Monthly Archives: January 2012

Looking at the Blue Marble Again

You might have heard about the new image of the Earth taken by the Suomi NPP satellite. It’s very hard to explain until you actually load up the 8000 by 8000 pixel image and actually see the details of every cloud and land formation. It’s a transcendent feeling looking at the boundary of atmospheric mist between Earth and outer space, knowing that very few people have actually traveled beyond this Blue Marble.

We are indeed a speck in a tiny corner of a solar system out of countless stars and billions and billions of galaxies separated by deep time and deep space.

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The World of Nonsensical Propositions

The ignostics will tell you that neither atheism nor theism is a valid position because to even have an opinion about the existence of God, one has to first have a coherent definition of God. Ignostics hold that (most) existing definitions of God are nonsensical to begin with.

You may recall that I’ve written a long post about the Transcendental Argument for God, and why there are so many problems with it. You can read the official reply to the post here, and there are probably a lot of obvious objections that you can think of, but I focus on the most crucial one. It has to do with the definition of what God is (and whether things are logical because he says so or he says so because they are logical).

Of course, what I’m saying here is that God determines what is logically necessary (and possible) by His nature, which is itself logically necessary.  So the natural question that follows is “which comes first, logical necessity or God’s nature?”  My answer is neither; they are equally ultimate.  This is how presuppositions work; your presupposition can’t be justified based on anything more fundamental.

And hence we enter the world of nonsensical propositions. Let us try to understand what it means for God’s nature and logical necessity to be “equally ultimate”.

For example, it is admitted that God cannot create a square circle. Why not? Because it is logically impossible. There are rules of logic, similar to a traffic light, that stops God (and us) from making contradictory things.

But maybe it is because of God’s nature, which is ultimate. There might be another traffic light that determines what God can or cannot do (because of his nature) .

What does it mean that logical necessity and God’s nature is equally ultimate? For one, it would have to imply that when one traffic light is red, the other would have to be red too. It would be clearly nonsensical for one light to be red and another to be green, as the idea of God being able to create a square circle and not being able to create a square circle is absurd.

Then the question must be asked. Why are the traffic lights both the same color, all the time?

If there is some relationship that connects the two, so let us look at the space of all possible functions.

A) Functions that take some input from logical necessity and output the result as God’s nature.
B) Functions that take some input from God’s nature and output the result as logical necessity.
C) Functions that either do not take arguments or take other arguments, and output the result as logical necessity AND God’s nature.
D) Functions that take as arguments from God’s nature AND logical necessity, is not independent of either argument, and accounts for both somehow
E) Other functions/solutions addressed below

It is clear that A) and B) are not permissible because they undermine the “ultimacy” of either God’s nature and logical necessity, and thus the Euthyphro dilemma is not solved.

C) undermines both God’s nature and logical necessity as ultimate things, and thus continues the fallacy apparent in the entire argument (i.e. referring the problems upward).

D) is the function implied by the quoted statement, but this is a nonsensical (and I say nonexistent) function (and thus the statement is nonsensical). Something that determines that two things are always in agreement cannot take those two things and have them be “equally ultimate”. If one traffic light says “red” and another says “red”, and if the two traffic lights are in fact two different things, then there can be no meaningful relation that determines both are in agreement by while allowing both to independently determine the other. Saying “You and I both agree, because you and I agree” is not only meaningless, but it also does not show the “equally ultimate” property of either because neither are independent, nor are they in fact determining each other. It is in fact, illogical to even attempt to define such a function. This is the realm where ignosticism rules.

Proposed solutions to this problem.

God’s nature and logical necessity are the same thing.

Then you have merely played a semantic game with me and defined God to be logic. You are essentially saying, “Logic is absolute because I assume so. I just call it God (with some extra attributes).”

The function is nondeterministic/random/probabilistic.

If the function varies, for example, if it switches between function A and function B, then we still have the same problem in a given time frame. If it is completely random, then it doesn’t account for why God’s nature and logical necessity have to agree (see below).

