Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The F-Word

There's a dirty work that begins with the letter F in the atheist community. It's often met with horror and disgust at its mere utterance and often as a result leads to a nasty argument. If you've guessed that it's faith, you've guessed right.

I generally define faith as the belief in things that you do not have good evidence for. The American philosopher Peter Boghossian defined it as "pretending to know things you don't know" in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists. Many theists want to define faith as belief in things you have good reason to think are true. The many ways to define "faith" are similar to the many ways to define "religion."

What is the role of faith in a religion that says the purpose of life is to "know" god? I've been curious to know from theists what they think the relationship between faith and god should be.

I ask this because there are so many theists trying hard to argue that there is indisputable evidence that god exists. If there are slam dunk arguments that "prove" god exists, doesn't that dissolve the need for faith in god? Conversely, I often hear theists saying that god doesn't want to give us proof that he exists, because then we wouldn't need any faith, we would just "know" it. So on the one hand there are some theists who are saying god gives us indisputable proof that he exists, and on the other there are some theists saying that god deliberately make his existence ambiguous and hidden so that faith is required in order to believe in him. And many of these theists claim to believe in the same god from in the same religion.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Few Notes On Spirituality & "Beloved"

I just got back earlier this week from a week-and-a-half long vacation in Oregon. I had attended a music/art/spiritual festival called Beloved and I also got to see my mother, sister and my eight year old nephew. At Beloved, I got to spend several days camping with thousands of free-spirited hippies, many of whom take their spiritual beliefs very seriously. And I have to say it was a very enlightening experience. I spend my time around mostly secular people who rarely, if ever, show any strong outward signs of religiosity - even those who believe in god. So after speaking and spending time with several thousand people who'd probably self identify as "spiritual," I have gained a new perspective.

I wasn't there to preach to anybody. In fact I kept my atheism in the closet the whole time. I was there to learn. I was there to absorb. I was there to warmly educate myself on a slice of humanity that I rarely encounter. "Beloveds" as the attendees are called, are free-spirited hippie types, who mostly feel very passionately about the earth, the environment, humanity and humankind's connection to the spirit world.

On the first night, around the "sacred fire" where at night I would sit to warm up from the cold mountain air, one of the hosts gave a speech about fire. He spoke of the ways in which fire is misused, such as in war, and spoke of the ways it should be properly used. Then we were all instructed to give thanks to all four directions, north, south, east, west. I played along and participated, hoping that there would be a strong emotional response in me, but there wasn't. I seem to have an adverse reaction for group rituals. To me, anything that appears religious or cult like, such as group rituals, makes me uncomfortable. On the second day, we did another group prayer. We were asked to think about those suffering in the world and I did get an emotional response. It wasn't the group prayer that I think did it, it was my empathy for those suffering. I've had emotional moments like that all by myself and so I know the way my body and brain react. Group prayer or singing still isn't my thing. Even Sunday Assembly didn't quite rub me the right way. I was amazed however at some of the people attending who really seemed deeply and sincerely connected to whatever spirits they believed in.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Naturalism: Not Even Wrong?

When you say that something is "not even wrong" it usually means that it's so incoherent that it's not even worth considering right. It's supposed to be so badly constructed that saying it's merely wrong would be a compliment. I was recently linked to a blog post that argues that the worldview of naturalism is so ill-defined that it's not even wrong. And since I am a naturalist, (and a staunch one at that) my curiosity couldn't resist investigating as to whether there was something to this claim.

The blog post, called Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism, written by Randal Rauser, who is a Canadian Christian theologian and apologist, criticizes an argument from Jeffrey Jay Lowder called the The Evidential Argument from the History of Science. Lowder, (who by the way writes an excellent counter-apologetic blog called the Secular Outpost) is accused of defining naturalism in such away that makes it open to the existence of an immaterial soul. This is suppose to highlight the problem naturalists face. Naturalism is so ill-defined, according to some of its critics like Rauser, that there is little point in considering it seriously. After all, it could be argued that if immaterial souls are compatible with a definition of naturalism, then why not immaterial gods?

The definition of naturalism

In my mini-biography, Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey, I defined naturalism as “a worldview with a philosophical aspect which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences” or “the thesis that nothing besides the natural world, or nature, exists.” But this definition doesn't define what "natural" is and isn't, and many think this therefore begs the question. So what is the difference between something natural and something supernatural? Suppose for example that we lived in a world where ghosts existed and everyone had empirical evidence that they existed since the beginning of recorded history. Would ghosts be natural or supernatural in such a world? Trying to define what is natural can be difficult if you don't know what nature is. To compound the problem, consider that if someone who lived 2000 years ago was exposed to modern technology, they would most likely think it was supernatural. Indeed, Arthur C. Clarke's third law states that, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." If such a statement is true, then how could we ever know what is and is not natural given future advancements in technology due to a greater understanding of the laws of physics?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Story Of 1543: Why Science Is Better Than Religion

In 1543 two books were written that would later go on to have a significant impact on world history. One was by a Christian motivated by science, the other was by a Christian motivated by religious fanaticism.

