Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Christianity Fails: Morality

A few months ago I heard Christopher Hitchens' introduction in the debate, Poison or Cure? Religious Belief in the Modern World. I thought it was brilliant and I'd like to share it here with you in transcript form. I promise, it isn't boring.
When I debate with Jews and Muslims and Christians, I very often say, “well, do you really believe there was a virgin birth, do you really believe in a Genesis creation, do you really believe in bodily resurrection?” I get a sort of Monty Python reply. “Well, it's a little bit metaphorical, really.”

The main thing I want to dispute this evening is this: you hear it very often said by people of a vague faith that, while it may not be the case that religion is metaphysically true, its figures and its stories may be legendary or dwell on the edge of myth, prehistoric, and its truth claims may be laughable.

We have better claims -- excuse me, better explanations for the origins and birth of our cosmos and our species now, so much better so, in fact, that had they been available to begin with, religion would never have taken root. No one would now go back to the stage when we didn't have any real philosophy, we only had mythology, when we thought we lived on a flat planet or when we thought that our planet was circulated by the sun instead of the other way around, when we didn't know that there were micro-organisms as part of creation and that they were more powerful than us and had dominion over us rather than we, them, when we were fearful, the infancy of our species.

We wouldn't have taken up theism if we'd known now what we did then, but allow for all that, allow for all that, you still have to credit religion with being the source of ethics and morals: “where would we get these from if it weren't from faith?” I think, in the time I've got, I think that's the position I most want to undermine.

I don't believe that it's true that religion is moral or ethical, I certainly don't believe of course that any of its explanations about the origin of our species or the cosmos or its ultimate destiny are true either. In fact, I think most of those have been conclusively, utterly discredited, but I'll deal with the remaining claim that it is moral. Okay, and I can only do Christianity this evening. Is it moral to believe that your sins, yours and mine, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, can be forgiven by the punishment of another person? Is it ethical to believe that?

I would submit that the doctrine of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice is utterly immoral. I might, if I wished, if I knew any of you, you were my friend or even if I didn't know you but I just loved the idea of you (compulsory love is another sickly element of Christianity, by the way), but suppose I could say, “look, you're in debt, I've just made a lot of money out of a god-bashing book, I'll pay your debts for you, maybe you'll pay me back some day, but for now I can get you out of trouble.”

I could say if (I really loved someone who had been sentenced to prison) if I can find a way of saying I'd serve your sentence, I'd try and do it. I could do what Sydney Carton does in a Tale of Two Cities, if you like. I'm very unlikely to do this unless you've been incredibly sweet to me. I'll take your place on the scaffold, but I can't take away your responsibilities. I can't forgive what you did. I can't say you didn't do it. I can't make you washed clean. The name for that in primitive middle eastern society was scapegoating. You pile the sins of the tribe on a goat, you drive that goat into the desert to die of thirst and hunger. And you think you've taken away the sins of the tribe. This is a positively immoral doctrine that abolishes the concept of personal responsibility on which all ethics and all morality must depend.

It has a further implication. I'm told that I have to have a share in this human sacrifice even though it took place long before I was born. I have no say in it happening, I wasn't consulted about it, had I been present I would have been bound to do my best to stop the public torture and execution of an eccentric preacher. I would do the same even now.

No, no! I'm implicated in it, I, myself, drove in the nails, I was present at Calvary, it confirms the original filthy sin in which I was conceived and born, the sin of Adam in Genesis. Again, this may sound a mad belief, but it is the Christian belief.

Well it's here that we find something very sinister about monotheism and about religious practice in general. It is incipiently at least and I think often explicitly totalitarian, because I have no say in this. I am born under a celestial dictatorship which I could not have had any hand in choosing. I don't put myself under its Government. I am told that it can watch me while I sleep. I'm told that it can convict me of, here's the definition of totalitarianism, thought crime, for what I think I may be convicted and condemned.

And that if I commit a right action, it's only to evade this punishment and if I commit a wrong action, I'm going to be caught up not just with punishment in life for what I've done which often follows action systematically, but, no, even after I'm dead. In the Old Testament, gruesome as it is, recommending as it is of genocide, racism, tribalism, slavery, genital mutilation, in the displacement and destruction of others, terrible as the Old Testament gods are, they don't promise to punish the dead. There's no talk of torturing you after the earth has closed over the Amalekites. Only toward when gentle Jesus, meek and mild, makes his appearance are those who won't accept the message told they must depart into everlasting fire. Is this morality, is this ethics?

I submit not only is it not, not only does it come with the false promise of vicarious redemption, but it is the origin of the totalitarian principle which has been such a burden and shame to our species for so long.

I further think that it undermines us in our most essential integrity. It dissolves our obligation to live and witness in truth. Which of us would say that we would believe something because it might cheer us up or tell our children that something was true because it might dry their eyes? Which of us indulges in wishful thinking, who really cares about the pursuit of truth at all costs and at all hazards?

Can it not be said, do you not, in fact, hear it said repeatedly about religion and by the religions themselves that, well it may not be really true, the stories may be fairy tales. The history may be dubious, but it provides consolation. Can anyone hear themselves saying this or have it said of them without some kind of embarrassment? Without the concession that thinking here is directly wishful? That, yes, it would be nice if you could throw your sins and your responsibilities on someone else and have them dissolved? But it's not true and it's not morally sound and that's the second ground of my indictment.

