Uncommon Sense

May 19, 2022

Faith v. Reason

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:01 am

And in this corner . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 16, 2022

God, Really?

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:42 am

He is a vengeful god. He is a loving god. He is an angry god. And so on. But if you ask any of the “experts” for a listing of their god’s attributes, this is what you get:

“A thorough, yet incomplete list and summary of His attributes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 11, 2022

Judicial Activism Unchecked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 4, 2022

Contraception Could Come Under Fire Next If Roe v Wade Is Overturned

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:20 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I just saw a piece in The Guardian with the title above: Contraception Could Come Under Fire Next If Roe v Wade Is Overturned.

D’ja think?

The conservative wet dream of getting Roe v Wade overthrown being accomplished, they will roll out the rest of their agenda. They are not known for sitting on a lead. Buckle your seat belts, y’all, women’s reproductive rights are going to be under a full-scale attack very, very soon.

May 3, 2022

The Pervasiveness of Memes

Mankind was not made to suffer. Bliss is our nature. (David Lynch)

Christianity and creationism are woven into our culture. It is so finely woven in that sometimes it is hard to see.

Take the quotation above. I know it is true because mankind was not “made” and thus cannot have been “made for a reason.” Mankind, like Topsy, just grow’d. Weren’t no creator.

Imagine the unsuspecting child, immersed in a culture in which people are constantly exclaiming things like that. Things like: “She has a gift from god.” or worse “She is gifted.” A child believing she has gifts has been primed to find out that, surprise, it is the family god who bestowed those gifts upon her.

When children ask about a relative who has died, they may hear “He has gone to meet his reward.” Or “He is looking down on us now.” This is Christian propaganda, but the child probably doesn’t know that.

Even non-religious children receive a heavy dose of this indoctrination.

So, when theists ask why we atheists care, why can’t be just let people be, this is what I think of: unsuspecting children of Christians and non-Christians being taught to believe bullshit and thus being primed to believe other fairy dust being sold by politicians and corporations through the years. Once you accept things as being true having no good reason to believe so, you have just been admitted to the land of the Gullible and will be sold many other bullstuffs.

April 10, 2022

Well Then, Instead?

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:07 am
Tags: ,

People tell fantastic stories all of the time. Mostly we just ignore them. (I am not including the QAnon and MAGA leaning crowd that seems to swallow highly suspect stories, such as public schools installing litter boxes in their bathrooms for kids who “identify” as cats and dogs . . . really!) We generally do not invest any energy in trying to figure out what really happened . . . instead of what the story tellers claimed had happened. It is normal to dismiss wild stories out of hand and not to dwell on “Gee, what did they really mean?”

This applies to religious stories, too. Believers in one religion dismiss out of hand stories from other religions as not being worth unpacking. I wonder what Hindus or Buddhists think of the Great Flood story, for example.

You know the story of the Great Flood and you have probably considered some of the flaws in the story. For one, the amount of water needed to drown the entire globe is three times the amount of water already here on the surface. Where did this amount water come from and, where did it go to when the “waters receded?” How did the ark hold all of those animals? How did the animals get there? Why are there no kangaroo skeletons littering the landscapes as generations laboriously made their way back to Australia? Why does human DNA show significantly more diversity that can be explained from having come from just eight people roughly four thousand years ago? How did a great grandson of Noah (Noah and his sons were on the ark, so we are talking just two more generations to get to Noah’s great grandsons) have the manpower to build cities and the Tower of Babel?

There are literally thousands of pieces of conflicting evidence working against this story. But it has become a zombie idea, an idea that will not die or if it does die, it comes back to shamble on. Consequently there is a hobby in full flower of debunking this story that will not die.

Some people take the story seriously as a manifestation of a great flood that occurred prehistorically. There are known to be, for example, huge floods in the northwestern U.S. following the last ice age; floods in which ice dams held back immense quantities of water and when those dams finally gave way water torrented across one third of the continent, drowning everything in is path. Maybe there was such a flood in the near east, and a story about it was passed down the ages until it became fodder for writing religious wisdom literature.

So, to take a story seriously, one usually has to come up with multiple scenarios (at least two). For example, there is a story in which the universe, the Earth, and all of the living entities upon it were created in just six days by an all-powerful supernatural being . . . or . . . the Earth formed over 4 billion years ago, and once monocellular life forms appeared (either through a natural process or having been seeded by aliens, or . . .), the process of evolution took over and all of the current life forms evolved from that common ancestor species. The first process essentially has no supporting evidence because it is declared to be supernatural (and so never will have any natural evidence) and the second process has literally tons of evidence to support it (and that is not an exaggeration).

So, which is the more likely of the two? This is the key question when considering competing stories. We are not asking which is correct, just which is the more likely? Clearly, in this case it is the second. So, why do so many people still believe the first is what “actually happened?” Again, clearly such believers have resisted considering any “instead” scenarios. The leaders encouraging their beliefs actively discourage such efforts as potentially undermining that belief as well as others that haven’t been unpacked at all.

