Skeptimus Prime » Philosophy One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Mon, 11 May 2015 01:55:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 More goofiness from Deepak Chopra Thu, 02 Apr 2015 20:47:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’m not sure what the reason is, but well known, and supposedly reputable, news outlets like CNN keep giving Chopra a platform for his nonsense, and as usual atheists and skeptics are his favorite target of criticism.

Standing back a bit, faith is on a rheostat, not an on-off switch. Putting God into the position of yes/no, belief/unbelief doesn’t really reflect the modern state of faith. There are gradations of belief. In fact, 17% of people who identify as atheists still go to church — they have social and family reasons for their choice rather than religious ones.

I don’t think there are many atheists who would claim that social and familial pressures have no influence on people’s beliefs or never cause people to make a pretense of belief to please others. In fact once upon a time I was one of those 17% who went to church despite not believing in god, and my eventual putting my foot down about this was one of the many things which drove an emotional wedge between my parents and I, ending in estrangement years later. Quite frankly to pretend that atheists don’t understand these things is kind of insulting given that we live with these cultural realities all the time.

Further, it shouldn’t need to be stated that a person who goes to church while not believing still doesn’t believe, those pretenses of belief to make family members or friends happy is still just pretense, not some “gradation” of belief.

We all fall somewhere on the sliding scale of belief and unbelief. Secular society has sharpened our demand for truth. To me, this is a positive development. If belief in God can’t stand up to proof, it won’t sustain a person through difficult times.

Yes, if we are honest with ourselves, our beliefs are held with varying degrees of certainty, I’ll give him that, and he even seems to almost praise skepticism here, but then he takes it all back in the next sentence.

I consider skepticism a way station on the way to a higher, more fulfilling kind of spirituality.

Millions of people have walked away from organized religion to become more spiritual, not less. They call themselves seekers; their disbelief is a starting point for starting their own investigations.

So according to Chopra I’m in a halfway point between fundamentalism and spirituality. Thing is I could easily frame this discussion differently and say liberal/progressive religion or spirituality is a way station to becoming an atheist. In fact I actually spent several years exploring “spirituality” after I left fundamentalism and ultimately found it to be no more true or emotionally fulfilling than anything fundamentalism had to offer.

The mistake he makes is to assume that atheists and skeptics aren’t interested in investigating things. Why on earth would he assume that? Don’t get me wrong I’ve met some people who wear those labels who are, in my estimation at least, rather incurious about the world and often less educated on certain subject that then think they are. However, I don’t see their behavior as a result of those labels, but rather being caused by factors innate all human behavior, honestly, factors not unlike the ones that cause many people to listen to Deepak Chopra despite his lack of knowledge.

Where the census form asks what faith they belong to, they might not have a ready answer, but that’s not important. What’s important is walking your own spiritual path. As a lifelong goal, it’s one of the most rewarding.

    What’s not rewarding is to base your belief or unbelief on secondhand opinion. Being a knee-jerk skeptic is as limiting as being a knee-jerk fundamentalist. In both cases, the mind is being conditioned by others.

    This inconsistency is the main problem I have with the kind of wishy-washy ecumenical relativism spouted by Chopra. He says everyone should follow their “own” spiritual path, but has spent the entire article disparaging the choices atheists, and for that mater fundamentalists, have made. He is speaking out of both sides of his mouths, on the one hand claiming to believe the whole “different paths up the same mountain” shtick most new age gurus claim to believe in, but simultaneously disparaging the choices of those who don’t agree with him.

    He criticizes us because our “mind is being conditioned by others” but clearly wants us to listen to him, so how is that any different? For that matter what would a person whose thoughts and reason had developed entirely independent of others even look like? Everyone’s thoughts have been conditioned by others.

    In my own conception of God as the source of consciousness, creativity, intelligence, love and evolution, the reason to be spiritual is to increase all of those qualities.

    Unfortunately, the goal of many faiths is to obey dogma and accept a cultural mythology. Atheism can do good by casting a skeptical light on cultural mythologies, but believing in nothing but the material world is cold comfort.

