The Atheism Plus/FTB Problem

pootargetIntroduction

Atheismplus continues to be a problem for the atheist community (such as it is). It’s easy to pour scorn, there are many opportunities to do so, but serious problems deserve a more serious response as well. Given past experience with A+ and their ‘sort’ in other arenas (games and fiction) is is incredibly hard to keep my temper when discussing this subject – but I’ll try. Given that we’re often told one can be both emotional and rational at the same time by the Plussers that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Splitters!

New Atheism was a godsend (ha, ha). Open, loud, take-no-bullshit it united and created a whole new generation of vocal atheists and was led by some great minds with some real skill. Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens gave us a profile and vocal, intellectual presence we hadn’t really had since Sagan. We lost Hitchens but the rest continue to do good work (yes, even Dawkins). New Atheism united us and aggressively took on the status quo, not least of all with mockery and derision. While this may not directly win any deconverts it does have a positive effect, despite being ‘mean’, in that it pops the bubble of respect that religion – with its ridiculous ideas – commands.

What’s the problem: To be an atheist, even a new atheist, all you have to do is not believe in god and, perhaps, to believe in separation of church and state. To be an Atheism+ person you must be an atheist, a feminist (for a rather narrow and specific definition of feminism), must adhere to particular views, language and modes of expression when it comes to sexuality, gender and many social issues. It narrows it down and down and down to a particular orthodoxy many of the ideas of which aren’t particularly scientific. Many of these ideas might be accepted within ‘gender studies’ etc but they’re not well supported. Fail to sign up to any of this and you’re out of the club.

 Confusing & Parochial

Any specialist area of study, including large parts of atheism and skepticism, develop specialist language that can get confusing. Acronyms, arguments etc can be impossible for outsiders to understand without explanation. Most people aren’t going to know (without googling) what terms like ‘interpolation’ or ‘burden of proof’ mean. The scientific meaning of theory is very specific and not the same as the colloquial meaning. If we start tossing around terms like ‘argumentum ad hominem’ when the apologists set in we may have to explain ourselves, not that the apologist is likely to believe us even when we do. Just look how often we have to explain what evolution actually means or that no, we didn’t come from modern monkeys. This stuff is hard and we take the time to teach others about it – and quite right too.

What’s the problem: The ‘plus’ part of A+ is, pretty much, made up of a rather parochial, insular subculture centred around an extreme form of ‘liberalism’ (in the American sense) that seems to meet the worst stereotypes of the equally loony extreme conservatives. The language of gender studies groups and ‘social justice’ (I use scare quotes because I don’t think it qualifies) is very specialised and just like a lot of atheist/skeptic/philosophy terms isn’t known to outsiders. Unlike atheism Vs theism where we explain and link at length there seems to be a steadfast and absolute refusal to explain the specialist terminology, ideas and principles found in the ideas that they adhere to. It’s ‘not their job to educate’ and any requirement for clarification or explanation – or any objection – is likely to get you a singularly unhelpful link to ‘derailing for dummies’ or ‘finally feminism’. The second of which is only a tiny amount more helpful than the first since it doesn’t really back up what it claims, just defines it. Further, they’re cutting themselves off from the cut and thrust of debate through over-moderated fora, BlockBot etc. Creating a dangerous echo chamber.

A Gift to our Enemies

There are all sorts of damaging claims made about atheists and they’re all complete bollocks. Attempts to conflate atheism with evolution (and confusion over what evolution is), or Nazism or Communism. Claims that all atheists are ‘libtards’ or socialists (I’m a left anarchist as it happens, but there’s plenty of us that aren’t). There are constant attempts to make atheism more than what it is; the simple rejection of the claim that god/s exist. Yes, it’s true that atheists tend to be from an educated middle class, tend to be left wing and so on, but that’s by no means the whole story.

What’s the problem?: Atheismplus meets the stereotype that our enemies use against us and creates a solid bloc of social and political orthodoxy that plays into the idea that atheists are all abortion happy hippies, homosexuals, lefties etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of this of course, but diversity gives us a much stronger message. The other part of this is that Atheismplus spends all its time attacking its own people – fellow atheists – trying to act as a ‘moral majority’ and tearing down those who should be their allies. They’re far more interested – it seems – in trying to police conventions, fling around flimsy accusations, shame their fellows in the broader atheism movement and find anything and everything to cause drama about, often to the expense of the sorts of issues that should have primacy to atheists.

Monstering

A problem with the internet in general, other than vanishing down the rabbit hole of Youtube or Wikipedia, is that anything and everything you say can be cherrypicked and lives forever. Lose your temper? Misspell something? Poorly judge your words in a throwaway tweet? You’re fucked. It is incredibly easy to make you look bad or to come back months or years later, dig up one ill-timed or phrased comment and use it to fuck you over. Social media especially combines the immediacy of conversation with the permanency of writing. The practical upshot of all this is that it is very, very easy to make people look bad or take their comments the wrong way, deliberately or not.

What’s the Problem?: It is very, very, very easy to make spurious accusations online and they proliferate far faster than the truth. A reputation can be deep-sixed in hours and can’t be fully rebuilt – if at all – for years. The veracity of the accusations has nothing to do with it and Chinese whispers (or Telephone if you think of that as racially insensitive) can turn even a fairly innocuous slander into something far worse in short order. Atheismplus are rather free with their accusations and finger pointing. Accusations of rape and sexual misconduct directed at various prominent figures without anything to back them up are perhaps the most egregious example – especially lately – but accusations of ‘rape apologism’ are also common, thoroughly insulting and any defence or anger towards the claim is taken as support for it! Bonkers! No minds are being changed, people are just being pissed off and set against Atheismplus as a whole.

