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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Interview

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

A little break from the atheism to talk about the insanity of Alex Jones and the Megyn Kelly interview from last night.

Which I didn’t watch.

I didn’t watch it because I already know what’s about to happen, and he’s quite unbearable if you’re familiar with his shtick. I’m old enough to remember Pauly Shore, and it took halfway through the second movie before I thought, “Alright enough, it’s not funny anymore.” Jones is like that…minus anything that could pass for intentional comedy.

I didn’t boycott the interview, nor did I sign a petition, email an ad buyer, or put a long winded diatribe on facebook/twitter in which I chastised NBC or Kelly for airing the interview. In fact, this is what I wrote when I learned of the interview, “Alex Jones is an opportunistic piece of shit, but he tends to self-destruct when interviewed. Yes, he’s a Sandy Hook denier, but he’s also a total nutter. The interview might just expose him for being that.”

The boycott that erupted in response to the interview was an understandable one. Though I was mystified by it’s sole focus: the Sandy Hook denial. It’s horrible, it’s absurd, but it’s nothing more than he does on a daily basis. It’s also not the only thing he denies happened. I have a joke in my skepticism classes that every single time a shooting occurs it takes 24 hours, at the most, before Jones will either deny it happened or call it a false flag. I’m rarely wrong with that prediction (the baseball shooting was a remarkable exception).

We should be clear about what he’s saying with the Sandy Hook massacre. He’s not saying that the lone gunman didn’t do it, and that it was a coordinated attack by the deep state, or whoever his boogey man was at the time. He was saying that it didn’t happen. Everything from the dead bodies, the grieving parents, and the school was staged. I’ve looked into this theory, it is part of my job, and it’s just bad. I don’t buy into any conspiracy theory, maybe the Taylor Swift/Katy Perry feud is just marketing, maybe Ali’s first championship fight was a thrown fight (not on his behalf though, the theory is that his opponent was heavily in debt), maybe Michael Jordan’s foray into baseball was a secret suspension due to his gambling problems, but those are all theories that require few people and a low amount of moving parts to accomplish.

The 9/11 Conspiracy theory, in it’s absolute vastness, did raise some questions that I had to look up. I never once doubted the actual story, but there were some weird anomalies (which is all that theory relies on: anomaly hunting) that made the conspiracists somewhat reasonable, i.e. jet fuel and I-beams; but all of that is easily explainable.  I say reasonable because it’s a theory based on incomplete information filled in by a hack screenwriter and a rather decently produced “documentary” that was started as a teaser for an X-Files type movie.

The Sandy Hook theory was pure fiction. It wasn’t based on incomplete information, it was based on a fetish-like need to protect guns. There is very little anomaly hunting (home value listings were dropped to zero shortly after the shooting but then were fixed by the new year) and the “if you squint and want to believe it” idea that there existed crisis actors. Jones was the lead propagator of this theory. Even going on CNN at the time to claim conspiracy, though not going far enough on air to spout the “it didn’t happen” theory.

Any major event, again minus the baseball shooting, he’s on the radio in between hocking bullshit “nutritional” supplements and gold, claiming that it was a plot by the government. I get why the boycott groups focus on this theory of his: it was horrific even by mass shooting standards, the parents of the deceased children received hate mail and death threats. Yet everything from the Pulse Night Club shooting to the Boston Marathon bombing was fair game as well.

I have no issue with the boycott. Don’t want to watch it, don’t. Don’t frequent companies that sponsor the show, even write asking them to stop sponsorship. Those are fine.

However, that’s also the rub. The people, like me, who are familiar with him don’t want to watch him, but there’s a lot of people that aren’t and I have to agree with Bill Maher with people like this: they die in sunlight, with one important difference. The difference between someone like Jones and Yiannopolis is that Yiannopolis is a professional troll. His whole thing is pissing people off by being such a flagrant asshole (I mean pearls? C’mon, this isn’t the 1930s) giving him light doesn’t matter. Jones on the other hand, is regarded by a certain aspect of conservatism as a fringe guy that some people believe. Yet no one looks too hard at him.

