Monday, October 31, 2011

Ethnohaulism and on Confusing Religion, Culture, and Race

An ethnic slur, or ethnohaulism as it's technically called, is when a term or combination of terms are used as insinuations or allegations about members of a given ethnicity or to refer to them in a derogatory (critical or disrespectful), pejorative (disapproving or contemptuous), or insulting fashion. More simply put, an ethnic slur is a term or word(s) used to insult someone on the basis of race, ethnicity, or nationality.

Recently I was watching a debate about the pejorative term "towel-head" and whether or not the term is racist. Personally, I do not know the history of the usage of this term, but according to The Oxford Dictionary of English, the term is classified as informal/offensive. Not informal/racist.

The term, however, is commonly used as a term of abuse for a Muslim or Arab who wears the style of headdress, either a turban or keffiyeh, which looks like a wrapped up towel atop of a person's head.

I personally would never use the term "towel-head" to describe anybody, but as an ethnic slur, intended to ridicule a cultural style of head dress, I don't see how the cultural connotation denotes any real sense of racism. Certainly, it's not racist in the same way "sand-nigger" is explicitly racist. Racist terms usually refer to the person's race like sexist terms refer specifically to sex. "Tar baby" is a racist term whereas "Faggot" is a sexist term. "Towel-head" is neither. It's not attacking gender or genetics, but rather, culture. That may be bad enough for some, but it doesn't make it racist (although the tactless person using it very well may be a racist--however, that is a separate issue).

Again, it depends on the context and how the term is applied. A person who hates all Arabs is a racist. A person who hates silly hats, or wrapping up your entire body and head in drapes when you live in the blistering desert, is simply ridiculing what appears to them to be a bad idea. On the other hand, it could be argued that historically the keffiyeh styled headgear was used to protect a person from the sun and could be used to cover the mouth and eyes in sand storms--not at all a bad idea. But this is before the advent of sun screen, automobiles, and air-conditioning that is. After all, a silly looking hat is still a silly looking hat. I like the ones with little propellers on top.The point I want to make, however, is that the two usages are different.

a) Pejorative ridicule: In the first case, the term is being use pejoratively to mock, or ridicule, a bizarre religious or cultural observance.

b) Invective scorn: In the second case, the term is being used to mock, or ridicule, a person's ethnicity.
If I were to be asked whether the first case denotes a hint of racism, I would be forced to say no. Although, if I were asked whether the second case denotes a hint of racism, then I would have to say maybe. It depends on how the word is used. Some words, like the Hawaiian term Haole, may or may not be derogatory depending on how it is used. It can be used as a harmless slang for white people, or as and ethnic slur, or it can be used as an invective. Other ethnohaulisms can be both simultaneously racist and sexist, such as the derogatory term "Squaw."

Racism can be linked to ethnic slurs, of course. Such terms as "chink," "coolie," "spic," or "nip" are overtly racist. Some ethnic slurs are more imaginative, but no less offensive. Slurs like "Oreo," "Pepsi," and "Porch monkey," although amusing, should be reserved for foul mouthed stand-up comedians--not everyday speech. In each of these prior cases, however, the ethnohaulisms refer specifically to race--color of skin and/or genetic predisposition--whereas the term "towel-head" does not.

Here's the problem though. Many people don't make a distinction between the two usages. Which is where the trouble arises. I have observed, both online and in real life, that there are many who are quick to confuse the two cases. Interestingly enough, they always confuse the second one for the first and never the other way around. That is, in most every case I have ever seen or heard of, the culturally sensitive person is quick to cry racism whenever they hear a pejorative term like "towel-head"--but the term may simply be about a silly custom--not about skin color or race. The moral of the story is--the person may not always be racist, rather, they are most probably a culturally stunted, insensitive asshole. But then again, they may be a comedian. Like I said, it depends on context.

Many, however, do not see it this way. With religions like Islam, for example, ethnic culture and religious culture often blend together, and it is sometimes difficult to delineate a line between the two. This is where the ethnic slurs and racism are often confused for one and the same. When a culturally insensitive, callous critic negatively critiques a religious custom in a religion where there is no clear distinction between culture and faith, negative comments mocking or ridiculing some as innocent as wearing a kippah, hijab, neck rings, etc., can become highly inflammatory. This makes it difficult to criticize the religion without offending people--because the people will inevitably confuse it for a personal criticism, or worse, a criticism of the sacred--the one true unforgivable crime in religious eyes. The Danish cartoon controversy is a good reminder of what happens when people confuse their religion, culture, and race.

So although I do not feel it is a good idea to employ ethnohaulisms generally, I think it is more menacing to confuse religion, culture, and race as one and the same thing. Those who do so, in my opinion, are being just as culturally insensitive and threatening as someone who unashamedly throws around ethnic slurs. Of course, if you have any thoughts on the matter, feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Friday, October 28, 2011

God Is Love = Stupid Theology Part 1

God is love. (John 4:16)

Quite often these days I see religious folk posting quaint little blurbs like the above on the Internet.  It makes me really question whether they have thought through their beliefs--because if they post the above sound bite because they actually "believe" it--then all they have done is show how fallacious their beliefs really are. 

The above quote is not only a contradiction in terms--but it is also blatantly false. Only a person who has NOT taken the time to think about what the words are saying would be under the impression that the above sentiment is somehow agreeable. It's not, for reasons we shall soon discuss.

So from now on I have decided to rebut stupid theology anytime I see it--in a series fittingly called Stupid Theology--just to show why its not only categorically wrong to hold such beliefs--but ultimately such types of belief(s) prove false. I suppose you could believe it if you so wished--but to me this would only amount to the tacit admission that the only reason you hold the [specious] belief at all is because the lie makes you feel good.

The above proclamation of faith found in the quaint, and brightly painted yellow, epigraph is designed to squash your doubt with a catchy apologetic rationalization. In order to show why it is patently false, however, we need to re-examine it line by line. Methodical, I know--but hey--that's what using your brain is--hard work. Which is why people who post this stuff need to spend less time in the echo chambers of their faith--and spend a little more time thinking through their beliefs.

Sometimes I want to ask God why he allows poverty, famine, and injustice in the world when He could do something about it. But I'm afraid he might just ask me the same question.

Okay, so I broke the single sentence into two in order to better emphasize the clashing ideologies at play here. The first sentence is a secular humanistic response to the Problem of Evil (i.e., the Problem of Pain/Suffering as we find in the physical world). The Humanist thinks, if an all loving God truly did exist, then this suffering is inexcusable. Hence we must questions God's integrity, concern, and sense of justice.

