Showing posts with label Darwin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Darwin. Show all posts

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thoughts On The Randal Rauser/Justin Schieber Debate

So the debate between Randal Rauser and Justin Schieber from last month is online and having just watched it I thought I'd weigh in. Randal Rauser is a trained theologian and Christian apologist. What I like about him is that he isn't just another William Lane Craig clone, of which there are far too many. He makes his own arguments for god his own way and I always want to see the real reasons why theists believe what they do. Here, Randal offers a few of the arguments that help convince him god is real. I'll offer some thoughts on why I don't find them convincing.

First, Randal defines god as a "necessarily existent, non-physical agent, who is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good." This is the basic god of classical theism which I think was a good idea for Randal to define upfront so there's no confusion. The only problem I have of course is the "necessarily existent" part. I know that many classical theists view god as necessarily existent, but there is often an attempt to define god into existence this way that I think is little more than wordplay. Thankfully, Randal does not try to make that argument for god in this debate.

Randal outlines his three main arguments:

  1. Rational belief in god doesn't require evidence
  2. God is a legitimate philosophical explanation
  3. God best accounts for the cognitive faculty of moral intuition

Let's go over them one by one.

1. Rational belief in god doesn't require evidence

Randal first defends the idea that rational belief in god doesn't require evidence. He tries to argue that it is properly basic, much like the belief in an external world. "One need not have evidence for god to believe rationally that god exists," Randal declares. He later says, "Belief in god can be produced in conditions which qualify it as properly basic." He tells the story about a non-religious Canadian rock musician who walked into a church in New York one day and was "struck by overwhelming spiritual presence." But so what? As Randal himself observes, "Millions of people have formed belief about god with the same naturalness and immediacy, the same phenomenology of self-presentation that [the Canadian rock musician] experienced." In other words, millions of people have formed belief in other gods as well as non-gods as a result of spiritual experience. There is no special power Christianity has in the spiritual domain. 

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, September 9, 2013

Hitler Was NOT An Atheist

“I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”

[Adolph Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936]

Let us never forget that Adolph Hitler was no atheist. He believed in god, and an Aryan Jesus, and he thought god had appointed him to cleanse the European continent once and for all of the Jews. And yet, despite these facts being easily obtainable, theists still today have the nerve to try to pull a fat lie and say that Hitler was an atheist who was motivated by Darwinism to exterminate the Jews. They say that if you tell a lie enough times it starts to become the truth. That Hitler and Nazis were all atheists seems to have become a "truth" to many theists who have bought into this lie.

Let's start with a few facts about Hitler and the Nazis:

  • Nearly every German soldier during World War II wore a belt buckle that had inscribed on it, "GOTT MIT UNS" (God with us)
  • Every member of the German armed forces took an oath that started with: "I swear by God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German empire and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath."
  • Hitler's birthday (April 20th) was celebrated from the Catholic Church every year from 1939 to the very end of the Nazi regime in 1945
  • The first diplomatic accord by Hitler once he rose to power in 1933 was with the Vatican 
  • The Catholic Church opened its genealogical records to the Nazis so that they could trace a person's Jewish ancestry, aiding in the holocaust 
  • Antisemitism existed in Europe for hundreds of years before Darwin, and one of the primary influences on Hitler was the German Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, who wrote the treatise, On the Jews and Their Lies (1543), in which he argued among other things, that European Jews should be forbidden to practice their religion, that they should have their synagogues burned and razed, and that they should be forced into servitude 
  • Nearly half of the Nazis were members of the Catholic Church, as was Hitler 
  • The only Nazi ever to be formally excommunicated by the Catholic Church was Joseph Goebbels –  not for war crimes, but for marrying a divorced Protestant 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ned Flanders Confronts The Truth Of Evolution!

Hilarious throwback from The Simpsons!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

So You Think Evolution And Religion Are Compatible Huh? My Challenge To Theistic Evolutionists

When it comes to the theory of evolution there are four basic positions a theist can take:
  1. Evolution is a natural process that was started by god in the beginning; 
  2. Evolution is partly natural process that god occasionally interacts with and guides; 
  3. Evolution is a process that is completely guided by god at every step; or, 
  4. Evolution is false and doesn't happen. 

If you're a theist, your approach to evolution is going to fall under one of these four categories. The naturalist position of course is that evolution is a totally unguided process that never needs supernatural intervention. I praise all theists who have accepted evolution as fact despite the many obstacles that they face. That being said, for those theists who take a position between 1 and 3 above it opens up a new book of difficult questions, perhaps even harder than the traditional problems of evil. 

I have a list of 10 questions that popped into my head recently that I think highlight some of the problems of trying to incorporate theistic evolution with theistic beliefs. I wouldn't say the two are impossible to reconcile, but asking the following questions below to various theists has yielded a wide range of contradictory answers that I think theists should stop and try very hard to come up with definitive answers for.

  1. When did the soul appear? Did it literally appear all of a sudden? 
  2. Did god say *poof* one day and man suddenly received a soul? 
  3. Did the soul evolve and appear gradually? 
  4. Was there literally one generation of human beings that had souls whose parents didn't? 
  5. Did the soul come early in human evolution or late? 
  6. If it came late, why did god wait tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years to create the soul? 
  7. What about original sin? How do we get original sin if there never was a literal Adam & Eve? I know that only Christianity has original sin, but if we don't have it, how do you make sense of Christian theology without it? 
  8. If god gave man a soul suddenly and waited until late in human evolution to do it, that means that all the human beings who died before humans got their soul possessed the same cognitive functionality in order to consciously suffer as much as their descendants did who did have souls, and yet they were not compensated for the suffering they endured. How can this be reconciled with standard Christian or Islamic doctrine that basically says heaven compensates all the suffering that humans experience? 
  9. What about animal suffering? Biology and neuroscience shows us that animals consciously suffer as most mammals have a prefrontal and neocortex. If animals consciously suffer and have no souls, why do they suffer and why isn't there suffering compensated? How could a wholly good god create beings who could consciously suffer and then just plan for them to die with no compensation to them?
  10. Why create human beings through a long slow process that involved numerous mass extinctions that caused millions of species to suffer and die who had varying levels of consciousness to experience this suffering? It seems unnecessarily cruel.

