1/15/11

Benevolent Tyranny

3 comments

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." - C.S. Lewis

Hell is a bothersome concept. It is not only disagreeable merely because yours truly does not wish to spend an eternity there. Well, it is, but then it isn't. The most disturbing thing about the proposed place that is Hell is the effect that it has on other people. A gentle person who threatens no one and has the well-being of his fellow clan of humans in mind wishes that harm to them be minimized. Yet this ghastly, sociopathic, and disgusting concept somehow can be accepted by otherwise gentle people.

When you are told as a child not to bully others, you may listen or you may disregard the parental advice. Eventually, as kids mature, bullying tends to wane. Sure it may take other forms of "abuse", although be it not necessarily in the form of physical abuse. At any rate, the physical violence is eventually minimized as the maturity of an individual increases. You learn that violence rarely achieves your objectives and is rarely worth the bother other than when your well-being or the well-being of loved ones is pushed to the brink. It is generally deemed, by most human societies, that the only time violence is called for is if it is reactionary towards coercion.

It appears however that a double-standard is in play. What sense does it make to a thoughtful human being that you can have a benevolent father figure in the sky while at the same time he punishes most of humanity? Is this not violence in its ugliest form? Make no mistake--Hell is violence manifest. The CS Lewis quote in this context is relevant considering the idea that theists believe that having this celestial authority is for humanity's own good. In the height of irony, Lewis is arguing against a form of political authoritarianism, yet is perfectly at home with his version of religious authoritarianism because he assumes it is all-moral. Ask any totalitarian despot and they may share Lewis' opinion, only in regards to themselves. Lewis is claiming that utterly destroying one's soul in a lake of Hellfire is appropriate for not accepting Jesus because one either committed "murder" in their heart (disregarding healthy avenues to express anger), masturbated, or killed another man in a bout of rage (for which even eternal burning is an insane attempt at justice).

Not only does this glorify violence in its nastiest way possible, it legitimizes the concept of human ownership. It may sound as if it is a cliche of the New Atheist movement, but it is no hyperbole when the majority of theists assume that God, as the author of human life, has the right to take it away at his whim. We are at his mercy at all times. We're not dealing with normal "property" here; we are dealing with conscious creatures that experience worth, love, and most of all, freedom.

The fundamental question that a human being has to face is: Are we beings to be owned or are we autonomous?

1/11/11

Distrusting Instinct?

2 comments
The contempt that the religions of the afterworld hold for the mundane is certainly no secret. Adherents of such systems of belief are instructed to decry their own natural inclinations and desires in favor of prostration before a holy book and the being supposedly behind it. Human beings, it is said, are naturally evil and motivated toward selfishness and weakness of will. Of course I will not argue against the first accusation, although selfishness is unavoidable and in many cases unworthy of denigration. As for weakness, the term is entirely subjective when used int his context. While a religious person might name their fellows weak for fulfilling desires, it could be said that the religious person is simply too weak to follow suit, and uses his faith as a shroud for his frailty. In any case, it is said by the religious cults, particularly Christianity, that humans, because of the Fall, cannot trust their natural instinct since it leads only to sin and not to goodness.


The trouble with such a claim is that there is no escape from such ingrained love of sin and evil that human beings supposedly possess.This poses a very serious question for Christianity: is the desire of a Christian to follow God not the fervent yearning of a sinful creature who cannot know good? Is even the desire to follow God a misstep? How could it not be, given that every impulse of the human mind is purportedly tainted with evil? Surely even the most devout of believers are doing nothing more than sublimating their sinful and worldly lusts.


The response from Christians will surely be that there is a loophole in the system, and the loophole is easy enough to guess. They will say that the decision of the faithful to follow God is informed not by instinct, but by the divine grace and will of God himself. This only raises further questions though. If one is a Calvinist or likeminded to one, then the obvious problems of predestination, freewill, and grace that are raised by the claim that God elevates some and not others are not entirely off-putting. For anyone else the logical implications of these ideas are horrific, God simply chooses to rescue some for no reason other than his incomprehensible will?


Still, the problem of predestination does not stand alone as a strange consequence of this claim that the desire to follow God is not derived from the minds of men. If we suppose that the claim is true, then there is a serious issue to be addressed. This issue is that the idea is simply nonsensical since human choice must be involved at some point in the process of salvation, otherwise the beliefs of mainstream Christianity at least are rendered impotent. If a person does not choose whether or not to follow Christ, then aside from problems of freewill, all the preachings and rantings of the churches are utterly pointless since the choice cannot be made by men no matter how many times they hear the ostensibly true word of the gospels.


If, on the other hand, human beings necessarily choose for themselves whether or not to heed the divine call of God, then a very human and very Fallen mind is involved in the process of salvation, again raising the question of whether the desire to follow God is any less sinful and vile than anything else chosen by men.

To be succinct, either the choice belongs to man or it does not. If it does not, then the abomination of reality is that humans are born unable to choose any path to salvation; Fate is arbitrarily doled out by the omnipotent. If the choice does belong to men, then what separates the desire to follow God from the desire to blaspheme against Him in terms of the sinful origins of each?