God’s nature and logical necessity are coincidentally the same.

If there is no true relation governing two traffic lights and they are coincidentally the same, then there is no rational reason why they should be the same in the future. And thus there is no reason to think that in the future they won’t contradict each other (one green and one red).

There is no function. It just is.

This is indistinguishable from the statement above.

Conclusion

This is a philosophical/mathematical analysis of the fact that if something is ultimate, it determines everything else, and nothing else determines it. If something else is ultimate, any other thing that is not that thing and falls in the same category cannot also be ultimate. The problem with the argument isn’t that there are presuppositions. The problem is that the presupposition is a nonsensical and invalid to begin with.

How Lucky We Are Indeed

How Lucky We Are Indeed

This image of two men shows why our movement transcends all the false offerings of religion; it shows the moral courage and intellectual honesty of humanistic atheism, as well our love for all our brothers and sisters in the only life we have.

American Secularists Marching Together in a Broken World

Our reason and our humanism is challenged every single day by news of incredible hate, superstition, and intolerance that comes from the faith-based mentality. Just recently, we’ve had to hear the horrible news of another gay teen suicide in a religious household; we’ve had to stand by and watch a 16-year old face death threats and go to school with a police escort because of her atheist activism. We’ve had to watch multiple instances of businesses refusing service to atheists, and face an internet community willing to defend to such bigotry. We’ve had to hear of kids being kicked out of their homes and shunned from their entire community for fighting school-sponsored prayer.

I don’t think I can say this any more lightly, but I do sincerely believe that many of the intolerant attitudes against atheists in America are blatantly contrary to what America is all about. The founders of this country were not perfect, and some of them were Christian. But many were in fact not Christian, and they all understood the importance of not only religious pluralism but also the dangers of religion. More importantly, they understood the role of reason in human affairs; it was to be a guardian against fanaticism and superstition, and an integral part of the search for truth. It was Thomas Jefferson who wrote the following:

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

That is why it is more important than ever that American secularists, no matter their personal identifications, come out and march together in celebration of reason (and as a consequence, against the forces of superstition).

In fact the greatest gathering of the secular movement in world history is going to happen very soon at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2012. It is called the Reason Rally, and if there is anything you should be part of, it is this.

It is sponsored by literally every freethought, secular, atheist, humanist, etc. organization that I’ve heard of.

It’s the one event we’ve all been waiting for.

And in a broken world that needs more reason and less religion, in a country with a proud tradition of secularism that needs to be defended, the Reason Rally is a symbol of our hope for the future. American secularists have marched far and wide for the last 200 years. We’ve made incredible leaps in the last couple of decades.

We’re going to continue to change the religious direction of this country. We’re going to show that we really are the fastest growing minority in America. We’re going to show that we too are citizens and that our opinions and votes matter. We’re going to march on Washington–proudly, openly, with a spirit that will never wane.

How to Persuade an Atheist to Become Christian

This post is motivated by a discussion we’ve had at the Secular Alliance about Christian evangelism in general. The truth is that a lot of it is so bad and ineffective that it often has the opposite effect: it shows that religious people take silly arguments seriously. A lot of the dialogue isn’t very good because the other side doesn’t take enough care to test or even think about their answers beforehand. The following video illustrates my point:

Also take for example the Street Evangelism project that the UChicago Intervarsity Christian Fellowship is participating in this weekend. These are some excerpts from their “training materials.” How can we make this better? I offer my own honest suggestions.

Q: If God is good, why does He allow suffering?