I've never heard a theist give me a satisfactory answer to a single one of these answers let alone all 10. Many of these questions should be easy to answer since they cover the same area: the soul.

I'd like to propose these questions as a challenge to any theist willing to take them on who can give reasonable definitive answers that are compatible with the concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful and especially an all-good god.

Any one up for the challenge?

(Please also check out my Evolutionary Argument Against God here.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 7

What Kind Of Atheist Are You?

Perhaps it would be important that I define what I mean when I call myself an "atheist". I've often noticed that when I get into disagreements with theists, agnostics and even other atheists on issues related to philosophy and religion that we get caught up in disagreements on semantics. There is for example, no clear consensus on the definition of religion, and anyone who looks up the term will get about 5 or 6 different variations. I generally define religion as the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny because this definition clearly delineates it from philosophy, politics and secular worldviews like naturalism and atheism. Others however, define religion as being any worldview or ideology that one believes to be true. It's easy to see from the wide assortment of definitions that some words can carry that if one were debating the virtues of secularism, one could get into a semantic dead end with their opponent.

So when it comes to belief in god, I don’t think it’s proper to think there are only three choices in approaching the question: theism, agnosticism, or atheism. (I’ll leave deism and pantheism out for now because I'm focusing on monotheism.) Rather, it’s much more apparent to me that belief or disbelief in god comes on a scale encompassing at least 9 different views, instead of just three rigid choices. So what I did was I developed a scale of belief that outlines strong, moderate, and weak forms of theism, agnosticism and atheism.

Strong Atheism              
There is no god!
Moderate Atheism 
There almost certainly is no god. I therefore don't believe in god. 
Weak Atheism 
The existence of god is unlikely, so I'm willing to say I don't believe in god.
Strong Agnosticism
I have no idea if god exists. It is unknowable.
Moderate Agnosticism    
There may or may not be a god, it's anyone's guess, the evidence is about equal. 
Weak Agnosticism
I'm open to the possibility that god exists, but I'm not sure myself.
Weak Theism                
The existence of god is likely, so I'm willing to say I believe in god.
Moderate Theism          
There almost certainly is a god. I therefore believe in god.
Strong Theism                
There is a god!

At the top of the scale is Strong Atheism. Strong atheists are people who assert there is no god, and that perhaps it is impossible for god to exist. Some say that this position is as unjustified as the strong theist’s is since no one can know with certainty whether or not god exists. Even Richard Dawkins considers himself a “6” on his scale of belief between 1 and 7 (1 being 100% sure god exists, and 7 being 100% sure god doesn’t exist)[i]. I have met a few strong atheists over the years cocksure that god doesn’t exist. Although none of them can empirically prove it, I suppose the absurdity of religion and contradictory nature of the concept of god lead them to such a position.

Next is Moderate Atheism. The moderate atheist is someone who doesn’t assert they know god doesn’t exist because they feel such a claim must be one taken on at least some faith, just like the theist’s. The moderate atheist simply disbelieves in god because they feel the preponderance of evidence for and against god leans overwhelmingly towards there being no god. They may also have problems understanding the coherence of god like the strong atheists but stop short of asserting god doesn’t exist because it cannot be proved. Weak Atheism is similar to the moderate atheist position although they feel that the evidence for and against god isn’t as strong as the moderate atheist. Weak atheists therefore disbelieve in god because they find the god hypothesis unlikely to be true. All three of these atheistic positions could fall under the terms nontheist or nonbeliever.

When it comes to agnosticism, Strong Agnosticism is the position whereby someone has no idea of whether god exists or not. They will often make the claim that the theist and atheist doesn’t know either and accuse both of them of taking positions on faith. The strong agnostic also generally asserts that knowledge about whether or not god exists is unknowable or unverifiable, and so we’re all forever relegated to ignorance on the matter. Moderate Agnosticism is right in the middle of the scale. It’s a person who thinks the evidence for and against god is more or less equal. They might also conclude that both atheism and theism each have their own logical conundrums that cannot ever be resolved, at least not without better evidence. Weak Agnosticism is the position of someone who’s open to the possibility that god exists, but isn’t sure. They think that the evidence for god is somewhat convincing, but not enough to make them take a position on whether or not god exists. Weak agnostics would be the easiest kinds of people to convince that god exists.

Finally we get to the ranges of theistic belief. Weak Theism is the position that the existence of god is likely given the evidence, so they’re willing to say they believe in god. The weak theist is a person most likely raised into their faith and generally is not too religious about it. They generally don’t question the existence of god too strongly and accept god’s existence as a default given their environment. They are most likely to justify god’s existence by believing that “something” must have created the world. Moderate Theism describes the person willing to believe in god because they interpret that the evidence for god is overwhelmingly scaled towards the existence of god, but they don’t assert that they know god exists and leave open the slight possibility that they’re wrong. Strong Theism is the confident assertion by people that god absolutely exists and that they know with certainty. How they know it with certainty is questionable. Many strong theists interpret their internal feeling that god exists as “knowing” god exists. They are also deeply convinced that the arguments for god are “irrefutable proofs” that god exists.