1/9/11

Collective Responsibility

0 comments
If we take, as a starting point, the position that human life has value, then it is not difficult or unwarranted to conclude that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. The individual carries an immense measure of worth in his or her person. Therefore, a collective of individuals encapsulates the combined value of every being counted. If there is a choice then, whether to spare ten beings, an agent should end the life of one being, is the moral conclusion not obvious? For the sake of argument assume first that inaction will result in the death of the ten rather than the one who stands alone. Also assume that each of the ten is of equal intelligence and physical attribute to one another and to the one who is set to be sacrificed for their sake. There is no difference in terms of contribution to society or to longevity. If there are eleven such value-identical individuals, can there be any hesitation in destroying the lone man to save all the rest? The agent must necessarily act to preserve the most life as possible.


However, there would presumably be one voice of protest, that of the man slated to die for the rest. Is his protestesting mere vanity? Can it be ignored? He will not obviously not profit from the actions of the agent. He might convince himself that he dies for a noble cause, but it is glaringly apparent that he will not live to see the fulfillment of such a cause. He cries out as one against many and seems selfish to assume his needs and desires outweigh those of ten others. Yet would any of the ten take his place on the chopping block? Their selfishness is apparent too, though it is more easily cloaked in a feigned concern for their fellows. I must conclude that they are ill-equipped to demand the sacrifice unless they too are willing to die in turn for the masses. Indeed not merely willing, but also able since their willingness will show itself only in the act itself. Still, this alone does not change the judgement of the agent who must decide to carry out the execution. It seems that despite the personal feelings of any involved, the judgement involves cold numerical calculation.


Assume now, rather than an agent being called for an ill-defined reason to execute one for the good of many, the masses demanding that a few of their number stand up for certain values at the risk of their lives. Death for this upholding of value is not guaranteed, but there is a certain element of danger for those involved that is not shared by those making demands. Take the real world situation of people deriding cartoonists and animation studios for kow-towing to the demands of terrorists out of fear. A few are called to put themselves in danger to demonstrate the inviolability of First Amendment rights. If they bow to the threats of terrorism then the value of life for everyone who enjoys Freedom of Speech is diminsihed, but how can can a person, in good concscience, demand such a thing from another? Of course the loss would be unspeakable if the First Amendment would be lost, and the effect would be felt but an immense number of people. But the loss of an individual's life, to that individual, is obviously the most devastating effect possible.


There are those who willingly sacrifice for others, and their bravery is not in question. Still, it seems aggredious for any to call on their fellows, however few, to die for the majority or to insult them for failing to put their lives in harms way. It is far too easy for those who have not known threats against their lives to utter melodramatic statements regarding freedom and conflict, all the while understanding nothing.

1/1/11

On New Year's Resolutions

2 comments
"Lose weight" is usually the most often referred to resolution for every new year. On December 31st, the population of the developed world that happens to consume a few too many calories always looks at the waist line and figures that something needs a change. Obviously if people actually took control and lost weight, we would see a decline in the amount of resolutions resembling the decree that one will (finally) fit in smaller-sized clothing.

One of the reasons I believe this never happens is because of the very nature of the New Year. With a new slate, people may seem to think things will take care of itself. The repetition of the process speaks to the ability of people to put off and put off and put off the actual effort required to accomplish something like weight loss. Procrastination is the mother of many failures because it is something that accumulates sloth and turns it into a habit, much like a cartoonish snowball rolling down a mountain side. Basically a great piece of advice: If you say you're going to do something, do it.

No matter how much dread you assign to the work involved to complete a task, getting it done always tastes much sweeter. It is so hard to recognize this prior to the completion of the task, but it never fails to amaze me how good one feels after the fact (and this is coming from a guy who suffers from major procrastination bouts). If people around you have to deal with your procrastination, it just adds to the dissatisfaction.

Now what does this have to do with religion per se? Nothing really. But it is definitely topical to the case of the New Year in this 2011. If I were to put a religious spin on this topic, maybe I would urge the moderate community to take their religion seriously. Obviously there is a double-edged sword to encouraging this since a literal or intense interpretation of holy scripts may lead to a hard-line dogmatism, but on the flip side, there is an opportunity there for people to actually learn about religion, the arguments for and against the existence of God, and maybe even come closer to what they perceive as God if it is something that they desire. This goes back to my point about doing what you say you are going to do or are doing. If you consider yourself as religious, please study the topic critically. Intellectual laziness is something that plagues the masses, and I don't say this in the form of condescension; it isn't something people perceive to have the time of day for, but I believe inquiry into topics such as science and philosophy and history have rewards that people don't really account for upon initial consideration. I believe if people put the effort into educating themselves for the sake of knowledge while damning the potential hazards in the way, they will feel much better about their state of affairs.

At any rate, have a great 2011!

12/30/10

Doubt As Virtue?