On our integrity, basic integrity, knowing right from wrong and being able to choose a right action over a wrong one, I think one must repudiate the claim that one doesn't have this moral discrimination innately, that, no, rather it must come only from the agency of a celestial dictatorship which one must love and simultaneously fear.

What is it like (I've never tried it, I've never been a cleric), what is it like to lie to children for a living and tell them that they have an authority, that they must love compulsory love? What a grotesque idea and be terrified of it at the same time. What's that like? I want to know.

And that we don't have an innate sense of right and wrong, children don't have an innate sense of fairness and decency, which of course they do. What is it like? I can personalize it to this extent, my mother's Jewish ancestors are told that until they got to Sinai, they'd been dragging themselves around the desert under the impression that adultery, murder, theft and perjury were all fine, and they get to Mount Sinai only to be told that's not kosher after all.

I'm sorry, excuse me, we must have more self-respect than that for ourselves and for others. Of course the stories are fiction. It's a fabrication exposed conclusively by Israeli archaeology. Nothing of the sort ever took place, but suppose we take as metaphor? It's an insult, it's an insult to us, it's an insult to our deepest integrity.

No, if we believed that perjury, murder and theft were all right, we wouldn't have got as far as the foot of Mount Sinai or anywhere else.

Now we're told what we have to believe and this is, I'm coming now to the question of whether or not science, reason and religion are compatible or I would rather say reconcilable. The late, great Stephen J. Gould said that he believed they were non-overlapping magisteria, you can be both a believer and a person of faith.

Here's why I, a non-scientist, will say that I think it's more radically irreconcilable than it is incompatible. I've taken the best advice I can on how long Homo sapiens have been on the planet. Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins and many others, and many discrepant views from theirs reckon it's not more than 250,000 years, a quarter of a million years. It's not less, either. I think it's roughly accepted, I think. 100,000 is the lowest I've heard and actually I was about to say, again not to sound too Jewish, I'll take 100,000. I only need 100,000.

For 100,000 years Homo sapiens were born, usually, well not usually, but very often dying in the process or killing its mother in the process at life expectancy probably not much more than 20, 25 years. Dying probably of hunger or of micro-organisms that they didn't know existed or of events such as volcanic or tsunami or earthquake types that would have been wholly terrifying and mysterious as well as some turf wars over women, land, property, food, other matters. You can fill them in, imagine it for yourself what the first few tens of thousands of years were like.

And we like to think learning a little bit in the process and certainly having Gods all the way, worshiping bears fairly early on, I can sort of see why, sometimes worshiping other human beings, (big mistake, I'm coming back to that if I have time), this and that and the other thing, but exponentially perhaps improving, though in some areas of the world very nearly completely dying out. And a bitter struggle all along.

According to the Christian faith, heaven watches this with folded arms for 98,000 years and then decides, "It's time to intervene. And the best way of doing that would be a human sacrifice in primitive Palestine where the news would take so long to spread that it still hasn't penetrated very large parts of the world and that would be our redemption of human species."

Now I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that that is, what I've just said which you must believe to believe the Christian revelation is not possible to believe, as well as not decent to believe. Why is it not possible? Because a virgin birth is more likely than that. A resurrection is more likely than that and because if it was true, it would have two further implications. It would have to mean that the designer of this plan was unbelievably lazy and inept or unbelievably callous and cruel and indifferent and capricious. That is the case with every argument for design and every argument for revelation and intervention that has ever been made. But it's not conclusively so because of the superior knowledge that we've won for ourselves by an endless struggle to assert our reason, our science, our humanity, our extension of knowledge against the priests, against the Rabbis, against the Mullahs who have always wanted us to consider ourselves as made from dust or from a clot of blood, according to the Koran, or as the Jews are supposed to pray every morning, at least not female or gentile.

And here's my final point, the final insult that religion delivers to us, the final poison it injects into our system. It appeals both to our meanness, our self-centeredness and our solipsism and to masochism. In other words, it's sadomasochistic.

I'll put it like this: you're a clot of blood, you're a piece of mud, you're lucky to be alive, God fashioned you for his convenience, even though you're born in filth and sin and even though every religion that's ever been is distinguished principally by the idea that we should be disgusted by our own sexuality. Name me a religion that does not play upon that fact. So you're lucky to be here, originally sinful and covered in shame and filth as you are, you're a wretched creature, but take heart, the Universe is designed with you in mind and heaven has a plan for you.

Ladies and gentlemen, I close by saying I can't believe there is a thinking person here who does not realize that our species would begin to grow to something like its full height if it left this childishness behind, if it emancipated itself from this sinister, childlike nonsense.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What’s the best “proof” of Creation?

Today's Answers in Genesis newsletter was so short it was almost like a twitter post. Still, I'd like to examine their position and explain why I don't find it satisfactory. (Also, in case it hasn't been clear, the titles of my blog posts are usually the titles of the claims/questions I'm responding to.)
A: Creationists and evolutionists, Christians and non-Christians, all have the same facts. Think about it: we all have the same earth, the same fossil layers, the same animals and plants, the same stars—the facts are all the same.
Well, I won't disagree here. We all have access to the same facts. Facts are the world's data. Theories are demonstrably clear explanations of all relevant facts and laws, such as Cell Theory, Germ Theory, and... oh yeah, Evolutionary Theory.
The difference is in the way we all interpret the facts. And why do we interpret facts differently? Because we start with different presuppositions; these are things that are assumed to be true without being able to prove them. These then become the basis for other conclusions. All reasoning is based on presuppositions (also called axioms). This becomes especially relevant when dealing with past events.
And the major difference is the enormous leap you take with your presuppositions. The presupposition that science makes is the uniformity of nature - that the world works the same today as it did millions of years ago. There is a lot of evidence that even this supposition is a reasonable one. Science takes the facts and provides testable hypotheses that undergo a lot of scrutiny before becoming accepted by the entire community. You might say that the science we do now is based on the science that we already have, so that might be a presupposition. But it isn't, because the science that we already have wasn't presupposed. It went through the the same rigorous process to become accepted.