So most people who take a position about the god of monotheism can be accurately described in one level on the scale of belief that I've described above. Where do I stand? I generally consider myself a moderate atheist. I don’t say that I know or can prove god doesn't exist, I say that there’s no reason for me to believe in god given the poor state of evidence for god’s existence. All the atheist needs to do is to be able to provide a plausible natural alternative explanation about something that is commonly believed to only be explained by god to justify their doubt. The theory of evolution for example, for the first time made it possible for one to even have serious doubts about the existence of god because it provided a natural alternative to explain how we got the diversity of species. Previous to evolution, the only commonly understood explanation for extant life was that god had created all the species all at once at some time in the past. Darwin in some sense, made god redundant.

Atheism is planted by the seed of doubt, that’s why many atheists consider themselves skeptics. As the late Christopher Hitchens once said, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” 

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[i] Dawkins, Richard (2006) The God Delusion. Boston Houghton Miffin p. 74

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Unfalsifiable Claims

The late Christopher Hitchens was always entertaining to listen to (and to read). During his many debates with theists his critique of Christianity's negative social effects was superb. But one point he made about how theists react to scientific progress strikes me as more important than ever in light of how many theists are finally starting to embrace evolution in large numbers.

Most Christians not too long ago outright rejected Darwinian evolution on the grounds that it was incompatible with the Bible's telling of the history of life and man. They felt evolution degraded mankind as well as god. But now, after 150 years of evolution since the Origin Of The Species, after the evidence keeps building up and is undeniable, more and more theists are coming to the conclusion that evolution is true. And the position they're taking after this, is that evolution actually proves how much more amazing god is for creating such an intricate and highly complex process that brought about the various species of life, including man. Many Christians are also now saying that these natural explanations are designed by god to test our faith. So after denying evolution and the big bang for decades, suddenly they're both adopted as truth and now are being used to make the case for god.

Hitchens argued that to retroactively assimilate new scientific discoveries that were previously denied so that scripture is reinforced to make perfect sense befitting the new information, is to argue an unfalsifiable claim. How do you falsify something that "evolves" so to speak, to adapt to unfavorable conditions? Perhaps the answer is that religions like Christianity are unfalsifiable. In my mind, unless Jesus' bones are discovered, I think we'll just continue to see camps within Christianity adapt with the strategy that each new piece of data that removes the need for god's intervention is actually designed by god to test our faith in him. But they'd probably just claim that was another test of faith by god.

I suppose the ultimate unfalsifiable claim will come with the cosmological argument. But if it ever becomes provable that a universe can pop into being uncaused from nothing, theists will simply assert that it's all another test from god to demonstrate our faith in him. If someone wants to cling to a god because they feel it gives their life purpose, meaning and direction, I'm fine with that. The only place I draw the line is when belief in god violates secularism and causes stupid wars, ignorance and hatred.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Science Refutes God?

I've been a fan of Professor Lawrence Krauss for years now. He is a theoretical physicist actively engaged in the debate between theism and atheism. His most recent book, A Universe from Nothing, was a best seller that explains just how it is possible that a universe can come from what we think is "nothing". This theory forms the basis many atheists, including myself, use to show how the hand of god is not required to get a universe.

Prof. Krauss recently participated in an Intelligence2  debate arguing on behalf of atheism along with Michael Shermer. He opens the debate debunking the apparent fine tuning of the universe's laws, then shows how Darwin demonstrated that the evolution of life didn't require the hand of god, and finally he argues that a universe that came from precisely nothing, would look exactly like the universe we see and observe today. This is the actual knock down argument that removes the hand of god from his last bastion of hope.

But does this mean science refutes god? I would say that science will never be able to definitively disprove god. Rather, all science actually needs to do, is demonstrate a plausible natural alternative. Science can then show that the hand of god is not required.

One great thing about the Intelligence debates is that they invite the audience to vote before and after the debate so you can see exactly how persuasive the arguments really were. So watch the debate below and ask yourself whether science refutes god.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Do Atheists Have Faith In Science?

One accusation of those who have religious faith in god, is that atheists too have that same faith in science. However, this is not true. Science is just the method by which we build and organize natural explanations for everything based on testable evidence and predictions. So having faith in science would be like having faith in math. Math is the method we use to determine and calculate numeric representations and the relationship between them.

No one will argue that math is not a very reliable way of dealing with numbers; our modern world depends on it, and even animals can use it. Science, likewise is a very reliable way of finding information about our world, because it has proved its reliability time and time again. All of our modern technology is the result of science, and one doesn't require any faith to understand its brilliance.

Furthermore, no atheist justifies evolution by saying it is true because "Darwin says so." I have debated with theists whose last resort at reasoning is to say "because the Bible says so" or "because the Qur'an says so." The idea that a supposed "holy" book merely saying something in and of itself makes an assertion true, without any credible evidence to back it up, is reasoning gone bankrupt. That is faith, plain and simple.

Now science cannot explain each and every aspect of our universe and it might be impossible for our body of knowledge to contain everything that there is to know. Theists jump on this and assert the hand of god where there is a gap in our knowledge. And if that gap is ever closed, they then have two gaps that they fill with the hand of god. The god of the gaps method is a very weak way to assert the existence of any deity. It is best that theists simply do what they do best, which is to maintain that believing in god is a matter of faith.

"Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do."
                                                                                                                                    -Bill Maher

"Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith'. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence."

                                                                                                                         -Bertrand Russell

Friday, November 2, 2012

How To Talk To A Christian: Debating School Sanctioned Prayer


It is rare that I get to discuss religious issues with true believing theists in the secular metropolis of New York, but every once in a while I come across one. A few weeks ago at a student discussion group for atheists, a young-Earth creationist Christian name Daniel Mann joined in and as you can imagine, some debate ensued over religion's role in the public school system. We exchanged information and we soon began debating my blog post regarding school sanctioned prayer in public school. 