1 comments
Highlighting the benefits of doubt should come as no shock to an atheist community that has doubted the validity of at least one commonly held societal belief. I'm reminded of this quote from Bertrand Russell:

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
Probably the most interesting effect of this little truism with regards to religion (not that I would necessarily brand all theists as "stupid") is the fact that doubt is seen as an affront to coming closer to their God. While in popular culture doubt is shown to bring people closer to God, the tradition of theism demands certainty. Even though this certainty is rooted in a leap of faith almost paradoxically, I don't believe there can be a lot of compromise between doubt and certainty in a theistic lifestyle. The lifestyle changes that result from the adoption of religion is no simple thing; after all, the logistics seem rather difficult between going to church and praying with the thought creeping in the back of one's mind that there may be a 25% chance of this practice being futile.

I've heard many theists say that for atheists, evolution and naturalism are the "only game in the town" or else our worldviews crumble. Sure, I suppose in a sense it could be true that our conceptions of how humans came to be would be in error, but that in no way shows theism is true. After all, the alternatives could be another brand of theism, deism, or some other naturalistic explanation that we weren't creative enough to contemplate. The benefit of being a self-proclaimed skeptic is that, while you can hold onto beliefs with varying degrees of certainty, we hardly base our entire life's efforts around our worldviews considering we leave the door open for the possibility of being wrong.

Not that all atheists do this, obviously. Some are just as assured in competing moral positions as religious people. But I believe doubting all claims of the metaphysical variety can be a definite bonus to our attempts at gaining knowledge. It also helps tone down a bit of the zealousy that characterizes a lot of this world. This isn't exactly adopting some form of epistemological relativism or even moral relativism for that matter (as those are different discussions), but those are different than leaving the door open to falsification.

12/20/10

Biola University Frowns Upon Flirtation

0 comments
I've been following William Lane Craig closely for over a year now; I realize that he is the foremost apologist of the Christian suasion, and while the anti-Craig segment on this Web site doesn't always offer airtight argumentation since some hostile sentiments rise to the surface in place of said arguments, I'd like to think I get the point across in a way that doesn't rely on ad hominems. I wanted to get a better feel for the culture at Biola University, who employs Craig, and went to their Web site the other day, and noticed that Biola takes their Christianity seriously.

Apparently last week, there was quite the fuss concerning Biola and the spreading of a Web site called "LikeALittle", an on-line flirtation Web site. The student life group at Biola issued a statement on their Web site that can be read here. I'll copy and paste the most relevant parts, just because it struck me as interesting for some reason.

Within the last few days many people, both on and off campus, have asked about our response to the new social networking site called "Likealittle." If you are not familiar with it, Likealittle is a new application designed, according to their website, for "anonymous flirting." It has gotten quite a bit of media attention and a number of students on campus are using it. Some have suggested that we block access to the site due to inappropriate comments that have been posted there. We have discussed the issue with the leadership of AS and we agree that this is a teachable moment for our community. Here are a few thoughts that we would like for you to consider as the Biola University student body.

• Realize that all forms of communication, including anonymous electronic postings, should reflect Biblical principles of communication; i.e., using our words to build people up.

• While some students may believe this is simply innocent banter or an expression of "natural feelings," it is not encouraging a Christ-centered mindset or helping us to think appropriately or respectfully about our brothers and sisters.

• Rather than having Biola IT block the site because some students are using it inappropriately, we would like to challenge you to monitor it yourselves and live out our values as a Christ-centered community.
The only reason this is intteresting to me is that it sends off the signal of how closed off this bubble is, or at least how closed off the folks in the administration's bubble is. Anybody who has spent a nanosecond on a high school or college campus ought to know that flirting is a "pandemic," to use a phrase that might suit the context of this discussion.

First things first, even the discussion centering around banning a Web site seems ludicrous to me. It doesn't seem to be the job of a college university to seriously monitor the students that severely, while it is more understandable that something like peer to peer networking is banned considering the strain it puts on the network and its illegality (sidenote, I don't think it should be illegal, but that's another story). However, I assume the more curmudgeonly types are the ones pushing the idea of suppressing the free expression of students on campus, but I applaud the university, no matter how misguided I think they are, for leaving the site available. In a roundabout way, it seems that I agree with the university that if people aren't free to exercise decision-making, then the effect certainly isn't there. You can't coerce people into behaving in a certain way and maintain that their actions were legitimate in that sense.

Another interesting point to note is describing other people as "brothers and sisters." Now there is the chance that there is too much being read into this, but I believe that is designed to shift the focus from sexual attraction onto something more familial. It's a common phrase no doubt, but advertising complete strangers as brothers and sisters may take the attraction level down a notch.

• Hold each other accountable for abuses. If you flag comments that are inappropriate the site is pretty good about taking them down. You can also use the comment feature to respectfully address comments that are inappropriate. We have spoken to the current student-moderators of the site, and they have promised to work diligently to keep the site clean.

• Don't say things that are unkind, sexually suggestive, or characterized by sexual innuendo. One of the reported concerns is ‘innuendo-one-upsmanship,’ where each anonymous commenter pushes the conversation just a little further toward inappropriateness.

