Uncommon Sense

August 18, 2022

The Fear of Death

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:01 pm
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Many talks about religion and existential philosophy harken to the fear of death. As someone who is much nearer his own death than might be comfortable I find this puzzling.

Recently I saw a video clip shown on a cable TV show, of a mountain lion walking up a trail toward the camera. The lion saw whoever was holding the camera and lowered its head as it moved forward. Then it raised up on its hind legs stretched out his front legs with claws exposed and rushed the camera running on its hind legs. The clip ended at that point. Possibly the video was recovered from the bloody remains of photographer, I don’t know. What I do know is I had a very, very, (Very!) visceral sense of fear even though I wasn’t anywhere near the actual lion. My heart palpitated, my breathing became shallow, etc. That is what I call a “fear of death.” Imagine being nose-to-nose with a vicious predator about to rip you to shreds. That is fear of death. Hanging from a rope off of the edge of a tall building and you are losing your grip. What you feel is the fear of death.

What these theologians and philosophers are talking about is some intellectual, vague, diluted fear associated with not knowing what will happen when they die. There is uncertainty about whether there will be pain, unlike the scenarios above when pain is guaranteed.

I was a tad shocked when my favorite Medium.com author posted an article with this:

The fear of death isn’t just an emotion or a willed preference to avoid something. Instead, the thought of being dead is impossible to grasp.  (Benjamin Cain)

Gosh, really? I have grasped it quite well and am preparing my affairs for the event. Being dead is identical to what it felt like before you were born. Remember that? Being dead is like dreamless sleep. There is absolutely nothing to worry about because you will lose the capacity to worry or think anything.

To confuse this rather natural state (we all die) we had to invent religion. I suggest that people who have trepidations about death that their trepidations are mostly caused by religion. (Create a problem, then offer yourself as the solution. Sounds like religion to me.)

Realize I am talking about comfortable Western people, not people whose lives are precarious on a daily basis. Not people who are massively oppressed on a daily basis. I am talking about ordinary Americans, here.

We have to stop demonizing dying. We not only demonize it but we have made ridiculous laws about it. I was envisioning dying at home, and then my partner would call up the pre-paid crematorium specialists who would come collect my body and voilà. But in this state, if you die at home, the state requires there be an autopsy, apparently to rule out nefarious causes of death. Gee, I wonder who gets to pay for the autopsy?

At one time, most children were born in their homes. But apparently there was too much money to be made by doctors delivering kids, that it has become almost a requirement that such deliveries be made in hospitals. The campaign to get this instituted was fueled by fear: what if something were to go wrong? I repeat, not that long ago, most children were born at home. In fact, do you know the first year that your life expectancy went up from going to the hospital rather than down? It was 1932 in this country. And in 1932, as a general practice, children were not admitted to hospitals.

We have to stop demonizing dying. We need to frame it as a completion process. A wrap on a life, so to speak. Celebrate the life of that person, if you knew them and honored them, ignore it other wise. I have always envisioned having a wake after my death. All of my friends and relatives would be invited to come eat my food, drink my booze, and tell lies about me. I don’t think that will happen now as it would be a tremendous imposition on my surviving partner, and well, I don’t have many friends and relatives left. (Many have already died.)

So, I will, instead, just enjoy the peace and quiet of being dead. The only trepidation I have about the event is leaving my partner in a stable financial situation. Elsewise, I have no fear of being judged, being sent to a fiery afterlife, etc. Just fade to black, and “That’s all folks!” <fade to Looney Tunes theme song>.

August 7, 2022

Evil, Part XYZ

Filed under: Religion,Philosophy,Morality,Culture,Reason,language — Steve Ruis @ 11:24 am
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There is an article on Medium.com entitled The Problem of Evil and Suffering, with the subtitle of “Is There a Solution?” These things usually drift into theological realms but here I want to address language instead. I have used the metaphor of a number line to describe various states of good and bad. Of course, I start from the beginning with “the opposite of good is not evil; it is bad. Since evil is at the extreme, its opposite must also be at the extreme, and “good” just doesn’t hack it as an extreme.