Crying Wolf

In an ideal world, especially with us all being atheists and skeptics, each and every claim should be taken independently and assessed on its evidence. This is one of the few areas where historical methodology differs from scientific methodology in that in history you are always mindful of considering the source. While this does come in with today’s atmosphere of corporate sponsored studies with predetermined findings it’s much more of a social and historical issues. Still, things aren’t ideal or perfect and people’s individual and group reputations do come into it.

What’s the Problem?: ‘Elevatorgate’ was the incident that kicked everything off, that led to Atheismplus and everything else that’s happened. This is amazing given that it was an ‘incident’ in which absolutely nothing meaningful or concerning happened. Things haven’t really improved much since then. The insult a certain fragment of the community took at the arched eyebrows and ‘Really?’ comments from the larger body of atheism seems to have fed on itself more and more and the idea that Elevatorgate was a problem has been added to with any number of other ‘incidents’ that are considered equally inconsequential by the larger group. Atheismplus and its allies have cried wolf about minor issues so often that it has become incredibly difficult to take any of their drama seriously or even to believe many of their claims. The accusations against Shermer would – in normal circumstances – deserve to be taken seriously (and taken through the proper authorities). In the climate Atheismplus has created there is an established reason to be skeptical.

Hypocrisy

There’s a line (or rather, a section) in Diamond Age about how hypocrisy isn’t the big sin it’s made out to be. For a person to be a hypocrite they must be at least trying to do the right thing, it’s just that they’ve failed in some way. Nonetheless, if hypocritical behaviour becomes common enough I think it is valid to point out the hypocrisy.

What’s the Problem?: For a group whose (vaguely) stated goals include tolerance, safety and inclusion of women and minorities in atheism Atheismplus is a total failure. Attempts to interfere with harassment policies and promoting the (unevidenced) idea that atheist meetings are hotbeds of sexual exploitation have slashed female attendance at events like TAM which were practically on 50/50 parity. Rather than trying to invest in the future of the movement or seek the best and most effective speakers there’s an insistence on the basis of gender rather than expertise. Not that there aren’t good speakers of all genders but when you pass over expert male speakers to include sub-par ones with axes to grind rather than progress to make that’s an issue. There’s also something peculiar in claiming to be atheists and skeptics while suspending skepticism when it comes to certain claims – like the highly questionable 1-in-4 rape statistic or broader concepts like patriarchy and rape culture. Skepticism or demands for evidence in these arenas is treated as hostility. Base hypocrisy.

The Issue With BlockBot

On the face of it something like the BlockBot on Twitter seems like a good idea. A combined list of trolls and abusers that you can sign up to to autoblock them. This should work like Adblock or anti-spam software and should make Twitter a better experience for everyone. Unfortunately, it’s under the control of Atheismplus and, thus, takes a role that is much more like an electronic commissar than a tool to improve your internet experience.

What’s the problem?: There seems to be some confusion on Atheismplus’ part as to why BlockBot pisses people off so much or is attacked as a constriction on free speech. The more advanced levels, the abusers, spammers, doxxers (though that’s a bit subjective these days) aren’t the problem. It’s the lower level. Having your unsubstantiated beliefs challenged or mocked can be annoying, but it’s no less valid for that. It’s this level that turns BlockBot from a potentially useful internet tool to an ideological enforcer, shielding Atheismplus ideologiues from criticism. Even worse, those who sign up to it are never going to have the opportunity to make up their own minds about it. An additional problem was (may still be) the spam reporting aspect, which would feed into an algorithm to suspend accounts, which absolutely and unquestionably was/is an attempt to constrict free expression and one that obnoxious theists (Sacerdotus for example) have engaged in. It also has the eternal problem that bedevils any attempt to enforce rules on the internet, at least some of the moderators are fucking arseholes who shouldn’t be trusted to boil water, let alone run this.

Is there Room for Discussion?

The best thing for all considered may be for Atheismplus to just bugger off, go its own way and to stop messing around with the broader atheist community. Get their own conventions, have their own areas, be left completely alone and leave everyone else alone. This seems unlikely to happen though and does run the risk of leaving Atheismplus to become an even deeper and more extreme echo chamber than it already is. Something we all, as atheists, should be very alert and aware to – the danger of cults and the kind of extremism that emerges in echo chambers.

For a group so dead set against abuse, Atheismplus is remarkably abusive, dropping accusations of rape apologism and some form of sexism, racism or other – even to the point of tiptoeing around criticising Islam or at least giving Dawkins an earful over criticising it. They are willing to dish it out but can’t take even the mildest form of criticism. So long as this continues and so long as more reasoned critics – including myself (on a good day) have no capability to argue and discuss with them there’ll be no progress and no middle ground.

I suspect, sadly, there is no middle ground for Atheismplus and that’s the problem, they’re extremists and they’re extremists on issues that aren’t – yet – resolved via science. Attempts to reach out and find some sort of discussion, to make reasoned critique just get rebuffed. So why try?

Orthodoxy seems more important to them than truth, or progress, or skepticism, or atheism.

Not Such a Surprise Ending: Part Three

MgezYB1368383028I’m going to skip over the Young Earth Creationism debunking in the book because that has already been done and because the debunking in the book is based not on the science but on the Bible. This is a bit like debunking a work of fiction by turning to the front and reading the passage that informs you that ‘any resemblance to any persons – living or dead – is purely coincidental’.

Moving on then, Chapter 2 is entitled:

‘Does Muhammed Have the Keys to Your Grave and to Eternity’.

