Sunday, November 30, 2014

No more posts from this blog.

I am moving my blogging away from blogger onto a wordpress based solution on another host. I have been long disappointed with the features and lack of support blogger provides. The last insult being that due to a snafu on Google's part I cannot carry over my domain Skeptimusprime.com to the new host. From here on out my new posts can be views through SkeptimusPrime.net.

This site will stay up for archive purposes, at least for now, in the meantime update your links to my new page. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Skeptics who don’t know how to be skeptics.

I had a disappointing experience this last week when a fellow skeptic (and person I had previously thought of as a friend) viciously attacked me, and ended that friendship over what I thought was a fairly minor disagreement. It’s experiences like this that make me want to give up on even involving myself with the skeptical movement, not because I don’t believe in the basic principles espoused in the movement, but because it seems like so few people in the movement actually embody these principles.

I’ve written before on my blog that I fear that some skeptics/atheists are little more than people who like to sit around and pat each other on the back for being smarter than everyone else. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this kind of behavior. When I was a fundamentalist I knew many fellow Christians who did the same thing, only rather than for being smarter it was because they were saved and everyone else was destined for hell. Even though I’m an atheist, I still have a good deal more respect for a Christian who tries to convert me than one who treats their “correct beliefs” as something to smugly hold over others.

More than a wiliness to educate others, though, is the need for self criticism. If our attempts to educate people on science, reason and other subjects are to be taken seriously then we MUST be our own worse critics. If we aren’t, then we are inconsistent at best and hypocrites at worst. When fellow skeptics tell me I must not disagree with them or their friends, this sends off warning bells in my head that this person isn’t really interested in skepticism; they are just interested in being right, or more accurately, in being told they are right, and they use the skeptical movement as nothing more than a group of “yes men” to make them feel good about themselves.

I tend to notice three separate arguments come up in the conversations with these sorts of “skeptics”:

1. Isn’t it better to have friends than be right?

This question is a bit loaded, but the short answer is that if your answer to this question is an unequivocal yes, then you have no business calling yourself a skeptic. The much longer answer is that it really varies depending on the friend. For starters, I have lots of friends who aren’t involved in skepticism, or who do not engage me in my debate spaces, for whom I tend to be much less picky. For one because these people aren’t representing organizations that promote critical thought, and for two because those people have not invited such conversations. I love talking moral philosophy but I’m not going to force a conversation about that with every person I meet.

On the other hand if another persons position is that I can be their friend only if I never openly disagree with them, then honestly, no, I don’t want to be that persons friend, regardless of whether they call themselves a skeptic or not, because that person sounds controlling and manipulative.

2. You are being divisive to the movement, and you need to stop that.

I hear this one constantly, not always directed at me, mind you, but just as often directed at other bloggers I’m fans of who occasionally criticize some of the skeptical movement’s shortcomings. Of course, it is not entirely inaccurate to claim that disagreements can be divisive, but only if the people involved let it. For instance, I missed the last American Atheist conference, but I happen to know that they invited the Reverend Barry Lynn to speak there because of his defense of the separation of church and state. Every atheist at that conference openly disagrees with Lynn on the question of god’s existence but it doesn’t stop both us and Lynn from being partners on the things we do agree on, nor does it mean that we pretend those disagreements don’t exist.

The point is that disagreement is only divisive if you are so personally invested in your beliefs that you view any questioning of them as an assault on you personally. This is a natural tendency, but it’s not one conducive to being rational and as skeptics something we must all work to avoid. The way I see it, I think people who launch personal attacks and end friendships over disagreements are doing much more to divide the movement than those who try to offer a polite critique of someone else's arguments. Also, as I pointed out earlier, refusing to engage with others’ critiques of your position without some reasonable cause (such as a critic being abusive) is simply a refusal to be a skeptic in any meaningful sense. Which brings me to the last argument I hear.

3. You pretend civility is important, but you really just use it to avoid listening to those who disagree with you/you are just as much of an asshole as me, you just use requests for civility to hide it.

Now, let me be fair here. I’m human and therefore quite imperfect, so it is entirely possible, even likely, that I don’t always enforce civility rules equitably within the online spaces I control. I may let my friends off the hook for something I would call someone else on, I may be more likely to notice the incivility of those I’m disagreeing with than those I agree with. I can do the best I can, but I’ll never be perfect.

As an example about a week ago I had a person on my Facebook page insult another poster, I asked him to knock it off if he wanted to continue to have the right to post on my page and he responded by personally attacking me with a misogynistic insult. I said “fuck you” and I blocked him. The blocking was justified, I’d already warned him this would be the result and he doubled down. However, saying “fuck you” before I did it wasn’t my most shining moment. Not because of any rule against swearing, or because I’m worried about hurting this guy’s feelings, but because for just a moment he dragged me down to his level. Still, that we sometimes fail is no reason to not try.

What I find ironic about this argument is that, by and large, those that use it are usually the quickest to anger and the most consistently antagonistic towards those they disagree with. I may not be perfect, but I know that there is a world off difference between saying, “that argument is faulty” and saying, “you are a shitty person.” Though I’m beginning to think that people who make this argument legitimately can’t see the difference between the two since they always seem confused when I try to explain it. I’ve been told my various “failures” stemmed from everything from not having been socialized properly as a child to not getting “laid” often enough, by people who seemed bewildered when I suggested that their behavior is uncalled for and obviously worse than anything they have received from me.

Of course, to be clear, I’m not saying “that argument is faulty” is always acceptable and “you are a shitty human being” is always wrong. In fact, I can think of exceptions in each case, which I won’t get into here, however, I don’t think it’s bad as a general principle to say the first is usually ok, and the second is usually wrong, and we should have a good reason for deviation from that.

I also don’t much accept the argument that I use requests for civility to avoid arguments I don’t like. Remember that discussion I mentioned earlier where I blocked someone? In that same discussion I disagreed with another person just as strongly who did not get blocked because, while I still disagree with him, he didn’t start hurling insults at people because of this disagreement.

So what should we take from all of this? All I can really say is don’t be that person. Don’t be the skeptic who refuses to take your own medicine. Your ideas need to be critiqued as much as the next guy and you are at risk for every single one of those logic problems that skeptics groups point out. You know the ones, like confirmation bias and bandwagon effect? You aren’t harder to fool than anyone else, and the moment you think you are is the moment you are most vulnerable to being fooled. Remember, skepticism is a means of improving your own thinking, not a social club that gives you leave to think everyone else is an idiot and that no one has the right to criticize you. If you treat it as such, then you are not a good skeptic, and you aren’t even a very nice person.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hobby Lobby decision makes my brain hurt.

I’ve just been reading over the Hobby Lobby ruling by the supreme court today and the majority ruling is just baffling to me. Let’s look at two parts of the ruling.

First:

Nothing in RFRA suggests a congressional intent to depart from the Dictionary Act definition of “person,” which “include[s] corporations, . . . as well as individuals.” 1 U. S. C. §1. The Court has entertained RFRA and free-exercise claims brought by nonprofit corporations.

Basically the are saying that for the purpose of legal ruling corporations are treated as persons. Now, the notion that corporations are to be treated as persons is certain respects goes back to the 19th century, this initially only extended to rights regarding contract enforcement and obligation. However throughout the years various rulings by the supreme court have extended this concept of personhood being vested in a corporation to granting more rights normally reserved for persons in normal sense. The most recent and well known example of this trend was the Citizens United ruling published back in 2010.

One of the features of this ruling is essentially to continue this trend, by now arguing that corporations have the right of free exercise of religion. With this there are almost no rights given to persons which are not also given to corporations. This is a mistake, corporations are for profit enterprises, there is no reason to grant them any rights beyond those needed to engage in free market trade, I.E. laws relating to contract enforcement. The free exercise clause is there to guarantee individuals the right to practice their religious beliefs, but a corporation cannot HAVE religious beliefs and to make the religious beliefs of the corporations owners or managers coequal with the “beliefs” of the corporation seems at odds with the very purpose of corporations, I.E. limited liability. That is to say I find it odd that people who would fight to defend the notion that they are not individually responsible in an economic sense for the corporations choices, now want to claim they feel a personal moral responsibility for the corporation's choices.  This is particularly galling since there is evidence that Hobby Lobby, in particular, has investments in companies that make some of the contraceptives they claim to oppose.

