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Friday, September 19, 2014

Yahweh's Evolution: A Look at the Israelite Pantheon and the Journey from Polytheism to Monotheism (From Chapter 20: The Vacuity of Christian Faith of The Swedish Fish)



Yahweh's Evolution: A Look at the Israelite Pantheon and the Journey from Polytheism to Monotheism (From Chapter 20: The Vacuity of Christian Faith of The Swedish Fish)

We begin chapter twenty “Would a Most Perfect Being Have a Most Imperfect Church?” with the continued comparison of the Christian concept of God with the Greek concept of Zeus. Randal affirms:

While Zeus was created by other gods, Christians and Jews always taught that Yahweh is the creator of all things … The difference between various concepts of God is important for eliminating certain descriptions of the most perfect being.

Remember my earlier objection to the method of assigning templates to your chosen God concept as a way to reject competing definitions as not compatible with your template? Holding up dissimilar God-concepts to your randomly selected template, and then saying this definition fits but that other one doesn’t, is easy. But in essence, all one has done is show that some definitions fit arbitrary religious templates better than others. This is to be expected. But one hasn’t proved anything yet.
Regardless, there is more to object to than Randal’s obstinate insistence that his God concept is the only one in town. Randal is simply wrong on all accounts here.
First off, the statement that God is the creator of all things and the statement that God had a creator (in this case other gods) are two entirely separate statements. The Christian God may very well be the creator of “all things” as legend has it, but that doesn’t mean he created himself. It means all the things we know were created by god, but since we don’t know what gods might exist, or what their evolutionary histories may be, or whether it requires gods to create gods, we cannot simply assume that the Christian God was not created or didn’t have parents.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Randal is mistaken in thinking that Jewish mythology begins and ends with Christian mythology. Superimposing your belief system on another people’s belief system doesn’t automatically make your belief system the correct one. In point of fact, Israel and its people were still a polytheistic before the exile, or more precisely between the 10th century BC and the beginning of their exile in 586 BCE.[1] The Israelites worshipped a pantheon of gods including El, Asherah, Baal, Moloch, Kaus, and Yahweh, just to name a few.[2] Most scholars consider El and Yahweh separate gods even though it would appear that Yahweh later got hypostatized with El into one and the same deity by the time the Torah was composed. [3] Even so, an archeological find at Kuntillet Ajrud in the northern Sinai desert in 1978 uncovered three anthropomorphic figures dating back to 800 BCE at the end of the Iron age which referred separately to Yahweh, El, and Baal, implying they were three distinct but equally revered gods.[4]
It’s worth noting that the god Baal was one of the sons of El, and represented the direct rival to Yahweh, which is why the Old Testament god admonishes his followers not to worship the other gods, such as Baal. By the ninth century BCE we see telltale signs of a gradual turn toward monotheism where the old gods of the Israelites were supplanted and/or rejected in favor of a single, supreme god—i.e., Yahweh.[5]
The new god Yahweh was a warrior god from the northern region of Edom and Midian, near Judah, who grew in popularity until he eventually usurped El, the original God of Israel, and took himself a consort, Asherah (originally El’s wife) who is also referred to as the “Queen of Heaven” and who was worshipped alongside both El and Yahweh by early Israelites from roughly the seventh to ninth centuries BCE.[6]
With Yahweh’s rise to fame, however, Asherah became the new Hebrew god’s consort (Yahweh isn’t an adulterer so much as the Hebrews liked to pair Asherah with their preferred god and the Canaanites liked to pair her with theirs, in this case the god El). Meanwhile, Yahweh, the warrior god of the Hebrews, and Baal (son of El), [7] the preferred god of the Canaanites, co-existed together for a time, but around the tenth century BCE a shift occurred when Yahweh worship eventually became the popular religion and fully usurped Baal worship, thus leading to what would become the world’s major monotheistic religion.[8]
At any rate, all of this is old news, but all the same claiming as Randal does that Zeus was a created god but that Yahweh is the God of all things (implying he wasn’t created) isn’t entirely true. Modern day Jews may say that now, sure, but a closer look into the history of the Israelites reveals this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yahweh wasn’t always the god of all things. In fact, as we have seen, there was quite a bit of competition back in the day.
Evidently, history teaches us a different story than the one Christian apologists want us to hear. As it turns out, Yahweh didn’t create the other gods of the Israelite pantheon as Yahweh was a rather late addition, only solidifying into a monotheistic deity during the period of the United Monarchy ( circa 1020 and 930 BCE). It was during this period that Yahweh assimilated the traits of all the other gods in the Israelite pantheon and, ultimately, became the final representation of the Israelite god.
Present day monotheism, and so too the Jewish belief that Yahweh is the one true god (a belief adopted by early Christians), however, is the end result of a long process of religious evolution from an earlier, more robust Israelite polytheism. A serious scholar, such as Randal claims to be, who writes on the history of the Jews and the Israelites and their God should probably know all this if he intends to be taken seriously as a scholar.
In this case though, it’s clear that Randal takes the history of Yahweh and the Israelite pantheon completely for granted, ignoring the history which shows us that Yahweh was likely a created god along with all the rest of the Israelite pantheon, and no different from Zeus in this regard.