Nicolaus Copernicus published his most famous work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) on his death bed, in which he argued that the Sun, and not the Earth, was the center of our solar system, kicking off what many believe to be the birth of the modern scientific revolution. That same year, Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer wrote one of his best known works, On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he argued, among other things, that European Jews were wicked, shouldn't be allowed to own homes, practice their religion, and should be forced into servitude.

Two very different books motivated by very different things. One helped kick off the modern scientific revolution, which enabled Galileo, Newton and eventually Einstein to lay the foundations of our understanding of the universe. The other helped kick off centuries of anti-semitism based on religious obsession and piety, that culminated in the Holocaust. These two works could not have been more different and had the impact they did on society. One is a prime example of the benefits of what can happen when you devote yourself to science and the use of evidence and reason to understand the world around you, and the other is a prime example of how religious fanaticism and superstition poisons the mind.

1543 stands as a stark reminder of what we in the freethinking community should strive for and what we should be motivated to destroy. We need to emphasize a science based education process and understanding of the world around us that promotes thinking with reason and evidence with a healthy dose of skepticism, and we need to work against living by superstition, assumptions, and dogmatic belief in religious claims. Now interestingly, both Copernicus and Luther were Christians, (you pretty much had to be a Christian in 1543 Europe) but one championed using observation and evidence as his way of coming to his understanding of the world, and the other preferring obedience to an ancient book of superstition (Luther was extremely critical of Copernicus' heliocentricism). Many modern day Protestants are unaware that their founder was a raging anti-semitist in is latter years and set the foundation for the persecution of Jews for centuries afterward. They'd much rather blindly blame the Nazis and the holocaust on evolution, which is bullshit.

Let 1543 be a reminder to us all in the freethinking community.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why Try To Convince Us God Exists Using Evidence, If It Will Ruin The Need For Faith?

If theists are going to argue that god doesn't want to give us too much evidence because that would ruin the need for faith or the ability to reject him, then why are so many of them investing so much time and money into trying to convince us - using evidence - that god exists? I fail to see how evidentialist apologetics makes any sense, because if I'm somehow persuaded by the arguments for god and I'm convinced he exists, then isn't the theist defeating his own purpose? Wouldn't I then be unable to deny the existence of god? Wouldn't I then not require any faith? Wouldn't the power of the arguments for god provide the same kind of conviction in me as would god giving me proof?

It seems to me that evidentialism is a farce, (not that I ever thought that it wasn't.) The whole charade to convince the masses that god exists using evidence seems to undermine the very things those same theists say is required by god in order for us to get on his good side.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

20 Questions Atheists Struggle To Answer (Extremely Short Answers)

These questions were floated around to atheists over the years and I'd thought I'd take a quick crack at them. These are my (extremely short) answers to them.

1. What caused the universe to exist?

The universe may not need a cause, especially if the B-theory of time is true. All causes in the universe are (a) temporal and (b) material, showing that our notion of causality doesn't necessarily apply to the origin of the universe, if it is the beginning of space and time.

2. What explains the fine tuning of the universe?

Chance. The same way that our planet is just the right distance from our sun to allow life to exist, so is our universe.

3.Why is the universe rational?

Because logical impossibilities are in fact, impossible.

4. How did DNA and amino acids arise?

Well we know amino acids can spontaneously arise naturally as the Miller-Urey experiments showed us, and as the building blocks of DNA, amino acids probably evolved from simpler molecules as in the RNA hypothesis. If "God did it" is your explanation, then you would be saying that scientists should stop doing all their research in molecular biology and close all their institutions, thus proving that faith is opposed to science.

5. Where did the genetic code come from?

It most likely evolved through many years and attempts from simple molecules to more complex ones.

6. How do irreducibly complex enzyme chains evolve?
There are no real irreducibly complex parts of biological systems, there is simply our current ignorance to how some of them formed, and there is a whole lot more ignorance by creationists who use things like the bacterial flagellum as an example of IC when it has been clearly refuted.

7. How do we account for the origin of 116 distinct language families?

Languages evolved over tens of thousands of years all over the world. There is zero evidence that the biblical story of the Tower of Babel explains the origin of language, and most Christians today it seems even reject such an absurd story.

8. Why did cities suddenly appear all over the world between 3,000 and 1,000 BC?

It was due to the invention or agriculture around 10,000 BC that lead to the first towns and cities being developed. When humans stopped hunting and gathering and began farming and domesticating animals, they had a reason to stay in one place permanently.