Okay, let us lay out our number line. In the middle is 0, which is neutral, that is neither bad nor good. Running off to the right are the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. representing various states of increasing good, and running off to the left are negative numbers, -1, -2, -3, -4, etc. representing various states of being increasingly bad. Here . . .

Just off center, we have states which we might describe as “fortunate” (to the right) and “unfortunate” to the left, maybe a 1 or a 2 in those directions. We don’t hear a story about how someone got wet on the way to work because they forgot their umbrella and scream “Oh, how evil!” or “So joyous!” We would be looked at very oddly were we to do so. Such responses are not appropriate, but “Oh, how unfortunate.” is just about right, no?

A little further out are things like, “I stubbed my toe and I have to go to the doctor” and “I think I am in line for a promotion at work!” Even further out are “I fell and broke my ankle” and “My company has had a huge windfall and is sharing it with us!”

I assume you can see where this is going. Concentrating on the bad side we go further and further out, getting to natural disasters, like floods, sinkholes in your back yard, forest fires threatening your home, etc. And even further out, you get things like “The police mistakenly thought I was some kind of major criminal and actually fired bullets at us!” And farther out than that are accidental deaths or wars that happen in your neighborhood, a la Ukraine.

So, where does the line establishing a demarcation between a really, really bad happenstance and a truly evil occasion get drawn?

Here is where I think there needs to be an additional element. I don’t think hurricanes are ever evil. Horrible, terrible, awful, yes, but evil, no. Evil requires human intent, in my opinion. Something has to be perpetrated with intent and be really bad to be evil. A baby is snatched to replace one that died. Someone deliberately kills a guard while robbing a store, for the thrill of it. Gangs having a requirement that an aspiring member must kill someone randomly on the streets to gain entrance. Now we are talking evils.

As humans, we are for whatever reason attracted to extremes. It is like fish stories, every time they are told, the fish gets bigger and bigger. We exaggerate everything. We use phrases like “I could have died!” when we were merely embarrassed, or “I wanted to die” when in a merely uncomfortable meeting.

Evil events are really quite rare, but not if you were to take people’s claims at face value. A boss, denying a workforce’s request for a raise might be called evil, or a judge putting your spouse in jail for a crime, the same. We push things to extremes, we think there are things like absolute truths and objective morals when all of human experience says otherwise. We live in a grey world insisting that things are black and white.

So, the problem of evil could begin by using more accurate language. When you don’t get that hoped for raise, you are “disappointed” not “Someone should kill that motherfucker!” When a car splashed water on your leg, it is unfortunate but not an act of evil.

It is hard to have discussions like “The problem of evil and suffering: is there a solution?” when our language is hyperbolic and far from accurate.

Addendum I think lumping evil and suffering together (as in the article mentioned) is somewhat disingenuous, as one can suffer from a cold and it is not an existential thing. It also pulls evil back away from the extremes when you have to lump it together with mere suffering, which stretches over the entire negative arm of the number line, while evil does not.

August 5, 2022

Scientism, WTF?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:29 pm
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I am a fan of the writings of Benjamin Cain, so I was a bit surprised when I read this:

Scientism isn’t a theory or a worldview, but a prejudice against the non-sciences that’s fueled by self-congratulatory arrogance. (Benjamin Cain)

I first encountered the term scientism reading religious apologist’s defense of their “ways of knowing.” It was clearly a pejorative term, and it is in line with various other lines of “defenses of the faith,” namely: atheism is a religion, you have to have faith to be an atheist, science is a religion, you have to have faith to be an scientist, the Bible is a science textbook, etc.

But Mr. Cain is a deep thinker, so maybe I missed something. The first thing I did was look up the definition of scientism. What I found was all over the map (see below), which is to be expected when a new term is coined.

  • Scientism encompasses efforts to extend scientific ideas, methods, practices, and attitudes to matters of human social and political concern.
  • Scientism is the opinion that science and the scientific method are the best or only way to render truth about the world and reality.
  • Scientism is excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques.
  • Scientism claims that religious discourse is illegitimate because it entails commitments to things that cannot be reduced to purely natural terms.
  • Scientism is the philosophical belief that reliable knowledge is obtained solely through the scientific method and it leads to scientists telling us what is right and wrong.