In my blog I think I laid out my point of view pretty clear. School sanctioned prayer violates the Constitution, because it violates the separation of religion and government. So Daniel then disagrees with my definition of religion. Religion to me is defined as the belief in and worship of a deity. But he defines religion as any set of beliefs at all. This would include humanism, Dawinism, socialism, capitalism, and just about every other "ism" or belief one can think of. So an organization that thinks the Yankees are the best baseball team in the world as their core beliefs, would be defined as a religion according to him. Go figure. It became apparent when dealing with theists like Gareth Bryant and Daniel that they assume everyone else's beliefs are just as religious as theirs because they are so religious themselves.  

So I am then forced to point out the obvious problem this would cause, which is that teachers wouldn't be able to teach anything if all beliefs were banned. But the issue is clear, the Constitution does not prohibit these "isms" from being mentioned or taught, but it doesn't prohibit the establishment of religion, which school sanctioned prayer would violate. But this theist and theologian, stubbornly holds his ground, motivated by his emotional dislike of secularism, while completely not addressing the legal issue at the heart of the argument. 

I cannot deny by pleasure in arguing with theists because it exposes their way of thinking which often becomes so evidently absurd. For example, Daniel actually said to me in person that we should bring back stoning to death adulterers now in the twenty first century because it would be an effective way to discourage adultery. Need I say more? People like him want to legislate their religion onto everyone else, while they accuse secularists like me of trying to do the same. What they fail to realize, is that we live in a secular democracy, with a secular constitution, and our nation's founding fathers enshrined this system into our founding documents because they were well aware of the problems that occur when one religious group wants to make their faith-based beliefs into law. 

Below is a transcript of our debate. His blog post is also linked below along with my original blog post that started the discussion.

Our debate:

The ThinkerOctober 28, 2012 8:03 PM
The issue here is whether school sanctioned prayer is constitutional, not whether your personal dislike of certain "isms" can be mentioned in public school. Nowhere in our founding documents does it say that socialism cannot be taught or any other non-religious ideology. Only religion is specifically mentioned because we live in a secular democracy. 

You said "Materialism makes the counter-factual assumption that our material world is all that there is". How is this counter-factual when all that we can test exists in the material world and every other realm is mere subjective speculation?

Mere "consensus" doesn't hold the moral fabric of a culture together. It was the consensus that slavery was moral for many years that allowed it to exist in the U.S. for so long. Diversity in race and religion, united under secularism, that is necessary in order to prevent one religion becoming officialized and imposed onto others is what makes our country so great. That is why the secular model is being followed by more and more countries around the world. So secularism is far from dead, it is on the winning end as it rightfully should.

Manns WordOctober 29, 2012 12:35 AM
You have sidestepped my entire argument. Instead of dealing with my philosophical challenge, you are pleading the Constitution. However, I don’t think that the Constitution will deal kindly with your argument. It says nothing to prohibit school prayer. The First Amendment merely prohibits a State supported religion. In fact, the Founding Fathers did so much to promote the Christian faith, even those whose Christian faith was in question.

George Washington had stated:
• "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity religion and morality are indispensable supports."
• "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for benefits, and humbly to implore His protection, aid, and favors."
• "Without a humble imitation of the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, we can never hope to be a happy nation."
John Adams, our second president and a Unitarian, stated:
• "The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of Wisdom, Virtue, Equity, and Humanity."
• "It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins as are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as are most wanted."
In fact, if the intention of the Constitution was to prohibit prayer, it would have been prohibited in Congress, which it wasn’t!
In order to bring the discussion back to its underlying philosophical underpinning, about the religious identity of our beliefs, I’d like to quote you:
• Diversity in race and religion, united under secularism, that is necessary in order to prevent one religion becoming officialized and imposed onto others

Today’s secularism is a religion itself. It isn’t the secularism of the Founding Fathers that guaranteed everyone a place at the table. The secularism of today is the opposite. It guarantees that only those who play by its rules have a seat at the table. It has enshrined its own religion – Materialism, Naturalism, Multi-Culturalism, Moral Relativity, and Secular Humanism, none of which have anything to do with facts. Secularism has become “officialized.” It has become a state-supported religion.

The ThinkerOctober 29, 2012 1:27 AM
Yes the Constitution doesn't specifically prohibit school prayer, neither does it prohibit jay walking. It also doesn't allow school prayer. If the law says that a state has the right to allow school teachers to lead sanctioned prayers during school hours, it would be a "law respecting an establishment of religion" because the "establishment" here is the public school, run by the government, that is unconstitutional. 

Secularism is as much of a religion as not skiing is a sport. You simply don't have an argument here. A religion is defined as the belief in and worship of a deity. Secularism has no deity or sacred dogmatic texts. The problem I have found debating extremely religious people like you, is that you all think everything is a religion because you are so religious yourselves. So socialism is a religion, science is a religion, sports is a religion. But what you don't realize is that not everyone thinks so dogmatic like you. We live in a secular democracy, and I don't care about the religious statements made by some founding fathers. In those days you could be killed for professing anti-Christian beliefs. 

Secularism already is "officialized" and this is enshrined in our Constitution. We already argued in person about moral relativism and I told you that the liberal secular left, is not actually practicing moral relativism but a more universal appeal of human rights, that's why the outcry from the left was just as loud as the right over atrocities in other countries. It is actually in Christianity itself that moral relativism exists, since some morals apply to some people, some of the time. That is relativism. 

Are you seriously going to claim that naturalism and materialism have nothing at all to do with "facts" or have you ran out of serious arguments? Where is your evidence for the spiritual dimension?

Manns WordOctober 29, 2012 8:54 AM
Even though I don’t agree with your definition of religion, I’m glad you attempted to define it:
• A religion is defined as the belief in and worship of a deity. Secularism has no deity or sacred dogmatic texts.

