Class Warfare Blog

July 9, 2020

How to Read the Bible

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:07 pm
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As I have mentioned I am reading the book The Use and Abuse of the Bible (subtitle: A Brief History of Biblical Interpretation) by Henry Wansborough, OSB. Since OSB stands for Order of St. Benedict, that might be a tiny hint as to where the author stands, but I am a supporter of the Law of Unintended Consequences, so I push on.

One of the effects repeated when looking at various Church Fathers is that many of them provided new ways to read the Holy Book, e.g. “The way of reading the Bible in the Western Church was radically altered by Jerome, in several ways” and “He (Origen) evolved techniques (for instance, textual criticism and comparison of the four Gospels) which have continued to serve the understanding of Scripture to the present day.”

Add this to one of the philosophical drivers of the Protestant Revolution, namely that the Bible could be read and understood by ordinary people if provided in a suitable language and that we “didn’t need no stinking priests to tell us what it meant.” This has culminated in the Protestant fundamentalist literalists who insist that everything you read in the Bible is literally true.

Whew!

But my point is this. There is almost total agreement amongst Christians that the Holy Bible was written by men inspired to do so by their god, to the point that the words in their Bibles are the “words of God.” This is not the same “inspiration” that you might get at a party to take out your half-finished novel manuscript and begin working on it again. This is really in-spired, that is “breathed in.” The authors breathed in the Holy Ghost and the words that flowed out were from that source, not from the writer’s own thoughts.

If Christians believe that, I have a question for them: why did your god deliberately make the words so written hard to understand? Why are their “hidden meanings” in scripture: allegories, symbolic meanings, and the like. For example, in “Revelations” there is a reference to a “Seven-headed Beast” which actually stands for Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, which was built upon seven hills. Was John, the author of the work he gave no title to, but we refer to as “Revelations” (and various other titles), such a pussy that he feared that Rome wouldn’t like his writings and would proscribe them and lock him up as well, but his god offered no protection? If so, how are these the words of a god. which is supposed to be all-powerful? Couldn’t John have been teleported to safety, taken up into the heavens and dumped out somewhere else? Couldn’t Yahweh/Jesus have made a few hundred copies of his writings and distributed them around? Where’s the effing magic here?

But I digress.

My point is scriptures were created in order for people to know god’s wishes, primarily that they be saved from Yahweh’s curse of mankind. (Yahweh was apparently incapable of just lifting the curse, with a muttered “My bad,” and be done with it.) But Yahweh/Jesus apparently wrote these things so that they would be hard to understand, thus preventing the people they were written for from understanding, doing the right things, and getting saved. Isn’t this a bit contradictory, more than a bit counterproductive, for the God of Love? (Apparently He loves Himself more than His Creations.)

One could argue that the literacy of the common people in that region, at that time, was somewhat limited. (Some argue that literacy was rather quite widespread, however.) Certainly reproduction technology was at a low ebb at the time (no printing presses, no Internet, no TV, telephones, etc.) so it was necessary for these things to be read out loud to “the people.” But this is not what the priestly classes did. Instead, they interpreted them for the people. Why? Because the priestly divines were convinced that if they were to just read the scriptures to the people, the people wouldn’t understand! Heresy, heresy . . . those priests claimed that the Holy Ghost was a bad writer! (I would rent my cloak except it is hot and I am not wearing much and what is being worn isn’t rentable.)

Basically Yahweh’s/Jesus’ narrative goes like this “Okay, okay I cursed all y’all, you know that. But there is a way out! A way to Heaven and an escape from Hell . . . and it is all here in these here scriptures. Unfortunately I wrote them so that they would be hard to understand. Think of it as a test, a really hard one. Good luck! Yahweh

Just when are people going to look at this storyline and say “This isn’t even good enough to make a B movie from! Script!”

 

June 27, 2020

Commandments or Not?

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:56 am
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The included photo I find very touching and couldn’t possibly disagree and, in fact, probably could not find anyone who does disagree with this statement. But . . .

