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Ethical Foundation

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

I made referenced my student surveys a few weeks ago, mentioning the strangeness of some of their responses taken together. I’ve finally compiled all of them and it’s a bit encouraging that their may be hope for the future. With about forty responses (out of what should be approaching 50) I have two bible literalists in my courses. However, despite that, I have 0 students that believe you need religion to be a good person. I know this, you probably know this as well, but it’s nice to see that even where there are biblical literalists there is still universal agreement that you can be good without god(s).

I should explain for any new readers. I teach a course that is specific to first year college students. So we’re talking the 17-19 age range along with some outliers for transfer students. The school does not have any kind of “non-traditional” student…at least in any kind of significant way. My oldest student would be in their early 20s. They are, gender-wise, an even mix leaning toward female (so far no non-binaries); no idea regarding sexual preferences–it doesn’t come up and I don’t ask since it’s irrelevant to my course. For the most part religious, monotheistic, with a good agnostic/atheist showing. Yet none believe that we need a religion to show us moral guidance.

This runs in stark contrast to what we discussed last week. Where our author contends that even in judging an action to be good/bad we are tacitly acknowledging “the law.” Which I felt was a false statement that cannot be held rationally. I then mentioned that there are several different moral foundations for ethics that don’t require any kind of religious background or godhead at the top of the chain (or bottom if it’s foundational).

The goal of ethics, as a field of discipline, is in figuring out a system by which we can judge actions to be moral or immoral. It’s not necessarily about creating the system but elucidating the system that aligns with our moral intuitions. This is where religion fails to uphold its claim to moral foundation–because it teaches us to override those intuitions in many cases. In others, it only surrenders their original claim once popular feelings on the subject turn against it and then these religions have to retroactively change their stance (see: slavery, segregation). For the former just take a look at gay marriage. There’s only a religious objection to this our normal intuition should be one of ambivalence. It matter very little to me, if my neighbors are gay or not. It matters even less if they are married or not. Unless humanity dwindled down to a couple dozen people there are no tenable naturalistic objections (even then we don’t need people to not be gay, we just need some cells from them).

Non-religious ethical systems all suffer some kind of flaw. Utilitarianism suffers from the problem of the “tyranny of the majority” wherein you can kill one person in order to save five–though there are some defenses for it. Kantian ethics has an absolutist problem in that the ethics are so strict that one can not lie to save a life. The DDE, though sourced in Aquinas’s religion (as I claimed last week it doesn’t have to be) suffers from two flaws: in that it’s primary determination requirement: that the good intention outweigh any bad consequences is subjective unless one already has an established moral foundation by which to make such judgments (in this respect it only works in religion, but one could hybridize the theory with one of the others). This leads us to Rawls’ theory of justice.

Rawls’ theory is that morality ought to be derived from the assumption of the original position. A similar situation to both philosophers Thomas Hobbes’ and John Locke’s respective political philosophy stances. However, both Hobbes and Locke diverge entirely from how the original position was: Hobbes believed that humanity was the worst without the power of the sovereign to punish. Locke, conversely, believed that humanity was the best. His view is too rosy as much as Hobbes’ is too dark. The ethical foundation of Rawls is neither but, like Adam Smith, it appeals to self-interest.

The idea is that we take a group of people and leave them only with the self-knowledge that they exist and that they are going to enter into a society of some kind. While they’ll know that each person is going to possess certain differences in race, sex, class, position, authority what they won’t know is what attributes they will each have once the “veil of ignorance” is removed. The idea here is that the individuals would naturally favor some kind of equitable moral code. You wouldn’t condone slavery since the odds are you would not be a master. You wouldn’t condone sex discrimination since you would not know what side of the discrimination you would be on. The important aspect is that this entire thing is based on self-interest of an individual who doesn’t know where they are  going to land.

This is opposed to literally every religious sense of morality that claims a “chosen people” that are, by default, better than other people. With Rawls’s theory there is an understanding that some people could be better off but his belief was that the playing field would be far more equitable because where there are inexhaustible benefits “liberty” or “rights” he felt that people would agree  that everyone ought to be entitle to them.

Now, there are some problems with the theory itself. It’s uncertain whether or not this naturally implies socialism. Most academics do not believe so, though the case could be made. However that case could also be made with Utilitarianism and less likely though still possible with Kant.

Nevertheless this theory is one that offers an easily graspable and defensible position that can easily be thrown back at the religious claim that we need them to be moral.

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Jingly Keys (By A Preponderance of the Evidence)

November 13, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve just about given up any hope that there will be some kind of evidence for “Jesus” in this book. The introduction was just that, ‘I believe in Jesus everyone else is wrong, but here’s the evidence for why you should believe.’ The first chapter was allegedly about framing the question correctly. Which, to be fair, is a good idea provided you actually do that and not go on a long screed against what the author perceives as “liberal/atheist/communist/etc. values.” The second chapter was allegedly about the search. Now, here I was hopeful because that might mean we should arrive at some modicum of evidence. Instead we were treated to incorrect historical facts and the referencing of people on the bad side of academic honesty. The third chapter is titled “Evil, Pain, and Hell.” Here’s the problem, before we even start the chapter: we know what this is about. It’s about the problem of evil. Fine, I’ll take it, however it’s weird that we’re already launching into apologetics for a thing we haven’t proven yet.

The normal course of this type of thing is to first establish the existence of the divine being then defend it against criticisms. This is assuming I’m going to give the person a pass on which deity it is that they’ve proven. To reference last time’s post, William Lain Craig doesn’t prove Jesus or the god of the Bible, he attempts to prove the existence of a divine power. With that “done” he then makes a giant leap and just says, “Jesus.” This the problem with using him as your academic foundation. So here we’re at a long chapter that is essentially one giant red herring: the problem of evil.

When we condemn the act or the evildoer, we tacitly acknowledge the reality of the law in our hearts. Yet if we use the existence of evil to deny the existence of God, we destroy the standard on which we may judge what is evil or good…We are left with a Utilitarian construct [sic] on which to build our world.

There’s a lot there and it’s in the second paragraph of the chapter, so we’re not getting very far today. First off, no we don’t tacitly acknowledge “the law” we acknowledge our emotional reaction to an event. That emotional reaction, can be based on a religious law but this is not a necessary condition of it. We have an emotion called “empathy” which causes us to react to the suffering of others when it has not been overlaid by other emotions such as hate. I can feel terrible about the mass shooting in Texas (the one in the church) even though I don’t know those people, share their belief system, or geographic location. I can feel bad for the people who died in the earthquake in Iran, even though, I’m told they hate me. Why? Because they are human beings and I don’t want to see people suffer. This has nothing to do with some kind of “law.” I’m not acknowledging anything.

Palaszewski misunderstands the “epicurean paradox” (not actually Epicurus’) as well. The paradox does not disprove the existence of God, a God, or many Gods. What it does is disprove the need to worship the being, or that it has any kind of involvement in our world. It is, in essence, an argument for Deism. The whole point is that that the belief in a god that cares about human suffering is silly because if that god existed it’s not doing anything about it and is thus uninvolved. It doesn’t matter which prong of the paradox you want to latch on to: whether not able, not willing, or not knowing; the very idea that the evil exists means that the god is not involved in the world. The Epicureans, who again did not come up with this paradox, believed that gods existed but that they were just different beings with a wholly distinct type of existence. The paradox also argues against religious devotion, because, as the Epicureans actually argued the gods don’t need or want worship. Perfect beings don’t “need” because that implies deficiency.

Denying the existence of god does not deny the source for morality. Even the author knows this because he cites one that was made famous by the atheistic philosopher John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism is not, as he characterizes it, doing whatever is useful. It is whatever contributes to the common good or lessens the amount of bad in the world . Typically, this is gauged with pleasure v. pain. No god needed. That’s just one: Aristotle’s virtue ethics, the Epicurean and Stoic schools, Kant’s imperatives, Rawl’s theory of justice, etc. All of these do not require a god. Hell, even Aquinas’s doctrine of double effect doesn’t need a god to resolve moral conflicts, it’s just that the underlying foundation for his ethics is based on the bible and Catholic teachings–but you could run his five point system without being religious very easily (easier than running through a 12 step program while being an atheist).

The author is right about one thing though: moral laws do require a standard. It can’t just be arbitrary moral relativism. However, what he gets wrong is that it needs to be a divine being, and specifically it needs to be the divine Jesus being. The problem is that he’s assuming the conclusion–which all moral arguments for the existence of god do. The existence of morals only proves “god” if you have already begged the question that god exists.

The standard apologetic move is then to wash away all things with “free will.” God allows people to be evil because of free will. This is little comfort to the victims who did not choose to get murdered/raped/robbed but it’s their go to argument. The issue here is that the will can assent to commit an act without that act being successful. If I intend to commit genocide, fully intend to do it, that should be the immorality not my success. The god being could thwart the consequence of evil and still punish those intending it. Otherwise we’re left with a weird contradiction between Jesus telling us that adultery is looking at a woman with lust in your eyes and a purely consequentialist position of being successful at evil meaning that I would have to have intercourse with a woman not my wife. It can’t be both, that’s a contradiction.

The No True Christian Fallacy

November 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Every semester since I began teaching my skepticism course, I’ve offered the following assignment:

Choose one informal fallacy, explain it, give a relevant example and then discuss.

The entire course is based around conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. There’s no reason that a student shouldn’t be able to come up with a cromulent example. Depending on what school you subscribe to there is either one fallacy or there are over a hundred. The former is a remark made to me by a colleague who said that, really the only informal fallacy is the non-sequitur since the conclusion never follows from the premises. The latter is because you can find one fallacy with many different sub-fallacies underneath it’s umbrella. For example, an argument ad hominem (against the person rather than against the argument) is a large category with several smaller derivations. The “guilt by association” fallacy is really just an ad hominem slightly to the left of the person.

When teaching I don’t wear my atheism on my sleeve. I keep my personal beliefs, aside from being anti-conspiracy theory, out of the course where possible. Though I think my concentration on evidence based reasoning might lend itself to exposing my skepticism of religious belief, but I’ve also received comments from student evaluations wondering why I had to be so religious in class (seriously, I think it’s because I have a wide religious knowledge like most atheists in fact).

I have a student this semester we’ll call “George.” She has chosen for her example, the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and she wants to apply it to right wing Christianity. Her central claim is that people like Pat Robertson and the numerous people like him are not Christians because their rhetoric does not reflect True Christianity. George, whom I did not expect to take this line of thought, believed that when they say that people who are unlike them are guilty of the fallacy. Clearly her and I needed to sit down.

I explained very quickly that she was either “right with a ‘but'” or “wrong with an ‘if.'” (thank you Simpsons); because while she was correct in her estimation of their problem, she was wrong in that she’s committing the exact same fallacy as them. The look on her face forced the question out of me (it didn’t “beg the question” because that’s an entirely different thing), “are you a Christian?”

She said that she was, and a Catholic. Which then prompted her to explain that everyone who didn’t follow a specific set of Christian rules weren’t really Christians and these people she was planning on talking about qualified. I then pointed out that they would say the exact same thing about her, further they would probably call her a heretic and a polytheist because of the Catholic veneration of Saints and Mary. This elicited a laugh from her but my facial expression conveyed that I was being utterly serious.

The way the No True Scotsman works is that you see a member of a group doing something and the claim is that by very action they are performing, disqualifies them from being a member of that group. “No true Christian would ever say God hates fags.” “No true Muslim would ever commit an act of terrorism.” “No true Buddhist would ever condone genocide.”

Via, rationalwiki, Henry Drummond said, “No man can ever be opposed to Christianity, who knows what it really is.”

The problem is in the definition of group itself. Is there a distinct set of qualifications that make one a member and prevent them from joining. “No true bachelor is married,” is not an example of the fallacy because ontologically the definition requires that person to not be married. No true Christian denies the existence of Jesus, is again, not an example because the definition requires the individual to believe that Jesus existed. However, behaviors are not ontological qualifications. The assassin of Dr. Bernart Slepian was a Christian despite his willingness to murder a person in his own home, and despite the fact that the popular belief is that Jesus would not condone such an action. This is despite the fact that the assassin claimed to be a Christian.

What the fallacy amounts to is distancing an individual from a group because we identify ourselves as members of the group and wish to avoid being the target of a guilt by association fallacy. George may not want to be associated with Pat Robertson because of what he says, and Robertson would likely agree since she’s probably too tolerant and doesn’t think god sends Hurricanes against cities who once elected a lesbian. However, we can’t make the assumption that these people are lying. If they say they are Christians, we should assume they are Christians.

Which is why we have that pesky separation clause to begin with, because when we atheists ask “what religion?” we don’t mean the distinction between Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. as being the religion of the United States; well not just that. We also mean what Christianity? While Catholics and mainline Protestants share a lot in common they also share a number of distinct differences. Even within mainline Protestant Christianity there are many differences. Some Protestant churches have no problems with gay marriage and homosexuality; while others distinctly do. So which one are we picking? The unification of these different sects under the term “Christianity” didn’t really occur until the 70s. Before then you’d be hard pressed to get an Anglican, Episcopalian, Catholic, and Mormon to agree that they were all members of the same religion despite the fact that they all believe in this Jesus fellow.

George seemed genuinely confused as my observation as though she hadn’t ever considered it. Which, is likely the case. I explained that I was raised Catholic and was taught that the other Christianities weren’t the correct ones because their beliefs and practices were different. Likely, kids in other religions were taught the same thing about me. However the core membership qualification is what matters in this fallacy whether or not we like the person’s actions. If an atheist commits an act of terror, they are still an atheist, it’s just that they are a terrible person who coincidentally did the act. This especially applies to religiously motivated actions. If a terrorist says, I did this because of this and for this; we can’t say they didn’t.

 

The Outrage Machine

March 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Is it just me or do people want to be outraged at something? Not real things, not things that actually matter or things that are true. In some way I get it, it’s easier to just read a headline and repost. It’s much easier than reading an article and finding out what actually happened, or reading a few articles on the same subject because then, and only then, will the reader actually understand what is going on. It’s closely related to what is now the slander of being called an “elitist” in reference to someone who knows things. If you have an education, if you understand things, that is now apparently a bad thing. Why? Because anyone can be stupid, but being smart, being versed in a subject is hard. It takes work, while having mere emotional reactions armed with a few contrite phrases (“political reasons,” “fake news,” “elitist”) doesn’t take any work.

Last month (February 2017) a Pennsylvania school board agreed to remove a monument of the ten commandments from Valley Junior-Senior High School. A lawsuit was originally filed in 2012, but due to some technical issues had to make it’s way through the circuits. The school district settled and is going to have to reimburse legal fees to the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) to the tune of 40,000 dollars. In a settlement this is a normal practice. The defendant agreed with the plaintiff and in any lawsuit where money is changing hands the agreement usually confers some recompense to the winner of the case. The school’s insurance company is going to pay the money, not the school. I’m not sure how exactly this translates into tax dollars, but it’s fact that must be stated.

Understanding this type of issue is a complicated endeavor. One must first understand why the lawsuit was brought in the first place. Unlike most of the sites that I checked, it was not to line the pockets of the FFRF, who received the 40K of the 163k settlement. An amount, which they claimed was not a full reimbursement and which we have no reason to think that a five year settlement going through three different courts was going to cost less than 40k. I note it also because in Pennsylvania, a law is being offered in response, that would ban legal fees from being a part of settlement amounts. Or at least legislation is being drafted, which is a terrible idea: because it means that if I sue for negligence because of something objectively negligent against McDonalds, they can bury me with lawyers knowing that I won’t be able financially to fight them even if they know they are wrong. Again, I don’t know how much it costs to hire a lawyer to put on one of these lawsuits, so I’ll just have to take their word for it. Just as I don’t know how much it costs to move a statue.

The removal of the monument is not about money, it’s about not allowing a public institution to endorse a particular religion. Despite what the theocrats want you to think: there’s no way that a ten commandments statue isn’t a religious statue. They like to claim that the laws of the US were founded on the Ten Commandments, which is patently false. The first four are purely religious. The fifth, while not religious is not a legally enforceable item (honor your parents). Rules 6 & 8, are the legally punishable (Murder and Stealing respectively), 7 only matters within a specific type of legal situation (divorce proceedings). Nine is trickier because there’s some debate over what it actually means. If it means the common thing: thou shalt not lie, then it’s not a legal issue. However if it is a prohibition against bearing false witness in legal matters, then that’s the legal issue of perjury. The final commandment, it is just a prohibition on thought crime and not legally actionable either. In all we only have two commandments that could be said to be legally inspiring with two more that could be considered “sort of…but…”

It’s difficult to understand that while the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, it’s part of our system. The Bill of Rights specifically prohibits the state from endorsing or prohibiting any particular religion, and placing a religious statue in a school does that. Jefferson explained the purpose of the amendment as being just that. The legal result is that you have an all or nothing situation: either you have to allow all of the religions or none of them. Why? Because we don’t want the government getting into the situation of deciding which religions are true and which are not. This is especially important when you consider historical context in which Catholics and Puritans in the 18th century would not have considered themselves members of the same religion. Some Evangelical Christians don’t consider Catholics and Mormons to be Christians now, but imagine how it must have been two hundred years ago. Wisely they decided that it was not the business of the state to make these kinds of adjudications (Scientology and Raeliens included).

Yet, that’s not the issue getting thrown around the internet. It’s all about how this settlement, the court, and the lawsuit; are all about persecuting Christians. Why? Because it’s easier to sell the outrage without really having to understand the issue. Nothing will get a news story spread around faster than a headline which conveys the message that Christians are continuing to be persecuted in a country where it is a) not happening and b) where the religion makes up a strong majority (when you put all of the denominations under the same banner). The headline “School board settles Constitutional violation law suit” isn’t going to get the same travel.

Interestingly some more digging unearthed the reason for the statue in the first place: as a promotion for the movie “The Ten Commandments.” So if we think about, a monument to a religion wasn’t removed a film advertisement was.

 

Math

January 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Happy New Year…I guess. Last year it was 2016 and this year is one more than that so it’s 2017. Because that’s how numbers work right? I mean it’s universal and there is no reason to think otherwise…

Unless of course you meet several criteria each more confusing and elaborate than the last. I have actually been sitting on this story for a few weeks for a few reasons, but none as near as confusing as the “reasoning” that I am about to elaborate. The first is that it is so utterly absurd that I didn’t believe it. I came across this gem from the Cognitive Dissonance Podcast episode 332, and while I love the podcast the way they cover their stories means I have to double check. I’m not calling them out for spreading false information, just that they take a humorous tone with everything and inflate the absurdities because they cover the absurd. Once I confirmed the story was as crazy as they made it sound I had grading to do. Lots and lots of grading. After that was done, I was burnt from grading and posted my rant about it last week. Now I feel I can cover the story.

1 + 1 = 2. That’s how numbers work, if you have 1 thing and another thing, you have 2 things. There is only one way this simple formula doesn’t work, and that is if two people disagree on the meaning of the symbols. That however is an epistemic problem and/or a linguistic problem. Which is a legitimate issue, and why we send out pulses of prime numbers and geometry when trying to communicate with extraterrestrials. Merely scrawling pi = 3.14 on the side of Voyager doesn’t mean anything if the creatures which find it have no comprehension of what any of that means. There’s also the post-modernist problems with math in that it tells a euro-centric narrative (they do this with science as well which Alan Sokal pointed out in his famous hoax). It’s a ridiculous notion because the thing with math is that it is independent of the external world. You might argue the inherent unfairness of language, and that could be a debate, but math isn’t about language it’s about reason thus we never need two things to prove that 1 + 1 = 2. We can have an entire rule set regarding math which never applies to the actual world, e.g. negative numbers aren’t things. They can’t represent things because we are talking about not only emptiness but positive representations of emptiness which isn’t possible. There can be no existence below existence.

However these are not the problems that are being presented in “Why Math isn’t Religiously Neutral” by Israel Wayne. The problem being presented here is that math is contingent on Jesus. The post begins with Johnny asking why 2 + 4 = 6 all the time. Why is it 6 today, but never 7 on another day. The article goes on to explain that the teacher must repeat the official government story that the story of math begins 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang, then proceeds through random chance to evolution, which also for some reason includes math. Evolution apparently, created math and this is what we teach to the kids unless we want to just say “math simply is.”

Or, we can give the “true” story which is that Jesus created  math and it’s not the process of random chance, evolution, or whatever Nihilism that the government and “Big Math” wants us to teach. See only the Christian can give the true understanding of math, which is Jesus did it. The reasoning is that if you combine a few unrelated bible quotes Col 1:15-17, John 1:1-3, and Romans 1:20 the religious interpretation of math is superior because only it understands why.

The reasoning behind this is so absurd I don’t even know if it’s not even wrong. Let’s get this out of the way right now: 2 + 4 = 6 always. It’s not up for debate. If everyone involved understands the definitions of the numbers that’s how it is, we don’t need a god to underlie the meaning of it.

Secondly, math is independent of Evolution. Even if nothing evolved, if everything merely popped into existence then math would still be the same thing. It wouldn’t matter if there were no people. It’s purely rational. It’s so utterly rational that all civilizations independent of each other (and Jesus) have come up with it, barring their different symbols used in place of course. Math has nothing to do with the results of evolution, other than allowing us the brain power to come up with the symbols and the principles behind it.

Thirdly, there is no government “story of math.” Math text books might begin with a little history about the development of mathematics from Archimedes, Euclid, and Pythagoras in the Greek world, perhaps the addition of Babylonian, Indian, Arabic, and Mayan influences in the development of arithmetic, but usually it’s just an introduction and then on to the numbers.

Finally, the author is incorrect that the Christian zealot is better equipped to teach math, or anything other than the bible (and really, not even then), to kids. Their primary, and indeed only, book is littered with scientific inaccuracies that don’t measure up the real world. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, I study Philosophy, and Aristotle’s science has large holes in it, just as Hippocrates’ medical books have errors. However, two important facts separates those authors from the Bible. The first being that they present arguments/evidence for the claims they make. Aristotle reasons that things fall down because they are heavy, which he has in reverse if we are being generous (things are heavy because they fall). Hippocrates attributes the illness of various groups to the climate they live in his work “Airs Waters Places” which could be correct but he has no idea about germs and such. The second and most important difference is that neither individuals are claiming to be reciting the inerrant mind of god or claiming that their words were the literal words of god. They can be wrong and no one is going to lose sleep over it.

However the bible claims that Pi = 3 (1 Kings 7:23 – 26) or its claiming that Solomon’s cauldron did not exist, by virtue of the contradiction negating the existence of the thing. It’s also worth pointing out that math as a measurement doesn’t proscribe a thing it just defines it. A circle doesn’t correspond to Pi because Pi makes the thing, it’s just how we measure the ration of the diameter to the circumference.

Although all of this misses the unintentionally funniest part of the story: which is what was math like before Jesus? Did 1 + 2 = 6 for the Indians, while 1 + 2 =10 for Japanese? I’m not understanding why we need Jesus for this whole operation as the societies without him, and contemporaneous with the ancient Israelites were able to come much closer to the real measurement of Pi then the group that literally, according to them, carried around god in a box.

Atheist’s Perspective: The Shield

October 14, 2014 2 comments

I was listening to the “Oh No Ross and Carrie” podcast today where they were interviewing two members of the Aetherius society. If you aren’t familiar with the podcast, the premise is that the two hosts undergo fist hand experience in alternative medicine, alternative science, paranormal, conspiracy, and religious movements and then report their findings. They investigated the Aetherius society several months ago reporting that it seemed to be another fringe religion based on new age-y beliefs using the episode to poke fun at the idea. This caught the attention of two members of the group who took offense to it, and then came on to the show to defend their religion.

The Aetherius society is another of, what I label, space-man religions. Like the Raeliens, Urantianism, the Ra-People (who coincidentally contacted my entire department last week looking for a discussion) the religion is based on extra-terrestrials who apparently contacted a single figure on the Earth to communicate a higher truth. I want to be clear about something before I move on, I excluded Scientology from the above list because adherents to the doctrine of L. Ron Hubbard aren’t told of the Xenu and the aliens, and are told that it is a slander spread by outsiders until they reach a certain point. People jumping into Scientology are kept from this aspect. The pattern of these religions is strikingly similar. It’s a voice from the stars that finds an obscure person which teaches them an alternative way of thinking based on some kind of foreign thinking that is obscure enough to be mysterious but not specific enough to actually say anything. The members talk about “energy” and “truth” which sound appealing but without a further explanation as to what kind of energy or what truth it means nothing.

Yet, who am I to ridicule? As I wrote a few posts earlier, is their religion honestly any more out there then what mainstream religions claim? All religions claim the extra ordinary, just the specifics may be a bit different. Again, I posit the claim that the only difference between the outlandish claims of burning bushes and UFOs is time. We’ve had thousands of years of hearing the claims of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions and only a couple decades of Space religions so of course it sounds crazy.

After a couple of rounds of dodging questions about the founder of the religion and his weird titles (to which I credit the host, Carrie, for constantly reasking the same question “Who was George King and where did he get the title doctor?”) one guest finally expressed that he felt the hosts were unprofessional. They were unprofessional because they were belittling one person’s path toward the truth. He felt that if someone is happy with a belief, and that belief makes allows a person to find a role in the world what right is there for an outsider to question or ridicule it?

I find this kind of defense to be cowardly. I’ll grant the individual one thing: if it makes him happy he should keep doing it and be proud of doing it. However, he’s got no claim if I want to think that his idea is full of crap from saying so. The very objection that he raises is nothing more than a form of relativism: if my chosen path necessitates that I look down on belief systems that are different than mine then what right does he have to tell me that I can’t follow my own path to truth? He has no right, his own standard allows this.

Secondly, this idea that just because someone sincerely believes something means that we cannot say that it’s wrong is merely an attempt to censor my own opinion. My point of view is that their founder read a book on Hinduism, didn’t understand it but pulled out some vocabulary words combined them with some fads of the time and created a belief system out of it. I am not wrong to criticize the claim of his religion…or any religion for that matter. It’s my right along with his to believe in whatever he wants to, but I don’t have to shrug my shoulders and accept that while it’s not right, it’s right for him, and the only truth that matters is the personal one.

This is the curse of multi-cultural post modernism. George King was not in contact with a cosmic intelligence, nor is there a satellite orbiting the Earth sending us yogic energy. I want proof of these claims if I am going to be willing to accept the truth of their claims. Truth isn’t relative, no religion gets to claim that theirs is the true path and then dismiss skeptics with a hand wave of, “it’s what I believe and you are insulting me by questioning it.” Truth is objective and reality is something that isn’t affected by what a single individual believes. This shield is nothing more than paper and ought to be burned as such.