Many people define religion differently, even your own secular humanists. Here’s several older examples:

• THE FIRST HUMANIST MANIFESTO (Paul Kurtz, 1933): “Humanism is a philosophical, religious, and moral point of view.”
• JOHN DEWEY, WHO SIGNED THE MANIFESTO: “Here are all the elements for a religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class or race…It remains to make it explicit and militant.”
• THE US SUPREME COURT (Torasco v. Watkins – 1961): “Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others.”

So how should we define religion? Do you think it fair to impose your religion on our schools simply because yours lacks a single deity? Must my children be indoctrinated by your secular values which hold instead that humankind, not one supreme deity, is the highest form of life? If you are unwilling to admit that this is grossly unfair, I don’t see how we can continue this dialogue.

You claim that you aren’t a moral-relativist, but this raises two very serious problems:
1. Whether you are a moral relativist or absolutist, both are still values-orientations, worldviews – religions.
2. Maintaining that there are moral absolutes is inconsistent with your presuppositions.

I am willing to pursue this conversation a little longer, but I do not have the time to pursue multiple threads with you.

The ThinkerOctober 29, 2012 3:28 PM
If you dilute the definition of religion, so that it can mean virtually anything, (capitalism, sports, science, philosophy, politics) then you we will not be able to mention anything in a public school. I suppose we shouldn't even teach science since to people like you it is a "religion". Let's have future generations of American kids fall behind in science while India and China continue to whip our asses. Do you honestly think any set of beliefs is a religion? If so, should every institution be given tax-exempt status that stands for any belief?

But you are not willing to address the central issue without making a big fuss about a bunch of other non-related issues. 

The issue is school prayer lead by government employees. Are you telling me that you want school sanctioned prayer for all faiths, or just Christianity? Even if I was a believer in god and religious, I wouldn't want schools leading prayer for several reasons: 

1. Many people have different interpretations of religion even within the same sects, and unlike a church that I am not in anyway obligated to go to, school is mandatory for children in the U.S. and I don't want to have to home school them.
2. I wouldn't want people of other religions inculcating my kids with their faith in a public institution.
3. Spending time on religion in public schools I see as a waste of time, since time spent on math and science and reading is more important. 

Finally, if you want your kids to have a religious education, why not simply send them to a religious school? I mean this argument we are having now is ridiculous don't you think? Public schools should not be inculcating religion, period. That is a parent's job. School is responsible for giving you the basic education one needs: math, science, reading, writing, history, phys ed. 

I am more than willing to keep this dialogue going perhaps in another format.

Manns WordOctober 29, 2012 5:05 PM
Religion can be defined in many different ways. However, I want to find a definition that will facilitate discussion. The question is this: “Which values, worldviews (religions) shall be promoted in the public sector, namely within our schools?” 

We can’t get away from the issue of indoctrination. Let’s be honest – We all seek to influence our children, the future leaders of this country. While I think that we would both agree that the facts are the facts, and that education has be about facts. However, education isn’t only about facts. It’s also about values. 

Neutrality is an impossibility. Certainly, our selection of which facts will be taught and how defies neutrality. It enters into a question of values, and values are inseparable from our religions. If this is the case, then banning religion from the public sector means banning values, and this isn’t possible.

Ok, let’s use the example of school prayer. I can certainly accept that this constitutes an illegitimate form of coercion for you, even if the prayers are voluntary. However, you seem to be unwilling to admit that many things that other students are subjected to are equally an affront to them and their families.
Science has now been defined in terms of naturalism. Thus, the only form of explanation that is now allowable is a naturalistic one. Any talk of ID is forbidden as the Dover case has most recently demonstrated. 

If naturalism was a matter of fact, then you would have a legitimate case. However, there is not one fact or finding to suggest that causation is natural, undersigned and unintelligent. Instead, there are many lines of reasoning that support the idea that our laws of science are transcendent. Nevertheless, the dogma of naturalism has stealthfully co-opted the public school.

Would you agree that moral relativism has also co-opted the classroom? Are you unwilling to acknowledge that this philosophy is not factually supportable but yet reigns supreme? There is almost no talk in the schools about absolute principles of right and wrong, especially when it comes to sexuality.

You complain that “I wouldn't want people of other religions inculcating my kids with their faith in a public institution.” However, this is exactly what is happening. However, the secular humanists aren’t objecting to this, because this is THEIR religion which predominates. 

While you object to being exposed to a Christian influence, you are oblivious to our grievances about being exposed to your prevailing secular influence. For this dialogue to go anywhere, I think that you need to recognize this double-standard.

The ThinkerOctober 30, 2012 12:42 AM
Well from reading your response, I honestly think that you still are not understanding my point of view, or you are not willing to.

First, clearly "the belief in and worship of a deity" would fall under the definition of religious. For that reason, school personnel should not be leading prayer sessions while in school. That is the main issue here that I wrote about and you are not addressing it directly. The issue is whether it is constitutional or not, not what your personal opinion of it is.

Banning school lead prayer/worship does not ban values. Most religions and humanist philosophy agrees on the same very basic moral principles of right and wrong. Teaching the fundamental core values that virtually no one would disagree with does not require religion. 

With regards to other objectionable "things" kids and families are subjected to in public school, no system can make everyone happy. The bottom line is this: we have a secular democracy, so secularism wins. Period. My side wins. Send your kids to a Christian school if you object, or go move to a Christian theocracy. No one is taking away your right to do this. 

But I suspect this option is not enough for you. No. You want ID/creationism and Christian prayer in public school. This we are not having, and your side will lose this battle, because ID it is not science (as the Dover case illustrated) and school-sanctioned prayer violates the Constitution as I mentioned before. Teaching facts and values within a secular and non-religious framework is completely constitutional and that is why it is the standard today. Refer to the last sentence in my previous paragraph if you have a problem with this. 

When it comes to science, of course it is natural. As you must be aware, science was called "natural philosophy", not supernatural philosophy. Science is the systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. Since we cannot ever test and experiment with the supernatural world, it is not included within science. This argument is over.