Our hope is that, when people who don't know us come across this site, they would leave with a very clear impression that we love Christ, that we love each other, and there is evidence that we are indeed being equipped in mind and character to impact the world for Jesus Christ.
Not much else to read, but the reason I posted these snippets of the press release was to talk a bit about how Christianity views sexuality, and obviously its precursor, flirtation. When suggesting people do not say things of a sexual nature, it seems to rear the ugly head of sexual repressiveness (something Christianity in particular is pretty good at, but Islam has it beaten by lightyears).

Now when that is said, it is not being suggested that people have uninhibited sex or anything like that. But I don't believe the attitude is healthy. After all, is there any marital pairing that did not begin with the idea of sexual attraction? Obviously there are people who come to know each other without previously being physically attracted to each other, but when meeting complete strangers, the Darwinian magnetism is certainly at work in all instances. After all, with respect to humans, our concepts of beauty are heavily tied into sexual fitness (I'd like to get into this with my next Debunking WLC as a matter of fact). There's no reason to be ashamed for being a little flirtatious or being sexually attracted to another human being.

It is interesting to note the moral disparity at work here. Atheists on one hand are branded as being hedonistic sexual deviants because they may engage in casual sex or may have relations with their significant, unmarried others. But again, I fail to see the harm. What it really boils down to is an attack on the self in a form of aggression upon one's well-being. An act such as masturbation is frowned upon even with the empirical verification that it leads to stress relief and a general improvement in healthy developing human beings. There's really no reason to be afraid of it.

All in all, it seems as if they are trying to beat nature (i.e., to them: Satan) at its own game, and that usually fails.

12/14/10

Poll #4 Results!

0 comments
This question was, who would win in a battle of deities? The winner is.....Yahweh! I was kind of surprised that Yahweh won this one, as I was definitely expecting Thor with his mighty hammer to take the crown here. I endorsed Hachiman, the samurai warrior God of Japan from some centuries ago, but lo and behold, I guess people think Yahweh is too big of an all-powerful jerk to lose to them.

This new poll is: "When in Hell, Who Do You Most Want to Meet?" I tried to cover many different bases, with Carlin as a comedian, Nietzsche as a philosopher, Confucious as a Far-East philosopher, Einstein as a physicist, Carl Sagan as an astronomer, and Mark Twain as an author. I plan on having a good time if these interesting people are there!

Debunking William Lane Craig: On Non-Belief

5 comments


I was reading the most recent Reasonable Faith Q&A that is published on William Lane Craig's main apologetic web site and read a rather inane article that even tops the bar usually set by the premier Christian apologetic. Things become much more interesting when Craig delves into theology versus philosophy, something that is more applicable to the layman and is not as esoteric or, I suppose, arcane and inaccessible as some areas of philosophy in which Craig purports to be beyond proficient.

So this Q&A asks the question of why God feels the need to punish nonbelievers who sincerely believe that God is not apparent and that God does not exist. It seems silly (as it most likely is) to punish somebody for a sincerely held belief that is simply wrongheaded. As I have said earlier, given Yahweh's existence, an atheism that is based on evidence and not based on misotheism or antitheism is one that stems from a simple misunderstanding of reality. I don't believe a misunderstanding of reality can be based on "moral failure," as Craig has suggested in the past and this sentiment of his rears its ugly head again in this Q&A. Let's begin.

Christians are supposed to think that God will punish atheists for choosing not to believe. But how can an sincere atheist be blamed for not believing? I don't think belief is a choice.

Suppose your friends push you to believe in Santa Claus. Could you force yourself to believe in Santa? At most you can act like a believer, but you will never be a sincere believer. Therefore you will be a hypocrite!

Now suppose Santa Claus "asks" you to suffer for him. If you do not believe in Santa, will you have enough motivation for endure suffering for him? Can you be blamed for give up suffering for Santa?

Jesus asks the believer to do more then suffer for him. Christ asks the believer to hate his own life in this world (John 12.25). Now how can an atheist have enough motivation for obeying Christ if he even not believes in Jesus?

If an sincere atheist thinks God is a fairy tale, how can he be blamed? If belief is not a choice, no one can be blamed for not believing. It seems absurd to punish an atheist for being an atheist like it is absurd to punish a dog for being a dog.

How should we respond to this objection?

The questioner brings up a very valid point (from Brazil, so the typos are his). This also hits on the idea of Divine Hiddenness, which Craig thinks he has shrugged off. I won't go into it here, but one of Craig's two main arguments for divine hiddenness is that God "whispering" into our ears why certain things happen is akin to living in a "haunted house." Hmm. This presupposes that God can't appear directly to us like a good friend of some type and, after all, if God whispered things into our ear from a nonmaterial distance since we were born, I'm sure it wouldn't seem so absurd. But when dealing with a naive realist and a best-of-all-worlds advocate, you can't expect Craig to think outside of the box here.

The second argument is that God telling us why something bad happens to us would have the opposite effect, if the effect is for us to come closer to God. Now, the problem obviously here is that every bad thing that has ever happened to anybody would have had to have been potentially thwarted by God if he told us. I think that seems unlikely, but that is Craig's argument in a nutshell.

I find that contemporary atheists take great umbrage at the biblical claim that God holds people to be morally culpable for their unbelief. They want to maintain their unbelief in God without accepting the responsibility for it. This attitude enables them to reject God with impunity.
Well, I mean how would you like it if I told you that you must be punished if we reached the finish line of life only to find out that atheism is the case? Obviously we can't do that since we're dead....But you know what I mean.