    Complete word salad. I believe there is a source for the things he mentions, but have no reason to call that source god, and actually think it confuses issues given how most people use the term. In fact he essentially admits that the manner in which he defines God is unrecognizable by the majority of humans, but decides to unwisely ignore that and plunge ahead. Further, there is no guarantee that the truth will be comforting, I don’t think wishful thinking is a valid basis for a worldview.

    Strong-minded, vocal atheists claim that God isn’t science and science isn’t God. But the implication that faith is irrational and only science knows the truth has no basis in fact.

    Rationality is a specialized aspect of the higher brain, but it’s not the end-all and be-all of life as anyone can tell you who has experienced love, music, art, compassion, self-sacrifice, altruism, inspiration, intuition — indeed, most of the things that make life worth living. Some studies indicate that scientists actually go to church more than the general population. They have found a way to be scientific in their work without turning it into a moral dogma.

    I feel for people who get stuck in any belief system, including rigid skepticism. They are signing up for the suppression of curiosity. As painful as it may be to question the faith you were brought up in, it’s worse to be stuck. The human story is about growth and evolution. That will remain true no matter who shouts loudest about God or the absence of God.

    Based on the fact that scientists are more likely to be atheist than the general population I suspect that the study that claims scientists go to church more often than the general population either doesn’t exist or has been questionably interpreted by Chopra. However, since he, unlike me, wasn’t actually willing to post a link to the study referenced I can’t really examine his claim.

    More generally, I don’t accept this dichotomy. I don’t think requiring evidence or rational arguments for claims somehow makes it impossible for me to feel emotion. This is just absurd on the face of it. Further, I haven’t suppressed my curiosity by becoming an atheist. I’m incredibly curious about all sorts of things, I just demand clear thinking and rational thought to come to a conclusion.

    I will never understand why we, as a society, seem to give so much credence to self help “gurus” like Mr. Chopra. His public speaking and writing is full of feel good nonsense with very little content…on second thought maybe I understand exactly why people give his statements credence.

    ]]> 0
    How atheists screw up religious freedom discussions. Sat, 28 Mar 2015 16:13:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Any atheist, or secular minded Christian for that matter, has probably heard one, or most likely all, of the following arguments from Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals while debating the meaning of freedom of religion. Fundamentalists assert that this is a Christian nation, that “church state separation” does not appear in the constitution, and that the founders wanted freedom OF religion not freedom FROM religion.

    You may have even rolled your eyes at these arguments on occasion, I know I have. They are startlingly common and both historically and politically either inaccurate or at least serious oversimplifications.

    However, the counters offered by atheists are often just as bad. It’s not uncommon for me to see atheists responding to these statements with equally extreme rhetoric.  I’ve seen atheists assert that most of the founders were deists, or even in a few extreme cases, outright atheists of which none of the U.S. founders were. I’ve also seen arguments which seem to imply that the founder’s vision of secularism was essentially the same as the one we have today. Think I’m exaggerating the problem?  Check out this meme which I’ve seen a lot of atheists pass around.


    So only two of the men in this picture were founders, but I immediately recognize everyone in this image except for the man in the top left. The issue with this meme is that not a single one of the people that I recognize ever self identified as atheists. The two U.S. founders, Franklin and Jefferson identified as Deists. Sagan called himself agnostic as far as I know, and so did Darwin. Some of the others like Lincoln and Einstein were somewhat inscrutable about the subject so their exact beliefs aren’t known, but while they weren’t strongly religious it’s unlikely they considered themselves atheists. The point is that that there is a tendency among atheists to start bringing long dead people into the fold, so to speak, and this tendency seems particularly strong with our founders among atheists living in the United States.

    So acknowledging that this is problem leaves us with two questions to answer. First, why do atheist so often fall into making these overzealous arguments, and second, how can we argue in favor of the progressive conception of the establishment clause in a way that is more historically accurate. As for why we end up making these extreme arguments, yes I’ve overstated things myself on occasion, I think there are several reasons. Some of this is due to political polarization, in a debate with an extremist we are more likely to take more extreme positions our self as a rhetorical defense because we think it makes our position unassailable when in fact it just causes us to say untrue things about the subject. Also many of us just don’t know that much about history or politics so we end up saying things that seem right or that we heard from someone else without fact checking it.

