Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Christian Radio, and Why I Listen to it

In the mornings I fairly regularly listen to my local Christian radio station. Now, this may seem somewhat masochistic of me, and at times it -is- terribly painful to do. That said I have found that it can be an incredibly valuable resource when learning about how they actually think.

Apologists are their own thing. They, mostly, train themselves to fight a completely irrational battle and try to use reason. They really do. Whether it seems that way to us skeptics and non-believers is open to debate, and certainly the individual in question, but by and large the arguments they use can be very persuasive to those who do not have a strong opinion, or are not well educated on the subject at hand.

Regular fundies on the radio are another thing altogether. These guys don't know good arguments, are almost all completely based in the take it one faith camp, and most were raised in their church and have it so deeply ingrained in them that they are implacable. And this makes for some much more interesting listening. I've heard a million apologists, but these guys say what they actually think, and some of the vomit they spew is so laughable as to be very convincing of Dawkins' allegation of delusion.

Take this morning for example. After a mass-broadcast of some Alistair Begg drivel this morning the local announcer made note that (paraphrasing) "We know Jesus was the christ because of the people he touched." I think about that, and the obvious problems are innumerable. What about Muhammed? Or Siddhartha? Both of them touched thousands and their religions have explanded to gross proportions. Wouldn't that make them true?

Clearly this is an example of preaching to the choir, but it is ubiquitous on the Christian radio stations. And people listen to this, and eat it up. They actually discuss things like the "academic freedom" they want in our public schools, and how we live in a Christian nation. They actually believe that what they call the traditional (nuclear) family is not something that's existed in practicality for only roughly a century.

It is more than a bit disturbing, and I encourage others to listen, just to see what they say. Because apologists, Ray Comfort exempted, are generally not condescending, or outright contemptuous towards their opponents, but the rank and file have no such filter, and very little restraint.

The Fine Tuning Argument

I was over reading Debunking Christianity and came across this particular post.

Generally speaking I like John Loftus. I think he has a lot of good points to make, and his position as a former apologist makes him an ideal candidate for making credible and pointed arguments against the Christian faith. That said I'm not sure why he posted this article, and even less sure why he thinks it makes for good apologetics, let alone sets a standard. All of the listed arguments are fairly standard, commonly debunked or irrelevant, but the one that bugs me most is the fine tuning of the universe argument.

This is a tired argument to most atheists, but it goes basically like this: Any number of factors in our universe are so specific that if they were changed even slightly human life could not exist. This is extremely simplified, but I'm sure you get the gist. Through this reasoning they foolishly assume this means that the universe was designed for human life.

Now, think about that for a minute and you'll surely see what's wrong with that assumption. The base of the assumption itself already assumes creation. By extension of its assumption that the universe was designed for human life, it automatically assumes that humans must have been designed as well. Even beyond that, assuming the environment was designed for the creature as opposed to the creature arising due to its environment is like saying legs were designed to fit pants instead of the opposite. A complete absurdity.

Fine tuning, in my estimation is one of the last refuges of a failing philosophy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Weekly Poll Reminder

Any new visitors, please remember to vote in the poll set up. The more input the better, and the more likely interested readers. Currently its looking like I'll be suffering through Ray Comfort. I'm sure any of these choices will be enjoyable froma certain perspective.

God and the US of A

From time to time, usually from atheist circles we run across what I call nit-picking atheism. The little things, like a nativity scene or "In God we Trust" on the money. Or a lunatic calling The Atheist Experience to complain that a living waters ministry bumper sticker offends him and should be illegal.

Honestly, I couldn't care much less about most of these things. I mean, the pledge of allegiance deal, yeah, I dislike mostly because "under God" was a later addition, but some things really are kind of trivial. "In God We Trust" for example. Its innocuous, trivial, and barely worthy of note. This is in stark contrast to, say, ten commandments displays in court houses, which shows a bias. Money isn't biased in and of itself, only the holders can be.

Would i be sad to see all these things change to perfect adherence to the establishment clause? No, not at all. But do I think its worth fighting about? Not really. I think once Atheism is better known, and not considered by many to be a league of immoral reprobates who hate God, it might be worth addressing some of these things. But really, some of these things are so insignificant that its ridiculous to waste the time of people, oganizations, and the courts about them.

god is not Great chapter 7: Revelation: The Nightmare of the "Old" Testament

As the chapter name states clearly this chapter discusses the first of the three most widely known and adhered to monotheistic books of scripture, the "Old Testament" or "Tanakh" as it is more properly known in Jewish circles.

If it was not already obvious, Hitchens is very much not a fan. In his debates he commonly targets the cruelties of Yahweh in the times of Moses, Joshua, and pretty much the whole of the time encompassed. That said, cruelties are remarkably not what he focuses on in this chapter, but inconsistencies and what he sees as signs of being a man-made book, and by extension man-made religion. He targets the Ten Commandments early as a sign of it being man-made, as other than the first few commandments, all advancing the primacy of the Jewish God, none of the more legalistic commandments are things that any society has ever had trouble condemning without the bible (i.e theft, murder). This in my analysis somewhat demonstrates that the commands of the biblical God are not unique.

Atheists often have to argue about the issue of morality and whether or not we require a deity to be moral. The fact that not all gods can exist (as some are dogmatically the only one), and all societies have morals and ethics, how could a wrong god provide morals? Clearly god is not a requirement for this. But at this point I digress...

He targets the early Pentateuch the hardest of any section. Most notably he makes sure to show that there is no solid evidence for the Exodus, the 40 year period in the desert, or a "dramatic conquest of the promised land." He demonstrates that archaeology confirms Jewish settlements in the region from thousands of years past, and well before the events of the Exodus story could have taken place.

Probably the most interesting things he targets in the books of Moses is Moses himself. Traditionally the Pentateuch was written by Moses himself. The fact that on many occasions Moses refers to himself in the third person is strange (and in Hitchens' analysis a sign of either alternative authorship or perhaps megalomania), but not conclusive. What more definitively indicates either alternative authorship, or a change in authorship is in the account of Moses' death in Deuteronomy and the use of saying that nobody knows "unto this day," reagarding where moses finally died which I belive Hitchens accurately interprets as indication of a significant passage of time since the actual events, perhaps even centuries. It would also of course be even more obviously onsensical for Moses to be post-mortem discussing a lack of knowledge of Moses' death.

In the end, Hitchens surprisingly, given his record, only notes one instance of massacre at the hands of the Israelites, and the subsequent punishment by Yahweh for letting too many survive.

Oddly enough, Hitchens shows a lot more restraint here than he does in debate. I was personally hoping for more in-depth analysis of biblical problems, but in that respect, which Hitchens knows his bible well, he is not a theologian, and the book is presented to make a simpler point that deep biblical analysis really didn't further.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ray Comfort and the Straw-Man Version of Evolution

Please note that I have already replied to this here, but really... how thick can you be Ray?

"You march ahead unchanged, repeating the same falsehoods. I'm not talking about reasonable differences in interpretation, I'm talking about outright misinformation (such as the bizarre idea that male and female have to evolve separately for each species . . . " Euphimist

It’s difficult not to be repetitive with accusations such as the above. But here goes. There are an estimated 1.4 million species on the earth. Each species has both male and female (not counting worms and a few others). Let’s believe that each species did evolve. Let's then zero in on the giraffe. After the big bang, there was a pre-giraffe animal. Millions (perhaps billions) of years pass until today, and now we have a male and female giraffe. Evolutionists believe that the two didn’t evolve separately. Such a thought is "bizarre."

I know that you think I am intellectually slow, so please be patient with me and explain to me in very simple terms where you believe the female giraffe came from, and then explain how and why the other 1.4 million species ended up with both male and female.

I look forward to your comments.

I believe this level of density is sufficient explanation as to why I don't bother posting on Ray's blog myself.

A discussion begun elsewhere

The Stranger Said:

"What evidence do you find to be the strongest in favor of atheism? Note, NOT what evidence you find strongest against Christianity. I want to find out why you think you have the strongest position not why you think ours is weak."

I replied:

"Well, I'll keep Occam's razor out of it, because I'm sure you won't accept that. However, as is, I see that currently, in the last few centuries the human understanding of the universe has expanded so greatly that I find it implausible that a deity exists. It doesn't matter what deity. We know to an approximate the age of the earth, and how life evolved on the planet exempting abiogenesis, and that I expect we'll have an answer to in my lifetime.

Our science in general has stremlined, and works very well, and none of it requires the assumption of a god to be true. Even the big bang doesn't require deity.

If nothing as best we can reason requires a deity, the most reasonable conclusion is that there is none. Do I have "proof" of no deity? No, of course not. Its unfalsifiable. The same could be said of the Invisible pink Unicorn, or Russell's teapot."