[1] See The Bible Unearthed: Archaelogy’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, pp. 241-42.

[2] The Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses by Michael Jordan, pp. 31-32; 41-42; 88-89; 218; & 278.

[3] See The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities in Ancient Israel, location 375 and 1167-1269; 1302 Kindle, ff. part 4. Asherah/asherah Revisited, by Mark Smith (2002), Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan by John Day, p. 32, and Archeology and fertility cult in the ancient Mediterranean, pp. 237-38, edited by Anthony Bonanno.

[4] Ze’ev Meshel, Kuntillet ‘Ajrud: An Israelite Religious Center in Northern Sinai, Expedition 20 (Summer 1978), pp. 50-55.

[5] Smith, The Early History of God, location 3098 Kindle.

[6]Ibid, location 985-1096, and 1302 Kindle.

[7] To learn more about Baal and the numerous reference to him found in the Old Testament please see “The Worship of Baal” available online at:
    http://www.bible-history.com/resource/ff_baal.htm

[8] See the PBS interview with William Dever, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. See: “Archeology of the Hebrew Bible,” and can be read online at:
   http://pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/archeology-hebrew-bible.html

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First Amendment Woes: Pennsylvania Teen Simulates Fellatio with Jesus Statue: Gets His Constitutional Rights Walked On



Blasphemy laws are inefficacious because they seek to make the one thing illegal that cannot be controlled by the law or by sheer authority, namely the human will. If people want to express themselves and their opinions, they will almost always find a way to do so.

In the recent news a Pennsylvania teenager, being teenagery, did the awfully silly thing of posing with a Jesus statue and simulated oral sex with it. 

The pictures found their way to the Interwebs and people saw the photos and became outraged. Unfortunately, there also happens to be an archaic anti-blasphemy styled law in the Pennsylvania law books which states that desecration of sacred objects in the state of Pennsylvania has a maximum punishment of up to two years in prison.

As the Washington Times reports:

As a result of the absolutely idiotic Pennsylvania desecration law, the boy actually faces a stiffer penalty for gesturing near the statue than he would have for stealing or destroying the figure.

Snicker. It said, "Stiffer" penalty. 

You see, it's good to have a sense of humor. One which, apparently, the state District Attorney, Bill Higgins, lacks as he is seeking to charge the boy with a second-degree misdemeanor charge. On his Facebook page, Bill Higgins defended his prosecuting the teen by stating:

As for this case, this troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of OUR community. … His actions constitute a violation of the law, and he will be prosecuted accordingly. If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.

It's not so much the severity of the nonsensical charge that stings, since with a bit of community service it could be expunged from the teen's record anyway, but the attitude of those willing to sacrifice this kid as a scapegoat. 

Christians are obviously mad at the recent widespread, secular, irreligious attitudes and are lashing out in infantile temper tantrums. A kid offended us by making a lewd gesture in front of Jesus! *Gasp. Quick, let's all trample his First Amendment rights because we were able to dig up an archaic law that's specifically designed to ignore his constitutional rights, that'll teach him!

But the question I have is, what the fuck man? 

Why are we prosecuting a kid for doing absolutely nothing wrong excepted, perhaps, offending the sensibilities of some tight asses in Pennsylvania?

Drew Johnson, in a scathing opinion piece "The first amendment on trial," writes that

While molesting a statue or burning a flag does nothing to injure Christian or American values, Mr. Higgins‘ prosecution of the teen does, however, harm both.

 Indeed, I felt the same way and wrote a rather concerned email to Mr. Higgins at his work email address. He politely responded.

I do not wish to show the full email as this is an ongoing case. I feel bad that Mr. Higgins and his family have received death threats and I said as much in my email reply.

Mr. Higgins reassures me that the kid will get off with a slap on the wrists, without having to serve any jail time, and maybe he'll do a bit of community service to boot. But something Higgins said in the letter got under my skin. I mean, it deeply bothered me. 

In his letter to me, he reassured me that he was "very sympathetic to young people and their occasional lack of good judgement."

So that's why we're trying this teenager as a criminal?

For a non-crime no less? 

So, that's the total amount of sympathy the entire state of Pennsylvania could muster for hyperactive teen who acted out in bad taste? Trample his First Amendment rights?

Doesn't it bother you that the real crime here appears to be the suspiciously religious desire to have people punished for blasphemy in a country which protects their freedom of speech and expression? I sure as hell bothers me.