    In this case though I think the largest factor is that pretty much everyone in the U.S. has been taught to give the founders of this country a great deal of respect and deference. When a fundamentalist says the founders agreed with them on some political issue are first reaction is to try to reclaim the founders ourselves because we think what the founders have to say about our current political situations matters very deeply. We can’t shake the feeling that if the founders disagree with what we are doing, or they didn’t intend a certain line in the constitution to be used the way we are using then we have done something wrong. What we really need to be saying when this is brought up is that what the founders intended may be useful information isn’t necessarily relevant, and certainly isn’t an unquestionable dictate from on high, which brings us to the second question.

    I’m gong to say something here that might seem a bit controversial to some atheists. When the founders wrote the first amendment they did not intend it to be used to prevent government at any level from expressing religious ideals, and they certainly didn’t intend it to have any effect on intuitions managed by the state. They didn’t intend it as a means to keep prayers out of public schools (which didn’t even exist then) and would not have used it to prevent religious displays on government property. When religious fundamentalists argue these things they are actually right, and we just need to accept it. Now, that being said I think the current interpretation of the first amendment as prohibiting these things is reasonable and justified given a nuanced mixture of the more general intent of the amendment, and the accumulation of changes to the constitution, our politics, and our society.

    To understand this we really have to look at a few events in U.S. history, so hopefully you like history. First off, out of the original 13 colonies 6 were founded to escape religious persecution. Now you might think that said persecution taught these people a valuable lesson about the need to vest religious freedom totally in the individual. With the exception of Rhode Island, you would be very wrong. It was not uncommon for colonies to have pretty strict laws governing peoples religious beliefs, even to the point of legally requiring people attend a church of a particular denomination. This has changed a bit by the time of the revolution but leaders in lots of colonies still wanted to be able to enforce their own specific religious beliefs on people within their states. Further, many of the founders felt the primary threat to individual freedom was a powerful federal government. So, the first amendment (and the rest of the constitution) was not designed to keep all government out of religion, but to keep the federal government out of the states business, and to protect those religious colonies from federally imposed religion or religious laws, so that they could impose their own. The founders, and the entire country had a very different concept of what religious liberty means than we do today.

    In the legal sense very little about this situation changed until the post civil war era. However the country did grow a great deal and a lot of new states were formed. The populations from these states were made up of immigrants from both the original 13 colonies and abroad so they were much more diverse, but the most important changes happened in the late 1860’s after the end of the civil war. A lot of politicians, particularly the radical Republicans argued for a new view of states rights and on what was needed to preserve individual liberty. They argued that the focus on states rights that the founders had written into the constitution had allowed an immoral institution (slavery) to persist, and saw a powerful federal government as a means of protecting individual freedom instead of a threat to it.

    The drafting of the 13, 14, and 15 amendments provided the federal government with a broader scope of power, which of course limited state power. The 14th in particularly has become very important over the years, and has effectively extended the limitations of government power set in the bill of rights to the states, which is a situation the founders never envisioned or intended. We also live in a society that is more diverse, more mobile and better educated. The fact that the founders did not envision using the first amendment to eliminate prayer from school or religious displays on government grounds is irrelevant. There were no public schools and if the founders even envisioned such a thing existing they would have envisioned them as state intuitions to which the 1st amendment didn’t even apply at the time. Further, as our society is more diverse at every level than it was in the 1790’s the government is obligated to represent all citizens equally.

    The founders claimed to be trying to create a more equal society, but what they ended up with really only provided equality for white male Christians, and even that equality was rather inconsistent. Our modern concept of the establishment clause isn’t what the founders intended, but the founders actual intent was ethically flawed, as a result of the moral blind spots the founders suffered from. If we intend to create the more equal society that the founders never could then religious equality is a necessary component. This is what we need to be arguing when talk about religious freedom. Yes, it’s a much longer and more complicated argument than just claiming the founders are on our side, but I think being correct more than makes up for the lack of brevity.

    Update: Several people have pointed out that the person I could not identify was Hemingway. His beliefs were also uncertain since he converted to Catholicism but may have done so only to please his wife.

