Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Halloween Can Teach Atheists About Other Holidays

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bill Maher Is Right On Islam

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

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

A Few Of The Evil Deeds Done By Protestants

A Christian linked me to a blog in order to provide arguments that the Spanish Inquisition was not really all that bad, but what caught my attention was that it contained a list of some of the evil deeds done by Protestants that I was not aware of. Now I don't blame religion on all of the world's problems, and I don't think that every conflict between two groups of people who are of different religions or religious denominations is always entirely a religious conflict. But I do think that whenever there is a conflict between two groups of people, if they differ in religion, the problem is almost always made worse.

Take the 17th century English military leader Oliver Cromwell for example. After he rose through the ranks during the English Civil war, he invaded Ireland to help spread Protestantism after some of the Irish Catholics there killed some Protestants, and in effect lead to the deaths or exile of anywhere between a quarter to a third of the Irish population. Was it religion or was it politics? There's no doubt that even if given the most charitable assessment, there's a religious component that made the situation worse. Cromwell believed his military campaign in Ireland was a judgement from god, as he thought pretty much everything that happened was. And to this, I'm reminded of the words of Christopher Hitchens who asked, when you sincerely believe you've got god on your side, what amount of violence are you not capable of accomplishing?

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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Walk Through Chinatown

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

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

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

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Ontological Argument And The Moral Argument Are Incompatible

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

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

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

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

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


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