A: We need to understand several issues to address this concern.  First of all, we do know that God sometimes uses sufferings (that he does not actively create) for the furthering of His kingdom.  However, to generalize this to all suffering is probably oversimplifying the issue.  We need to realize that the world and humanity are broken. We are put under a curse of sin that was instituted by our own free will.  While the world continues to be broken, we will suffer from calamities and disasters.  Our physical and emotional suffering is a symptom of the more important fact- that mankind as a whole continues to be bound by sin.  The fundamental question remains- does God save us from our own sin that causes suffering? And the answer is a resounding YES!  However, we must accept this gift that God has given us.  He cannot save us if we do not allow Him to.  God’s promise to us is this: that one day we will be reunited with him and there will be no suffering.  However, until that day, we must live in the broken world, hoping and waiting.  As an intimate God, God feels all of our sufferings.  what we must understand is that Jesus went through the same things as us.  He feels our pain and empathizes with it.  We also need to know that God’s timing is never our timing.  As much as we want God to intervene, He is always waiting for the perfect time.

Comment: The problem of evil is much deeper than that, and superficial answers like the one above won’t cut it. First of all, there is an obvious difference between natural suffering and man-made suffering. The answer does not address how sin causes natural events earthquakes and hurricanes, which, unless you have another supernatural theory about how this works, are not affected by human thought or actions (mostly).

More important is the timing problem. It is a moral fallacy that an infinite amount of time in the future compensates for a finite amount of suffering in the past. What if you were told that you were to suffer for 10 seconds of excruciating pain, and then told that everything will be set right? That might be acceptable because 10 seconds is nothing to infinity. But if you were told that you had to go through it for 10 years, or 100 years, or 1 trillion years, the moral fallacy is clear. We are sentient creatures, and each finite moment of conscious experience is real and substantial, and it’s not something to be trivialized by an infinite timeline. A concrete, real world example of this point is brilliantly illustrated here.

How to do better: The fact of the matter is that you’ll probably meet people who will see through the superficial answer above. After all, there is an incredible amount of suffering in the world. The first thing you should do is not to mention that Jesus also suffered, because it is a non-sequitur that doesn’t address why there is still suffering. The better way to handle questions like these is first to be honest and admit ignorance. We as human beings do not know the mysterious ways of God and his purposes, and why some things, good or bad, happen.

The best way to engage is to ask, “what is evil, and why is suffering objectively bad?” The atheist then has to give an account of evil and suffering as an objectively bad thing (one that is not merely bad because a person says so). This is not easy. Conclude by saying that without God, there is no objective criticism of evil and/or suffering, so the question does not make sense.

Q: How do you know that the Bible is real and accurate?  (Understand more on the resurrection of Jesus, why we believe in Jesus’ resurrection.

A: The foundation of all our beliefs is not the Bible, but that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Without assuming that the Bible is totally accurate, for the moment, we may reason as follows. If Jesus was raised from the dead, then what he taught must have been correct.  Whether we believe that the Bible is completely true or not, it does preserve the earliest record of Jesus’ life and work.  It is clear from the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that Jesus taught that he was the only way to God.  It is also clear from Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament that he believed the writings that now compose the Bible were God’s word.  He often cites it and expects people to believe and obey it.  So either Jesus, who was raised from the dead, was wrong, or the Bible is true.  Also, if the Bible is from God (2 Tim 3:16-17), it must be true, unless you want to say that God would lie.

Comment: “If Jesus was raised from the dead, then what he taught must have been correct.” This commits the same blatant fallacy about “Resurrection implies Infallibility” that has already been covered on this blog, and is also the subject of many of Christopher Hitchen’s talking points. The latter half of the answer also is a condensed/simplified version of C.S. Lewis’s Trilemma, which has been discredited again and again, even by Christian theologians like William Lane Craig.

How to do better: Drop the fallacies, and learn a bit more about early Christian history. One can make the argument that the Old Testament has consistently been accepted by Jewish historians/scholars of all ages to be authoritative and accurate (and there was little controversy about this, aside from maybe the Apocrypha). Also, the Dead Sea Scrolls show that modern Old Testament texts are word-for-word accurate with ancient ones. Discussion of New Testament authenticity would be a little more tricky, but appeal should be made to the large number of manuscripts and the general consistency of the canon since at the very least, the creation of the Muratorian Fragment. It would also be a good idea to study up on the status of extra-Biblical texts in case objections are made.

Do not make the circular argument that the Bible is true because it says it is the Word of God, which must be true.

Q: Creation or Evolution?  (micro- and macro-evolution; these are big topics we need more studies)

A: There are Christians who believe in creation, and Christians who believe in evolution.  The important thing is that God is the mastermind of everything.  Nothing happens without Him knowing beforehand and allowing it to happen.  God created.

Comment: Wait. Really? A nonbeliever asks you a very important question about the origin and development of life, and you dodge the question? Yes, there are Christians who believe in creationism, and there are Christians who believe in evolution. There are also Christians who believe in astrology, and there are Christians who believe in astronomy. Answer the question. Either evolution is true, or it is not.

How to do better: Accept evolution. And no, you do not “need more studies” to have a firm position on the side of truth. You are not going to get any real respect by refusing to answer questions about scientific truth; it shows either a lack of intellectual courage, or an ignorance of the enormous body of evidence that supports the most fundamental theory about life and human origins. Be a good witness to God’s truth, and don’t embarrass yourself.

The Future Belongs to the Curious

Every moment is a learning moment. Every moment is a discovery moment. Go out into the world, and don’t stop asking questions and seeking new perspectives.

Thanks to Chana Messinger for the link.

You Say You Hate Religion

As I promised. Enjoy.

Christians Hate Religion? Join the Club.

This is a non-spoken spoken word response to this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY

Very high chance that this will eventually be put into actual spoken word video form on the new InspiringFreethought Youtube Channel. Stay tuned.

 

Christians Hate Religion?

There are a few people who think they know Jesus,
And will work until all hate in their Church ceases.
It sounds noble, for they accept the secular critique,
But they think there is something that makes their beliefs unique.

Sure, Christians are not all sincere, and a lot of it’s display.
Sure, religion has done horrible things, that they’ll all say.
Sure, Man might have disgraced Jesus, ever since the Fall,
But yet they’ll insist that Christ is not religion at all.

But there’s something wrong here, why’s it so bad?
Because it just doesn’t have substance, and it reads like an ad.
What if you told me, that you believed in a God that is real?
And then you told me, that you talked to him before your last meal?

What if you told me that because of Sin we all deserve Hell,
And through somebody’s blood, and through faith, we can all get well?
What if you told me about Salvation, and that that Jesus is Son,
And that the Bible is the true Word of the God that is One?

What if you told me that you believed in the Church,
And that on a cross Jesus died and was perched?
I’m sorry, but I have to be honest, and so do you.
It’s all religious dogma, unless you don’t believe it too.

But what did Jesus call himself, in the Book that you believe?
The Truth, the Light, and the Way, and only through Him could we achieve.
The level that is God, a supernatural thing.
Jesus is a metaphysical thesis, and not just something you sing.

Jesus isn’t religion, and only a loving relation, you claim.
And you say you hate religion and that they should take some blame.
Yet if none of your beliefs or dogma can be rationally shown,
Then you’re just saying all religion is bad, except your own.

The danger is that, for every other person and religion,
From Muhammad to Buddha to Krishna and Hitchens,
You accept the criticism of their beliefs and actions from us,
But with yours you call it a relationship, so you don’t ever discuss,

You don’t discuss science and skepticism, because you want to be immune.
Your incredible claims about Jesus, and even his returning soon,
They’re all just religious claims, which by themselves are absurd,
Unless you have reasons or evidence (and it’s not just something you’ve heard).

So please, please be intellectually honest, and don’t dodge the question.
Why are any of your beliefs true? And don’t go on a digression.
The real good news is that you don’t have to believe that any religion is true.
You can be Good without God, and a loving humanist, too.

The Most Humbling Thought About the Future

Most educated people are aware that we’re the outcome of nearly four billion years of Darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our sun, however, is less than halfway through its lifespan. Six billion years from now, it will not be humans who watch the sun’s demise. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.

-Martin Rees, cosmologist and astrophysicist

The Most Poetic Thing About Physics

What exactly are we? What are we made of? These questions have been posed since the beginning of written history. Lawrence Krauss gives his answer.