Finally, on morality, I agree that we face many issues related to a lack of morality being practiced by many areas in society, particularly in business. How do you define moral relativism? This depends on how I respond here. 

I will agree that there is a liberal bias on social issues in most public institutions as we discussed before. This is because, as I explained, the conservative position is almost always on the wrong side of history and morality: slavery, civil rights, racism and today I guess equality for homosexuals would be one of the major issues. The conservative position was wrong on each and every one of these issues.

Now I definitely want to discuss this in greater detail, but I will say this: in a secular democracy we use the best modern science has to offer to guide our philosophical and moral beliefs. There is no credible scientific evidence that suggests homosexuality is a choice. Since it is not a choice, humanists see no objection to consenting adult homosexuals having sexual relationships, and enjoying equal civil rights under our constitution. In fact many of us see it as a universal human right. I'm sure you disagree, but that's part of the fun. However know this: my side of the argument will win because we have science on our side.

Manns WordOctober 30, 2012 12:54 PM
I think that I’ve made it clear that you are using a discriminatory definition of “religion” to marginalize those who believe in a God, while permitting free access for your own religion or values orientation. According to your definition, you are free to advocate any position you want – abortion, free sex… - while I can’t because my opinion is deemed “religious” and yours isn’t! It means that only your views can be expressed! How convenient! This represents the height of discrimination and bias.

While you claim that I am unwilling to understand your position, I think that I understand it clearly, but I don’t like what I understand. However, it is you who are unwilling to grapple with my position by hiding behind a prejudicial definition of “religion.”

However, I do think that you understand my position. This is why you have abdicated reason in favor of might-makes-right:

• The bottom line is this: we have a secular democracy, so secularism wins. Period. My side wins. Send your kids to a Christian school if you object, or go move to a Christian theocracy. No one is taking away your right to do this.

In light of your entrenched triumphalism, there seems to be no place for this discussion to go.

The ThinkerOctober 30, 2012 3:32 PM
Well I mentioned earlier that if we dilute the definition of religion to include various "isms" then we will not be able to teach anything. This will hurt education in general. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and allowing god or religion taught in the classroom is clearly not on the inside of it.

No one is saying that you cannot argue your positions on abortion and free sex, you just have to do it within a secular framework with no appeal to religion. In other words you must use science to back up your argument. If you cannot make that argument without appeal to religion, then your argument rest entirely on faith, in which case it is unconstitutional for it to be taught in public school.

Now I don't know if you went to public school, but I did. I was never indoctrinated with any thoughts on abortion, or gay marriage etc - they were simply never discussed. My thoughts on these matters came from outside of school.

I am not an advocate of might makes right. I happen to truly believe that a secular system free of religious dogma, where government and religion are separate, is the best system to have. That is why the world's governments are gravitating towards it. It also happens to be enshrined in our constitution, which is what makes American so great. Get over it!

You also mentioned Religious-pluralism. I suspect that you deep down inside want the U.S. to be officially a Christian theocracy or democracy so that you can legislate your theology and have teachers across the nation leading prayer sessions according to your faith.

I understand your anger at the way the system works, I really do. There are teachers in the U.S. who are religious who tell their students hurricanes are god's punishment for sin, that gays are evil, that abortion is murder, that say all those who don't except Christ deserve hell, that are racist, and that express political beliefs I don't hold.

So what can we do about this? If neutrality isn't an option, what's the best compromise? If no religion is allowed, then all teachers will also have to objectively teach the curriculum as to have no personal religious or political bias what so ever. Why don't we forbid such topics as abortion and gay marriage altogether? Sexuality should neither be promoted nor denied; kids will just be given the facts about reproduction. History will be taught as neutral as possible; so kids will learn that the Nazis were neither good nor bad, they just were. Teachers will even teach the holocaust denial argument so they aren't too one-sided. Is this the kind of system that you want?

I don't like politics being shoved down kids throats in school myself, and although it isn't unconstitutional, I feel that any teacher with some strong political ideology should not be brainwashing kids one way or another. So I'm willing to make some compromise at least, what compromise are you willing to make?

Manns WordOctober 31, 2012 7:27 AM

I really appreciate your response. It acknowledges that we have a genuine problem(s) and that there are no easy solutions, and there aren’t. However, we do need to compromise, but what those compromises should be so that we can all live together – and we must find a way to live together – I am not sure. But at least we have to respect one another enough to hear and understand their concerns. Communication is the first step.

I do agree with many of the things that you’ve written. One part of the compromise might require us Christians to not hurl any Bible verses at others who can’t understand them. (If you’ll notice, in our conversation, I didn’t use any Scripture. I tried to talk in a language that would be amenable to you.) Perhaps our social problems might require decentralization instead of the increasing march towards centralization and more federal control – and this has had a dangerous polarizing effect. This would allow each school district to vote for their own curriculum and standards. (And a little extra competition wouldn’t hurt??)

However, I am pessimistic about the future of the West.

The ThinkerOctober 31, 2012 5:39 PM
Like you, I too share some pessimism about the future of the West, but probably for different reasons. To me the primary moral issues affecting the West today, which can lead to its downfall, is the lack of compassion in our economic system, particularly in the financial system.

There is an almost religious (dare I say it) worship of profit over everything else, that when taken to its extreme results in people and the environment being exploited. We are raping the finite resources that the Earth can produce, exploiting cheap expendable labor to fashion it into products that we largely do not need, and we are creating insurmountable levels of pollution in the process. This cannot go on forever, and this destruction is being spearheaded mostly by the leaders of industry in the West. This is not only going to spell the downfall of the West, but the down fall of us all, and I see it as the largest moral issue facing us today.