Now we can agree that a person cannot be held morally responsible for failing to discharge a duty of which he is uninformed. So the entire question is: are people sufficiently informed to be held morally responsible for failing to believe in God? The biblical answer to that question is unequivocal. First, God has provided a revelation of Himself in nature that is sufficiently clear for all cognitively normal persons to know that God exists. Paul writes to the Roman church:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1. 18-21).
For somebody who is a Christian, I'm surprised, but then again I'm not surprised, that I often see Craig quoting or referencing St. Paul more than Jesus. If anything, that's a referendum on where Christianity wound up. As Nietzsche did say, "there was one Christian and he died on the cross."

At any rate, I haven't really addressed the topic so far. So, Craig begins by citing the oft-quoted passage in Romans that states the reason that influences Paul's version of apologetics that gives God the authority to punish non-believers. The answer in this case is simple: You're not really a non-believer, you're just a rebel. Paul takes the equation of non-belief out of the picture, because he thinks nature itself is evident of God's glory. For me personally, when I see the trees, I get an insatiable urge to thank Vishnu for the trees, but that's me. At any rate, Craig thinks that is good enough.

There is also a bit of an interesting bit of psychological warfare going on here. The assertion is made that, "you really know Yahweh exists." This casts doubt upon the mind of a non-believer who may have felt that he was certain in his belief structure. When they make a claim like this, it is highly suggestive and plants a seed of doubt no matter how confident you may be. There's always that possibility that you are just suppressing the knowledge of Yahweh.

In Paul’s view God’s properties, His eternal power and deity, are clearly revealed in creation, so that people who fail to believe in an eternal, powerful Creator of the world are without excuse. Indeed, Paul says that they actually do know that God exists, but they suppress this truth because of their unrighteousness.
This.....This sounds dangerously close to:


Now obviously, this ignores the fact that we're not only talking about "God," but rather Yahweh. We are talking about the ancient God of the Jewish desert. There is not only one proposed God.

Second, wholly apart from God’s revelation in nature is the inner witness which the Holy Spirit bears to the great truths of the Gospel, including, I should say, the fact that God exists. Anyone who fails to believe in God by the end of his lifetime does so only by a stubborn resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing that person to a knowledge of God. On the biblical view people are not like innocent, lost lambs wandering helplessly without a guide. Rather they are determined rebels whose wills are set against God and who must be subdued by God’s Spirit.

The difference, then, between God and Santa Claus, is that (i) there is good evidence in support of God’s existence which is evident to all, and (ii) there is an objective witness of God’s Spirit which warrants belief in Christian truths. Of course, the unbeliever will deny that there is such evidence and such a witness of the Spirit. Fine; we Christians disagree with them about that. We think they’re mistaken. That’s why we engage them in dialogue, to show them that the evidence is sufficient and that their objections are weak.
Isn't there something about this that seems fallacious? Craig appears to be the ultimate presuppositionalist here. We have to establish that Yahweh is active in leading people to the Bible first. But if Craig is only stating the Biblical scenario, I suppose that is okay. I can't pin Craig down on a definition of what the "inner witness" actually is and how it works, but Craig doesn't feel the need to explain.

It is a curious thing that Craig can diagnose non-belief as he does. He believes that atheists deceive themselves into non-belief out of an innate desire to rebel against Yahweh. I don't know that this is the case, but for those who are misotheists or antitheists (I would be the latter as an atheist), it mostly stems from a rejection of a few things. Mostly Yahweh makes it almost too easy to deconvert. It's not quite as easy to deconvert from a belief in gravity since it's strain on us is, quite literally, omnipresent. The evidence for Yahweh simply isn't as sufficient as our recognition of gravity is, and, coming back to Divine Hiddenness, it certainly would make it a lot easier on us if his existence didn't rely on multiple second-hand testimony from fallible human beings.

But more to the point, why do these select humans find the idea of God so repulsive? The inner-slave of many theists believe this is due to a sense of rebellion. But what is so bad about that? The idea of hell and eternal suffering for the mere non-acceptance or non-recognition of a human sacrifice seems so odd to many people. This is something that demands an explanation, but instead of an explanation all they get is threatened with Hell if they deny the necessity or justification for the existence of Hell. If God did implant some "morality chip" in our brains, this is certainly where I would start because it probably is the cause of many deconversions across the globe.

Contrary to what you say, Wagner, on the biblical view, unbelief is a choice. It is a choice to resist the force of the evidence and the drawing of God’s Holy Spirit. The unbeliever is like someone dying of a fatal disease who refuses to believe the medical evidence concerning the efficacy of a proffered cure and who rejects the testimony of his doctor to it and who, as a result, suffers the consequence of his own stubbornness. He has no one to blame but himself.