Of course the Problem of Evil is probably the most difficult theological obstacle any theist can ever face, so it seems suspect that it is purportedly answered in the following sentence. But pay extra close attention to what happens in the second line, because the apologetics at work shifts the burden and theodicy, or defending the goodness of God in the face of all the suffering and evil in the world, becomes the focus.

The fact that we are lead to believe that it is our responsibility to fix the ills of the world reflects the humanist sentiment behind the quotation--and I agree, it's up to us to address the issues of poverty, famine, and injustice in the world--but the problem here is the second line redirects our focus from the fact that the quote is about God's responsibility to act in accordance to his "all loving" nature. After all, according to believers, the Bible, and the theology, God is love.

So what of this love? Well, instead of doing anything about the ills of the world--God is content to ignore them. Hardly something a loving God would do. Especially one with the power to prevent such ills in the first place.

Yet it is this very realization which provides the negation to his "all loving" nature. We soon come to realize that there is a deeper problem we need to address concerning God's conflicted nature. God's assumed nature, according to religious belief, is likely to be false given the nature of the evidence.
According to the evidence (i.e., the pain and suffering in the world), God can either be all loving or all powerful, but not both. We know this for the very reason that the idea of an "omnibenevolent and omnipotent" God willingly allowing evil (in any form) to exist is patently absurd.

God could be "all loving"--but not all powerful. That is, he might merely be unable to effectively change the natural order of things. This hardly sounds like the God believers profess an ardent faith in--it's certainly not the God who created the universe and everything in it--it certainly can't be the Orthodox God of Christianity.

So here's the rub, if God was all loving and all powerful--then God must act in necessity (in accordance with his nature) to prevent evils such as starvation, famine, sickness, etc. Yet these things are, sadly enough, found in abundance. Also, because God (supposedly) has the power to create entire universes and everything in them, then we know God has (at the bare minimum) the power to effectively change the physical laws--i.e., change how pain and suffering affect living organisms--but his very refusal to do so shows that God cannot be all loving.

Thus we know God is NOT love.

As such, we are left with three possibilities as to what constitutes God's true nature. 1) God is malevolent, or 2) God is indifferent, or else 3) there is no God.

The fact that the quote we are dealing with misdirects our attention from the issues of God's obligatory necessity to prevent evil (according to his "all loving" nature) is an apologetic trick meant to shift the burden and make us feel guilty for the problem(s) which, technically speaking, are not our problems--if a loving God exists.

The fact is, humans are anything but "all loving." But we are compassionate, so our conscience grows concerned when we see injustice, poverty, and needless suffering. This suggests we are morally superior to the God of theism, because we exhibit empathy where he does not.

Granted, there are some (overused) theistic rebuttals, e.g., rationalizations, the believer can fall back on when confronted with these prior set of objections. They can claim God works in mysterious ways, his mind is unknown to us, so who are we to question God?

Well, the answer to this rationalization is quite simple--we have the inescapable obligation to question such a God--because he explicitly allows for suffering which he should find as shocking, unsettling, and horribly unfair as we do--if he were at all a compassionate sort of person, such as we humans typically are.

[Of course, not all humans are compassionate, I get that. But most healthy human beings exhibit compassion as an inbuilt feature of being, well, human. We have evolved this way. As such, a loving God would undeniably have to, at the very least, exhibit as much compassion as we do in order to be considered at all loving.]

Moreover, we don't need to know the mind of God to know that idly sitting by and doing nothing, simply letting injustice, suffering, and evil occur without so much as batting an eyelid is, not only wrong, but morally reprehensible!

Hence the apologetic ploy is to leave us feeling guilty when the question is (deliberately) reversed to question our inability (or refusal) to obey the imperative to prevent evil by having God ask us why we do nothing. Again, the message here is, ultimately, humanistic--God wants you to right the wrongs--because he can't be bothered.

Ultimately, however, as I pointed out--it's not our burden--if a loving God exists--because the imperative dictates it is God's obligation to prevent evil, suffering, and injustice since it is his very nature to do so. 

[Coincidentally, this allows us to rule out the other oft raised rebuttal that God must allow for evil in order to realize the greater good--this makes no sense when God, being all powerful, could actualize the greater good without the allowance of even a bare minimum of evil. The free will defense, when used to explain evil, only shifts the goal posts further back--it doesn't solve the problem of God's imperative to prevent evil.]  

Thus, the fact that injustice, evil, and suffering do exist in the world is strong evidence that, contrary to John 4:16, God is NOT love.

Now here's the kicker. Remember the three possibilities we are left with? To reiterate, God is either 1) malevolent, 2) indifferent, or 3) non-existent.

As such, keeping these three points in mind, when we re-examine the quote:

Sometimes I want to ask God why he allows poverty, famine, and injustice in the world when He could do something about it. But I'm afraid he might just ask me the same question.

What we are really asked to consider makes no sense whatsoever. 

First of all, if God is malevolent, then the reason he allows poverty, famine, and injustice is obviously because that is in accordance to what he wills. In other words, God desires there to be poverty, famine, and injustice.

Secondly, if God is indifferent, then the reason such things exist in abundance shows God simply doesn't care to do anything about it--they exist--so what? No skin off God's back. Deal with it.

Last but not least, if God is non-existent, then the quantity of evil we find in the world exists simply as part of the natural order, so it makes no sense to question something which isn't even there--something that's not real--but merely a figment of our imaginations. It is the equivalent of asking the Flying Spaghetti Monster why there is so much evil in the universe. It's a ridiculous and absurd question to even posit--so much so that it's downright delusional.

Thus the above religious sound bite is not only self refuting, but it is also a case of extremely stupid theology. 

Theists would be quick to realize this if they took even just one minute to think it through more carefully. But the fact that we can see such blurbs pop up all over the Internet is strong evidence that most theists haven't thought long enough, or hard enough, about their beliefs. Subsequently, this goes a long way to explain why religious belief in God persists--presumably because the majority of believers have never taken the time to properly question, or adequately address, the speciousness of their cherished beliefs in the first place.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Go to Hell

What seems like every few weeks I will recieve a random email from a theist reminding me that I am going to Hell.

They often follow up by saying, "It's nothing personal, it's just what I believe."

The caveat, however, is that if you don't share their belief and believe exactly as they do, then the threat against your life--in the after life--is that you will be forever punished, tortured, and as the Christ, meek and mild, reminded us (no less than seven times) there will be a "wailing and gnashing of teeth."

