Uncommon Sense

May 19, 2022

Faith v. Reason

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:01 am
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And in this corner . . .

I have been reading a fascinating book, one full of fascinating arguments (George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (The Skeptic’s Bookshelf)) and last night I started a chapter that that compares and contrasts faith and reason. The two are linked, says the author:

The Christian who postures as an advocate of reason is often quite subtle in his attack on reason. Yes, he says, reason provides man with knowledge of reality; yes, reason is vital to man’s existence; yes, man’s rational capacity is his distinguishing characteristic—but some aspects of existence cannot be comprehended by man. Some facts are closed to rational understanding. Reason is fine as far as it goes, but it is limited.

Again, I have to ask “how could anyone know that reason is thus limited.” It sounds like a self-serving “fact” that isn’t really in evidence. If reason, a human activity is limited, is faith, another human activity, also limited? No one seems to address this question.

Theists seem to appeal to Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) a great deal, especially Catholics. According to Aquinas, a man may first believe something on faith which he later comes to know through reason, or a man may accept as an article of faith something which other men can rationally demonstrate, or a man may use faith to acquire a certainty that reason is impotent to give.

Once again, this prince of Christian apologists is conflating two varieties of “faith” or “belief.” There is “faith” based upon repeated observation/reasoning, e.g. I believe the Sun will come up tomorrow or I have faith that the Sun will come up tomorrow and there is “religious faith” which equates to “I believe this even though there is a complete lack of evidence for it.”

Aquinas pounds this home in his book, The City of God, when he claims that “Christian beliefs should not be rejected as false or nonsensical.” In support of this, Augustine points out that there are many “marvels” in nature that reason cannot account for, that “the frail comprehension of man cannot master.” If one were demanded to give a rational explanation of these phenomena, one could not do so—except to say that they are “wonders of God’s working” that “the frail mind of man cannot explain.” This is a God of the Gaps argument. Just because you cannot explain something rationally doesn’t mean that no one can or that no one will eventually. Rational inquiries require time and interest and some subjects just do not interest the people who have the time and the reasoning ability to come up with a rational explanation. God does not get all “ties,” that is cases in which there is no rational explanation for an event and no actual theological explanation either. (“God did it” is not an explanation; it is merely a claim that needs to be proven, a very problematic claim as it is.)

So, “religious faith,” a mechanism to acquire knowledge that does not involve reason, is actually completely incompatible with reason. To quote Smith again: “Faith depends for its survival on the unknowable, the incomprehensible, that which reason cannot grasp. Faith cannot live in a natural, knowable universe. As Pascal observed, ‘If we submit everything to reason, our religion will have no mysterious and supernatural element.’

I will be reporting more fully on this wonderful book! (I have read enough to recommend it to all atheists who might want to understand the playing field we share with theists better, and to theists for the same reason.)

May 16, 2022

How to Resolve the Abortion Issue

Filed under: Politics,Reason,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 2:16 pm
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It appears that the SCOTUS is going to return the power to make laws about abortion to the states. In this, they will not have gone far enough. They need to return that power to the people.

Since the nation’s citizens are so widely divided on the topic, no federal or state can say that it is representing its people with any particular legislation. In other words, the states have no compelling interest in the topic, certainly not any interest that imposes any particular viewpoint upon millions of people.

So, whether to abort a fetus or not is a decision to be made by a woman, in consultation with others of her choosing (husband, doctors, friends. clergy, relatives, etc.). The only role for government is to ensure that safe practices be followed in any such procedures.

In the Bill of Rights it says “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” (Amendment IX) which indicates that the people do have powers in our system of government.

My recommendation is based upon “government of the People, by the People, and for the People.” Who better to adjudicate an abortion question than the only people who it affects, the pregnant woman and her advisors. No one else should have any say in the issue because they have no stake in the game. Anyone who claims to support “freedom” should support this, otherwise they claim to support freedom, except when they use the government to take away the freedoms of others. Those exercises of governmental power don’t count.

As to those who claim the fetus has a stake in the game, that may be true, but all current laws support total bodily autonomy of the mother in such matters. The government cannot force someone to donate part of their body, even blood, even in extreme cases. It can only ask or beg. Government cannot demand a kidney for transplantation into another person, or any other organ either. So, the government cannot demand that a women’s uterus be used to their ends, either.

Power to the People, baby!