This is, of course, one of the Ten Commandments, actually one of the 605 commandments to be found in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. But I suspect that the person who made that sign was a Christian (odds are in my favor there) and I have to ask: Where in Christianity is this “commandment” endorsed?

Many fundamentalist Christians claim that the New Testament supersedes the OT. So, where in the NT is this commandment?

In the Hebrew Bible, this is a commandment of Yahweh to the Hebrews/Jews. It applies only to Hebrews/Jews, not to any of the other peoples of that time. It wasn’t given to the Romans, the Persians, the Phoenicians, etc. It was for the Hebrews/Jews and applied only to the Hebrews/Jews. And, the implied language is “Thou shalt not murder another Hebrew.”

Some Christians point to the passage in the gospel we call Matthew (5:18) “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” or (5:17) “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.“ Okay, so if the OT is still pertinent, why are not Christians obeying the entire 605 commandments therein? And if not all of those, where in the NT does it point out which are still viable and which are not?

June 22, 2020

Understanding Christian Thinking

Filed under: History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:57 pm
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I am reading a book, The Use and Abuse of the Bible, a Brief History of Biblical Interpretation. Two of the first great Christian thinkers addressed in this book are Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202 CE) and Origen (c. 185–c. 253). Both of these gentlemen were praised for coming up with whole new modes of Christian thought, which should have been seen as a warning sign.

A Reasoned Approach to Understanding Christian Thinking
Thinking back to the second and third centuries CE, what kind of economic activity was available to intellectuals? I define an intellectual is someone who makes his/her way through life using his/her mind alone, whereas non-intellectuals use both their minds and bodies in various ratios. Of all of the occupations available at that time, in that place about the only place for intellectuals was as scribes. (They might also have become a physician but only the wealthy could afford the schooling.) Many people think of scribes as being stenographers for the illiterate (I did, too), but while that task might be something a scribe did (taking dictation), there was much, much more to do. Scribes might be employed by the wealthy to keep records and produce written correspondence, but the primary employer of scribes were the various temples.

My point is that intellectuals would be attracted mightily to being a religious scribe as being one of the few forms of occupation in which they got to work as they wished.

So, when scribes were presented with questions about unclear passages of scripture or flat out nonsense in scripture, they being the brilliant intellectual creatives they were, made up stuff. Irenaeus claimed that there should only be four canonical gospels (of the many more in existence) because there were four animals supporting God’s throne in Ezekiel 1. I guess the fact that most chairs had four legs wasn’t enough of a justification for God’s throne. And making a connection between the number of any part of God’s throne and the number of gospels to include in the canon seems not to be present. No surprise there.

So, question after question arises and soon they find the answers harder and harder to come up with. Origen commented on Genesis 18 where “Abraham stood by them under a tree . . .” during a divine visit to Abraham. Origen comments “What does it help me who have come to hear what the Holy Spirit teaches the human race if I hear that Abraham was standing under a tree? Let us rather see what this tree is, under which Abraham stood.” If Freud were alive I suspect he might say “Sometimes a tree is just a tree.”

Origen is probably the major source of the idea of there being “secret” knowledge that has to be winkled out through exegesis. The Jews had already succumbed to this position and Origen was leading Christians into the same position. But, I think the intellectual powers of these people, which allow them to “spin” any nonsense into sense, betrays them wholly at the end.

These worthies both insisted that the scriptures were divinely inspired and without error. So, if there is an error, it must be due to a misunderstanding on our part. Since the words must be right, our interpretation must be wrong, so what is needed is a new interpretation and what do creative intellectuals do? They create.

But by claiming that it is our flawed human understanding which is at fault, they are playing Russian Roulette with the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary people have crops and flocks to attend, business to do, families to provide for, any myriad other mundane tasks. They do not have the energy to study and learn to interpret scripture in their nonexistent spare time. So, failing to hear from a gifted intellectual who knows what scripture actually means, they mis-learn it and end up in Hell.