The good thing about science is that you can overturn it if you have enough evidence. Don't think the earth is a sphere? Show your evidence. (Somebody did and we now know that the earth is an ellipsoid slightly elongated at the equator. Even after that was established, somebody else came along and refined that even further.) If you have good evidence and a good hypothesis and your data can explain both your proposition and the theories that came before it, then your theory will become the new standard.

This is not the case in religion. Religion is static and unchanging. Believers are unwilling to stray from their favorite interpretations of whatever holy book they subscribe to and aren't willing to ever admit they're wrong. It's impossible to argue with a Creationist when they say things like:
By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. (source)
This means that no matter what or how much evidence you show them, they will never ever admit to being wrong. I can think of one geologist off the top of my head who admits that all the evidence is against him, yet no matter how much he continues to see, he will always be a Young-Earth Creationist. This is not rational, and yet this is what passes for "strong in the faith" today. Believers, just know that when your favorite apologetic website (like AiG) is fervently arguing that Creation has just as much evidence as Evolution, know that they don't seem so sure because of science. They're only sure because they have to be, or they wouldn't have any faith from their point of view. This has been proven time and again when Creationists try to put forth evidence and the scientific community swiftly and easily shoots it down.

Do everyday believers not think it a weak position to be in when everything we know about the world disagrees with their literal interpretation of a book written by men with practically no understanding of the world around them? I honestly want to ask them what evidence it would take for them to change their position, but I think for some I unfortunately already know the answer...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Warning Against Rejecting Wisdom

I was reading Proverbs 1 yesterday when I came across something I thought was interesting. I had opened the bible to a random page hoping to find something interesting and I think I unfortunately have. I'll quote the interesting parts and, as usual, provide my inerrant feedback.
 20 Wisdom calls aloud in the street,
       she raises her voice in the public squares;
 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out,
       in the gateways of the city she makes her speech:
 22 "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?
       How long will mockers delight in mockery
       and fools hate knowledge?
 23 If you had responded to my rebuke,
       I would have poured out my heart to you
       and made my thoughts known to you.
This is all good and well. Wisdom is of course an important thing to have and there are plenty of ways to gain it. Sometimes the easiest and fastest way to do so is just to talk to other people who have life experience. It's also possible to read a book or watch a video and gain wisdom that way. But of course, you can't think uncritically and accept everyone's advice without a second thought - you must still evaluate what they say and determine if what they're saying really is wise or just a bunch of crap. The most reliable way to gain wisdom is through experience, but that also tends to be the most painful.
 24 But since you rejected me when I called
       and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,
 25 since you ignored all my advice
       and would not accept my rebuke,
 26 I in turn will laugh at your disaster;
       I will mock when calamity overtakes you-
 27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
       when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
       when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
I'm pretty sure this is God speaking here, and I'm also pretty sure that this passage is a little disturbing. God says that he called and stretched out his hand (however he does that) and people ignored it and didn't accept his rebuke (however he gives that out). It's worth noting that many Christians believe that punishment is God's form of rebuke, but I suppose that interpretation would make this verse seem a little confusing. Though I'm not sure how a God that can't talk or appear to people or do just about anything to reveal himself could convey a clear meaning of rebuke or punishment in the first place. In any case, God pretty clearly states here that if you don't follow his advice, he will allow you to fall into disaster. But if that weren't bad enough, he's going to take a lot of enjoyment from it. You're going to be overtaken by calamity like a storm and he's going to sit back in his easy chair laughing at your misfortune. No, it's not a mistranslation. God's really going to enjoy your suffering. He's going to mock you because you made a mistake like any other human being. Talk about a "loving" god. I hope we can hurry up and get to the New Testament so he will be more forgiving...
 28 "Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
       they will look for me but will not find me.
 29 Since they hated knowledge
       and did not choose to fear the LORD,
 30 since they would not accept my advice
       and spurned my rebuke,
 31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
       and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
 32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
       and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
 33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
       and be at ease, without fear of harm."
But mocking you isn't enough, apparently. He's also going to be too busy laughing at you to answer your pleas for help and let you die. Yep. Apparently by not doing whatever the person claiming to be a messenger for God tells you to do, you hate knowledge and are a complacent fool. This sounds like the words of an intelligent, honest, and wise speaker. You do what I say, or you're stupid and deserve to die!

Of course, none of this would be complete without the outlandish promise of "But... do what I say and you'll be safe. Completely safe. Yes... That's right. Come here child. No one will ever do you harm again if you just do what I say and never think another thought." Somehow I don't think that would be too difficult of a statement to disprove seeing how plenty of Christians have fallen into harm while strictly obeying every proverb here. But maybe God uttered these words before he decided to create Hitler? There's no way to know. Could have just been an oversight.

So, moral of the story:
Blindly obey: You'll be happy and safe forever.
Disobey for whatever reason: You will fall into disaster and God will laugh at you as you die.