There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts “out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,” Lee, 455 U. S., at 263, n. 2 (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment), or the sincerity with which an asserted religious belief is held. Indeed, approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be “perceived as favoring one religion over another,” the very “risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

Notice that they don’t that Hobby Lobby’s claim merits protection under the RFRA because the claim is sincere, they claim that the court cannot even be asked to determine if religious claims are sincere. This is simply wrong in my opinion, and disastrously wrong at that. Ginsburg’s dissent to the majorities ruling puts it best.

"Reading the Act expansively, as the court does, raises a host of "Me, too" questions. Can an employer in business for profit opt out of coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations, antidepressants, or medications derived from pigs, based on the employer's sincerely held religious beliefs opposing those medical practices.

The point is that the courts MUST, as best they can, attempt to determine which claims are sincere and which are not, at the very least. To assume that all religious claims are sincere, and therefore must be respected under the law, would lead to the court being required to allow anyone to do virtually anything by simply claiming a religious exemption. Don’t want to pay taxes? My religion says I’m not allowed to pay taxes. What you don’t think my beliefs are sincere? You think I’m more interested in a way of getting out of my moral obligations to government and society? How dare you question the sincerity of my beliefs! Now, do I think Scalia and the other conservatives on the court would actually rule this way? Absolutely not, which is why this ruling is a complete joke. Even they don’t accept the logic they used to justify this ruling.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Assassin’s Creed Unity, Ubisoft, and the controversy over their lack of female characters.

573bede7a5682575c91707e6f6a9f36e63ccadc6So, for those who don’t know Ubisoft demoed it’s new Assassin’s Creed game at E3 recently and it was reveled that, like previous Assassin's Creed games, the main playable character was male. This sparked some criticism, which in turn sparked defenses of this criticism from both Ubisoft and from other gamers. As a feminist, and one of the rare male gamers who usually plays a female character if there is an option to do so I thought I speak about the issue a bit.

I’ve played a fair share of Ubisoft games over the years and have mostly enjoyed them, though I have several critiques of Ubisoft’s game design beyond possible gender issues, but before any of that let’s take a look at some of the defenses offered for this choice.

Ubisoft points out that they actually wanted to include an option for a female lead but it would have doubled their work load. Now, I’m not sure that It would have doubled their work load but it would have increased it significantly, not just in terms of animations, but in scripting and voice acting. Hiring a voice actor for the female lines, and recording any lines of dialogs that name the character or refer to them in gender specific pronouns, plus the time needed by the writers to hunt down those instances if done after the fact. I don’t doubt that this would have added at least a few weeks to the total time for game design, and increased their budget requirements.

On the other hand, plenty of other game companies have done this quite well in games that were often larger in scope than any Ubisoft game has been till now. The new dragon age game seems to have drastically increased the size of the explorable game world, and added the ability to ride horses while continuing their tradition of letting people play as either gender and then set about seducing your fellow party members. I realize that the two games are different and don’t expect all games to be the same, but if they could do all that in their development time it seems Ubisoft could have spared the time for a female lead option if it had been a priority.

So it wasn’t a priority, big deal right? Many of Ubisoft’s defenders point out that they have the right to make any game they want, which is true enough, but I think irrelevant. The point that people are making is not that Ubisoft must add female characters, but that it represents a larger failure on their part to make women and equal part the worlds they create, and people would like them to be a part of the solution not a part of the problem.

Another defense gamers put forward is to ask if feminists expect every game to offer a female lead option. The sort answer to this is generally no. I’m a fan of the Witcher games and don’t expect they will add a female lead any time soon, but this game is built of off existing lore and the characters that already exist in that lore. It also manages to present a host of strong female characters in the story despite being set in a culture that is generally fairly sexist. So I don’t think anyone is expecting ALL games to have female leads in them, simply that there be a bit more balance, and thoughtfulness when writing female characters.

So what do I think about all this? Well first I point out a general critique of Unbisoft’s games, despite enjoying them, every time I play one I get the distinct feeling that I’ve done it all before. Far cry, Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, virtually ever Ubisoft game ever made uses the same basic game mechanics. For instance, unlocking sections of the map and/or side quests by climbing to some high place and unlocking a tower or view point of some kind. This is in EVERY game I play by them, and nearly no one else uses it at all. It’s not a bad game mechanic, I just think it is being over used. They changed it up a bit with Assassins Creed 4 by adding a new type of combat with ships, but the basic mechanic was unchanged. How does this relate? I think Ubisoft’s games have become a bit “paint by the numbers,” I hope they grow beyond it, but there it is.

All this being the case, it doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t add a female character. I’ll go one step further, this “paint by numbers” tendency is precisely why Ubisoft has found itself increasingly criticized. It’s not that they left women out this one time, or they failed to address certain problems in their characterizations of minorities in one game. They do this over and over again. Watch Dogs was rightly criticized for the way it “fridged” every female character in the game. Far Cry 3 was criticized for it’s “white person saves the natives” plot, as also seen in Dances with Wolves and Avatar (why did people like this movie?) The point is that these plots are examples of lazy writing and are far too common in all kinds of media, and Ubisoft games in particular. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting a boycott or something. I’ll probably play Unity and enjoy it, though I suspect I will enjoy The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age 3 more. I just also think that we should, at the same time, encourage Ubisoft to do a better job.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Catholic Archbishop Claims He Didn’t Know Sex With Children Was Illegal

This video left me astounded at how much awful can be vested into a single human being.

From Americans Against the Tea Party.

Archbishop Robert Carlson, former chancellor of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul,  testified last month that he was unaware in the 1980s that it was illegal to have sex with a child. At the time, it was Carlson’s responsibility to investigate allegations of sex abuse in the church.

So to sum up, an Archbishop of an organization which clearly argues that ANY premarital sex is immoral is clamming he wasn’t quite sure on the legality or ethics of having sex with children. (A group of people who are not legally allowed to marry) I’m willing to say, without any equivocation, that this man is clearly and obviously lying. Unless this man is mentally deficient in some way it is simply not possible that he didn’t know this was both illegal and immoral, nor is it possible that he just forgot everything of importance about the events in question.

He didn’t do his job back in the 1980’s, probably because he was more concerned about the churches reputation than harm being done right under his nose. Now that the truth is out he can’t think of anything way out but to pretend that he isn’t sure if he knew basic facts about the law and even his own religious beliefs back then because it was such a long time ago. It isn’t even a good lie. I don’t swear on this blog very often anymore but I think this occasion call for it. Fuck this guy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Catholic priest blames dualism for contraception and moral decay.

This is one of the stranger articles I’ve ran across lately.

Contraception: The Gateway to Moral Decay

It starts by accurately quoting some statistics from a Gallup poll.

At the top of Gallup’s list of 19 issues was contraception, of which 90 percent of Americans approve, followed by divorce at 69 percent and premarital sex at 66 percent. Others making the top ten were embryonic stem cell research (65%), childbirth outside of marriage (58%), same-sex unions (58%), euthanasia (52%) and abortion (42%).

No disagreement here except that I don’t feel these statistics are an example of how far American society has fallen the way the author clearly does. One caveat, he points to these statistics as evidence that people are moving away from his positions, but the numbers on abortion have stated fairly static in America since Roe v. Wade.

Of course he brings up all the buzz words and ideas, blames “relativism” and the “sexual revolution” then goes on to say this has been a developing trend for hundreds of years.

Of course, it goes back more than a few decades. As is often the case, what seems like a sudden explosion was really the logical outcome of hundreds of years of growing confusion about who we are as persons.

No surprise here, what does surprise me is where he places this, more distant, historical blame, and why.

RenĂ© Descartes (1596-1650) was a French scientist and philosopher who many credit with helping to launch what later became known, somewhat ironically, as “the  Enlightenment”. Among his contributions to the way people thought was to place body and soul in opposition to each other, later leading to the idea that the human body could simply be seen as an object one could manipulate according to one’s desires. Simply put, you are your mind, and you have a body; as opposed to the traditional Christian view that you are both body and soul. In this, Descartes followed Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who believed that the goal of human knowledge should be to successfully achieve not stewardship of, but domination over, nature.”