Often such stories have been declared to be The Truth™ and believers are discouraged from challenging the truth, or even asking “Well, how do we know it is true?”

So, critical thinking, that is careful thinking, has to be applied to options to distinguish whether something is true. If options have not been considered, then you are on the flip side of those who dismiss stories out of hand without careful consideration. And one needn’t be an intellectual giant or even an intellectual to consider such things. One simply has to carefully consider what one accepts as the truth.

April 6, 2022

You Say It is Time to Tax Churches?

You are right.

Consider this: The Mormon Church owns the most valuable property portfolio in America

At least $15,700,000,000 in holdings.

If they weren’t ashamed, why were they hiding their assets?

April 4, 2022

Are You A Real Christian™?

There is a test and to prove you are a Real Christian™ you will have to pass it. This test is based upon an article written by Dan Foster on Medium.com (What Jesus Actually Said). This article lists the 49 commandments of Jesus the Christ. To save you some time, I recreated the list below, without Dan’s always brilliant commentary. Note—These have been rephrased from what the scripture directly says. And, as always, I recommend you read the whole original article if you are interested.

The 49 Commandments of Jesus the Christ

  1. Turn your life around (repent) Matthew 4:17.
  2. Follow my example Matthew 4:19.
  3. Be happy if others put you down Matthew 5:11–12.
  4. Shine! (Matthew 5:16).
  5. Reconcile with your enemies (Matthew 5:23–25).
  6. Do not lust Matthew 5:28–30.
  7. Keep your word Matthew 5:37.
  8. Turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39).
  9. Go above and beyond (Matthew 5:41–42).
  10. Love your enemies Matthew 5:44–46.
  11. Live generously and graciously Matthew 48.
  12. Don’t show off your generosity (Matthew 6:1–18).
  13. Do things that matter eternally Matthew 6:19–21.
  14. Seek God first (Matthew 6:31–33).
  15. Don’t judge others Matthew 7:1–3.
  16. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans Matthew 7:6.
  17. Ask, seek, knock  Matthew 7:7–8.
  18. Treat others as you’d like to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
  19. Don’t look for shortcuts to God (Matthew 7:13–14).
  20. Look for character, not charisma Matthew 7:15–16.
  21. Pray for more helpers (Matthew 9:37–38).
  22. Be wise and inoffensive Matthew 10:16.
  23. Don’t be afraid Matthew 10:28.
  24. Listen to God’s voice Matthew 11:15.
  25. Cast your burdens onto him Matthew 11:28–30.
  26. Honor your parents Matthew 15:4.
  27. Beware of performance-based religion Matthew 16:6.
  28. Don’t run from suffering Luke 9:23–25.
  29. Be kind to children Matthew 18:10.
  30. Restore broken relationships Matthew 18:15–17.
  31. Don’t be greedy  Luke 12:15.
  32. Forgive others Matthew 18:21–22.
  33. Don’t split those who God has brought together Matthew 19:4–6.
  34. Serve others Matthew 20:26–28.
  35. Use the church for what it was intended Matthew 21.
  36. Don’t doubtMatthew 21:21–22: .
  37. Invite in the outcast Luke 14:12–14.
  38. Respect authority (Matthew 22:19–21).
  39. Love God (Matthew 22:37–38).
  40. Love others (Matthew 22:39–40).
  41. Be ready to go Matthew 24:42–44.
  42. Remember me  Matthew 26:26–28.
  43. Start a new life John 3:5–7.
  44. Don’t walk into temptation (Matthew 26:41).
  45. Care for others John 21:15–16.
  46. Baptize those who believe (Matthew 28:19)
  47. Let God’s power be your strength Luke 24:49.
  48. Teach others to live like me Matthew 28:20.
  49. Keep My Commandments (John 14:15).


4 in gLuke
3 in gJohn
42 in gMatthew

At first I was a little taken aback that there were no citations from gMark, and then I remembered that over 90% of Mark was included verbatim in gMatthew.

I would also add that there is absolutely nothing new in these “teachings,” that is all of the precepts were available prior to the time these were supposedly taught. No great innovations, no new understandings, nada.

The Test!
Okay, now is the time to take the Real Christian™ Test, which will determine whether you are a Real Christian™ or not! Basically, all you have to do is go down the list: Give yourself 2, 1, or 0 points for each commandment if: 2–you do this almost always, 1–you do this off and on, or 0–You rarely or never do this.

Go ahead, I will wait.

Now sum up all of those numbers. A perfect score for a follower of Jesus the Christ would be 98 but that is unlikely. So, how high do you have to score to qualify? Well, to even be considered, you have to score  . . . higher than atheists score.

I took the test and there were more than a few guaranteed zeros, being an atheist and all: #2, 13, 14, 17, 19, 21, 24, 25, 33, 35, 36, 39, 46, 48, 49. You cannot profess to not believe in this god and do those things with any sincerity. So, there are 30 points an atheist can’t claim, so a score of 68 is a line of demarcation (98 – 30 = 68). If you score above 68, you are guaranteed to be better than any stinking atheist!