Sounds just like those wholesome Christian values we all know and love so much.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Proving God Exists: Science

In case any of you are wondering, I haven't abandoned my weekly dissection of Answers in Genesis's weekly newsletter. For the last two weeks they've just been... uninteresting. Which is sort of odd for a creationist organization, but I suppose even they run out of pseudoscience now and again. So today I'll be doing a review of the next sermon on the list of Eric Hovind's underwhelming "proof of the Christian God." You don't have to read the first quote, but I thought it funny.
"All rise," comes the command in the musty and dim courtroom. "This court is now in session, the Honorable Judge Science presiding in the case Skeptic vs. Bible." The visitors in the gallery return to their seats as the case begins with opening arguments from the prosecutor. Skeptic's attorney makes several remarks, pleading to Judge Science to see that the evidence shows clearly that Bible is at fault, and cannot be trusted. The jury is on the edge of their chairs, wondering how the attorney for Bible will fare against such staggering evidence. By the time the verbose attorney for Skeptic takes his seat, things look bad for Bible. According to the case made by the prosecution, Science will no doubt rule against Bible. But then something curious happens. Science stands up and walks over to the seat of Bible. Bible stands up. Science mutters sheepishly, "Forgive me, he keeps calling me 'Judge.' I must have sat in the wrong seat, Judge Bible." A collective gasp is heard around the courtroom. As Judge Bible is seated in His rightful position, He holds up the gavel and asks Science how he pleads, "Are you guilty against this court and my laws, or do you plead innocent?" The room is all ears, as the new defendant rises and smiles. "I plead 'No Contest,' your Honor. I only do as you dictate."
Eric, are you honestly asserting that the Bible is to dictate to us what is and isn't scientifically factual? Are we to believe it when it tells us that the earth is flat, there is a solid dome in the sky, that bats are birds, that a whale is a fish, that a rabbit chews the cud, or that placing sticks in front of cows will make their offspring striped? That isn't a great track record. But even if I agreed that it was, why should I take the word of an ignorant nomad who wrote that God created everything in 6 days? How would he know that? He wasn't there. It sounds to me just like any other story a religion would tell you. The bible isn't a science textbook (and some creationists would even agree with me here), so to take any kind of scientific insight from it at all is putting it in a realm it doesn't belong. But to say that the book somehow overrides what we know about this world is preposterous. I wouldn't care if the Bible or any other holy book tells me that the sun revolves around the earth or that sicknesses are caused by demons - I know better, and I won't be naively fooled by your assertions that you know better than thousands of scientists over hundreds of years.
In the realm of debate among skeptics and Christians, science is often brought up as the standard by which we judge truth. Christians often pander to this, searching for the best scientific evidence possible, making multiple pleas to science in order to gain a favorable footing in this contest. But what Christians need to understand is that this puts science in the judge's chair. If we surrender our Bible to determine what is truth, we will never win. For the Bible tells us "Thy word is truth" (Jn 17:17). We've got it all backwards if we think we can appeal to science to vindicate Scripture. Furthermore, we elevate to an improper position the minds of men if we think we can put God's Word on trial to begin with! God's Word is sovereign, and science pleads "No Contest!" Scientific evidence merely bears witness to the absolute Truth of the Bible. In fact, if we may carry our courtroom analogy one step further, when Judge Bible is enthroned, the roles of defendant and prosecutor switch places. It is the skeptic who is now in the hot seat! God's Word is the standard, the skeptic has fallen short of this standard (Rom. 3:23), and we see from the testimony of scientific evidence nothing but verification of this assertion. We see that the skeptic's worldview is all wrong, and that science has no place in the position as judge.
No, the bible isn't the standard. It hasn't been for some time. If something is true, it can be found to be true without requiring some holy book. If something is true in the natural world, it can be investigated and conclusions can be drawn from our perceptions of whatever it is we're talking about. If we can't investigate it, we can't know that any claim is true, so to take the word of the bible (aka, the word of men), we're just assuming that what they said is true. That's a foolish thing to do when it comes to issues such as science (though in this paragraph you seem to drift away from that and lean more toward spiritual issues). There is absolutely no reason to think that the bible has any kind of monopoly on truth or that it is self-proving, because it isn't. And yet you talk as though it is, something you completely failed to show in your last post (Logic) and again fail to do here.
Now let's look deeper. Let's examine the presuppositions of the skeptic or unbeliever. He attempts to disprove the Bible through many venues, one of which is science. But there is a fundamental problem with this. Science depends on the Uniformity of Nature. If the laws of nature changed randomly, there would be no way to measure or experiment accordingly. If gravity, for example, were different from one day to the next, how could science be possible? The obvious answer is that it couldn't. Yet the scientific laws of nature are uniform and unchanging, because God established them to be so. He created laws and told us that they will not pass away – we can count on them (Gen. 8:22). But the unbeliever refuses to believe in God, though he operates with the same understanding of the uniformity of nature as do believers. But why? This is inconsistent with his professed worldview, which claims that nature and her laws evolved into what they are today through an ever-changing and random process. You see, the unbeliever must borrow from the consistent worldview of the Christian in order to even do science or appeal to scientific evidence. He takes God's existence for granted while he tries to argue against Him! In this way, the skeptical or unbelieving evolutionist professes a worldview that is self-refuting.
Just as in your last post, you assume with no evidence whatsoever that certain things don't make sense if there is no god. Again I must ask, why must there be any god for nature to be uniform? Does there need to be a Flying Spaghetti Monster for pasta to be tasty?  That assertion makes as much sense as yours, and if you don't think so, you might want to reexamine your logic. You can't just say that "X requires a God" and leave it at that. You need to show it through evidence and logic - something you haven't even attempted.

