Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Doubletalk On Verificationism

I recently tweeted:

Think about it. What kind of evidence would a theist need to be shown that contradicts their theology? For most, if not all theists, they'd have to be shown empirical evidence. That's right. Theists raise the bar to the level of empirical evidence when it comes to any science that contradicts their beliefs. But they all make exceptions when it comes to the supernatural claims which skeptics reject due to the fact that they cannot be verified.

This is a clear contradiction.

Take the soul for example. We have no evidence that we can use to verify its existence. The soul must be believed on faith. Every theist knows this, and yet, the theist will accuse the skeptic of being a verificationist, or a positivist, if he demands empirical scientific evidence for the soul.

But then the theist will demand that same level of empirical scientific evidence for anything that goes against their theology. For example, with evolution most creationists demand to see with their own eyes one species evolving into another; only then can evolution be true. And when it comes to cosmology, many theists demand to see the multiverse with their own eyes in order for them to believe it - mathematical descriptions are just not enough.

I'm just saying that if the theist wants to be a bit skeptical about things that we cannot directly see, then why not be consistent and apply that to angels, demons, the soul and to god himself?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 Is Full Of Lies!

I stumbled upon this site called recently. It's another Christian propaganda site trying to target young students. It's filled with the usual arguments from design and first causes and on one of its pages titled, "Is There A God?" I came across some really bad arguments and couldn't resist refuting some of them since these kinds of sites do reach a number of kids and young adults who probably don't know any better. 

"God himself took on the form of man and accepted the punishment for our sin on our behalf. Sounds ludicrous? Perhaps, but many loving fathers would gladly trade places with their child in a cancer ward if they could."

Yeah but you know what? Loving fathers who were all-powerful and who could wipe out cancer instantly just by thinking about it would do that instead of trade places with their child. Likewise, god could have created a world where we don't all go to hell by default, where there is no original sin, or where we were not designed as sinners and then punished for our very nature. (He could have also created a world with no cancer) These are all logically possible worlds god could have chosen to create if he exists and is indeed all-powerful. But god knowingly chose to create the world where we'd sin and deserve to go to the hell that he created for us, where he'd have to impregnate an underage virgin girl to give birth to himself to be sacrificed to himself in order to redeem the world and save us all, from himself. Sound Ludicrous? Yes.

"What proof did Jesus give for claiming to be divine? He did what people can't do. Jesus performed miracles. He healed people...blind, crippled, deaf, even raised a couple of people from the dead."

Yeah, according to the Bible! - which is completely unreliable. We have no other evidence that any of these supposed events ever occurred. Christians seem to take for granted that the Bible is accurate and telling the truth, and are blissfully unaware that non-Christians do not assume this by default.

"Don't be a fan." - Christopher Hitchens

I've been on a role blogging everyday this month, sometimes twice a day. In fact, I've written more posts this month than I did in all of 2011 (36). That's because that year I was working a really stressful job over 60 hours a week and I was often working 6 days a week. I have so many ideas in my head that I want to commit to print. I want to write more about what secularism means in practical terms. I want to take on more criticism of atheism and non-belief and take on more arguments for theism. The problem is finding the time and the patience. Most of my free time now is spent blogging. It's highly addictive. I can sometimes stay up for hours at night finishing a nice blog. And once I get started, I sometimes just can't stop until I'm done. I don't like leaving unfinished business.

That being said, I just noticed that I never wrote about the time I met Christopher Hitchens. By the summer of 2010, I had become completely obsessed with Hitchens. I had watched all his debates, interviews, and appearances on YouTube and everyday I was looking him up to see when a new video had been unloaded. I went out and bought his best seller God is Not Great. Through my obsession with him he had a profound impact on my life. I wanted to be an intellectual like him. I wanted to be an antitheist like him. I wanted to drink whiskey and smoke and be cocky like him. I was already a smoker, and somewhat of a drinker (although not an alcoholic), and I was already into politics and intellectual discussions. I had a knack for being a natural debater but I wanted to be a full on polemicist, like Hitch was.

