's full access to nature and reality. Religion means putting your trust in a person claiming to be able to speak for god. To the deist, this is absurd.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nobody's Right, If Everybody's Wrong

You could call it, "War of the Worldviews."

Atheists are generally pretty confident that theists who hold to certain religious beliefs are just utterly deluded. I know I am. I'm convinced that theists are living in a fantasy world, believing in superstitions left over from the Bronze-age. They actually think there's an invisible sky daddy out there who knows everything you do and that angels and demons are causing miracles and disasters all over the world everyday. And they think that if we believe and do the right things, we will literally go to an celestial fantasy land after we die where we'll all be super happy forever.

And I wonder how any rational person can still believe these things in the twenty first century.

But then, the theist turns right around and accuses atheists of living in our own utter delusion. To them, they can't understand how anyone can not believe in a creator. They think it's utterly delusional to believe the whole universe "popped" into existence uncaused out of "nothing" (even though we don't have to believe this) and that purely natural processes evolved matter into all the stars, planets and life that we see today. To them, it's the atheist that's living in a fantasy world. We're crazy for not believing in their invisible spirit gods. And so we each think the other is utterly deluded.

And so nobody's right, if everybody's wrong.

The same thing can be said in politics. A sizable portion of the Republican party thinks President Obama is a Muslim socialist, who worships allah in the White House, and who is hell bent on destroying Christian America with a radical left-wing secular agenda. Not surprisingly, it's the same segment of Americans who buy into this fantasy who also buy into the biblical one.

Although liberals aren't exactly immune to conspiracies either (9/11 truthers), many Republicans think that liberal fantasies of universal healthcare, gay marriage, higher taxes for the rich and keeping god out of government to create a 21st century "utopia" is pure madness, and will ultimately decay into Stalinism. That's right. They think universal healthcare will lead to Stalinism. And so Democrats and Republicans each think the other are utterly deluded.

And so nobody's right, if everybody's wrong.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 4

With Moreland's case for dualism already crumbling under the weight of compelling scientific evidence to the contrary, the powerhouse of his last three "recalcitrant facts" losses traction. The next "fact" against naturalism he unleashes is rationality. Apparently to him, rationality can only exist if a rational god made us in his image.

3. Rationality

Moreland describes the Christian god as being fundamental and rational who "created his image-bearers with the mental equipment to exhibit rationality and be apt for truth gathering in their various environments." (p. 41) He quotes Christian philosopher Victor Reppert saying, "The necessary conditions for rationality cannot exist in a naturalistic universe." [1] Moreland offers two reasons why naturalism precludes rationality: (1) the necessity of the enduring, rational self and (2) the need for room for teleological (goal-directed) factors to play a role in the thought processes. (p. 41) He backs up (1) with a quote from British philosopher A.C. Ewing about how enduring states of "I" are required to process things like propositions and their different constituents:

to compare two things the same being must, at least in memory, be aware of them simultaneously; and since all these processes take some time the continuous existence of the same entity is required. In these cases an event which consisted in the contemplating of A followed by another event which consisted in the contemplating of B is not sufficient. They must be events of contemplating that occur in the same being. [2]

This notion of there being no enduring self under naturalism underpins this argument. Subatomically, the atoms that make up our bodies are jumping from position to position following the laws of quantum mechanics, but those atoms that make up your body existed for billions of years, and were forged in the hearts of stars that have long since died. Who says the information carried by your atoms of your mental states and identity cannot endure? Moreland is assuming that with each nanosecond, we should be a completely different person unless we have a soul to ground our sense of memory and identity. But if memory is physical, at least in part, then brain states would preserve that memory from moment to moment, and physical damage to the brain would erase it. That's basically what we see with people who've experienced brain trauma.

Moreland defends (2) with another logical argument (p. 42):

(1) If naturalism is true, there is no irreducible teleology.
(2) Rational deliberation exhibits irreducible teleology.
(3) Therefore, naturalism is false.