What the claim of “hidden knowledge” in scripture implies is that the inspired writers who composed scriptures are inadequate to their task. Should not the scriptures be easy to read and easy to understand by one and all? Shouldn’t they be clear and precise? Shouldn’t they all make sense, now and forever? Shouldn’t a lack of sense be evidence that a particular scripture was not divinely inspired?

That there is “hidden knowledge” being taught or is somehow embedded in scripture is a sop to the interpreters of meaning. Their arrogance is Trumpian “Only I can solve this problem! You see sometimes a tree is not just a tree.” (Origen felt that the tree was “insight” symbolically.) Symbolic writing is not accessible to one and all and should never appear in scripture. Every time in the NT you see a reference to the disciples not understanding what is right in front of their faces, an appeal to the concept of hidden wisdom or hidden knowledge is being made. If this knowledge were the difference between Heaven and Hell, why would any sane scripture-sponsoring entity hide that knowledge?

“He (Jesus) told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” Mark 4:11-12

What kind of great teacher deliberately obfuscates what is to be learned? Wouldn’t God Incarnate be able to speak so clearly as to create understanding and belief? And why would such a god allow prideful intellectuals to spin those scriptures into things they are not? (Note They are still doing it. Look up William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel, as examples.)

June 17, 2020

Atheism Kills—Sometimes a Blurb Is Enough

Once again I encounter a book that needs no reading. This book addresses the question “Why are you Atheists so militant/unhappy/angry?”

Here’s the blurb:
In Atheism Kills, Barak Lurie exposes the horrors of a world without God. Contrary to the mantra we’ve heard time and time again that religion is responsible for more deaths than anything else, it is in fact the absence of God which has killed–in obscene numbers. Ever since atheism first assumed government control in the French Revolution, it has done nothing but kill.

Atheism has killed through its many deputies: progressivism, eugenics, fascism, and communism. Lurie shows that it was the godlessness in each of these ideologies that killed hundreds of millions.

But atheism doesn’t just kill lives. It kills purpose, free will, beauty, compassion, a sense of the past and future, creativity, and freedom itself. Atheism offers only the horrors of chaos and totalitarianism.

The world misplaces its focus on Radical Islam as the greatest threat to civilization. As horrible as it is, it is doing nothing and having no sense of self which are the true enemies. It was our will to fight and sense of mission that overcame fascism and communism. We must have these to keep Radical Islam at bay, too.

This is why we must resist the growth of atheism. It was God that gave us our freedom. It was God who gave our sense of purpose that created civilization. Take those away, and there is nothing to fight for. In this way, Lurie shows that the lack of belief in God is our greatest danger. How does he know? Because like a hurricane, godlessness has only known how to destroy everything in its path. It has never created.

Like there will always be fires, there will always be enemies that seek to destroy our civilization. But if we don’t have fire stations with crew, and protocol in each city to deal with fires, those fires will consume us. Likewise, how we prepare ourselves to deal with horrific ideologies will be what saves us.

That preparation can only come with our embrace of the centrality of God.

Foreword written by Dennis Prager.

So, how does that make you feel, you filthy atheists?

And, to be complete I include two Amazon Reviews; one a ♦♦♦♦♦ review and the other a ♦ review.

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent review of the case for Christianity

Reviewed in the United States on September 4, 2018

Verified Purchase

This Stanford University trained lawyer tells why he left atheism and became a Christian. He realizes that evolutionism is the doorway to atheism, and gives many reasons why Darwinism is not, and can not, be true. He also shows the harm of the former consensus science of eugenics and the harm this worldview has done. He gives many examples where Christians at great personal risk did what was moral even if it would have been to their benefit to do the opposite. He also covers Progressivism and how its goal was not to look in the past for wisdom, nor to the heavens, but rather to the self only. Then Lurie documents the harm that this idea, which sounds good and true, has done. He covers a lot of ground but covers the high points to make his case. I read the negative reviews before writing my review, and can conclude that their main goal is to convince readers not to buy this book. Read it for yourself and then judge. This is one of the best books I have read in a while. It is a breezy read, full of good illustrations to make his points.

1.0 out of 5 stars A boat load of nonsense

Reviewed in the United States on July 27, 2018

Verified Purchase

I got halfway through this disaster of a book before giving up finding anything reasonable. He lumps radical Muslims in with atheists–ridiculous. Radical Islam is the true form of Islam, same “God” and characters as Old Testament, just a different false messiah. The author thinks that only Christians and Jews (small part of world population) have morality. He thinks Christianity stopped slavery in 19th century—laughable. If Lincoln hadn’t gotten back into politics, slavery would have continued in this country into the 20th century, just like it did in some backward Muslim countries. The southern slave owners in this country were Christian and churches enabled the disgusting dehumanizing practice, for God’s sake!!!

Chapter 2 has a section “Argument For Atheism” which is brilliant (the only intelligent part of book). Then a section “Argument Against Atheism” that is idiotic, claiming that free will means doing whatever you want, you can ignore consequences, morality is absent if you’re a rational person. Is this a grade-school essay with no knowledge of retaliation by peers or civil authority? Besides basic human morality that is inborn, adults know that there are consequences like beatings, shooting, stabbing, civil penalties and jail time–THAT is the deterrent to indiscriminate violence, not fear of divine retribution or morality learned from some religious scam. As Marina Diamandis lyrics say in “Savages”– “I’m not afraid of God, I am afraid of Man”.

But, the book is supposed to prove that atheism kills. His proof apparently is the same old junk science–dictators and blood thirsty monsters like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ho, Castro, Che, etc. They were born without morals (even if raised Catholic–Hitler, Castro, Che), but they had armies of men and citizens protecting them that were not atheists, I guarantee most were Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. The problem is that belief in some ancient book like the Torah/Bible/Koran that portrays scenarios that nobody can defend and passages so ambiguous as to be interpreted a thousand different ways doesn’t make you moral any more than not believing makes you immoral, or turn you into a Hitler.

What the author is trying to say, and takes forever making his point is: morality is impossible without Christianity or Judaism. That is just so juvenile and shallow and wrong that it doesn’t deserve commenting on. Then, he blames atheism for everything the immoral power mad leaders do–juvenile, shallow, idiotic.

Christians destroyed unknown millions of natives in the Western hemisphere from 15th century on.
Christians enslaved millions of Africans and clergy supported them both in the North and South USA.
Spanish and American Christians killed unknown thousands of Filipinos in order to “civilize” them.
Did they do those atrocities because God told them to or allowed them to? Some may have, but most practiced slavery (or killed and robbed natives) for earthy pleasure and treasure, apparently morality is subjective.
Did “God” punish the Europeans or the slave owners? I see no evidence of divine intervention in all of human history, unless you count “acts of God” as divine intervention. An ‘act of God’ (hurricane, tornado, flood, fire, etc.) destroys lives and churches in the path no matter their belief system; atheist, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, whatever.
Did Hitler destroy only religious people? He destroyed ANYBODY who got in his way, but he singled out complete Jewish civilian families for gas chambers because he was raised Catholic and Catholics blamed Jews for the worlds ills. Plus, Christians and Muslims assisted (or at least stood aside, mostly) the German SS in their genocide.

The author glosses over the hundreds of thousands lives lost over seven centuries of Inquisitions over the world. He ignores untold hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Europe over centuries of feuds between Catholics and Protestants.

This author tries to argue that the Bible shouldn’t have been intimidating to the populace since there are no intimidating characters in it–so completely ridiculous. A ‘God’ that punishes “sins”, a made-up scenario of an abusive afterlife, and church leaders that will burn to death infidels and heretics—THAT was intimidation. Until the printing press and general education of the masses, Christians and Jews ruled the Western world. Were the Middle Ages theocracies Utopian? NOT!! Ask Joan of Arc, or Mary Queen of Scots, or King Henry VIII’s 2nd wife Anne Boleyn, or….