So dreadful is this message of the punitive punishment we nonbelievers will receive in the fiery furnace (after death) that, for some reason, believers feel they are doing us a service in reminding us of it.

This is the sort of mail I tend to get:

"You are going to burn in hell. I hope you realize that."
Others state things like:

"If you accept Jesus into your heart, then you won't have to fear the punitive punishment of Hell."

Others are more straight foreword in their concern for my everlasting soul when they sate:

"Go to Hell atheist pig!"
Christian compassion runs deep.

But let's step into the nonbeliever's shoes for a moment. Let us ponder how absurd this entire belief in Hell really is.

For me, the concept of Hell carries no weight whatsoever. Mainly for the obvious reason that it has as much evidence for its existence as the imaginary place called Candy Land. This makes it really hard to take such people serious when they get all worked up over the state of my eternal soul, because to me, when they state their belief that I will go to Hell, all I really hear is, "Go to Candy Land atheist pig!"

Needless to say, such absurdities don't keep me up at night.

Additionally, stating it's not personal, as if that was some kind of threat against my safety--and that you couldn't be bothered to do anything about it--makes me question your integrity as a human being. It may be what you believe, but if you truly grasped how cruel, absurd, and needlessly hurtful holding such beliefs really is... then as a good Christian... you would keep it to yourself. Why flood some guy's in-box who you don't even know with messages about the horrible torture he is going to receive? Doesn't that sound morbidly sick and twisted to you?

I also have a strong opinion about Hell. I believe anyone who believes in Hell is most likely delusional. I'm sorry, that's just what I believe.

The difference between my belief and a religious person's belief, however, is the evidence for the delusion is squarely on my side--while the evidence for Hell is completely lacking. Still, even though the odds are completely against them that Hell is actually real, they never seem to bat an eye when reminded of it.

Yet the bigger question is, it seems to me, that when a person who is clearly wrought with delusional thinking wants to engage nonbelievers in a dialog, and asks us to take what they are saying seriously--and on top of this demand to respect their beliefs asks us to hear them out--how are we supposed to put faith in anything they have to say when the delusional quality of the belief is overshadowed foremost by the obscenely absurd nature of it?

Opening a dialog up with believers is important, but I still haven't been able to find a way to entertain their unfounded beliefs without finding them both silly and frustrating, especially when both sides are demanding equal respect for their beliefs. I suppose they could very well say the same about atheism, except for the fact, that atheism isn't claiming that imaginary people and places exist, but rather, is making the simple observation that such has never been observed nor confirmed. If you are going to play the "respect card" then, in my estimation, you have to at least back it up. When it comes to the doctrine of Hell, believers are without an excuse (i.e., there is no clear reason why anyone should believe in such a thing), and so I find no reason to necessarily dole out respect for such a belief simply because someone holds it.

If that troubles you, then I'm sorry, that's just what I believe, and for good reason. For the record, my beliefs are quite harmless. They are a threat to no one. They cause no one anxiety or grief. Indeed, if you don't share my beliefs--there are no unforeseen consequences. Surely, you will not be tortured. But I know through personal experience that thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of young children under the yoke of absurd religious beliefs really do grow up with an unhealthy dread for a myriad of imaginary fears. Fears instilled in them by their believing parents and religious community. If only there was a way to console them and say to them:

"Look, your parents and religious leaders are blowing hot air up your ass. Hell isn't real. What do they know? They can't know! And if they did know... if they had a shred of human decency.. then surely they wouldn't use your fear against you and try to blackmail you with it. It's a cruel trick to make you cower before their authority. Sort of makes you wonder about the integrity of your parents and community, doesn't it? Just know, if you ever get fed up with their obscene absurdities, then there is a whole world without these petty and primitive delusions. A world in which you don't need to fear imaginary things. A world where you can grow up and mature beyond the absence of faith. And let me tell you, as someone who has personally made the journey, it is better and more wonderful than anything religion can provide you with. So what do you want to do--spend the rest of your life being miserable and afraid--or do you want to grow up and take control of your own life?"

Maybe having an open dialog is the only way we can get the message out there? Perhaps, atheists will have to suffer the obscene absurdities of religion, and tolerate fundamentally bankrupt beliefs, simply to be able to spread the good news. At least, that's what I'd like to think. We're waging a war of ideas, and simply ignoring the absurd ones won't stop them from remaining absurd. As such, I think it is important to point it out--lest people continue to face irrational fears for no good reason.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Trolley Problem: A Thought

Watching the train pass below me as I crossed the bridge over the tracks today got me to thinking about the trolley problem.

Basically, the trolley problem is a moral quandary in which the brain has a difficult time determining whether is it permissible to kill one person to save five, or let one live while knowingly allowing five deaths that could have been prevented.

Scenario A, the first part of the problem, the trolley is barreling down the tacks toward five people who are unaware that they will soon be little more than smudges. Luckily, there is a fork in the tracks, and by simply pulling a lever, the trolley will divert onto a second set of tracks as it moves away from the five innocent bystanders. Low and behold, however, before you pull the lever you notice a single moron picking up pennies off the rails (he also happens to be deaf). Unaware that the train is coming his life would be terminated if you pull the lever.

The choice is, do you pull the lever and save five people by sacrificing one? Or do you let all five perish, while the moron picking up pennies gets to become a few cents richer? According to studies, most people say it is permissible to pull the lever.

Scenario B, the second scenario, the difference is that, this time, there is only one track. Instead of a lever, you are standing on a bridge. There is one other person on the bridge with you. Meanwhile, once again, on the tracks down below are five bystanders oblivious to the harm headed their way. The question scenario B posits is, if pushing the person next to you onto the tracks would sufficiently stop the trolley and save the five people down below, is it permissible to do so?

Interestingly enough, most people say that it is impermissible to push the person over the edge in an act of intentional harm.

But what has changed? In scenario A you deliberately pulled a lever which you understood would divert the trolley onto another set of tracks and kill a single person. Scenario B posits the exact same difference, except you are personally pushing the person onto the tracks from the bridge and causing harm. Yet for some reason, in one scenario your brain thinks taking the life is permissible, and in the other scenario your brain thinks it is impermissible. Obviously the brain is experiencing conflicting moral messages--and is at an impasse. Our moral sense is confounded.

What is interesting about the trolley problem is that it shows that even simple moral precepts, like don't kill, or don't take a life, are far more complicated than they initially appear.