The Stranger Wrote Again:

"Thanks for the information, I really appreciate your candor (as well as your calm manner). Let's view the evidence then. You say that the universe is aptly described by the laws of science so I'll use some laws to prove to you, scientifically, that the existence of God is necessary given our current understanding of the laws.

Before I do so, I'd like to make sure you understand that I'm not against you but for you. And also, as my Rhetoric professor said, "He convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still." I'm not trying to convince you, but to persuade you. This entails more than logic but I'll start with logic and go from there.

1. If the universe is truly essential then it has been in existence since eternity past.

2. If the universe has been in existence since eternity past then it has been expending energy constantly.

3. If the first and second law of thermodynamics are true (For reference: First law; matter cannot be created nor destroyed. Second law: In a closed system energy loses heat) then the universe has been a closed system losing heat for this entire time.

4. If the universe were infinitely full of energy then there would be no void of space, only an infinite amount of energy in every particle.

5. The universe has finite energy within an infinite period of time.Therefore, the universe must either be finite or the universe must be getting energy from an infinite source.

Second proof.

1. If the universe is then contingent on an infinite source then this infinite source must influence the universe in more than as a battery.

2. The universe has within it intelligent creatures.

3. There is no recorded instance of non-intelligence provoking intelligence.Therefore, the infinite source is not merely actively sustaining the universe but is also intelligent itself.I look forward to your response."

I replied:

Note: If you wish to continue this, please come over to my blog polyatheistic.blogspot.com . While i appreciate having a gracious host not censoring things, my site is unmoderated, so messages require no approval.

First you make a poor assumption that the universe is essential. We know it had a beginning, therefore whether it is "essential" or not is up to debate.

You have also fallaciously concluded that the universe has infinite energy in order to make your second "proof". Most reputable cosmologists believe the universe will have an end at some point in the very distant future. As a paraphrase, although not a cosmologist, Christopher Hitchens put it quite succinctly with "nothing is the next big thing."

You also make the fallacious conclusion that "There is no recorded instance of non-intelligence provoking intelligence." This is patently false. Clearly mutation and natural selection can provoke intelligence within a species and these processes are not proven to be guided by any higher intelligence.

You're making alot of assertions, and what you need is actual evidence. Beyond that, you cannot prove that such a thing would be a deity. Even were it eternal and intelligent, that doesn't make it an individual or individuals. But then, its not possible to prove it isn't an individual, but I will err on the side of Occam here. A natural process is simpler and does not require an explanation that scientists can never possibly know the answer to. That said you will always come back to "who created the creator?" And saying its eternal is a cop out assertion without evidence of what the creator is, let alone how it exists. "

We'll see if it continues.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

god is not Great Chapter 6: Arguments from Design

Chapter six addresses one of the most common issues that causes division between theists and atheists. This should of course be clarified that it is mostly Young Earth Creationists who tend to make this a problem. The arguments from design, of course, state that certain levels of complexity in the universe, be it in the form of the living cell, a star, an eye, or the fact that conditions in the universe are conducive to life.

These ideas are compelling to some, but do not tend to convince most skeptics, and as Hitchens shows, if somewhat inexpertly, the science does not require the assumption of design. After some anecdotes Hitchens gets to his point starting with the eye, which has long been inaccurately described by YEC's as nearly impossible to have evolved. This is, as Hitchens argues, patently absurd due merely to the obvious evolution that we see in eyes, from planarian eyespots all the way to the most advanced eyes in vertibrates.

In this very section, though, I have to commend Hitchens somewhat as he uses a common creationist quotemine that creationists use against evolution's proponents and turns it around on them exposing it as a fraud:

"To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree."

He continues the quote thusly:

"When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certain the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, should not be considered as subversive of the theory."

It is a common quotemine at this point, and one most atheists know pretty much on sight. But I would argue it is good to have it exposed as mining Darwin is such a common tactic, and was used even as recently as Ben Stein's documentary Expelled in particularly bad taste to link evolution with the Holocaust.

But Hitchens makes further arguments against the design hypothesis by noting how if we are designed it was by a very poor designer, using the eye again as an example citing it is in fact upside down and backwards, which seems quite inefficient.

Something he does later in the chapter is point out a favorite fallacious argument of Ray Comfort, which he seems to think trumps any belief against creation:

"Do you know of any building that didn't have a builder
Do you know of any painting that didn't have a painter?
Do you know of any car that didn't have a maker?
If you answered YES for anyof the above, give details."

Hitchens doesn't go the way I would have here, and instead of exposing the fallacy of comparing things we know were created with something that we have no proof was created he opts to explain that even if something is created it still follows evolution. He uses the examples of aircraft technology evolving gradually through trial and error. I'm not sure I like this example, particularly as at this very same time he declares that "speculation about who designed us to be designers becomes as fruitless and irrelevant as the question of who designed that designer."

He spends much of the rest of the chapter simply discussion the evolutionary theory of those such as Stephen Jay Gould. A bit of discussion of the Cambrian explosion as well as explaining the capriciousness of evolution, including its lack of pointed direction.

All in all, the chapter was interesting and informative, but did suffer from Hitchens' lack of being a scientist, and a tendancy to branch off into tangents.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Poll

I'm not even close to finished with god is not Great yet, but I want to plan ahead. If you have any interest in what you'd like to see me take on next, please place a vote. I'm interested in reading any and all of the books listed ont he poll. I don't have a write in at this time, but fully intend to on future polls. Your input is appreciated. If you wish to suggest a book for future consideration just post here in comments. 

Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Extraordinary claims... proof. You know the drill...

One of the most common things I hear from biblical literalists is how accurate the bible is historically or, how much archaeology backs up the bible etc. etc.

What I don't understand is why people think this is a meaningful thing. We have plenty of evidence backing up many myths, but it doesn't make them any more true. Take for example the Illiad. We know there was a Troy. We know roughly around when it was destroyed. But that doesn't mean we know that Greeks tricked the Trojans with a gigantic wooden horse to get inside their gates, or that during the course of this battle various gods fought on various sides, or anything of the sort.

Compare to Jericho. We know where the ruins of Jericho are. We know it was conquered many times, so it is perfectly plausible that the Israelites did at one point as well. That said, it does not prove that the Israelites walked around the city blowing horns and god made the walls fall down.

That's why historical accuracy does not equal mythological accuracy. That said, however, there are parts of the bible with little to no backing archaeologically and historically. Genesis is a good place to start there, as is Exodus.

My favorite, though, is the book of Daniel, which by modern evidence is far more likely to be maccabean propaganda encouraging the Israelites to keep their faith against the depredations of Antiochus. The book uses various anachronisms and poor knowledge of Babylonian royal lineages, as well as bad dates. Still, there is much evidence for various happenings of the bible, but not any for the extraordinary feats.

This is of course still more than we can say for The New Testament, which is lacking even insofar as historical proof.

Rambling Thoughts

Sometimes I'm really not sure what's up with this insane country I live in. There's alot to like, there really is. We have some of the best basic rights of any country on the planet, and have been exttremely successful despite the relative youth of the nation. We survived revolution, civil war, and 2 world wars. We survived political scandal and economic depression.

But now?

I'm really not sure the people are willing to do what it takes. We are currently national experiment on Keynsian economics, and I'm really wondering whether it will work. I hope it will, I really do, but I'm not unsure as to whether there was a right choice to make here. And the economy is of course the biggest problem our country is facing right now, but that's far from the only one.

We have delusional members of the right wing who have convinced themselves that Obama is not elligible to be the President of the United States. Now, I would say criticising this is a bit of hypocrisy considering the beginning of Bush II's first term. But I would also argue that Obama actually had a clear victory in his election as opposed to the dubious Supreme court decision that put Bush in power. The divisiveness is becoming a severe albatross around the necks of the nation, and while I believe firmly that dissent is patriotic, stupidity and ignorance are not.

We have two wars going on, of which one (Iraq) was based on lies and misinformation, and one (Afghanistan) which is of dubious current merit.

We let religious religious groups constantly challenge science education and be taken seriously by idiotic legislatures. These same groups want to fight against the rights of homosexuals to marry. Fiddling while Rome burns indeed.

Can we make headway on this? Yes. Will we? I hope so. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and its going to take alot of compromise from all sides of the playing field. Hopefully people will start to do so sooner rather than later, but the "wackaloons" only seem to get louder. And the lowest common denominator tends to hear loud really well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Constitution Doesn't Apply to Richard Dawkins?

Remember, if you're an Atheist and in the bible belt, you may potentially have your right of free speech attacked. By your legislature.

I consistently love just how the crazy creationists are all about "academic freedom" when it comes to crazy ideas like ID, but as soon as it's a vocal, unabashed atheist doing it for evolution and natural selection, suddenly its worthy of wasting government funds in a time of recession to investigate Dawkins, who just happens to have waived his speaking fee for the engagement.

Could it be more asinine? They'll likely waste more money in man hours investigating this than Dawkins' original fee would have been had he actually taken payment. I've no doubt these tools wouldn't lift a finger if William Dembski were speaking, despite his complete incompetence.

My conclusion? They're scared. They are terrified of the change in attitudes in this country towards secularism, and terrified that atheists are not only becoming far more visible in society... but people now listen to them. We're still far from the majority, but this is a minor thing. Atheists have continually become a larger and larger sect of the vocal influential population, particularly in the sciences, and people who don't really understand the science being intolerant of its implications.

As if it wasn't bad enough that Oklahoma legislators tried to issue a verbal condemnation against Dawkins, this is just embarrassing. I'm glad I only live in Texas where they only fire teachers for being Atheists.

god is not Great Chapter 5: The Metaphysical Claims of Religion are False

Chapter 5 opens with a particularly poignant set of quotes from religious authorities including Aquinas, Ignatius Loyola, and Martin Luther, as well as a brief part of a poem by W.H. Auden. The interesting part about these quotes is their focus on demeaning, or demonizing of reason in comparison to scripture or God.

Hitchens uses these quotes to create a segway into discussion of the roots of metaphysics from a religious standpoint. Hitchens believes, as do many (myself included) that the roots of religion come from early man's inability to explain the world around him. That cosmology and ontology, including creation stories, are simply the result of a great fabrication to come up with the best explanation possible while being completely unable to comprehend the scale of the natural world. Because of the level of understanding we now hold of the world around us, Hithcens speculates that no attempt to bring faith and science to a amiable working relationship is doomed from the outset.

He preempts the usual objection of all the scientists of history, (and today) who are theists, by making sure we understand as a reader that someone like Newton being a brilliant scientist did not make him infallible, and that he was in fact a mystic and alchemist along with being a brilliant scientist.

Indeed, this is in fact a common fallacy that creationists love to bring up more than any other group using Newton and Darwin as examples. They will often point out the theistic beliefs of Newton, or target Darwin as a racist because of the full title of The Origin of Species. It's a twisted appeal to authority that has never really worked except on the dimmest of skeptics. Attacking the attitudes and such of someone says nothing about the accuracy of their science. James Watson, a mapper of the dna molecule is notoriously a racist, but that doesn't make the DNA not a double helix. So it is with Darwin and evolution.

It seems the primary conclusion of Hitchens here that humanity has outgrown the need for a religious cosmology; we now know enough about our universe to be fairly certain that there did not need to be a creator.

This was a short chapter, but I'll close with Hitchens's response to Tertullian's "Credibile est, quia ineptum est,"(I believe it because it is absurd) as I think it one of the best ways I have ever heard faith criticized, and summed up very succinctly. A passage that I believe most theists would agree with, until the second you apply it to their beliefs:

"It is impossible to quarrel seriously with such a view. If one must have faith in order to believe something, or believe in something, then the likelihood of that something having any truth, or value is considerably diminished."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Totally worth posting

Chick Tract Hitler

Thanks Marty from Rational Wiki

Absurdities in Genesis:

This is a comic that is listed under "kids" at Answers in Genesis. This site is already infamous among pretty much everyone who does not believe in a literal biblical creation story, and even more in Atheist circles.

This is obviously a particularly flammable straw man representation of any atheist. No atheist who knows his subject would ever argue like this for various reasons I will only go into on this entry if asked. What I really wanted to note was the placement of bigotry in a section marked "kids."

Christians complain all the time that atheists mock their beliefs, misrepresent their arguments etc. This complaint is commonly mirrored from the atheist side, and for good reason both sides are often right here. This kind of misrepresentation though, is exactly why people like Richard Dawkins consider youth religious indoctrination to be child abuse. They are teaching through comics not only a bad argument, but by teaching this bad argument are encouraging the children who read it that Atheists are in fact stupid.

Now, I know we have our comics, and groups, and blogs targeting Christianity, and they almost invariably say we don't understand real Christianity, regardless of the fact that many of us do. The same goes in reverse again, but when you're advertising to children your preconceived bigotries there is a problem. How different is that from a comic saying, say, Christians eat babies, which was then given away in pamphlets to children at a muslim sponsored event? People would be outraged. It would be a scandal. Is it any wonder there is so much bad blood when we train our children from a young age to misrepresent another's position or think of some views as stupid for absurd reasons?

It is one thing for an adult to an audience of adults to reason out why their faith is right or wrong rationally (admittedly i have yet to find any rational explanation for theism), and another entirely to warp their minds in the formative stages. And this goes to both Theists and Atheists.

Let's let our children learn to reason and experience, and then decide for themselves. I have no delusion that this will change anyone's mind, but still, had to say it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

god is not Great Chapter 4: A Note on Health

Chapter 4, while making more similar points is much more convincing in its delivery. The premise, of course is how religion has had an effect on health. And we're not only looking at individual health, but at health in the world as a whole.

The opening salvo is perhaps its most compelling: the polio vaccine. A vaccine for one of the oldest scourges of mankind. A vaccine that has been reduced in cost to pennies per dose. And, sadly, also a vaccine that has been declared by Muslim authorities to be a conspiracy against Islamic countries by the United States and UN. It could be argued that this is a cultural paranoia, but regardless of that, it is the religious leaders who are spouting this nonsense. With the vaccine as cost efficient as it is, we could easily wipe out polio the same way small pox were. And yet, such is not the case because of fanatical religion. I have to agree with Hitchens on this point, as I can think of no other explanation for why anyone would willingly encourage the promulgation of a debilitating disease. Except through religion. Even in recent times, as in this week, the Pope while in Africa denounced the use of condoms as a protection from HIV.

This is an unacceptable reality of our world. Religion can, and does cause tragedy. This is of course not to say nothing else does, but it does tend to cause them on a much wider scale.

IN discussion of mental health he brings up one particularly common thing in Jerusalem that I think he has mischaracterized. He notes a kind of Messiah syndrome that is a common occurance among the population of Israel where one person will try and proclaim themselves the messiah. He points to this madness as a result of religion but I have to disagree. Not being an expert in psychology I would still posit that this is just a cultural/religious manifestation of delusions of grandeur not so different than someone proclaiming they are Napoleon. This is madness that likely would have manifested in some way regardless of surroundings. The surroundings and culture simply created the form.

Hitchens makes many other more minor points, but the main ones are as noted. Religion can cause horrible problems, but in truth here, he has yet to show why its anything other than deeply indoctrinated fundamentalists that are the real problem.

Thanks PZ

Taken From Pharyngula

Seriously. Electronic prayer. Could there be anything worse that scammers might put out there to rip-off the religious? I find this concept interesting, but no less corrupt. I mean, does anybody in their right mind believe, even if god were real that he wouldn't give a hearty "WTF mate?" to digitized prayer. I'll give points for ingenuity and comedy value here, but nothing else.

ginG: Review

I will hopefully be speeding up on my review of god is not Great, but I've been having a hard time finding a chance to really solidly read. I should have chapter 4's analysis up later today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

To Fitz and the People at Opine editorials

I've read all responses there. The opinion there is too dogmatically closed-minded to be worth discussing any further. Forgive me if I feel it not worth the effort to post there, but I don't wish to give the impression that I enjoy talking to walls. You have all decided that your definition of marriage is the only one worth pursuing despite many different traditions of marriage throughout history.

There have been legitimate polygamous (polyandry in the Himalayas) in relationships that had to do with property rights. There are legitimate historical marriages that are political, as in medieval/renaissance Europe, the Roman Republic/Empire, various middle east tradition. In Heiyan Japan, the promiscuity among the courts both married and not was not only accepted, but expected. Shit, Egyptian nobility, Pharaohs in particular would marry siblings as a matter of course. While i wouldn't advocate that for reasons of genetic disease, it is a fact.

Marriage must evolve with the society. If you want to post this over there, be my guest, but I won't take part in further discussion there. This "one man one woman" garbage, with all your arguments is a weak facade lacking in any real historical impetus to cover up one fact. You are afraid of change and are personally disgusted by homosexuality. Of course, you'll deny your homophobia, but your kind always do.

edit: To those who accuse me of not arguing in good faith, I suggest looking at your own arguments from the other side and realizing how ridiculous and hatemongering they sound if you want to be taken seriously. As for the person who used the old "I won't answer your question until you acknowledge my point" remember that the burden of proof is on you to prove your lame analogy, not me. If you can't demonstrate how on an individual level same sex marriage will damage someone's benefits of marriage on a personal level, your analogy fails. Completely.

Christianity and Why I Focus on it

Aside from being the prevalent religion in my area of the world Christianity, of all the major world religions (exempting Islam, which is basically the same) has the most repugnant philosophies and doctrines regarding my fate and what I deserve. Let's go through the major religions and see what their doctrines say if I don't follow their "true" path.

Hinduism: If I fail, I get to come back and try again, perhaps as an animal so I can properly live my life true to my caste. Nothing terribly offensive there as far as punishment goes. It's clearly a condescending way of controlling the lower classes by placating them with promises of potential rewards in the next life, but not too bad taken simply as a doctrine.