(the defense not the person in case I wasn’t clear)

Atheist Perspective: Plato’s God

October 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Philosophy sort of begins with Plato. It’s a qualified statement because chronologically this is an incorrect assertion, Greek philosophy is often taught with his writing as chapter 1, because it is through him that we know most of what we know about Socrates. His school, the Academy, is where we get the term “academic,” his writings give us the word “symposium” (I would say the concept as well but there is surprisingly little drinking during the symposiums colleges usually hold), he’s responsible for the myth of Atlantis and a dearth of programming on the “history” channel…not bad for a former professional wrestler.

Reading Plato, especially his cosmological dialogue “The Timaeus” one begins to understand his view of the divine as the great world builder or “Demi-Urge” which created the universe and everything in it. His creation myth was taken literally by his followers and was persistent enough that all following schools had to at least address it. Plato’s god, is not the gods of the Greek world that we know from the myths, it is something different but still exercises an interest in the world and its management. It’s not the unmoved mover–that’s more in line with Aristotle’s thinking. It is also not the prime contingent truth by which all things hinge upon (again Aristotle and to an extent Augustine).

Plato’s philosophy pushes an idea of the forms, which are immaterial super-objects. I’m going to skip the detailed proof of these things but what we need to know is that they are universal concepts by which all objects are made in mockery. For everything that exists in the physical world, there exists a form of the genus of the object that we can use to create. A chair, to use a tired philosophical cliche is representative of the form “chair” which links all chairs to a central concept. What we would consider the best chair, would be a closer approximation to the form “chair.” I’m being overly simplistic but this is the general idea. What needs to be stated though, is that the form is higher in quality than the physical being. As we approach the form things get more real and more pure.

How is this related to the idea of god? Well, Plato’s theology gets a little messy here. There can’t be a form “god” and a god, that would mean that the ultimate divine was somehow lacking, so Plato’s god and god-form must be one in the same. This seems to make sense, and I would need to quite a bit of research in order to establish this, I will read any contradiction to this assertion but my understanding of Plato is that this must be the case. The god then must have built the world, and is currently managing the world based on the pure wisdom that it has access to through the forms. As it constructed the world it used this knowledge to make it the Panglossian “best of all possible worlds” and then proceeds to influence it in ways it sees fit. We get this knowledge through the Timaeus dialogue. God must engage in the best, most proper activity.

Yet this presents itself with a contradiction internal to Plato’s writings. In Plato’s Republic, which anyone reading this has at least indirect experience with as it is so endemic to our culture, he addresses the question of what is the best possible activity for human beings to engage in. If we look at what we know of his theology from the Timaeus we would think it to be something like world-building, which in his culture would most likely be equated to politics. God manages the world, the rulers manage the city-state, the parallel is obvious. Yet, the character of Socrates in the dialogue doesn’t offer politics as the top activity–it’s up there for sure, the rulers of Plato’s Republic are philosopher kings those endowed with such ability to reason that they are incapable of choosing wrong, but the top activity is contemplation of philosophy and mathematics.

What this indicates is that his god is flawed. It feels that it must be involved in the management of the world but it ought not to be doing so. Activity of any sort indicates an incompleteness and a diversion from the prime activity that it ought to be doing which is pure contemplation. Plato’s student, Aristotle makes the pure contemplation the only feature of his god in stark contrast to his former teacher. How can the god do anything other than contemplation given this contradiction?

In this respect not only is Aristotle’s god superior to Plato’s but also to most other gods in the history of human civilization for the very reason that the other gods are lacking something that they need to fix. If there was no lack, then why are they claimed to act, or be involved in the world? It doesn’t stand to reason. If something is perfect, then it should need nothing, do nothing, etc. because all of its being is fully complete. Yet Plato has his god as an active, involved entity.

What does it show? It shows that Plato added the divine being as an afterthought, or was a part of an incomplete theory that needed to be worked out a bit more. No perfect being could be actively involved in the world unless one is willing to concede some kind of imperfection. Aristotle’s idea is superior in that it is the most consistent–a perfect being that only engages in the best of all possible activities. We can even say that the Epicurean deistic gods surpass Plato on this, in the same way, yet their are other problems with them as we shall see.