Then came the news that he had gotten cancer. I was on vacation in Asia at the time. At first I didn't realize how serious the cancer was, because people get cancer all the time and live. But then when I returned home the news of his cancer, esophageal cancer, was grim. Only 5 percent of those diagnosed with it survival when it's in stage 4, as was the case with Hitchens. So when a Google search of his name landed me on a page that said he was going to have a debate in town on whether Islam was a religion of peace, I ordered my ticket immediately. The debate eventually sold out quickly and I got lucky because had I been another day or two late, I wouldn't have made it. The thought had also occurred to be that this could be the only chance I get to ever see him, my intellectual hero.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Keepin' It Secular (A Debate On Gay Marriage)

The other week I had a debate with a Christian over that onerous issue of gay marriage. He's a guy I've come to know through several philosophy and debate group meetups. Although he's a pretty conservative Christian of the Calvinist strip, he's actually a decent guy and I enjoy conversing and debating with him. We are always able to set aside our differences and engage each other with mutual respect even after long heated discussions. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Last month he had challenged me on gay marriage at a debate meetup. He's against it, I'm for it. Then last week, at a philosophy discussion meetup I challenged him again on it. I wanted to get to the root at what his justifications are for beings against it are. Here's what argument ultimately boils down to:

  1. Gay sex doesn't lead to the procreation of the species, therefore
  2. it is unnatural.
  3. Because gay sex is unnatural, gay marriage should not be recognized by law.

This is a common argument that many opponents are giving against gay marriage because they can try to appeal here to nature and not to their Bible. So let's break down this argument as I did during our debate on it. 

First, I made an objection to his definition of unnatural as relating to procreation with the fact that oral sex and anal sex doesn't lead to procreation, and yet it is recognized by law. He supports the right for sinful sex acts to be performed among consenting adults, but says that gay marriage is different because marriage by definition is between a man and a woman. He get's this definition from somewhere in the Bible.

So I objected with the fact that the Bible allows incest, polygamy and child brides. He said, as pretty much all Christians do, that god tolerated those things but didn't approve of them. But after debating him on the fact that the Bible does endorse those things, not just tolerate them, I said to him that we live in a secular democracy, and that there is no reason why in a secular country, we should use a Biblical definition of marriage (even though it is disputed that the Bible only endorses a one man + one woman combination). He insisted that it's part of nature that homosexuality is a mutation and is therefore unnatural. So I probed this further.

I argued that if homosexuality is a mutation, a deviation from the natural order, it is still natural. Natural means "of nature" and since gay people are born the way they are, homosexuality is natural and even found in animal species. He said this was controversial, but even if true, still wouldn't warrant the rights of gay people to marry. He also has concocted this theory that as gay people gain more power, they will teach people to be homosexual in the hopes of one day turning everyone gay. Now this absurd theory - if we can even call it a theory - diminishes his credibility enormously on his stance against gay marriage because it exposes what may be behind his real motivations.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vicarious Redemption And Masochism

In almost all ancient cultures you had the idea that humans or animals could be sacrificed, and that this sacrifice would somehow make your situation better. The ancient Aztecs were ripping out human hearts and offering them to their sun-god in the hopes that it would keep him happy and he would continue to rise everyday and provide them with warmth and nourishment. The ancient Jews would pile all of the townspeople's sins onto an animal, and send that animal out into the desert to die of thirst and hunger, atoning for the sins of the people in the process.

Sacrificial offerings are an ancient relic of our primitive past. There is a reason why no one in the modern world sacrifices people or animals anymore: it doesn't work. Nature doesn't give a crap one way or another whether we offer it a lamb or a warm, beating heart.

That brings me to Christianity. Christianity is not a religion that repudiates human sacrifice. Christianity is a religion that celebrates a single human sacrifice as though it were effective. Jesus dies for the charge of blasphemy under the Jewish high court, and his followers begin believing that his death on the cross was a vicarious redemption for the sins of all mankind. Now let's set aside arguments for the historicity of this event for now, let's focus on the story. As kid growing up hearing of the crucifixion I always thought it was kind of silly. I mean why would god sacrifice his own son to us, and why would we all need a sacrifice anyway? Then I came across Hitchens' critique of the crucifixion and it got me thinking even more about it. Hitch said the vicarious redemption was the sickest aspect of Christianity, which I thought was ironic in a way, because it's the one thing Christians must believe in to be properly called Christians.

Hitch argued that the abdication of moral responsibility through being thrown onto Jesus' torture and death was morally reprehensible. I don't disagree with him that the idea of thinking you can be purified of all your faults via a human sacrifice is a gross perversion of morality and is also a relic of our superstitious and ancient ways of thinking. But talk to a Christian about this, and it all makes perfect sense. They'll say it was necessary and was an act of grace and love on god's part to sacrifice his only son for our sins. And they'll say that we all deserve to have been sent to hell in the absence of this offer without hesitation.

That's what years of religious brainwashing will do to you.