Buddhism: Not overly concerned with hell or punishment. Although there are hells in the Buddhist cosmology, they seem (in my limited knowledge of Buddhism) to be more concerned with the homes of demons than about the punishment of human souls. And, of course, since Buddhism takes a page out of Hinduism's book as far as reincarnation goes, its far less offensive and threatening.

Judaism: Judaism of all religions actually has provisions for non-Jews to lead what would be considered a good Godly life through the Noahide laws. While I wouldn't qualify as B'nei Noah, its a far more generous idea than any othe monotheistic religion has. That said, if the Jews are right, I go to Sheol. Just like everyone else. One thing I cannot deny about Judaism is that their afterlife is pretty egalitarian unless you were the worst kind of person, whereas I believe you are simply rendered non-existent.

Islam: If I so much as do not believe in the tenets of Islam I will be tortured for all eternity in Jahannam.

Christianity: If I do not accept Jesus Christ as God, I will be punished and tortured in Hell for all eternity.

Now. Which of these sounds the worst? It doesn't take much to see why Christianity and Islam become the biggest targets for Atheists and Antitheists. They are the largest religions, as well as the most forceful, and they really think we deserve hell. For many Christians (little reservation from most muslims), there's significant cognitive dissonance there, and they have a hard time realizing that their ascribing to and supporting of that religion means they are advocating and supporting the eternal torture of the vast majority of the population.

They don't see it that way, of course, but if I support an oppressive government who tortures and murders its people, but I take no part in those acts, am I not tacitly supporting them? Same goes for religion. The only real difference is that the adherents of religion don't see the fruits of their belief until after they die (not that I believe in an afterlife personally). Out of sight out of mind I suppose.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some changes

I made a few minor edits to the layout and side content. Any suggestions are of course welcome, as are opinions of the current setup. I'd like to make it as generally pleasant to look at as possible as well as (hopefully) providing quality content.

Random Tangent

Maybe I'm the only one, but I'm fairly disappointed that The Brick Testament hasn't updated in 4 months.

Stalking Pharyngula

I was over reading on PZ Myers' blog and saw this lengthy bit on whether a fertilized egg is a member of the species it could one day represent. I'm curious what others' thoughts on this might be.

I agree with the assessment of life being continuous. It spawns anew, and while death for an organism is inevitable, the act of recombinant procreation is clearly a continuation of 2 seperate organisms' partial genetic code. At no point did it become not alive, even when the individual gamete contains only half of the necessary chromosomes for reproduction.

So, here's what I don't get. By the definition of life, most "pro-life" advocates want to say that human life begins at conception. But this isn't really true since the life (as far as biology is concerned) never "started" but was, as PZ says, continuous. I think, if we're arguing about this, its an important distinction between life and cognizance. Otherwise we might as well argue that ovulation is murder and male masturbation mass murder.

I'm really not an expert on this. Thoughts?

Monday, March 16, 2009

This is from sisterdanger posting in my comments here

"You know that old saying, if you can't beat em, join em.
I was reading
Comfort's blog the other day, as you know, and came to the conclusion that it
really is just a bad idea to put credible arguments on there. But I couldn't get
over the idea that "evil persists when good men do nothing" [paraphrase].

And I got to thinking that there must be a way to seize control of the
game and expose it for the joke it is. So I was reading about that study with
the little israeli kids (I think they were israeli) where they were asked if
Joshua (in the battle of Jericho, which entailed the utter genocide of all of
Jericho, and their property, cattle, holdings, everything burnt down to the
ground) was justified in doing what he did and they said yes for various reasons
all having to do with their religion one way or another (to prevent
inter-breeding, because he was commanded by god to, etc). The control group was
given the same question but had the names switched out for something like
General Lin and the Chinese Army, in which case the children by and large
answered that Lin was not justified in having obliterated this small town (I
think you'll be familiar with what I'm referencing without me having to be 100%
acurate on details).
Suffice it to say, I started to think more about this;
how when stripped of their familiar religiosity, the same scenario would become
morally different (somehow). And then I began to wonder...

What if we all created FSM Diciple characters, and posted on Comfort's
blog denouncing Christianity in favor of Pastafarianism and used their own
argument tactics to support the FSM instead of God? Surely it would have the
awesome effect of illuminating absurdity without requiring the actual work that
legitimate scientific responses does?
Not to mention, our very presence in
such a fashion would just highlight how 'not worthy' of actually accredited
argument he is.

We could adopt names like "Agnolotti" or "Anima", "Bucatini" [fits the
piratey theme] "Candale", "Macaroni" [the mormon implications on that one crack
me up], "Pastina" (I kinda like Pastina myself :)"

I have to admit I agree that this would be an interesting experiment to implement. I intend to create a second blogspot blog to join this movement and see how it goes. I'm not sure how much will be replied to, since Ray's kind of a cock and is too cowardly to allow open posting on his Blog. Anyone interested? I plan to create a hub blog for it, though it really is
sisterdanger 's idea.

Note, i don't expect anyone involved to be dedicated or put a huge amount of time in this. I look at it as mostly an experiment on how the reactions will be and whether Ray will even acknowledge his own arguments lack of sufficiency seen through another lens. My experiment hypothesis is "no". Yarrrr!

god is not Great chapter 3: A Brief Digression on the Pig

As this is a brief chapter, my review of it will be similarly short.

As the title suggests, the chapter discusses the pig in the context of religion, as well as a brief discussion of other dietary restrictions. I get the feeling that this chapter has little real purpose other than as a bit of amusement on the part of Hitchens although he does take some of the issues seriously, as well he should.

He discusses in brief the genetic similarities between humans and pigs as well as the interpretations of why they pig might be so maligned by (in particular) Jewish and Muslim scripture. Sadly there is little of real interest here until the end when he discusses the problem of fanatical pig hate from muslim groups, particularly demanding the removal of innocuous pigs such as in A.A Milne's Winnie the Pooh, or the Three Little Pigs, Ms Piggy, etc ad nauseum. My favorite was that apparently George Orwell's Animal Farm is banned in muslim countries despite the pig being basically the villain.

I suppose he does make his point here. When your religion starts dictating these kinds of things, i.e attacking classic literature, or taking offense at something natural's very presence is absurdity, and downright intolerant. Anyone is free to have their beliefs, but to impose their morals and personal prejudices on the public, unless it is provable that it is to the public benefit and non-dogmatic is unacceptable. Here I must agree that even in dietary restrictions religion -can- poison anything. I'm not saying it alwasy does, but the potential is certainly evident.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ray Comfort and the fantasy version of reality

Ray comfort is going back home to New Zealand to debate his insane view of creation. And boy howdy he's got a loaded gun filled with arguments... that have been soundly refuted time and time again on his own damned blog. Here's the outline he posted on his blog annotated with my responses:

1. An atheist is someone who believes nothing created everything. If he denies that and believes that “something” created everything, he’s not an atheist.
  • Wow Ray. Still believing the "Nothing Created Everything" argument. Most cosmologists and atheists believe that the universe as we know is was created in what is called the "Big Bang." This is where all matter in the universe exploded in a singularity which is still expanding. However what caused the Big Bang is currently an unknown factor. There is a possibility that the universe is in a constant state of expansion and contraction and it could have happened billions of times already. We don't know the cause. Yet. This doesn't mean God is the culprit. I can still be an atheist and not know. I don't know, 100% positive there's no God. But I'm damned near sure, enough to say I do not believe there is a God, and take me out of the agnostic ranks.

2. Man can't create a grain of sand from nothing. How intellectually dishonest is it then to say that there was no Intelligent Designer?
  • Cosmological theory is that all matter that is and ever will be in our universe has been there from the beginning. Once again, we don't have knowledge of initial cause, but that's not relevant here. That said, a grain of sand formed on this planet and any planet in the formation stages of the planet when various atomic particles came together. Through billions of years, water and wind erosion, chemical reactions etc we end up with sand. Its not that complicated and was certainly not an intelligent process that came up with sand, but a natural one.

3. Where did females come from (in every species)?
  • Let's ignore the patriarchal condescension of the words used, implying that males are the default and females therefore secondary and address the actual non-issue at hand. I will refer readers here for basics on the evolution of sexual reproduction. Ray demonstrates here his absolute lack of understanding regarding evolutionary theory here. Speciation is not spontaneous. We don't jump straight from, say Australopithecus Afaransis straight to Homo Ergaster. One species does not give birth immediately to another. It is the gradual changes over many many generations that change a species into another, and the newest members of the species are compatible with previous members of said species until the genetic differences diverge too far. Normally in a continuous population, evolution will occur while all members o f said population being compatible indefinitely. It is through long separation and genetic change that things evolve along different lines. Males and females don't "evolve" seperately. The population's males and females are not some seperately evolved phenomenon.