Atheists and agnostics are not like dogs. They are persons created in the image of God, endowed with freedom of the will, and pursued by a loving Heavenly Father who yearns to reconcile them with Himself. Their unbelief is culpable because it is maintained in the face of the evidence and in defiance of the Holy Spirit.
Oh, poor Yahweh. It almost makes me feel bad for the fellow. He wants me and others so badly, yet can't program us in a way that makes it conducive. I'm sorry that when evaluating competing claims about existence that I demand concrete evidence and not metaphysical speculation. The Christian dogma seems absurd on its face and there are many legitimate criticisms of the Christian religion.

I don't think there has ever been any reliable first-hand testimony of heaven nor anything that validates what Jesus said. The New Testament is full of assertions made by Jesus and we have no way of verifying if Jesus really is God; the assertions made by Jesus could be the same unfalsifiable drivel you might hear from a psychic. To say that the evidence is so clear and that atheists are delusional and/or rebellious in their rejection of God is to steer clear of the entire concept of what it means to be faithful. Christians are supposed to believe in spite of the evidence. They are supposed to hope against all hope. Faith is rendered meaningless in such a scenario, and Craig doesn't seem to realize that. If evidence of the supernatural is as easy to believe in as picking up a book in a library and acquiring factual and unobjected-to information, then why call it faith? [NOTE: Re-reading this, I realize I kind of contradicted myself by making a case for God to reveal himself to humanity, but I'm using a tenet of Christianity against Craig's apologetics in a different context here.]

I believe the questioner (who is a Christian) raises a valid point and it withstands Craig's barrage of theo-rationalizing. It is certainly claimed in the Bible that God makes himself evident, but we don't see that in everyday life. Gee, I hate to sound condescending here, but could it be that the Bible is wrong about the nature of reality? I don't see people in Papua New Gineau think to themselves, "I'm sensing the presence of a figure named Yahweh and his son Jesus Christ. If only there were some missionaries to come here and fill in the gaps." No, they have no clue of who Yahweh is or the doctrines of Christianity. Just as some people feel no spiritual connection. Craig gives me the vibe of an absolutist who is incapable of pondering thoughts other than his own. He is the ultimate universalizer.

12/3/10

Personal Morality and God

1 comments
I am loathe to admit the superiority of any Christian idea over its Judaic counterpart. But there was a stroke of brilliance in Christ's message that is often misunderstood even as it is asserted by those call themselves christ-like, and it should be pointed out.

Judaism is a religion under the law, which is prescribed by the Tanakh. The only way to truly know the god of Judaism is through his word as imparted by the holy books. It is precisely because of this that it is considered a terrible blasphemy to attempt any alteration to the Law; it has already been transcribed.

Christianity is often purported by its adherents as being something other than a religion. While maintaining the relevance of the Old Testament to their beliefs, Christians also assert the belief that the law is useless to providing salvation when compared to a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This emphasis on personal salvation and individual contact with deity are very far divorced from the religion of the Jews, for whom God is eternally transendent and separate from human life.

I say then that Christianity is superior to Judaism in at least one facet because in its purest form it challenges believers to find God through their own hearts rather than through the script of a page. And because of this difference, this emphasis on personal inspiration and grace over devotion to the study of holy law, is an important question not raised? What if the god of the bible appears to all one's sensibilites to be a intolerable monster undeserving of worship? What if this god is not the God of one's own heart? Is it not then reasonable for a Christian to conclude that the holy book is, in fact, wrong? If God does truly exist, and created mankind in such a way as to be capable of knowing Him, then would personal intuition not be more valuable than cloistered learnings from a knowledgable scribe of religion?

Of course the theological opposition to the former suggestion would come in the form of doctrine regarding Original Sin or Total Depravity. Both derive their conclusions from the premises that human beings have lost any nature that is godly, or have at least lost the capacity to be truly godly. In light of this, the best way to find God is ostensibly through the teachings of the prophets who have been directly inspired by God.

The trouble with that kind of argument is obvious. If human beings are indeed fallen, and incapable of doing good or knowing god, then how are they to discern which holy book is correct? Assuming that they could in some way find this knowledge, how would they then proceed to follow through in a personal relationship with God? The answer is that they could not. They would depend utterly on the text. They would be exactly what they claim not to be, which is a people bound to the law of God as transcribed in the holy books. Furthermore, if all men are truly fallen, disgraced and, if we are to take Total Depravity to its conclusion, are wholly incapable of godly thought or action, would not the drive to worship God and find salvation be in the first place founded upon sinful and ungodly urges?

If the religious are to assume that all human action and thought is evil, then there is no recourse in a holy book. If there is some capacity for good in human nature, even in the allegedly sinful state in which it now lies, then that goodness should be trusted where it manifests itself in intuition. To obey a god against which one's own morality and spirit rails is cowardly, evil, and pathetic. The only God deserving of worship is the one which inspires the human soul that prostrates before it. The only god that deserves to be the God of the human heart is one that adheres to the morality found therein.