9. How is independent thought possible in a world ruled by chance and necessity?

I'm not sure what independent thought means here, but if it is implying free will, there is no evidence of free will.

10. How do we account for self-awareness?


11. How is free will possible in a material universe?

Given the laws of physics that we have which are deterministic, there is no free will.

12. How do we account for conscience?

Through extremely complex interactions between neurons and chemicals the exact mechanism by which we don't yet understand. We do know that mind is a product of the brain and there is zero evidence that the mind controls physical brain states.

13. On what basis can we make moral judgements?

We usually assess whether our actions will benefit us and others and whether they will increase harm. We certainly don't use the Bible to make moral judgements, or else we'd actually increase harm and likely end up in jail.

14. Why does suffering matter?

Suffering matters because we recognize that it is a state we don't want ourselves and others to be in.

15. Why do human beings matter?

Because we have the most highly evolved cognitive faculties that allows us to make rational decisions as well as suffer to the highest extent of all other species.

16. Why care about justice?

Because we naturally care about fairness, and justice requires fairness.

17. How do we account for the almost universal belief in the supernatural?

Because it was evolutionarily beneficial for our ancestors to believe in false positives (believing in things that weren't there) and this lead to the belief in angels, demons, spirits and gods.

18. How do we know the supernatural does not exist?

For several reasons. (1) because of the reason I gave for number 17 which shows that evolution would have lead to our belief in the supernatural even if it didn't exist; (2) because we have no evidence for it, even though the supernatural is in principle verifiable since it is said to interact with the physical world; (3) assuming that the supernatural exists makes no sense when critically examined. For these reasons we can be reasonably confident the supernatural doesn't exist.

19. How can we know if there is conscious existence after death?

We can and already do know that consciousness is fully dependent on the physical brain and so when the brain goes, consciousness goes. There are also too many unexplained questions about consciousness and the soul for which no dualist has any satisfactory answers.

20. What accounts for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances and growth of the church?

It is not an established fact that there was an empty tomb and resurrection appearances. They may have all been made up by the writers of Mark and Matthew, who wrote 40-50 years after the supposed events and were not eyewitnesses. Paul never mentions an empty tomb. See Four facts that aren't really facts.

As you can see, many of these questions probe the "God of the gaps" territory, and some, like the question about languages, are so bad even most Christians wouldn't recognize them as tough questions for the atheist.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Randy Replies

Almost every theist I've encountered and almost every theist I've heard defending their faith recognizes the problem of suffering as a real problem for theism. That is to say, they recognize that an omnibenevolent deity is incompatible with the existence of gratuitous suffering. That's why so many theists spend so much time trying to argue that gratuitous suffering doesn't really exist, but only seems apparent. The theist will find themselves is an arduous position if they try and defend this in light of evolution. That is because the evolutionary process requires suffering and death in order to work, and any god who would contingently chose to use evolution as the means to create one particular species when it could have done so by other less tormenting means needs to have a very good reason why - especially since it is argued that god cannot perform immoral or evil acts and can only choose morally good actions.

One theist who doesn't think there is a good reason to think gratuitous suffering and omnibenevolence are incompatible is Randy Everist. Recently we got into a bout on this very issue and he has made his case why he thinks they are compatible. My last post was a critic of our debate over on his blog, and he wrote a post further articulating his views. So here I'm going to critique his defense that there is no good reason to think that an omnibenevolent deity and gratuitous suffering are incompatible.

The first thing I noticed in his response to me as well as in our debate, is that he never defends or even claims the position that gratuitous suffering doesn't exist. Maybe he does, but he hasn't made this known in our dialogue. From the start, he tries to break down the logic of my argument so I will critique his claims line by line.

First he states the two propositions that are part of my argument, but not exactly in the way I would phrase them. Nonetheless, I will use his interpretation of my argument verbatim.

1. There is an omnibenevolent God.
2. There is gratuitous suffering.

He states that it's not clear why they are contradictory, even though it seems that the vast majority of his fellow theists recognize a problem. He further claims that I made no argument defending their incompatibility. I made an argument, and I posted that argument in my last post, but Randy's predicted response is always, "But why think this?" followed by a bad explanation. He tries to restate my argument saying:

3. If (1) and (2) are compatible, then it is indistinguishable from evil.*

Then he makes a fuss claiming that I wasn't clear as to what "it" means, saying it "has never been very clear". But I beg to differ. It's very obvious from what I wrote that I meant omnibenevolence. I wrote, "If omnibenevolence is compatible with the intentional creation of suffering that serves no purpose, well then how can we distinguish it from evil?" It's very obvious what "it" meant, but apparently it confused Randy and so he tries guessing "it" meant gratuitous suffering. Really? Would it really make any sense if I asked, "If omnibenevolence is compatible with the intentional creation of suffering that serves no purpose, well then how can we distinguish gratuitous suffering from evil?" Gratuitous suffering and evil are fully compatible; it needs no explanation. In fact, many people define evil as the infliction of gratuitous suffering.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fuzzy-Wuzzy Theism

I debate theists regularly on the blogosphere and it seems that a popular belief today is what I like to call "fuzzy-wuzzy theism." That is to say, some liberal or minimalist theists throw up this kind of vague, unspecified fuzzy language when they speak about the nature of god, morality or revelation as a kind of smoke screen to prevent you from pressing them too hard on detail. This to me is really just a tactic of handwaving that merely acts to distract or call attention away from the fact that the liberal theist has failed to be able to reasonably describe their beliefs.