Monday, October 14, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 3

The next section of Moreland's chapter is the meat and potatoes of his argument against naturalism, which he titles, FIVE RECALCITRANT FEATURES OF THE IMAGE OF GOD. He reiterates god's attributes, and touches on the happy coincidence that they're just like the ones the "beings that are alleged to have been created to be like God" have. (p. 37) Thus, he deduces that biblical theism predicts these features and this provides confirmation for biblical theism. He attacks labels such as "emergent phenomena" that many property dualists like myself ascribe to. "How, for example," asks Moreland "could it be that they emerged in the first place?"  (p. 38)

Moreland offers his first line of evidence against naturalism and in support of "what would be predicted if biblical theism were true." (p. 38)

1. Consciousness and the mental

Moreland states that it's easier to see consciousness being created by a conscious entity, like god, rather than through natural processes. But look at nature. In nature we can see all different levels of consciousness exemplified, from complex consciousness like what we have, to simpler versions found in other mammals and birds, to highly rudimentary versions found in reptiles and amphibians - exactly what we'd expect if consciousness was something that developed and evolved over time. And if a soul is responsible for consciousness, when exactly did that come into our evolution? Consciousness didn't just "appear" overnight. It was a gradual development. And I don't know any theists who think the soul evolved in stages - it's pretty much all or nothing. But then animals should have some kind of soul because many animals are conscious too. Perhaps we got the deluxe souls and animals got the basic souls? Alas, I am not a neuroscientist, so I cannot explain consciousness to the degree that someone more qualified than me could. But I know enough about science and evolution to know that if you really consider the idea that consciousness is due to a soul, considering our evolutionary past, it opens up numerous problems. I've challenged the dualistic assumption with a list of questions here.

Moreland offers four points about mental states (p. 38):

  • There is a raw qualitative feel or a "what is it like" to have a mental state such a a pain.
  • Many mental states have intentionality---ofness or aboutness---directed toward an object (e.g. a thought about the moon).
  • Mental states are inner, private and immediate to the subject having them.
  • Mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language.

Neuroscientists and neurobiologists are discovering more and more exactly how our conscious states are indeed related to the physical matter in our brains, but there is still an awfully lot to learn. A mental state, like being in a state of pain, is nature's way of letting an organism know something bad is happening to it. Mirror neurons in our brains fire when we see others in pain, even when ourselves aren't, and it's one of the reasons why we're capable of being empathetic. When it comes to intentionality, thinking of objects does create certain physical brain states that correspond to the object being thought of. Researchers have recently been able to map images of what people see using fMRI scans of their brain states as they are watching a movie. Although the research is still in its infancy, we may be able in the not to distant future, to literally read one's thoughts as they're thinking or dreaming. This shows a physical correlation between neurological brain states and consciousness. So it is far from certain that mental states have no locations or spatial extension.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thank You Jesus

I just created a new meme. What'd ya think? Feel free to share it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 2

At the heart of Moreland's attack on atheism is his thesis that consciousness cannot be adequately explained without recourse to substance dualism, that is, that human beings are body + soul composites. In the part of his chapter entitled, THE NATURE OF SCIENTIFIC NATURALISM, Moreland outlines that naturalism includes

  • rejection of "first philosophy" and an acceptance of either weak or strong scientism.
  • an etiology bereft of all supernatural causes for all things that came to be, central in cosmology and biology
  • a general ontology which only includes (a) things that are similar to what can be described in physics, or (b) are contingent or determined by the laws of physics

This is not all that inaccurate, but since naturalists approach epistemology diversely, let me explain how I approach knowledge within my naturalistic framework. I would embrace a form of weak scientism as it is sometimes described, in that I privilege empiricism and verification over all other epistemologies, especially when it comes to ontology. The reason why is that empiricism, especially scientific empiricism, is the most reliable methodology, by far, for determining what exists and what doesn't. But I do not embrace a strong scientism that says scientific empiricism is the only way to know ontological truths. Logic can work, but it can only take you so far. And religious faith, like revelation, is inadequate and demonstrably unreliable as an epistemology. And that's just a fact.

Moreland speaks of this methodological naturalism and its conclusions as the "Grand Story." It has 3 key features according to him. (1) It means "that causal explanations are central to the (alleged) explanatory superiority of the Grand Story"; (2) it "expresses a scientistic philosophical monism according to which everything that exists or happens in the world is susceptible to explanations by natural scientific methods"; and (3) "the history of the universe is a story of unfolding chains of events in which small particles constantly rearrange to form larger and more complicated wholes (for example, atoms, molecules, organisms, planets)." (p. 36)

Friday, October 11, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 1

I did a Google Books search for William Lane Craig recently to find material from him that I can use to criticize him. He's authored or co-authored quite a large number of books. All of them are about defending Christianity and/or attacking atheism. This guy has spent so much time trying to lay waste to atheism it's not even funny. Since one of my goals with this blog is to defend the naturalistic worldview against attacks against it, I feel obligated to respond to the best criticisms against it. So I came across a book entitled, God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and ResponsibleIt's written by a series of theologians and philosophers of religion and is designed to defend Christianity and theism against the recent wave of attacks by the New Atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris.