You then go on to say that unbelievers opine that nature and her laws evolved through random processes. This simply is not the case. Nature itself does not evolve and laws are unchanging. Life evolves due to the set laws of nature and is not completely random. I've explained this before and I don't need to do it again. You know as well as I that you're being misleading and spreading disinformation.
Christian, when you are presented with a scientific "evidence" against the God of the Bible, remember two things: First, never put the Bible on trial or place science in the judge's seat.  The Bible is the Final Authority. It is God's Word. When you use evidence, use it to show that science agrees with the Bible. And secondly, use science to show that the unbeliever has no way to account for the uniformity of the laws of science without the Biblical God, who never contradicts Himself, and who created laws to be relied upon. Show the skeptic that if he truly believes in Evolutionism, then there is no way he could measure or test his theory at all. Because without God, there is no way we can know anything. God established the laws of nature, and if this were not true, we could not trust these laws. And if we can't trust the laws, we can't trust any of our science. But thank God we can trust the uniform laws of nature and science, because our great God established them to endure when He created the whole universe in just six days.
I was at first under the impression that you were trying to prove to non-believers that a god exists. However, through your shallow logic and assumption of the infallibility of the bible, I have to assume that you're writing to and for Christians with no intent for your message to reach unbelieving eyes. This "logic" wouldn't even have convinced me when I was a Christian, much less now as an atheist.

You've moved on to asserting that without a god we can't know anything. This makes no sense at all - what we do and don't know are based on observation and testing, not by reading books and asserting them to be true despite all evidence to the contrary. Evolution by common descent can be tested in myriad ways and has been done in uncountable ways. (Just look up Tiktaalik or Human Chromosome II, for starters.)

Occam's razor is a useful tool that I would like to briefly explain here. It says that the explanation that fits the evidence and makes the least assumptions is most likely to be correct. An analogy is: let's say that right now, I hear a noise in my closet. I go investigate and find that a box has fallen onto the floor. I can assume perhaps one of two things. Either it fell on its own or it was knocked over by a cat. I know that the law of gravity pulls things down and that I've stacked many boxes on top of one another, so it is likely that one that was at an angle finally slid off the box below it and hit the floor.

Alternatively, I could simply theorize that a cat was crawling around in my closet and knocked it over. This is akin in science to throwing away modern explanations and just saying "Goddidit." However, like the box analogy, this makes more assumptions and leaves more things unexplained than it solves. Think about the cat: how did it get into my apartment? How did I not hear it crawling around for the last few hours and where did it go? Assuming a cat is responsible raises more questions than it answers, so the better explanation in light of the circumstances is that the box simply fell on its own.

In the same way, is it more likely that the universe's laws are uniform because that's just the way it works, or is it more likely that some all-powerful god created it with a blink of his eye and left us no evidence of his existence otherwise? I'm afraid the answer is the former. You can believe the latter if you wish, but you then must explain how and where God exists, show that he exists, and show that he is the one responsible for taking the action in the first place - none of which you can do. It is for this reason that I can't accept your rationale that you display throughout your post and believe it makes more sense to not unnecessarily throw a god into the mix when things make just as much sense without him.

You argue from the viewpoint that the Bible starts off as infallible and perfect. You can't do that when trying to prove God's existence because you're assuming the conclusion. However, if you didn't have your Bible, you'd be up a creek without a paddle because it's the only tool you have. This is why nobody will be convinced of what you have to say. You must start with common ground and work your way up until you've proven your point without assuming anything your opponent doesn't.

So, to my readers, if you disagree with anything I've said, please leave a comment and explain what you think and why.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Proving God Exists: Logic