In a conversation I had with a theist over on the Unreasonable Faith Patheos page, I outlined what I think are the general beliefs that this Christian has who believes that god cannot in principle communicate his message to human beings accurately, and that this explains why the Bible seems so incoherent. What I've described below is a general set of implications that this would entail. Read below and let me know if this is at all plausible, or if it is any more or less plausible than the more orthodox or fundamentalist versions of Christianity.

1. An omni-god exists and creates a universe that will result in intelligent life 14 billion years later.

2. When the intelligent life is evolved enough, god reveals himself to certain peoples in the best way he can, but the message gets misinterpreted/corrupted for some set of reasons.

3. It is at this time that the omni-god realizes that his original message has not been received accurately, since he has no divine foreknowledge to know how his humans will react.

4. After a period of frequent revelations that all get misinterpreted, god resorts to divine hiddenness as his best/most preferred way of dealing with the fact that his message has not been accurately received by his created creatures and watches in real time as they kill and harm each other over misinterpretations of this message and chooses to remain hidden and do absolutely nothing, even though for a time he was regularly interacting with people.

5. We find ourselves in the modern world with various different conflicting descriptions of god and purported revelations and an increasing number of secularists who logically are concluding that the best explanation of this is that man's imagination made up these concepts of god and religion.

6. This all might be part of god's plan somehow, and eventually god will reveal himself, and those unfortunate or foolish enough to have gotten the wrong message or interpretation, which turns out to be the vast majority of people throughout history, will be eternally separated from god and may suffer for an eternity.

7. This god is perfectly moral, and incapable of inflicting gratuitous suffering and is the only being worthy of worship and propitiation, even though no one can comprehend it, and the majority of people have the wrong god concept.

Makes sense right?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

To Turn Each Sin Against The Sinner

I just had an amazing idea.

Since many theists have a big problem with secularism, imagine if we passed a law that forced people of religious faith to live by a literal interpretation of their religious morality. So for example, imagine if the law said that for all Christians it was illegal to have sex outside of marriage, to masturbate, and to view pornography, and if they were caught having done so, they would be either jailed or stoned to death, as their god intends. Imagine if it was also illegal for Muslims and Jews to eat pork, and doing so would result in jail time. And since Islam forbids apostasy, those who left Islam would be executed as it says in the Hadith. It would be amazing. And these laws would only only apply to people in that religion, but none of these laws would apply to atheists.

How would we know who's a Muslim, a Christian or Jew? Easy. Everyone would be forced to register with the government with their religious affiliation. That way, when you're arrested for a crime they'd be able to know what laws apply to you. And when you order cable or internet service, they'd block porn to you if they saw that you were registered as a Christian, Muslim or Jew. Regular laws would apply to everyone as normal, but for those of specific religious faiths, extra religious laws would apply to them. This is all to turn each sin against the sinner, and force people who like to pay lip service to religion but don't want to actually live by their religion's rules be forced to live by the very rules they preach. It would be to demonstrate to theists just how awesome it is that they live in a secular democracy where they don't have to live under the rules of the very religions that they pretend to like and be a part of.

Think about it.

I would imagine that under such a scenario that people would be free to change their religious affiliation anytime they want, so no one would be forced to stay a Christian, Muslim or Jew. Well, Muslims would be executed for leaving Islam. So you can get in, but you can't leave. Lying to the government on religious status would result in jail or fines. It would be awesome.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Might God Be A Brute Fact Too?

Arguing the ontology of god with a theist will almost always get them making the case for god's existence being necessary. That is to say, they will argue that god must exist, because it is logically impossible for god not to exist. To do this, usually some version of the ontological argument must be made. I don't want to address the OA here because that's not my goal. Rather, I want to instead address something I stumbled upon through debating theists over what I think is one of the toughest questions you can throw at any theist. It is a question I asked in a recent post I made, why I'm an atheist.

In the post I made the argument that the god of classical theism is not logically possible and to demonstrate that I asked, "How does a timeless god who knows everything freely chose to create our world and not some other world?" It could also be asked referring to the universe, "How does a timeless god who knows everything freely chose to create our universe and not some other universe?" Go ahead and ask any theist (or deist) this question and then pay close attention to their answer.

First, notice that the question is a "how" question and not a "why" question. One Christian who responded to this question said, “Uh….how would I know why God chose our universe vs another universe?” This response totally misses the point, for the question is merely concerned about how it could be possible for a timeless god to create one particular universe over another, and not why (although once the how question is attempted the why question becomes more relevant as we'll see).

Second, there are at least two major interpretations that philosophers of religion have on god's relationship to time. One is that god is intrinsically timeless with or with out an act of creation, the other is that god is timeless prior the creation of the universe, and temporal subsequently. Neither of these views of god's relationship to time make any difference here because the question is concerned with god's choice prior to creation of our universe. There are some who believe god is fully temporal, or at least omni-temporal (existing at all moments in time), and that god exists in some sort of metaphysical time prior to physical time, but I've argued that the idea of metaphysical time amounts to nothing more than philosophical wordplay, whereby the theist unjustifiably claims god has time without having time.

This question occurred to me when I was thinking about Einstein's hypothetical question, "Did God have a choice in creating the universe?" I even wrote a blog about it here. The answer I've come up with is "No." God could not have a choice in creating the universe because choices require time and states of indecision. If god is omniscient and knows everything, then he knew that he would create our universe, and not any other universe, and he knew he would create a universe and not refrain from creation. For god to have had a choice in creating the universe, he would have had to exist in some moment or in some mental state where he was unsure of whether or not he would create a universe. For this to be possible god would have to exist in time and there would have to be something god couldn't know, namely, whether or not he'd create a universe. Such a god could not be timeless and omniscient, as the god of classical theism is described to be. And thus, the god of classical theism is not logically coherent.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Would Make You Change Your Mind?

In the fall out of the recent Nye vs. Ham debate, the internet is abuzz with Ham's admission that nothing would change his mind to accept evolution. Ham's faith in the literal truth of the Bible supersedes all possible evidence to the contrary. You see, Ham is really a presuppositionalist pretending to be an evidentialist. He presupposes, on faith, that the Bible is the literal word of god as his starting point, and then he "reasons" from there. There is no hope of having a rational debate with someone who adopts this mentality, because evidence and reason ultimately mean nothing to them; their sacred text is really the only thing that matters.

I, on the other hand, arrived at my atheism through a careful examination of all the evidence for and against theism. So that brings up the question, what would it take for me to accept that there is a god? What evidence would persuade me? Well, it is a worthy enough question. So let me list in the order of strongest to weakest evidence that would convince me that a god existed.

1. If there was direct, verifiable, empirical, scientific evidence for god, I would accept that god is real. This would be fantastically easy for any omnipotent god to provide. Now a critic would say this is too much down the line of logical positivism, but there is no reason why, in principle, god wouldn't or couldn't give us verifiable evidence for his existence. Many would say that if we had proof god existed, then we wouldn't be able to voluntary reject god. I disagree. I can reject my parents or my friends even though I don't deny that they exist, and so I can do the same with god. Thus I feel that the objections against why god wouldn't/couldn't give us proof don't hold up.

2. If, for example, all of the scientific evidence pointed to an earth and universe that was less than 10,000 years old and there was no evidence for evolution (as many creationists believe), or, if all the scientific evidence pointed to a relatively small, geocentric-model of the universe with earth at the center and all the planets and stars revolving around it, then I would say that there would certainly have to be a god, or some kind of creator that made the world for human beings.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Is Most Reliable Way To Truth?

I've made an outline of what I think are the most reliable ways to know something is true in descending order.

Consider what your reaction would be to a presuppositionalist who asked you if you could be wrong about everything you know. I've already written what I would say to this question in a post a while back that it's impossible for me to be wrong about everything I know. Some things I know for sure logically. But, the question now arises, what kind of knowledge am I most certain about? So here's a few considerations.

1. Logical truths about abstract objects and math. It seems to me that logical, or a priori truths about abstract objects would rank highest on the list of things I am most certain about. I know, for instance, that the three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. And even if the external world around me were somehow all an illusion, this would still have to be logically true.

2. Empirical truths about the external world. Scientific empiricism is the most reliable way to discover truth about the external, physical world and as such, when it comes to ontology, this is the preferred epistemology. The successful track record of science and empiricism is further evidence of this.

3. Observational truth about the external world. They say seeing is believing but that is not always so. We use non-scientific observation all the time in our daily lives as the means by which we know things to be true and it is often reliable. However, we do not always see things as they are and sometimes our minds can trick us. Memories can also be influenced and confabulated especially when we're under duress.

4. Logical truths about the external world. We sometimes infer what exists in the external world using the processes of deduction, induction and abduction. Although they are often reliable, pure logical reasoning alone is not always the best epistemology when inferring truths about physical reality. No logician for example, would ever be able to come up with the rules of quantum mechanics sitting in his armchair. Empirical evidence is needed to know many of the truths of the external world.

5. Intuition and faith based truths. Human intuition and faith based epistemologies are the most unreliable because they neither seek logic, reason or empirical evidence to discover anything about the external world. These epistemologies are what religions often rely on: using emotional to guide one towards truth. Arguably, something taken on faith that hasn't been logically or empirically verified cannot be said to be truth, and the failed track record of faith as an epistemology is proof positive of this.

Some might say that logical truths about abstract objects first involve input from empirical truths about the external world. I'm sympathetic to this argument. We learn about math as kids by using physical objects as representations of numbers before we learn that the numbers can operate abstractly. But I'm working here under the scenario in which the validity of our senses comes under question. In that case, it would seem to me that logical truths about abstract objects would offer the most reliable certainty since the negation of their truths would be impossible. But this doesn't allow the introduction of the concept of god as being a logical truth any more than it does ghosts, demons or leprechauns. The ontological argument to prove god's existence using pure logic fails on many levels, and we have good reasons to think the classical concept of god is illogical.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Few Questions About Heaven

No one, it seems, has ever been able to come up with a plausible description of what a heaven must be like, and ever since I was a kid I've had tons of questions about it. In conversations, sometimes I will hear people invoke the idea of heaven, but I don't think many of them have really thought about what it is they are talking about.

If a god exists and there is a heaven, you don't necessarily get to decide what heaven is going to be like. The popular notion of heaven is a place where you get to do all the things you want with no consequence. So those who are, say, addicted to sex, think that in heaven they'll be able to get to have sex as much as they want with no worry of STDs or pregnancy. And those who are addicted to eating think that in heaven they'll be able to eat anything they want and never get fat. These are the kinds of wild fantasies you'd expect many people to have. But in the traditional Christian notion of heaven there is no sex. There wouldn't be any reason for it. Sex in Christianity only has one purpose: to reproduce. And since no one is born in heaven, there is no reason anyone should be having sex. The same is true with eating. The only purpose eating has is to keep one alive. But since in heaven no one dies, there is no need to eat. The traditional Christian notion of heaven is a place with out sin. So that means no sex, no gambling, no drinking, no eating, and certainly no money or materialism.

So I came up with a few questions for the traditional Christian theist who thinks they're going to be happy forever in heaven.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Short Debate On God's Perfection

When I was bored a few nights ago I came across a Christian blog called "Rocket Philosophy" and a post called "A Defense of Classical Theism #8: God's Attributes" where the author made a case for god's perfect attributes. I couldn't resist the challenge. So below is a partial transcript from a discussion we had. You tell me who made the more rational position.

Me: [I]f god is declared perfect, and without flaw, who is that according to? Who makes that judgement and what standard is this flawlessness being judged by? I see many flaws with the god of the bible and Jesus. If my judgments don't count, then whose does and by what authority do they claim this right?

Theist: This philosophy includes essentialism, which you can read in part 1, #3 in the list here. So "perfection" means "being more like what it's supposed to be. For example, a more elephant-like elephant: both ears, intact trunk, etc.

Me: Saying god is more like what he's suppose to be, and therefore is perfect is still too vague. What is he supposed to be? And by what standard do we known and measure this by?

Theist: God is complete, not lacking in anything, because he has no potentials. This is what is meant by perfect.

Me: If god has no potential then how does god become a creator? In order to be a creator, you must be create, until then you might be a potential creator, but you are not yet a creator. How can god be complete if without the universe, god is not yet a creator, and he gains the attribute of creator only after he creates? Seems that god is gaining, which is impossible for a complete being.

Theist: God does not need to become a creator; he already is. Finished.

I posted another comment after this but the author didn't publish it. I think it's a little dishonest to assert god is a creator before he created anything. This theist apparently likes to make illogical assertions and does not like debating it. I find that this is the tactic that many theists have when they're backed into a corner. They just assert their dogma and abandoned the discussion.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Christian Responses To The Problem Of Suffering

To me, one of the strongest pieces of evidence against theism is the fact that the evolution of life on earth involved millions of years of conscious suffering and numerous mass extinctions for no logically necessary reason, and looks like a haphazard, undirected process driven by chance, and not design. For the educated theist who rejects a literal interpretation of Genesis, reconciling the suffering required by the evolutionary process with the perfect god of Christianity is quite a challenge. Stepping up to the plate to try and make sense of this dilemma, the BioLogos foundation, which serves to encourage Christians to embrace evolution, has offered several answers which I will critique below.

The following is taken from a 4 part series of posts on the BioLogos site called Death and Pain in the Created Order by Keith Miller. In the series, Miller produces 5 common theodicies that Christians have came up with over the years to try and reconcile their faith in a divinely created universe with the millions of years of suffering required by evolution, and then he offers us his personal theodicy.

1. Creation Corrupted by an Angelic Fall

I've actually debated this theodicy once with a theist (see here). What this explanation of suffering tries to do is say that somehow an angel fell "before" god created the universe (which means before god "created" time) and rebelled against god and so god decided then to create a world with millions of years of suffering. It's utterly preposterous and even Miller admits this is an inadequate explanation. It can also lead to ludicrous conclusions. Within this theodicy some believe that the devil and his minions made the evolutionary process give rise to things like disease and predation which lead to much of the suffering. But mind you, it is this very process of death and suffering that lead to human evolution. If it didn't happen, we wouldn't have evolved. To take this position is to say that the devil caused our evolution and that we wouldn't have evolved without the devil's interference! It also flies in the face of standard Christian orthodoxy that god and god alone single handedly resided over creation. Thus this position is untenable to the Christian theist.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Coming To Grips With Determinism

Relatively recently, I accepted determinism as the way the universe works. It took me several years and I fought tooth and nail to hold onto some notion of free will, but in the end I've had to accept that we are all determined beings and that free will is an illusion. If one accepts a purely materialist universe, which is essentially what atheism is, then one pretty much has to accept the notion that there is no free will. This is an implication of atheism that even many atheists do not even consider.

But consider this:

(1) If the universe is fundamentally material and all material obeys the laws of physics, and
(2) If human beings are fundamentally material, then
(3) Human beings obey the laws of physics, and
(4) Therefore there is no free will

There is no way to squeeze free will into this picture if one accepts materialism. But how then can we reconcile this with our experiences and how can we call ourselves "freethinkers" if we really are just determined organic machines? I've recently been thinking about this after getting into an online debate with a dualist over the data we have from neuroscience and its interpretations.

The data from neuroscience is completely compatible with the idea of determinism. In fact, it is from the data of neuroscience that one can reasonably conclude that we are determined by the laws of physics. Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London says, "As a neuroscientist, you've got to be a determinist. There are physical laws, which the electrical and chemical events in the brain obey. Under identical circumstances, you couldn't have done otherwise; there's no 'I' which can say 'I want to do otherwise'. It's richness of the action that you do make, acting smart rather than acting dumb, which is free will."

The fields of neuroscience and physics are filled with materialists. Given the data we have about how our consciousness is the last thing to show up on a list of brain functionality, I find it hard to see how anyone can still be a dualist, especially since both Cartesian dualism and interactionist dualism do not correspond with the data and have failed to yield any predictive power.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

William Lane Craig's Christmas "Gift" To Atheists

What can I say, the man never tires in his quest to evangelize the world into the Christian faith.

In William Lane Craig's recent op-ed on, he rolls out the same 5 tired old arguments for god's existence that he's been using for decades as a "gift" to atheists. It's not like as if many atheists will be on anyway. Most of us non-believers regard Fox News and everything that it does to be a charade, exemplified by their phony annual "War on Christmas," their bending over backwards for the religious right, and their outright lies and manipulations - to name a few. I can't see how any intelligent person, atheist or not, would take Fox News as a serious news organization.

But perhaps that makes it perfect for a person like William Lane Craig. I mean after all, he's first and foremost an apologist, and an apologist is a propagandist, who must lie and distort the facts in order to make their case convincing - in a way just like Fox News! So in Craig's piece, he challenges atheists who he claims "have no good reasons for their disbelief." Um, excuse me? We have plenty of good reasons for our disbelief, and I've recently outlined some of them in my post Why I'm An Atheist. But hey, Craig was only offering us his "experience." I will at least give him some credit that there has been a failure of many public atheists in communicating arguments for atheism properly. This is something atheists need to improve on. But for a person obsessed with atheism, William Lane Craig should have undoubtedly heard all the arguments by now and he's been called out several times on abysmal failures to refute arguments for atheism (like his failed attempt to claim animals do not consciously suffer). I suspect he really just wants to reassure his readers (who haven't researched into the arguments for atheism) that atheists don't have any good arguments in the hope they'll just take his word for it.

Friday, December 27, 2013

It's The Most Cumbersome Time Of The Year

For many non-Christians, Christmas is a confusing time of the year. If I had my way I probably wouldn't celebrate it at all, although I definitely enjoy the time off from work. As someone from a culturally Christian home, I do enjoy the season and I do enjoy the time spent with my family who I only see once or twice a year. But for many people around the world, Christmas has evolved into a celebration of consumerism. That's basically how I see it today. It's a capitalist holiday; an ode to corporations and our cultural materialism.

There's really nothing Christian about Christmas. December 25th was not Jesus' birthday, and many of the traditions trace its roots back to various pagan celebrations surrounding the winter solstice. Most of the festivities typically associated with Christmas, such as putting up the Christmas tree, hanging up stockings, burning the yule log, and the Santa Claus myth, all have their origins outside the Christian tradition. Perhaps it is time non-Christians reclaimed Christmas for what it is: a loose assortment of pagan beliefs, traditions and myths that were stitched together and incorporated into Christianity.

It's certainly something that will piss off many Christians. But then again, Christianity has never had a friendly relationship with facts. One thing I would like to see more of are Christians being properly educated about the rampant paganism in the Christmas tradition. Perhaps with a diligent education campaign, secularists will be able to reclaim the Christmas holiday season away from the Christian grinches who stole it.

God is dead dying

On a side note, this is a great time to celebrate if you're an atheist given the newly released Harris Poll  that is lighting up the blogosphere. Atheism and agnosticism are on the rise, and belief in god is on the decline. Santa hath delivered my wish this year.

The new poll indicates that only 74% of Americans believe in god. Although still a comfortable majority, that number has declined by almost ten points since 2005 when 82% of Americans reported god belief. For "echo boomers" (those under 35) which would include all of Generation Y, god belief tops out at just over two-thirds at 64%. Absolute certainty that god exists is down as well, from 66% to 54% in the last ten years. In addition, nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) describe themselves as "not at all" religious. These would be the "nones" we've been hearing so much about recently. The last Pew survey about the "nones" from 2012 indicated that 19.6% of Americans reported no religious affiliation at all. This new poll would indicate that this number has grown by 4 points in just one year but you have to factor in margins of error and other things of that nature. Nonetheless, that 12% of Americans do not believe in god, which by the way is the definition of an atheist, I think is amazing. Atheists now outnumber Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and all other non-Christian believers in the US combined by a long shot. We're a force to be reckoned with.

These are all excellent reasons to celebrate the holidays a little more this year for atheists like myself. The numbers show that the US is finally beginning to catch up with the rest of the industrialized world, especially Western Europe. Are we "echo boomers" going to be witnessing the slow death of god in our lifetime? Probably not, but a god so small and insignificant that you can drown in a bathtub is a god I can live with. For now ;)

See the rest of the Harris Poll here:

And have a very secular Christmas holiday!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Why I'm An Atheist

I've been feeling a bit compelled recently to write about why exactly it is that I'm an atheist and what reasons I have for being one. While I feel that this post was long overdue, an adequate justification for my atheism has been the product of a learning curve several years in the making. I know many others have written posts explaining why they aren't a Christian or why they aren't a Mormon, or a Muslim, etc., but technically I can't write a post like that because I was never myself a member of any religion. What I can do, is justify why I'm an atheist and why I think the naturalistic worldview best describes reality, and so here I want to put into a single post the main reasons why I personally am an atheist, and why I think you should be one too if you aren't already. I apologize for the length.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Is Advocating Atheism Proselytizing And Is Atheism A Movement?

I recently got into a flare up on Twitter with two other atheists who were accusing me of thinking atheism is a movement. Unfortunately, given Twitter's 140 character limitation, it's really hard to write what you really want to write, so I thought I would clear things up here.

In a recent post, I asked the question, "Should those of us who are in some way in the atheist movement really care why someone is an atheist, or should we just be content that the person is an atheist at all?" For some atheists, there is no such thing as an atheist movement because atheism is a lack of something; it's the absence of a belief in god, and just like how not playing basketball is not a sport, you can't turn nonbasketball playing into a movement. But suppose 90 percent of the world played basketball, and those who didn't were routinely discriminated against to the point where many people felt pressure to conform and pretend to like and play basketball in order to feel accepted. And suppose nonbasketball players were being coerced into playing basketball and told that if they didn't play they would go to hell. Imagine this was also forced onto children from an early age. If these nonbasketball players organized and came out and asserted their equal rights and how utterly insane it is to think that not playing basketball will send you to hell, I'd say that these nonbasketball players would appear to be engaged in a movement.

Atheism itself is simply just the disbelief that any gods exist. If you want to say that it's also the lack of a positive belief that gods exists, then fine. I'm not going to get all heated up over a difference I think is trivial. But when I said "atheist movement" I was referring to the people in the atheist community who are open about their atheism (either in person or online) who are advocating for the equal rights of atheists (who are still routinely discriminated against), who are seeking to change cultures that are hostile to atheists by educating the public on what atheism is and what atheists are, and who are advocating atheism and defending it against attacks. I was not trying to say that atheism itself is a movement. I'm saying that atheists who are open about their worldview and who are engaging in any of the above, especially if they're organized, are engaging in a movement. So if you're a member of your local atheist group, or if you're a member of your college atheist or secular club, or, if you're just open about your atheism and what you stand for, then in my eyes, you're part of a movement. What else would you call the organization of people who are specifically trying to spread atheism and the acceptance of atheists?


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