I was going to focus on Craig's chapter that critiques Dawkins' seminal work The God Delusion, but since I already wrote two back to back posts critiquing Craig's nauseating attempts to defend biblical genocide and his defense of the cosmological arguments, respectively, I will focus here on J.P. Moreland's chapter entitled, The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism.

J.P Moreland is another one of these contemporary apologists like Craig, who has written many books defending his Christian faith and attacking atheism/secularism. In his chapter critiquing what he calls "scientific atheism" he focuses on undermining the atheistic, or naturalistic worldview, as being inadequate to explain the "facts of reality."

Moreland starts off the chapter by explaining what a worldview is:

It is incumbent on a worldview that it explain what does and does not exist in ways that follow naturally from the core explanatory commitments of that worldview. In this sense, we can call a worldview an explanatory hypothesis. (p. 32)

I don't have any major objections to this explanation and pretty much agree. Moreland mentions though, that there are pesky things he calls "recalcitrant facts." And these dastardly disobedient facts provide "falsifying evidence for the theory and some degree of confirmation for its rivals." (p. 33) At this point the reader can expect that he's going to offer us some "recalcitrant facts" that seek to undermine atheistic worldview.

Thoughts On The Soul

I've been thinking about the existence of the soul lately and substance dualism - the belief that humans are composed of the physical body and an immaterial soul. One analogy given by dualists to illustrate the correlation between the soul and the body, is to imagine that the physical body is like a machine, like say a piano or a car, and the soul or mind is like the person operating it. So, they say, physical damage to the piano or car would render its operator unable to control the machine properly, but the soul would remain intact despite damage to the physical body.

I wonder then, how can the soul be held eternally accountable for what it does, if the body it has to work with is damaged? For example, imagine you're driving a car and the brakes fail. You crash and kill someone. After an inspection of the car, you are not deemed criminally responsible because it was caused by a mechanical error and not any kind of negligence on your part. But with our souls, I'm being asked to believe that god holds them eternally responsible, even if they have a physically damaged body that they cannot control properly. It would be like holding the driver of the car criminally responsible for the car's brakes failing, even though they could do nothing about it.

And what about genetic predispositions for violent and/or aggressive behavior? What about schizophrenia? Psychopathy? Sociopathy? Brain tumors? Mind controlling parasites like Toxoplasma gondii? Or conditions that attack impulse control and cognitive rationality? These are all physical problems that affect the way we behave and think and our ability to make moral judgements. It's hard for me to imagine that the mind is causally disconnected to these factors and is somehow floating above the brain in perfect condition, while the body it has to work with is suffering some kind of debilitating disease or condition. 

And how does that mind or soul deal with these disorders if the soul remains perfectly functional? Is it like brakes failing in the car from the driver's point of view? Is it like the soul wants to turn right but the car instead turns left? That must be very frustrating from the soul's perspective. How does this all work and how could the soul be held eternally accountable given it has a broken machine to work with that it cannot properly control? 

Everyone agrees that there are mysteries about consciousness. We can't yet fully explain it, but substance dualism is not something that appeals to me despite our ignorance. There are what are called property dualists, who believe that the mind is another property that emerges from the physical brain, but who do not accept that a soul is needed to explain consciousness. Property dualism is something I can embrace. The mind in this case would be an emergent property contingent on the physical brain. 

It seems that consciousness may just be the process of us becoming aware of physically determined phenomenon occurring in our brains that we have the illusion were our own decisions. I remain officially an agnostic on determinism, but I lean towards the world probably being fully deterministic (in which case if true, I'd be a compatiblist).

But the belief in the soul does what just about every other theistic belief does: It tries to solve a mystery by postulating another mystery, in which case there are too many unanswered questions regarding the nature of the soul and its relationship with the physical body that make it highly implausible to me. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Slaughter Of The Canaanites According To William Lane Craig

I'm really enjoying Thom Stark's critique of Paul Copan's book, Is God A Moral Monster?. Copan writes the standard apologetic that you will hear many Christians making who defend the Iron-age morality of the Old Testament, like slavery, polygamy and genocide. Stark's critique, Is God A Moral Compromiser?, is full of really great counter arguments and I think it's a must read for any atheist or critic of the current apologetic espoused by the likes of Copan and Craig and their minions.

It got me thinking about the Canaanite genocide in the Old Testament again with some new insights that I hadn't known before. I've covered the Canaanite slaughter numerous times here and debated it on other blogs. Since William Lane Craig is the loudest Christian apologist, at least in the English speaking world, I shall critique his justification of the Canaanite conquests that he did through his website Reasonable Faith.

I'm going to respond to one Q & A entitled "Slaughter of the Canaanites." As I read it, nearly everything Craig writes makes me want to hurl at my computer screen because of the moral depravity that being forced to defend the barbaric Iron-age literature makes him sink to. Craig makes every attempt to praise Yahweh and Mosaic "morality" to warm the reader up to an image of the Old Testament god and law as being perfectly on par with reasonable moral sensibilities. He writes:

The command to kill all the Canaanite peoples is jarring precisely because it seems so at odds with the portrait of Yahweh, Israel’s God, which is painted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Contrary to the vituperative rhetoric of someone like Richard Dawkins, the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of justice, long-suffering, and compassion.

Well considering that Yahweh commands several genocides after the Canaanite genocide, it isn't actually totally out of his character. The Canaanite conquest is just the first of what will be a series of genocides and that's probably why up until this point in the Bible, it may seem so "at odds" with Yahweh. But the reader of the OT will already have come to understand Yahweh as having been responsible for mass killing the entire planet in Genesis, and mass killing all the first born in Egypt, as well as striking several people dead for rather trivial reasons, so no it is not out of character. What's "at odds" with Yahweh's character, is that with the Canaanites, he's commanding other people to do his mass slaughter, instead of doing it himself. That's so out of character for Yahweh, really.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I Was Bored, So I Decided to Pick On Craig (Again)

I've been dry lately for material to write about. Whenever I get like this I always find that criticizing William Lane Craig can be used as filler. I just love tearing apart his arguments. And it pays dividends: If you get into a debate with a theist over god, you are almost guaranteed to hear Craig's arguments get recycled over and over again. Often verbatim. I've been debating this retarded Jehovah's Witness over on the Friendly Atheist's blog and he literally copies Craig's arguments word for word by copying and pasting them because he knows nothing about actual science or philosophy. So it's good to have refutations of Craig's arguments already written so that they too can be copied and pasted in response to the lazy theist who is going to plagiarize someone else's argument. I mean hey, if they're too lazy to write their own argument themselves and resort to copying and pasting, then I'm justified in copying and pasting my response too.

So without further ado.....

I came across a piece Craig wrote in a Christianity Today article from 2008, in which he summarizes his repertoire of arguments for god, so I will use that article as my critique of his arguments.Craig lays out first, as he almost always does, the two versions of the cosmological argument. He's so predictable. Most of you already know the cosmological argument from contingency. I will just dive into my criticism of Craig's justification of its premises. The argument goes as follows:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Therefore, the explanation of the universe's existence is God.

Craig justifies premise 1 with an example:

Imagine that you're walking through the woods and come upon a translucent ball lying on the forest floor. You would find quite bizarre the claim that the ball just exists inexplicably. And increasing the size of the ball, even until it becomes co-extensive with the cosmos, would do nothing to eliminate the need for an explanation of its existence.

I've heard this story used many times to illustrate that the universe's existence needs an explanation. First of all, the analogy is flawed. upon seeing a translucent ball lying on the forest floor, of course we'd ask the question of how or why such a thing exists. But the difference with a translucent ball, and the universe is that we have no known experience with such a thing existing by natural means. All balls that we know of are man made. So we could ask, what is the ball made out of? Plastic? Well we know plastic is man made. But suppose it was made of some unknown substance. It would still have to be made up of atoms. Atoms are matter, and matter is just another form of energy, all of which would go back to the early universe. But now an interesting thought arises. If the translucent ball were shrunk, instead of expanded, to the size of a subatomic particle, like a virtual particle, then it is not at all hard to see how the ball could pop into existence with no apparent cause needed. And when you apply gravity to the laws of quantum mechanics, space and time can pop into existence and whole universes can be born from quantum fluctuations.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Handy Video Explaining Time Dilation & Length Contraction In Relativity

If you're sometimes confused by understanding Einstein's theory of relativity in terms of length contraction and time dilation as I am, this handy video gives you a nice visual representation to understand these two mind blowing phenomena.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Autumn Sun

Autumn sun, I'm in pain and numb.
Keep me warm 'til winter's done.
Be there when the October rain has come.