4. Which came first? The blood, the heart or the blood vessels?

5. There are variations within species, but no species to species transitional forms in the fossil record.
  • Disproven so many times that its almost insulting to address this. Firstly, there's Tiktaalik the fish with leg-like protrusions and which may have been partially amphibeous. There's Ambulocetus which is an obvious ancestor to modern whales. And let us not forget Archaeopteryx, the hybrid bird-lizard. You got some 'splainin to do Ray. And don't try the crocoduck line, its not cute, its actually rather pathetic.

6. God made Archaeopteryx with teeth and a tail. It’s a bird, not a dinosaur. He made many weird animals. There's a huge mouse with a pocket in its front that hops all over Australia, horses with stripes, weird desert animals with humps on their backs . . . and He made some birds with teeth.

  • Nice assertions Ray! Care to provide any evidence that God did this? All you've proven is that there are many different types of animals on this planet. You haven't proven that God made Archaeopteryx a bird with teeth and a tail. the trouble with this argument is its a complete non-sequitur. It proves nothing, and adds nothing to the debate. Bald assertions are not evidence of God. find something scientific if you're trying to disprove science. Wow. novel idea.

7. Paleontologists have a huge incentive to twist the truth, just a little. If they can find a bone with a lump on it, theorize that it was a limb or a feather, give it an impressive name, say it is 73 million years old, and suddenly he has his picture on the cover of National Geographic magazine, has a book deal and lectures for life. The human propensity to gullibility is evidenced by evolution's many believers. Malcolm Muggeridge: "I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution . . . will be one of the great jokes in the history books in the future." Evolutionists have done to science, what hypocrites have done to religion. We have men who call themselves scientists, when they should have instead got a job with Disney as imagineers.

  • Let me state first, that scientists don't normally get on the cover of just about any magazine. Scientists are rarely well known enough outside their own field to be a draw for magazine sales, even for national geographic. What Ray's forgetting is that any scientist who could disprove evolution would want to do so. He would be immediately famous and a scientific icon with... well, book deals, lectures for life, and probably a nobel prize. the incentive is certainly there. Why hasn't anybody done it? Because with the given evidence they can't, and having seen the evidence it is fairly certain they never will.

Ray, if these are really your best, i have all confidence whoever you debate in NZ will stomp on and humiliate you.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

god is not Great, Chapter 2: Religion Kills

Alright, today we move on to Chapter 2 of god is not Great, Christopher Hitchens' literary rant against religions of all stripes.

Chapter 1 gave us a good background of our author, while chapter 2 brings some of his charges that "religion poisons everything" home even further. early in the chapter he addresses an interesting question that was asked of him by Denis Prager: He was asked if he was in a strange city in the early evening with a group of people approaching, "would (Hitchens) feel safer, or less safe, if (he) was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting." His emphatic no, demonstrated through the window of Hitchens' personal experience and knowledge was well played, and gave a good idea of why he feels as he does about religion. He goes through lists of places where such an experience could be more dangerous than any regular potential murderer.

He also cites numerous examples of where problems were only exacerbated by religious fervor, and particularly fundamentalism in various areas of the world. He uses mostly the obvious examples, such as Israel and the Middle East, as well as Pakistan and India. I don't particularly disagree with him on any point he made here. Without religious hatreds India would probably still be one country, and Israel would probably have been able to resolve its issues with its Muslim neighbors.

That's where I somewhat start to disagree though. Yes, they probably could have reslved things. But while religious fervor is certainly the largest thing spurning these conflicts onward, it is by no means the only one. There's also a cultural problem, which is simply an issue where the divergent cultures are not terribly compatible. What becomes a real problem though is deciding exactly how much of these cultural differences are religious in nature, which Hitchens I believe does insufficient thought on.

Regardless, Hitchens points out these commonly known religious issues, but also delves into other religious conflicts closer to home. As I've mentioned previously Hitchens is a friend of Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, and target of his very own fatwah; one of very few (public) attempts for a government head to put a hit out on a foreign national. Multiple people who have worked with Rushdie have died simply by association, and yet around the world the most vocal religious leaders have sided with the Ayatollah Khomeini, or said (effectively) that he should have expected it. Not, that it was reprehensible, and completely overblown, but basically that if he gets killed for it he shouldn't be surprised.

Here, once again, I agree but i don't. The (very real) threats against Rushdie were very clear, and very dangerous. They were a complete abuse of power, and barbaric in their intention, and fundamentalist in their making. That said, Hitchens has a clear Bias, claiming Rushdie as a friend. Yes, religion was absolutely the motivation for the hit called, and that is absolutely unacceptable. At the same time, free speech is a dangerous thing and we need to be ready to take the consequences of what we write. But a novel should never be grounds for murder. There should never, in fact, be any grounds for murder. Religion does exacerbate things, and has caused much death and strife in the world.

In all, this chapter was very interesting, and had alot of good interpretation. I wish Hitchens used more sources in his writing and had other opinions to cite, but one has to realize that this book is basically an opinion piece, not a researched academic paper. For what it is, I am enjoying it immensely.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Roger Scruton: Pathos piece

This is taken from an article on the American Spectator, the quote in particular, including the cuts are as cut by Stephen Law. Full text can be found here.

"Like so many modern ideologies, the new humanism seeks to define itself through what it is against rather than what it is for. It is for nothing, or at any rate for nothing in particular."

The new humanism "seems to have no consciousness of what is clearly announced between the lines of the text [ON THE ATHEIST BUSES], namely that there are no ideals higher than pleasure."

The BHA's "publications imply that there is only one thing that stands between man and his happiness, and that is the belief in God. "

The BHA is the British Humanist Association, and according to the whackaloons on the right wing they don't stand for anything. Now, if you want a discussion of the philosophical problems with this, I'll recommend you go to Stephen Law's blog. What I'm here to discuss is just the pathos of this.

This article is not really an argumentative piece. Its a pieve consisting entirely of pathos. There is nothing here that any Atheist, secularist, or agnostic would be convinced by. Clearly the piece was written for Spectator, well known as a right wing site, to further polarize against the growing tide of non-christianity. In essence, much like Ray Comfort he's making unsubstantiated claims simply in order to help convince his audience they are in the right and not alone; nothing terribly novel, every demographic does it for better or worse.

Possibly most annoying in this piece is Scruton's unending appeals to Jebus as the fundamental rock of morality, as if morality via threat was really a good thing. But by and large they eat it up! The comments show a disgusting amount of hatred for atheism and secularism. One person did bring up a good point though, and its one I don't think about too much, but it is true nonetheless. Atheists are treated in the United States as second class citizens.

To be fair, its not just Atheists. In many ways Women, black people, Muslims, Jews... well, any nonchristian really, is subjected to some discrimination. And they wonder why we don't like their attitudes, and the way they interfere in politics with their religious bronze-aged morals.

The recent decline of Christianity is telling us that the acceptance of atheism in the mainstream is coming, but I dont think it could come too soon.

Conservapedia: Dumpster diving in the lands of the unclean

Guess I should go get my Goth on. Should we expect roving bands of violent Orthodox Jews as well? Insert huge eye roll here.

Can't forget how anti Christian these people in black were, either.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On a Pharyngula trip today I guess.

PZ Meyers is liveblogging his stay in a blizzard. I am far too easily amused by this. Only at Pharyngula

I feel clever

My parody response reponse to Ray Comfort's arguments. Originally posted on Amazon.com

Theists are those who pretend there is a god and a hell, because they can't imagine some way to be moral without being threatened by the great sky daddy with eternal punishment if they aren't. They really know there is no God or Hell, but are so outraged by their lack of an ability to supply themselves with a moral compass that they decide to hate the obvious scientific conclusions, and happily pretend there is such an improbable, despotic being reigning over their morality.

Thank you PZ Myers

These are awesome.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The god of Eth

Reproduced with permission from Stephen Law. Thank you for allowing me to repost it. I think this is one of the best reconstructions of apologetic arguments I've seen to date:
Most people who believe in God take their belief to be pretty reasonable. “Perhaps God’s existence can’t be conclusively proved”, they’ll say, “but it’s a fairly sensible thing to believe – far more sensible than, say, belief in fairies or Santa Claus.” But are they right?

Christians, Muslims and Jews believe that God is both all-powerful and all-good. Indeed, God is often characterized as an infinitely loving father. Yet most of the popular arguments for the existence of God allow us to deduce little if anything about his moral character. Take the argument from design, for example. Even if we can show that the universe does show signs of design, what’s the evidence that this creator is all-good?

There is also a well-known argument that, even if the universe was created by an all-powerful being, that being is not all-good. The argument is called the problem of evil, and runs roughly as follows: if God is both all-powerful and all-good, why is there so much suffering in the world? Why does God inflict earthquakes, floods, famines and the Black Death upon us? Why was he busy inflicting acute suffering on the animal kingdom for millions of years before we even made an appearance (including the literally unimaginable suffering caused by the several mass extinctions that have repeatedly wiped the majority of species from the face of the earth)? Why does he give children cancer? Why does he make life so grindingly miserable for so many? Why does he arrange for millions of us to end our lives horrendously scarred - in many cases both physically and psychologically crippled – by the world he created for us?

This hardly sounds like the behaviour of a supremely compassionate and loving father-figure, does it? Surely there’s overwhelming evidence that the universe is not under the control of a limitlessly powerful and benevolent character?

Many find this argument compelling. But of course there are plenty who believe the problem of evil can be dealt with.

How? Religious thinkers have, over the centuries, developed a number of ingenious solutions. Here are some four examples.
1. The free will solution. God gave us free will. We are not helpless automata, but free agents capable of make our own choices and acting on them. As a result of God having given us free will, we sometimes choose to do wrong. We start, wars, steal, and so on. So some suffering results from our possessing free will. However, it is still better that we have free will. Free will is a very great good that more than compensates for the suffering it can bring.

2. The “character-building” solution. We know that a bad experience can sometimes make us stronger. We can learn, be enriched, through suffering. For example, people who have suffered a terrible disease sometimes say they gained greatly from it. Similarly, by causing us pain and suffering, God allows us to grow and develop both morally and spiritually. It is only through our experiencing this suffering that we can ultimately become the noble souls God wants us to be.

3. Some goods require evils. Theists often point out that God inevitably had to include quite a bit of suffering in his creation in order that certain important goods could exist. Take, for example, charity and sympathy. Charity is a great virtue. Yet you can only be charitable if there exist others who are needy. Similarly, you can only sympathize with someone whom you perceive to be suffering. Charity and sympathy are so-called “second order” goods that require “first order” evils like neediness and suffering (or at least the appearance of such evils) to exist. It’s argued that these second order goods outweigh the first order evils, which is why God allows the evils to occur.
4. Play the mystery card. Some theists point out that God works in mysterious ways. It’s arrogant of us to suppose that we can understand the mind of an infinitely powerful and wise being. The evil God inflicts upon us is, actually, all for the best. It’s just that we, being mere humans, can’t see how.

Welcome to Eth, a modestly-proportioned planet on the far side of our Galaxy. Here, beneath the great marble spires of Eth’s finest university, the debate of the age is taking place. Arrayed on either side of the University’s Great Chamber are Eth’s finest scholars and thinkers. They are here to decide the most controversial and emotive issue dividing the inhabitants of Eth – does God exist?

To the right of the Great Chamber are arrayed the believers. To the left sit the skeptics. The public galleries are near to bursting with those waiting to hear the proceedings. At the end of the debate, the audience will vote.

Booblefrip - the bird-like Professor of Origin - and Gizimoth - the portly Arch-logos-Inquisitor - lead the debate.

GIZIMOTH: Here, on Eth, many of us believe in God, do we not?
BOOBLEFRIP: Certainly.
GIZIMOTH: So what is God like?
BOOBLEFRIP: Well, God is all-powerful, of course. God can do anything. He created the entire universe, including every last one of us. God’s awesome power knows no bounds!

A whisper of approval ripples across the believers on the right side of the Great Chamber.

GIZIMOTH: Let’s agree about that, then. God, if he exists, is omnipotent. But here on Eth, those who believe in God also attribute another property to him, don’t they?
BOOBLEFRIP: Yes. As you know, we also believe that God is all-evil.
GIZIMOTH: Can you explain what you mean by that?
BOOBLEFRIP: Not only does God’s power know no bounds, neither does he depravity. His cruelty is infinite. His malice without end.

Booblefrip casts a cool look across the right side of the chamber.

GIZIMOTH: I see. All powerful. And all-evil. Now Professor Booblefrip, do you think that could briefly explain why you think it’s reasonable to believe in such a being? What grounds can you provide to justify belief in this evil God?
The universe must have come from somewhere

BOOBLEFRIP: Well, I don’t say I can conclusively prove beyond doubt that God exists. But it seems to me that there are at least two rather good reasons for believing in God. First, it seems obvious to me, as it does to many, that the universe must have come from somewhere. Don’t you agree?
GIZIMOTH: Of course. The scientists assembled here will tell you that there is a perfectly good scientific explanation for the existence of the universe – the Big bang. About 14 billion years ago an unimaginably violent explosion occurred in which all matter and energy came into existence, and in which space and even time itself began.
BOOBLEFRIP: We’re all familiar with the Big Bang theory, Professor Gizimoth. But of course, the Big Bang really only postpones the mystery of why there is anything at all, doesn’t it? For now we need to explain why there was a Big Bang. Why did the Big bang happen? Science can’t explain that, can it? There’s a real mystery here, isn’t there?
GIZIMOTH: Hmm. Perhaps
BOOBLEFRIP: The only satisfactory explanation we have for why the universe came into existence in the first place is that God created. So there’s my first reason to believe in God.

Gizimoth frowns: he’s clearly not buying Booblefrip’s argument. But he encourages Booblefrip to continue.

Evidence of design

GIZIMOTH: And your second reason?
Booblemat: Take a look around you, at the wonders of universe. Life. Conscious beings like ourselves. Do you suppose that all this appeared just be chance? Surely not. The universe shows clear signs of design. And where there’s design, there’s a designer!GIZIMOTH: But science can explain life. What about the theory of natural selection? That explains how over millions of years, life forms evolved and developed. It explains how complex life-forms can gradually evolve from even the simplest of bacteria. Science can perfectly well explain life without introducing your supernatural designer. BOOBLEFRIP: Natural selection can’t explain everything. For example, it can’t explain why the universe was set up to allow natural selection to take place in the first place, can it?

GIZIMOTH: Hmm. Well no, it can’t explain that.BOOBLEFRIP: Did you know that, if the laws governing the universe had been only very slightly different, the universe would not have survived more than a second or two? Either that or it would have quickly dissipated into a thin sterile soup incapable of producing life. For life to emerge and evolve, you need very specific conditions. The universe must be set up in an extremely precise fashion. And of course we know that it was set up in just this way, don’t we!

GIZIMOTH: I guess so.

BOOBLEFRIP: Now that it should just happen to be set up in just this way by chance is too much to swallow. That would be a fluke of cosmic proportions. It’s much more sensible, surely, to suppose that someone deliberately designed the universe this way, so as to produce life, and ultimately ourselves. That someone is God!

Another warm ripple of approval arose from the right side of the Great Chamber. The assembled academics felt that, so far at least, Booblefrip was getting the better of the argument.

But Gizimoth was perplexed.
GIZIMOTH: Very well, let’s suppose the universe does show clear signs of having been designed by an intelligent being.
BOOBLEFRIP: Ah. A convert!
GIZIMOTH: Not at all. I’m supposing this only for the sake of argument. You still haven’t given me much reason to suppose that this designer is all-evil, have you?
BOOBLEFRIP: But God is, by definition, all-evil.GIZIMOTH: But why define God that way? Why not suppose, instead, that God is neither good nor evil? Or why not suppose he is all-good?
Booblefrip thinks Gizimoth has gone too far.

BOOBLEFRIP: What a bizarre suggestion. It’s obvious our creator is very clearly evil! Take a look around you! Witness the horrendous suffering he inflicts upon us. The floods. The ethquakes. Cancer. The vile, rotting stench of God’s creation is overwhelming!

The problem of good

GIZIMOTH: Yes, our creator may do some evil. But it’s not clear he’s all-evil, is it? It’s certainly not obvious that his wickedness is infinite, that his malice and cruelty know no bounds. You’re deliberately ignoring a famous argument against the existence of God – the problem of good.
BOOBLEFRIP: I’m familiar with the problem of good – we theologians of Eth have debating it for centuries. But it’s not fatal to belief in God.
GIZIMOTH: Really? Let’s see. The problem of good, as you know, is essentially very simple. If the universe was designed by an all-powerful, all-evil God, then why is there so much good in the world?
BOOBLEFRIP: That’s the supposed problem, yes.
GIZIMOTH: Why, for example, does God allow at least some people to live out happy, contented and fulfilled lives? Why doesn’t he torture them instead? If God is all-powerful, he certainly could torture them, couldn’t he?
BOOBLEFRIP: Well, yes, he could.
GIZIMOTH: In fact he could make their lives utterly miserable. And we know that, as he is also supremely evil, he must want them suffer. Yet he gives some people every care and attention. Why? It makes no sense, does it?
BOOBLEFRIP: Perhaps not at first sight, no.
GIZIMOTH: Here’s another example. Why does God allow us to do good deeds, to help our fellow Ethians? He even allows us to lay down our lives for each other. These selfless actions improve the quality of our lives no end. So why does God allow them. Why doesn’t he force us to be nasty and do evil, just like him?
BOOBLEFRIP: I grant you that God’s allowing so much noble and selfless behaviour might seem like very good evidence that he is not all-evil. But appearances are deceptive.
GIZIMOTH: Also, if God’s is absolutely evil, why did he put so much beauty in the world for us to enjoy? Why did he create such sublime sunsets?
BOOBLEFRIP: Good question.
GIZIMOTH: And why does God give us children, which bring us immeasurable happiness? You see? There are countless ways in which our lives are enriched by God’s creation.
BOOBLEFRIP: But there’s also evil!
GIZIMOTH: True, there’s evil in the world. But there’s an awful lot of good. Far too much good, in fact, for anyone reasonably to conclude that the universe was created by an all-evil God. Belief in a supremely wicked creator is palpably absurd.

There is much quiet nodding to the left of the Great Chamber. Gizimoth’s argument has struck a chord with the unbelievers. But Booblefrip thinks Gizimoth’s argument is far from conclusive.

BOOBLEFRIP: Look, I admit that the amount of good in the world might seem to undermine belief in an all-powerful, all-evil god. But actually, we believers can explain why a supremely evil God would allow all these good things to happen.
GIZIMOTH: By all means try.

The free-will solution

BOOBLEFRIP: Surely you are familiar with the free-will defence?
GIZIMOTH: Perhaps you would care to explain it.
BOOBLEFRIP: Very well. God’s malevolence is without end. True, he let’s us do good. He allows us to act selflessly for the betterment of others, for example. But there’s a reason for that.
GIZIMOTH: What reason?
BOOBLEFRIP: God gave us free will.
GIZIMOTH: Free will?
BOOBLEFRIP: Yes. God could have made us mere automata that always did the wrong thing. But he didn’t do that. He gave us the freedom to choose how we act.
GIZIMOTH: Why? BOOBLEFRIP: By giving us free will God actually increased the amount of suffering there is in the world. He made the world far more terrible than it would otherwise have been
BOOBLEFRIP: Think about it. Yes God could have tortured us for all eternity with a red hot poker. But he would have got very bored very quickly. How much for fun for him to mess with our minds - to induce more complex, psychological forms of suffering.
GIZIMOTH: Psychological suffering?
BOOBLEFRIP: Yes. Take temptation. By giving us free-will, God can be sure we will agonize endlessly about what we should do. For free will brings with it the exquisite torture of temptation. And then, when we succumb to temptation, we feel guilty. Knowing that, being free, we could have done otherwise, we feel awful about what we have done. We end up torturing ourselves. The exquisitely evil irony of it all!
BOOBLEFRIP: By giving us free-will God allowed for far deeper and more complex forms of suffering than would otherwise be possible. Special, psychological forms of suffering.
GIZIMOTH: But what about the good people sometimes do?
BOOBLEFRIP: It’s true that people do sometimes choose to act selflessly and nobly, and that this can produce good. But this good is far outweighed by the additional suffering free-will brings. Just take a look at the world, for goodness sake! It’s a world full of people who not only behave despicably, but also agonize endlessly about what they have done!

The problem of natural goods

GIZIMOTH: But this is ridiculous!
GIZIMOTH: Well, for a start, this only explains the good that we bring about by acting freely. It doesn’t explain the existence of naturally occurring goods.
GIZIMOTH: Well, what about the glories of nature: sublime sunsets, stunning landscapes, the splendor of the heavens? We’re not responsible for these things, are we?
GIZIMOTH: But why would an all-evil God create something that gives us pleasure? Also, why does he give us beautiful children to love? And why does he choose to give some people extraordinary good fortune – health, wealth and happiness in abundance? Surely the existence of these things provides us with overwhelming evidence that, even if the universe has a creator, he’s not all bad?

The “character-destroying” solution

BOOBLEFRIP: You’re mistaken, Gizimoth. Such things are exactly what we should expect if God is supremely evil.
GIZIMOTH: But why?
BOOBLEFRIP: Some natural beauty is certainly to be expected. If everything was uniformly ugly, we wouldn’t be tormented by the ugliness half as much as if it were laced with some beauty. To truly appreciate the ghastliness of the environment most of us inhabit – a urine stained, concrete and asphalt wasteland peppered with advertising hoardings, drug addicts and dog dirt – we need to be reminded every now and then that things could have been different. God put some natural beauty into the world to make our appreciation of the ugliness and dreariness of day-to-day life all the more acute.
GIZIMOTH: Hmm. But why would a supremely wicked God give us beautiful children to love?
BOOBLEFRIP: Because he knows we’ll spend our entire lives worrying about them. Only a parent can know the depth of torture a child brings.
GIZIMOTH: Why does he give us healthy young bodies?
BOOBLEFRIP: Well, after 10 or 15 years they slowly and inevitably slide into decay, disease and decrepitude until we end up hopelessly ugly, incontinent and smelling of urine. Then we die, having lived out a short and ultimately meaningless existence. You see, by giving us something, and then snatching it away, our evil creator can make us suffer even more than if we had never had it.
GIZIMOTH: But then why does God allow some people live out such contented lives?
BOOBLEFRIP: Of course an evil God is going to bestow upon a few people lavish lifestyles, good health and immense success. Their happiness is designed to make the suffering of the rest of us even more acute! We’ll be wracked by feelings of envy, jealousy and failure! Who can be content while they have so much more!
GIZIMOTH: Oh honestly.BOOBLEFRIP: Don’t you see? The world clearly was designed to produce life, to produce conscious beings like ourselves. Why? So that it’s designer can torture us. The world is designed to physically and psychologically crush us, so that we are ultimately overwhelmed by life’s futility and bow out in despair.
Gizimoth is becoming frustrated. Every time he comes up with another piece of evidence that the universe wasn’t designed by a supremely evil deity, Booblefrip turns out to have yet another ingenious explanation up his sleeve. And yet, thinks Gizimoth, the evidence against the existence of an utterly evil God is overwhelming.

Some goods require evils

GIZIMOTH: This is ridiculous. You have an answer for everything!
BOOBLEFRIP: Yes, I do have an answer to all your arguments. So far, you’ve given me not the slightest reason to suppose that the world was not created by a supremely evil being. But if you’re unhappy with my answers, let me try a rather different approach. There are some evils that require goods in order to exist, aren’t there?
GIZIMOTH: Such as?
BOOBLEFRIP: Take the evil of jealousy. Jealousy requires there be something to be being jealous of. God gave good things to some people so that others would feel jealous. Or take lying. Lying requires that people often tell the truth – otherwise there would be no point in lying because no one would believe you. The evil of dishonesty requires that there be a certain amount of honesty.GIZIMOTH: And you think these evils outweigh the goods they depend on? BOOBLEFRIP: Exactly. God allows some good things into his creation. It’s the price he has to pay for these greater evils.

Play The Mystery Card

GIZIMOTH: These tricksy replies of yours are patently absurd. You can’t seriously maintain that the world you see around you – a world full of natural beauty and laughing children – is really the handiwork of an infinitely evil God?
BOOBLEFRIP: I do maintain that, yes. True, I may not be able to account for every last drop of good in the world. But remember that we are dealing here with the mind of God. Who are you to suppose you can understand the mind of an infinitely intelligent and knowledgeable being? Isn’t it arrogant of you to suppose that you can figure out God’s master plan?
GIZIMOTH: I’m arrogant?

There’s some subtle nodding from the believers on the right.

BOOBLEFRIP: Yes. Arrogant. Evil God works in mysterious ways. Ultimately, everything really is all for the worst. It’s just that, being mere humans, we can’t always figure out how.
GIZIMOTH: Oh, really. This is…
BOOBLEFRIP: I think it’s arrogant of you to suppose otherwise – to suppose that you must be able to figure it all out.

The verdict

At the end of the debate, the audience vote. After the deliberation, a spokesperson steps forward with their verdict.

THE VERDICT: It seems to us that Booblefrip has made a powerful case for supposing the world was created by God. In addition, Booblefrip has provided a compelling defence of belief in this evil being. He has successfully explained why even an evil God would allow a great deal of good. And so the motion is carried – we are persuaded that Evil God exists.

Are you persuaded by Booblefrip’s defence of belief in a supremely evil God? Of course not. His explanations are clearly feeble. Surely, despite Booblefrip’s convoluted maneuverings, belief in a supremely evil God remains palpably absurd.

But of course, Booblefrip’s defence merely flips round the standard explanations that theists offer in defence of belief in a good God. His attempts to explain what good there is in the world mirror the theist’s attempts to explain the evil. If Booblefrip’s explanations are deeply inadequate, why aren’t the theist’s explanations? That’s the question the theist needs to answer.

Of course, theists consider belief in an all-evil God to be downright silly. And rightly so: there’s clearly far too much good in the world.

But then here is my challenge to theists. If you consider belief in an evil God downright ridiculous, why on Earth do you suppose that the good God hypothesis is, at the very least, not unreasonable? The onus is surely on you to come up with some much better arguments for specifically an all good God (can this be done? I think not, though try e.g. religious experience and miracles if you like) and/or to deal much more effectively with the problem of evil

This is (Mark Vernon take note) a challenge to agnostics too. If you think agnosticism about an evil god is ridiculous (and I am betting you do), why on Earth do you suppose agnosticism is the rational position to take re. the good God hypothesis?

Surely, even if the universe does have a designer/creator, isn’t it patently obvious that this being is neither all-evil, nor all-good?


For the love of the FSM, Intelligent design is a hypothesis, not a theory. Don't give them that kind of credibility.

edit: I have been put in my place. Hypothesis -is- still too good. I will now change my opinion to "wackaloon attempt to subvert the establishment clause" instead of hypothesis.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

god is not Great Chapter 1 Putting it mildly

Ok, so here we are at chapter one of the book, and in all fairness its very cursory and says very little as far as content goes. It starts by giving an explanation of Hitchens' background as a youth in England, as well as his early atheism, although he did not know it as such. He was in fact a more than competent scriptorian, and like all students in England at that time went to a religious school.

In all, there was very little of note to this section other than that Hitchens clearly did not become an atheist due to any kind of negative experience or trauma. It was, to him (so he implies) a natural conclusion to come to.

He saw the entirety idea of worship and subservience as ridiculous, and completely unwarranted. This is one of those points on which Christians differ most heavily from atheists, beyond the whole belief in a god. Atheists in general view the biblical God as something of an egomaniacal tyrant. Even were he to exist, and even if he created us, many atheists, myself included, believe that the list of immoral, unjust, and sadistic actions of this God completely preclude him from being worthy of worship. But I digress.

Hitchens mentions various things which he declares atheists find abhorrent, listing thngs such as sacrifice and rtual, and such materially wasteful things. I actually have to dispute this as a bit too much of a generalization as there are atheists like myself who find ritual a fascinating and often beautiful thing, even if we find the actual action serves no purpose and is just a living anachronism.

He goes on to mention that there is some magnificence in the bodies of apologetic works citing Blaise Pascal of the eponymous wager as an example while countering with what he considered a dull writer in CS Lewis. Both interesting choices considering how much fundamentalists today adore Lewis' works (despite a false trilemma in his most famous argument) in apologetics, and how commonly dismissed Pascal's wager is (and was eventually by Pascal himself) by today's skeptics and seekers. (For those not familiar with the wager it is basically thus: I lose nothing by not believing in God and acting accordingly and could in fact gain everything by obeying his laws. Poke holes at your leisure). That said he does target them both as absurd and goes on to give examples of absurdities in religious belief from Aztecs to modern monotheists. In all the list is minor and far from comprehensive, however this being the equivelant of an introduction I expect more further in.

The most biting complaint he lists for the chapter though are his targeting of surety. The idea that someone knows with absolute certainty that God exists, and most particularly that if one does exist it is -their- God. He notes that nobody knows, and nobody can know, which admits a bit of agnosticism to himself, but I agree no atheist of a rationalist bent should ever consider themselves 100% scientifically sure of the non existence of God. On the same vein it would also be the height of arrogance to claim the opposite.

He closes with an interesting statement that he "would not prohibit it even if (he) thought (he) could." He does not believe that while we yet have questions that is even a possibility. I'm not sure agree with him, but I agree with the sentiment and look forward to seeing how things continue forward. His thesis at this point seems to be that as he quotes last in the chapter and uses as the book's subtitle, that "religion poisons everything."

We'll see if and how he elaborates on this point when I get to Chapter 2: Religion Kills.

Friday, March 6, 2009

god is not Great: Author

Our author, Christopher Hitchens is a famous Atheist, as well as a columnist for Vanity Fair.  He is outspoken about his distaste for religion as is obvious by my previous entry and is known to be friends with the likes of Richard Dawkins and Salman Rushdie. He is a vehement opponent of Israel, and feels they are an occupation ruling over the Palestinian people, although he is also an ardent supporter of combatting muslim extremists.

Despite what would seem to be a very anti-conservative stance he also ardently supported the invasion of Iraq, and supports a continued presence. He has expressed belief that the war on terror will continue well after he is dead. 

That said, he is also an ardent opponent of torture, and in one recorded session for vanity fair willingly was waterboarded as a demonstration. I have located that video and have posted it at the end. Hitchens was fully convinced that this was not merely an interrogation technique, but certainly torture. He only alsted about 18 seconds. So, he's definitely willing to go out on a limb, and is not just an armchair reporter. 

I haven't delved much into his views on(against) religion yet, but I am assuming there will be plenty more to discuss once actually diving into his book. NOw this is all cursory, and more can likely be found at sites like wikipedia. But this is the basic, basic rundown of the man as I've seen. 

god is not Great: Intro

I just purchased the book and I'm going to post the table of contents here for everyone who's interested. Before I do say, I have to say that it is an interesting collection of titles. If the book is even half as interesting as said titles it will have been totally worth it. 

Chapter 1: Putting it mildly

Chapter 2: Religion kills

Chapter 3: A Short Digression on the Pig; 
or, Why Heaven Hates Ham

Chapter 4: A Note on Health,
to Which Religion Can Be Hazardous

Chapter 5: The Metaphysical Claims of Religion Are False

Chapter 6: Arguments From Design

Chapter 7: Revelation:
The Nightmare of the "Old" Testament

Chapter 8: The "New" Testament Exceeds the Evil 
of the "Old" One

Chapter 9: The Koran Is Borrowed From Both Jewish 
and Christian Myths

Chapter 10: The Tawdriness of the Miraculous
 and the Decline of Hell

Chapter 11: "The Lowly Stamp of Their Origin":
   Religion's Corrupt Beginnings

Chapter 12:  A Coda: How Religions End

Chapter 13: Does Religion Make People Behave Better?

Chapter 14: There Is No "Eastern" Solution

Chapter 15: Religion as an Original Sin

Chapter 16: Is Religion Child Abuse?

Chapter 17: An Objection Anticipated
   The Last-Ditch "Case" Against Secularism

Chapter 18: A Finer Tradition:
   The Resistance of the Rational

Chapter 19: In Conclusion:
   The Need For a New Enlightenment

So. There you have it, the body of work in Hitchens' god is not Great. It is eminently clear that this book may offend some people, and does not care where you are from, or which religion you belong to. I appreciate this, and look forward to reading it. Though I look forward to starting in on the book itself, I intend to make my next post on GING to be about the author himself. As this is largely his opinions and conclusions I feel it appropriate to delve into our polemecist before looking at his work. 

A fair question

I've been asked more than once why I hate religion, and in particular hate christianity. Usually this is asked by people I'm in debate or discussion with, and often just implied, not actually asked.

The actual answer is: I don't hate religion; I hate fundamentalist religion, and unreasoned religion.

Now, fundamentalist religion is an obivous target for Atheists and freethinkers simply because they often take irrational faith as a virtue, and are usually the most stringent defenders of their dogmas to the point of insanity. Biblical literalists, for example, drive me up the damned wall when the only evidence they use for their claims are from their book that they say is true because -it- says its true. Fundamentalists also tend towards an exclusivity that is harmful to societies by creating division. When only you can be right, everyone else has to be wrong. Evolutionary theory is an example of a constant pet prey for Young Earth lovers who willfully make themselves ignorant to the evidence against them. Fundamentalist Islam is also terrifying and, sadly, despite everything the lay members try and do to clean up their image, violent and oppressive.

And this extends to any conversion centered exclusive, "one true religion." Be it Islam, Christianity, Mormons, or whoever. It doesn't matter. I've never felt threatened or insluted by Jews, or Pagans (of any type), or Buddhists, or Hindus. Of course none of them feels the need to tell me I'm going to Hell because I'm not following the tenets of a God who has little to no evidence of existence.

People are, and should be free to practice what they like, but when they take it into the public sphere its fair game. If that means you get called out on biblical inconsistencies and get laughed at for quoting bible verses thinking they're going to convince someone who believes the bible is mythology, so be it.

So, no. I don't hate religion. But I really wouldn't be sad if it went away.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Late to the party: Deus non magnum est

I'm picking up a copy of Christopher Hitchens' polemic God is not Great tomorrow, and plan to be doing a chapter by chapter review of it on here.

I enjoy Hitchens' speaking style and dry wit in debate. I know alot of people find him abrasive and more than a little obnoxious. i don't dispute this at all. He has some moments where he goes a bit far in my opinion. However, he has been a forceful, outspoken antitheist, and I highly respect what he's been trying to accomplish. Admittedly he seems at least a little drunk in most of the television interviews (not debates) I've seen him in, but I'm curious to see how his writing turns out.

Having already finished The God Delusion I'm excited to get into other atheist writers' takes on polemic and even incendiary writing. What I'd really like to read is Atheism Advanced , but I really can't afford a book coming only in hardcover and may have to wait. Sadness.