Now I understand your moral concerns perhaps differ. A liberal moral framework, allowing free and open sexuality among consenting adults, and certain other practices deemed "sinful" by many religions, certainly can result in more complexity. Having choice and the freedom to make choices introduces complexity. For example, it would be easier to make decisions if we had only one or two choices given to us, but having the freedom to make many more choices, destroys the simplicity.

I do not recommend limiting one's choices by any sort of big government enforcement of laws created by religious-based rules. In the West we have the freedom to make choices, it is up to you to do what you want.

I truly think, that if we can curb our greed along with some other things, and practice more compassion towards all things, the West can continue to be the shining beacon of hope and leader in the world against oppression, and that will sustain us for generations to come.

Manns WordOctober 31, 2012 6:01 PM
"There is an almost religious (dare I say it) worship of profit over everything else, that when taken to its extreme results in people and the environment being exploited."

I think that a religious problem requires a religious solution - a recognition of evil and the need for virtue!

Nevertheless, even though real change is accomplished by changed hearts, I still believe that there is a place for punitive laws - to curb both sexual and economic exploitation.

The ThinkerNovember 1, 2012 3:37 AM

Well we can recognize evil and emphasize virtue very well without religion, and that is one of my goals. Using religion to fight religion, is like using more heroine to fight having too much heroine. It is not the solution.

We certainly need a culture practicing strong morals, but to think that practicing morality requires religion, considering all the baggage religion brings, is like asking one to accept all of communism for a few good collectivist principles.

We will never agree perhaps on how best to cure the ills of society but I can tell you that some of the core basic lessons learned in Christian morality are universal, and they can be taught without reference to theology. This is what you call secularism, and I believe that in a religious and culturally plural society like ours, it is the best and most fair system, and that is why our founding fathers used it.

Manns WordNovember 1, 2012 1:40 PM

To respond to part of what you had written, I just posted a new essay on modern secularism.

Although you are correct that we don't need religion to tell us right from wrong, we do need the belief in the Biblical God to provide an adequate supporting rationale.

This is an area where we will disagree. While we both believe that there is an adequate ontological basis for unchanging and universal absolutes, I believe that only God can provide such a basis.



The idea that secularism is a religion, when it stands for separating religion from government, is absurd. If Daniel were right, secularism would be a religion to impose limits on religion! This is exemplary of how nonsensical the religious mind sometimes thinks.  

Now I wouldn't personally be thrilled with the idea of teachers inculcating politics to their students. Even though politics isn't a religion, it doesn't seem to be the role of a public school teacher to influence students with their political opinions. Might we opt for some neutrality then on matters of controversy?

I will not concede maintaining secularism as our standard model of government and public education, and will never allow religion and theism into our public classrooms. The liberal view on social issues is almost always on the right side of history, whereas the conservative view is almost always on the wrong side. That is why we have a liberal bias in our public institutions. Extremely religious conservatives like Daniel Mann are just sad because they're on the losing side of history, and they're trying to desperately hold on to their last ditch efforts to maintain and impose on others the theistic ways in which many of them were raised. 

Lastly, I do not want to give the impression that I look upon all my intellectual enemies with such utter disdain to the point where compromise and collaboration becomes impossible. Certainly there is a time to be polemic, and a time not to be. I would certainly be willing to work together with anyone who shares the same moral concerns that I do, even if we disagree on others. Life is a collaborative effort, and we've all got to work together where it matters and sometimes that means setting aside our differences. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How To Talk To A Muslim: Debating The Existence Of Allah, The Validity Of The Qur'an, & Evolution

Further seizing upon the opportunity to debate with a conservative Muslim, who stands for just about everything I am against, I challenge him on some of the Qur'an's known contradictions using a section from The "Infidel's" Guide to Islam. It all started when Gareth linked his post titled "There is a god, and His name is Allah (My personal gift to Atheists & Anti-Theists)" on the Non Believer Nation Facebook page. I read it and took it upon myself to inject some more intellectual critique, rather than just the usual hyperbole. In his post the argument is made that in the Qur'an, Mohammad gives information about things that were not scientifically known at that time, and could only have been known if this information had been revealed to him by Allah. The "revelation" in question here is a vague line in the Qur'an mentioning that iron was given from above and descended to Earth.

“We have descended Iron, within it contains great durability, as well as benefits for Humans.” Surah 57:25

This is offered as the "proof" that Allah is the one true god and that Islam is the one true faith. As you can easily imagine, I call out this naivety for what it is: bullshit. There were many other comments on the post, some congratulating, some critical, and so I decided to weigh my two cents in so that the anti-theist perspective could be heard. What ensued was a very heated exchange between me and Gareth where I pointed out the contradictions in the Qur'an to make the argument that it is far from revealed wisdom. His only rebuttal when cornered with these apparent facts, is to say that all of my English translations are incorrect, even through I have several of the most popular English-translated Qur'ans.

I ask him for the correct translation directly from Arabic and to include references, but he doesn't reply. About halfway through we get into debating the validity of evolution, which he denies, insisting that the Qur'anic retelling of the Adam and Eve creation myth is how it all happened because "Allah says that it happened, period." So I introduce him to some of the evidence in favor of evolution and he seems to concede, although not admitting it, and retracts back into his talking points, insisting that Allah is all powerful and that I only disbelieve in him because I want to worship my "ego & desires". I close by trying to make amends, in a way, to see how best people like him and me can coexist in the long term. Our debate and the link to his blog are below. His words are in bold.