12/2/10

Environmentalism

0 comments
It seems as though a certain obvious point has come to be regarded as some sort of esoteric mantra. Said inference, being readily apparent, can be stated thusly: those concerned with the environment hold their sentiment for selfish reasons; which is to say that environmentalists only care for the ecology of the planet insofar as it concerns them. They care for their surroundings only because they know they depend upon them. This observation, as stated, is within the reach of the most stunted of sighted men and women, yet there are those who believe they have not only stumbled onto some secret but also that such a "revelation" invalidates the work of environmental workers entirely or exposes them as frauds after a certain fashion. The idea to be repudiated then, is that human beings need a reason other than their own self-interest for preserving the planet (such a reason being nigh impossible in any case).


Oil spills, deforestation, the endangerment and extinction of our fellow animal species, these are all rallying calls for the populace to awaken to a very real issue: the planet cannot support our current lifestyles and activities, at least not if the earth is expected to retain its life-supporting majesty in the style we have come to take for granted. Problems affecting the globe as a whole will inevitably begin to exert malevolent influence over the lives of even the most affluent members of society. Those with some measure of foresight know this, and act to prevent the loss of their wealth, property, and well-being. Or if their motivations be more lofty, they act out of a desire to preserve the planet for future generations. These reasons are inherenty anthropocentric. Does this infringe on the possible benefits for the entire world over and for all the species counted as less than human? Of course not, no matter the motivation of those seeking to restore the planet or at least stop its continuing decline matters very little in light of whatever results they produce. If one is dangling over the face of a cliff and a man offers his hand in assistance, what madness is it to question his motivation rather than accept his help?


Other than decrying the worthiness of environmentalists, there is at least one rhetoric-based camp that believes human beings are a plague unto the ecosystem and that the world is better off without our species. This seems to stem from the idiotic notion that humans are somehow separate from nature, which is akin to saying a beaver has stepped away from nature by building a dam. Everything humans do lies within the sphere of nature, though all-too-many people have a notion of dichotomy between the natural world and that of human beings. But even were this point to be granted, how exactly would the "planet" be better or worse off for lack of sentient beings? Such a question and the reason for asking it are utterly ludicrous. There is no Gaia spirit, the earth is not concious, and although I admittedly speak from an unavoidably biased point of view, sentient beings, namely humans, are the most valuable creatures within nature. The existence of higher forms of life is the outcome of millions of years of evolution, and now in self-loathing some of our species would condem us all as unworthy of our birthright? There is no other purpose for the earth except the lives of sentient beings, of which we are the first and so far only kind. It's beauty and magnificence go unnoticed without observing minds.


The earth belongs to human beings. Such a statement should not be regarded as crass or insulting to the "natural world". Human beings are the finest products of the natural world simply by virtue of our ability to question our impact and change behavior accordingly. Acknowledging that the earth was not in any way "made" with us in mind and that we rather adapted to the environment, the world is still ours so long as we prove ourselves worthy of the responsibility entailed therein.

The Sin of Scientism

0 comments
Is scientism such a bad word nowadays? Stephen Hawking, the great physicist, recently opened up his latest book titled "The Grand Design" with the sentence that, "philosophy is dead." While probably meant for effect and drawing off the idea that questions such as, "why is there something rather than nothing" is only speculation, claims such as these have given the impression that scientists are lacking in the philosophy department.

The favorite bugaboo for theists who are (somewhat) philosophically sophisticated is to point to problems in science. Most notably, the Problem of Induction and the Demarcation Problem. As you may be aware, the Problem of Induction just says that because, theoretically, every apple you have ever seen is red does not mean that all apples are red, as it may or may not be possible for apples to be different colors. The Demarcation Problem is probably the biggest issue in the philosophy of science camp and it deals with what constitutes science, how pseudoscience is defined, and what science can answer. And the latter portion of my simplified definition is the main point of contention coming from anti-scientnism types.

Obviously what is now referred to as scientism is an offshoot, or perhaps more accurately a direct descendant, of the logical positivism started in the Vienna Circle. The main idea was to apply the basic themes of the scientific method to the process of philosophy, eradicating most of metaphysics. As scientists though, I think this denies their place in history. During the enlightenment, the essence of a Renaissance Man was that he was skilled in many fields--primitive psychology perhaps, mathematics, language, epistemology, and more. Indeed, at that time, they were referred to as "natural philosophers" if their main preoccupation was dealing with the natural world.

However, I think the criticism of scientism mainly lies in the idea that it is nihilistic in nature. And by nihilistic, I only mean it to be value-free. It is, in its purest form, the strive for objectivity in a sense that is devoid of emotion and separated as best it can from the individual biases that plague our understanding of the world. While I actually believe this is an accurate depiction of science, I don't think it is an accurate depiction of those who claim that science is the best means to understand our natural world because the assumption is being made that they are mechanical robots. Obviously people such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and others who are accused of being scientism practioniers experience great emotion when doing what they love--studying the natural world. So I think it is strawmanning a bit to say that scientists are devoted in entirety to cold, harsh, objective reality and denying the more subjective and emotional experiences in life.

