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Uprooting a Belief

October 16, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve just finished writing my presentation for the CFI (Center for Inquiry) that I’m going to give on Friday on conspiracy theories. I close with advise on what a person can do to prevent themselves from turning into a conspiracy theorist: think logically, apply Occam’s razor, and generalize the theory to the world at large. It’s not a full proof system, but it’s at least a start. I do not go into how to uproot the theories in other people, that’s a much more difficult process considering the number of psychological guards that every person has against finding out something they believe is wrong.

First, our brain regularly shuts out this kind of proof. Especially when we attach our beliefs to our individual sense of identity. With these kinds beliefs it’s not merely something that we believe it is something that we are. The deeper a person is in conspiracy thinking the more that it is a defining aspect of their personality. In order to take a person out of it, you would have to convince them not that their idea was wrong but that their personality was wrong. This is, I think, obviously going to be difficult.

What’s the solution then? Is it merely hopeless?

No, it just has to be understood that tossing counter-evidence at a person isn’t going to work. In a perfect world, it should. I believe the Earth is flat, someone shows me a globe, and then I drop the belief entirely. However, that’s not the usual exchange. The person doesn’t believe in flat earth, they are a flat earther. While the change in language is very slight, it is an important change. Everything that props up the flat earth theory also props up their idea of who they are.

The same can be applied to religious thinking as well. Let’s take Mormonism. A person doesn’t believe the book of Mormon or the related teachings. They are Mormon and everything else is part of that. You can toss a number of things at the individual, the life of Joseph Smith (the conman), the absurdity of the story of the origin of the book, the book itself being full of contradictions and anachronistic impossibilities, the belief system with its absurdities, etc. None of this will matter to a person who isn’t already doubting, they will merely double down on their belief system and then probably pray for your soul while secretly planning on baptizing you after death.

The strategy against the true believer is to get them to arrive at their own conclusion by asking subtle and directed questions that will lead them to such doubt. If you know a woman that is a Mormon and into women’s rights, it might work to ask about the passages in the book of Mormon that discuss women. Or point out the famous 2 Timothy passage in the Bible that says a woman shall have no authority over a man and shall suffer in silence. That may lead them to the position that, yes, perhaps my identity is wrapped up in a system that will always judge me to be inferior.

It’s a difficult process to understand but the truth is always more difficult to understand than a comforting lie. I see this problem with the newly deconverted, they just discovered Hitchens and think that a long sustained barrage of facts is going to deconvert everyone around them. The problem here is that it’s new to that person, they realize, ‘holy shit the bible is full of self-contradictory passages that totally make the entire thing pointless. I need to share it.’

What they forget is the long mental process where they arrived at a place that they could begin to question their holy text in the first place.  Perhaps it was a contradiction that first made that individual realize there were problems with their beliefs, but something else preceded it. It might have been as inane as just being bored, or perhaps really paying attention to the lyrics of a song, but it’s a process by which I have yet to find a shortcut through.

A 9/11 truther who likes to scream the mantra “jet fuel doesn’t burn that hot” doesn’t want to be told the science about why it doesn’t have to burn that hot. Short answer: steel loses structural integrity about half way to its melting point, which along with uneven heating of the I-beams caused them to warp and buckle. They want to scream, “I know a secret thing that I figured out and the rest of the people have not.” Conspiracists believe they are special in that they believe the conspiracy.

It might even be more difficult with them because more often than not they chose to be conspiracy theorists. Unlike a religious person who was born into a religion based on location and family, the conspiracist had to find their information on their own. They had to look at historical event or fact of the world, and then find the alternative explanation/fact, then assent to it. They have the mental feeling of accomplishment backing up their belief. I would liken it to those who believe they were “born again.”

Though, most conspiracy theories don’t traffic in immortal souls. So there’s the problem of infinity to tackle with here. That would mean the effective strategy would be to instill a doubt in eternal punishment, then hope that leads to the further questioning of the rest of the edifice of belief.

The similarities between the two are rather compelling. They are both non-scientific, non-fact, worldviews based on belief and a rejection of experts. They are both incredibly hard to remove from the individual. Both groups are quite vocal when criticized and more aggressive in social media. And they’ll both ridicule the other except when it overlaps. In each case it takes patience and subtlety to deal with them.