In this article, Eric Hovind attempts to prove that only through the existence of God does logic make sense. I feel like it's very amateurish, but some people might actually take him and Sye TenB seriously. So, off we go on another adventure in reason.
Why must we be logical? Where does logic come from? Who defines what is and isn't logical? The properties of logic are an interesting testimony to God, written on the hearts of even the most ardent unbeliever—whether he likes it or not. ... When an unbeliever argues against the Biblical God, ask yourself a very important, but fundamental, question about his logic: Why is it there?
We must be logical because to be illogical results in the inability to process information and filter out fiction from reality. Logic doesn't "come from" anywhere so much as is a framework to process said information. By comparing what we hear and see to what we know about the world, we are able to evaluate and either accept or reject claims based on what we already know to be true or false. This isn't complicated and doesn't require a god at all.
Think about it. The evolutionary unbeliever will have no problem arguing, using his ability to reason. He will debate every piece of evidence you show him, and while his logic is often flawed, he still attempts to use it. But why? After all, it doesn't fit with his worldview. It's not consistent with the way he accounts for the elements of reality.
No, it is the creationist's logic that is often flawed. Or should I say, lack thereof. However, this isn't a mud-flinging contest and I won't make it into one. I'll just say that in my experience, it's impossible to be honest and a creationist at the same time (provided you aren't ignorant about the relevant science). When I reject claims made by people like you, I do so not because it doesn't fit with my worldview but because it doesn't match with reality. My worldview is based on the evidence I see, not the other way around. See, creationists base and filter their evidence on and through their perception of what the bible says. If the bible says that something is true, it is. If it says something is false, it is. Anything that disagrees with it must be wrong. I'm not simply asserting it - you claim it on your own website. You have stated that
"No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and science, can be valid if it contradicts Scripture."
This is the definition of closed-mindedness. You assume the bible to be true and evaluate reality looking through that lens, and not the other way around. It is YOU who rejects information based on your worldview, not me. If I thought the evidence pointed to a special creation, I would believe it because it would be a more intellectually honest position. But it doesn't and I don't.
For example, the evolutionary unbeliever typically believes that we are here as a result of random processes that took place by unguided chance, and that all things have changed greatly since the Big Bang. Somehow, nothing exploded, and from that, vital elements gave rise to other elements, which eventually gave rise to life, which ultimately gave rise to everything we see around us. Reality, in his worldview, randomly came into being, evolved in different ways in different regions, and finally produced the envy of all the universe—the unbeliever's brain.
It boggles my mind that people like you can continue to spout this time and time again despite your being told this isn't what scientists believe. It must take some real balls to ignore your leader's teachings about honesty and constantly lie about what your opponent's position is. The "evolutionary unbeliever" (whatever that means) doesn't believe that we are here by "random" processes through "unguided chance." This is completely false. All of nature follows laws that cause things to be the way they are today. If you jumped up and fell back to the earth, that wouldn't be "random chance," it would be because of the natural law of gravity. In the same way, chemicals form under certain conditions and account for a lot of what we know about elements giving rise to life. We know that natural selection is anything but random and plays an enormous role in determining which life will stay and which will go. Reality isn't random at all. The fact that you don't know why a certain event happened doesn't mean it was random but rather that you just don't understand all of the causes that went into it.
There is, however, a fundamental problem with this worldview. How does it account for abstract concepts such as the immaterial, unchanging, universal laws of logic? How do energy and matter relate to laws of logic, which cannot be picked up, painted, or squeezed? The fact of the matter is that the unbeliever cannot account for his logic, he just uses it. He just knows things must be logical.
The laws of logic are such things as "a proposition p cannot be both true and false at the same time." These laws are true regardless of whether we understand or realize them or not. This is simply the way things are. The "concept" is a human understanding of something that exists completely independent of us. Something need not be physical to exist - abstract concepts are still a part of this world, they just don't exist in the same way that we say a person exists. My saying that "this game I made has rules X, Y, and Z" don't mean that there must be some game rule-enforcer or that some higher power must exist for the rules to exist. I don't see how God is required to exist for logic to. I'll expand on this after the next quote:
You can hear the unbeliever demonstrating this in his cries for evidence, proof, and science. But could it be that logic is only consistent with God and His Word? After all, like logic, God is immaterial, unchanging, and universal. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He cannot be picked up, painted, or squeezed. In fact, Christians are the only ones who have a legitimate reason for using logic. Breaking the laws of logic amounts to bearing false witness, and God expressly forbids this. Christians believe the Bible, which says that God created everything, including abstracts such as laws of nature, morality, and logic.
God cannot be both God and not God at the same time. God cannot make a car be a car and a potato at the same time and in the same sense. If you assert that he could, you're asserting that God defies logic. If he is capable of this, then I have no reason to believe in his existence because of his illogical nature. On the flip-side, if the laws of logic do apply to him, then they exist apart from him and he has no control over them. This is also a problem for the Christian God. But why must it be the Christian God that enforces logic? You've simply asserted that it is God who made and enforces logic, but why couldn't it be Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or a giant taco in space? Why must there be someone at all?
Obviously, the unbeliever has no explanation for his use of logic that is consistent with his worldview. In fact, he must actually operate within the worldview of Christians in order to debate anything! The analogy has been used of a man trying to argue against the existence of air. He must breathe it to argue against it!
As I've said, I fail to see why logic only makes sense in your worldview. On what basis do you claim a monopoly on this? I'm using logic to argue a point, but so are you. For you to logically assert that logic comes from God, aren't you already assuming the existence of logic as well? How does this place you in a better position than I? I'm asserting that logic works because it is just a method of processing information according to how we see the world works. You're asserting that logic works because of some other unproven assumption. I think Occam's razor favors me here.
Thus the unbeliever is reduced to foolishness, attempting to argue against God, while using God's laws to reason in the first place. He masquerades as an unbeliever, though he does so only by using the tools that can only be accounted for by the existence of an immaterial, unchanging, and universal God. He may attempt to argue past that by claiming that logic is manmade, but this would mean that man could change logic. Man could determine that two plus two equals five. Yet we instinctively know that this is contrary to logic, and would not do.
I do believe that logic is manmade, but I do not believe that logical absolutes are. Absolutes are true regardless of whether we believe them or not. Logic is the process of applying our knowledge to propositions to verify their truth. It's important to note that difference. Someone could try to assert that 2+2=5, but that wouldn't change the mathematical absolutes that we have made. 2+2 could equal 5, but only in a different mathematical universe. The laws of logic don't care if you believe them. They don't even exist in the strictest sense - they're just a conceptual description of the way the universe works.
The Law of God is written on our hearts, bearing witness that there is a God. The debates one might engage in with an unbeliever bring out yet another proof of God's existence. They show that, while he may not admit it, even the unbeliever operates on the knowledge of God, regardless how fervently he may suppress this knowledge. The unbeliever uses reason, which does not change, which transcends matter, and which is the same in all places and times. But he betrays his own professed worldview to do so. And so each time an unbeliever invokes logic, he is testifying to the Great God, who does not change, who transcends matter, and who, likewise, is the same in all places and times. 
What is this "Law of God" and how do you know I have it? And how do you know that God does not change? Have you ever met him? Did you know him one million years ago? Can you compare the difference? I suppose the only way you could think you know is by looking at the bible. Even assuming that it is the perfect word that he himself gave, you have to admit that he has changed. In the OT he was a strict god focusing more on obedience of rules rather than forgiveness. He constantly punished people, often in violent and painful ways, because of their perceived lack of morality or devotion to his commands. In the NT, he's portrayed as a much more loving fellow, extending his hand of love, mercy, and grace to all who would but believe (because it's apparently now through faith and not works as it was thousands of years ago). He changed his mind about penalties for breaking commandments and apparently threw out whole portions of the Law. So yeah, that's change. But even then, that's assuming that the bible explains Yahweh exactly as he is and without error - something I find completely unbelievable.