Giving him this type of interview exposes his belief. William F. Buckley Jr. threw the John Birch society out of the GOP in 1962 for their outrageous claims regarding water fluoridation, and that then president Eisenhower was a Soviet sympathizer (or at worst, a Soviet Agent). While the Birch society has started as just a conservative group it quickly, under the operation of its founder Robert Welch, turned into the kind of nuttery that we see in Alex Jones today. This is important because the president has not only appeared on Jones’ Infowars, but endorsed his views, and given them press access.

This is a guy who talks about “life extension technology” and began screaming about “inhuman intelligence” on his show. He’s probably the biggest driving force behind the pizzagate attack and I doubt many people were aware of who he is or what kind of things he says. They probably regarded him only as another right wing pundit who is a little more extreme than the rest of them. Now however, he can’t be merely regarded as that, but instead as the insanity spouting conspiracy nut that he is. Hopefully this will encourage more people to denounce his views, maybe even the president.

 

 

Better to be an Atheist?

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

I suppose it’s what I deserve for skipping a week. Last Monday I had a mini-conference on fake news at the University where I teach. It was rather informative though I think they could have spent more time concentrating on the purpose of fake news rather than just some techniques on how to teach students to avoid it. After that, I had a doctor’s appointment (everything is fine), and by the time I returned home I was too exhausted to write my entry. The thing about habits, with me anyway, is that if I miss the day I normally do something then it’s pretty likely that I won’t get to it. Still though, I persisted, and went to work searching subjects.

Then the Pope made the news. This is usually what I call a ‘freebie.’ I’ll spend only a paragraph so as to not bore long time readers familiar with my perspective on him. Pope Francis has this annoying habit of doing one thing right and then within a few days negating the net gain with a wrong thing. For instance in the same week news broke that he endorsed both the theory of evolution and the big bang (the latter if we remember, first theorized by a Catholic priest), he then authorized the ordination of a whole bunch of new exorcists (science/reality +1, -1). One step forward, one back.

Last week he said that (paraphrasing) it would be better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Christian. I agree, and I spent three weeks on this blog posting about Christian hypocrisy towards refugees. I claimed, by quoting their book, that Christians have a command by god to welcome refugees and help those in need. Further that they can’t say they are against homosexuality because of their book and simultaneously be against immigration because that’s abject hypocrisy. Cherry picking your moral commands isn’t morality. Not only did I say that but the three leading Christian denominations in the US agreed (Catholic church included).

Pope Francis was referring to those types of people who dutifully go to church, join advocacy groups, donate their money and time to the church, but then ignore the needs of the poor, immigrants, and other causes the church believes Jesus would have advocated for. It’s in line with what he said a few years ago regarding us non-believers: that as long as we’re decent people we can win too. Now, he’s gotten some kind of shit storm about this from the Trump supporters who think he’s attacking their icon (and they’re probably right about that). It’s the usual sound and fury, from this group of people that attack anyone who criticizes their dear leader. I doubt the Pope is chain smoking in the Vatican wondering what canon law he needs to exercise in order to return things back to the 15th century in order to get revenge.

One might wish to argue that this isn’t a step forward. That it’s just like the atheists can be good people too comment. However that person has to realize that he’s not making the proclamation to us atheists but rather saying that the standard isn’t just belief. Which is a good call because it impresses on the faithful that merely having faith doesn’t make you good. An idea that is so prevalent in this country that atheists are at the bottom of the pile when you ask about trustworthiness among believers. Even in Trump’s America, Muslims are viewed as being more trustworthy simply by virtue that they believe in something.

However that wasn’t enough for a full post. So, knowing history, and having the pattern recognition that has been essential to our survival as a species I waited. Then, with the predictability of Newtonian mechanics it happened: he took a step back. Yesterday the news broke that he was now lessening the punishments for priests convicted of pedophilia. This isn’t a blanket order, it applies to a handful of cases, and he’s doing it as part of an atmosphere of mercy that he wants the church to represent.

The problem here is that there is a certain measure of justice that needs to be put in place if we’re supposed to be trusting these people. Benedict was more stringent, and even Francis’ own words on this matter have been one of “zero tolerance.” However, just as the Medieval church was resistant to the very concept of zero so apparently is Pope Francis. I’m not claiming that he needs to send these people to the square to roast inside an iron bull, but the very least you could do is remove them from your organization as well as those that hide them. Instead of, you know, promoting them to the position of Chief Financial advisor or just telling them that they now have to do a lifetime of penance and prayers.

I was raised Catholic, a lifetime of penance and prayers is kind of the default. They’re priests so a lifetime of penance was going to be more their thing than otherwise. So how is this at all a punishment? Well they can no longer perform public ministry, which is a big deal for them, and they can’t be around children, which isn’t a punishment but rather a safety measure for any future victims. Five years of psychological counseling? I’m sure that’s the minimum, and this one I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, yes absolutely, since we aren’t sure what is causing this and why the percentage rate among Catholic priests doesn’t track with incident rate among the general population. Getting to the bottom of what the causal mechanism is should be a priority. However, not doing this from the inside of a prison but rather the full protection of the Vatican seems to be, again, on the outside of the concept of justice. I get the mercy thing, but there needs to be justice for the victims.

You almost made it a week buddy.

 

Rigged Election

October 19, 2016 1 comment

From time to time I stray away from thoughts on religion and indulge myself with a post on my skepticism. For new people to the blog (as I’m happily gaining followers) I teach a course on Skepticism with a focus on conspiracy theories. It’s an interesting topic because almost every conspiracy theory falls into the same traps, and to list a few (and this list is by no means comprehensive): they have no evidence, they rely on coincidence, and they would collapse under their own weight if they were true.

The last one is a subtle accusation and one that most people would deny. Sure it’s possible that all of these theories could be true, but that’s “possible” in the strictly logical sense of the word, as in there is inherent impossibility that these ideas possess. Whether or not they are plausible is a completely different story, and they are not. There are very few conspiracy theories that have even the remotest inkling of plausibility. Simply because of the numbers. Italian philosopher, politician, playwright, and guy who tries to steal a river (with Leonardo Da Vinci): Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that people cannot keep secrets. If a person needs to tell a person they need to tell no more than one person because the secrets get out otherwise. For almost every conspiracy theory to be true they require a vast amount of people acting in perfect concert and with a 100% success rate of secrecy.

Right now, GOP-ish candidate for US president is complaining that the election is rigged against him. This is an odd claim for someone to make before the election happens, and especially odd with three weeks to go, but nonetheless he’s attempting to delegitimize the election process so that he can go along in his happy little world never having to admit that it was him a majority of Americans are happily rejecting. Further he’s trying to claim that something called “the media” is against him as well. This claim is so pervasive that journalists who are assigned to cover his campaign are now assigned security to protect them against perceived threats from his supporters. Again, it’s the fault that he’s a simpleton whose appeal does not extend beyond a strain of nationalism that was, and I repeat was, lying underneath the mainstream American culture–no, it’s because the media is out to get him. Their methodology is apparently repeating the things that he’s said.

Let’s assume that he’s right and there is a conspiracy between the election process (in his own party as well) and the media. The simple question to ask is this: how many people would it take to conduct it? Machiavelli’s point about conspiracies is that they fail because too many people talk and eventually the authorities find out. The example I use in class is Gunpowder plot in England. It failed, not only because Guy Fawkes literally fell asleep at the match of gunpowder he was supposed to ignite, but also because someone who knew told Lord Monteagle to not show up to Parliament that day. Lord Monteagle expressed concern about the number of fellow Catholics that would have died in the explosion (although one analysis shows that there would have been no bang as the gunpowder had gotten wet due to the damp weather in London that year) and turned the letter in.

So back the question how many journalists? Given that most news media in the United States are at least sending a person to cover the election in person it’s a lot of people. That number increases when you consider in studio personnel that offer analysis from the field, moderators of the debates, newspaper editors, interns, owners of the newspapers, television editors, online media writers, editors, and support staff. Even at a conservative number we are talking thousands of individuals. I’ve tried to check on just one station but the numbers aren’t readily available.

You have to think about this because it doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. It’s simply way too many people for no one to have spilled the secret. What’s more important is that we realize that journalists are in the job of spilling secrets. They decided to get into a profession that literally is about telling people things and have decided to remain quiet about what would undoubtedly be the biggest story in American politics. Even if some of them said no, for this conspiracy to be true, it means they turned down whatever offer they were given because of integrity and then decided they wouldn’t talk about it anyway. Of course, the average conspiracist, is going to say that it’s because the editors are the ones in control. That type of argument may have worked in the past, but now with the internet it no longer holds any water. Sure, my editor can say no but then I can just go online and post the video/audio of being told not to talk about it, or I can just hop on any number of free hosting site (like wordpress.com) and write about it.

Finally, there isn’t a “the media” to begin with. “The media” is a collective noun we use to refer to a large group made up of individual news agencies. Everything from CNN to the BBC is “the media” and these are, in the United States at least, in competition with each other. This conspiracy, if it were true, is assuming that there is this one huge story that any number of these individuals could report on but all are collectively agreeing to keep it shut. A news report with actual proof that there is this agreement would garner not only a huge number of viewers/listeners but also the kind of media trust of Walter Cronkite levels that would guarantee it a loyal viewership in the far future. CNN’s moment came during the 1991 Gulf War and they are still trading on that reputation.

Rigging the election would require even more secrecy by a greater number of people. This in light of the fact that rigging any election is a federal crime. A whistle blower would be a hero if any of these accusations were true. Perhaps this type of crime would finally excise –gate from everything and we could call crimes and scandals something else for once. Too many people are required to pull this thing off.

All of that said, there is one part of the election that is rigged: the population of America are ill disposed to elect someone like Trump and that is what the system should do.

The Hidden Divine and Question Begging

May 23, 2016 Leave a comment

Theological question begging is one of the most frustrating aspects of the religious debate. In a way it puts the two sides of the argument on unequal footing making it impossible for the two sides to understand what the other is talking about. That is, of course, provided that neither side has any experience with the other. If the secular side is going to stick to the rational logical argument then they have to be prepared to hit the wall of fallacy. This should be patently obvious, especially when arguing against the typical Bible literalist who is just going to deny the evidence or just hide behind unprovable assumptions.

However, if you end up arguing with someone who is schooled in apologetics, who knows more responses than just the “it says in my book…” you may run into a rather subtle, and if I dare say, nuanced duo that until recently I just realized is a form of question begging.

Before we begin, the fallacy of question begging is not what most people think it is. I teach this in my Skepticism course as one of the most misused phrases in argumentation. Most people use the phrase “that begs the question” as synonymous with “that raises the question” however this is not a fallacy. Merely needing to ask a question doesn’t mean a person has committed a mistake. Begging the question is when premise A proves the conclusion, however Premise A is not itself proven. The example I always use is when an airport says it needs your ID because your ID is important without explaining why it is important (I have a photo of this sign that I took at the Baltimore airport many years ago). The phrase comes from the Greek, as Aristotle wrote about it in his Posterior Analytics (64b) which he describes it as “asking for the initial thing” in other words the arguer is asking their opponent to agree with the initial premise in order to support the conclusion…rhetorically. It’s similar to a special pleading argument where you have to accept an improbable premise in order to assent to the conclusion (such as I should buy a lottery ticket because someone has to win).

The two pronged question begging comes in with the use of the “faith as a test” and the “divine hiddenness.” Divine hiddenness is our thing. That’s where we ask, like Thomas Paine, where is this god that used to talk to people? God directly addresses Moses, Abraham, and Job after he’s done torturing him of course; but now we have to rely on millenia old reports. However, the concept of Divine hiddenness has been adopted by the apologetics crowd as a test of faith. The way this works is similar to a journal article I wrote a couple entries about entitled, “Praying to stop being an Atheist” in which the author, T.J. Mawson (International Journal for Philosophy of Religion June 2010) argues that a non-believer should pray in order to check to see if there is a god. In order to do this he runs an analogy about a lightless room.

Briefly, imagine that every day you pass a door. If you open the door, it is completely dark–like utterly dark, a kind unlight that you might find in Torech Ungol (yeah I know only about three of you got that reference), so you find the room to be empty. Shouting in gives no response and you assume the room to be empty. Yet, most people you know believe that inside the room is a person of great wisdom. These people ask questions into the room. They, and this is key, never receive an answer. No one who ventures into the room has ever heard or touched the person that is alleged to live in there. The only evidence is that a long time ago someone claims that they knew a person who saw the man in the room. Do you accept the existence of the man?

It’s an obvious analogy. Now let’s say that you get into a debate with someone who believes that there is a person who lives in the room (we’ll call them “roomies”) and you start by saying that there is no evidence the room is inhabited. You clarify and say that since no one knows a person with direct evidence of the person who allegedly lives in the room you refuse to assent to the proposition.

They counter by explaining that the person chooses to remain hidden. When you ask why, they respond that the person only responds to people who truly believe that in the man inside the room. The reason that no one has direct knowledge is because no one believes enough that he is in there. Then that person ridicules you for not believing at all, and says that your refusal to believe impinges on their belief.

The Roomie has used both excuses in tandem and to separate the one only shifts the goal posts toward the other. When you ask why is faith necessary they reply that it’s because the person in the room wants to remain shrouded in the darkness and will not give the direct evidence. When you ask why they wish to remain hidden the only reason they can give is to explain that it’s so that the belief without evidence can be shown to be real. However in each answer they are refusing to give any new information. In each case they can only repeat their previous answer.

Dispensing with the analogy it’s blatantly obvious that both features of the argument are created out of air. There is no reason, going back to the primary source material, to believe that a divine being wants to remain hidden–in fact quite the opposite. We only have the information that belief is necessary, but not for revelation, just for the eventual unprovable salvation. My problem with this is the extra step they seem to think that they have to take. The theists could just rest on the faith argument: I would be much happier with that, but in adopting the divine hiddenness argument they are clearly just making it up as they go along. Setting aside the fact that it would be a cruel game of the divine being to choose to remain hidden and then require everyone to believe: the very nature of the meaning of the divine hiddenness means that we cannot know any features of the divine to begin with. This is a complete assumption on their part.

The best way to argue against it is to point out that hidden part is made up and only hurts their position. It seems like you’d be ceding ground but you’re not, any time you can get a person to truly question part of their argument is one step closer to their realization that the only reason they believe is because they were told to and now it is a mere habit.

Trump and Intolerance

December 8, 2015 5 comments

I explained to my class (I teach a course titled: “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Conspiracy Theory) that the reluctance of the new media to call the Colorado Springs attack “Christian Terrorism” was a point that I had made earlier in the semester. I also explained that I don’t like gloating but I think it’s important that they understand that I’m not just some guy who is saying random things with little connection to the outside world. The initial lecture was a paraphrasing of the FBI report by Kenneth Lanning on occult crime. He pointed out that if a scene of a crime contained “occultic symbolism” or a perceived Satanic artifact the crime would be immediately labelled a “Satanic Crime.” However if the scene of a crime contained any kind of Christian imagery, it would never be labelled a “Christian Crime.”

I pointed this out on Tuesday to show that the Planned Parenthood attack still had not been labelled “terrorism” by any official. I also pointed out that it didn’t take less than an hour before the Paris attack had been labelled Islamic terrorism. Then almost to prove my point the San Bernadino shooting occurred and it was immediately labelled Islamic terrorism once one shooter’s name was discovered as being Sayeed. It turns out that the two shooters were both Muslim, and that one said she supported ISIS in a Facebook post. This has given rise to the panic and fear that she was working with them and then instead of having a rational debate about what to do with regard to ISIS, everyone started screaming about immigration (which wouldn’t have stopped anything) and gun control (which wouldn’t have changed anything either).

Then came earlier today in which Republican (and comedy) favorite Donald Trump called for an immediate ban on all Muslims entering the United States. A policy, which again, wouldn’t have helped prevent the latest shooting since the suspects were already in the country. I think I buried the lead there, it’s not that his policy wouldn’t work that’s the problem. I can produce a whole bunch of policies that would do nothing to stop either gun violence or ISIS infiltration, it’s that he’s suggesting banning people from entering the US solely on their religion. He, I wish to remind you, is the number one polling candidate in the Republican party for President of the United States.

As an Atheist situations like this force me to walk a fine line. On the one hand I don’t like Islam. I don’t like it for the same reason that I dislike all of the Abrahamic religions (and indeed all religions in general). Their contribution to human civilization should be regarded as a historical artifact but there is nothing left for religion to teach us. Spiritualism is a dead end, it offers us nothing, and the only thing that we can predict with it is that someone is going to take it too far against their fellow humans.

On the other hand I’m not anti-person, I’m not biased against anyone. I firmly deny guilt by association and if that association is “believes in roughly the same thing as someone else” it’s not applicable. Guilt by association is a fallacy for a reason: it doesn’t stand up to any level of scrutiny except from blatant racists. Sure, I’m anti-ISIS but that is because of what they do not what they believe. If they never put those beliefs into any kind of action, it wouldn’t matter. They’d be just another group of crazy religious nutters spouting off and we could just ignore them.

It’s not easy to say I don’t like religion X, that kind of talk always invites the vitriol of the American political division…from both sides. If I say I don’t like Christianity because of [insert legitimate reason here] I get attacked by Conservatives but if I criticize any other religion I get attacked by Liberals for being racist.

So, while I dislike the religion I will not remain silent while some hate mongers who have nothing going for them exploit fear by attacking an entire group of people who, for the most part, have done nothing wrong. How can I make this kind of distinction? Because I’m a rational human being that possesses a sense of morality. I’ve been roughly saying the same thing for the last three weeks, if you are an American you are far more likely to be killed by a Christian than any other group so why aren’t we calling for a ban on immigration of Christians?

Because, even though it would be representative of crime statistics, it would be equally insane and immoral. We don’t punish a belief for the crime of the believer, and saying that we should do so leads us down the dangerous path of judging which beliefs are valid and which aren’t. I’m not an Islamic scholar, I can’t speak to specifics but I’ll guarantee that for every call to violence and murder of non-believers that are in the Quran I can find at least one corollary in the Bible (probably more in the latter but that’s only because it’s a longer book).

Furthermore, candidate nutcase (as well as any other that propose rules based on religious discrimination like Mike Huckabee) should explain how he intends to implement this policy. Is the plan to just ask? A person seeking to enter the US because they want to escape the murder bombs of the Syrian government will probably answer honestly that they are a Muslim, but an ISIS terrorist seeking to commit crimes would probably lie, and it’s not exactly difficult to pretend to be a Christian. Especially when we consider that both Jesus and Mary figure into Islamic theology (Mary is given more page time in the Quran than the New Testament).

Could we give them a religious test? Maybe that would work, the only trouble is that all of these Christians who support these ideas couldn’t pass as Christians to begin with. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the inside of a church (other than for funerals and weddings) but I’m pretty sure that Jesus taught to love our enemies and help those in need. Clearly, he couldn’t be the Republican Party’s nomination this year.