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By A Preponderance of the Evidence V

October 2, 2017 Leave a comment

I should note that I found this book in the basement of the house that I live in. It was my wife’s grandfather’s house and he’s quite the religious individual. Also, he did something in the sciences, so among this book are a variety of measuring equipment and devices that I have no idea what they are. It does give me a clue into the nature of the person though, at some point for at least part of his personality–evidence mattered. I bring it up not because he’s religious but because this fucking book, which he owned has yet to provide a single piece of evidence.

The rest of the second chapter is a familiar monologue. Americans, he concentrates on American society, have turned secular and thus the world has been going downhill ever since prayer was outlawed in schools. He namedrops 9/11 and Columbine as examples of what happens when moral relativism becomes the dominant cultural creed, then talks about cultures of violence and how teen pregnancy is rampant. The problem that he has, something I address in my class, is that none of this is true. Crime has been steadily decreasing since the 90s, teen pregnancy–among millennials is at the lowest it’s been since the 1950s. In the last decade it’s been cut in half.

This is interesting for a number of reasons: the first is that society has gotten less religious. Every time Pew Research releases their religious landscape survey the number of “nones” (non-religious, not necessarily atheists) climbs a couple of percentage points. If you break the number of those ticking the “Christian box” into individual denominations and sects, “None” is the largest religious group in the United States. Of course, that’s cheating “Christian” is still the largest (almost 75% of the population). Palaszewski’s point is that less religion means more teen pregnancy, that’s just not born out by the facts. The second reason that it’s an interesting phenomenon is that in the states that are the least religious, the teen pregnancy rate is lower than the more religious states. The Southeast, Texas and its surrounding states, are typically the most religious and also have higher rates of teen pregnancy while the “secular northeast” has by far the lowest. One might wish to object and claim that religion isn’t the culprit here rather access to sex education and contraceptives in the North. I would wholeheartedly agree, and then I would point out why actual sex education and access to contraceptives is blocked in the more religious states.

This is apparently a historical chapter, but none of it is history. He repeats the off-cited fallacy that because the United States was founded by Christians it is enshrined as a Christian country. He even cites historical hack David Barton as part of his argument. Barton is the person you can bring up if you want to make your history professor angry. Barton is such a poor historical writer/researcher (calling him a liar would be libel) that even Christian Publishing Houses refused to stand by his work. He’s manufactured quotes from founding fathers including one by Jefferson who, according to him, maintained that the wall of separation was one way. It prevented government from running the church but not the church from running the government. It’s pure anti-history for a man who edited the New Testament from all supernatural happenings. We have the writings of the founders of this nation, you can just quote from them and not from Parson Weems.

The whole problem is that none of these assertions make any sense. If people like Franklin, Adams, Washington, and Jefferson wanted to make this country a Christian republic they could have done so. What was stopping them? There was no organized Atheism, the best you get is Deism (which is what those men were), and I’m sure there would have been wider support for a religious republic back in the late 18th century than you would have now. Instead, we got the Treaty of Tripoli and its assertion that the United States was not founded, in any way, on the Christian religion–a treaty that was unanimously ratified by the Senate. It’s important to remember that there was a real concern that Washington would have made himself President for life, it’s not unreasonable to think that if he wanted an official religion for the United States he would have made mention of it somewhere.

The entire chapter closes with a quote from a Dr. William Craig. Here’s the thing: he doesn’t cite Craig. He cites a book from an author Ravi Zacharias as the source. A quick question to Cortana and I get a couple of different William Craigs who are also doctors and one of them jumps out at me. William Lane Craig, known to atheists as one of their chief academic apologists. Craig has a PhD in Philosophy for his work on the Cosmological Argument for what he developed as the “Kalam Cosmological Argument” which is adapted from Islamic Theology in the 9th century. I’ve done a substantial amount of research into Cosmological Arguments and Arguments from Design; and I find them utterly uncompelling. This may not be exactly a surprise, given my obvious atheism. The problem with every Cosmological argument is that falls victim to its first premise: that whatever exists has a cause. This means that even the deity that they are going to shove into the conclusion must also have a cause. Craig has adjusted the first premise to include the word “begins” so that it reads “whatever begins to exist must have a cause” then he can make a claim that an eternal creator would not fit in with this requirement. However, and from a purely philosophical standpoint, that’s hand-waving away the problem. You’d have to establish first-off that such a being would be eternal and uncreated, you can’t do that with a principle of necessary conditions because if that were the case what’s stopping a person from claiming that it’s “turtles all the way down” as an infinite regression would fit the bill as well. He also claims that it must be a personal creator, which I’m at a loss to understand why this must be the case. There’s nothing stopping the universe, even in his argument, from being created by an impersonal creative force, i.e. the creative being of the Deists.

I don’t want to spend too much time on that, because I’m not entirely sure if this is the Craig that he was speaking of. The correct reference would have been “Craig, William,” c.f. Zacharias Ravi, so that we could find out. Thus ends the second chapter, and I’m still waiting for the objective, rational, historical, and scientific evidence that I was promised.

The September 23rd ridiculousness

September 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Did you know that the world was going to end on Friday the 23rd of September? It isn’t, but there enough people that think it will that garnered an article on Fox News “Science” page. My first question is: how many apocalypses have I lived through? Is it five, it feels like five. It’s been at least two in the last three years, and then there was the 2012 bullshit. I definitely remember one having to deal with a red heifer. It’s hard to keep track of all these things. This is only counting the ones that made the news. I’m sure the world is supposed to end every day according to someone.

The prophecy is the usual mess of cherry picking quotes from whatever text fits. In this case it’s Luke 21:25-26 and Revelation 21:1-2. The latter reads: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”

The break down of this is: John, the author of the Revelation, was clearly in the midst of a fever dream. Setting that aside, the interpretation has to with numerology and astrology. The backbone of every bronze age religion that is still kicking. The passage is cited because on September 23rd, the astrological sign Venus, will contain the sun, moon, as well as the planet Jupiter. Get it? The sun will be in the constellation (though not really because the sun would have to be a lot further away in order to be “in” the constellation) metaphorically “clothing” it. The constellation will be over the moon’s position, so there’s that. Also three planets and nine stars will be above it. Except that literally billions of stars are going to be both above and below the constellation. This interpretation just concentrates on the nine stars so there you go, really that’s all I could get out of the Revelation passages. Our first question is how did we arrive at the date?

Well remember the Eclipse? That was on August 21st, and September 23rd is 33 days from that. Jesus lived on Earth for 33 years, simple addition and boom! Apocalypse. Yes, like the ancient world that thought an eclipse was a portent of doom, we’ve apparently not advanced passed this superstition in the last couple millenia. Also the whole thing also revolves around the mysterious Earth shattering planetoid/planet/meteor Nibiru–which doesn’t exist, but if non-existence were a barrier to belief I wouldn’t need to write this blog.

This leaves us with the aforementioned Luke passages 21:25-26 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 26: Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.'”

How did we arrive here. Again refer back to the Eclipse on the 21st, the Hurricane hit Texas on the 25th and then the flooding on the 26th. Yeah, that’s it. Here we can see the obvious cherry picking because there’s nothing to indicate why it would be Luke and not any of the other three gospel writers…or perhaps any other book in the Bible, in Exodus we just miss the “eye for an eye” speech. Perhaps that’s why it gets tossed out.

This is obvious bullshit, but it shows the arbitrariness of numerology. Just pick one day, something significant, and then find everything that fits the pre-ordained conclusion. What’s more interesting is this article, in which the author tries to explain how “No True Christian” would believe this. The first thing he does is argue that there is no such thing as a Christian Numerologist, and then deftly explains why these bible code prophecies are prima facie false. On the latter part I agree, but on the former: afraid not buddy.

I was raised Catholic, which is one of the more scientifically literate versions of Christianity, and I was taught the numbers thing. I was taught that the numbers 3, 7, 8, 12, 40, and 1,000 were significant which is why the bible uses those numbers so often. Revelations uses 3 a significant number of times. This makes sense given the time it was written and the impact of Pythagorean philosophy on Greek culture. The “thousand” is an interesting concept because, again in ancient Greek, there are no numbers above a thousand. Anything beyond that was considered “innumerable” such as the number of atoms in the universe. This sometimes gets confused with “infinite” and I take umbrage with some of those interpretations (looking at you Aristotle).

Claiming that there are no Christian numerologists is a claim you can only make if you’re falling into the “Scotsman” fallacy and make the terms “Numerologist” and “Christian” mutually exclusive. As I just said in the previous example, and setting my religious education aside–you can’t make this claim. You can minimize the impact of numerology by saying it’s an old superstition, but that leads to a dark road where you have to begin admitting that prophecies based on numbers (the entire book of Revelation) are irrelevant. Though, to be fair, this too can be dismissed reasonably but that leads to the splitting of hairs so that only a certain type of belief is permissible. Which then gets us back into the differences of sects and what it means to be an actual Christian. We probably don’t want that…again.

*I neglected to link the actual prophecy page on purpose. It will become irrelevant in a few days anyway.

Defending a Religion

September 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Again, I have to point out that Noah Ludgeons on this week’s Scathing Atheist put it much better than I could, when discussing the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar of the Rohingya Muslim minority. A group of people that are denied citizenship on the basis of them being the members of the wrong religion. That is to say, the victims are Muslim and the perpetrators are Buddhists. A couple of years ago, I related a story about a group of Buddhists who burned down a Muslim orphanage, this was back in 2013–also in Myanmar, and the problem has only continued.

The point being made in the diatribe was that because Buddhism is a religion, it’s just as bad as any other religion. The only reason we don’t hear about it is because they aren’t a majority religion in a majority of countries. Buddhism gets a good rap because the Dalai Lama seems like a decent person (then again so does Pope Francis), and we’re apparently still dealing with the leftover waves the Asian fascination that this country went through in the 70s. Again, though it’s a religion and every religion, once it gets the majority begins a campaign to slowly get rid of those pesky other modes of thought. We need look no further than the Mormon story. Oppressed, outlawed, and in some cases it was perfectly legal to hunt them: once they settled in Utah they began their own purity programs. Puritans driven out of England for their beliefs ended up driving their own dissenters out in the Colonies. Perhaps the Rohingya Muslims would be doing the same if they were in power, but we don’t need hypotheticals to wonder what Muslim majority countries do to apostates, heretics, and even those that believe in the wrong kind of Islam.

Among the theme of his diatribe though was a secondary point that he dwelled on but that I want to tackle a little more in depth: Why do atheists defend Buddhism?

I’ve known a few legitimate Buddhists. I say legitimate to differentiate from those people that have an unread copy of some pop-philosophy Buddhist book on their shelf which they are “totally going to get to someday.” The problem that I’ve had is that for some reason there is an assumption that Buddhists and Atheists are on the same side. A claim, which I absolutely do not understand. I’m an Atheist, I don’t accept unproven claims, and Buddhism is full of them. Sure, they have that whole non-violence thing going on, but so do most religions…and I’m not a pacifist. They still ask for money for the sole sake of existing, they have numerous supernatural claims, and most importantly: as is the case in every religion, they regard existence on this planet as a bad thing. They don’t have gods…except that they do, it’s just the gods aren’t like the other religions in that the deities aren’t at the top of the food chain, but they’re still gods.

I suppose one of the reasons is that Buddhism holds no power in this country and thus is shielded from the bad press in a way that the Christian theocratic evangelicals earn. They haven’t committed terrorism here so they don’t get the PR that Islam gets. As far as I know they have never been the target of conspiracy theories like those of the Jewish religion. Perhaps all of that is why the Buddhists think the Atheists are on the same side.

Atheists on the other hand have an annoying tendency to defend this religion and that’s the most infuriating point. They’ll talk about how the Buddha preaches love and how most Buddhists are peaceful regular people but the same can be said of literally all religions. Most religious people are not the Pat Robertsons of the world who think homosexuality causes hurricanes, yet we Atheists will paint Christianity with that brush but excuse Buddhism when it does nearly the same thing. Islam is more prominent for it’s treatment of women but Buddhism has the exact same problem with women. When I bring this up to other atheists I get push back, and sometimes not polite pushback either.

Sure, Buddhism, in many respects is not as bad as other religions. There’s not been any Buddhist Crusades, as long as we don’t count Mongolia in the 14th century. Even if we agree that putting the religions in a spectrum where one religion is clearly the best, it’s still a list of bad things to worse things. If we assume that Buddhism is the best of the bunch it’s still just the least bad of a bad thing. Why then are atheists defending this religion?

The only religions that do not have a problem with murder, sexism, homophobia, or various methods of thought control are the ones that no one practices anymore. Sure Wicca doesn’t have the history but if they had the control you’d start seeing in fighting amongst the various sects. You can find articles that talk about what a “real Wiccan” does and that’s just the taste because if you gave them the authority they’d make a meal out of it. All religions do this.

Perhaps Buddhism gets the pass it does because it’s so utterly foreign. In the US we have the saturation of the Abrahamic tradition which means that we’re used to it, while Buddhism is something we know from movies where a monk can punch through a door. We know them from the Wu-Tang Clan and are unfamiliar with the drawbacks of the religion and that they are literally like every other religion once it gets into power. A good explanation but once the historical facts are pointed out that gets waved away as being not representative of true Buddhism. Which, sure, but we don’t drop the same allowance on any other religion–as well we shouldn’t, it’s just the no true Scotsman fallacy. In fact, we go nuts when some Christian nut throws a bomb in a planned parenthood clinic and other Christians say, “that’s not a true Christian.”

Buddhism is just as bad as the other ones we shouldn’t be pretending otherwise, and most importantly we shouldn’t get offended when someone points out their problematic history as well. We’re not Buddhists, we’re atheists.

 

 

 

 

 

Is God? “Jesus BY A Preponderance of the Evidence” IV

September 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Is God what? You might be asking. Well me too, but that’s not our author’s point. The entire point is to shorten the question down to two words so that it seems so simple, but then to spend thirty pages trying to explain those two words in such a way that “is god?” seems like a deep and thoughtful question. “Is god?” makes about as much sense as asking “are peaches?” but because we’re dealing with the g-word people just assume there’s more to the story.

Which is something religion gets away with all of the time. Just put the phrase, “well from a theological perspective” in front of any stupid question and people will consider it to be meaningful. A person can justify just about any ridiculous behavior by claiming that the behavior is “part of their religion” and all of the sudden it’s treated with at least the appearance of respect…unless you’re a scientologist, everyone’s pretty on board with ridiculing them. Don’t want to speak to your wife for a week? Just say it’s part of the religion. Now, it’s somehow less bad.

What I realized during this month’s preparation work is that this is going to be awhile. The book itself is around 150 pages. I’m skipping the anecdotes, so I’ve got about 130 pages to read. We’ve already arrived at page 23, meaning we’re 1/6th of the way through on post 4. The problem though is that today’s post covers ONE page. That’s not a good sign, but there’s so much here that I can’t just move on.

The chapter begins discussing how “Is God?” is the most important question in our lives. I wonder if the author was tired of writing “does god exist?” and just shortened it out, because that’s the meaning of his two word question. Let’s ignore a continuing diatribe on how dumb this is, and get to the meaning of the assertion. Is it the most important question? There are two answers to my question. The first is “yes” if the answer to the question is “yes.” If we can prove god is real, then that necessitates that it becomes the most important question. This would then be followed by other questions such as “Is god Christian?” “Is god Muslim?” Hindu? etc. Then we would have to parse out the sects, schisms, and heresies; i.e. the history of the world up until recently. If the answer is “not yes” because nothing has been proven, we can just move on with our lives and get to more important things. Of course, for some people, who believe the answer is “yes” it’s important despite that it’s not an objectively proven thing.

Of course, there are three answers to the question he actually intends on asking which he addresses, “Agnosticism is as much an answer as atheism or a profound faith in a Creator Law-Giver God.”

I love the bias of that statement. You’re either in the “don’t-know camp” the “don’t believe camp” or the “totally awesome deep admission of the one true divine power for whom you have a deep and meaningful relationship with camp.” At this point, we get that the author believes in, not only god, but Christian God and Christian Jesus, yet the point of this book is to show the objective evidence for such a belief. As I said earlier, we’re 1/6th of the way through and we’ve only gotten a list of what constitutes that proof and not the proof itself. So we’re still waiting on the proof. To be fair, he’s right: those are the only possible answers to the question. Win for him I guess.

According to him the answer to the question is important because “Where we believe that rights and obligations are defined by man, or are ‘naturally endowed by our creator,’ critically affects the workings of any civilization.” My general problem with this kind of assertion is that it’s often a false dichotomy. On the one hand, yes a society will be influenced by its morals. That much is certainly true. On the other hand, if those rights are naturally endowed then we ought not need a religious authority figure to explain them to us. Since, as he’s claiming, they are natural they would not need to be taught. Yet, we do need to be taught them, so they cannot be naturally endowed.

This reminds me of Adam Smith, who wrote “Wealth of Nations” as an ethics book wherein the basic thesis is that everyone acting in their own self-interest will naturally produce the best kind of society. I’m being way too short with it, but his point is that we will make laws and morals that protect ourselves but will be generalizable to the rest of society treating everyone the same. We don’t need a creator to instill morals and rules, we all want laws protecting us against murder because we don’t want to be murdered. The real problem for our author is that when religious laws invoking creator gods are established we often have more killing in the name of society than we do otherwise. Saudi Arabia is one of the most religious countries on Earth, and they have the death penalty for a great many things in the name of “the Creator.” We also have lists of laws in the religious texts that have nothing to do with morality but somehow the deity thinks that they are super-important. Prohibitions on tattoos, what to eat, wear, who we can speak to, etc. About five of the ten commandments, these are not laws about morality but religious tribalism laws. Thanks, I’ll pass.

Finally, he ends with claiming that our answer to the above question is given in a cultural context which then becomes the cultural idiom. Yes, agree completely…maybe not with the idiom part. One of my favorite podcasts is “God Awful Movies” where the three hosts watch and then ridicule what are known as “Christian Movies” (and some other religious movies). A recurring problem with these movies is when they tip their hand too much and reveal the sham of their belief. When the anti-Christ character in the Apocalypse movie turns out to want world peace and to feed the hungry, that’s tipping the hand, because he’s the villain the good guys are going to stop. Here our author has tipped it as well. He’s admitted that there is no proof and that his belief is cultural. I’ve said it before: the only thing stopping an evangelical pastor Kentucky from being an Imam in Riyadh is the geography of their birth. They both want the same thing, almost eerily so, but they dislike each other because they don’t worship the same book. Born in the US means you are statistically a Christian, whether you keep that or not is one thing, but that’s the cultural importance.

Hopefully we’ll start getting to some evidence soon. It would be helpful that he actually not pretend to have written a book about evidence and actually had done it.

The Flat Earth

July 10, 2017 Leave a comment

For the last month I’ve been working on a companion blog to the course I teach entitled “Conspiracy Theories, Skepticism, and Critical Thinking.” I’ve set it up over at Blogger, for the particular reasons that when I clicked on the link “set up blog” it sent me there. I imagine it’s somehow easier because it will then be linked on the course dashboard, so it saves the students the trouble of having to tap twice.

This post is not an advertisement for the other blog (although you can click the link above if you are so inclined), it’s a different tone in writing and is designed for students taking the course. I provide sources and citations when it becomes necessary, there’s also a lot more editing done. This blog is more personal and I do not share personal stories with my students. Thus far the posts have been methodology, with a couple of historical conspiracies thrown in. Yesterday though, after finishing the historical-factual conspiracies it was time to delve into one actual conspiracy theory to just give an example of how everything works. That theory, the one I always start with, is the Flat Earth Theory.

Briefly, flat Earth theory is the idea that the earth is flat, and a huge conspiracy exists that covers this up. The weird thing is, and this has been the story of my class, I started covering it as a goof. An example of something no one seriously believed except a few die hards on the internet, but then it started making the news. Rapper BoB got in a fight with Neil Degrasse Tyson (whom I’m supposed to hate because I’m in Philosophy but I don’t, he makes a good point), then a bunch of NBA players jumped on board as well. Now there are billboards claiming “Research Flat Earth” which, is the exact wrong thing they want to recommend.

We’re not here for the conspiracy, we’re here for the atheism. The first question I ask is why anyone would believe this, and the first answer is religious literalism. When I say this: I mean Ken Ham style the bible is literally true, every word, every sentence, no metaphor. Though I don’t know if Ken Ham is a flat earther, but he should be.

The Old Testament of the Bible describes the Earth like it would a modern indoor sport’s stadium. There’s a dome, a foundation, of which the Earth is in-between. References to this include, but are not limited to: Psalm 19:1, Isaiah 45:12, Daniel 4:10-11. There’s other references that explain in more detail the “firmament” where the water is held before the flood, and some others of more ambiguous quality. The New Testament doesn’t escape this either, the famous temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:8) has Satan tempting Jesus by taking him to high place and showing him all the kingdoms of the Earth. This is only possible if the Earth is flat, given the kingdoms in China and the Americas at the time (to name a few that are blocked by the curvature of the Earth). It also refers to the “four corners of the Earth” at 1:7 and 7:1. Part 3 of the Middle Eastern trilogy doesn’t escape either as Surahs 15:19, 18:47, 20:53, for example explain that the Earth has been rolled out like a mat or shaped like a bed.

So what gives here? Was the Earth flat until the end of the Quran where god changed the shape of it like in Tolkien? Or did the writers of these works of religious sanctimony get it wrong? If god wrote the books, or inspired their words, then they ought to be free from such egregious error. This isn’t like the claim in the Old Testament, where bats are listed as unclean birds. I mean, that’s pretty bad, but I suppose to the author a flying creature is a flying creature; this is a fundamental error on the shape of the planet that the creator designed (and then wrote the description of the design).

Apologists will argue that this is metaphor. That of course the Earth does not literally live underneath a firmamental dome and no one really thought so, just as “Homer” didn’t actually believe that that the sky was “vaulted.” The story of the temptation is just a story, and probably metaphorical (Satan give what he doesn’t own anyway). The Quran is just stating that the world is unfurled before the servant of god like one rolls out a carpet. It’s metaphor plain and simple. Right, sure, I agree. Those stories are just stories and certainly not accurate descriptions of the world, nature, or places that probably didn’t exist.

However, that’s not who this post is directed against. It’s directed against those that take the words literally. The people that define the world as being 6000 years old because that’s what the genealogy of the Bible would put it as. The ones which sue to remove Evolution from science classes because it contradicts what it says in Genesis (remember the Quran adopts wholesale the account of creation and most of Genesis and Exodus, I’m not just picking on the Christians, Creationism is also a problem in Muslim countries as well).

They have to adopt the flat earth model as well. They can’t escape what the words actually say and any attempt to do so, as I have done above, would be to renounce the literalism that they feel is such an imperative that they go to court to suppress any opposition. What I would like to understand, is their justification for rejecting the flat earth cosmogony that their books recommend. If their justification is that the flat earth is ridiculous that says a lot about their literalism as well.

 

Jesus By a Preponderance of the Evidence I

July 3, 2017 Leave a comment

This post is the first in a monthly series wherein I’ll go through the claims made by Robert Palaszewski in his book “Jesus By a Preponderance of the Evidence.” The subtitle of the book is “The Objective, Rational, Historical and Scientific Evidence for the Truth of Christianity.” The book is supposed to be an argument that not only was Jesus a historical figure, but also that the religion of Christianity is true. This implies that we’re going to prove the Jesus as Son of God idea as well.

I’ve read the first chapter and the first thing I need to lay out is that I’m skipping the “Journeys” sections. The reason is that they anecdotal, and I suspect made up, stories about people coming to Jesus. They are not proof of anything, if true, they only serve to prove one person’s journey, so there’s little to look at or do with. Personal accounts are not objective, they go against the grain of what the book describes itself as, and I’m not sure what they are doing here.

There is nothing but DNA. We are but a cosmic accident, products of nothing but chance. Therefore, we owe no allegiance outside of ourselves. God is chance. he is accident. He is the great Nothing. God is dead. The very notion of God is dead. We are free to remake ourselves in any image we want. We are free. We are masters of our own souls…”

This, the author claims is the mission statement of the current age [It’s also, itself italicized, but I’ll italicize any block quotes from the book]. And, oh boy, is there a lot to unpack in there. It’s claimed that this kind of statement (there’s more to it as well) is what the high priests of our time, the scientists, tell us. It however is not. I could probably write for the next month on just these three paragraphs but I’ll just have to pick one part. The notion of an “accident” is a popular one among the apologists. It offends the personal identification that we are somehow special amongst all of the other creatures in the Cosmos, but there’s little evidence that this is so–other than wanting it to be the case. It’s pure anthropomorphic justification for our place in the universe and is reminiscent of the more modern cosmological arguments that talk about universal constants and the odds against life that drive whatever authority this argument mysteriously still possesses. The real problem is, that “accident” is a matter of perspective; if you are a believer you can still buy the physics explanation for why we are here. Just ask the Catholic Church, they endorse it but then say that God is the Prime Mover in all of it.

The “God is Dead” thing drives me nuts. Yes, it comes from Nietzsche. Yes, he had syphilis and eventually went crazy (the book it comes from, Thus Spoke Zarathustra is from his middle period when he was about stage 2 of Syphilis). What needs to be kept in mind, is when and who says it. Nietzsche, puts the line into a fool character walking a tight rope. And cherry picking the quote is just stupid, the full line is “God is dead, and these are his tombs.” It’s a comment about how people mourn their religion inside dark places instead of celebrating it like the ancient Greeks/Romans did. Also, for an Atheist, god isn’t dead–he was never alive to begin with.

From that long screed we move on to Pontius Pilate. For some reason I’ve been seeing this a lot lately from the apologist crowd. In John 18:38 Pontius, while interrogating Jesus, asked “What is truth?” and this is somehow meant to be the rallying cry of those denying Jesus. However, and I can’t believe the biblical “scholars” ignore this, is the context of the quote. Never mind that it would be odd for an Atheist to be deriving authority from a line in the bible, but John 18:37 has Jesus telling Pilate that he is speaking the truth and his followers are those of the truth. When Pilate asks, “What is truth?” he’s not using it in the general sense, but referring to the thing that Jesus just said sense. Even if, and I would dispute this, Pilate were using it in a general sense the context of the conversation still revolves around him interrogating someone suspected of a crime. Pilate, and by extension non-Christians (as Pilate was likely not an atheist), are not advocating for epistemic relativism.

Yet that’s the tone filling out the rest of this section, what follows is a long screed about what people like me believe. I always find these entertaining, because apologists could just, I don’t know, ask. The takeaway here is that atheists are cultural and moral relativists. What’s good, is what I determine as good and I have no right to inflict that kind of judgment on anyone else because morality doesn’t derive from a divine source.

This leads into a discussion of all the ways that society is crumbling around us because we no longer Jesus hard enough. Violence and sex in pop-culture, violence in the streets, sexual liberation, etc. The usual accusations thrown at the next generation by the previous despite the facts that the world has actually been getting better. We even go so far as to cite a study which, in his words, “The Journal of the American Psychological Association can argue that pedophilia is not so bad.”

I found this rather shocking so I found the footnote (I hate endnotes) and checked the study. It says no such thing. What the study actually determined was that the stereotype of the damaged victim of sexual abuse was just that, a stereotype. While there was long term damage the general assumption that the victims were “lost causes” was not borne out by the evidence. What seems to have a moderating effect on the outcomes of the victims is the level of support that the victim receives afterward. There is nothing in this paper that claims pedophilia “is not so bad.” Maybe the author should have read the paper instead of repeating what someone told him about the study as it really affirms the need for victim support post abuse.

This however would go against his desire to make sure that everyone reading is offended. I am, but that’s because he didn’t read the study or if he did, he didn’t understand it–whether purposefully or accidentally.

Then we have a long argument against moral relativism. A section I agree with, if not for the shoddy examples and poor construction of the argument. One of his arguments that we atheists apparently make, is that “there is nothing to sin against” so therefore everything is permitted. Yes and no, there is no sin, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t immoral actions. Shooting children in a daycare is wrong and immoral, but not a “sin.” His tactic here is to parse out the words in an extremely pedantic manner. For him all immoral actions are “sins” so if you don’t believe in “sin” you can’t judge something to be immoral. That, however is not a working tautology because I don’t use the one word. In general I’m against moral relativism, and to be fair he gives an interesting analogy with various religions, they can’t all be right.

Religion is a zero sum game. Of the many competing religions only one, if you believe in them, could be considered true. Allah and Jesus both can’t hold their self-proclaimed monopoly on the truth, at least one of them have to be wrong. It’s a good point, but he can’t dwell on it because it leads down a road of doubt. What if his interpretation of Jesus is wrong? Or what if Jesus is the wrong religion? Since he’s offered no evidence of anything yet, making this claim is spurious at this point. No worries, because he jingles the keys of cultural relativism once again and the lack of an authority by which we derive our morality. We’re 16 pages in, and there’s yet to be one objective rational or historical piece of evidence offered. Perhaps the rest of chapter one will begin presenting it.