Now there have been various solutions applied to the trolley problem. For example, the principle of double effect has been applied so show how scenario A is inductive of not allowing harm, although their maybe some unavoidable collateral damage, whereas scenario B is a direct act of causing harm, which directly contributes to the survival of five others. The principle of double effect claims that it is morally impermissible to act out in a harmful manner. Whereas scenario A is the act of pulling the switch, scenario B is the act of deliberately harming someone. In other words, the distinction the principle of double effect seeks to highlight is that an act of allowing harm is not the same as an act of causing a harm.

However, many philosophers have pointed out that--morally speaking--nothing has changed accept for what we define as "morally permissible." The moral problem still persists. After all, not preventing a violent rape isn't the same as actually raping somebody, but you would have to be a cold hearted bastard not to prevent a rape which could save another person's life.

The thought that occurred to me while peering down over the railing at the tracks this morning was this. Let us take away the moral implications from the trolley problem, and see what happens.

Pretend, for a moment, that you are a sociopath. Unable to tell the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, in normal social situations which require moral intuition, all you have to rely on to get by in society is your statistical information and logic. Logic dictates that you sacrifice the one for the many every time. Not because of any moral obligation, but because it makes more statistical sense. As a sociopath, we could very well let the five die without bringing harm to the one, but a logical sociopath wouldn't simply allow five people to die, because that doesn't make any statistical sense to a person relying on logic (remember--to better grasp the moral dilemma here we have omitted moral obligations--for the time being).

This brings out an obvious objection to answers like the principle of double effect, because if you run the trolley problem again, and again, and again, repeatedly, then, the funny thing is, the sociopath--who cannot distinguish between right and wrong--will always end up saving MORE people than the moral person who abides by the moral obligation not to willfully enact harm or do evil.

The reason I find this interesting, is because the morally indifferent person can potentially save millions, while having only killed a few, thus realizing a greater moral good. Whereas the morally righteous person will be faced with the realization that they have allowed for millions upon millions of deaths because of their refusal to sacrifice one for the many. An act which no greater moral good can be found.

The question becomes, then, for the morally righteous person is this: what exact number of innocent deaths must we allow for, i.e. require, before it becomes morally permissible to push just one person onto the tracks? 1, 2, 3 deaths? 50? 1,000? 10,000?

Now be careful. I'm not asking anyone to put a value on a life. All life is precious--of inestimable value and worth. What we have to consider though--is how can we say the innumerably precious things, such as a life, all of them immeasurably valuable, have more or less value than the next? That's the moral dilemma we face here--because the question we are forced to contend with asks us to define and designate the parameters of what we deem as morally permissible when it comes to weighing the value of one priceless item with the value of many priceless items. But since they are all of them priceless, there is no correct way to go about determining their value. It is like trying to argue where infinity begins and ends. It's a rather futile task. This is the confusion the brain is having in trying to figure out which scenario is better with regard to the trolley problem when, in point of fact, they are statistically the same.

It seems to me that the implication here is the statistical data of which dictates the proper action seemingly outweighs the moral intuition. Whether this is good or bad, I cannot pretend to know the answer to. Perhaps, we should use statistical computations to help model morality with prospective logic to aid us in moral decision making. I don't know. I just thought by positing a logical sociopath, instead of a morally righteous bystander, the test shows that righteous morality may in fact pose a greater threat to society than sociopathy. A strange moral realization if there ever was one.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Rebuttalist

Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll is fast becoming one of my personal heroes with regard to style and whit. I now must classify him in the same league of extraordinary gentlemen as Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, and Kurt Vonnegut when it comes to witty rebuttals and savvy critical commentary of religion.

In 1878, the revivalist, old Mrs. Van Cott accused Colonel Ingersol of being "a poor barking dog."

When asked if he knew her personally, Colonel Ingersol replied, "I have never met or seen her."

The Colonel's interviewer asked him, "Do you know the reason she applied the epithet?"

Ingersoll's reply was thus:

"I suppose it to be the natural result of what is called vital piety; that is to say, universal love breeds individual hatred."

The Express, a New York newspaper published out of Buffalo, asked Ingersoll whether he wished to respond to old Mrs. Van Cott's crude accusations. Of course, he had already taken the liberty of doing so in the form of a personal letter, and he allowed The Express a copy to republish with his persmission.

His reply is one of the wittiest, and genuinely charming, rebuttals I have ever read with regard to addressing a dogmatically entrenched theist who believes simply because you disagree with them you are in league with the devil and amount to nothing more than a poor barking dog, in their righteous estimation. I republish the rebuttal in full for your enjoyment. I think you'll fin it short, sweet, and to the point.

Buffalo, Feb. 24th, 1878. Mrs. Van Cott:

My dear Madam--Where you constrained by the love of Christ to call a man who has never injured you "a poor barking dog?" Did you make this remark as a Christian, or as a lady? Did you say these words to illustrate in some faint degree the refining influence upon women of the religion you preach?

What would you think of me if I should retort, using your language, changing only the sex of the last word?

I have the honor to remain,

Your's truly,

R.G. Ingersoll

Touché Mrs. Van Cott.

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John W. Loftus is Reasonable

John W. Loftus, the atheist blogger of the popular anti-theist blog Debunking Christianity, offers an apology to those atheists he had banned from his site and he has now allowed us access to comment again.

As such, I took down my criticisms of John, because they hinged on the argument that he owed us an apology for censoring and seeking to disenfranchise us, and well, he did the reasonable thing and apologized. So my criticisms became invalid.

Instead of leaving the criticisms up for others to use as fodder to defame a fellow atheist of mine, I decided to be gracious, or at least as reasonable as John has been, and took them down. Bygones.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Many Faces of Atheism

As I have gone from theist to atheist the one thing that keeps coming up in discussions about what atheism is and how to better define it is whether or not there is such a thing as a strong or weak atheist, or a militant atheist, a naturalistic atheist, a Christian atheist, and so on and so forth.

Some people add descriptors to their atheism, to help define what they believe, or which worldview they lean toward. While others claim the description of atheism depends on which form of theism your are responding to. Both camps may turn out to be right.

On its surface, atheism is like a chameleon, it adapts to its surroundings, the situation, indeed, to the god it states it is rejecting or the theistic claim it is denying. But as many atheists have observed, at its most basic, atheism is just theism without.