    ]]> 5
    The Nightly Show on free speech, and word bans. Fri, 13 Mar 2015 23:38:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> So a couple of days ago The Nightly Show aired an episode talking about free speech and the banning of words. You can see the full episode here: Nightly Show: March 11, 2015. In particular he mentions two examples, one being Florida governor Rick Scott attempting to band the phrase “climate change” and college campuses banning offensive words.

    There seemed to be a distinct lack of nuance in the discussion, particularly by the panelists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m against outright bans of words, but I think they fall prey to false equivalence when they compare Rick Scott’s attempt to ban the phrase “climate change” with these programs on college campuses. The first is a clear attempt to silence debate about an important topic, the second is a well meaning, though ultimately poorly conceived, attempt to protect people from hateful behavior or statements.

    Things were at their worst when conservative comedian Nick DiPaolo (I’d never heard of him before this) spoke up, claiming that this sort of censorship was primarily done by liberals against conservatives, particularly white males. The others rightly shot him down saying it was a problem on both sides, but what was really telling was that he complained that statements he made got him labeled racist or homophobic. He essentially says that he thinks liberals are trying to silence him by using their free speech to voice an opinion about him, and therefore they should not voice their opinion. The irony is pretty hard to miss.

    However, the larger point is that it always feels like people are asking the wrong question when they discuss this topic. Think about it this way. On the show they brought up that “crazy” was one of the words that had been banned, and said “banning the world crazy is crazy.” Now if the only question we are asking is should it be legal for me to say this my answer, beyond incitements to violence, will always be yes. However I can only think of two contexts in which one might use the term “crazy.” One of those uses is to refer to someone with a legitimate mental illness. We can discus the legitimacy of this, but I can certainly see how people with a mental illness might find this term marginalizing, and why exactly would I choose to hurt someone’s feelings over something a trivial as a word choice?

    The second use is to refer to a person who either holds a belief or has taken an action that does not seem reasonable or correct, just as it was used by the panelist in on the show. It’s particularly common for this to occur in discussions where two people have a strongly opposed ideological positions, I see it all the time in discussions involving religion and/or politics. It doesn’t seem to me that this is a particularly helpful idea to express in those conversations. Not only do you still run the risk of hurting the feelings of any person who currently suffers, or once suffered, from mental illness within ear shot of (or able to read) the conversation you are having, you haven’t actually furthered the conversation. The person on the other end will often become defensive at being called a name, you haven’t actually provided an argument to dissuade them of their position, and as wrong headed as their beliefs may be they probably don’t actually qualify as having a mental illness.

    Some people might argue at this point that such expressions are just letting off steam, or venting frustration at the futility of conversing with those we disagree with. I agree that it can seem futile at times, though I don’t think it actually is, but we need to find ways to express ourselves better, and if we can’t, sometimes it’s better to just bow out. Believe me, I’m not perfect, I’ve lost my shit on occasion, and I know I’ve used the term crazy to describe people more than once. The point is that sometimes we get so caught up in arguing that we have a right to say something that we forget to ask whether we ought to say it.

    ]]> 0
    Catholic priest blames dualism for contraception and moral decay. Wed, 11 Jun 2014 01:10:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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.

    René 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.

    ]]> 0
    Sye Ten’s debate with Matt Dillahunty a.k.a. the dishonesty of presuppositional arguments. Tue, 10 Jun 2014 00:30:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

    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?

    ]]> 0
    Is Atheism a Religion? Sat, 31 May 2014 01:23:00 +0000 YouTube video where I discuss the theist argument that atheism is a religion. Let me know what you think, constructive feedback always welcome.


    ]]> 0
    An atheist reads “Illogical atheism” Chapter 7 and 8 Fri, 09 May 2014 20:27:00 +0000 New video up in my review series for the book Illogical atheism.

    ]]> 0
    An atheist reads “Illogical atheism” Chapter 5 and 6 Fri, 21 Mar 2014 20:44:00 +0000 New video up in my review series.

    ]]> 0
    Re: Atheism: The New Fundamentalism? Sun, 23 Feb 2014 21:19:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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.

    ]]> 0
    Book review of Illogical atheism: Chapter 4 Thu, 16 Jan 2014 23:23:00 +0000 I review chapter 4 of the book Illogical atheism, completing the first of the four books published in this series.

    ]]> 0