A fight between Muslims and Christians (of any kind) is usually quite fun because if they were as sceptical about their own religions as they were other peoples’… well, neither would exist. Let’s see what it has to offer.

As a case in point of the kind of thing I mean, the book says this:

“At the end of the day, what do we have left? The claims of one man: Muhammad—a man who died and was buried over one thousand years ago.”

At the end of the day what does Christianity have left? The claims of one man: Saul of Tarsus – a man who died and was buried nearly two thousand years ago.

This is the pattern for the whole section. Upbraiding Muslims for the self-same failing and moral problems that exist within the Biblical texts. Murder, lies, paedophilia, rape, slaughter, all exist in both books but the reason to dismiss both Bible and Koran are their incorrect claims, fallacious claims and fictional nature. Not that they outrage our morals – though inconsistency is rife in both.

We can skip over this section.

Chapter Three is tearing down Mormonism, a worthy goal but when you’re coming from a Christian position, simply hypocritical. Again, a dose of self-scepticism to the degree shown to another faith (or faith variant) would be a pretty healthy thing to do. As with the Muslim section, this is the flaw and thus we can skip over it.

Chapter Four does the same for Jehovah’s Witnesses and yet again, the irony in tearing down one version of Christianity for beliefs no crazier than those found in the Bible is not lost on me. Again, we can skip over.

Chapter Five seems to move on, finally and is titled:

Do You Want Religion or Immortality?

Definitely not the first, unsure about the second.

There is a common phrase used by Christians that theirs is not a religion, but a relationship with Christ. What these non-denominational Christians fail to understand is that Christianity is the religion, the particular sect is just that, a sect, or Church. It should be a warning sign that they want to cast themselves adrift from the word ‘religion’ since it has become so toxic.

Lest we forget, the definition of a religion is this:

A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Christianity, even non-denominational Christianity, still fits this definition.

I’m an atheist, quibbling and arguing over interpretations of the Bible isn’t going to convince me otherwise, it merely cements the vagueness and fallibility of the text. While the actions of sects and Churches often outrage my moral sensibility, this is not the reason I reject the concept of god. Even arseholes can be right about things. I reject them because there is no evidence for god. That many of these people and organisations are doing great harm to the human species based on their faith and their teachings is a reason to fight theism, not to reject the god concept itself. That I do on its own merits, not on the basis that it is used (though it is so EASILY used) by charlatans, exploiters and pious liars.

Supposedly, according to the book, the keys to immortality are:

KEY: Death of Jesus—we repent (i.e., death to our old sinful ways)
KEY: The burial of Jesus—we must be buried in the name of Jesus Christ (i.e., be born of water)
KEY: The resurrection of Jesus—we must receive the Holy Spirit. (i.e., be born of Spirit)

I still haven’t been given any reason to believe in Jesus, god, the veracity of the Bible, any of the foundational assumptions that go into this and yet the book says this is the ‘meat’ of it and there’s only about forty pages to go. I skipped back to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, but I hadn’t.

After much of this, still without any evidence or anything for me to talk about, given the foundational assumptions haven’t been supported, we finally get to something testable.

Speaking in tongues.

While the writers seem to be a little coy about using that term, contextually it’s fairly obvious.

Here’s the problem though, speaking in tongues isn’t a language and whether people realise it or not, they’re fairly obviously making it up.

Here’s TWO good ARTICLES about it and why it isn’t what some would like to claim it to be.

The part that I find particularly interesting is that while the babbling is void of informational content or organisation it can induce – in some – a trance-like state and different congregations develop different ‘dialects’ where they mimic each other’s babble.

Anyway, moving on…

The section Deciphering Jesus of course, presumes Jesus’ existence which – as a provisional mythicist – I’m going to need evidence for.

Nor do I care about the Trinity, because again – I’m yet to be given any reason to believe in a god.

And that’s the end of the book.

Did it present any evidence for anything?

No.

Did it convince me to give up my wicked ways and no longer be an atheist?

No.

The constant references to the Bible do nothing for me as a non-believer because I don’t believe its claims and, as a sceptic, I recognise that you can’t use a claim to prove itself. Ultimately this book is just another, different interpretation and – if the authors are very ‘lucky’ – the emergence of yet another sect or grouping calling themselves non-denominational.

All I can really welcome from it is that this is another shuffling step towards defeat of religion by reason since it stands against YEC. That’s not really enough to be happy about though.

I was told there would be empirical evidence for god and Jesus and the claims – supposedly – thereof and as usual I cam away disappointed.

If the authors wish to continue the dialogue on this blog I invite them to do so.

Not Such a Surprise Ending: Part Two

the-big-bang-theory-12Section Two of the Book

The book represents The Big Bang as being the origin of:
1. Time
2. Space
3. Matter

Several corrections here.

a) Much like evolution isn’t about the origin of life, BBT isn’t about the origin of the universe. Just as evolution is with life development, so BBT is about the development of the universe.

b) Space and time are one and shouldn’t be listed separately. This becomes important.

c) Matter doesn’t originate with the first moments of the universe, it comes later. The early universe is too hot, too energetic for matter to exist. It is only as it expands and cools that matter – fundamental particles and later hydrogen and lithium and develop. Then from the deaths of the early stars you get the other kinds of matter.

Having got that somewhat wrong, the book then tries to draw parallels to Genesis.

1. In the beginning (time)
2. God created the heavens (space)
3. And the Earth (matter)

Again, several problems here. With spacetime coming into being at the same time there is no before time and no outside space in which anything can occur. There is no context in which an agent (such as god) could act. Nor have they accounted for the existence of this god in the first place.

