Archive for the ‘Religion and Philosophy’ tag
I can, of course, present a full argument against Pascal’s wager — and have in previous posts that I haven’t time to look up right now — but it will suffice to reference Richard Dawkins’ answer to this question:
Agreeing with some advice Jonathan Chait offered about political discourse and argumentation, Ta-Nehisi Coates said political commentators — I think he would probably extend this to all opinion writers — should increasingly take on intellectual giants, rather than go after mental featherweights such as Sarah Palin and Michelle Malkin:
Write about something other than current politics. Do not limit yourself to fighting with people who are alive. Fight with some of the intellectual greats. Fight with historians, scientists, and academics. And then after you fight with them, have the decency to admit when they’ve kicked your ass. Do not use your platform to act like they didn’t. Getting your ass kicked is an essential part of growing your intellectual muscle.
I agree to a degree, insofar as it helps the person doing the writing. In Christian apologetics, for instance, it would be more beneficial to the intellectual growth of the writer to argue against some of the best thinkers apologetics has to offer — William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas or Ravi Zacharias, for instance, rather than charlatans like Pat Robertson or James Dobson. That’s not to say the “best thinkers” in apologetics offer a compelling case for belief. I just mean that these “thinkers” — and I used the term loosely — sometimes hold more nuanced views on faith than less erudite pastors and priests who simply quote scripture and assume that’s going to convince us of anything. A person, then, is better equipped to argue from a position of nonbelief when she has anticipated all the ways believers jump through rhetorical hoops attempting to defend faith.
A quote from Omar Khyyam seems apt here:
The Koran! Well, come put me to the test — Lovely old book in hideous error drest. Believe me, I can quote the Koran too. The unbeliever knows his Koran best.
That’s Rhetoric 101. Know your opponents, and anticipate their arguments. So, in this regard providing commentary on the brightest thinkers from any field of inquiry, rather than the most asinine, continues a pattern of learning that, as Coates argues, should not stop once a person gets a college degree.
What Coates doesn’t address is the flip side to this. Does pointing out stupidity benefit readers or does it just needlessly proliferate garbage and give people like Malkin more “air time” than they deserve? Media Matters, of course, has more or less built an empire on pointing out stupidity that takes place on FOX News on a daily basis, and I could crash this server writing about the latest antics of people like Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their ilk. While I criticize them on here occasionally, would it be helpful to the larger and probably never-ending debate about which ideology, liberal or conservative, is the best one for leading a nation? Probably not.
But I think pointing out stupidity accomplishes at least two important goals. Deservedly, it marginalizes people like Beck and Malkin and their ultra-religious counterparts to the sidelines. Second, and more importantly, it shines a bright light on just how far the political and religious message in America has gone off the rails and how far the GOP spectrum has shifted, and making light of this could hopefully result in more moderate approaches, even among conservatives. Fringe ideology in either direction, left or right, will get us nowhere fast.
Believers often make the assertion, as I briefly alluded to in a recent post, that God exists in some realm outside of time and space, and because of this, he is not bound by the laws of physics that may, under different circumstances, preclude him from performing some of the miracles in this world or raising people from the dead (i.e. Lazarus, Jesus). They also trot out this eye-rubbing piece of faux logic to rule out the possibility that we small-minded creatures could ever conclusively prove or disprove his existence since, they say, he exists outside of our observable view.
Notwithstanding the fact that this train of thought could be used to believe or imagine any possibility whatsoever, from sugar plumb fairies dancing on the ether to Apollo playing soccer with Zeus in the shadows of Mount Olympus, simply separating God from space and time doesn’t make him more believable. So, let’s work through the implications of both scenarios and see if God comes out looking any better either way.
First, let’s say that God exists inside space and time. The argument from belief is that, as I briefly mentioned, if he is part of our universe, he might be bound by the hindered by the laws of nature and as such, may not able to perform the powers attributed to him. But why would this necessarily be the case for an omnipotent being? Mountains don’t move, at least not in any sense that we can observe with the naked eye in real time, but the Bible claims that faith can move mountains. And who but God is behind the power that could make a feat happen in the physical world? Thus, here is a theoretical example — since it has never been observed in practice — of God’s ability to act against what science tells us is impossible (moving large objects out of sheer will of mind in the absence of energy).