It makes sense to you that logic proves God, because everything to you proves God. From water to animals to humans to stars to happiness to science - everything is a testament to God's existence. It's tough to debate someone like this because there's nothing that would be an example of God's nonexistence. There's nothing that I could show you that would be evidence against God because of the way you view things. You can't accept that some things are what they are because they're just the way things work. In all of your words, you've failed to show that logic requires a god except for "you can't explain it without him!" But I can. As I have explained multiple times, logic is just applying reality to propositions of truth. If a proposition doesn't align with reality, we toss it out. If it does, we consider it and weigh it with what we know and believe to be true.

I could probably go on for some time, but suffice to say that this is one of the weakest arguments I've ever heard and I hope nobody falls for this sophomoric attempt to once again project a god onto something that needs no projection.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Peanut Butter, The Atheist's Nightmare!

Sometimes I prefer unintended comedy over purposeful comedy. It's not that I don't appreciate the work that goes into a good stand-up routine or the cleverly crafted storyline and wordplay that made Arrested Development one of the best sitcoms of all time. It's just that sometimes you see and hear people make claims or do things that seem so stupid, they defy explanation. Sometimes these things are done out of stupidity or ignorance, but they're almost always done with a straight face and a serious attitude and that's what makes the downfall so funny. A great example of this is Peanut Butter, The Atheist's Nightmare, which I will embed below.

In case 2 minutes and 6 seconds is too much time out of your day, I'll quote the relevant portion here.
Life from non life, apart from God's direct intervention, is a fairy tale. ... If the theory of evolution was viable, then I should, occasionally, by subjecting this [the jar of peanut butter] to energy, end up having new life. ... On some occasion, I should find new life inside. And so, when we open the jar of peanut butter, we look in there, there's no new life. You may smile at this, but hopefully you'll never forget it. ... The entire food industry (of the world) depends on the fact that evolution does not happen.
Chuck Missler, you are correct; I will never forget this monumental failure of a rebuttal to a theory you clearly don't understand. Evolution, at its simplest, is the change in gene frequency over time. It has nothing to do with life coming from non life, and even if it did, your shoddy demonstration proved nothing but your ignorance.

Abiogenesis is the field of study that deals with life from non-life, but that isn't what you're attacking. You're attempting to disprove the entire theory of common descent with modifications and natural selection, which is completely irrelevant to the discussion of abiogenesis. Evolution deals with life when it already exists. It doesn't matter how it got here - a god created it, it spontaneously arose, chemical reactions caused it to happen - because the theory of evolution only deals with existing organisms. You are, in effect, setting up an egregious straw man when you show the ant in the peanut butter because that is apparently how you understand evolution. Completely uninformed.

I strongly suggest you do some research on the field, but the basics of abiogenesis are that you have an aqueous solution filled with certain chemicals that react according to the same physics that we have today.  When subjected to energy, compounds do tend to form (a basic tenet of chemistry) and some chemicals are able to replicate. These chemicals are not, however, ants, or even cells. You couldn't really even call them life. But as they continue to duplicate and change ever so slightly, they grow in complexity until eventually, after a very long period of time, you have some very very simple organism that you can classify as life. And it's a judgment call on our part when it can be classified as "life," because after all, we define what that means.

Nonetheless, we wouldn't expect to see these kinds of chemicals necessary for life in abundance inside a packaged food product. We certainly wouldn't expect to see any kind of "new" life inside even if it had just come into being, because it would be too small. It would be on the chemical level. You wouldn't know it was there if you were staring at it.

But again, none of that matters, because it is all utterly irrelevant to the theory of evolution. The evidence for common descent (which you are really arguing against) comes by the truckloads every day and you haven't disproved a whit of it by your disappointment of not seeing an insect on your sandwich. When debating with someone, try to make sure you are using the appropriate counter-arguments to their claims, and more importantly, know first what their claims are. If I told you that Manny Ramirez broke the world record for stolen bases and your reply was, "But he had the most strikeouts of his career this year! He's a terrible player!" That would be nice I'm sure, but completely irrelevant. This kind of reasoning is, in effect, what you have displayed here.