But looking at this attitude from another angle, the ease with with Christians justify our lowly state and deserve of eternal punishment kind of reminds me how many abused wives will justify their husband's abuse by saying that they deserve it, and that their husbands beat them because he loves them. And they'll say things like, "It's all my fault for not pleasing him properly." This to me sounds exactly like the excuses many Christians make for god's anger, wrath and judgement. "It's always our fault," they'll say, "we deserve his judgement and punishment." "We're sinners." The similarities here between abused wives and Christians are amazing. This all to me sounds like they are products of the masochistic aspect of the human personality. There is a part in all of us, to varying degrees, that wants us to feel like a lowly, unworthy, piece of crap that is always wrong, and in need of discipline and correction. That's ultimately where the masochistic aspects of religion and abuse comes from.

One of the reasons why Christianity was so successful, I think, is due to its amazing ability to capitalize on the guilt and masochism that lurks in the minds of its followers. It is thoroughly imbued with guilt, and what more could the masochistic aspect of the mind want more than to find an outlet to justify it's feelings of unworthiness and desire for punishment?

Questions For Atheists - Part 7 (Just Curious)

I've finally reached the end of Phil Fernandes' challenging questions to atheists with my intellectual integrity intact and unscathed. The last section of questions seems to be really just a bunch of miscellaneous questions about cosmology and evolution and morality, perhaps his last ditch attempt to damage my intellectual integrity. Considering how far I've come and how all of his questions so far seem to have stemmed from monumental ignorance about the most basic science, I highly doubt they'll be anything here remotely challenging.

1. If caterpillars could talk, would they argue against the cocoon-of-the-gaps with their butterfly friends?

Presumably, if caterpillars had enough intelligence to talk, they'd figure out science and answer this question using the scientific method. They'd be able to observe other caterpillars cocooning themselves after some honest inquiry and not need to resort to fantasy tales of magic. Although, they might have to all suffer intellectually through many years of ignorance until they figured this out, just like how we did.

2. If there was a Big Bang, where did the bullets come from? Who pulled the trigger and who manufactured the gun?

There couldn't have been anyone pulling the trigger given the standard big bang model because it was the beginning of time and thus no events could have preceded it. That's why it couldn't have had a cause.

See more on the cosmological argument here and here.

3. How does science weigh morality? Does ‘goodness’ expand when frozen or rise when heated?

I don't believe like Sam Harris does that you can describe morality strictly in scientific terms. Morality is ultimately in the domain of philosophy, not science. But, that doesn't mean that science has nothing to say about morality. Science can give us empirical answers as to what actions we commit will harm those affected by them. For example, Europeans used to think Africans weren't human and thus weren't entitled to be treated like humans. Science has proven that Africans are just as human as Europeans and as well as all other races. So empirical answers could be given regarding such moral concerns. The same was true about smoking. In the 1940s and 50s, doctors used to recommend their patients smoke because it was believed to be helpful. Then we learned it caused cancer. And after that fact emerged, it would have been immoral for a doctor to recommend their patient smoke, because they would've been knowingly harming their patient's health.

See more on moral arguments here, here and here.

4. If man is just an evolved animal, why have we never observed another species thrilling in the beauty of a sunset or a picturesque mountain view?

I don't see how the fact that man evolved has anything to do with whether animals enjoy sunsets. Maybe they do. Maybe birds enjoy their aerial views as they fly across beautiful landscapes. Maybe chimpanzees enjoy the mountain views from the canopies of their jungle homes. Even if they do not, our ability to enjoy beauty is most likely a byproduct of our evolved consciousness that natural selection embedded into us. And what about those of us who are mentally handicapped who'll never enjoy a sunset or a scenic landscape? Did god purposely screw them over? 

5. While you've most likely heard, “Forever’s a long time to be wrong,” have you ever considered it’s also a “long time to be right?”

If implied in this question is the vague threat of eternal hell fire, then I don't want to allow fear to cloud my mind. To me the best way to construct reality is to educate yourself on the facts as much as possible and follow the evidence where it leads. Any time fear enters the mind, you are bound to start thinking irrationally. I want to know the truth. We all do. If the evidence lead me to religion, I'd go that way. But a close look at the evidence for god and for Christianity and other religions has shown me that they all are based on logic derived primarily from faulty human intuition and leaps of faith aided by confirmation biases motivated by emotion. That's why apologetics ultimately fails. And it only ever succeeds in winning over hearts and minds when it preaches to the vulnerable and uneducated. 