While this would not necessarily prohibit his ability to perform miracles, since an all-powerful god, by definition, does not cease being God just because is part of the universe, rather than outside it. It does mean, however, that if he is operating inside space and time then he too must have been formed by some force or process that predates himself, which ultimately means that, while he may be indeed supernatural and powerful beyond our comprehension or be endowed with some characteristics that, to us, approach the divine, he is not the source of own existence, and thus, not the supreme progenitor of everything.
Michael Shermer equates a being that develops in this way to an extraterrestrial:
God is typically described by Western religions as omniscient and omnipotent. Because we are far from possessing these traits, how can we possibly distinguish a God who has them absolutely from an ETI who merely has them copiously relative to us? We can’t. But if God were only relatively more knowing and powerful than we are, then by definition the deity would be an ETI!
This is not quite what I had in mind, but it’s close. Jerry Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago, more accurately describes the view that if God developed via evolution like every other being inside space and time, he would remain unseen, perhaps, but still be able to impact natural elements in a scientifically observable way:
The being might not be demonstrable, but the actions of that being might well be. In that sense there can be natural evidence for a supernatural god. We can’t see electrons, either, but we can see their actions, and hence infer that they exist.
This is the position Richard Dawkins takes in his book, “The God Delusion.” But here’s the problem for believers in this scenario. While he can still be all-powerful, or what we may define as such, omnipotence does not make him eternal and immune from incremental development since he resides inside space and time and is subject to time itself. The implication here is that, whatever form or process might have created God, God as we know him, like every being that exists inside the universe must have evolved from a simpler, not more complex form, which runs directly counter to the accepted notion of God from the Bible and the other two major monotheistic religions.
Thus, the “theory,” and I mean that in the nonscientific sense, that apologists float, and indeed must adopt, is that God exists outside of spacetime where the laws of the universe do not apply, and that he exists in the “spiritual,” not the physical realm. Sophisticated apologists like William Lane Craig support this using the Kalam cosmological argument to suggest that because the universe began to exist (since here we are), it thus requires a prime mover, on whom Craig, presumably out of thin air, bestows the following traits. This creator is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful and intelligent. Less sophisticated believers, on the other hand, simply cite biblical passages like 2 Peter 3:9 and Revelation 1:8.
I don’t think it’s necessarily to contemplate multiverses or whether Craig’s eternal God could possibly exist in another physical realm different than our own, since even if God exists in another universe and even if science one day discovers that we live in a multiverse, believers, I think, would still need to argue for a God outside of spacetime for their position to remain even remotely intelligible.
Here are the negative implications that believers must face when contemplating God outside space and time:
- If God resides in a spiritual realm or is somehow removed from space and time, how can they possibly claim to know anything about him? Their unsatisfying answer, of course, is that God has an inexplicable ability to communicate to believers through the Holy Spirit. But this means that he must necessarily enter our physical world millions of times per day speaking with believers across the world. Pew reports that the globe contained about 2.18 billion Christians in 2011. Let’s say God communicates with each believer just once per day for a year. That would mean that the Holy Spirit has been issuing a whopping 7,957,700,000,000 statements to Christians every single year for 2,000 years. That’s 1.59154e+16 revelations! Now, with that much information coming from heaven, three implications follow. First, the record from the Bible suggests that God was once intimately interested in human events. Why would God living in some spiritual region give two farthings about mortals in the first place? Second, one would think that with that much information coming from God himself, we humans would have a better understanding of the universe itself, our purpose within it and more intelligible information about the authenticity of the Bible. Further, would it too much to ask, since he is all-loving, after all, that God might pass along a definitive cure for cancer or HIV/AIDs to someone somewhere? Or, perhaps, he could tell Catholic officials that it is, indeed, evil to deny people contraception in poverty stricken regions in Africa or that feeding people and improving the lives of conscious creatures might be a shade more important than the construction of sprawling Taj Mahal-esque multimillion dollar church compounds? Third, the existence of all those revelations might mean that God is indeed spending more time here on Earth than in this supposed other realm, and as a consequence, he theoretically exists in both worlds simultaneously. This is exactly the message of Psalms 139: 7-12. So, wherever else he might spend his time, he and his descendants would at least be, in part, subject to change inherent in the notion of evolution from simple to complex forms. Since the Bible argues that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, the argument supporting God’s ability to communicate with man seems self-defeating.