Addendum
. . . the full scope of the liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause cannot be found in or limited by the precise terms of the specific guarantees elsewhere provided in the Constitution. This ‘liberty’ is not a series of isolated points pricked out in terms of the taking of property; the freedom of speech, press, and religion; the right to keep and bear arms in the United States; the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures; and so on. It is a rational continuum which, broadly speaking, includes a freedom from all substantial arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints. (Emphasis mine.)
—Justice John Marshall Harlan writing in Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497, 543 (1961)

Oh, but this SCOTUS is no longer interested in stare decisis.

There Are No Contradictions . . .

If I had the energy, I would make this a weekly or daily activity, namely pointing out the egregious contradictions in the Bible. Because, if you can support a contradictory source of authority, you can claim anything. So, for those who believe in the inerrancy of the “Holy Bible” I submit:

“This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the Devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister” (1 John 3:10).

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

So, Jesus is a child of the Devil?

God, Really?

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:42 am
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He is a vengeful god. He is a loving god. He is an angry god. And so on. But if you ask any of the “experts” for a listing of their god’s attributes, this is what you get:

“A thorough, yet incomplete list and summary of His attributes:
Eternality
Mercy
Goodness
Omnipotence
Grace
Omnipresence
Holiness
Omniscience
Immanence
Righteousness
Immutability
Self-Existence
Justice
Sovereignty
Love
Transcendence”

The seem to have left off a number of his attributes that He claims for himself, such being:
the God of Wrath
the God of Vengeance
the God of Jealousy
the God of Righteousness.

“You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  (Exodus 20:5-6)

The proponents of this god, mainly Christians here in the U.S., have fallen into a trap. By applying human emotions to their god, they limit it.

Ask any Christian, “Is God alive?” Many will stammer “Y-yes!” even though they haven’t even considered such a question before. But being alive infers certain limitations. Ask them, “Is your god a person?” If they answer yes, being a person implies certain limitations.

In fact, implying that their god has human biases, emotions, and attributes all limit their god, but the worst limitation is the claim that their god is a supernatural entity which exists beyond space and time. Of course, they also claim their god is “omnipresent” (see the list above), so it is beyond space and time and everywhere within space and time at the same time. Is great puzzlement!

I have written a number of times explaining how omnipresence is a bullshit god power made up by priests to keep people in line. No god possessing omnipotence and omniscience needs omnipresence as they already have the same thing. They already know what you are going to think and say and do in the future, so why would they have to hang around eavesdropping to hear or see you do it?

(Of course omnipotence and omniscience are contradictory in that you can’t have both powers. Why? If you are omniscient and have perfect knowledge of what the future will bring, then you are powerless to change that future. If you did have the power to change things, then your knowledge of the future would be imperfect. Just saying.)

One of the things left off of the list above is “ineffability,” which means an inability to describe that god in words. Also, they left off “incomprehensibility” which is the ability to even comprehend this god. These “attributes” are often sprayed around by Agnostic Theists, that is those who believe in a god, even though they admit there is not and possibly cannot be enough information to prove its existence. The problem of this stance is “how do you (or anyone else) know this”? Without some pretty complete knowledge, how would one come to that conclusion?

The problem with Agnostic Theism is that all of its claims also belong to “nothing.” God is eternal! So is nothing! God is invisible! So, is nothing. God is ineffable! So is nothing. God is unchangeable! So, is nothing. And so on, et cetera, und so weiter. . . .

So, these people have fallen into the trap of “Well, He is indescribable, but He is definitely male and He cares about us, He loves us, and He hates sin (Oh, boy, He really hates sin!) etc., etc. Love, hate, revenge? An awful lot of human emotions from an entity that is so far from being human as an entity can get. Note—I guess I should remind you that revenge means “the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands.” So, vengeance, revenge, etc. imply that their God can be inflicted with a boo-boo that he lashes out in retaliation for. And for those who claim that their god is taking revenge for pains inflicted upon His people, He becomes the Eternal Bill Clinton in that He “feels your pain.”

We should be studying these religions as to how they get people to believe utter and total nonsense and then extend that hold over generation after generation of people. Psychologists should be flocking to the topic because these religionists have raised mind control to a high art, far beyond what any psychologist would think possible. True Believers™ will claim that this longevity is due to their religion being the one true religion (Finally!). But history tells us that in the past there have been many, many such religions, whose believers were taught that their religion was true and all of the others were false. And, where are they now? And are the ones we have now any different from those religions now buried in history?

May 15, 2022

Intelligent Design Goes Boom!

Can’t let a Sunday go by without a post about religion. I seem to do this religiously. Does than mean . . . nah! S

The theory of intelligent design has been promoted as a serious competitor to the theory of evolution to explain the current mix of biological species here on Earth. It hasn’t been taken seriously by scientists, however, because it isn’t a scientific theory, etc. But that is not the point I wish to make here (as it has been made over and over and over . . .). I have even made jokes that “intelligent design” might be something a sufficiently powerful alien might pull off because there is nothing in the “theory” of intelligent design that indicates the Christian God did it. The authors of the theory of intelligent design, of course, make no bones about this being the work of a god, specifically their god, the god of fundamentalist Christians. But I wasn’t aware that John Stuart Mill destroyed the theory of intelligent design 150 years ago! Here is a quote displaying Mill’s position:

. . . what is meant by design? Contrivance: the adaptation of means to an end. But the necessity for contrivance—the need of employing means—is a consequence of the limitation of power. Who would have recourse to means if to attain his end his mere word was sufficient? The very idea of means implies that the means have an efficacy which the direct action of the being who employs them has not. Otherwise they are not means but an encumbrance . . . if the employment of contrivance is in itself a sign of limited power, how much more so is the careful and skillful choice of contrivances? Can any wisdom be shown in the selection of means when the means have no efficacy but what is given them by the will of him who employs them, and when his will could have bestowed the same efficacy on any other means? Wisdom and contrivance are shown in overcoming difficulties, and there is no room for them in a being for whom no difficulties exist. (John Stuart Mill, Theism, pp. 33-34, 1874 Edition)

And to summarize Mill’s point, I offer another quote:

As Mill points out, there can be no obstacles to divine omnipotence—no difficulties that God must overcome—because God’s “will” is sufficient to produce any effect. The necessity of employing means to accomplish an end is the consequence of limited power; therefore, God cannot be said to employ means in any sense. Extending this argument, we also realize that God cannot be said to act in any manner, because actions are required only of a being who must resort to some means in order to accomplish a given end. Nor can God be said to have any kind of purpose, because “purpose” entails unfulfilled desires or goals—and these concepts cannot apply to an omnipotent being. (George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (emphasis mine)

So, can an omnipotent Creator God design anything? Apparently not. And, accordingly, He makes no plans as plans are a contrivance to accomplish something that couldn’t be accomplished without them. So, “God has a plan for you,” uh, not. No purpose, no plan, no designs . . . or omnipotence is off the table. I think maybe it is more than IDT that has gone “boom.”

Postscript I have made this same argument against the existence of angels because an omnipotent being shouldn’t need “messengers” as it would take more effort to explain a task to an angel than to do it itself.

May 12, 2022

Roe v. Wade Politics

I say fuck the GOP, and fuck the current SCOTUS. I also say fuck the Democrats because they decided that having a woman’s abortion rights in play was too important of a political football to be fixed, which they could have done long ago.

Lodging the Roe v. Wade decision in the privacy rights vaguely attested to in the Constitution was a mistake. They should have been lodged in the 4thAmendment to the Constitution, which begins “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

The states considering laws making anyone who leaves their state pregnant and returns not so to be a criminal will be violating the 4th Amendment. “Alright, lady, turn out your uterus.” Similarly any search of a woman as to their pregnancy is protected from government intrusion. Any ban on abortion pills involves the same problem. To prove their case, they would have to search for a pregnancy before and after the event, which is not allowed. People are to be “secure in their persons.”

May 11, 2022

Judicial Activism Unchecked

In the 1960’s, the real conservatives of the time railed against “judicial activism” which basically meant that courts were legislating from their benches. Well, if that were true, those prior justices were pikers compared to the current Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS).

There are a number of checks on judicial power, the Congresses ability to legislate, etc., but one of the foundational checks on judicial power is the principle of stare decisis.

Stare decisis is a legal doctrine that obligates courts to follow historical cases when making a ruling on a similar case. Stare decisis ensures that cases with similar scenarios and facts are approached in the same way. Simply put, it binds courts to follow legal precedents set by previous decisions. Of course, following this principle, like so many things involving the SCOTUS, is voluntary. (Unlike all lower courts, for example, SCOTUS has no ethics code.)

Just to be complete, a precedent is a principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive without going to courts for a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. (Source: Wikipedia)

Now, here’s the kicker: if the wording “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start” in the leaked Alito opinion remains intact in the final opinion, it basically creates a precedent that precedent no longer exists. It would effectively kill off the legal doctrine of stare decisis as a check on judicial power. All that would be necessary for the court to take off in any direction it wants is to declare that all of the precedents are flawed.

This is not a scare tactic. The court has been blowing off precedents in droves lately. In the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which declared that corporations had the right to donate unlimited amounts of money to political entities, but not candidates or parties, and that money was a form of political speech and so is protected under the First Amendment, the court actually sought out such a case and ignored a great many precedents in ruling on it. Same goes for (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) which added to the concept that corporations are legally people with the right of free speech, to include that they have religious rights.

Some basic impossibilities are involved here. In the Hobby Lobby decision, the religious beliefs of a corporations owners were decided to be in play. While this may be the case for private corporations, what about pubic corporations? Are not all of the shareholders co-owners of the corporation? Would not any action in this arena therefore require a poll of the shareholders? Have you heard of such a thing?

In Citizen’s United decision, what is this “person” who has these political rights? Is it the owner(s) or just the CEO? Is it the Board of Directors? And, wouldn’t those people also have personal political rights? So, they are creating a class of citizen that isn’t in the “one man, one vote” class. These citizens have multiple votes and multiple channels of free speech. Could not the corporation grant the CEO a “bonus” (for performance, of course, wink, wink, nudge, nudge) which then gets donated to this or that candidate (which the corporation cannot do directly)?

Talk about creating an unnecessary nest of snakes. A fiction created in the 19th Century to facilitate corporations (actually to privilege them) is being turned into an über-citizen creation device. The SCOTUS has been pro-business in the extreme for a long time and we have no reason to believe they will not continue on that path. So, this is by far not the limit of their activism; they are just getting warmed up.

Freedom!

The rats are scurrying to follow-up on the pending gutting of the long-standing Roe v. Wade SCOTUS decision. Some states passed legislation restriction abortion severely, only to be triggered by the voiding of Roe v. Wade. They were thinking ahead. Other states are contemplating new legislation. For example, one state is considering legislation that if you leave the state pregnant and return not-pregnant, that you would be arrested and tried for murder. Other legislation is in the works to ban the sale of the abortion pill (the most common form of abortion currently). Laws making it illegal helping someone across state lines to get an abortion have already been passed. Laws making doctors susceptible to murder charges were they to perform an abortion, too have been passed.

All of these laws were promulgated by the Freedom Caucus of the GOP, you know the people who think that requirements to wear a mask or get a vaccination are infringements upon their personal freedoms. They also seem to believe that voting is not a right but a privilege, hmm.

Apparently “freedoms” are only to be supported if you are white, male, Christian, and vote Republican. And these are not people who believe in “freedom” just what they happen to believe in, the rest of the world be damned.

And whatever happened to “equal protection under the law”? Oh, Justice Alito doesn’t like the 14th Amendment, either? Well, I guess the clock is ticking on that, too.

May 9, 2022

Conservatives No More

I was reading a Medium post on the SCOTUS opinion leak and I ran across this: “In case you haven’t noticed, for the last six years, it has been conservatives consistently disrespecting all our treasured national institutions, precedents, and traditions, not liberals.”

Conservatives, going back to Edmund Burke, were originally trying to conserve things: things like foundational institutions, traditions, social structures, etc. They were inherently against change. They supported churches, the police, “Our Country Right or Wrong,” the military, prisons, schools (yes, schools). I remember arch conservative William F. Buckley saying “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Occasionally I miss William F. Buckley; he was an honest conservative.

But as the original quote alluded to, recent conservatives seem only to be trying to conserve their political power, and the tool of choice is “the end justifies the means.” So, Republicans stiffing President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, Merrick Garland, for no reason other than they wanted the power to appoint that replacement, was pulled out of their hat (or ass).

Then there was the Supreme Court, not yet at its full conservative packing level, declaring a number of nonsensical things. It declared certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act were no longer necessary. Sure those states had passed racial voter restrictive policies in the past, but that was the past and this is now. We can trust those states not to do those things again, because well they haven’t done those things in a long time. (Apparently the SCOTUS conservatives were ignoring that the courts didn’t allow those states to do those things as they violated the Voting Rights Act.) So, they abolished those silly, no longer necessary rules and within just days (hours?), a number of states started restricting the voting rights of minority groups. (Texas is nothing if not dependable.) So, did SCOTUS recognize their mistake and admit “Our bad!” and promise to fix it right away? No, what we got were <crickets, crickets, crickets>. What they did was launch a nationwide voter restriction effort by the GOP.

This same court declared corporations to be persons with political rights! Corporations were declared to be corporal entities for business purposes alone (in the nineteenth century). A corporation in trouble could die, thus absolving it of all of its legal problems (oh, and labor contracts), and then be reborn as a new corporation, even though it had all of the same management, employees, etc. The court went further and declared that these corporations had the right to donate unlimited funds to political bodies, because well, money was free speech, right? Right?

So, whether it worked or not, American institutions had to cave to Republican (not conservative) ideology.

Oh, and don’t forget how the SCOTUS, in Bush v. Gore, claimed the right to declare winners of elections, even when there was no precedent and their “winner” did not win the popular vote.

SCOTUS is showing disdain for precedents, even massive ones, and is becoming quite regal in its pronouncements, something the conservatives railed against when there was a fairly liberal court. They called it “judicial activism” and called it the work of the devil. Now that the SCOTUS is packed with conservatives, I hear no complaints from the GOP about judicial activism, even though this current court is far more “judicially active” than those past courts.

And, as to the leak of the SCOTUS opinion re Roe v. Wade, the author of that quoted post felt that it will prove out to have been a conservative leak, weakening those who wanted to soften the opinion, because it would look as if the court softened it in response to public outcries, and was not independent. Sounds like something a conservative, a modern conservative, would do. The end justifies the means, the end justifies the means, repeat after me. . . .

May 6, 2022

Saint Augustine, the Bullshitter

People are still quoting Augustine of Hippo, also known as Saint Augustine, for what reason I cannot say as his writings that survive show him to be a paramount bullshitter, of the highest water. Here is an example:

In the 5th century St. Augustine wrote of the “delayed soul” (originally an Aristotelian concept), this meant males were “given a soul” 40 days after conception, females only received theirs on the 90th day. (This has obvious relevance to SCOTUS deliberations.)

The question I always ask and recommend that you should, too, is “how could he know this?” As a higher up in the church, he could have asked God directly, I suppose, but then his “knowledge” would be based upon just God’s word for it and, being human, he might have got it wrong. However, I am suspicious about anything with the number 40 attached to it in the Bible. How many days did it rain on Noah? 40. How many nights did it rain on Noah? 40. How many days did Jesus wander in the wilderness? 40. How many years did each of the Kings of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon rule? 40. The number 40 turns up in the Bible 157 times, so this is a suspicious number Augustine used. And why would the soul insertion process for male and female fetuses be any different? Apparently they believed if they didn’t hold women down, label them as inferior, and make them subservient they would take over and rule . . . better than men. (Hmm, that still seems to be the case.)

Augustine also provided us with “What then, brethren, shall we say of God? For if thou hast been able to understand what thou wouldest say, it is not God. If thou hast been able to comprehend it, thou hast comprehended something else instead of God. If thou hast been able to comprehend Him as thou thinkest, by so thinking thou hast deceived thyself. This then is not God, if thou hast comprehended it; but if this be God, thou hast not comprehended it.

Okay, repeat after me: “how could he know this?”

In order to come to this conclusion in any sort of valid way, Augustine must have had a complete knowledge of man’s cognitive powers (then and into the future) and had a complete understanding of who or what his god was. Since we are still playing the game “Define the God!” and our last contestant got to “the ground of all being” (WTF?), I think that if Augustine had nailed that down 16 centuries ago, we wouldn’t still be working on a description of god, now would we?

I have seen a number of impossibility proofs and they all seem to come from mathematics, a synthetic system. An impossibility is an absolute and nature abhors absolutes (with apologies to Aristotle). Proving that everyone is incapable of some task is quite a difficult undertaking. It doesn’t appear that Augustine broke a sweat in doing so.

Also, Augustine is a curious guy. He struggled mightily with his addictions to worldly pleasures, especially sex. He indulged, swore off, indulged, etc. (You know, lather, rinse, repeat, etc.) But his faith in God helped him overcome his weaknesses. Before you ask “the question,” we know this because Augustine said so. And, if you can’t trust the word of moral weaklings, who can you trust?

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