You twinkled different in your summer run.
Now you sit so low your rays are shunned.
Autumn sun what have you become?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Here's Why Poor People Vote Against Against Their Economic Interests

If you're white, conservative and poor in America, you've basically been fucking yourself over economically for the past 30 years if you've been voting republican. The democrats have a more favorable economic platform, but they're attached to liberal social values, and you prefer conservative social values like the kind republicans offer. But the republican economic platform favors the rich, and so you're stuck between a rock and a hard place: Vote for your social conservative values, and against your economic best interests, or go vote against your conservative social values and for your economic best interests.

Perhaps The Most Pressing Issue Of Our Day

Believe it or not, I don't think that the threat from religious fundamentalism is the most pressing issue of our day. Although it's an important issue that needs to be addressed, the destruction of the middle and working class by big business, Wall Street, and the politicians they've bribed to facilitate their agendas is the most pressing issue we face in America today. Millions are negatively impacted by the economic policies and the tax policies we have that are skewed in favor of almost exclusively benefiting the rich and the ultra rich, and making a decent living has never been harder.

The cost of everything is going up while middle class wages from the year 2000 has even gone down when adjusted for inflation. Almost all the new wealth that has been generated since the economic meltdown in 2008 has gone to the top 1 percent - to the very people who essentially screwed up the economy in the first place. And college tuition has been rising over three times the rate of inflation while job prospects for recent graduates are bleak.

There has never been a time in recent memory when the gap between the wealthy and the middle class has been so wide, with such a callous disregard for those who are struggling.

And the rich simply don't seem to care. They're living it up while everyone else sees their take home pay eroded away by rising costs of living. The thing is, the rich today don't need the middle class as they once did. They don't need manufacturers making anything. Those jobs could either be outsourced to cheaper labor markets or done by machines. And they don't need the purchasing power of the middle class anymore. The rich can make their money in the financial services industry - a pseudo-economy that doesn't make or produce anything, and that mostly caters to and benefits those who are already wealthy. It essentially just cashes in on (often) risky investments and financial speculations often at the expense of worker's jobs and benefits. Should these investments go awry, as they did, tax payers will be standing by ready to bail them out because Wall Street's got most of our politicians in their back pockets. And banks are in the business of coming up with convoluted schemes to trick people out of their hard earned money. There are literally people in the financial services and banking industry who sit around in board rooms and think of elaborate schemes to fuck people over, and out of their money because we don't make or produce anything anymore and now our economy is propped up on the exploitation of unsuspecting workers.

It makes me sick.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Presuppositionalism, Again

Where do I even begin?

Presuppositionalists have got to be the most annoying kind of Christian that exists. I spend most of my time debating evidentialists because they're at least willing to start from a neutral standpoint and build a case for god using the same evidence that we all have access to. But when you put the evidence and arguments for god under the microscope for a detailed analysis, it often doesn't end well for god. And presuppositionalists are weary of this. So what they do is they dismiss the evidence altogether, and simply presuppose that Christianity is true and that the Bible is god's infallible word, and any evidence or argument that contradicts the "truth" of Christianity must be wrong by definition. This shields them from having to deal with any counter evidence - they will simply conclude that all the evidence against their religion is a delusion through their presuppositions.

I've been debating with this presuppositionalist lately to sharpen my skills in that area. His argument is basically this: We all assume a metaphysic on faith. He assumes Christianity is true on faith, and then he interprets all the evidence for it and against it under the metaphysic that Christianity is true. Therefore, it's impossible for him to be argued out of his position that Christianity is true because any evidence or argument you use against him is either dismissed a priori, or "interpreted" under the metaphysic that Christianity is true. It's a firewall of sorts. But think about it - if you have to presuppose a metaphysic that excludes even the possibility that you're wrong and that your religion may be false, that shows the inherent weakness of your religion. If Christianity is indeed true and the Bible is its god's infallible word, there should be plenty of evidence from the natural world corroborating its narrative and its claims. And on top of that, he accuses atheists of presupposing naturalism to interpret the evidence for and against god and Christianity. It's the most annoying thing ever.

This is what presuppositionalism gives you. If you don't assume the metaphysic that Christianity is true, then you'll be accused of assuming another metaphysic, either a naturalistic one or one presupposing another religion, in order to interpret the evidence for and against Christianity. In other words, no one can come from a neutral playing field, we all, according to the presuppositionalist, come to the table with our worldview already presupposed. This is because the presuppositionalist knows he can't win without presupposing his religion to be true. If going just by the evidence, and a debate over whether evidence bests fits his Christian worldview, or the naturalists worldview, the naturalist will do better.


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