If anyone reading this would like a concise, layman's explanation of abiogenesis with narration and pretty pictures, I recommend The Origin of Life Made Easy - a 6 minute video well worth your time.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Proving God Exists: Foundations

Eric Hovind is a man who really has no idea what he is talking about (much like his father). His inherited website, Creation Science Evangelism, is a website dedicated to -what else? - creationism. He's got a series going called "How Do You Prove God Exists?" where he interviews a man named Sye TenBruggencate, from whom comes the website I blogged about not too long ago. It's only a 4-part series, so I thought it'd be relevant to go through these so-called "proofs" and see if they really hold up or if they're just creationist propaganda. So, without further ado, here's my response to "How Do You Prove God Exists? Foundations":

 When arguing for the existence of God, the unbeliever often demands that the discussion not include anything from Scripture. After all, if we are to prove the existence of God, we can't use the Bible..., because we must meet the unbeliever on neutral grounds. But this is a trap! When we drop our weapon and discuss anything with an unbeliever on only rational grounds, using only logic or science, the unbeliever does not join us on these "neutral" grounds. And don't think these grounds are neutral. To the contrary, he is the only one left with a weapon! He uses his rationalization. This is the foundation (or weapon) for the unbeliever's worldview—logic and rationalizing.
I agree that our starting point should be logic and rational thinking (not rationalizing, which is usually trying to justify preconceived notions... like a god). However, the bible does not fall under the category of presupposed truths and it should not. What if, for example, you are a Christian trying to dialogue with a Muslim. You have your Bible and he has his Qu'ran. Are you supposed to both quote scriptures back and forth until one of you gives in and converts? No, that doesn't work, and I think we all realize it. For the same reason here, you can't use your bible in the discussion of the existence of god because I don't think the bible is necessarily true on all points, especially not when it comes to its position on a god.

Christians build their worldview on the foundation of the Bible. God's Holy Word is the only sure truth we can build our house upon. All other ground is shifting sand. With that said, the unbeliever's worldview is built upon something as well: the ability to reason or invoke logic. As the Christian builds his worldview on the foundational assumption (faith) that God's Word is true and complete, the unbeliever, using the logic of empiricism, will often build his entire worldview on the assumption (faith) that all things must be observed to be true. However, while he is correct to point out that we are presupposing (assuming) God's Word is true, he is also presupposing that his logic is correct! We both start with our own fundamental assumptions. After all, how does he absolutely know that seeing is believing (empiricism)? What if his sight deceives him? How can he trust his logic to be sound? What if all of his senses and his capability to reason are skewed?
I like how here they seem to imply that our two presuppositions are at odds - it's faith vs. logic, people! Of course, I'm not saying that's the case. You, hopefully, would be using both faith and logic, whereas I do not have faith. However, I am not required to buy into your "faith" arguments and as such, we must both start with logic and move up from there. You state that empiricism is the assumption (faith) that all things must be observed to be true. This is a patently false claim. Empiricism is simply a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge arises from the senses. I have never claimed that something must be observed to be true necessarily, but I would have no justification for believing something that has never been observed in some sense.

Eric dips his foot into the cold waters of solipsism here, inquiring as to how I know that my sight doesn't deceive me, that my logic is sound, or if all of my senses and capability to reason are skewed. I would first respond by asking him the same question: how do you know your senses are functioning correctly? Faith in a god is not an acceptable answer. We're both working on the same playing field here. In theory, my senses could be malfunctioning and my sense of sight could be mistaken, but I have no reason to currently think so and I will operate as though everything is functioning correctly. I assume you'll do the same.

If we are to have a rational debate, I cannot allow you to simply assert the validity of the bible, because it carries no weight with me. Certainly, debate on that topic is up for grabs, but this idea that we're at least on "equal ground" with our two worldviews is false. Mine is based on observable, repeatable phenomena that can be verified by my peers. Yours is based on a book written thousands of years ago by men that understood little to nothing about how the world works. I think I have the stronger ground, but we can't start arguing "science vs. the bible" if we haven't yet settled on where the bible stands with respect to science. All clear? Ok.

Of course, the laws of logic are sound. After all, they are only consistent with God and His Word. But the unbeliever doesn't necessarily believe in God and His Word, and so it turns out that he has to borrow from our foundation to argue anything. So here's my point: if the unbeliever can keep his foundational presuppositions..., then why can't we? The unbeliever may ask you to be neutral, but don't be deceived—he's not being neutral, and you shouldn't be, either. God is the beginning of all things, and we must invoke the logic He gave us as well as the Word He gave us when discussing anything—be it science, doctrine, or even the existence of God. He is the Alpha and Omega. With all respect, He is the best six-gun a cowboy could need. Don't throw away your weapon, Christian. Don't surrender your foundation. 
Wait now... what do you mean by "the laws of logic are...only consistent with God and his Word?" How do you justify that statement? At what point, exactly, do I "borrow" from your foundation to argue? These assertions require more than  simply being stated to be taken seriously and you've put forth absolutely no effort in justifying them. I have to completely ignore that you ever said that to continue to respect your understanding of logic. You can keep your presuppositions, if you wish, but you cannot use them during a debate. You are not allowed to say things like "God exists because it says in the bible that only the fool thinks He doesn't exist." Those statements, like I've said before, presuppose the accuracy of the bible and basically fall under the circular reasoning category.

When I mention God or Creationism on this blog, I expect people to disagree with my views. What we can't do is have a discussion that begins with you quoting scripture at me or telling me what God thinks (because obviously you speak on his behalf). If we are going to have a debate over existence, science, or the bible, that's fine, but you will have to prove your point without using the bible because I don't care what it says. How the world works (evolution or otherwise) is a fine topic, but the bible has no authority in that area and if you want to make a claim about it, observe the world itself. Don't go running to a book that was written by ignorant sheepherders. If you want to talk about the bible with me, you can't assume it's already true. You have to show why I should believe it to be true. I, likewise, will show why I don't think it's true because of its inherent contradictions with itself, science, history, or what-have-you.

Does that make sense? Make your claim and support it with objectively true facts - the more the better. After all, if the bible is true and Yahweh is real, you should have plenty of facts on your side, right?