Final Thoughts

Why did I do this? Several reasons. First, I wanted to challenge myself. I think no one should ever get complacent in their worldview for too long, and a good challenge is necessary from time to time. That beings said, Phil Fernandes' questions were hardly a challenged as I consider myself pretty seasoned in the realm of counter apologetics. This shows you how naive he is about his own views of religion, science and philosophy. I'm sure William Lane Craig could've provided much tougher questions.

Second, I did this for other atheists and skeptics out there who may have been hit with one of Phil's questions either online or in person and needed to look it up online to find an answer. If someone in that position hit my site and I was able to provide them with a decent answer that they could also possibly use as a counter argument, I will have considered this a success. As I come across additional challenges on the internets, I will take them head on too. If you have any questions or need me to elaborate on an answer, feel free to ask, and I will try to provide you with a more thorough response. 

Until then, this is your atheist in the city here, keepin' it secular. Over and out.

Questions For Atheists - Part 6 (Prophesy, Christianity, Jesus Christ)

In part 6 of Phil Fernandes' questions to challenge atheists, we focus on Christianity and its central figure, Jesus Christ. I've recently become somewhat obsessed with biblical criticism and criticism specifically of Christianity so this should be an interesting set of questions for me. Let's see if my atheism can maintain its intellectual integrity through this gauntlet or if it turns out that it's Phil's questions that make him lose his integrity.

1. Since absolutely no Bible prophecy has ever failed (and there are hundreds), how can one realistically remain unconvinced that the Bible is of Divine origin?

I hear this from devout Christians all the time. They are absolutely convinced that the Bible is the 100 % perfect word of god and that all biblical prophesies came true. It's a sad testament of their credulity. The one alleged prophesy that comes to mind that didn't succeed when I hear this assertion, is Jesus' promise to his followers that the end was near and that this would happen before his follower's generation would "pass away." (Matthew 24:29-35; also Mark 13:24-31) Well his followers have long since died, and no apocalyptic sign of Jesus in the sky with angles and a darkened sun and moon and falling stars has occurred. And to the skeptic like me, isn't it more obvious that the stories in the Bible that appear to confirm prophesies were simply just insertions of fiction by the authors who knew of the prophesies written in previous books and who wanted to fulfill them? 

2. How do you explain David's graphic portrayal of Jesus' death by crucifixion (Psalm 22) 1000 years before Christ lived?

I believe you can read into religious texts what ever you want, and you can twist vague references however you want to suite your needs. This question also assumes that the gospel accounts are correct and accurate about the details surrounding Jesus' death. I hold no such views. To me, the New Testament is at least partly a work of fiction whose authors simple wrote it in such a way to fulfill so called prophesies of the Old Testament. We have no contemporary sources of Jesus's life at all. And even the gospels themselves were written 40-70 years after the supposed events they describe by people who were not eyewitnesses and who were hearing the story probably on second, third and fourth hand accounts in Greece. 

3. How do you explain that the prophet Daniel prophesied the exact YEAR when the Christ would be presented as Messiah and also prophesied that the temple would be destroyed afterwards over 500 years in advance (Daniel 9:24-27)?

We simply don't know that the New Testament accounts of Jesus were accurate in some of their details, or whether they are partly fictional or completely fictional. If you know of a prophesy already written, you can fulfill it by acting it out, or, easier still, you can create a work of fiction that fulfills it. I am certain that the New Testament contains at least some fictionalized accounts in it from the narrative structure resembling myth, and the embellishments that Matthew, Luke and John contain from Mark's gospel. Aside from that, since Phil gives us no source other than the book of Daniel itself, there is criticism that the author of Daniel's numbers add up as expected. See this link here.

4. How could any mere human pinpoint the precise birth town of the Messiah seven full centuries before the fact, as did the prophet Micah?

The alleged prophesy in question here is from Micah 5:2. Here we can cite additional criticism from, "The "Bethlehem" in Micah 5:2, rather than being a town, was very likely intended as a reference to the head of a family clan. What many people who stand in awe of this alleged prophecy fulfillment don't know is that a person named Bethlehem was an Old Testament character descended from Caleb through Hur, the firstborn son of Caleb's second wife, Ephrathah (I Chron. 2:18; 2:50-52; 4:4)." The passage in Micah also says that the person prophesied will be a "ruler in Israel." Jesus clearly was no ruler. Any reading of the verse will show you how vague it is as are all other alleged prophesies that I've been told exist in the Bible and the Qur'an. There is also evidence that the gospel accounts made Jesus' birth take place in Bethlehem in order to fulfill the alleged prophesy. So since Phil has no other accounts to corroborate where Jesus was born, or that he even lived at all other than the gospels, why should any skeptic accept this alleged prophesy as anything other than a work of fiction?


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