But there is no other way for the study of the natural world to be done. Seen this way, when a kid touches a hot stove and decides not to touch hot stoves from now on out, the kid is participating in some form of science, if you broaden the definition a little. Trial-and-error and pattern seeking is what we do best to make sense of our world. In a kind of Bayseian model, when new data enters, we adjust our theories accordingly. Perhaps the child in the example touched his first stove and it was hot, thus the idea that all stoves are not to be touched is created. If a stove is touched that is not hot, we may create a new theory that we should check to see somehow if a stove has been heated and maybe that will be a good model to determine the probability of it being too hot to handle. Basically, any concept we derive in the universe is a model of the reality that we are experiencing, and I believe it is pointless to pontificate on whether or not we can actually Know (with a capital K) or experience the "external world." We develop models that have explanatory power and serve us with predictive utility, and that is all science is aiming to accomplish. Science is in a constant state of discovery and updating, and the fact that it is not immutable is one of its greatest strengths, much to the contrary of theistic rebuttals.

Now, even with that said, there is a place for testing and a place for broader theory, which I consider a different type of science. If I'm allowed to interject a tad of political ideology, the economist F.A. Hayek, who was good friends with philosopher of science Karl Popper, was actually the one credited with popularizing the term, "scientism," and the criticism was not based on theological grounds. What Hayek was proposing was that, at least in the social sciences, people, and the interactions of people, are not as predictable as inanimate objects. What you have are minds studying other minds, so it is a difficult thing to do. Hayek's proposal was that you need some type of theoretical framework with which to draw practical conclusions or educated guesses and that equations and such are overrated in social sciences, and I tend to agree with that sentiment.

Another valid criticism of scientism I think is that for many it does eliminate practical concerns such as meaning and direction and even some political theory for that matter, at least when taken to its fullest extent. Because it relies so heavily on empiricism for the natural world and it is reductionist in nature, it has explanatory power for natural phenomenon but people who see the value in that tend to fall into the trap of denying emergent concepts. An emergent concept can be something like meaning or value that has an entirely naturalistic explanation but is best explained on a "philosophical" level, if you will.

If I rambled, I apologize but I believe scientism is an important topic. Nietzsche was right when he foresaw nihilism as a sweeping phenomenon. A scientistic mindset may isolate us from enjoying the more "irrational" aspects of life, such as art, beauty, and meaning. Now that may or may not be a bad thing, and it seems undesirable to me personally. Empiricism is not a bad thing when evaluating opposing claims about the nature of reality, but there is nothing wrong-headed about using philosophy/metaphysics to explain the material world's emergent properties. Theists have a mistaken view of scientists if they assume that those scientists believe science is the only means to reach any sort of understanding, although there are some of those people running around (Peter Atkins comes to mind). I believe it is not representative, that theist's ideas of nihilistic scientists are strawmans, and that admiration for science is a great thing.

11/23/10

The Good Villain

0 comments
Outside the city of Atra Flumen, there lived a successful farmer named John. He worked the fields with diligence and tenacity. His hard work was admired by the entire city and countryside, and he was hailed as the exemplar of the good citizen: hard working and loyal to his friends and family. His greatest friend was his mentor Fredrich, who was quick and mighty of mind, contemplating matters beyond the concern or ability of most men.

However, there eventually came a year in which John lazily prepared for the harvest. His behavior lost him the majority of his crop. He feared for his reputation, and dreaded appearing the market to beg for alms, but he knew there was no alternative if his family was to survive the harsh winter.

Fredrich kept close eye on the troubles of his friend though, and on the dreaded day he arrived in the market before John. Before John could accept the degree of shame necessary for begging aid of his neighbors, Fredrich loudly announced to all present that he had in fact destroyed John's crops in a fit of rage at the honor the farmer recieved, while he the philosopher recieved none.

Upon hearing the revelation, the people of the city drove Fredrich away in a fury. They razed his house to the ground and declared him an exile from the city. His reputation thusly ruined by his own words, Fredrich drew away into hiding. The people then donated graciously, even excessively to help John's family, despite his protests and public declaration of distaste for charity on his behalf.

At nightfall, Fredrich appeared at John's house. The farmer angrily demanded to know how his friend could have betrayed his trust. The older friend calmly reminded John of what he already knew: that his own lack of foresight had caused the calamity. Fredrich had simply spared him public shame and humiliation, and had done so by destroying his own reputation. To all who cared to weigh in on the events, Fredrich was a monster; he had become entirely ostracised from the community.

Fredrich spoke to John, saying to him, "If all the world's indeed a stage, then what travesty is it to be deemed monstrous by the audience? To sacrifice public image and reputation is intensely difficult. I ask you my friend, would it be not have been infinitely easier for me to simply offer condolence as a wise old man is wont to do? In such a way I would endear myself to my peers and enhance my own position, all the while appearing both sympathetic and noble. But this serves my friend hardly at all. Instead, is it not truly noble to take the more difficult, unsung path? Rather than perform the useless but lauded duty of a friend as expected by the rabble, I take the blame upon myself. I am destroyed in their eyes, but what matters the opinion of the masses compared to that of a friend? If I am mentioned in the stories of our people I will be synonymous with betrayer and fiend. Take heed my friend, the noblest deeds are the ones that remain hidden from the sight of gullible sheep, and the greatest of men are all unknown."
 

The Atheist Altar. Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved Revolution Two Church theme by Brian Gardner Converted into Blogger Template by Bloganol dot com