Oh, my.

I hope all of this confusion will be cleared up shortly, but until then, I suggest a few clarifications. Science, in the Western Tradition, grew out of Natural Philosophy and was almost totally focused on the study of nature. We even have the term “natural sciences” to describe the application of scientific tools to study nature. And, those studies have been immensely fruitful, so fruitful that the methods of science have been chosen to study all kinds of things not originally envisioned. Science is being applied to ethics, for example. Science is being applied to psychology. Science is being applied to religion, oh my!

Now, science does not have a headquarters buried deep under a mountain on Colorado, from which dictates are issued to scientists around the world. So, when I read anything that includes “science says” I cringe. Science is mostly done by independent contractors and by people hired by companies to perform for them. There is no overarching governing body.

As to Mr. Cain’s “Scientism isn’t a theory or a worldview, but a prejudice against the non-sciences that’s fueled by self-congratulatory arrogance.” Since I don’t know anyone practicing scientism, I have no direct knowledge, but I am aware of scientists who are arrogant, certainly arrogant to make such a claim, but that is not the “company line” of scientists. That is not taught in universities, etc.

I am convinced from rubbing elbows with scientists for fifty years that one of the things that attracts people to become scientists is, well, a lack of social skills. As a scientist, you have to deal with things but people, not so much. So, from a large body of such people, you are guaranteed to find some who are blunt and/or rude enough to make outlandish claims such as have been targeted by the claim of the existence of scientism.

I still consider this term to be rather useless and hope it will be dropped soon. It seems to have been created as a part of an attack on rational decision making by theists and has no other justification for existing. Allow me to posit one example. Theists, especially Christians, claim that their god is a personal god, who intervenes in people’s lives, is responsible for creating the Earth and the rest of the entire Universe, and wants us to do certain things for which there are rewards and punishments. People claim to be in communication with this deity on a daily basis.

Atheists, like me, who also happen to be scientists, ask for evidence of this rather outlandish claim, and the response is that their god cannot be found as it exists outside of space and time and is a spiritual being, not made of matter and energy. So, this god is not here to be examined, but it is simultaneously omnipresent, to be able to communicate, perform miracles, etc. When people like me point out that to interact with people in this universe, it must be part of this universe, and therefore consist of matter and energy, we are accused of denying their “other ways of knowing” and of “intruding science into a realm in which it cannot function.”

Note that we were not trying to access the realm “beyond space and time” (can’t get there) but just insisting that if their god intrudes into this universe, it must basically leave tracks in the forest. We are puzzled in that the Christian god is claimed to have assumed human guise to communicate with us better. Isn’t this our point?

No, it is scientism!

There is a reason conservative Christians and conservative Republicans have a common bond. Deflection, Misdirection, and Fake News (e.g. Noah’s Ark has been found!) are all prominent in their play books.

Scientism didn’t exist until religious apologists made it up. I expect that soon, Florida will pass a law forbidding the teaching of Scientism in primary and intermediate public schools, just as they did in barring the teaching of Critical Race Theory, which is only taught in graduate schools.

Addendum At its heart science is pragmatic; if it works we go with it as the most reliable understanding . . . so far. The history of science is littered with people of faith, people who had faith in a theory, or faith that science would back their religion, or even faith in ideas . . . and were proved wrong.

Theists are fond of flogging the “absolute truths” of their religions. Scientists are aware that concepts like absolute truth and even truth don’t come up in science. So, as to “leads to scientists telling us what is right and wrong,” that may apply to science concepts but it doesn’t apply to truths, and certainly not absolute truths.

July 30, 2022

Putting Innocent Questions to Bed

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
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Note—Okay, this is a Sunday type of post but Jesus honored the Sabbath on Saturday and if it was good enough for him. . . . Steve

On Quora.com we see myriad innocent (I assume) questions concerning gods, for example “Is God necessary for the existence of the universe?” Another vein of questions revolves around ideas like “how can atheists be so sure when they can’t prove that God doesn’t exist?” (Bwah, hah, hah, read on infidels!)

We can put these naïve questions to bed by examining the god claim itself. A quick look at Wikipedia and we get this: “God is usually conceived of as being omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent as well as having an eternal and necessary existence.” Lets break this down a bit.