As Richard Dawkins says “with or without religion, good people will do good, bad people will do bad, it takes religion to make good people do bad”. THAT is pure genius. Read more Dawkins, people. Not mish-mash nonsense like this book.

Atheism doesn’t kill, people kill for many reasons, some kill because their ‘God’ insists (Islam), or allows (Judaism) it.

And for a complete takedown of this book (a very long takedown) see http://trollingwithlogic.com/godless-wolf/2017/12/21/critical-analysis-of-atheism-kills-by-barak-lurie/

June 16, 2020

Supreme Logic

I was reading about a supreme Court’s ruling in the recent case as to whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act also protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination.

You have probably heard that according to this SCOTUS, it does. However, as one article put it: “Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissenting opinion saying, ‘The common understanding of sex discrimination in 1964 was bias against women or men and did not encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If Congress wanted to protect gay and transgender workers, he wrote, it could pass a new law.’

The article went on to comment: “Let me break down Alito’s argument: Because homophobia was more acceptable in 1964 when the anti-discrimination act was written and the creators of that law had no intention of protecting LGBTQ people, that law should not protect LGBTQ people.”

I wonder if Justice Alito’s logic extends to the Second Amendment right to bear arms, in that the amendment was referring to smooth bore, single shot muskets and swords and “If Congress wanted to protect the right to own and bear modern firearms, it could pass a new law.” I wonder how the Justice’s NRA supporters would view throwing that idea open to Congress.

And wouldn’t it be simpler to restrict employers as to hiring and firing to “job related performance” and nothing else. This would allow firings for not having the money to pay the worker, or the job was no longer needed, or the employee stinks and refuses to bathe, or . . . etc., but shouldn’t the reasoning be related to the job and not the category one wishes to stuff the employee into?

June 7, 2020

The “Biblical” Source of Our Western Traditions

I have been reading another William G. Dever book “What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They know It?” The title sounds like a Watergate catch phrase but the book was written in 2001, so. . . ?

Near the end of the book the author is commenting on the value of the Bible in our civilization/culture and he stated the following as being derived from the Bible:

  1. The absolute worth of the individual (the right of self-determination)
    2. The rule of law and justice (democracy)
    3. The immutable authority of morality (virtue)
    4. Liberty and justice as the foundations of politics (public morality)
    5. A free, entrepreneurial market
    6. The power of mind to dominate nature and grasp truth of higher order (science)
    7. Government as ordained (the rule of law and order)
    8. The importance of tradition and meaning (religious and cultural values)
    9. History as purposeful (progress)
    10. Universalism as the ultimate goal (triumphalism).

Of these Dever states that we take “for granted the following notions and cultural values, nearly all of them derived from one or another interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. . . .”

Interestingly, I have owned dozens of Bibles and I must not have got the one he is drawing from.

Where to Start, Where to Start?
I guess I should just take these in order.

  1. The absolute worth of the individual (the right of self-determination)
    I guess he wasn’t referring to children, or women, or slaves, or non-Hebrews, or . . . The Hebrew Bible is all about obedience, obedience to Yahweh and his representatives upon Earth. The worth of individual Hebrews is found in the encoded laws and commandments and whatnot. Even trivial infractions of scriptures result in penalties of death, with no particular due process to be followed . . . take the bride not a virgin to the city gate and stone her to death, stone to death a cheeky teenager who speaks disrespectfully to his parents, etc. And as to value, prices are put on people’s lives, in silver or cattle, that tell exactly what value the Bible places on individual human lives, aka not much.
  2. The rule of law and justice (democracy)
    This is ludicrous. Nowhere in the Bible is democracy even mentioned, let alone condoned or recommended. The entire Biblical system is set up to be ruled by authoritarians. The father in the family. The military leaders in the armies. The priests and kings and whatnot in the public sphere. There is no voting, no solicitation of public sentiments, no agora where politics is debated, etc. Taxes are collected by tax farmers, aka thugs. The rule of law was determined by who was ruling at the time. Authority determined which rules were enforced and which were disregarded. (Is not the Bible full of excoriations of Hebrews who failed to exercise the law and their responsibilities . . . over and over and over.)
  3.  The immutable authority of morality (virtue)
    The immutable authority of Yahweh is what one finds but morality varies, depending upon Yahweh and who happens to be his representative on earth at the moment. When David disobeys Yahweh (confusingly as David and anyone reading the book cannot find out where he was disobedient), Yahweh punishes him by killing tens of thousands of his followers. What ever happened to “Thou shalt not murder?” I guess the absolute worth of the individual is as a marker for Yahweh’s ire. There is no abstract morality that all swear to follow. Yahweh issues commandments, not suggestions, not “if you love me, you will’s” . . . commandments and the implication is obey or else. How is that even a moral system?
  4. Liberty and justice as the foundations of politics (public morality)
    WTF? Politics? What politics? There is no polity, no elected officials, no elections. There is no place in which “citizens” have a say in anything. In fact there are no “citizens.” There are Hebrews, who are related through religion. Liberty? Justice? Possibly these concepts existed but, if your ass was needed in the army, you were in the army. Liberty? Self-determination? As long as you obeyed, well, I guess they existed somewhere else.
  5. A free, entrepreneurial market
    This is stated as if the Bible created these things. The idea of a market was created by the people, not by the Bible. The rules of the market were determined by the people participating, not by the Bible. As usual, religion comes along and co-opts these things but I think the Bible played a role in Biblical era markets about as much as it plays a role in the N.Y. Stock Exchange, which means not at all. According to the Bible you are free to act in a market, free to be a slave, free to starve, free to die of disease. free, free, free. And while you are dying, you can be an entrepreneur, too.

* * *

I am too emotionally drained to continue. I will do the other five tomorrow or the next day.

Blame It On the Greeks?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 8:41 am
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The Greeks came up with some rather odd ideas. One was eventually codified into Platonism. This is a view that Ideal Forms and Ideal Ideas existed. This is not such a radical idea but they insisted that these Forms and Ideas existed in reality . . . in another realm (maybe beyond space and time?).

Socrates wanted to know all of the attributes of virtue so as to be able to guide the careers and lives of virtuous men (women didn’t count yet, #free_women). So, the Greeks also invented formal categories.

I don’t think that such concepts would exist at all, or exist in much detail, if it were not for philosophers, philosophers who were . . . what? They seemed to be people who wanted to sit around bullshitting and getting paid for it, kind of like the people on sports talk radio and TV are now.

So, think about a man at a bazaar looking to buy a knife. He picks one up, feels its balance and overall size, observes the workmanship, and then talks to the vendor, possibly haggling over the price. Does the category of “knives” even enter his thinking anywhere? I should think not. Now, later, sitting around a campfire the buyer of that knife might show off his new knife to his companions and they might comment as to whether it is a good knife, or a good deal, or whether it is preferable to another style of knife. (Think of Conan and Otli arguing over whose god was better around a campfire in the first Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan movie.) Do you think the “category” of knives would come up in that discussion? I don’t think so.

So, what were these philosophers up to (other than no good—ask your mother if it would be okay to hang out with a bunch of old men who do not have jobs)?

Clearly, looking around it is easy enough to see that nothing observable was perfect. Everything has flaws of some kind. The most beautiful young man you might fall in love with turns out to be as dull as a sack of hammers, your mirror has small specks in its polished surface, the vase you arrange flowers in has a base that isn’t quite flat, and so on. So, I can see playing a game of “What if he were perfect, what would he be like? Or what would a perfect knife be like? Or a perfect vase, or . . . or. . . . but to pontificate that the perfect versions of these things exist somewhere and the things we have are only bad copies is beyond bizarre. A sane man would speculate that the process of perfecting a creation could never be ended, and so perfect objects do not, and cannot exist. Ta da! Done! Consider that new knife designs are still being created. Is there a limit to the number of possible designs? What the heck could be the perfect avatar of “knives” when so many knives are different? Is there an “Absolute” for each design? And if you find that daunting, tackle “beauty” . . . they did!

What has the idea of perfect exemplars of every form and idea given us? The answer is . . . misery. This is where thoughts like “Jesus is perfect, man is flawed” come from. And where does Jesus reside? In another realm, along with all of the other perfect things, including a mansion with many rooms and you may get to live in it. Wow, I wonder if they have servants in that mansion?

Now that would be an interesting version of eternal torment. Those who fail to get into Heaven end up being servants in the Heavenly Mansion, living in meager servant’s quarters, eating leftovers, wearing hand-me-down garments, and no days off. All the time they are exposed to the wealthy mansion that all of the right acting and right thinking god-fearers get to enjoy. Now that would be everlasting torment, being forever exposed to all you lost out on. But no, those assholes had to dream up a Lake of Fire and demons! Why did God create demons? Only a dick would deliberately create demons or beings that could transform into demons.

I see imagination as a mental ability that we developed that helped us greatly to stay alive. Through imagination we could detect agency, that it we could imagine that rustling in the tall grass was a predator sneaking up on us and take actions to elude the stalking animal. But, of course, we have to take everything to extremes, especially when given leisure time (aka time not having to work to gather food, make shelters, make clothing, etc.) so we invent effing philosophers to do what? Imagine up all kinds of stuff, none of which has the possibility of benefiting the ordinary people, but much of which can be used by the elites to control the masses so they can siphon off our “surplus labor.”

* * *

Now I can see the value of categories. My academic subject field, chemistry, would be much more difficult without them. By assigning a chemical substance to a category, you can then characterize that substance with the general attributes of the category (e.g. metals are good conductors of electricity, and are malleable and ductile, etc.).

But one has to look carefully at what one is doing. In Plato’s case he said things like “A wind is pleasantly cool for one person but uncomfortably cold for another. A wine is sweet to a person who is well but sour to the same person when ill.” but then goes on by implying that human knowledge needs absolutes. Take that wine, for instance, is it sweet or is it sour, it can’t be both, no? Yes, it can. When I moved to the Midwest of the US from California I ended up with people who claimed a dish we were eating was “very spicy” but I thought was bland. (The offending spice was black pepper.) What I conclude is that perceptions depend upon context and aren’t absolutes. So, the wine is sweet when the person was well and sour when he was ill (but not at the same time), that is his sense of taste was affected by his illness. There does not need to be an idealized absolute “Sweet Wine” in the Realm of Absolutes so we can tell the sick person that they are wrong, the wine isn’t sour, so they can’t be tasting that. (My cartoon mind has the voice of Crocodile Dundee playing in the background saying “That’s not a sweet wine . . . this is a sweet wine.”)

These are the ideas of people who are too smart for their own good . .  our own good.

June 4, 2020

Why Science Hasn’t Stamped Out Religion

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:42 am
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I was reading a piece on the Vridar blog site and Neil Godfrey wrote this (in 2013): “Religion has not gone away since the end of the Europe’s religious wars and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, scientific advances and the rise of secularism may even be largely responsible for religious revivals.”

One part of the reasoning behind this statement jumped out at me. As opposed to science, religion puts no intellectual demands on its proponents. Scientists are asked to explain themselves, and argue, and think . . . really, really hard. Religionists, to the contrary, are given warm “There, theres” and are not asked to think. They are not expected to answer or ask questions. They do not have a final arbiter of what is right and wrong as natural scientists have in nature.

As a college professor, I saw a great many students over the years, almost all of whom had selected a major course of study. Since the science courses I taught were not something that other students took to meet a breadth requirement or “for fun,” I tended to see the same types of students. And didn’t encounter students who were majoring in far flung intellectual pursuits. But I did meet and work with colleagues from all over the college. And one could see clear divides in those folk according to their chosen fields of study.

For one, there is a simple dichotomy between scientists and non-scientists that breaks along the lines of, what should I call it . . . social skills (?). Science types, often referred to as “geeks,” often lacked social skills one could observe elsewhere and it is my opinion that science attracts people with poorer social skills because the topic addresses and studies things and not people. (Things can be pinned down, people are inconsistent, variable, and often cantankerous.) Study science and you have fewer people to deal with and more things/facts/etc. (Yes, I know these are broad characterizations. There are many, many exceptions. I myself am a scientist who is suave as hell and comfortable in the company of a wide strata of society. And I need a tongue-in-cheek emoji here.)

Another fault line between scientists and non-scientists is math. To learn math, you must master, to some extent, abstract thinking. This makes a clear line between those who faired well in math (I wasn’t that good, just persistent.) and those who did not.

So, to make an argument or address a problem scientifically, you have to pull non-science types into a realm in which complex arguments, math, and foundational knowledge all are involved in complicated fashions. (Look at how complex environmental issues are often described with simplistic and, at root, misleading explanations. Global atmospheric warming was attributed to the Greenhouse Effect and greenhouses work primarily by not allowing warm gases to escape the house. This is not the mechanism of climate change as we are experiencing it now.)

On the other side of this divide, the religionists are told “There, there . . . all will be well” and other nonsense like “The blood of Christ will protect you in the pandemic.” (The latter led me to wonder where I can get me some of that shit.) It may be nonsense, but it is simple nonsense, making no intellectual demands and offering many reassurances, albeit vacuous ones.

I do not claim that all of this plays out consciously through free will. In general I think most of us drift in the currents of our lives (me, especially). But those unable to accept the complexity of real problems set in a real nature are subject to those more than willing to provide fantasy solutions set in a fantastic nature which are less demanding. All you need is faith and there are no real tests of that any more.

May 9, 2020

Can Atheists Be Moral?

Note A Sunday-ish post … early! Steve

Being an empiricist, my answer is “of course” as it has been demonstrated over and over that atheists are no less moral than non atheists. But allow me to step away from that and approach the issue differently.

A main approach is that a morality not given by a god is declared to be subjective rather than objective, even worse it is declared to be relative! And I say . . . so?

The declaration of a god-driven morality to be objective is a bit specious in that gods change their minds all of the time, so how is that “objective?” (For people who just gasped regarding my claim that gods change their minds, consider Yahweh’s decision to kill off all of the humans he created by flooding. He basically states that he regretted making us. If that isn’t a change of mind, what the hell is it?)

And subjective and relative are not necessarily bad things. Many of the people who argue in favor of objective morality, that is god-given, politically argue for “local control” of various governmental functions (education, how to run elections, etc.). Local control of things means that local people get to negotiate for what they want to happen. But this would be disastrous when it comes to morality, no?

No.

We are social animals, we negotiate social behaviors on the fly and we are quite good at it. Remember back to when ATMs were introduced? There were no protocols or procedures as to their use, other than the bank’s instructions as to how to operate the machines. But shortly after their introduction, we adopted the general principle that if a line forms, a largish gap was created between the current user and the next user. In this fashion, the current user didn’t have to worry about anyone prying into their business with the bank or swiping their PIN or . . . you know. And who created this process? Who implemented it? Who enforced it? Basically, we did, with absolutely no fuss or muss . . . because we are good at establishing social norms. We have been doing it for millennia and are well practiced at this task.

But moral issues aren’t negotiable, you say. Think again. Some issues are obviously non-negotiable to most people. Just go online and make an argument that murder should not be considered immoral. Do you think you would get any “takers,” serious takers, for your new moral precept? I think not. I think you would get aghast responses from serious people and trolling responses from most of the rest.

And what about the “objective moral code” that said that pre-marital sex would send you straight to Hell? What about the “objective moral code” that said that divorce was an abomination? What happened to the moral code that forbade the mixing of wool and linen in a single cloth to make garments? (Yes, that was one of Yahweh’s 613 commandments.) What happened to the moral code that you should always marry within your faith? What happened to the moral code that you should marry within your race?

If these things are not negotiable, and hence not relative/subjective, how come they are constantly changing?

 

 

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.

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