I’ve certainly seen my fair share of derision launched at the enlightenment by conservative religious apologists, but his attack on Descartes seems particularly odd since he was both a Christian and a Catholic. He is at least as well known for an ontological argument for God’s existence as he is for his work in dualism. He also ties Descartes’ philosophy to Bacon’s even though the history of philosophy tends to place each of them in the opposing camps of rationalism and empiricism respectively.

However, what strikes me as most odd is blaming of Cartesian dualism on the sexual revolution. For one thing, people who reject theism generally also reject Cartesian dualism, in fact it would seem that materialists are required to reject Cartesian dualism. Furthermore, most Christians are dualists of some kind though they may not know or agree with Descartes particular formulation. It is technically possible to reject mind/body dualism and be a Christian but most, including Catholics, do believe that the soul or mind can and does separate from the body upon death, only to reunited with it in the second coming. This is why I find statements in this article like this so odd.

Books are still being written about what became known in philosophy as mind/body dualism, a view that is rejected by the Church. This dualistic view is assumed by most today, even though most don’t realize it or see how it informs even their most basic assumptions about reality, and other people.

It should also be noted that Descartes formulated his version of dualism to deal with what he saw as a fundamental epistemic problem so trying to connect this in some way to modern sexual mores in American is tenuous at best.

The contraceptive mentality, so identified by the Church, is a perfect example of what happens when we embrace dualism. Notice how the promoters of contraception promise a consequence-free control over our lives if we could just control our fertility with their drugs and devices. All the pleasure, none of that inconvenient fertility. My body is not me, exactly, it is an object for me to control for whatever reason I want; so sex is just about my pleasure, maybe someone else’s too. It is not necessarily about giving myself to the one I love with the possibility of creating new life as a result of that gift.

And later in the article

To go against our true nature is to fracture our natural sense of responsibility towards another. Does anyone not see this happening today?

While he has been critical of our use of Cartesian dualism to justify contraception, he is quick to make use of an even older argument to justify why we shouldn’t do this. For those who don’t recognize it, this is an example of a teleological argument, which can be found in both Plato and Aristotle. The argument can also be found being made in a famous example by the great philosopher “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

“Winnie-the-Pooh sat down at the foot of the tree, put his head between his paws and began to think.
“First of all, he said to himself: ‘That buzzing-noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something. If there’s a buzzing-noise, somebody’s making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is that you’re a bee.’
“Then he thought another long time and said: ‘And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey.’
“And then he got up and said: ‘And the only reason I know of for making honey is so I can eat it.’ So he began to climb the tree.”

Teleological arguments are usually a poor justification and represent lazy thinking. One of the reasons for this is demonstrated in the previous quote, people assume, not only that a final purpose exists, but that it matches whatever they personally happen value most, in the authors case this is clearly reproduction. I should also point out that we don’t need mind/body dualism to justify premarital or non-reproductive sex.

He closes with this.

Obviously, seriously bad ideas have seriously bad consequences. Father Paul Marx, the founder or Human Life International, affirmed the Church’s point in his autobiography based on his broad experience in traveling the world:

Having traveled and worked in 91 countries, I find no country where contraception has not led to abortion, to increasing fornication among the young, to divorce, and to all those other evils we see today that make up the international sex mess.

And it is quite a mess, isn’t it? The Gallup poll should serve as a wake up call. If we are serious about strengthening the family, promoting the well-being of children, reversing the growing number of broken marriages in our nation, ending abortion, upholding the dignity of the aged and ill, and promoting purity and chastity, then let’s be honest about where the moral breakdown begins.

I can’t speak for every country Marx has visited, but abortion rates have been falling in the U.S. steadily since the 1980’s. Promoting the well being and dignity of all people means that you have to actually listen to them, and consider the facts. Deciding for them, irrespective of their wishes, is not respect. Forcing an elderly person to suffer for months from a illness they cannot recover from, after they have requested they they be allowed to die, is not respecting them or their dignity. This article is clearly filled more with pejorative language and emotional manipulation than with factual information. With questions like this, like always, I highly recommend the use of well documented research like this paper, (conclusion quoted below)

Empirical study of the aggregate relationships between contraceptive use and induced abortion has to be limited to the few countries where reasonably reliable information exists on both. Despite this severe limitation, our review of the evidence provides ample illustration of the interaction between these factors. When fertility levels in a population are changing, the relationship between contraceptive use and abortion may take a variety of forms, frequently involving a simultaneous increase in both. When other factors—such as fertility—are held constant, however, a rise in contraceptive use or effectiveness invariably leads to a decline in induced abortion—and vice versa.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sye Ten’s debate with Matt Dillahunty a.k.a. the dishonesty of presuppositional arguments.

I just got through watching the debate that Matt Dillahunty did with Sye Ten Bruggencate. During the debate I noticed engaging in a tactic that I’ve dealt with many times in the various conversations and debates I’ve had over they years with fundamentalists, particularly those with a presuppositional bent to their apologetics. The tactic is to respond to any criticism of, or request for an explanation of some apparent problem in, Christianity by asserting that their opponent cannot account for some facet of of reality, usually logic or objective ethical propositions, and since they cannot account for those things then the Christian simply refuses to address the point.

The adage I’ve sometimes heard Christians use to explain this is “sitting in God’s lap to slap his face.” That is, they assert that the only way to account for the very system you are using to criticize a principal in Christianity is Christianity itself. I’ve seen these approach a number of times, including a Calvinist preacher who used to post here regularly a couple of years ago.

This tactic contains two separate claims. The first claim is that Christianity, or in the softer version of the argument a belief in a particular kind of god, provides a reasonable framework to justify belief in things like logic and objective morality. It should be noted that even when the softer version is offered by theists they will then usually follow with an assertion that only in their religion (typically Christianity  or Islam)  will you find a version of god which meets the definitional requirements needed to justify this God’s ability to be the source of these things.

The second claim is that no other systems besides their religion, or again in a softer version, any system that lacks a belief in god cannot ever account for these things in a logically consistent manner. Though again, most will assert that only a very specific type of god meets this requirement. W.L. Craig likes to assert his 7 attributes here.

The biggest problem with both claims is that they are bare assertions. It is taken as obvious by presuppositionalists that god is both necessary and sufficient to explain the existence of things like objective values and logical absolutes. On the first point specifically I think it fails quite simply because of the euthyphro dilemma. If logic was sourced in god then it would not be objective, rather it would be inherently relative. That is, what makes logical absolutes like the law of identity meaningful is that they are axiomatic, they are necessarily true, not only in this universe, but in any possible universe irrespective of any mind that might observe things.

If god willed into existence logical absolutes then it would be possible that he could have willed into existence a universe where the law of identity was not true, if he could not do so then then god is not the origin of the concept. He is, at most, a messenger for a concept that exists irrespective of his existence, and thus the concept of god is no longer needed to account for those things. This is why I’ve often argued that those who argued that god is the source of both morality and reason are the ultimate relativists despite their public eschewing of that term. On top of that problem there is an inherent epistemic problem with theistic morality. How do I determine what god, a supernatural being which I have no direct access to, has happened to declare as truth. I am convinced that, if it is at all possible to determine objective values, both theists and atheists, must do so without appealing to God. It is simply impossible, by definition, to speak of objective meaning coming from a god.

As for the second claim it would be make this post unreasonably long for me to go into a full justification for objective ethics and moral obligations from a secular perspective. I recommend is that you read my blog regularly as I talk about this subject quite often. I also recommend keeping up with Dan Fincke’s series on Empowerment Ethics. I won’t ever claim to address the subject as exhaustively as he has. As far as logic being objective, I personally think logic is axiomatic in nature and requires no external justification. Sye might find this justification unsatisfactory, but I can’t possibly see how one could find “God said so” to be more satisfactory.

Now, people like Sye might say that this isn’t sufficient justification for belief in logic, but understand he is arguing that from his world view, and under his presuppositions God is the ONLY reasonable justification for these things. What they often fail to realize or address is that I am not only under no obligation to accept his presuppositions (he acknowledges they are presuppositions) but actually think those presuppositions are wrong. The interesting thing was that in the debate Sye pretty much acknowledged that he actively refuses to consider the issue from any other perspective because he thinks to even entertain other perspectives as a thought experiment to be sinful.