"There is a god, and His name is Allah (My personal gift to Atheists & Anti-Theists):

Look man, as an atheist and anti-theist, I do respect your right to have your own opinion and to be vocal about it. After all, I hope that you, as I do, respect freedom of speech going both ways. I just can’t wait until the Muslim majority countries practice this.
Over the years I’ve had a few Muslims try to point to some vague references in the Qur’an that when twisted, accurately describe science. But you must be aware, that for skeptics like us, such vague references will never be enough, because all religious books have some truth to them, and they can’t all be correct in their entirety.
On top of that, all religious books are full of scientific and historic inaccuracies, which would of course defeat your objective since your holy book must be perfect. There is no religious text, that accurately describes the universe as science does, because of course no one writing them knew anything about science. You must be aware that the Qur’an contradicts itself many times. How do you reconcile this when the Qur’an is supposed to be absolutely perfect in every way?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Economic Darwinism

I've been struggling to find an economic policy that I can agree with. I was flirting with socialism recently but I don't think I can ever call myself a socialist. I've been a capitalist but I have issues with the problems that cut throat capitalism brings, like monopolies. Essentially, I'm a capitalist, but a liberal capitalist. I'm a populist. I believe there's nothing wrong with someone profiting from a clever idea, and hard work. The issue I have is what happens when that business becomes too powerful and starts crushing the ideas and opportunities of others. It becomes a monopoly, or part of a duopoly, and then eventually we're living in a Corporatocracy, like we are now.

My friend is a die hard capitalist. He follows the more conservative line of capitalism, traditionally held by Republicans. He's all for globalization, outsourcing, tax cuts for the rich, and the cut throat tactics used by many corporations. He justifies all of this by the idea of economic Darwinism. Survival of the fittest, or the cruelest. He seems to acknowledge that many of these tactics are somehow immoral, or have negative consequences, but he feels they are necessary in order to succeed. It's very Machiavellian. It's very Wall Street.

I'm a big fan of Darwinism. I regard Darwin as a genius. He made some mistakes in his original theory, and as a result, Darwinism, has been improved upon with modern evolution. Regardless, Darwinism's essential principal is the same however, and that is of course, survival of the fittest. This plays out pretty evidently in the animal kingdom: The strong and cunning survive, and the weak, the slow and foolish die. I'm very weary of applying Darwinism to other areas of the world, such as economics. Survival of the fittest in economics means the strong will dominate the weak because they can, and the weak will have no choice than to submit to the will of the strong, or die. The strong will make it so that the weak cannot get into power and become strong like them, but they will dangle an illusion of opportunity just far enough in front of the weak so that they'll chase it, but can never reach it. There are always going to be those who do not make it in capitalism, and what about them? I've argued with my friend for hours about the fact that our current economic policies create more of the losers who won't make it in this system. He says they can always get another job that will pay more and I respond by asking where that job is going to come from. Is it going to be created out of thin air, like most of our money is?

Economic Darwinism scares me. Do we have to apply Darwinism to everything? I understand it existing in nature, in that it's not necessarily how I want things to be, but I'm willing to accept its existence based on the evidence derived. I don't expect every species of animal to care for the weak, although some actually do. But we are human beings. We have the ability to reason and apply logic to the toughest problems that face us. We created our economy, it's man-made and not natural. The forces of greed have taken over as I feel they inevitably would under capitalism. Can't we have a free market with some protection mechanisms placed in that ensure the poor and middle class aren't exploited by the rich? Can't we have some common sense policies that undermine or prevent tactics that increase short term gains for some, but will punish and create losses for the many in the long run?

I say no to economic Darwinism. I am not that strong financially and I've pretty much accepted the fact that I'm most likely never going to be rich. My friend is positive that he will one day join the upper crust in the top percentile of money makers. That's why he supports economic policies that favor the rich and powerful: he thinks he'll be one of them someday. That's the illusion the rich have dangling in front of our eyes just out of reach, while they do everything they can to make it harder for the poor and middle class to grow economically.

So I ask, what's wrong with just being middle class? Is the whole purpose of life to be rich? Is being middle class as embarrassing as begging for money on the street nowadays? Should one be ashamed to only have one car, or only two computers? Our goals in life have been warped by the hood of economic Darwinism pulled over our heads, blinding our sight with meaningless consumption that leads to debt, and the destruction of our natural world, all to make the rich a little more of what they already are.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Atheist I Could Have Been

What to do on a summer afternoon? While I enjoy writing, I don't do it as much as I guess I should. I don't read as much as I guess I should either. I'm therefore not as good a writer as I think I should be, or could be. I was talking with a friend recently about what lifestyle we all envision for ourselves ideally. I told him that I'd love to be the president of an Atheist club on a college campus somewhere. I'd coordinate and participate in debates with the Christian club and Muslim club and the Jewish club. We'd grow members through carefully written propaganda and meetings. Oh that would be so great.

I remember when I was in community college passing by a hallway window display from the Muslim club showing their supposed reasons it's a good idea to embrace Islam. One part I remember mentioned that evolution was originally a racist idea, their reason apparently to not believe in evolution or Darwinism. Well in truth, it's true that early on, evolution was used by some people to justify racism. Darwin himself was a racist, or at least had racist tendencies. He thought that blacks weren't as evolved as whites. He was sexist also, and thought that women were inferior to men. All true. But it still says nothing about whether evolution is true or not. There maybe some uncomfortable consequences upon the discovery of the mechanism that brought about the world's species and ultimately us, but should we throw out scientific knowledge simply because it makes us confront uncomfortable possibilities? I say no. The religious often say yes, which why many others and I believe religion hinders scientific advancement and is one of the main reasons why Atheists don't like religion.

I would have loved to debate the Muslim club on those issues in a public forum, just like the debates I love to watch online. If only I was as into and as knowledgeable about religion as I am now. Damn. Even just a year ago I wasn't into religion and Atheism with the passion that I have now. I was always into it a little bit but It really kicked off last September, when I started watching online videos of Atheist debates and quickly became addicted to them. I would have gotten into a totally different career field if I was like that back then. I would not be in the boring technology field like I am now, but instead philosophy, history, or science. It's not too late but....who knows.


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