Interestingly enough, however, I find that this revelation makes atheism all the more appealing to me--because it means we have here a highly adaptive belief (yes, believe it or not atheism is a form of belief) which contributes to a greater understanding of the world around us. But unlike religion, it doesn't claim to be a divinely revealed truth. In fact, atheism would happily confess its grand mistake if a supreme deity ever did come out with it and reveal "himself" to us. However, it is because atheism doesn't claim to be a revealed truth that it is in no danger of having to prove itself according to the claims it makes. Briefly, let me explain what I mean by this.

Monotheism, like the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all teach that there is one (and only one) God. Now, how do they know? Well, this is the revealed part of religion. A voice from the heavens supposedly came down to them, and said, "I am."

They responded, "Who?"

"I the Lord," the voice declared.

"Who are you Lord?" the multitudes inquired.

"I am who I am," said the Lord.

Nobody ever thought to ask the obvious follow-up question, which would have been, "Oh, Lord, pray tell, art though a smart ass or just a dessert wrought hallucination?"

Instead, these few desert dwelling folk, amid their bouts of heat stroke and fending off dehydration, clustered together in sun scorched caravans far from any recognizable oasis, and cowered in the dirt and worshiped. Nobody knows why for sure, or whether the God which appeared to them was real or just a figment of their sun baked imaginations, but regardless, they erected entire religions based on some very dubious accounts of what constitutes evidence. Indeed, to the modern educated man, these accounts all look like ridiculous myths, and rightly classifies them as such.

Even so, some forms of religion are resilient to skeptical inquiry and doubt. Not because they are true--but because they have become so good at adapting themselves that they have evolved into religions which can survive the environment around them. If the cultural environment becomes enlightened and free thinking, the religion becomes theologically sophisticated and liberal. If the environment consists of mainly uneducated women living under the patriarchy of uneducated and highly conservative men, then their religion reflects this too.

But no matter how much religion adapts itself... it will always be limited by the tenets and articles of faith which help to define it.

Monotheism, for example, must maintain a strict definition of what it means to believe in God. You can't believe in many gods, because that would be polytheism. You can't believe that god is everywhere and everything, because that would be pantheism. What this means, I think, should be clear enough. Religion is always defined by the sort of God (or gods) it presumes to be real. Whether or not these deities exist or not is besides the point--because the believer believes it without question--and in turn their beliefs are dictated by the type of God they imagine to be real.

It is for this very reason that belief in God so often interferes with the truth. If God is said to be a Creator being, and said to have created it all, then when science postulates creation happen perhaps another way, then the religious grow weary of science--not faith. Subsequently, superstition overrides common sense and metaphysical assumptions trump knowledge. The reason, I think, is obvious. If the religious questioned their faith every time they had a doubt, then their belief in God would likely prove meaningless. Not because their concept of God is no longer seemingly compatible with the view of reality they are asked to consider, but rather, because to question the type of God you believe in in the first place is to question the very thing which, as a believer, defines who you are and how you see the world.

Religion is highly adaptive, perhaps for this very reason, because when faced with contradictions or dilemmas, and sometimes even hard evidence which complicates or compromises the believer's faith--they set about attempting to rationalize ways to harmonize the current information with the information they hold to be sacred, revealed, truth. Truth is truth, after all.

This explains how religious defenses truly work. If God created it all, but then science postulates the "Big Bang" singularity spontaneously caused the universe to pop into existence from a previous state of nothingness--these conflicting theories lead to the harmonization that--through no fault of the believer (who pleads ignorance in the face of understanding something as magnificent as God)--it was God who sparked the big bang into existence. Thus faith is salvaged and science, which directly conflicted with their premise, has now become fully compatible. So much so that many believers are quick to use it as support for claiming things like "God is all powerful, beyond understanding, and transcendent, he is immutable, existing beyond the boundaries of space and time." The only problem is, there is no real way to argue against such claims, accept to point out that it seems awfully suspect that the religious, and religion in general, has to continually keep making them.

But somewhere in all this apologetics which try to save the truth from itself, is the crux of the matter. Because eventually you start to see the pattern in what religion can and cannot be. Then one day, you stop to realize that if the God which is claimed to be real was at all real, then the religion would not be limited in such a way. In other words, religion is bound to the limits of human understanding and imagination. Typically speaking, of course, the more primitive the human minds behind religion, the more primitive the religion. On the other hand, atheism is free to be anything--well--anything except for theism that is.

As such, atheism is not bound to human understanding or imagination the same way religion is. In fact, it seems to me to be the opposite. Understanding directly feeds atheism--whereas the lack of understanding, and the ignorance it generates, is what feeds religion.

Atheism, is for the lack of a better word, undefinable--it's unlimited. This makes it difficult to define, perhaps even futile (which is why I don't see the point in adding descriptors to the type of atheist you happen to be--but that's just me) yet at the same time, atheism makes is rather expansive in what it can be--or what it can become. Is there militant atheism? Sure there is. Is there naturalistic atheism? You bet. Christian atheism? I personally know few people who consider themselves Christian atheists. But to me, all of these facets of atheism merely represent different faces of the same thing (another reason I don't specifically feel the need to classify each category or variation of atheism). I think it's time we start to grow comfortable with the idea that there are many faces to atheism.

As atheism grows, matures, and adapts I am sure we will see many more varieties of atheism. I for one, see this as a good thing, because atheism offers more for less, and once people start realizing this more fully--well then, religion will really have to start to compete. Robert G. Ingersoll once sated, "No one infers a god from the simple, from the known, from what is understood, but from the complex, from the unknown and incomprehensible. Our ignorance is God; what we know is science."

I think this description rings true. I've never once heard of a group of brilliant scientists holding a summit and then everyone walking out of it with a firm belief in some kind of deity. But you hear of primitive tribes, shamans, and occasionally uneducated charlatans concocting religions all of the time. All this goes to show that understanding is when we know enough to admit we really don't know that much at all,  while religion is pretending to know more than we really can. Conversely, if there was enough evidence to establish the existence of a deity, of God, beyond an inkling of doubt, then atheism would never come to be. The very fact that atheism arises in the first place is a very strong indicator that God probably does not exist.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why Plantinga's EAAN Argument is a Non-Sequitur (Update)

In Christian theologian Alvin Plantinga's book Warrant and Proper Function, Plantinga argues that, if both:

(N) naturalism – the view that there are no supernatural beings

(E) evolution - current evolutionary doctrine

are true, then the probability that:

(R) our cognitive faculties are reliable and produce mostly true beliefs must be either low or inscrutable.