I scored 36. So, if you can’t beat 36, then you aren’t following Jesus any more than an atheist does. But then my score may be high or low compared to the scores other atheists might achieve, so if you know any (or are one), if you can convince them to take the test or take it yourself, you might list your score in the comments below. I am sure other test takers will be grateful.

Have fun!

Addendum If you pass this test and in the future someone claims you are not a Real Christian™ or a True Christian™, you can point out that you are certified to be so by the Real Christian™ Test and challenge them to take the test themselves!

April 2, 2022

What Harm Does It Do?

Filed under: Politics,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:19 am
Tags: , ,

I hear a plea from Christians who wish to be “just left alone” and who address their religion with the question “what harm does it do?” Of course these people are posting to atheist discussion sites and commenting on posts, too. If they just wanted to be left alone . . . never mind.

Allow me to address the question in the title of this piece.

Quite some time ago a rabbi wrote his views on abortion to the New York Times including a comment that goes to the heart of the issue. He concluded an eloquent letter with a simple observation that “abortion is an immensely complex spiritual issue. No one truth emerges from the sacred texts or religious conscience. Thus, how can we ever consider the mandating of a single position by the state?” Any idiot with two brain cells to rub together recognizes this as being true. Combine it with the knowledge that there are over 40,000 sects of Christianity alone (worldwide), which implies that each of them thinks the others somehow got it wrong, supporting the idea that “No one truth emerges from the sacred texts or religious conscience.”

And yet “Good Christians™” in the state of Texas are passing anti-abortion laws based upon their meager understanding of scripture (and, of course, their racial proclivities). And Texas is by far not the only state doing this.

So, what harm can be done? The harm that laws are being made that apply to non-Christians and Christians alike that are being based upon a very small set of interpretations of what they think is scripture, scripture supposedly shared with the other 40,000+ sects of Christianity . . . but not. (Apparently Christians want political power to enforce their doctrines. Consider the example of the Catholic Church striving mightily to get birth control not to be covered under Obamacare. Of course, over 95% of Catholic women in the US had used artificial birth control in their lifetimes. The Catholic Church was trying to get our government to enforce doctrines it, itself, could not enforce. Oh, and to Hell with everyone else, aka non-Catholics.)

And this behavior is not new, Christians have been doing harm since before the religion was made official. Take for an example, a story from the Gospel of Mark (gMark). gMark tells us the story of Jesus arriving at a destination by boat and meeting the “Garasene demoniac.” And when he had gotten out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more . . . no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones. (Mark 5: 2-5, RSV) Clearly the author of gMark believed that mental illness was demon possession. In this case, the man is described as being possessed of an “unclean spirit.” But then the demons possessing the man begin to bargain with Jesus, and they persuade Jesus to transfer them into nearby pigs. So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. (Mark 5: 13, RSV) Now, if you consider this story to be literally true then 2,000 pigs ended up drowned and the owner of the herd was probably bankrupted, his livelihood destroyed. But worse. If you have ever seen an animal, like a pig, which has drowned, the carcass of the pig creates gases as it decomposes and so those 2,000 dead, bloated, rotting pigs would all be floating where the wind would drive them ashore. Now that area of Palestine had a heavy representation of gentiles, aka Greek-leaning folks, but surely there would be a congregation of Jews there, otherwise why would Jesus have come? To Jews, pigs were unclean animals to start with, and now they are dead and rotting on the shores of their community . . . polluting the air and the water of the lake for many, many weeks to come. This is not just a calamity for the owner of the pigs, but for all of the communities that shared access to the lake. And, wouldn’t you expect there to be some backlash against the Jewish community because it was their holy man who caused all of the mess!

Might we not question Jesus’ judgment in bringing about this catastrophe? (This is just one of the points of reference that lead one to the conclusion that Jesus was not God. God would have known better and seen what would happen.) The people of the region “asked” him to leave. How he managed that without a coating of tar and feathers is unknown.

So, what harm does it do? I don’t really think Christian apologists want to ask that question, because the list of harms (witch hunting, inquisitions, the burning of “heretics” at the stake, crusades, holy wars, etc.) is thousands of years long.

March 22, 2022

Holy Moley!

Our political disputes have become what the Founders feared most, a religious war. With the forces of “good” pitted against the forces of “evil.” And all because we let evangelical Chrsitians play politics. Thanks Republicans, for taking their ideas seriously (albeit just to feather your nests)!

What is most alarming is the underlying ideology that leads so many on the right to consider Democratic victories invalid – even if they concede there was nothing technically wrong with how the election was conducted. It has become a core tenet of the Republican worldview to consider the Democratic party as not simply a political opponent, but an enemy pursuing an “un-American” project of turning what is supposed to be a white Christian patriarchal nation into a land of godless multiracial pluralism. Conversely, Republicans see themselves as the sole proponents of “real” America, defending the country from the forces of radical leftism, liberalism and wokeism. (The Real – And Far Scarier – Reason Republicans Think Biden Is Illegitimate by Thomas Zimmer, The Guardian, 3-21-22)

Good, but scary, reading.

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