There’s no reason to think any of this was created, as opposed to coming about naturally.

Lastly, the Earth is a latecomer. The Universe is something like 13.5 billion years old while the Earth is only around 4.54 billion years old (give or take around 200 million years).

The authors call this erroneous and demonstrably untrue account miraculous and in line with science, when it simply isn’t.

The problem we have here is one that you would usually run into more often arguing with Muslims.

Muslims are convinced that the Koran contains scientific truths and often try to draw parallels between verses of the Koran and the discoveries of modern science.

This is problematic for Christians (even those trying to reconcile it with science) just as it is for Muslims – and keep in mind that the Muslims had several centuries advantage when it came to accrued knowledge and cribbed a load of their ‘holy science’ from the ancient Greeks, who were pretty smart cookies.

Problem 1: This is post-hoc rationalisation of vague, poetic verses to try and get them to fit the modern understanding of science. This is an interpretation, just like the many other interpretations which is why there are so many sects of these religions based on different interpretations. The objective, outside observer has no reason to favour your interpretation over any others.
Problem 2: These many interpretations have changed over time in an attempt to catch up with or fit the expansion of scientific knowledge – or to oppose it.
Problem 3: This supposedly divine foreknowledge, if correct and useful, should lead us TO these discoveries, not get in the way of them. No significant advances in human knowledge have come from alleged prophecies or divine knowledge. It is always AFTER the discovery that someone goes back and tries to bend the holy book to fit it. It’s just like Nostradamus’ supposed prophecies.

What is the more parsimonious answer?
A: A bunch of bronze age goat herders, including one who almost certainly never existed (Moses) were given special knowledge by an unevidenced supernatural deity?
B: People are interpreting vague language to fit what they want to hear.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say B.

This problem of post-hoc rationalisation continues throughout the whole chapter. The cherry-picking is most egregious when making excuses for the two different versions of the creation story in Genesis.

Here’s the normally quoted version of Genesis:
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV

This is the order of events in Genesis.
1. God appears out of nothing.
2. God creates the heavens and the Earth.
3. God creates light, day and night.
4. God creates water and the sky.
5. God creates land.
6. God creates plants, on land.
7. God creates the sun and moon (oh, and the stars, as an afterthought).
8. God creates sea life – and birds.
9. God creates land life – including livestock, then man.

Here’s what actually happened so far as we can work out with evidence:
1. The universe begins.
2. The universe expands and cools.
3. Matter begins to form. Simple particles first, then hydrogen. The universe is so dense and compact that some of this fuses, so there’s some helium and lithium too.
4. The universe continues to expand and cool, the early stars form – primarily hydrogen.
5. The early stars die off and some explode, scattering denser matter.
6. More generations of stars form, planets form. Eventually one of these is the Earth.
7. The Earth is a dry, volcanic mess. It is bombarded with meteors and comets (bringing water). One early impact forms the Moon.
8. The Earth cools and stabilises, oceans form.
9. In the oceans – probably around volcanic vents – simple replicating molecules form from organic chemicals. The starting point of all life.
10. Life spreads throughout the oceans.
11. Life colonises the land.
12. Mankind evolves from his hominid forebears.
13. Man domesticates wild animals and starts using technology.

The order of events and their nature is wildly wrong, even with all the post-hoc rationalising in the world.

There’s a reference to The Flood, which one would not expect in a book trying to reconcile science and religion since there is no reason to think The Flood ever happened. No physical evidence, nothing.

There are excuses to try and get around The Problem of Evil, predictably moving to the Free Will argument. Needless to say this has massive problems which are well discussed elsewhere. A good deity setting up the universe would have no need to create evil and Free Will and divine omniscience are mutually incompatible.

There’s further problems with talking about Adam and Eve and the tree of knowledge. After all, they couldn’t know disobeying was wrong until after they had disobeyed. It is, of course, just a nonsensical myth but the book seems to treat it with undue gravity.

Satan? Also problematic.

This section is pretty clearly aimed at the religious, not me, none of these things mean a damn thing to me. I don’t believe in Satan and have been given no reason to. I don’t believe in a soul and have been given no reason to. The same goes for god, Jesus, Moses, Adam, Eve, Miracles, Eden or spirit. These things are just included here and no attempt is made to explain or justify their mention or to establish that they exist.

There is ample evidence for human development from precursor species and our relationship to the other primates. None for any divine human creation or Adam, or Eve.

Even more surprisingly this book seems to try to retain the idea of original sin – and, laughably, by appealing to justice.

  • Justice is an appropriate punishment to fit the crime.
  • If we accept the Bible account at face value Adam – and the whole human race everafter – was being punished for something he couldn’t have known was wrong until he did it.
  • His descendents were being punished for something they didn’t even do.
  • This is not moral, this is not justice. It is the very opposite.

This is then followed by a lot of stuff about Mary and Jesus and Luke. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’m a (provisional) mythicist and having been given no reason to believe the earlier establishing remarks I have no reason to believe any of this either. It is entirely irrelevant to me.

As such with no foundation upon which to build and no reason to believe in even a mortal Jesus, the extra leap of faith to an afterlife existing has zero chance of being accepted by any rational human being examining this book.

There’s a section on answering the ‘tough’ questions. Here’s the questions and here’s my answers:

Is the Bible free of error?
No, it’s chock full of ’em.

Why did God create Adam and Eve if he knew that they would sin and bring about so much pain and suffering?
He didn’t because he doesn’t exist. If such a being did exist – and was good – why would it do such a thing? It would have to be cruel. Comparison to mortal parents is not valid because we lack the alleged powers and foresight of this supposed deity.

Where does the soul come from?
There doesn’t appear to be such a thing as a soul.

If an individual is in a coma, do they still have a soul?
No, they never had one in the first place. Whether their CONSCIOUSNESS is dormant or not depends on the injury and the coma. It is still quite hard to tell at this point but fMRI etc is helping us work it out.

Where did consciousness come from?
It’s an emergent quality of the complexity of the physical brain. An adaptation like any other. Self-awareness has good survival utility.

But didn’t the scientific community already prove that free will and morality, if they do exist at all, are probably by-products of the brain?
The book makes a rather typical appeal to ‘love’. Can we see or measure love? Actually we can. We can observe love in an fMRI scan of the human brain. We can also detect it in physiological reactions, hormone releases etc and see evidence of it in people’s actions. So it goes for all such claims. We can and do see them and measure them, though there’s been reluctance in the past due to religious interference.

How did God use the natural processes to form life and what role does Faith play in the physics of the universe?
He doesn’t, and none. Respectively.
Faith = (belief – evidence) or, as Mr Clemens put it: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
As such it is an incredibly dangerous mode of non-thinking that causes huge harm to humankind.

How does God’s Word program the quantum world?
It doesn’t and describing the quantum world as information flow is getting to the point of Chopran, new-age bullshit. Quantum level physics is counter-intuitive, but it is not magic. There are horrible misunderstandings of aspects of it such as the observer effect and indeterminacy that lead to people invoking it for their ‘woo’ ideas and this is no different, sadly!

Atheism Challenge Update: Still atheist.

Seven Refutations

Seven-Dwarfs

Insomuch as is possible I will limit myself to simple atheism, that is ‘I do not believe in god/s’ without involving naturalism, science etc. This is a basic, sceptical stance wherein we require evidence for a god before we believe in one (or indeed anything else). William Lane Craig’s ‘Seven arguments for god‘ keep getting brought up as ‘evidence’ when they’re not evidence and they’re barely even arguments. I will now show why:

1. Why is there something instead of nothing?

Leaving aside the science for a moment, ‘I don’t know’ is a perfectly acceptable answer. Is there a reason? There may or may not be. Is it even possible for there to be ‘nothing’? There’s some suggestion otherwise. Whatever the case, whether there a reason, an actor, a natural force at play or otherwise if you’re going to say ‘god did it’ you need evidence that god did it. WLC only has an assertion which, without evidence to back it up, is useless.

One down.

2. Cause and Effect

Again, leaving aside the scientific examples of exceptions to this this is a poor argument and not evidence. IF everything requires a cause then this must also apply to god itself, leading to an infinite regression of gods each creating the next one. Clearly this is not a logical or rational position. Craig takes up the ‘Kalam’ argument, which I have covered before. This one says ‘everything needs a cause, except god’. Well then, if there can be exceptions then not everything requires a cause.

Even if everything does require a cause that could be natural, one of any number of gods or something else entirely. Asserting it is god doesn’t make it so. You would need evidence to prove that assertion. Again, this is just an assertion and again, without evidence to back it up, it is useless. This is without even getting into issues like the impossibility of cause and effect before time and context.

Two down.

3. Argument from Design & Complexity

Again, ignoring the fact that science can account for the appearance of design and for natural complexity we still find this to be a poor argument. Things certainly might appear designed or special but that’s just our perspective on them. If they were different, they’d be different. If you shuffle a deck of cards the odds of them coming out in any particular order are around 1 in 10 to the power of 68 (I think, the point is that they’re long odds). Yet every time we shuffle a pack those incredibly long odds are made manifest in that particular order. We just happen to observe them in the order they have happened into.

Even then, much of the natural world is interdependent and deterministic, shortening the odds and moves in building cycles.

So, we can certainly say things ‘appear designed’ but there are a multitude of possibilities for this. Again, natural laws and interactions, again, any number of possible gods and again, other things we maybe haven’t thought of. WLC presumes god and wedges it in there because that’s all he can think of. Yet again, this is an assertion. Yet again, this assertion requires evidence to back it up. Yet again, he has none.

Three down.

4. Objective Morality

There have been innumerable moral systems over time. Morality is subjective, conditional and contextual. We really cannot point to anything at all that would universally be bad or wrong (or the worst option) in any and every circumstance. Ignoring the science, again, all we have here is an assertion and yet again, one without evidence. Craig specifically believes the Abrahamic god to be true, and that god has tremendous problems when you look at its morality. It breaks virtually every one of its own commandments, it kills, it lies, it even rapes children (Mary being adjudged to be a child by modern standards). The very split between the OT and the NT undermines this suggestion of objective morality.

Even if there were an objective moral system there are many possible explanations, natural ones, theistic ones and others. Craig fails to provide evidence that there is an objective moral system or that his god is the one behind it.

Four down.

5. Ontological Argument

This one is really rather crazy so why anyone takes it seriously I don’t know. The basic idea runs something like this:

  • We can conceive of an all powerful, perfect being.
  • Existence is a prerequisite of being all powerful and perfect.
  • We can conceive of god.
  • Therefore god exists.

I call this the ‘if wishes were horses’ argument.

Here’s my formulation.

  • I can conceive of the perfect roast beef sandwich.
  • Existence is a prerequisite of being the perfect roast beef sandwich and it is MY perfect roast beef sandwich so it would have to be here right now for me to eat.
  • Where the fuck is my sandwich?

That we can conceive of a thing doesn’t, apparently, mean that thing actually exists outside of the conceptual space of our mind. Physical reality certainly appears to be much more limited. This conceptual being could also be anything from god to Allah to The Great Green Arkleseizure. We can also constantly improve on our concepts over time.

Yet again, no evidence here, just a theological/philosophical mind game that, in the end, provides no evidence.

Five down.

6. Resurrection

Here’s where Craig gets specifically into the Christian god. In brief there is:

  1. No historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, even as a mortal man.
  2. No historical evidence for the resurrection.

In short, again, these are claims which require evidence, not evidence themselves.

Six down.

7. Experiential

Subjective, personal experience is not evidence. Yes, people inculcated into a particular religion may claim to have a particular experience but this varies from person to person and culture to culture. The ‘spiritual experience’ of a Hindu is no more or less convincing than that of a Christian. While we give certain things a pass on the need for evidence (mundane, everyday experiences and so forth) really, we need evidence to rationally believe anything.

Your ‘encounter’ with god is no more convincing than my ‘encounter’ with an Aztec god after having taken mushrooms.

Seven down.

Summary

Every single one of WLC’s arguments are arguments from ignorance (I don’t know, therefore god did it) or arguments from personal incredulity (I can’t believe this happened any other way than god). These are, needless to say, fallacious lines of reasoning. There is no evidence here, just questions into which ‘god did it’ has been crudely rammed on absolutely no basis.

And yet WLC is considered the ‘best’ apologetics has to offer.

Why Atheism Isn’t Illogical, a Rebuttal for ToAtheists

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This is a reply to the article ‘Why Atheism is Illogical. Part One: Atheism is a Belief and a Truth Claim’. Which was written by @ToAtheists from Twitter.

There are another two parts to this article but I consider that a refutation of the first article renders a refutation of the second two redundant.

This is an interesting ‘attack’ on atheism, given that it comes from a philosopher rather than a member of the religious community. Nonetheless, and somewhat disappointingly, it falls afoul of many of the same problems that religious attacks upon atheism do. Most especially not understanding what atheism is and what it does – or doesn’t – claim.

The author says, at the beginning of their article:

” I found rather quickly that the structures of religious belief are duplicated in atheist belief. But this lead to the fascinating question of why atheists try to deny this basic fact which in turn opened up the realization of how atheism is an inherently illogical belief, even more illogical than religious belief. So, this work in progress is attempting to understand why and hopefully establish a theory with the power to explain atheist belief.” – ToAtheists

In my opinion this presents an immediate bias and a conclusion before the subject is even examined. It is also manifestly incorrect.

The most inclusive definition of atheism is this:

“Either the lack of belief that there exists a god, or the belief that there exists none…” – Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 2008

The ‘lack of belief that there is a god’ also called ‘weak’, ‘soft’ or ‘agnostic’ atheism is not a belief but, rather, the absence of one. While it has the counterpart of ‘strong’, ‘hard’ or ‘gnostic’ atheism I can’t say that I have ever met a person – even Richard Dawkins – who would describe themselves thus.

Speaking for myself, I am certain – on the basis of logic, reason and evidence – that certain definitions of the god claim absolutely do not, indeed cannot, exist. So I am a Gnostic atheist with regard to, for example, the literalist version of the biblical god. However, we are not talking about me, or Dawkins, or Harris, or Dennett or anyone specific but rather atheism as a whole which, at its most inclusive is simply the lack of belief in god/s.

By this definition even a newborn child, unexposed to the dogmas and indoctrinations of religion, or even the very idea, is an atheist, albeit a passive one.

“Theism is the belief that the proposition God Exists (GE) is true. Theism is a truth claim for GE since, for any proposition P, to believe P is to take P to hold in the actual world. Beliefs are active assertions that a state of affairs is true in the actual world. To believe something is to believe that it is true and it is the height of irrationality to believe something yet think it is false, or to not believe something yet think it is true. The proposition GE is an existential proposition (the question of existence) and such propositions are different from propositions such as “democracy is the best political system.” All existential propositions are binary: necessarily either absolutely true or absolutely false. You can’t be a little pregnant or kind of dead, you either are or you are not. The existential proposition GE is objectively either true or false in the actual world and if it is false then its negation is necessarily true.” – ToAtheists

All agreed so far. With the note that the idea of god/religion can exist – and do harm – without the god proposition being true, real or actual.

“To deny any existential proposition is to necessarily assume its negation, for example, you must say that the Loch Ness Monster either exists or does not exist, there are no other options for you to choose. The negation of GE is the proposition God Does Not Exist (Not-GE). Rational beings either believe that GE is true, believe that GE is false and thus necessarily believe Not-GE is true, or say they do not know, claiming neither. The first position is Theism, the second Atheism, the third Agnosticism. Atheism is to deny that the proposition GE is true and thus to necessarily assume Not-GE is true. To withhold assent to both GE and not-GE—assert that one does not know—is agnosticism. It is necessarily the case that unless one claims ignorance, agnosticism, then one is assenting to either GE or not-GE—logical use of language prevents other possibilities.” – ToAtheists

More definitional problems here and more lack of understanding of what atheism is.

A denial rather assumes that there is a case for something in the first place. Since we’re talking in generalities we can’t really argue the finer points of the arguments ‘for’ and against a particular god definition. When such arguments are presented what is produced as a counter is a refutation, rather than a denial. Pointing out problem, fallacies etc in arguments is not denial – though apologists will often claim it is – it is refutation.

There is a difference between ‘I do not believe in god’ and ‘I believe god does not exist’. Of course, sometimes we say these things interchangeably because we’re only human and the long form of the statement is, frankly, the kind of tiny difference that only means anything to philosophers.

If I say ‘god does not exist’ it is, for me, shorthand for:

“I do not believe a god exists, I see no evidence for one and so, while one MAY exist I am forced by the burden of proof, my own scepticism and better explanations for god claims (science and naturalism) to hold the negative position. I will change my mind if evidence comes along that is sufficiently convincing and overturns everything else I have considered in coming to this point.”

Which I’m sure we’ll all agree, is a bit too much of a mouthful for day to day conversation and better summed up as ‘God does not exist’ or ‘I do not believe god exists’.

This burden of proof is the same principle we use in Western courts where we hold the position that someone is ‘innocent until proven guilty’. We suspend judgement, but assume the negative, as the only safe, rational and logical position unless someone’s guilt (or in this case god’s existence) can be proven beyond any and all reasonable doubt.

Another example of this suspended judgement would be the claim that a human being can fly, unaided. In case you are wrong it does not make sense to proceed as though the claim is absolutely true. We would suspend judgement and not throw ourselves from the top of multi-storey car parks flapping our arms until we were sure. Even then it would make sense to try taking off from the ground, just in case.

Agnosticism and atheism are not incompatible. As I briefly covered above, the ‘weak’ atheist position can also be called the agnostic atheist position, and is the most common one.

  • Gnosticism/agnosticism is a claim of knowledge (gnosis).
  • Theism/atheism is a claim of belief (with or without belief in god).

Thus an agnostic atheist is one who does not claim to know, but does not believe that there is a god.

“When someone says “I am an atheist” that atheist is claiming that (1) GE is objectively not true (god does not exist), (2) the atheist believes GE is not true, and (3) the atheist is in a satisfactory relationship with the truth value of GE to claim 1 and 2. (All of this is also true for the theist and their claims for the truth of GE.) Atheism is a term that encompasses these three claims that are necessary equivalents to the statement, “I am an atheist.” Atheism is the belief that GE is false, meaning the belief in Not-GE, which means atheism is a truth claim for the proposition Not-GE.” -ToAtheists

Again, a restatement of the base misunderstanding and, alas, repeated assertion does not make something true. When an atheist says ‘I am an atheist’ they are only saying that they do not believe in god. Nothing more. They are not saying they absolutely and definitely know that no god exists just that they do not believe in one. This is the only ‘truth claim’ in the statement, the only assertion, that we do not believe.

Some religious apologists will try to argue that ‘deep down you really do’, which gets tiresome and honestly I’m not sure if there is a way to absolutely prove that we do not believe any more than its possible to absolutely prove that someone does believe. I’m fairly certain fMRI scans could produce some evidence of different brain structures and responses that would support it, but honestly I don’t know.

“One objection some atheists make to this is to say that the Atheist makes no claim but simply does not believe the claim GE. That this objection is absurd is easily seen when we ask if one can disbelieve claim GE while holding that GE is still true. This would, of course, be nonsense. If someone where to say “I do not believe it is raining but it is raining” we immediately see the contradiction.” – ToAtheists

To restate the example in the form of the actual atheist position: “I do not know if it is raining, but I do not believe that it is.”

And whether a-precipitationism or atheism the reasons for holding that position may be varied, from a simple absence of evidence for rain to having read the weather forecast that morning or having looked out of the window and seen no sign of rain.

Of course ‘it is raining’ is a rather mundane, ordinary and normal claim compared to the one ‘god exists’ which is an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary evidence.

“It cannot be the case that atheists do not have a belief. It is not the case that they are simply entertaining a certain state of affairs, for example, imagining there is no god. (Though some philosophers contend, with some neuroscience findings backing them up, that imagining a proposition equates to a belief.)” – ToAtheists

Atheists may have many beliefs, atheism – however – describes the absence of one, particular belief.

I can imagine the existence of a unicorn, dragon or a trio of saucy maids of easy virtue laying in my bed. This does not mean I believe any of them to be true. I may not be a philosopher but as a writer and a game designer I am intimately familiar with the imaginary and the capacity of human beings to suspend disbelief while still not considering the things they imagine to be real, true or actual. This is the essence of play, escapism and many forms of recreation. From this perspective, god belief is a failure to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Why this is considered a problem for D&D or Grand Theft Auto but not for Christianity or Islam I do not know.

““I have made the judgment that there is no god.” (Not-GE) So anyone who calls him or herself an “atheist” is either committing to a belief or being dishonest in their self portrayal. For the atheist to claim that atheism is not a belief is intellectual dishonesty.” – ToAtheists

To return to the jury analogy, a jury returns a ‘not guilty’ verdict if they are unconvinced of the guilt of the person on trial. In some jurisdictions it is also possible to render a ‘not proven’ verdict and this is probably a much better analogy for the broadest conception of the atheist position.

“That atheists believe that Not-GE is true is obvious in and beyond their embrace of the term atheism. The term is used by atheists to differentiate themselves from believers, a differentiation only desired if they reject what the believers believe; rejection equates to saying the believers in GE are wrong which is the assertion that the negation of the belief in GE (i.e. – Not-GE) is true. The derisive assertions of Atheists that religious believers believe in “fairy tales” and are “irrational” are assertions that religious belief is wrong. No sane person asserts that a belief is wrong without believing the opposite is correct, so to criticize GE prima facie is to assert Not-GE.” – ToAtheists

More problems here. Whether holding a position is rational or not depends on the evidence for it, NOT whether it is true or not. It is also possible to hold correct beliefs for the wrong reasons. Science in particular is very good at rooting this out and revising when there are issues. It was believed, for example, that bad smells caused disease for a very long time. To an extent this was true in that a bad smell (excrement, rotting meat) was often indicative of the presence of germs and toxins and so avoiding them made sense and would contribute to greater health. It’s the germs though, not the smell (or demons).