Here is my reply to Mr. Higgins in full:

Dear Mr. Higgins,

Thanks for your response. I meant no ill will, as my father was a defense attorney for 20 odd some years as is one of my good friends.

That said, there are certain laws in certain states that are archaic in the extreme. In my home state of Montana there is a law still on the books that states that no female shall be unescorted after nine pm on a Sunday evening.

Needless to say, I see women up past nine pm on Sundays all of the time!

It's shocking, I know. Like you, I too am sympathetic, in this case toward women, for their lack of good judgement.

Actually, I am no woman's keeper, I was just making a point that both laws are rather archaic and quite inefficacious. They also seem to impose themselves on the rights of the individual for no valid or logical reason I can discern.

Is it immoral to pose in a provocative fashion? How about with inanimate objects? A tree? A rock? A statue?

If Miley Cyrus can get away with twerking on national television, I don't see how a mere simulation of a lewd act can constitute a real crime. Especially when there were no other people involved in the act except for the young man. So the offense is against other people's sensibilities?

If people's sensibilities were offended, so be it. But that's all they are allowed. The offense.

Demanding any punishment beyond a public apology is overstepping their moral authority; and all based on an emotional response no less.

I can only roll my eyes and hope these people may get offended more often so that they might one day evolve a thicker skin and a sense of humor.

I am sorry for you and your family having received death threats. That should never happen. But you know how people get when their sensibilities are offended, they become quite irrational.

At any rate, it's a shame you had to experience such irrationality yourself. Let's just hope it ends here with this case and doesn't continue any further than this.

Peace.

Cordially,

Tristan Vick

I closed the letter with a quote from Robert G. Ingersoll which I will share with you all.

"If abuses are destroyed, man must destroy them. If slaves are freed, man must free them. If new truths are discovered, man must discover them. If the naked are clothed; if the hungry are fed; if labor is rewarded; if superstition is driven from the mind; if the defenseless are protected; and if the right finally triumphs, all must be the work of man. The grand victories of the future must be won by man, and by man alone." 




Digital Rights, Privacy, and U2 Forcing it's Music on You Too

Digital rights is a fuzzy subject because we always click on the "terms of agreement" without actually reading through the endless pages of legal jargon that seeks to protect the property of the company you are buying from.


In a bold move Apple released U2's new album on every iPhone in the world (as long as you had an active iTunes account, that is). 

I didn't even know about this until just yesterday, and low and behold, U2's new album! 


So, yeah. That happened.


At first I didn't know what to think. Had U2 and Apple invaded my privacy and downloaded stuff onto my phone without my consent? Well, not exactly. Nothing about me or of mine was stolen or used without my consent. The files stay in the cloud until you agree to download it, so technically it wasn't even on my phone. 

Even so, the prospect of what else the powers that be might be able to do with my phone without my consent is quite frightening, nothing bad happened. Hey, it was free music!

So being the consumer that I am I downloaded it and listened to the album.

I have to congratulate Bono and the rest of U2, because if they set out to create an album packed with nothing but B-sides, they succeeded in flying colors. 

Honestly, it may be one of the worst U2 albums I've ever listened to (and this coming from a U2 fan). Worse, it's simply one of the worst albums I've ever listened to, period. It had two halfway decent songs on it, and that's as nice as I'm going to get with my review of the songs.

Many people are offended that Apple pulled this stunt. I'm not. I find it an interesting use of technology, besides, they all clicked on the terms and services agreement without reading just like I did. Besides, iTunes has always (ALWAYS!) been a pain in the backside. What makes anybody think it would be any different now that they're giving away free music?

I only wish it would have been a better album with better songs.




But I am curious. What are your thoughts? Did Apple have a right to force U2 on you? 

Do you feel your privacy was breached?

Do you agree with Bono's claim that it's just a bunch of Irish guys blood, sweat and tears? Or was he mistaken, and this is the blood, sweat and tears of countless millions crying out into the night, "Nooooo! Not U2 on my play list!"

Or do you just not give a fig?

I'm interested in your thoughts. Feel free to place them in the comments section below. 


Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Wrong Side of History: A Short Ramble on ISIS

I find the recent events involving ISIS quite troubling.

They represent a kind of marriage of ignorance and hate that is so antiquated that modern diplomacy has not sway, no meaning.

It forces us to respond in ways which only seek to aid ISIS in achieving their goals. And I find this deeply disturbing.

I understand they are a group of highly ignorant, highly brainwashed, zealots who believe they are on a mission to rid the world of impurity, and that one of the only reasons they inflict violence is because they simply don't know that violence isn't a sustainable lifestyle choice.

In fact, I can guarantee you that not a single member of ISIS has ever read The Art of War by Sun Tzu. They should.

"There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."

ISIS fights a gorilla style campaign, but this will not last. Eventually they will run out of resources or else people to kill. But they will never achieve victory because they will never be able to wipe out all the impurity in the world without first killing themselves for being the most impure thing.

Every murderer, no matter how uneducated, no matter how brainwashed, can never wash their hands of the blood they have spilled. They will be forever impure, and so they have failed to achieve their goals before they even began.

The best thing all the members of ISIS could do is kill themselves.

But zealotry leads them to believe their cause is worthy, but more importantly, immediately achievable.

At the end of the day they really do think violence will allow them to achieve all their goals.

And it may. For a time.

People will die.

People will suffer.

And this is the price we all pay for for not learning from the past. For being on the wrong side of history. For choosing to let others remain ignorant in light of a better understanding because it is their "religious right."

And still...

People die.

People suffer.

All because another group of people pay homage to their great Lord, not God mind you, but the Lord of Ignorance.

But ISIS isn't the only one who needs a lesson from Sun Tzu.

We all could use the lesson.

"In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory"

Indirect methods.

So far, ISIS has been fighting using direct, albeit barbaric and antiquated, methods. And to my dismay we have either been answering in kind or not at all.

I am not a soldier. Nor am I a trained tactician. But I do play a mean game of RISK. 

The answer to defeat ISIS may be something simple, it may be something unusual that some think-tank thinks up. It may simply be supplying the Kurdish resistance better so that they can wipe out ISIS for us.

But throwing stones at each other, or bullets for that matter, simply doesn't seem to be working. 

We need to find a new way.

A better way of dealing with violent, ignorant, thugs who worship Ignorance and idolize Death.

That's all I have to say on the subject of ISIS.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reversing the Burden of Proof: Why Apologists Continue to Do it (Excerpt from Chapter 9: Surviving the Fallout After a Nuclear Face-Palm)



Excerpt from Chapter 9: Surviving the Fallout After a Nuclear Face-Palm


Continuing on, Sheridan laments that it’s unfair of theists to expect atheists to disprove God, since one cannot prove a negative. Randal answers his complaint by informing:

I hear that claim from atheists a lot these days, but it’s just not true. You certainly can prove that something doesn’t exist. The strongest way would be by showing that the concept of the entity in question is incoherent, because if something is incoherent then it can’t exist.

I’m glad Randal acknowledges as much since, in my book Ignosticism: A Philosophical Justification for Atheism, I make the case that “God” is an incoherent concept, for numerous reasons, least of all that nobody, not even believers, can seem to agree on a single coherent definition for God. Instead, they all offer competing definitions, many of which outright negate one another. For example, Unitarian Universalists reject the triune God of mainstream Christian theology meanwhile Catholics and Protestants believe in a trinity as a defining characteristic of God. So which is it, is God comprised of a trinity or not. He can’t be both. But both is what Christians have been claiming, thus God is an incoherent concept.
Likewise, Lutherans believe, via the doctrine of Justification, that God has forgiven all sins and so everyone is saved whereas Calvinists believe in the doctrine of Predestination whereby God predestines people to an eternity in Hell before they’re even born, even if they truly believe and have been forgiven. So which of these God definitions is it, is God a forgiving God or not? He cannot be both. Being both an all forgiving God and a God who predestines people to Hell in an unforgiving manner is contradictory, thus renders the definitions of the Christian God incoherent.
As you can clearly see, any definition which negates its own meaning is not exactly coherent. You almost have to wonder what Christians are trying to describe exactly or, more likely, if they’re just making it all up as they go along.
Randal follows this with the extremely peculiar claim that

The skeptic cannot plausibly dismiss these beliefs as being unfalsifiable. But then if these beliefs are in principle falsifiable, then the skeptic has an evidential burden to show that they are, in fact, false. He can’t simply dismiss the task as a fool’s errand. Atheists don’t get to dismiss their cake and eat it, too.

I can imagine Christians nodding along with this reasoning, not realizing how faulty it is. You see, this boils down to the “I have a Magic Baseball™” argument.
If I told you, for example, that I had a Magic Baseball™ that could grant you three wishes, would the burden really be on you to disprove my magic baseball claim when I haven’t provided you any proof? No, of course not! Because you’re not the one making the claim to have a Magic Baseball™. The burden is on the person who makes the claim. Having to disprove everyone else’s unfounded claims, after all, is not reasonable.
Randal is simply wrong here. It doesn’t seem very likely that God is a null hypothesis waiting to be proved false by evidence, otherwise someone would have certainly done so by now. On the other hand, not having done so doesn’t automatically validate God as existent. The primary reason nobody has falsified the existence of God is because there simply is no evidence to consider, hence nothing to disprove, and it is not rational to attempt to disprove that which does not exist.
Yet this is exactly why Randal wants you to take up the challenge, because he knows full well that it is a futile endeavor, and being unable to meet the evidential burden of proof you will have no choice but to concede to the fact that Randal is right and that God, at the very least, probably exists.
This is the disreputable sleight of hand of the apologist. Those pesky atheists, you see, they don’t automatically accept our Magic Baseball™ as a fact, so we’re gonna trick them into trying to disprove it!
You can’t prove that I don’t not have a Magic Baseball™! Bwah-Hahahaha!”
This is what is called shifting the burden of the proof. It’s a cheap trick, and probably the most popular in the apologist’s bag of tricks. Be on the lookout for it. I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed that Randal resorts to it in his book, let alone doesn’t try to hide what is essentially a non-argument. Reversing the burden of proof doesn’t automatically justify or validate your position.
Perhaps an easier way to reveal the trick is to simply ask them to produce what they claim is existent. Unable to produce their Magic Baseball™ then they will have technically falsified their own claim to be in possession of a magic baseball.
So, when a theist asks you to disprove God, just remind them as a skeptic and an atheist you don’t believe in any God, and would like them to simply produce what they say exists so you can see it for yourself. Should be easy for them, if God truly exists.
If they resort to apologetic maneuvers however, such as playing semantics games of redefining God to something not quite extant but something intangible, imperceptible, transcendent, existing outside of space and time … well, then they have made their own definition of God incoherent.
They are essentially saying God transcends reality and that there is no evidence for such a God, but that he exists nonetheless. It’s a contradiction in terms. It’s like talking about Invisible Pink Unicorns (or IPUs for short). No such thing can exist, because it’s logically impossible to be an opaque color when you’re completely transparent. A God which interacts with reality in any capacity at any level will leave evidential footprints, so to speak. Accounting for the lack of footprints by saying God exists beyond reality is only a way to try to salvage God belief despite an incontestable lack of evidences to support the claims of believers.
Of course, the apologist could simply stick to theological demonstrations and try to convince us that we can know God through reason, or some such similar argumentation, but this is all after the fact. The only realization we need to make here is that they failed to demonstrate the existence of what they claim exists. Systems which fail to demonstrate their claims are almost, assuredly, always false.
Next Randal and Sheridan discuss Antony Flew’s invisible gardener for a few minutes. When Sheridan says that it sounds like God belief to him, Randal objects, affirming:

If you assume a set of definitional claims about God, like his triune identity and a particular set of attributes, then your belief is not a mere cipher. It has real content and can be falsified.

This is very true. And many of these beliefs can be easily falsified. Triune god concepts can be shown inconsistent, incoherent, and not actually Biblically supported. Ask any Unitarian Universalist Christian. Many other attributes can be proved ostensible, which is why in my book Ignosticism I have a chapter devoted to discussing ostensible attributes. In my book I raise the point that attributes are ascribed, not derived.

Having an already established definition for what God means, according to one’s cultural experiences, sounds perfectly fine when everyone shares a like-minded belief. Many Catholics preach God is love, because that’s what Catholics believe. But asking the question “Is God love?” forces us to come to a realization that the term “love” has merely been ascribed to God, not derived from God. Christian theology supplies the definition, not from the study of God, but from what the Holy Bible says about God. So already we have a cultural and religious worldview providing the believer with a specific definition of God, in this case, that God is love.[1]

The problem as I see it is that naming God a “Loving God” isn’t the same as describing that entity as loving. Naming and describing are two very different things.
Now, all it seems to me the religious person is capable of doing is ascribing names, i.e. assumed attributes, to their idea of God. Contrary to what Randal may espouse, this isn’t exactly reliable information and we cannot always falsify it because we often do not have any way to examine the actual thing itself (God), which we’d need to in order to derive a correct description which would either thereby validate or falsify one’s chosen attributes for God.
If the attribute named and the description as derived matched, and we witnessed the thing itself being loving, then naming it a “loving” thing would be the correct thing to do. But if the thing itself is nowhere to be found and cannot be tested or observed, how can we deduce that it has a loving nature or acts in accordance to what we call love? We can’t falsify that claim, because it’s mainly a claim about imaginary nothings until we can examine the thing itself and see for ourselves whether or not there is something more to it all.[2]
At any rate, that’s the problem which believers need to overcome with regard to ostensible attributes.
Continuing on, Sheridan changes the subject and states:

The fact is that the Christianity of today shares no substantial identity with the Christianity of medieval Europe or the Roman Empire, not to mention the Jewish religion of the Old Testament.

Randal disagrees, however, and informs, “I think you’re focusing on non-essential changes.”
But not really. Christianity has changed quite substantially over the course of history. So much so that past Christians would not likely be able to recognize modern forms Christianity as anything but heretical, malformed, distortions of their faith. What would St. Augustine think of mega pastor Joel Olsteen for example? Or, for that matter, what would St. Thomas Aquinas think of Pat Robertson? What would John Calvin think of mega rich mega pastor Rick Warren? Although it’s just a hunch, I highly doubt the Christian thinkers of the past would consider the Christian “thinkers” of today genuine Christians.
I don’t even know why Randal would feel compelled to deny this, but he does. He goes on to say Christians share an underlying unity in the conviction that God sent his Son to offer a fallen world the way to reconciliation.
Well, yes, this goes without saying as it is simply a declaration of what the shared theological conviction of most Christians is. But I am less interested in proclamations of faith than I am simple, down to earth demonstrations and it seems Randal has none.




[1] Tristan Vick, Ignosticism: A Philosophical Justification for Atheism, p. 34
[2] A thing’s systematic relationship with reality matters. Metaphysics falls away in favor of finding real links between the thing itself and the thing as we experience it. This is made clear in A.J. Ayer’s seminal work Language, Truth, & Logic

Monday, August 25, 2014

Excerpt from The Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot: Answering Christian Apologetics (From Chapter 8: Chasing Down Heresies Where None Exist)

This picture makes more sense after reading the article.

(From Chapter 8: Chasing Down Heresies Where None Exist)

Randal comes back to his contention of Victor Stenger’s assessment that God is an astonishing hypothesis,[1] and wastes no time stating his grievances, informing:

I disagree with the assumption that Christians need to justify their belief in God as a hypothetical posit that’s supposed to explain some feature of their experience. Certainly one could argue for God in this way, but it’s not the usual way Christians think about God. From the Christian perspective, God is not a hypothesis; rather, he’s a lived reality.

We can’t help but wonder, if God is not a facet of experience but he is a lived reality, then what is a lived reality if not an experience of reality? And if you cannot derive a hypothesis about that reality from experience, then how can you be sure it’s reality that you are experiencing and not, for example, a hallucination or a delusion?
I think Randal is doing a bit of special pleading here. After all, why is it that the Christian reality the only one worth considering? What about the Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist realities? What about all of the other world religions and their respective realties?
Moreover, Randal hasn’t actually addressed why God is not a hypothesis, strictly speaking, but he does mention that

If atheists really want to understand Christians, they need to get over the assumption that the only way to have reasonable beliefs or knowledge of God is by way of hypothesis inference.

I feel that I must address two things here. First, it seems Randal is making a horribly bad assumption when he thinks atheists do not, or cannot, understand Christians or Christian thinking.
Case in point, I was a devout Christian for three decades, and spent the better part of thirty long years steeped in the Christian faith. Even though I am no longer a Christian, it doesn’t automatically mean that every experience I had was meaningless or that I forgot everything I learned when I was a believer. I simply have had a change of mind, but that doesn’t make me in any way na├»ve of my past thirty years of Christian belief. But listening to how Randal puts it you would almost have to imagine that all apostates are imbeciles. This seems a tad bit of an unfair characterization, to put it mildly.
I know many atheists who have come out of religion in a similar fashion to me and are more than familiar with the religious modes of thinking. In fact, my previous book Beyond an Absence of Faith focused on this very subject, so I am what you might consider somewhat of an expert in atheists’ views with respect to religion. Although I by no means consider myself a spokesperson for what other atheists believe, as I have found atheists believe a wide array of things.
It is my expert opinion, however, that this religious familiarity which some atheists have has more often than not soured them on religion and not for a lack of knowing what religion teaches or what the religious believe, but in spite of it all. Many atheists leave religion behind because they know it all too well. Think about that and let that sink in.
Of course, the opposite case cannot be made with respect to Christians understanding atheism. Apparently, not many do. Most Christians do not seem to be able to understand how someone could lose faith in what they hold to be a veritable truth and will often play the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy card, but this just goes to underscore the problem, mainly that many atheists—especially those who came out of religious faith like I did—understand Christianity (and religion overall) a whole lot better than many believers seem to.[2] Otherwise, why appeal to the fallacy that ex-Christian, Muslim, or Jews who turned atheist cannot possibly comprehend the religious mindset?
The second issue I have with Randal’s assessment is that if one does not come to reasonable belief about God through inference, then how do they come to it? I honestly would like to know.
It seems if you eliminate inference as a way to infer God either directly or indirectly from religious experience, then you’d only be left with the assertion that God is a lived reality. This is why I say Randal’s reasoning here is confused. Because you cannot argue for the reasonableness of belief in God by merely asserting it is reasonable to believe in God.
Besides this, what is this assertion based off of if not the inference that God is real?
Randal then asks why Sheridan thinks it’s impossible for God to talk to people. The two of them argue for a bit. None of it struck me as particularly interesting. Randal thinks God can talk to people and through people, as most Christians are primed to believe, and Sheridan rejects that notion. Randal then mentions God can speak through events, i.e. by giving us signs, and that pretty much fits with Christian conviction as well. Nothing really interesting was covered here other than rehashing Christian beliefs, so we’ll skip ahead.
A few pages later Randal makes the claim that

Christians can come to have a properly basic knowledge of God in much the way that we gain knowledge through other avenues such as sense perception, reason and testimony. I would contend that basic Christian beliefs like ‘God loves me’ and ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ are properly basic.

Notice that if you merely presuppose God is a reality and, in addition to this, you presuppose that God is a loving God, and then presuppose that God is a personal God, then it’s perfectly easy to come to the conclusion that ‘God loves me’ is a properly basic belief.
But this amounts to smoke and mirrors and doesn’t constitute any real argument for the existence of said God.
Nor is it properly basic, since in order to presuppose God is loving you have to presuppose God is a personal entity capable of love on top of presupposing this loving entity’s existence. In other words, the belief in a loving God breaks down to prior beliefs about God which must all be presupposed before you can get to the belief involving a loving God.
Needless to say, it appears that Randal, being a Foundationalist of sorts, has in mind Plantinga’s ‘warrant’ to believe here. But Plantinga’s argument suffers, basically, for the same reasons. The truth of theism and its positive epistemic status creates a burden of proof for the theist of showing that theistic belief is externally rational or warranted and requires reasons for supposing that theism is true in the first place.
At least, this is the objection to Plantinga’s ‘warrant’ to believe as I understand it. Of course, being a layman and not a professional philosopher, I could be mistaken. I am always welcome to suggested corrections where needed.
A hypothesis, just to remind you, is a proposition put forward for testing and discussion, possibly as a prelude to acceptance or rejection.
Hypothetically speaking, I bet I could get the actress Karen Gillan to fall madly in love with me if I had but just one date with her. Now, such a hypothesis requires testing and discussion before we completely dismiss or accept it. But short of Karen Gillan actually agreeing to go out with me, this hypothesis is merely conjectural. Which is why we tend to say, “hypothetically speaking” in the first place.
Right away Randal runs into a big problem by rejecting God as a hypothesis, because he’s saying such a proposition of God’s reality and the belief in this reality doesn’t require testing and discussion. You don’t even need to be able to intuit God from experience, according to Randal. You just have to accept God as a brute fact, and you have to accept that knowing this brute fact is also a brute fact.
This circular reasoning amounts to a kind of mental masturbation, where God is always more than just the hypothetical because you believe it is so. However, this clearly cannot constitute any kind of reasonable belief. It would be like me stating that Karen Gillan really, truly is madly in love with me because I choose to believe it. It’s not rational, it’s delusional.
So, you see, like my claims about Karen Gillan, Randal’s claims about God still require testing and discussion and so can be no more than a hypothesis. As sad as it is for me to admit the fact that Karen Gillan probably does not love me, considering she has even heard of me, I am much relieved by the fact that it is my properly basic belief that that Jennifer Lawrence girl is simply wild over me.
Okay, so it doesn’t work like that. But if it doesn’t work like that for me, it certainly doesn’t work like that for Randal Rauser and his so-called properly basic belief in God either.








[1] Victor Stenger actually goes one further and claims God is a failed hypothesis. See Stenger’s books God: The Failed Hypothesis and God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion.

[2]
A 2010 study done by the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion & Public Life found that atheists and agnostics tops the list of those with the best religious knowledge, beating out Jews and Mormons. Christians didn’t even make it into the top three. This however is no surprise, since many Christians are religiously illiterate and biblically illiterate too.

According to the 2009 Barna year-end review of Christianity in America, they discovered that modern Christians care more about spirituality than Christianity, and that biblical literacy was neither a goal nor a reality among the majority of Christians in the U.S. All this is simply a polite way of saying that Christians know relatively little about religion. We can only guess at how this impacts belief in God. See the Pew study online at:
    http://www.pewforum.org/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey/

Also see the Barna study online at:
    https://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/325-barna-studies-the-research-offers-a-year-in-review-perspective#.Unr6YfmnpWI



Excerpt from The Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot: Answering Christian Apologetics (From Chapter 6: What We Should Teach Children)



(From Chapter 6: What We Should Teach Children)

Sheridan holds that religious indoctrination of minors is a form of child abuse. Randal pulls out a copy of Richard Dawkins’ book A Devil’s Chaplain and quotes from the book in which Dawkins laments the fact that his daughter was being given religious instruction without his knowing about it.
As you may know, Richard Dawkins is a strong proponent against the religious indoctrination of children, as he rightly observes that religious indoctrination is little more than telling children what to think and believe, not teaching them how to think critically so that they will be equipped to evaluate their beliefs for themselves when they enter into the age of reason.
Sheridan sides with Dawkins as to the argument of whether or not indoctrinating children into religion is a kind of abuse or not,[1] and challenges Randal on the front that any reasonable person would see that coaching children to fear hell, among other questionable beliefs, without being given the option to so much as question these spoon fed beliefs in such a way as to insight stress, mental anguish, or even emotional outbursts in the children, should be considered, at a minimum, mental abuse.
Randal responds that it possibly could be, and tries to deflect the denunciation by insisting, “It depends, among other things, on whether the doctrine is true and how it is taught.”
I’m going to pause here just to say that, as an educator of children (elementary through junior high school) I can honestly say that teaching any child a fear based doctrine of any sort is most assuredly child abuse when you neglect to teach them to think for themselves perchance they may have the ability to doubt nonsensical teachings such as those depicted in the shocking 2006 documentary Jesus Camp.  Such heavy-handed indoctrination is basically religious brainwashing, and it often leads to radical thinking and behavior in those who have been indoctrinated.[2]
Also, even if the so-called doctrine is true, even one as pernicious as the notion of infinite punishment and torture for finite crimes (or more accurately “crimes” as arbitrarily defined by the religion) it doesn’t necessarily mean that children are ready to be taught it.
We don’t teach children about the intimate details of sexual relationships until they are of a mature age, and I would say the same could probably be said about many religious doctrines, such as the doctrine of Hell (just to cite one example), regardless of whether such doctrines may be true or not.
Besides, let’s be honest, Christians don’t typically say that Hell might be real, so make up your own mind. No! Instead they say that Hell is real, so you better believe this way and act accordingly, or else!
Now, to an adult who doesn’t believe in such things like heaven or hell, all this might seem rather absurd. But to a child who has not mastered critical thinking skills yet, what choice do they have but to put her trust in their parents, their caretakers, and the authority figures in their life?
One of the biggest regrets in my own life, to share a short aside with you, was the time I worked as Christian counselor at a well-known Christian Bible camp where we would often use the tools of emotional blackmail to persuade children to accept Jesus by frightening them with the fear of Hell and, in turn, using their fear of being separated from their loved ones forever (forever!) to compel them to come to Christ.
From the Christian perspective, it was always imperative they accept Jesus right away, because we were in the End Times, after all, and without Jesus tucked neatly away in their hearts their immortal souls would be doomed for all eternity! If they wanted to see their loved ones again (in Heaven), we informed, they must accept Jesus—and they must do it now.
And many of them did accept Jesus. But not because they truly believed in what we were telling them, but because what we were telling them was so goddamn terrifying that they felt they had no other choice but to believe. This is the design of most Bible camps, mind you, to indoctrinate children who haven’t gotten enough of it from their religious parents or their churches.
Looking back now, I view my time as a Bible camp counselor as the shameful act it really is. I partook in a child brainwashing program and I actually rejoiced when I saw the desired outcome of children’s wills being broken and accepting any religious thing I told them. Let me ask you, how sick is that?
So, in the end, after weeks of religious over saturation and mental manipulation, the children had done exactly what we wanted them to do. They had broken down and accepted Jesus. A couple of things need to be said here. First, this isn’t teaching the child how to critically evaluate the concept of Hell for themselves, and actually has the opposite effect by teaching them to fear the very notion of Hell so they don’t question it; and secondly, Hell is a fictional place and until an ounce of evidence for Hell’s existence can be brought to light then I’m afraid the only consideration anyone needs to give it doesn’t even amount to one iota.
Of course, savvy theologians may stop me here to point out that Hell is meant as more of a metaphor for the absence, or separation if you will, of God. If so, then it’s my opinion that this “metaphor” not in tune with the Biblical description of Hell as being a real place of physical suffering and torment, with fire and chains, wailing, and the gnashing of teeth as describe in Holy Scripture. Then again, even if by the slimmest chance the concept of Hell denotes a real spiritual separation with God, there are many more reasons why we shouldn’t be teaching it to small children. Most of all because small children do not fully comprehend esoteric philosophical concepts in the same way as educated adults do, and at the very least, because it’s an unnecessary burden to be forcing a child to have to wrestle with.
As a teacher, I regret instructing the children under my tutelage that Hell was a real thing that they should be concerned about, mainly because it wasn’t really teaching. It was indoctrination. As an educator of children today, looking back on my days as a Christian Indoctrinator of Children (CIC pronounced “Sick”), I realize that I failed to teach them anything of importance, except perhaps an unfortunate life lesson in how to cope with the anxiety of an all too gratuitous summer of Christian Bible camp.






[1] As someone who has children and as an educator of children and someone who once was extremely religious, I have to agree with Richard Dawkins that strict religious indoctrination of children is a kind of mental abuse. But instead of going on at length about why I think so, I will direct you to an excellent lecture by Seth Andrews, aka The Thinking Atheist, titled “Get Them While They’re Young” where he details the often outrageous and shocking tactics of religious organizations to indoctrinate children.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEUqWKfdLeM

[2] Although not all religion is bad, many have innately bad elements, and child indoctrination often leads to a type of religious maltreatment of children and frequently ignores children’s rights. For a candid look at the various kinds of religious abuse done to children in the name of religion, see Janet Heimlich’s book Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.


Advocatus Athesit

Advocatus Athesit