Being Necessary
What, for example, is a “necessary being?” In philosophy a proposition is said to be necessary if it could not have failed to be the case. So, a necessary being is a being that cannot fail to exist. It is more than a little strange to be debating the existence of a god or god and have one participant claim “My god cannot fail to exist.” How could they possibly know such a thing? Basically they are slipping a premise that says “God exists” into an argument showing that a god exists. This is the simplest way to win a philosophical argument—slip your desired conclusion into the set of premises. This is also dishonest. I think we can set aside the idea of any god being a necessary being as a conclusion masquerading as a premise.

Being Eternal
Now, eternal; we all know what that means, kinda sorta. This “power” claimed for this god is quite unnecessary. But theists had painted themselves into a corner by claiming that this god created the universe out of nothing. (FYI This is not a claim of the Big Bang Theory; the only people claiming this are theists.) In order for this god to have created our universe it must have pre-existed our universe. How much time it must have preexisted the universe by is irrelevant, it just had to have come before. But if the claim is made that this god is “the creator” of the universe, the question then arises “Who created your god?” They didn’t have a pat answer for that question, so their claim became that their god is uncreated, it is eternal, it has existed forever. So, stop with the snarky questions, okay?

But claiming an eternal god has any number of other problems associated with it. For example, how much time did this god wait before creating this universe? If it is eternal, that amount of time is infinite. (You may note that theists argue vociferously against the existence of infinite regressions, but they actually are embracing one here.) What was this god doing during all of that time? Why did it decide it was time to create this universe 13.5 billion years ago? Was it bored? Had it created other universe with which it was dissatisfied? And so on. . . .

Being Omnipresent
I have written extensively about this power, a power made up by religious authorities, one that has no basis in fact, nor is it needed. Since this god is omniscient and omnipotent, it doesn’t have to be somewhere to observe something happening or being said, nor does it have to be someplace to be able to act. This power only benefits priests and other clerics as a method of controlling their “flock,” by giving them a cosmic eavesdropper/Peeping Tom from whom the sheep cannot hide. So, you had better do as they say!

Being Omniscient
I used to pride myself on knowing a lot of stuff . . . typical male, that is me. (I am a human male; I fix things and I know shit!) But imagine knowing everything, and I mean everything, even the events that will unroll in the future. This eliminates some small things right away, for example, Christians are fond of saying that their god is testing them or someone else in various ways, but why would a god test anyone when he already knows whether they pass or fail such a test? Re-read the Book of Job and constantly remind yourself that Yahweh is omniscient. It is even more perverse than when read straight up as a myth or fairly tale.

The big problem that giving their god this power creates is a deterministic universe. God already knows what will happen, so your future is determined, you cannot choose it to be different. In other words, there is no free will. If there is no free will, how can anyone be responsible for what they do, when somehow a script was written that we had to follow?

Uh oh! Doh!

Being Omnipotent
This power is the subject of catechism student jokes for centuries, e.g. “Is God so powerful that He can make a rock even He cannot lift, Father?” Whole books have been written walking back the “all powerful” capability of this deity. “Can God make married bachelors, Father?” “God can do all things . . .  that logically be done,” my son. So, all-powerful isn’t all-powerful because there are limitations, hmm.

This god power has been beaten to death and has been shown in multiple ways to be impossible, so I will leave it here.

Being Omnibenevolent
This claim cannot be made with a straight face, especially when this god is quoted as saying “I am a vengeful God!” (“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is fierce in wrath. The Lord takes vengeance against His foes; He is furious with His enemies.” (Nah. 1: 2 HCSB)) And, one of my favorite Biblical quotes: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7 KJV)

It is hard to blame Satan or the Devil for all of the evil in the world when their god is on record making the claim “I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”

And, of course, just who created Satan and the Devil? And who could uncreate them with a mere thought, but apparently can’t be bothered to do so, because it is nice to have scapegoats around. (And, gee, I wonder who invented the idea of scapegoating? Hmm.)

Conclusion
The basic claim is that there exists a being “conceived of as being omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent as well as having an eternal and necessary existence.” All of those powers are either very problematic or impossible. Mostly they are impossible because each of those powers lacks a mechanism for their manifestation. For example, if God wanted a bath he could manifest a cast iron bathtub, full of hot water, soap bubbles and a couple of rubber ducks. But where would the iron atoms to make the tub come from? Would he create them ex nihilo? Would he make them dance their way out of the earth and into His bathroom to assemble themselves into a tub, a la the Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Without a physical mechanism for this to happen, the only possible claim for the mechanism for such a miracle is . . . magic, and Christians really, really hate magic . . . go figure.

None of these powers has any mechanism of their expression. I have always wondered how omnipresence manifests itself. If god is everywhere, why go to church? How is it possible for God’s eyes and ears (to see and hear) in all of those places at the same time?

And because they have no mechanism to be expressed, they do not exist, not in this universe.

Of course, this is where theists claim that their god exists “outside of space and time,” which is a good thing, I guess, because it cannot exist within space and time, and so cannot interact with anything material in this universe, most especially us.

June 12, 2022

Theistic v. Atheistic Morals/Ethics

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:07 pm
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This topic is bandied about continuously. It never seems to end, having become a zombie topic. Kill it and it will rise again. (Zombies often utter the word “Brains!” as they shamble around because if they had one, they would realize they couldn’t possibly exist.) Theists claim that atheists are at best amoral and are typically immoral. Atheists, like me, demure.

Actually this can be put to bed immediately. (I will address Christian morals solely as my knowledge of other theistic moralities is weak.)

Christians make believing in god a basis of their morality. They must do this because the foundation of their morality is obedience. If their god says Jump! the only response is “How high?” Obedience is actually the only moral tenet of Christian morality. In order to be obedient, they have to believe in the god to which they are enslaved. Christians are taught that they are not to run a moral issue through their reasoning capacity because, if they did, they would be doubting the divinity of their god. (And just who do you think you are, doubting god?)

So, from a Christian standpoint, atheists, because we do not believe in the Christian god, are automatically immoral, end of debate.

Here is the iron clad logic:
Only Christians (or god believers, if you wish) are moral.
Annie is not a Christian (or is an atheist).
Annie is immoral.

So, there really is nothing to debate. Atheists explaining that moral and ethical systems are worked out over time by all social species (we have observed such things in quite a few social species) is a waste of time because Christians cannot hear it and are forbidden from even processing the claim.

You cannot debate another over a topic they have defined into existence.

June 9, 2022

Are Stoics the New Vulcans?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 11:54 am
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I was reading an online comment which lambasted Stoicism, a philosophy I am more than a little fond of, as being anti-emotion, that they are ruled by cold reason and nothing else.

If the commenter had applied some cold reason, they would have realized their mistake.

The Stoics were taught not be controlled by their emotions, that is true. But they were also taught to not be controlled by their thoughts. They were and are taught to run thoughts and emotions through their reasoning capacity before acting upon them.

Here is an example scenario, say somebody insults you to your face in a social setting. Your first impulse is to insult them back, or maybe just punch them in the face. (I am arguing from experience here.) If, however, you take a deep breath and consider the consequences, you may just shrug your shoulders and walk away. Getting into a fight with a moron is not becoming, nor is getting beat up by a moron, who you underestimated as a fighter. (If you do decide a fight is warranted, then preparations need be made and assessments, also.) And, if you respond immediately you are being controlled by the other.

One of my favorite teachers taught me that the time between a stimulus and your response is a place for creative action to take place, so opening up that time to more than a split second is to your advantage. This is what your mother taught you: “Count to 10 before you . . .”

The Stoics valued reason above all other mental abilities. Why? Well, there are no other animals that come close to our level of consciousness. We are, as part of the consciousness, self-aware enough to recognize our own emotional reactions and even our own inner thoughts and we can roll them over in our minds to see them from all sides.

You see, we still do not know where our thoughts come from. I distinguish very strictly between thoughts and actions taken based upon thoughts. This is because I have very many uncharitable thoughts pop up in my head. But I do not utter them, nor do I take action based upon them. I even have a mini-ritual I use to rid myself of unwanted thoughts. I fan the air in front of my face as I puff out a bit of breath. It is as if I am shooing a fly, but I am actually rejecting and then shooing away an unwanted thought.

Since we have these mental powers of introspection and self-awareness of emotions and thoughts, to not run them though our reasoning capacity, which is how we make sense of what is going on around us, is essentially rejecting the powers our consciousness supplies us with, and that hardly seems a recipe for success.

My feeling that the commenter was a fan of an emotion/passion driven life. I, too, like to channel my passions into tasks, but the tool I use to do that is my reasoning ability, as the Stoics recommended/recommend.

Plus, psychological research is starting to indicate that emotional responses are learned and taught to us as children. When I was growing up, my father had an explosive temper. Guess who developed an explosive temper himself? (Moi.) But over time I didn’t like how it made me feel in its aftermath and it seemed to be kind of a silly way to work though problems, so I trained myself out of that kind of response. Explosive anger was not something genetically stitched into my behavior. It was something I learned, and it is something I changed, through reason.

Reasoning is not cold. Vulcans can be funny I am told. And emotions need not be suppressed, just not acted upon without due consideration.

May 24, 2022

Why Does The World Hate Christians?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:45 pm
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The above question appeared upon Quora, the question and answer site. I suggest that the world does not and should not hate Christians as it is Christianity and what its various versions ask their congregations to do which they should hate.

When addressing Christianity, atheists like me often bring up problematic aspects of it, such as the Crusades, support for slavery, male domination of women, Hell and infinite punishment, etc. But all of that, while true, misses the big mark. Here are three quotes from a book I am reading now (Atheism: The Case Against God) that I will be reviewing when I finish reading it.

“The misology of the Bible is its most repugnant trait; there is a constant demand that one must believe without evidence or thought, and that one must regard absurdity as a desirable aspect of Christianity. To accept faith in the biblical sense means to believe in defiance of rational guidelines; it is blatantly anti-reason, and the biblical writers make no effort to conceal this fact.”

“This tie between faith and virtue is responsible for the Christian equation of doubt and disbelief with immorality. One is not morally free to investigate the truth of the Christian doctrine by means of reason; instead, one must believe uncritically or be condemned as immoral. A man is thus forced to choose between morality and truth, virtue and reason. The paragon of virtue, according to this view, is the man who refuses critically to evaluate his ideas—and one can scarcely imagine a more vicious form of irrationalism.”

“The threat of punishment for disbelief is the crowning touch of Christian misology. Believe in Jesus—regardless of evidence or justification—or be subjected to agonizing torture. With this theme reverberating throughout the New Testament, we have intellectual intimidation, transcendental blackmail, in its purest form. Threats replace argumentation, and irrationality gains the edge over reason through an appeal to brute force. Man’s ability to think and question becomes his most dangerous liability, and the intellectually frightened, docile, unquestioning believer is presented as the exemplification of moral perfection.”

Here is the definition of “misology” for those of you who do not know this word (I did not): (noun) distrust or hatred of reason or reasoning.

In my humble opinion, this is the greatest failing of Christianity, which shows it to be a population control mechanism and little else. Obey or suffer the consequences is the clear threat being made.

In the Bizarro World of Christianity, faith is touted as a way of acquiring knowledge that is superior to that of reason. A more blatant lie cannot be uttered. I challenge anyone who claims this is true to list all of the things they have learned through faith. I know many will immediately respond that when they read their Bible, they have faith that what they are reading is true. But that is not knowledge you acquired through faith. That is knowledge you acquired through the writings of others. How is it that you acquire knowledge through faith? Honestly.

When works of science are read, they are not to be believed or disbelieved. In fact, published scientific papers are required to list the procedures and equipment used so that if a skeptical reader wants to confirm the findings, they can. Doubt is hard-wired into the process.

Reason has all kinds of rules regarding how one acquires knowledge and sifts out error, e.g. the scientific method, the rules of logic, the laws of mathematics, etc. Faith has no such mechanisms, in fact, Christians are not allowed to question faith as they are immediately told they are in error should they do so. So, faith cannot have an epistemology, because it would involve looking at how faith discovers knowledge, and that is not allowed.

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 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 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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