However, besides the rational problems, I have a secondary problem with this argument when used as a tactic to avoid responding to a question, as Sye used it in the debate. In my opinion It is fundamentally disingenuous. Even if I were to assume that they are correct in their assertions that their system is objective and mine is not, their refusal to respond to a critique makes no sense. This is because when the question is posed I’m asking them to account for the problem from THEIR world view, not mine. It doesn’t actually matter if I can account for morality or logic in my world view, even though I believe I can do those things, because I’m asking them to present a consistent account of things from their system. The obvious reason for this transparent avoidance tactic is that rarely have a logically or ethically consistent response to the critique.

As I pointed out earlier using god as a justification ethics or logic necessarily makes you a relativist. This becomes obvious when we step away from absolute presuppositionalists like Sye and look at apologists like W.L. Craig who actually DO attempt to answer criticism. In these cases we often end up with things like his blatant attempt to justify genocides in the old testament. Of course when he is called out on that, just like Sye, he falls back on presuppositional arguments by claiming no atheists can criticize because only theists have an objective source for ethics. This behavior is not only circular it is designed to prevent the person from ever actually considering the possibility they could be wrong. The only people whose criticisms they will actually consider or respond too are those who already agree with them on the very thing being questioned. We shouldn’t let people off the hook for this sort of behavior. If a person can’t be bothered to actually attempt to answer critiques of their views why should we engage them? One could ask in what sense are they even really engaging in an actual debate?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Is Atheism a Religion?

YouTube video where I discuss the theist argument that atheism is a religion. Let me know what you think, constructive feedback always welcome.

 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why I became an atheist instead of a liberal Christian.

While I usually find myself addressing the more fundamentalist/evangelical Christians on my blog and elsewhere online, I also often find myself discussing religion with liberal Christians. While in the conversations I often find myself confronted with the question of why I rejected ALL religion instead of rejecting my particular fundamentalist brand and embracing a more liberal religious outlook. To be honest I’m only occasionally asked this question directly by liberal Christians, but it seems to undergird a lot more of conversations with out being asked directly, perhaps because the person in question can’t think of a way to ask the question that doesn’t seem impolite, even though I can’t imagine I would take offense at the question as long as it was asked with a genuine desire for an answer.

I actually wish more of them would ask this question because I think, given their own experiences, their confusion is reasonable, but I do have an answer for them. As for the reason for said confusion I would start out by pointing out that many liberal Christians and I have quite a bit in common. Many of them, just like me, were either raised in more conservative religious homes or have at least had quite a bit of experience dealing with fundamentalist view points. They understand why I rejected much of the ideas in those groups because many of them went through a very similar experience of disillusionment with fundamentalist/evangelical religious teachings.

Indeed, if you look back on the experience I had leaving Christianity my first points of disagreement were over things like biblical inerrancy, and the treatment of women and LGTB people within the church, which are all points that many liberal Christians would agree with me on. For instance, most of my liberal theology professors in school recounted similar stories of disillusionment when they were younger. So when it comes to these experiences we have a commonality that allows us to understand one another to some extent.

So I think that often the confusion they have with me removing myself from the conversation entirely is largely due to the fact that they were able to make both their belief in Christianity and their new found support of things like Feminism and gay rights fit together. We discuss those issues and find ourselves largely in agreement so they wonder why I could not make that same compromise work as well. Occasionally some will be obnoxious about this disagreement, and simply assume that the people who made the transition to atheism instead of liberal Christianity just didn’t understand liberal theological ideas, but most of the time it’s simply a matter of not understanding what caused the transition in the first place. They might well understand a person who was raised without religion not finding anything particularly valuable there, but have trouble understanding how someone who previously valued religion could become one of its loudest critics.

The answer to this confusion is complicated and requires us to look at several things. First off, while my rejection of fundamentalism started in a fairly similar place to that of many liberal Christians, they stopped at issues, that while important, are to some extent surface issues, and landed in a set of ideals that I personally find logically contradictory. Take as an example the notion of biblical inerrancy, most liberal Christians would join me in rejecting this concept, yet they still believe in things like salvation. I spent some time as a liberal believer on my way out and one of the issues that repeatedly bothered me was that without inerrancy I could find no way to sensibly justify a belief in Jesus as savior any more than I could justify an anti-gay marriage stance. Yes the first idea is more emotionally palatable, but that was not a justifiable reason to believe something. I had rejected theological claims like inerrancy because they were not supportable by facts and reason, rejecting those ideas but then continuing to hold other beliefs for reasons just as flimsy seemed hypocritical to me.

Further, it should be noted that I’ve studied a good deal of liberal theology, and can’t shake the feeling that a lot of it seems based upon word games and semantic tricks, and many of the more liberal biblical scholars I’ve read, like Elaine Pagles, have often engaged in the exact same sort of “just so” justifications for various interpretations of biblical passages and theological ideas that fundamentalist engage it, except that they serve a different goal. The fact that I find the goal more agreeable doesn’t make the argument they use to reach it any better. Which brings me to my last point.

It’s not enough that I just don’t believe, I’m an activist for the notion of dismantling religious ideas at their root, which I think further confuses liberal believers. They understand why I would oppose fundamentalism, they often do as well after all, but why would religion as a whole be a problem since many religious people, like themselves, often hold very similar views on a variety of social issues as I do. To understand my problem here lets imagine we put a liberal Christian and a fundamentalist one in a room to discuss a controversial topic like gay marriage. The fundamentalist would likely start by quoting Leviticus 18 or 20 or perhaps Romans 1, the liberal Christian would counter that the fundamentalist has improperly interpreted those passages and bring up passages about love and acceptance, maybe the passage where Paul says we are all the same in Christ.

If you notice that this conversation does not seem to ever reference any gay people and how they feel about this they you start to understand my issue here. Both groups are defining “the good” in terms of what god wants for us. They don’t agree on what that is, but both think it is of paramount importance. The liberal Christian has taken a position that I’m more likely to agree with, but it’s based upon a rational which I totally reject. A rational which, by the way, differs very little from that of the fundamentalist. Both are still appealing to an extrinsic source to understand things like meaning and ethics. I not only think this is wrong, I think it is incredibly harmful to a real and productive discussion of these things. A few years ago, after I had already become an atheist I started thinking about these questions and came to the conclusion that religion, by trying to find meaning in extrinsic sources, was selling us short and hampering real progress on these issues. I couldn’t leave this alone because while it’s important that we believe the right things it is even more important that we believe them for the right reasons. Which is ultimately why I became an atheist rather than a liberal Christian. I didn’t just reject the fundamentalist position on gay marriage, I rejected the entire system of ethics and ontology that they used to reach those conclusions in the first place.

You can read more about my de-conversion in the following links.

My life story, Part I, My life story, Part II, My life story, Part 33 and 1/3.....err....I mean Part 3

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Writer for Townhall claims that atheists will take over the Democrats within 10 years.

I ran across this article by Kurt Schlichter

By 2024, The Democrats Will Be An Atheist Party

I know that townhall.com is not exactly the most reputable source of information on politics, but this article seems bad even by their standards. I mean, first we have to acknowledge that currently there are exactly zero members of congress from either party who are openly atheist. Of course some may be unbelievers secretly but the very fact that such people would feel it is necessary to keep their beliefs private should let people know how silly this idea is. In any case, the article starts its argument thusly

Democrats are delighting in their opportunity to burden, harass and humiliate the believing. They use Obamacare to try to force the faithful to breach their consciences. They demand that believers be silent or lose their livelihoods. Their liberal academic flunkies do everything possible to marginalize those of us who feel that life must mean more than dreary obedience to liberal orthodoxy.

First off I’d point out that one can disagree with their interpretations of religious freedom without being an atheist, and I personally find a lot of conservative orthodoxy to be rather dreary too, but none of this proves either position right or wrong. As far as people loosing their livelihoods I can only assume they are referring to the Christian couple who’s bakery went out of business after they refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. How exactly was this the governments fault? Last I checked they went out of business because local customers choose to take their business elsewhere after they found out about these people’s beliefs. Was the government suppose to compel people to shop there against their will? Isn’t this just capitalism at work? What they really seem to object to here is the fact that they no longer hold a majority view on this issue and they are feeling social pressure to conform. The governments job is to make sure everyone's right to hold unpopular views is legally protected, but they cannot protect people from non legal consequences like people choosing to spend their money elsewhere.

They are getting closer to outright admitting what we all know they really think. Part of it is fashion – boutique atheism is trendy. Part of it is snobbery – the same people who think socialism is a viable system like to look down on others for believing in “fantasies.” But mostly, liberals worship Government and don’t like the competition.

First off the notion that atheism is “trendy” is just nonsense, but yes I do think religion is untrue. As far as their critique of socialism, while I don’t embrace socialist ideas in total, I think anyone who believes that lassie-faire capitalism is a viable system also believes in a type of fantasy. Liberals, by and large, don’t worship government. Most of them are well aware of government excesses and are quite critical of the government in a number of ways. They just don’t buy into the libertine argument that less government is a magic bullet to fix these problems, and thus advocate for better government instead of less of it.

It's important to distinguish between regular atheists and the militant liberal atheists. There are plenty of conservative atheists who don't feel a connection to God but share conservative values. The Democrats are militant atheists. They are atheists because they imagine they are smarter and wiser than people like Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, and about 85% of the rest of America.

Ok, first off a person who doesn’t feel a “connection” to god is not the same as someone who doesn’t believe in god. I’ll happily acknowledge that there are conservative atheists out there, though I have trouble understanding how any of them vote Republican given the stark reality that said party overtly operates against our political interests by advocating for more religion in government. However, if you are a conservative atheist you must also believe your position on god’s existence is more rational than that of Newton. Though this does not imply we think Newton was stupid. He was quite smart, and he added much to the field of physics. One the other hand, he also spent years studding alchemy which we now know to be absolute rubbish. We have to examine each claim on it’s own merits regardless of the person presenting the claim. Newton was smart, but so was Nietzsche, and Hume. The fact that I think every single religious person was wrong about this important fact does not mean I think they are all stupid.

They are proud believers in “Science.” That’s different from science. Science is the one where you take evidence and draw conclusions from it. “Science” is the one where you figure out what gives liberals the most power and shriek at anyone who dissents. This explains how the “Science” is settled that cold weather proves global warming.

Also known as the, “I know you are but what am I” argument. The fact that this author sums up his understanding of global warming in this way leads me to believe I have little to fear from their scientific knowledge. I don’t deny that from time to time democrats have taken scientific claims out of context or overstated them to try to make a political point. I’m generally against the over-politicization of science but what world must you live in to not see the egregious misuse and politicization of science done by republicans. Just take global warming, in just the last few years it was discovered the anti global warming group Heartland Institute has taken donations from large oil companies including ExxonMobil. Isn’t there any conservative out there willing to admit that this could constitute a conflict of interest? During the 60’s people paid by cigarette companies published studies saying there was nothing dangerous about smoking. What are the chances that 50 years from now groups like Heartland Institute will be views as oblivious and anti-science as the groups that published those cigarette studies?

The Democrat Party’s changing composition makes it possible to be openly anti-God. It’s now made up of a very rich urban elite and the poor. The urban elite despises God. They aren’t even lapsed faithful – you had to have faith once to have it lapse and most of them grew up in the secular world of elite universities and liberal coastal enclaves where you’re more likely to encounter some feminist babbling about Gaia than someone who has attended mass non-ironically.

Well I can’t speak for every liberal out there but I’m neither rich nor am I someone who never had religion. I was an evangelical Christian for a number of years. I don’t despise god, a non existent being, but I am, at times, angry with his supposed followers for their ridiculous caricatures of me. I live in the bay area, which one of those “liberal coastal enclaves” he is talking about. I’ve never heard any feminists babbling about Gaia. However, wait a minute, I thought he was criticizing the democrats for being atheists but now he is complaining about them buying into new age ideas? I personally find both Christianity and new age beliefs to be equally wrong, but I’m not going to make fun of people for having beliefs I don’t agree with. This guy, on the other hand, has no problem making fun of religious beliefs he finds wrong yet wants us atheists to respect his beliefs.

Plus, being God-free lets liberals take advantage of the moral ambiguity of situational ethics. It provides them with the kind of wiggle room they need to do exactly what they want without any annoying principles obstructing them.

Trotting out the “atheists have no morals” argument. Though he doesn’t even do a good job of formatting the argument which leads me to believe he knows as little about ethics as he does science. Situation ethics is not the same as relative ethics, and there are many atheists, like myself, who believe ethics are objective, and thus are not using our lack of belief to get out of some moral duty.

It will be interesting to see whether they choose God or Mammon when their party rulers come out and say what they really think – that the religious are suckers and freedom of religion only applies if it doesn’t interfere with progressive prerogatives.

This argument only means anything if you truly believe that religious freedom is absolute. If you place ANY limits on religious freedom, say outlawing human sacrifice, then you have already acknowledged that the government CAN place reasonable limits on religious freedom when that exercise of religious freedom affects other people. The question instead becomes which limits are reasonable. Unfortunately the people who write for town hall would rather sell the notion that they have a fundamentally different ethos rather than just acknowledge that they merely differ on interpretation and scope.

Sure, we occasionally see a few liberal evangelicals get trotted out by the mainstream media to tut-tut believers who actually believe in something more than free money for the lazy. Their ideology is just socialism with a thin veneer of Jesus. And it’s a Jesus who appears nowhere in the Bible, a gutless hippie who runs from fights and thinks that the Gospel requires you to keep fishing while giving away your catch to the dude kicking back on the beach because he doesn’t feel like casting his own net.

No one trots anyone out, liberal Christians have just as much of a right to their views as you have to yours, and they think it’s you who have fundamentally misunderstood the person of Jesus. Personally I couldn’t care less about the internal squabbles of doctrine you guys have, at least that is what I would say if your internal squabbles weren’t having an effect on the, supposedly secular, law. I think the liberals may have much more of a point than he is willing to admit though. Jesus actually DID tell his followers to give anything that was asked of them and not to try to get it back. (Luke 6:30) Now I actually think this is bad advice. The ironic thing is that conservatives think it’s bad advice too, but rather than acknowledge Jesus wasn’t the perfect moral teacher they imagine they simply ignore the parts they don’t like.

The larger point here, however, is that liberals just believe in free money to lazy people. This is an absurd caricature of the goals of Democrats, and is insulting to every poor person who has ever needed government assistance. Not everyone is some listless drug user who wants a free ride, in fact very few of them are. Truth is, most people on some form of government assistance are actually working, sometimes more than one job.

Europeans are leading the way to progressive extinction. When your society believes in nothing beyond the next statutory six-week paid vacation and your guaranteed pension at age 42, you don't have much incentive to invest in the future of mankind. Accordingly, you don't make babies. The thing is, though, societies tend to belong to those who reproduce. So get out there and make more babies, American conservatives.

Almost the end of the article and the author finally actually makes some fact based claims. Namely that some country, in Europe, guarantees it’s citizen 6 weeks of vacation and gives them pensions at age 42. The 6 weeks of vacation might be true, but doesn’t strike me as much of a problem. I’ve had some pretty crappy jobs that gave me 3 weeks of vacation. Now, giving people pensions at 42, if this were happening I’d actually take this guys side for once. People are living longer these days and so it is likely that few countries could afford to pension people off when they could easily live another 40 years, particularly when that means they would only work for about 20 years. Unfortunately for this author I think this piece of data is totally made up. I did a web search and came up with exactly zero European countries that pension off citizens at 42. The U.K. sets retirement age at 68, Italy, age 66, France, 62, Germany, 67, Greece, 65. Sweden is the lowest I found at age 61. This seems like an outright fabrication by Schlichter, or at least an example of his ignorance of European law. It’s possible that I simply missed the country he was referring to, but if that is the case why wouldn’t he have named the country? It seems more likely that he just said whatever he felt like knowing that the typical townhall reader would simply accept his claim without examination because it fits their preferred narrative.

Next, he offers a rather simplistic explanation for why some countries have low birth rates. Our birth rates have fallen in the last hundred years along with most of Europe but most of this seems to be due to a sharp decline in infant mortality. Further, new groups of immigrants like the Muslims he mentions almost always have a higher birth rate than the general population, often because they are coming from countries that still have high infant mortality. It would be true that Muslims would over take the rest of the population in Europe in several hundred years except for two facts that Schlichter misses. First, those rates of higher reproduction rarely continue past the first generation of immigrants because their children acclimate to the new culture’s way of doing things. Second, the children and grandchildren of these immigrants usually liberalize to some extent, abandoning the more strict rules of their forefathers culture. This notion that conservatives can take back the nation by having more children is ridiculous, since children aren’t automatons that always follow their parents will. My parents want me to be a conservative evangelical Christian, and you can see for yourself how well that worked out for them.

It’s only a matter of time before the Democrat Party comes out and proudly admits to being what it inarguably is today, the party of hopelessness, the party of no future, the party of “Just give me money until this whole thing called life ends in oblivion.”

So now we are all nihilists? Look, I’ll be the first to point out that the Democrats do some bone headed things now and again. I am no where near their biggest proponent, but their actions don’t speak to a nihilistic world view, they speak to an attempt to improve the world we live in. As an atheist, who does not believe there is some better world for us after we die, this appeals to my sensibilities since I want to do what I can to improve the lot of humans in the here and now. I don’t always agree with HOW they go about trying to improve things but at least they make an effort. which is unfortunately more than I can say for Schlichter.

We'll soon find out how the allegedly religious react to a party that loves their votes but think they are fools for believing. We will soon know where their faith really lies, in government checks or the word of God.

Well, as an atheist, I obviously have no faith in the word of God. Though personally I don’t think the Democrats are terribly irreligious on the whole. They just don’t do quite as much to alienate non-religious voters as the Republicans so it isn’t surprising that many of us tend to congregate in the Democratic party.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I get bizarre spam.

Every once in a while I the spam filter catches a really odd comment on one of my posts.

I got this one a few days ago.

Agree to this message and we will help save an made up dog!
Check out my homepage; Inner Wealth Secrets Review

Whew, I was worried we were going to save a real dog, luckily we are just saving a made up one.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Millennials aren’t really leaving evangelicalism says minister.

 

I ran across this today. This evangelical minister is arguing that the current trend towards no religious beliefs isn’t a problem for evangelical Christianity. 

Millennials and the false 'gospel of nice'

So it is a fact that the number of people in the US who identify as non religious is on the rise. Various theories exist to explain this trend but whatever the cause it is happening. What he responds to in the article seems to be voices internal to Christianity who are arguing that evangelicals should be less political and more compassionate.

He sums up their arguments in two points.

• Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace.
• The real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity.

I can’t speak much to the second point since I don’t think there IS an orthodox (I.E. correct) version of Christianity. I can’t treat it as much more than an intellectual curiosity when two different versions of the same religion try to hash out which version is the “orthodox” one.

On the first point he simply denies that this is even happening. First he tries to claim that there is no exodus of believers at all, though the data simply doesn’t support that. It may not support the “disaster narrative” that more moderate believers are warning the evangelicals of, but it certainly isn’t non-existent. He claims that all of those leaving religion are actually from more moderate denominations and not the evangelical ones. This one is, at least, not entirely true. I came from a evangelical background and I know many other atheists who come from similar backgrounds. It’s true I don’t know the exact numbers leaving these organizations, but it’s not like this pastor gives us any indication he knows any real statistics on this issue either. There may not even BE any good numbers given the slightly muddled definition of “evangelical” and the fact that many churches do not keep very accurate roles of attendance, or properly remove people from their roles when they stop attending. Let’s take a look at a couple of his arguments though.

For the last several years, some Southern Baptist leaders have voiced concern about the decline in baptisms and membership.

But nobody is suggesting that orthodoxy is the reason for decline.

If anything, leaders are pointing to a lack of faithful evangelical preaching and intentional gospel witness as the culprit. Church history doesn’t bear out evidence that a mushy, heterodox movement is the cure for stagnation.

Typical avoidance. I’m quite sure no Baptists pastors are suggesting that orthodoxy is the reason for their decline. This says nothing about whether it is or not though. His reference to church history is both irrelevant to the current situation and highly biased. He fails to recognize that to many of his theological opponents it is HIS theology not theirs that is unorthodox.

Progressive hand-wringers are missing the point, in my view. If history teaches us anything, it is that what dies is malleable, un-rooted faith and not 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy.

Translation: what you really need to do is never change your mind about ANYTHING. That is the way to survive. Also this is a simply bizarre and overly simplistic interpretation of history. First off the notion that Christian teachings have not changed at all in 2,000 years is false on the face of it. Last time I checked Baptist evangelicals actually have a pretty big issue with the churches that had control for those first 1500 years. Christian faith has been (often reluctantly) malleable on a number of issues thorough the last 2,000 years. 

All this doubling down on the need to be extra “orthodox” in order to survive reminds me of the reactions of some conservatives during the 2012 election. Many had convinced themselves they would win the presidency despite the figures saying that this was unlikely. After the loss there were more moderate Republicans saying that they needed to change their stances on certain issues in order to win elections, but the far right in the party essentially said “no, the problem is we weren’t conservative enough.” The fear of change was so strong that they would rather rationalize digging their heels in even further.

Instead of asking any tough questions the author continues by brining up quotes from Jesus.

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”

“If anyone does not hate his father or mother, he cannot be my disciple.”

“If any man will be my disciple, let me him take up his cross and follow me.”

This is one of the main problems I have with evangelicalism. It lacks capacity for self correction because when others disagree it just convinces them even more that they are right. Much like a conspiracy theorist who takes evidence against their position as just more proof of the conspiracy. It’s an echo chamber in which any voice of dissent, even that of a fellow believe, is not taken seriously. There is little to no reflection on whether or not this criticism is legitimate when it can simply be dismissed as people just hating them for being so right about everything.

He then goes on to claim that it is Christian dedication to orthodox beliefs that makes them so good at public service, even claiming:

Faithful Christians are not the only ones in the trenches, relieving human need - but they make up a large percentage.

I really wish he had presented some actual figures to back up this claim, as it is I have trouble taking it seriously. I’m not sure why these articles have to go to places like this anyway. I often see theists claim to do more social work, often defined in a very narrow way, and then use this claim to prop of the legitimacy of their religious views. It’s insulting and does nothing to address the very real problems we have with their treatment of people.

I’ll be in Arizona this weekend.

I’ll be at the ASU origins project on Violence this weekend among other things so if you are there maybe I’ll see you.

http://origins.asu.edu/events/great-debate-transcending-our-origins-violence-humanity-and-future

Friday, March 21, 2014

Don’t picket Fred Phelps’ funeral, it’s a dick move.

Since Phelps died this week I’ve seen a number of atheists suggest picketing his funeral as some sort of ironic pay back to his family for picketing the funerals of other people including deceased military veterans. I cannot stress how much I think this is a bad idea. We disliked his family for doing this because it was the behavior of an asshole that involved mentally abusing people who were only trying to bury a loved one in peace.

Those observations were correct, and reality will not change one iota should the roles be reversed. Firstly we should let the Phelps family know that we live up to our own standards and that we are actually better people than those who would engage is such petty acts. Secondly we should remember that not everyone in his family bought into his ideas, Nathan Phelps being the most notable, but hardly the only, example. I’m sure that many of those who have left have a lot of conflicted emotions about his death. If anything we need to let those who have left that they have a home in the atheist movement, and we aren’t going to do that by being just as petty and mean as Fred Phelps was in life. After all, people like Nathan Phelps left to get away from that behavior.

An atheist reads "Illogical atheism" Chapter 5 and 6

New video up in my review series.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Re: Atheism: The New Fundamentalism?

A few days ago an article was posted on the Huffington Post by a liberal pastor who declared declared atheism to be the new fundamentalism. The article involves Pastor Roberts recounting a discussion she had with an atheist while out at lunch after the atheists family had done her a favor. The story starts with the atheist, named “Peter,” announcing to pastor that he is an atheist.

"Well, I'm not in the business of conversion," I said, "but for the record, I probably don't believe in the same God you don't believe in," I was hoping to avert hostility and maybe open a dialogue about our understanding of the divine, since he brought it up. He wasn't having it.

This is a common avoidance tactic by liberal theologians. She assumes that the person she is speaking to is only rejecting some “simplistic and fundamentalist” version of god. This seems rooted in two basic assumptions. First that liberal theology is extremely underappreciated and unknown, and second that their more liberal interpretation of god is so completely reasonable that no one would reject it.

It is clear she thinks this way from the following quote.

"You know," I sighed, "There have been so many developments in theology in the past fifty years, it's unfortunate they haven't reached the informed general public. It's like we're still talking about an outmoded version of God who requires checking your brain at the door, which few intelligent people are willing to do--a God who is like a puppet master pulling strings, controlling life, saying, 'A billion dollars for you, Mr. Romney, but nothing for this guy in Africa. That's nutty. That's not God, at least not the God I worship."

First off the notion that there have been “developments” in theology in the past fifty years is questionable. Yes, there have been new ideas, but the great majority of them have been the same sorts of ad hoc justifications that theologians have been coming up with for thousands of years. With one notable difference, traditional theology confined it’s rationalizations to certain parameters like conformity with some attempt at a reasonable biblical hermeneutic or at least church tradition. Liberal theologians found these limitations stifling and so have just taken to making up any explanation so long as it allows themselves to have their theological cake and eat it too.

To be fair, assuming that this story is told in an unbiased fashion, the atheist involved in this conversation didn’t seem to be very educated and seemed to repeat their claim to believe in science over and over. Though I’m not entirely convinced that pastor Roberts didn’t end up writing a skewed view of the conversation given the clear attempts at psychoanalyzing him. She often speaks about the “Peter’s” attitude and level of knowledge on various subjects though her justifications for these conclusions seemed slim. Take this quote:

"I already told you, I believe in science, not God," he interrupted. In his mind they were mutually exclusive. I stopped. I wanted to ask what he thought about science and spirituality, the new physics, Einstein and Bohm, who operated with a sense of order and wonder at the universe itself as a great mystery of divine proportions. I wanted to, but I didn't because I realized he didn't want to engage with the questions; he already knew the answers. He wasn't interested in a discussion. That's when I got it.

She makes huge sweeping generalizations about her audience and assumes he was not interested in discussion, and her statements about science sound like they belong in a Deepak Chopra book rather than in a legitimate conversation about actual science. She continues:

was talking to a fundamentalist. What I was saying threatened his very identity and construct of life. My lunch companion knew who God was, and he didn't believe in "him." It was a Santa sort of God, the kind that a small child believes in and then is disappointed by when he doesn't get a pony in his stocking. I remembered being told he was abused as a child. Clearly that God had failed him.

And she wonders why “Peter” sounded defensive and didn’t want to engage with questions? She belittles both his intellect and his personal experience, as well as demonstrating her rather bigoted views of unbelievers as unintelligent children angry because god didn’t get them a pony and she is surprised that he wasn’t interested in polite conversation? If I had an inkling that this was what someone thought of me I’d be tempted to be less than friendly too.

When did atheists become the new fundamentalists? I have known many atheists beginning with my wonderful dad, who insisted I not use the word "God" or pray at his funeral. But this new breed is different: closed-minded, entrenched, and bellicose, shouting and proselytizing their disbelief in the God of their fathers as determinedly and humorlessly as their forebears proselytized with such certainty for a definite, iron-clad system of punishments and rewards in a pie-in-the-sky afterlife. Why do these new atheists allow the Christian fundamentalists to define their reality? And why are they so angry?

I personally find many liberal theologians to be just as, if not more, obnoxious as the fundamentalist ones. I’ve had many less than stellar interactions with them. Sure, they tend not to hate homosexuals as much, but when it comes to discussions of things like meaning and ethics they have the same annoying tendency to believe that they are the only ones to have seriously examined these questions. It’s not just atheists who do not meet with their approval, because according to them the majority of religious believers aren’t doing it right either. Of course this all sounds suspiciously like the sort of narrow minded and rigid, fundamentalism Roberts was just criticizing, but that’s just silly right? So I say to pastor Roberts you might consider the possibility that not all atheists are allowing fundamentalists to define their reality. I, for one, know a good deal about your liberal version of god…”It” doesn’t exist either.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Someone is grumpy about something Richard Dawkins said…again.

Ran across this article in the telegraph.

Yes, Richard Dawkins, a Muslim baby is a Muslim baby. Because that's just how it works

Richard Dawkins is just an Angry of Tunbridge Wells with a PhD. Let me define that. He is a prejudiced pedant who goes through newspapers looking for small things that irritate him greatly.

Wow, insults right out of the gate? OK…

A Muslim baby is a Muslim baby for two reasons. First, because that's how Islam works. Dawkins might not believe in Islam but Muslims generally do, and they think that all humans are innately Muslim and that life is a process of submitting to that state of grace.

He kind of answers his own statement here, Dawkins is not a Muslim so obviously when he states that the baby is not Muslim he is speaking from his perspective and not the perspective of a Muslim. What perspective did he expect Dawkins to speak from?

Second, a Muslim baby is a Muslim baby because that's how culture works. When a baby is born it inherits more than genes. For instance, we call it British, which by Dawkins' logic is a silly thing to do. After all, it cannot possibly drink tea, hate the French or laugh at Carry On films. …Does Dawkins imagine that children can somehow be protected from all identities until a certain age of reason: given no nationality or, for that matter, no surname?

This is an incredibly bizarre non-sequitur. Ones nationality is defined by birth, not by choice of beverage or disliking a particular culture. Dawkins point, a reasonable one, is that religion is defined by self identification and not by birth. I’m was American at birth because the law is written so that people born in the U.S. with American parents are automatically Americans, just like with most countries. There is no similar law by which to determine one’s religion either here or in the U.K.

Of course he doesn't – he's not that foolish. But he does get very excited about people being labelled by religion because – if you hadn't already noticed – he has an irrational hatred of religion. As if being raised Anglican will turn you into a monster.

What kind of person attends a Christening, observes the toothy vicar, cake, jelly and drunken aunts and thinks, "This is pure brainwashing!" Richard, if you really are creeped out by infant baptisms then you don't have to go to them. We'll just bore you with hundreds of photos afterwards instead.

OK, you can pretend that this caricature actually resembles anything Dawkins said about religious indoctrination but as far as I can tell it really doesn’t. I’m sometimes wonder if theists really listen to our arguments because I constantly find theists responding to my (and other atheists) arguments by wondering at how I could believe some horrifying/stupid belief that does not even vaguely resemble anything I ever said about anything. I suppose If atheists believed even half the things I’ve had theists accuse me of believing I’d likely agree we were a pretty awful lot too.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book review of Illogical atheism: Chapter 4

I review chapter 4 of the book Illogical atheism, completing the first of the four books published in this series.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Another Christian opines about Duck Dynasty and religious debates.

So I ran across this article by Jody Burkeen on Charismanews.com and thought I’d share it with you.

Ex-Atheist Pens Open Letter to Christians, Liberals and Unbelievers

The article opens with a request for debate to be more civil.

As humans, we ought to have an innate love for one another, no matter our beliefs or backgrounds. But what I have seen from the controversy of Duck Dynasty and homosexuality is ignorance, hatred and a complete lack of a common-sense debate.

No disagreement so far except to say that the author and I may have different ideas about what qualifies an argument as ignorant. He continues:

First, let me tell you a little about myself. I am the founder of Man Up God’s Way men’s ministry. I am a former atheist and evolutionist and now a sellout for Christ. Because I am “sold out” for Christ, that makes me a Christian. With views that are formed from the Bible, I believe 100 percent of all that it says and try to live according to the rules, love and forgiveness it teaches.

OK, first off I don’t think the author needed to explain that “sold out for Christ” meant they were a Christian, I’m don’t think there was any chance of anyone misunderstanding that. I also checked out the ministry the guy runs and, while most of the content on his website seems to require payment or at least signup, what I could read led me to conclude his site advocates for a kind of soft spoken sexism common to evangelicals that I’ve written about in the past, here for instance. I also find his use of the world “evolutionist” to be troubling. To be fair he does criticize Christians for all of one paragraph before devoting the last half of his article to his criticism of atheists.

If you claim to be a Christian, act like it! Stop arguing, name-calling and getting angry over every little thing. But don’t back down from ungodliness (sin). Know your Bible and stop paraphrasing His Word and use it wisely. Don’t speak, debate or argue it unless you know it! If you don’t know it, read the Bible, study the Bible and memorize the Bible. Stop being a hypocrite! Too many Christians are talking out of both sides of their mouths. Learn to live and talk like Christ..

I don’t have much to disagree with here. There are a lot of Christians name calling and getting angry over every little thing, and I can’t disagree with the recommendation that people actually learn a subject properly before setting out to criticize it. I often find myself criticizing atheists for criticizing religious beliefs poorly because they don’t properly understand the beliefs. Now at this point you might think this article might actually end up being an example of an evangelical offering a well reasoned discussion about religion and politics. He is about to dash those hopes quite succinctly.

This letter is also for the liberals. So many times you try to push a political agenda of certain things, thinking that it will make people “free.” But it does nothing but enslave us. Our country was founded on biblical morals, which made us a free nation. The Bible tells us in John 8:31-32 that if you continue in God’s Word, then you are truly His disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

The irony here is that he was just telling us about Christians who try to argue the bible but don’t’ actually know it very well. Has he ever thought of extending this rule to other subjects like history or politics? He doesn’t seem to know either very well. The principles on which this country was founded are sourced in a variety of philosophical arguments about the nature of government and individual rights that had been going on for several centuries prior to our countries founding. I’m not going to say that the Christian religion played no part in this discussion, but it certainly wasn’t the only, or even primary, influence.

We are no longer a free nation. Oh, we have rights to do just about anything we want, but that does not make us free. Can’t you see where our nation is going? We have taken the Bible out of schools, colleges and a lot of churches. We have murdered 57 million babies since 1972 because of “rights.” The family is being split apart because we don’t sanctify marriage anymore. Suicide rates are up because of no foreseen hope. Drinking and drugs are being legalized even when we know they are killers of body, soul, and families—all in the name of “freedom.”

Well, we have taken the bible out of schools and colleges as an inerrant document for liturgical use, however it’s still quite useful in historical and cultural contexts so it hasn’t been removed entirely. If any churches have been taking the bible out of their services then take that up with them as I couldn’t care less how churches order their services. Abortion is the topic that will never go away, but yes women should not be forced to be pregnant against their will by the state.

The rest is just fear mongering through creative statistics mining. He offers no evidence that our changing perception of religion has contributed to any of these numbers, and ignores all of the positive numbers like lower rates of violent crime. Sure drinking has broken up families but so has religion and politics. At least when drinking becomes a problem society advocates people stop drinking, when religion breaks up a family a person’s church tells them they just need to do religion differently, or even worse that it’s just the price of being religious and your family isn’t worth your eternal soul.

But I respect your view, even though I don’t agree with it. Like you, I will not back down, but I will be bold in love. I hope you do the same.

“bold in love” is one of those Christian buzz terms that means very little to those not part of the religion, though really I just wish his “respect” of others views including an actual attempt to understand those views. Standing up for what you believe in is laudable, it’s also praiseworthy that he advocates that it be done in a respectful manner. What isn’t so praiseworthy is the bad arguments he attempts to employ for his case.

This letter is also to the atheist, of which I was one. Why are you so angry? There is a void that you have in your soul—I know; I had it. With no hope, despair and anger kick in. You point your anger toward my belief, and your anger is frightening sometimes.

Pop psychology nonsense, he is assuming his personal experience was not only valid but relevant to everyone else’s life. Does he not think there might be other reasons for anger than “we need god?” Perhaps it makes some atheists angry when someone claims to want respectful dialog and then tries to psychoanalyze our motivations based upon few facts and even fewer credentials in the relevant fields. He calls our anger frightening but just a few paragraphs back he was telling Christians to stop getting angry and name-calling, so it seems even he knows that theists are no less likely to react from a place of anger when their beliefs are questioned.

You spout off things you don’t have proof of and have no desire to seek otherwise.

I’d point out the irony of this statement if I thought it were necessary.

The path of evolution leads nowhere (it's still a theory). Your faith in believing in evolution, a godless nature and chance, are greater than most Christian’s faith in a holy God, and for that I commend you.

The author reveals that he does not understand what a scientific theory is, what evolution is, or even how statistics work. Then he proceeds to commend us for having more faith than Christians, on this I’m not sure if this is an honest commendation or a bit of sarcasm on his part.

It takes great faith to be an atheist. My view changed when I saw my children. In order for the body to function like it does, we have to have a Creator. Even if you had 500 billion years, a child just doesn’t happen, much less two that are different sexes and that can procreate. Think about it.

To sum up, his argument here seems to be that since it doesn’t seem possible for child birth to develop via natural processes Jesus Christ must have died for our sins. I could be wrong here but I’m almost certain there are some missing steps in that syllogism. Is this really the entirety of his argument? Perhaps expecting him to include his entire argument for god is a bit unfair, but considering that his establishment of this point is a jumping point for his next paragraph I think he could do a bit better, or at least acknowledge his arguments short comings and point to a source that better lays out his case. As it is this is bad even by the standards of apologetics, which typically has a pretty low bar for what constitutes a good argument.

And if it takes a Creator, wouldn’t He want to have input in your lives? Wouldn’t He want to see us live for Him and not ourselves? Isn’t it sad to think that an average of 70 years of life on this earth is all there is? You die, and then there’s nothing. It was sad when I was an atheist. But I respect your view even though I don’t agree with it. And like you, I will not back down, but I will be bold in love. I hope you do the same.

He makes a lot of assumptions this creator. If we assumed that such a being existed why would we automatically conclude that he wanted us to live for him? Why? What purpose would that serve? Acting as if a conclusion is obvious is not actually an argument. Secondly, the bit about dying is just emotional appeal, whether or not I’m saddened by the possibility of my future non-existence is simply not relevant to the issue of truth.

I hope this letter allows us to talk, debate and search for truth in a loving manner, no matter our beliefs. My belief tells me to share the gospel, and I will. My belief tells me to do it in love, and I will. My belief tells me I will be hated because of it, and I am. I am to love others, but I am to hate sin. No matter if you are a liberal, atheist, pagan or even a fence-straddler, we all should try to be a respecter of persons. But my beliefs will never let me condone sin! I won’t get angry over your stance, and I ask that you don’t get angry over mine.

If the author really lived out his claim of respect then he would have no problem allowing those who disagree with him the same civil rights as everyone else. However, we have seen this author, in this very article, complain that the government no longer compels children in pubic schools to read the bible. For this reason, I have my doubts that the author and I have the same definition of respect. As for anger, I tend not to write angry on this blog because it hampers my ability to write clearly, but I don’t think it is inherently wrong to be angry about moral injustices. Indeed some things ought to make us angry, a person who demands respect for himself but only pays lip service to a claim to respect others, for instance.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mike Huckabee doesn’t understand ethics.

Huckabee is up in arms about the possibility that a brain dead patient may have their life support removed. According the the doctors the person died several weeks ago and the doctors have recommended removing life support since there is no chance of recovery once brain death has occurred.

He has this to say about it:

There is no such person who is disposable, one whose life has been deemed by others to be less than others and therefore expendable, I can’t share that.

The road that starts that way in deciding that some lives have less value and are unworthy of protection, that leads to a culture that tolerates the undeserved killing of over 55 million unborn children in this country. It leads to China’s birth policy that limits the number of children for a family and enforces forced abortion if they deviate from the state-determined ideal.

Now one could reasonably point out that this statement makes no sense in the context of this situation because the doctors aren’t disposing of a “person” since everything that made this girl a person, in any meaningful sense, disappeared once brain occurred.

However, I actually have another problem with this statement on a level that is more basic to the issue of human ethics. He implies that we cannot, as humans, ever treat one life as worth more than another. On the surface it seems somewhat reasonable, but let me provide a thought experiment. Let’s say that you come across two people and one of them is trying to murder the other, and further, the only way to stop the murder is to kill the one who is attempting to commit the murder. Would you consider it moral to kill in this circumstance? If the answer is yes then you have, in fact, taken the position that it is moral at least in some circumstances to value one life more than another. It’s one thing to argue that a particular instance of this is unwarranted for some reason but it is quite another to simply argue that we are never allowed to judge one life as preferential to another.

In truth, the only way to live consistently within the framework Huckabee proposes would be pacifism.  Which would make Huckabee, who has supported nearly every military engagement the U.S. has engaged in for the last several decades, massively hypocritical. Which brings us back to the original story. I imagine that even though the scientific information is clear on the matter of this persons brain death the family members probably still find making the choice to disconnect life support to be emotionally troubling. For Huckabee to interject his ill formed opinions, and create a public spectacle in the midst of this family's troubles in order to score points for his political agenda is unbelievably selfish and immoral.