Class Warfare Blog

May 2, 2020

The Same Old, Lame Arguments

The question is often posited as to why religious apologists, especially Christian apologists, keep using old arguments that have been refuted centuries, if not millennia ago, arguments like Pascal’s Wager, or Anselm’s arguments, or Tertullian’s arguments.

I think I finally understand and it is from a “follow the money” style approach such as serves well in politics. There is a perception that the arguments proffered are designed to convince nonbelievers to become believers, and if any of this actually occurs, I suggest that that is incidental. I think the main audience for such apologetics is not unbelievers, but believers, to keep the faithful in their pews, as it were.

Offering an intellectual argument for why one’s faith is well-founded, even if there is little understanding of the argument by the hearer, lends credence to their faith in the form of “see, this college professor/philosopher/well-educated person believes and he has reasons, even if I do not understand them.”

The re-use of hoary old arguments is based upon some simple facts: one is that the arguments were convincing the first time they were offered (convincing to believers, that it) so if a modern believer hadn’t heard of that argument before, it is a revelation. Young believers on sites such as Quora ask naïve question referring to these arguments as if they were slam dunk conclusive . . . because the people offering them don’t offer a balance treatment when doing so, they only point out the “obvious.” (A balanced treatment would offer discussions of why the argument works at some level and fails at others, such as would be offered in a college philosophy classroom.)

A second reason is that apologists don’t get paid by atheists. They get paid to speak at religious conferences, they get paid because a religious publication accepts their offerings for publication (often professors must “publish or perish”), they get paid to be a guest speaker at a church, they get paid to debate atheists (normal in neutral or churchly settings).

The major admonition in public speaking is to “know your audience.” Most audiences can follow a short snappy argument, but not a long point by point dissection of that argument, for which they have little patience and possibly little understanding either.

Apologists do not often point out that nothing can be “proven” through a philosophical argument. If you have brute facts as premises and a bulletproof argument, then all you have is that “if the premises are true, so too is the conclusion.” In other words, the conclusion is inherent in the premises. If the premises are false or simply are not brute facts, then the conclusions will be also. So, a common method of tweaking an argument is to “tweak” the premises. Here is a common premise used in the Cosmological Argument for the Existence of a God or Gods: “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.” If this “premise” is accepted, you will conclusively prove that a god created the universe because the only two options are “explanation/no explanation” and we all think there is an explanation. The reason for that conclusion is that the conclusion is buried in the premise. Another way to state that is; “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, the only explanation is God.” So, no other explanation, of the myriad possibilities, is allowed. Well, then, “God created the universe!”

But that premise is not a premise, it is a mere assertion, an assertion of faith in fact. To understand this consider these variations of that “premise?”
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Allah.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Yahweh.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Anubis.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Odin.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Can you honestly argue that any of these is “obviously true,” the normal criterion to be applied to premises in logical arguments?

In fact, one cannot put “God” or “gods” in a premise of a philosophic argument because those are matters of faith and not “brute facts,” that all would agree to. (Another form of religious persecution being directed at Christians, I am sure.)

So, Christian apologists and others, keep trotting out the same old, tired, lame arguments that have existed as zombie arguments for centuries because they have new audiences coming out of Sunday Schools around the country and well that’s what they get paid to do.

November 7, 2019

Morality and Manners

Filed under: language,Morality,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:40 am
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I frequent the Quora site and since I am interested in atheism, I see the question “If you don’t believe in God, how can you be moral?” and its many variants over and over and over (and . .  over . .  <sigh>). . . . This “question” is more of a statement than a question and is usually categorized as a “Gotcha Question,” right up there with “If God is all-powerful can He make a rock even He cannot lift, Father?”

An interesting variant of this question showed up this morning in the form of “Atheists, do you respect other people’s beliefs though you yourself do not believe in a deity? It is morally right to respect people’s beliefs, right?

The obvious answer is “no;” respecting other’s beliefs has nothing to do with morality. Consider Hitler’s profound belief that Jews were abominable and were to be exterminated. But then I realized that the questioner hadn’t used the best words available for his question. I believe he meant to say “Atheists, do you respect other people’s religious beliefs though you yourself do not believe in a deity?” Just because others often compound ordinary beliefs with religious beliefs, we should not fall so easily into that trap. If this is the intended question, and it seems to be, then the Hitler example is not all that good, although one could make an argument that the hatred of Jews was promulgated by Christianity. So, how about another example, how about Pope Urban II? Around the year 1095, he gave a speech calling for armies to embark on a crusade to the Holy Lands to take back Jerusalem from Muslim rule. Between 1096 and 1291, this speech was the impetus for eight major expeditions into the “Holy Lands” where untold numbers of unspeakable acts of savagery resulted in 200 years of bloodshed, and more than 1.7 million deaths. Should I respect old Urban’s belief that Christians are the rightful rulers of Jerusalem as opposed to the Jews who were there first or the Muslims, who were in possession of it at the time, both of whom are partial “rulers” of that city today?

I think there are many religious beliefs that are less mainstream that most people would find it difficult if not impossible to respect: any Scientology belief, for example.

Another immediate thought I had was it should be good manners to strive to understand someone else’s belief before adopting an opinion on that belief and to not just dismiss it out of hand. And, then . . . manners . . . manners? Why are there no questions regarding how we can have manners without God? Why are their no Christian manners? Surely manners are on the same spectrum with ethics and morality. Even if it were not immoral to covet one’s neighbor’s spouse, surely it would be bad manners? Aren’t manners intended to help us live together amicably, just like ethics and morals?

And where did manners come from when there isn’t a peep about them in the holy scriptures? Surely manners couldn’t have been created by people and, ugh, be like, you know, subjective and everything.

September 4, 2019

The Meaning of Life and the Problem of Evil

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:45 am
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It is not a rare occurrence that when theists are chatting with atheists, the theists claim that “without their god, life has no meaning.” This atheist answers, yes, that is the case. I wish to expand upon this a bit and then address another, separate topic.

I suggest that “meaning” doesn’t really exist. Whenever someone asks “But what does it all mean?” they are asking for a comforting story to wrap around events that makes them feel “better.” To support this opinion, I suggest that if you ask people from various walks of life, “what is the meaning of XYZ,” you will get answers quite different from one another, answers that tell you more about the people supplying them than the events themselves. Here in the U.S. you don’t have to wait very long for there to be a mass shooting. Ask a staunch supporter of the NRA what one of those means and they may shrug and say that “it is cost of having freedom.” Ask a soccer mom, and she might say “It means our gun laws are too lax and people with mental instabilities find it too easy to acquire massive firepower.” That different people see different meanings in the same events indicates that those meanings are not embedded in the events themselves. And, if they were impressed from without by some deity, why would people receive different messages?

Life does not impress meanings from without, either spontaneously or being force fed by a supernatural entity. Meanings are human constructs . . . period. If we ever meet an alien species and are able to communicate, they may find the concept bizarre, or have their own meanings, quite different from ours.

Regarding the Problem of Evil (see below), this is an argument against the existence of a benevolent god or gods (for those of you still claiming there are no arguments for the nonexistence of gods, viola), and the main thrust of the theistic response is that the ability to do evil comes from the existence of free will. If our “creator” were to have created us without free will, then we would just be robots, just doing the creators will because we had no choice. Since we have free will, then we have to accept that a small fractions of the free choices will be to do evil.

I have mentioned this before but this is a false dichotomy. If you put “the existence of evil” on one side of a balance, you don’t put “free will” on the other. (We are talking about human initiated evil, not natural evil here, that is another topic.) This is a standard apologetics approach equivalent to throwing out the baby with the bath water. I do not want to get into a protracted discussion about free will. Many people think of it as “the ability to do otherwise,” which suffices for now. If the creator god created us with the ability to do otherwise, except to do evil, we would find our lives virtually unchanged. We would be able to choose vanilla or chocolate at the ice cream store, choose this person or that to consider as a potential mate, choose a baseball team to follow, choose to buy a Chevy rather than a Ford, choose which occupation to follow, etc. The only choice we could not make is to do evil. We would just not want to do that. So, for example, we are really, really mad, so we go down to the gun store and buy an AR-15 and a bunch of ammo, but we don’t feel like gunning down a bunch of school kids, so we go to a local gun range and blaze away for an hour or so. Ta da!

We would not be giving up “Free Will” in totality were we to have been created without the will to do evil, we would just be giving up the will to do evil, which for the vast majority of human beings, is not a hard sell.

So, the Problem of Evil is quite free from the false dichotomy of the Free Will Defense (another zombie idea propped up by theistic apologists). And, there has not been an other successful refutation of this problem. (Much mealy-mouthed mumbling, but no successful logical refutation.)

The Problem of Evil
(Being an argument that gods do not exist.)

Originating with Greek philosopher Epicurus, the logical argument from evil is as follows:
1. If an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient god exists, then evil does not.
2. There is evil in the world.
3. Therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god does not exist.

June 5, 2019

Lump It, Lump It All Together

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:48 pm
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I have just read an argument that argues, well, “universe therefore god.” The argument lumps together the universe as if it were a single object and argues that god is the “simplest” being able to create it. (A being with infinite powers is oh, so, simpler than a being with any sort of limited powers, don’t you know. That there are no examples of such beings to point to is irrelevant.)

Philosophers acknowledge that the universe, as we know it now, is a logical extension of the universe we knew a second ago and that the transition from “then” to “now” doesn’t require any gods being involved. By lumping the universe together as a single object, however, they mask the enormity of what it is they are doing.

If what the universe is now is a logical extension of what it was a second ago, that is the Earth moves in its orbit, the Moon it its, and the Sun in the Milky way, and the Milky Way in the Universe, all ticking along with no help from any god or gods, then there are, roughly 50,000,000 billion such seconds in which one followed the other and nothing was needed other than a recognition of the laws of physics to determine the next and the next, etc.

If we track back this trail of stages in which the universe unfolded step by step according to measurable, understandable laws with no miracles needed, we get to the last second before the Big Bang.

After 50,000,000 billion steps in which one thing followed the next according to the observable laws of physics, it is at this point that the theists jump in and say “Gotcha! It had to be our god that caused the Big Bang!”

What the heck? Hello? Whatever the cause of the Big Bang was (if indeed there was a cause), why is a god with the powers claimed for the Christian god needed? To trigger the Big Band does the trigger need to be “all good?” I think not. Does the Big Bang trigger need to be all-knowing? Possibly but not necessarily. Does the Big Bang trigger need to be all-powerful? Not necessarily, whatever was there at the time may have been so unstable that a butterfly’s fart might have set it off.

Why was their god, specifically, needed at that point? <cricket, cricket, cricket> Oh, God of the Gaps again, eh?

Let me offer another possibility. A common element on this planet is uranium. The most stable isotope of this element is U-238. It isn’t really stable, it is radioactive with a half-life of 4.5 billion years. What this means is every 4.5 billion years half of all U-238 atoms radioactively decay into other elements. But half of the atoms do and half do not. After 4.5 billion years more, half of the atoms that remained after the first 4.5 billion years (one quarter of the original number) pop off radioactively and an equal number do not. After another 4.5 billion years, only about one eight of the original atoms are left. Unfortunately we have run out of time . . . literally. Three half-life periods for U-238 roughly equals the age of the universe. (Don’t worry, more U-238 is synthesized when stars go supernovae, so we won’t run out.)

My point is after an amount of time roughly equal to the age of the universe, a large number of U-238 atoms have decomposed. A smaller number have not. What is the difference between those that pop off and those that don’t? Answer: we do not know. But surely there is a reason why some do and some don’t, no? If you believe this, you will have to explain why you think there is a reason, because the greatest minds to ever have studied this problem haven’t come up with such a reason.

So, whatever existed just prior to the Big Bang, whatever it is, how long did it wait before exploding? Was it a short time? Was it billions of years? How would you tell, since time doesn’t yet exist as we know it? All of the U-238 atoms will decompose radioactively eventually? So, why is this any different than whatever existed just prior to the Big Bang? Why does it need a god to explain it?

I suggest that the person making the argument needs a god to explain it because they very much need a god to exist. Why is completely beyond me, but the desperate logic of the philosophers trying to prove our long, long passed human ancestors were right in describing a fantastic being with supernatural powers, and just this god, none of the other fantastic beings (elves, dragons, dwarves, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, oh, and all of the thousands of other gods, etc.) are included. I suggest that it is human ego that is at the fore here. Can you imagine how grateful believers would be if some philosopher proved the existence of their god? That philosopher probably couldn’t pay for a meal or a drink for the rest of their life. Babies would be named after them. Babies of the other sex would be named after them. Mothers would offer their daughters for them to impregnate (or vice versa if they were female). Rock star baby. Immortal!

But still, the arguments are lame in the extreme. Only professional philosophers are courteous when dismantling their arguments, and that is only out of professional politeness.

 

 

November 4, 2018

#5 of the 10 Reasons to Believe God Exists

A few days back I covered #1 on this list, so if you need to see where this list was posted and by whom, please consult that post. Here is #5!

  1. Explanation for Data (Information Argument). Why is there anything at all? Even though the quantum world is a strange place, it still behaves according to certain laws. Why are there quantum particles? Quantum fields? Why do physical processes and procedures exist? One explanation: God. For any data to exist, a programmer must exist. That Programmer must be God himself.

Again, this is an old argument wrapped up in new science. (Quantum, My Precious, we hasss quantum.) This argument is based upon the question “Why is there something rather than nothing? People have been discussing this for millenia, so it is not any newer than most of the other items on this list.

Rather than delve into the specifics one can discuss around this question, such as the question can only exist in universe in which there is something, allow me to address the structure of this argument, and really many of the others.

A logical argument has the following structure:

Premises (premise 1, premise 2, etc.)
Applied logic/argumentation
Conclusion

This argument has the following structure:

Premises (premise 1, premise 2, etc.)
Opinion
Conclusion

So, the premises are stated:
1. Quantum particles exist
2. Quantum field exist
3. Even these strange particles obey “laws” or rules of behavior
4. physical processes and procedures exist

Then the opinion comes: there can be only one explanation, God

Then the argument follows, out of place in the form of a conclusion: “for any data to exist, there needs to be a programmer,” which is not in any way connected to the premises.

Obviously, “God” means the Abrahamic god, but there is nothing in the argument that says why this god is indicated (There is a hidden premise here “We all know there is but one god.”), so it could be Visnu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all we know.

Clearly this “argument” is completely distorted by the presupposed opinion of the arguer. I am reminded of Bertrand Russell’s opinion of Thomas Aquinas as a philosopher (in part):

“He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 17, 2018

Ignorant or Duplicitous? … You Decide

I ran across the oft repeated quotation from Isaac Newton just now “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.” This quotation is from the second edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Latin for Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), one of the most important scientific publications in the entire history of western science.

Like Einstein, Isaac Newton is oft quoted as an example of a scientist who “believed.” Exactly what they believed is often overlooked.

Isaac Newton was notoriously thin-skinned and he received a great many objections and criticisms from the publishing of the first edition of the Principia with dismay (like Michael and Beyonce, the book only needs its first name). One of the criticisms was that Newton’s work explained the motions of the planets so well there was no longer a need for God’s guiding hand to keep the planets moving in their perfect orbits. In a direct response to that accusation, Newton inserted a new paragraph into his second edition making it clear that he still believed all his laws had been created by God. In other words, he didn’t think such a statement was necessary in the first edition!

Make no mistake about it, Newton was a creationist. He did believe in “God,” but this was the mid to late 1600’s and the consequences of not believing were quite dire. Plus, what Newton actually did believe would not pass muster with the theists constantly repeating the quotation above.

From Wikipedia, “According to most scholars, Newton was Arian, not holding to Trinitarianism. In Newton’s eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin. As well as being antitrinitarian, Newton allegedly rejected the orthodox doctrines of the immortal soul, a personal devil and literal demons.

Now, what do you call someone who rejects the trinity, didn’t hold with Jesus being called a god, didn’t believe in immortal souls (and therefore the afterlife, Heaven, Hell, etc.), the devil, and demons? Is there a Christian sect today which can check off all of those boxes? Like Einstein, Newton was at most a theist viewing nature as the only god worth studying.

Also, Newton’s “daily” Bible studies weren’t exactly orthodox. Also from Wikipedia:

“Newton spent a great deal of time trying to discover hidden messages within the Bible. After 1690, Newton wrote a number of religious tracts dealing with the literal interpretation of the Bible. In a manuscript Newton wrote in 1704 he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible. He estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said ‘This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.’”

So, those who quote the above statement incessantly as an example of a “scientist who believed” thus supporting the idea that faith and reason are compatible, are they ignorant or duplicitous? Personally I think more people grasp upon anything that supports their beliefs out of plain old confirmation bias than there are theists who actually know what is what and who are deliberately obscuring the truth to show The Truth™. This I believe is a consequence of evangelism. Few are equipped to do it correctly.

June 8, 2016

The Problem of Evil and Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:34 am
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The topic of free will is being much discussed of late. Partially this is because of new scientific findings, but which is all to the good as it helps us understand who (or what) we are. However I am somewhat dismayed at the level of thinking employed. For example, one common use of the concept of free will is to provide room for “god” to wiggle out from under the Problem of Evil.

The Problem of Evil, if you are unaware, is this argument: if God is good (the Perfect Good), why does evil exist? It was given a strong voice by Epicurus as: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?

This argument is one of the strongest against the existence of a Judeo-Christian type god.

The wiggle room provided by religious apologists is that evil exists because their god wanted us to have free will. I will explore the motivation for that later, but currently the argument is: if we are not to be automatons, we must have free will and if we have the freedom to do good, then we must also have the freedom to do evil. (This is a variant of the “blame the victim” approach of many religions.)

This argument is quite bankrupt. Why, if their god was good and perfectly so, would he go out of his way to invent evil? Consider what the world would be like if the choice to do evil things were not available to us. Would we be deterministic puppets? Instead of us having myriad choices every day, half good and half evil, we would only have myriad good choices, no? Is this being a puppet? I would venture to say that you actually know some people like this. These are kind, gentle people who would not hurt a fly, are willing to help anyone in need, and never have an ill word to say about anybody. The idea of them making a choice that is evil is unthinkable. And they have the freedom to do anything that comes into their little minds, evil things not being among them.

Were the world to be so constructed, would we bemoan the lack of opportunities to do evil? I do not think so. There would still be any number of unfortunate happenings: forest fires, earthquakes, floods, landslides, shark attacks, dogs digging holes in your new lawn, etc. Misery and pain would not disappear. (Some apologists argue that pain has a biological function and if evil were not to exist, we would be imperiled because of the lack of pain as a guide. This is blazingly idiotic.) Compassion and generosity would still be choices we would need to make. Deliberate acts of humans to cause unnecessary pain and anguish, though, would not exist.

So, how would this diminish “God’s Plan”?

The inherent problem here is obscured by the apologists, partially because, I think, they find the missing part quite natural. The missing piece in the discussion is actually the unnatural part: according to them humans were created to worship their god, full stop, end of story. Some obscure this by saying, no we were created to “give God glory.” Of course, “glory” means “praise of a god or goddess.” In simple terms, we were created to be cheerleaders by a god with low self-esteem. We are needed to buck up the sagging ego of an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural entity! And, we need to be able to choose to do that because if their god had created us to do that with no choice being involved on our part, well that would be too narcissistic! OMG!

My argument is simpler. we have free will (not limited to conscious decision making) because it is demonstrably one of our faculties. Why we have free will is kind of a silly question. Why can we think? Why can we fart with gusto? Why do Claussen Deli Style Hearty Garlic Dill Pickles taste so damned good? The unfortunate thing about philosophy is it is basically thinking about thinking (an inevitable consequence of sentience?). What we choose to think about is up to us. The fact that many cannot think their way of a wet paper bag is lamentable, though.

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