- Related to this, Craig describes God as “changeless” and “timeless” to support the idea that God was the prime mover and stands outside of spacetime, but as John Loftus and others have argued, it’s just plain bizarre to suggest that God never changes. In his book, “Why I Became an Atheist,” Loftus quotes William Hasker, who noted that “… when God began to create the universe, he changed, beginning to do something that previously he had not done.” Or, as Loftus himself put it in, “The whole notion that God doesn’t change seems to imply that God never has a new thought, or idea, since everything is an eternal NOW, and there is nothing he can learn. This is woodenly static. God would not be a person, but a block of ice, a thing.”
I have tried to show that either way we view God’s existence, here in our universe or outside of it, the idea of an all-powerful, unchanging deity who created everything, yet somehow stands outside of everything, falls in on itself once specific implications are considered, and the argument for this deity carries no more validity than the alternative.
It looks like we can now throw North Carolina in with a growing cluster of states like Arizona, Utah, and to the surprise of no one, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, that don’t mind taking certain liberties with the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause that establishes federal law as taking precedent over state and local legislation. Here is a refresher:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.
You see, it’s the second part of this sentence that excites the states rights crowd. And what really stirs them into a tizzy is the word, “nullification,” which is the notion that if states deem that a certain federal law is unconstitutional, like, oh, I don’t know, the simple truth that immigration enforcement is solely the federal government’s responsibility, they have the power to invalidate federal statutes. Except that they don’t. Unfortunately for those folks, the Supreme Court has concretely ruled against nullification in at least two cases (Cooper v. Aaron, 1958, and Ableman v. Booth, 1859).
But don’t let that stop the pioneering state of North Carolina, which is now considering a bill that would make it possible for the state to establish laws respecting religion, if not establish a religious state altogether. According to N.C. House Joint Resolution bill 494,
Whereas, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States reads: “… Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” … Whereas, this prohibition does not apply to states, municipalities, or schools … each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion … The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
Notwithstanding what the First Amendment says that is completely to the contrary and notwithstanding the Founders’ own commitment to protecting the people against religious tyranny, the other hurdle facing zealots in North Carolina — thankfully the law provides many hurdles to tomfoolery of this sort — the Fourteenth Amendment further protects against the states “abridging” the privileges and rights of U.S. citizens. And, while I realize there are those believers who would just as well ignore the fact that freethinkers and skeptics walk in their midst and breathe the same air, last I checked, nonbelievers’ rights are as equally protected in the Constitution as believers’.
Some folks within the nonbelieving community have suggested that the History Channel’s series, “The Bible,” may produce an adverse effect than what its creators may have anticipated, as “casual” believers or fence-sitters see depictions of the mass murders and other atrocities that Yahweh in the Old Testament either caused directly or ordered through his followers. It just occurred to me that today we call the deaths of thousands of people, like on Sept. 11, 2001, a tragedy. Yet, God orders the mass slaughter of nonbelievers in the OT, and no one raises an eyebrow. Some of the people murdered on Sept. 11 were believers; some were not. Their deaths were, by all accounts that I have heard the last 10 years, tragic. Yet, a deity can order the slaughter of thousands of nonbelievers and somehow that’s OK. Today, we would call that terrorism. I’m amazed at religion’s power to desensitize so-called “morally upright believers” to violence, rape, incest and genocide.
But in any case, a question over at Bunch has been raised whether “The Bible” will turn off believers because of the many deaths the series depicts that are directly attributable to Yahweh. Matt O. wrote:
I suspect, and I might be wrong, that History’s The Bible mini-series might be one of the best things for atheism to happen in a long time. As the Bible is actively read by some 16% of Christians this is giving millions an opportunity to see parts of the cannon that are morally objectionable attributed to their god.
And he then listed numerous scenes in “The Bible” in which Yahweh wipes out mass amounts of people from Earth in the OT, to which I replied:
It may turn off some “casual” believers, but it won’t make much difference to the “church every Sunday” crowd. They know full well what Yahweh did and commanded that his followers do in the OT, and they believe anyway because any amount of wickedness or depravity can be justified in their eyes since we supposedly live in a fallen world and God’s law is supreme no matter how morally bankrupt it appears to us.
A 28-year-old Upper Darby man has been charged with murder after telling police that he stoned a 70-year-old man to death when the man made sexual advances toward him, authorities say.
John Joe Thomas, 28, of Sunshine Road in Upper Darby, spent almost every day with 70-year-old Murray Seidman at Seidman’sLansdowne home, police say. Days before Seidman’s body was found on Jan. 12, Thomas allegedly beat Seidman to death with a sock full of rocks.
Thomas told authorities that he read in the Old Testament that gays should be stoned to death. When Seidman allegedly made sexual advances toward him over a period of time, Thomas said he received a message in his prayers that he must end Seidman’s life, according to court documents.
Read more: Man, 70, Stoned to Death for Being Gay.
So, I listened to a little bit of Dave Ramsey today on talk radio because, well, conservative talk is about the only option in East Tennessee, and I usually prefer talk with which I disagree compared with bad pop and worse rock. If you don’t know who Dave Ramsey is, he’s basically a right wing pro-investment guy who, while mostly giving callers advice on money matters, periodically ventures into politics and religion. As you might imagine, Ramsey fits right in with a local radio station that gets most of its content from FOX News Radio.
Ramsey veered a bit off topic today during a segment in which he took some online comments from listeners. One person said that they did not see anything in the Bible about investing, saving money and amassing wealth, as Ramsey is well known to support. Ramsey then pointed to one of at least three passages in Proverbs that mentions storing up wealth. Some of the verses that at least implicitly reference this are Proverbs 13:11, 16:8 and 28:20.
Ramsey’s basic argument was that God actually wants believers to prosper financially and that all the arguments about the Bible contradicting itself (For instance, Jesus telling the disciples to sell everything they own and follow him) are bogus because of people take the passages out of context. Ramsey said God supports people investing and accumulating wealth because by doing so, believers are then better equipped to help others, and further, believers would be ill-equipped to serve and give back to the community if they were broke.
At least his spiel is consistent. Here’s what he had to say as quoted in an article from 2007:
Ramsey gets irritated when he gets emails and letters directing him to the scripture, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Ramsey believes in the inerrancy of the Bible but says such calls for poverty are “doctrinal nitpicking.” Ramsey contends that the Bible says the love of money (as opposed to money itself) is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10), and that God asked rich men (Moses, Solomon) to work on his behalf. “The Bible does not say that you’re supposed to be poor,” he says. “Most of the patriarchs in the Bible were wealthy. You’re managing money for God.”
Yes, Ramsey read a Tweet from a listener that again mentioned the “eye of the needle” passage in the New Testament. I’m not sure where Ramsey gets the logic that people are taking Jesus’ words out of context. Jesus tells his followers to take no thought for tomorrow (i.e. don’t plan or the future) at least twice, once in Matthew 6 and again in Luke 12. Jesus tells people to sell all of their possession and explicitly says not to store up treasures on earth. He tells them without compunction to give up everything they have and follow him (Matthew 19:21).
Here is Matthew 6:19-21
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Here is Luke 12:27-34
27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alivetoday and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!29 And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For [n]all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.
33 “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Here is the entire “rich young ruler” passage from 19:16-30:
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Ramsey in his rant mentioned this passage directly and told people they should read all the way through rather than stopping at the “sell what you possess” part and read until the end. Well, OK, there it is. Jesus tells them that after they have given up everything, only then will they receive a “hundredfold” and will get to live forever. Ramsey is being intellectually dishonest, and as nearly all believers do, cherry picking parts of the Bible to assert his claim, while ignoring the totality of the book.
Also during this particular show (I don’t know how much of it was original and how much was just a piped in rant from years ago), but Ramsey also made this bizarre claim that since the Old Testament was supposedly written by Yahweh, that is, God the Father, and since the Old Testament predominantly mentions saving money and storing up treasure, then we should follow the OT on this particular issue and not what Jesus had to say. This is peculiar indeed because Jesus, of course, was claiming to be God himself and even said I and my father are one. So, presumably on this logic, anything that Jesus says in the New Testament gets the stamp of approval from the father.
But here is the crux of it and where it gets weirder: Jesus also said that he did not come to the destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them. And this is why when people like myself say that the Bible contradicts itself, we mean that it is a serious and irreparable fallacy that simply cannot be reconciled. Yahweh presumably said one thing in the Old Testament, Jesus said something quite different in the New Testament, and Jesus, by claiming that he is fulfilling the law, leads us to believe that he is suffering from some kind of personality crisis because he, also as God, was present when the father said those things in Proverbs, and as God, he knew that he was going to utter something that directly contradicts it thousands of years later when he gets incarnated on earth. Such are problems that surface when one adds a dose of logic to a paradoxical and fallacious concoction like the Trinity.
I don’t know why, but I found this to be particularly hilarious, especially the look on the cat’s face: