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.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Secularism Is Not State Atheism

You don't know how many times I've been debating a theist on religion and god and they bring up communism as an argument against atheism. You simply cannot conflate atheism with communism. They are two are different things. One is the disbelief in god, the other is a political ideology based on a socialist economy and shared ownership of resources. Atheism is not a political philosophy and says nothing about what kind of government one should live under. An atheist can be a communist, a capitalist, a socialist, a democrat, a republican, or a libertarian.

Secularism is the principle that religion and government should be separate, and that government should take a neutral position on matters of god and religion. That is quite different from state atheism. State atheism is when the government takes an officially atheistic position and may restrict religious worship publicly and privately. That is not secularism. Under secularism the government does not take sides and endorse one religion over the other. In a secular society, I should be able to ask what the official government position on religion and god is, and I should be told that there isn't one. Secularism means religious belief is allowed in the private sector, and that citizens may believe whatever they want and be open about it, but they cannot use government to privilege one religion over another.

Secularism also doesn't mean that the government endorses atheism. Not acknowledging god is not an endorsement of atheism. No school teacher or government official should be forcing atheism onto anyone. By neutral, I mean that government does not endorse or restrict religious belief in the private sector. Individuals working for the government can have private religious beliefs, but when they are on the job they cannot preach or favor one religion over another.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, secularism means that laws must be crafted free of theistic or religious justification. That is to say, one cannot use a religion or god as the basis to justify a law being proposed. There must be a secular justification, and if one cannot be made, the law violates secularism. This makes many theists angry, because many of them know that without presupposing their religion as grounds for which their agenda is being justified, they cannot make a secular argument supporting the laws they'd like to see passed. But this is exactly what secularism is supposed to prevent.

The problem with this misunderstanding here is that many theists trot out communism as "proof" that atheism is detrimental to society and they drill this belief into the heads of their audience over and over again. And so theists begin to conflate atheism with communism, and secularism with state atheism, as if they're all the same, but they're not. And only a fool continues to make the same refuted argument and fails to learn from it.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Further Thoughts On Brute Facts

I've been dry on material lately. I wanted to write a good blog post today but I don't think that's going to happen. There are a few issues on my list of topics to write about. If I could list a few of the political issues that come to mind that are most important to me, they would be church/state issues and secularism, income inequality, college affordability, climate change, and social justice. All of these issues are dear to my heart. I was considering a possible new direction for this blog, away from the emphasis on counter-apologetics and towards something more political, or perhaps more personal, whereby I'd be focusing a lot more on social/political issues as it relates to my life. This is a possibility, and by no means a certainty. The main problem with this is that I don't deal with people in my life that regularly oppose my viewpoints. I never encounter religious fundamentalists, and most of the people around where I live are liberal or left-leaning.

For now I want to refocus on the idea of brute facts once again. If you're an atheist, you take the position that the universe, multiverse, or existence itself, is pretty much a brute fact. Existence exists, and that's just the way it is. The universe just is. We just are. There is no further meaning or answer or purpose available. I can certainly see from the point of view of the philosopher, how this conclusion leaves one yearning for more. The "why is there something rather than nothing" question may be the greatest in all of philosophy, and believe me I don't come to the conclusion of brute facts lightly. I too feel the need to explain our existence with some greater exegetical power than we just are.

First, we know how we got here. We have a great understanding of the cosmic and biological evolution that has resulted in our existence. But is it possible that there is an underlying reason why this process occurred? I'm not necessarily alluding to the classical gods of religion, but might there be an impersonal conscious force that can supply the why question with satisfaction? It seems to me that the answer to the ultimate of questions will be either that there is some kind of deistic god that exists, or there is no god or gods at all and that atheism is true. Theism to me is not on the table, because I feel that all notions of theism fail to make any logical sense, especially given the evidence we have available to us. So it seems to me that either deism or atheism is true. But it is possible that they're both wrong, and there is a third option that is not deism, atheism or theism, that would be in Donald Rumsfeld lingo, an "unknown unknown." That is to say, it is an option that we don't even know about that may or may not be right. That to me is definitely on the table, but it seems very likely that atheism or deism are our two most plausible candidates.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

50 Years Since Beatlemania Hit The US

50 years ago the Beatles touched down in the newly renamed John F. Kennedy Airport, and Beatlemania hit the US. It was the beginning of a cultural phenomenon, the likes of which has never been seen before, or since. From that point onward, American music was forever changed, and the Beatles would go onto define the sound of  the decade along with an entire generation.

Beatlemania hit me in the summer of 2001. I remember exactly how it happened. I was working out at a local gym and I heard a song come on the radio on the speakers. It was "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by George Harrison. It hit me at just the right time, in just the right way, that it sparked my interest in all things Beatles and I eventually collected most of their albums.

I had heard them before; a friend of mine had been a big Beatles fan and I was of course familiar with their music, but early on they just didn't strike the right chord with me. The way I get into a band is funny. Sometimes I hear a band and I don't like them, and then I hear the right song at just the right time, in just the right circumstance and somehow I get hooked.

The Beatles are one of those unique bands that get near-universal respect from all artists and subcultures. I remember even my metal head friends in high school respecting them for allowing heavy metal to evolve. I remember growing my hair out long for the first time because I wanted to look like I was a Beatle. My newfound Beatlemania back in 2001 was part of a larger context and phenomenon going on around me. The indie rock explosion was just happening right at the same time and mop tops came back into style. The 90s shit that I had hated so much seemed to be quickly disappearing and replaced by this new culture in which everything retro was in. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals, The Who, along with Led Zeppelin, The Stooges and a host of other bands from the 60s and 70s seemed to be undergoing a popular resurgence. Many of the contemporary bands at that time had a sixties mod look and influence, indicating the Beatles' influential power 40 years later.

For me, it was the perfect mix, and I became enthralled at watching the Beatles almost as much as many of those screaming teenage girls were all those years ago. They were to me, more popular than Jesus. By far.

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.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sunday Assembly: My Review

Yesterday I attended New York's Sunday Assembly branch. It's a secular "church" that's part of a concept hatched in England back in 2013. I personally never went to church growing up, so the idea of any church, let alone a secular church is a bit foreign to me. But the weather was nice and I had the day free of any responsibilities and so I thought, what the heck, I'd give it a try.

I went alone, and showed up about 15 minutes late. It was held at the Society for Ethical Culture in New York on the Upper West Side. It was the same venue that I saw Sam Harris speak back in 2010 during his Moral Landscape tour. There was a guy with a guitar singing to a crowd of about 100 or so people. The topic of the assembly was on love, I suppose since it's February and Valentine's day is a few weeks away. A few guest speakers came out and spoke about relationships and love and how they're all tied in. Then an awkward moment came when one of the organizers asked us all to speak to the person sitting next to us and share some advice about love. Oh boy.

I'm not an expert on love at all. In fact, I've never actually been in love and I'm over 30. I have no idea what it's like to be in, or have to deal with a mutually loving relationship. So I explained to the married couple sitting next to me that I am the least qualified person on the topic of love. They intercut the speeches with songs in which the audience was encouraged to sing along with. This to me was even more awkward. I know in churches that they sing songs of worship where everyone participates. For some reason I just couldn't force myself to sing long with the Beatles' All You Need Is Love. Not that I don't like the Beatles, it's just that the idea singing alone with a bunch of strangers to me is a little, cultish. 

The entire assembly lasted about 2 hours. At no point was there any attempt to inculcate any kind of beliefs, secular or otherwise, and so it's possible to be a believer of some sort of god and attend without conflict. After it was over, there was coffee and food and people socialized but I didn't really talk to anyone. I tried making some plans later that day with friends but they all fell through, and so I eventually went home. Overall it was a decent experience but I'm not sure if it was right for me. I suppose if I got to know other people and made friends it would be better. It's something I might consider going to again, but I'd prefer to spend my Sundays either at a debate Meetup or something where I can get my intellectual fix as opposed to singing songs in unison with a bunch of fellow secularists. I think things like Sunday Assembly best serve those who came from religious backgrounds who were church going and would like a secular alternative to fill that void. I'm not knocking it, though. I'm just not sure it's right for me. But I do hope it grows and that a growing secular population finds it to be a comforting alternative to the traditional church model. 


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