Atheism is just a statement of personal lack of belief in a deity. Atheists may or may not engage in anti-theism or counter-theism arguments but such is beyond the scope of basic atheism, which is our sole concern at this juncture.

Honestly, the rest of this article, and what I have read of the next two, is just the continued restatement and attempted justification of the same base misunderstanding over and over again. I would be repeating myself so this is as good a cut-off point as any.

To summarise:

Atheism, in the broadest and most inclusive of terms, is the personal statement that one does not believe in god/s. The only truth claim in it is that the speaker lacks belief in this proposition. Not that the proposition does not exist, just that they do not believe it. Once we move beyond that we’re into areas other than and in addition to ‘simple atheism’ and more specific argumentation. Such arguments and discussions are worth having, but they’re more than ‘simple atheism’.

Arguing with Atheists: A Muslim Primer

IslamicMore and more the arguments over creationism/evolution, science/religion and atheism/theism are going on between members of the Islamic religion and atheists more than Christians. On the one hand this may be a hopeful sign, Christians seem to have given up trying to argue that their beliefs are rational or empirical and – instead – tend to resort to emotional arguments which, obviously carry little weight in a debate on whether something is real or not. Islamic debaters, on the other hand, still seem to fiercely cling to the notion that Islam is a rational, scientific and evidential religion whose truth is ‘undeniable’.

The problem is that these arguments are all the same ones we’ve seen before and have disposed of before. To the Islamic debater they seem new and powerful while to the atheist they seem tired, boring and have been gone over time and time again. Perhaps this means that we dispose of these debaters too quickly and dismissively but its hard not to when they’re fired up and excited over something that was disposed of decades, even centuries ago.

Let’s save ourselves a lot of time by covering the basic arguments that really have no place in this debate any longer.

Atheism
Atheism is simply the personal statement ‘I do not believe in god/s’. It is not anything more than that. While a lot of atheists come to this opinion because of logic, reason and science people can be an atheist for many reasons. Some of them worse reasons than others. Still, confusing atheism with anything else confuses and mixes up the argument.

The Prime Mover Argument
We’ve heard this one so many times that it will always meet with an eye-roll. Yes, paintings have a painter, buildings have a builder, but the natural world, the universe, life, these are not the same things. If you argue that everything must have a cause then you are still left with the need to explain the origin of your god. IF everything requires a creator then it follows that this must also apply to ‘god’.

A slightly more ‘advanced’ version of this argument is the ‘Kalam’ argument. Which argues that god is an exception to the requirement for a cause. The problem with this is that it doesn’t further the argument. If there can be an exception to the rule then why not something other than god? Why would it be your god?

Arguing for a prime mover does nothing whatsoever for the argument. It’s a pointless distraction.

Look at that Tree/Flower/Baby!
Just because you don’t know how a tree (or whatever) could come about naturally doesn’t mean that it did not. Evolution is massively well evidenced and it produces things which seem designed, but are not. When you make this argument you’re not actually making an argument at all. You’re engaging in one of two logical fallacies (or even both). The argument from ignorance: “I don’t know. Therefore god did it”, and the argument from personal incredulity: “I can’t believe it happened the way you say, therefore god did it.”

The Koran is all Scientific and Shit!
You say the Koran ties in with science but there are problems with this claim.

Firstly the Koran is a mythological (and bad) poem, not a science book. Its language is vague – Arabic is a particularly vague language – and can be interpreted any number of ways which makes it particularly fluid in being rewritten to fit modern understanding. Let us give one particular example as a case in point:

“Have not the unbelievers ever considered that the skies and the earth were once one mass, then We split them asunder?” 21:30 (Malik Translation)

If you don’t consider it very deeply – as most don’t – this seems to be something to do with The Big Bang. If you consider it for more than that single moment however it all falls apart. The Big Bang is the origin of the universe (if such a world is appropriate for the universe), not the earth. That isn’t the only problem though as anyone with a passing interest in science will know. The Big Bang is not an explosion or a splitting asunder but rather an expansion, an inflation of spacetime.

You’d think a god would know better and get it right.

Secondly Islam is far from the only religion to make such claims and much of the ‘science’ in the Koran is cribbed from the ancient Greek scholars and philosophers. Its wrong, but less wrong than many religions simply because it is newer than many of the others. Still, one can find aspects in many religions – many of them much older than Islam, Christianity or even Judaism – which resemble (or have resembled) scientific thought.

An Appeal
A bearded imam shouting fallacies and asserting incorrect statements on a Youtube video is not convincing. What will convince most atheists? Evidence, plain and simple. You need evidence for the existence of a god. Please check whether your arguments have been refuted before and bring your ‘A’ game because we find re-treading old ground particularly tiresome.

Thanks.

Made to be Damned

This should save me some repetition.

So…

  1. Do you believe in god?
  2. Do you believe your god is all knowing?
  3. Do you believe your god is all powerful?
  4. Do you believe your god is good and just?
  5. Do you believe your god is the creator?

If the answer to these is yes, as it for most Christians, consider this.

IF we presume, for a moment, that your god exists:

  1. It created me (creator).
  2. With perfect foreknowledge of everything I would ever do, think, feel or know (all knowing).
  3. It knew I would be an atheist and had the means to provide me with the evidence I would require to believe in it (all knowing, all powerful).
  4. This deity then withholds said evidence, thereby condemning me of its own volition – nothing to do with me – to a hell of its own making.

Good?

Just?

I think not.