Plantinga claims that this argument gives anyone who accepts N&E with a undefeatable defeater for any belief produced by those faculties, including N&E itself. Hence, N&E has been shown to be self-defeating (this is his Evolutionary argument against naturalism).

Basically, he is saying that "the combination of evolutionary theory and naturalism is self-defeating on the basis of the claim that if both evolution and naturalism are true, then the probability of having reliable cognitive facilities is low."

Now I am not going to criticize Plantinga's skills of philosophy, but it seems to me he actually hasn't thought about the ramifications of the claim.

If no cognitive judgments can be made, then rationality, is an illusion. We only think we are being rational, but in reality, our ability to make a rational, cognitive, decision would exhibit the same probability as a coin toss.

I offer an extremely easy to do scientific experiment which would show that Plantinga's theory is, in truth, a non-issue. It's basically a non-sequitur, and here's why.

Let's test the theory. We shall use a coin. We will give a control group certain problems to solve, while another group will be given the same problems. These problems will require using the cognitive function of the brain and thinking rationally to solve. While the other group will be attempting to answering the same problems based on random coin tosses.

If we see that the ratio of cognitive based problem solvers happen to provide the correct answer, and solve more problems, more often than the coin tossing based problem solvers then we can safely say cognitive function exists--regardless of whether naturalism and evolution both being true makes the probability of cognitive function low. Indeed, having tested the ration of random coin tosses with the ability to rationalize we would at least know, that having validated cognitive function, that the existence of cognitive function is real despite Plantinga's theory that it would be nearly non-existent. 

So we must test it. Here is my proposal.

Here are five simple problems to solve for both test groups. Remember, group A gets to use their "thinking caps" while group B must solve the problems with a coin toss.

1. Before eating your breakfast cereal, should you a) poor milk onto it, or b) poor gasoline onto it?
2. Is the following sentence grammatically correct? "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." 
3. John is twenty years younger than Amy, and in five years' time he will be half her age. What is John's age now?
4. Solve for J:
J = A − 20
J + 5 = (A + 5)/2
5. Do problems #3 and #4 represent the same question, yes or no?

Now, just as an aside, I do not expect anyone to actually eat the cereal with the gasoline on it, as it would likely prove lethal, or at the very least, make them horribly ill.

My point here was to show that our cognitive capacity to rationalize should always met out the correct answer, unless of course, the person is brain damaged or mentally ill and cannot differentiate between something toxic like gasoline and something like milk. But such a case would be so rare that it probably needs no further consideration.

The test reveals the cognitive capacity to rationalize and think through the problems outweighs the random coin tosses when giving us the correct answer, allowing us to definitively say that human cognitive function exists while evolution and naturalism both are true--and this would just make Plantinga's argument a non-sequitur, because it hinges on the notion that cognitive function would either be an illusion, in which case his argument is mute, or extremely low--which it does not appear to be. It's a 100% verifiable.

Proof of cognitive function, then, renders the claim that naturalism and evolution cannot both be true erroneous. By initiating the test which is designed to prove and confirm that cognitive processes are not an illusion, because they are shown work when aiding us in problem solving whereas random coin tosses do not work, allows us to dismiss Plantinga's theory as incorrect and Plantinga's premise is falsified.

A simpler, more basic, test which does likewise is is to take a picture of red colored square, with the following question written in black letters underneath, "What color is the (above) triangle, yellow or blue?" and show it to someone. Have them read the card, and then watch their reaction to the cognitive dissonance it generates.

A thinking mind could and should be able to detect the dilemma that causes cognitive dissonance. There is no triangle, it's a square. It's not yellow nor blue, but it is red.

Of course, anyone can do this because we all recognized there are such things as different colors, or at least we believe there are, and the ability to detect the difference shows we hold a basic belief about the difference between colors. The same goes for detecting different shapes.

Moreover, our belief that the question is misleading, and wrong, and our cognitive capacity to make a correlation between the image and the incorrect information imbedded within the questioning cannot be, as Plantinga admits, an illusion. If it were, it would suggest that the belief that triangles and squares are geometrically dissimilar is false. It would suggest that, in actuality, they are the same.

Now stop to think about this for a moment... how can two entirely different geometric objects, each containing a different number of points and lines, be indistinguishable from one another? They can't. This falsifies Plantinga's theory--because we can rationalize that our belief in the difference of colors and shapes is not an illusion when it is a proberly basic belief, otherwise there is no such thing as properly basic beliefs.

[Note: The beliefs being properly basic, if cognition was an illusion, then cognitive dissonance couldn't arrise. An illusion cannot arise from the destruction of a prior illusion, unless of course, the beliefs weren't properly basic to begin with. Red is red, not yellow nor blue. If it were an illusion, then this admits that red could be classified as something other than red, but it appears to us redly so it must be a properly basic belief. Hence, it cannot appear to us wrongly, meaning if it is said to be a color other than it appears to be, then our cognitive reasoning kicks in and informs us that something is not right, i.e. it sparks cognitive dissonance, thereby demonstrating cognition is not inscrutable or illusionary, but is entirely real.]
Whether or not evolution and naturalism negate each other, it seems that such an inference is refuted by the basic evidence we contain which shows evolution to be a natural process. Maybe there is something more philosophically complex that I am missing, but not being a professional philosopher, perhaps I am not qualified to say, but Stephen Law refutes Plantinga's theory here, showing evolution and naturalism to be fully compatible.

Personally, knowing that our cognitive function isn't impaired in the slightest, and knowing the abundance of natural evidence which suggests evolution is true, I would surmise that Plantinga has probably misunderstood something about the nature of evolution or has not fully thought out naturalism. I would hate to have to say this about such an esteemed philosopher, but one has to wonder, why such an esteemed philosopher never thought about how his theory might be falsified and discredited. I mean, it doesn't take a genius to give you the correct rational response to, "Should you poor milk on your breakfast cereal or gasoline?" You can ask any child and they'll give you the correct answer.

Such a simple test should have been considered by Plantinga before he posited his theory--but having failed to do so makes him seem like either a bad philosopher, dead wrong, or biased to the point where he can't seem to admit that his theory is a non-sequitur from the start; which means Plantinga doesn't expect his theory to be falsified--he expects you to agree with him that naturalism and evolution are incompatible (or inscrutable). Which they are not, due to the amazing gift we have which is cognition and the ability to think rationally, as proved by my five question quiz and simple cognitive function test with the red square.

Therefore, I have offered a scientific proof, a test anyone can run (and see for themselves), which proves cognition and completely falsifies Plantinga's theory that N&E are incompatible. The only recourse Plantinga has now is to point out that N&E together only make our cognitive facilities a low probability--not entirely impossible--just improbable. But if that is the recourse, then why offer the theory in the first place? As you can clearly see, the theory is a non-sequitur any which way you look at it. It beats me why philosophers continue to keep resurrecting it. It didn't work for C.S. Lewis back when he offered it in his book Miracles, and it certainly doesn't work for Plantinga now.

Although it is not directly related to the above essay, I felt I needed to share the observation I made while thinking about how to falsify Plantinga's theory. It seems to me, the above refutation highlights an issue philosophers like Plantinga, and those who follow in his footsteps, need to start to seriously address. Science can discredit poor philosophy, but philosophy will never be able to discredit science. Plantinga wants to discredit naturalism and evolution to maintain his belief in a metaphysical supreme creator God--but having showed individual cognition is real--the burden is on Plantinga to explain how evolution x naturalism, something we have strong evidence for, is somehow less true than unfounded metaphysical assumptions. I do not think anyone who is honest with themselves would even try to deny that cognitive function and naturalism x evolution are 100% real--therefore another theory must be offered if Plantinga wants us to buy into his metaphysical propositions, which are far as I can tell, are completely without basis.

[ If you're not familiar with Alvin Plantinga, or his work, I have provided a link which Plantinga explains properly basic beliefs. I'll let you decide the merit of his arguments for yourself.]

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Due Criticism: Appeal to Authority

The appeal to authority may be the most widely relied upon informal fallacy there is. Of course the reason for this is most likely biological and psychological. From infancy we have no choice but to rely on the protection and safety of higher powers. These powers are usually represented by our parents and guardians, elders, leaders, and governments. It is also why many people, once fully actualized adults, still seek authority figures in their lives. Without a King, or President, or a functioning government--most people wouldn't have the structure they need in their lives--a structure which reflects their entire upbringing since the day they were born.

Indeed, society as a whole is largely structured with authority in mind. It is why armies need dictators, militaries rely on governments, the pious rely on the priests, and so on and so forth. It is no wonder then that we innately appeal to authority when we are trying to justify our desires, needs, as well as actions.

What I am concerned with here, however, is a specific form of authority used in academia. It is the argument from authority. Now, the appeal to authority is one means in gaining support to justify an argument, idea, or belief. Basically any position we take must be validated before it can become formally accepted. If you write a book on the history of George Washington, it helps to cite historians, and better yet, historians whose expertise is centered on the time and place of your topic. Another important factor is whether there is a consensus on the relevant information. Do the experts agree?

The thing we must keep in mind, however, is that the appeal to authority should be just one aspect of the support we seek--it should not be the sole piece of evidence we have supporting our position--because even authorities can be mistaken or misunderstood.

Appeal to Authority

The appeal to authority may take several forms. As a statistical syllogism, it will have the following basic structure:
Most of what authority a has to say on subject matter S is correct.
a says p about S.
Therefore, p is correct.
The strength of this argument depends upon two factors:
  1. The authority is a legitimate expert on the subject.
  2. A consensus exists among legitimate experts on the matter under discussion.
Subsequently, if an appeal to authority doesn't meet the aforementioned prerequisites, then chances are the appeal is fallacious. What this means is, if the authority lacks the expertise to be considered an authority on that subject, or else, the authority is a minority who holds a belief radically opposed to the general consensus, then chances are the authority is invalid. In which case, the argument based on that single authority would be invalid--thus rendering your position invalid.

This is why it is vital to refrain from relying on just one single authority for support of any given position. Which is why colleges teach you to properly support your arguments with more than just one ounce of evidence. Most scholars rely on mountains of collected evidence to support one meager position. Which is why when a scholar makes an appeal to authority, and neglects to cite any other sources, it should send up red flags cautioning you to think more carefully of whether or not this person truly knows what they are talking about.

An Appeal to Authority Examined
Now that we know a little bit about the argument from authority, i.e. appeals to authority, I want to do a semi-formal critique of an appeal to authority. My goal is to show how criticism can reveal the weakness in an argument by highlighting the fallacious appeals to authority. The reason criticism like this is such a powerful tool, is because if we can show that an appeal is invalid, then it most likely isn't credible. If it's not a credible argument, then whatever position the proponent is arguing for is likely either unjustified or stuck up in the air--and a better argument is required before their position can be deemed credible.

What follows is a quote from William Laine Craig's book Reasonable Faith (third edition) in which Craig makes a (intentional) fallacious appeal to authority.

In Plantinga's view the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit is the close analogue of a cognitive faculty in that it, too, is a belief-forming "mechanism." As such the beliefs formed by this process meet the conditions for warrant. Therefore, one can be said to know the great truths of the gospel through the instigation of the Holy Spirit.

Because we know the great truths of the Gospel through the Holy Spirit's work, we have no need of evidence for them. Rather they are properly basic for us, both with respect to justification and warrant. Plantinga therefore affirms that "according to the model, the central truths of the Gospel are self-authenticating"; that is to say, "They do not get their evidence or warrant by way of being believed on the evidential basis of other propositions."

As you can see, Craig appeals to the Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga as his authority. The position Craig is defending is basically the notion that Christian belief doesn't need to be justified, because it is basic, and he quotes Plantinga to garner this support.

In order to see why this support is invalid, and why this appeal to authority actually hurt's Craig's case rather than helping it, we have to do what literary critics do and break down the argument line by line (i.e., sentence by sentence). Literary critics call this an analytic deconstruction. It's a little different than a formal analysis in the sense that it recognizes that the words being used don't necessarily contain any meaning apart from the greater sentence, paragraph, or idea (see Jacques Derrida's 1967 book Of Grammatology). A formal argument, on the other hand, is trying to construct a position and then support it (customarily with evidence).

I typically prefer to analyze a text by first offering an observation followed by a criticism. Using this method helps both to clarify what the intended meaning of the sentence is and highlight any problems which might be obscured by the language. Let's take another look at the WLC quote, this time paying careful attention to what is actually being said. If you look carefully enough, I think you too will be able to detect the fallacy, even without me having to point it out.

L1: In Plantinga's view the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit is the close analogue of a cognitive faculty in that it, too, is a belief-forming "mechanism."

Observation: Craig affirms that Plantinga's view of the Holy Spirit is like a belief-forming "mechanism."

Criticism: Craig fails to cite where Plantinga actually makes this claim. Craig also fails to properly explain what it is meant by "mechanism." Furthermore, Craig has spent the prior few pages using esoteric language to described what he believes the Holy Spirit to be--and since the Gospels, indeed the whole of Holy Scripture, fail to adequately detail what it is--Craig turns to another authority on the subject. The thing we should note here is that Craig is speaking on behalf of that authority--i.e., Craig is paraphrasing Plantinga. So even though Plantinga is the cited authority, Plantinga may not actually agree with the way Craig is representing him. The only way we can be sure that Plantinga's view is what Craig claims it is--is to directly consult the work of Plantinga himself.

L2: As such the beliefs formed by this process meet the conditions for warrant.

Observation: Craig holds that since Plantinga's view is sound, belief [in God] via the Holy Spirit is warranted.

Criticism: Plantinga's view of warranted belief has not been clearly established. Craig automatically expects his lay audience to be experts in Christian theology. Well, actually, he doesn't. What Craig is doing is making a bandwagon appeal (another well known informal fallacy). Basically what Craig is hoping for is that his audience will be lazy and simply take his word for it. If Craig says it is so, and Plantinga says it is so, then heck, why not just jump on the bandwagon of agreement and ride it whichever way it takes you? It's a sly rhetorical device used to get people to agree with you without having them ask too many questions, but it still hasn't explained what it is meant by the term "warrant."

L3: Therefore, one can be said to know the great truths of the gospel through the instigation of the Holy Spirit.

Observation: Craig has argued that the Holy Spirit is the author and revealer of truth, and because Plantinga has shown that it is a "belief-forming 'mechanism'" (whatever that might mean), all one needs to do in order to justify their belief in the truth of the gospel, used synonymous with the truth of God, is to accept the Holy Spirit. Craig claims the Holy Spirit can reveal specific truths, mainly the truth of the gospel itself. In this case, the lower case gospel, as Craig uses it, informally refers to the complete New Testament, not merely the Gospels (i.e., Synoptic texts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

Criticism: This is where the fallacy is made. Craig has implied the truth of his conclusion is given considering the truth of his premise. But anyone who understands inductive reasoning knows that the truth of a conclusion is not guaranteed by the truth of the premise--so to claim as much is fallacious--hence the fallacy. Furthermore, such an assertion is a non sequitur; the inductive argument might have probabilistic or statistical merit, but the conclusion does not follow unconditionally in the sense of being logically necessary. It also is a blatant case of circular reasoning. Belief in God is justified by the truth of the gospel, which is revealed by the Holy Spirit, which, in the Trinitarian view (to which Craig prescribes), is part of God. You can't get much more circular than this.

L4: Because we know the great truths of the gospel through the Holy Spirit's work, we have no need of evidence for them.

Observation: Craig now shifts his argument from the function of the Holy Spirit as a belief-forming "mechanism" to claiming that as a belief-forming "mechanism" the belief in God can be sustained even without evidential verification.

Criticism: Craig has claimed that Christian belief in God, via instigation of the Holy Spirit, makes Christianity impervious to having to rely on evidence as a means of justification. It's basically saying, Christianity is true because Christianity is true. No evidence needed.

L5: Rather they are properly basic for us, both with respect to justification and warrant.

Observation: Craig eludes back to Plantinga, relying on Reformed Epistemology to negate justification and warrant belief as rational--of course without actually showing it.

Criticism: If we haven't read Plantinga, it would be unclear as to what Craig is arguing for here. Is he arguing that Christian belief is basic or that the Holy Spirit is a basic belief generator? It can't be both, but due to the obscurity of the terminology being used, and concepts like Holy Spirit, warrant, and basic belief, confusion arises. Without actually laying it out in more detail to help clarify the issue--we can't be certain what Craig is hoping to prove.

L6: Plantinga therefore affirms that "according to the model, the central truths of the Gospel are self-authenticating"; that is to say, "They do not get their evidence or warrant by way of being believed on the evidential basis of other propositions."

Observation: Craig cites Plantinga to affirm his prior claim that Christian belief doesn't require evidence to guarantee the truth of Christianity. I think Craig hopes the unthinking person will just agree--after all, if Christian beliefs don't require evidence, and Christian belief is gained only through the belief-forming "mechanism" of the Holy Spirit--then logically speaking--only Christians have access to the truth. Something I am sure most Christians would agree with.

Criticism: Although we could spend our time unpacking this extremely dense, extremely obscure, last sentence, we needn't bother wasting any more of our time. Remember that the argument became fallacious in line three. This means everything afterword is invalid. Every sentence, every argument, since line three is based on a completely fallacious appeal to authority, so quoting the authority even more does nothing to bolster or strengthen the argument. The argument is already failed. 

Of course, this is but one example of a fallacious appeal to authority. But, hopefully, by breaking it down step by step, I have helped you to detect the weaknesses in any given argument. Also, it should show us why it is a bad idea to rely on argument's from authority without any other evidence, because often times these very appeals to authority have a way to end an argument before it has even begun. Finally, without any additional evidence, you are right back where you started.

A Way With Words: Robert G. Ingersoll

Robert G. Ingersoll was eloquent like you wouldn't believe... the man truly had a way with words. I am currently reading the entire works of Ingersoll, which is why I have been sharing so many of his quotes recently. Today I am going to share a few more which I found really insightful, and as always, perfectly stated.

"A few have said, "Think!" The many have said, "Believe!"

"The intellectual advancement of man depends upon how often he can exchange an old superstition for a new truth."

"No one infers a god from the simple, from the known, from what is understood, but from the complex, from the unknown and incomprehensible. Our ignorance is God; what we know is science."

"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 justice is done; 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."

"The trouble is, these pious people shut up their reason, and then open their bible."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Understanding Science Better: What is Science?

Understanding Science Better
I for one feel it is imperative to educate people about the merits of science. But before we can do that, we have to talk about what science is, and only then can we come to a better understanding of science.

Personally, I am no scientist. But I did take numerous science classes in astronomy, biology, chemistry, human physiology, and psychology at a prestigious university of science. Also, I practically devour any scientific work of popular literature I can get my hands on--especially in the areas of cosmology, evolution, and neuroscience. Occasionally, I read scientific journals and articles, just to keep with the times. So I think it's safe to assume that I have an idea of what science is.

Here is what I understand science to be (but don't take my word for it--read a book--reading rainbow).

Science, as we use it colloquially, commonly refers to the scientific method. As such, science is basically just a methodology for testing the validity of evidence.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist