Monday, July 21, 2014

Teaching via Mockery

Religious apologists often confuse the word objective with words like absolute, transcendent, and universal--especially when talking about morality. To illustrate what objective means, I will now insult these people.

They are least in the subjective sense, which is a judgement I'm making influenced by personal feelings and opinions. However, in the recent past, I could test these people and state objectively that they are morons, imbeciles and idiots--each of these labels corresponding with an IQ score of 51–70, 21–50, and IQ of 0–20 respectively. A metric, like an IQ score, means that feelings and opinions can't factor in. Your IQ is your IQ regardless of what I personally think of you, and therefore objective.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Evolution of Nothing

“Nothing” is a concept that has meant different things at different points of humanity’s understanding of the universe. When our planet was effectively understood as the universe, empty air space was reasonably defined as “nothing.” Upon discovery that space exists beyond our atmosphere, the meaning shifted to exclude air as now the vacuum of space was a valid option. The march of scientific discovery theorized magnetic, gravitational and other fields were “something” that may even correspond to particles that clearly aren’t applicable to the concept of “nothing.” And finally it was realized that space and time itself were dimensions that could conceivably not exist, which they wouldn’t in the case of a hypothetical “nothing.”

One might think this speculative absence of everything would be the purest nothing to which both atheists and theists could agree, but of course it’s not. Modern physics has shown that quantum fluctuations can spawn temporary virtual particles out of even this “nothing.” There is no particle or field or dimension or anything to exclude at this point. It is entirely nothing, then something, then nothing again. The only way an apologist, motivated to believe in a nothing in which God is the only creative power, can define nothing at this point is arbitrarily. Nothing, to them, is that without the natural potential for something. A baseless, speculative meaning only used by a minority that special pleads in order to create the illusion that the arguments they insert this term into is valid.

“That without the nature potential for something.” The special pleading is apparent with the qualifier of “natural.” It allows for another baseless and speculative category of the supernatural which isn’t only without scientific evidence, but conveniently beyond the scope of scientific inquiry. Something coming from nothing in our reality is only permissible, in their minds, through magic in which the spell caster is their deity of choice and only their deity. This “nothing” is just another example of a term in the apologetic handbook that when applied to the handbook’s official syllogisms, makes them entirely fallacious.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Idealized Conservative on Church & State

After hearing more and more conservatives openly promoting the unity of Church and State (only their Church, or course) I found this quote from one of their favs ironic.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Incomplete & Circular Apologetic Definitions

Are you healthy? I don’t know much about you, reader, but if you are the average American your answer is probably close to “sure...I guess” or maybe even a straight up “I don’t know.” That’s because the term “healthy” is an imprecise word that means different things to different people. A judgement of health, when poorly defined, is subjective and not very meaningful. If, on the other hand, I asked if you are overweight then provided a scale, tape measure, and the calculation to determine your Body Mass Index, we could objectively see if your BMI is over 25 and therefore overweight.

In debates with religious apologists, I’ve noticed their moral arguments rely on the imprecise meaning of right and wrong--of good and evil. Ask them to define them clearly and you will be met with resistance. Define them secularly and those meanings will be dismissed. Push, and you will likely hear one of two meanings.

  1. Good or evil are inherent properties of the action in question.
  2. That which is right is that which we have a moral obligation to God to do and that which is wrong is that which we have a moral obligation to God to refrain from.

Let’s take the first one first. “Good or evil are inherent properties of the action in question.” The first problem is that most will latter disagree with the definition they provided. If evilness or wrongness is an inherent property of lying or killing, then it can’t ever be right. However, they will almost certainly agree that lying to protect others or killing in self defense isn’t wrong or evil. In Catholicism there is something called The Principle of Double Effect which allows Catholics to break commandments to achieve what they judge to be the greater good. Hell, most theists in America support the death penalty, that should tell you something.

The second problem is that the property definition is incomplete. It’s like explaining to a child that wetness is a property of water without ever getting into what it means to be wet. Wetness could mean it’s liquid, it could mean it’s clear, it could mean it’s made of molecules. What does the property of good or evil say about the actions? From here they might falter and give secular reasons regarding a harm vs. benefit analysis of the actions, which would negate the perceived need for a deity entirely, or they might move to the previously mentioned secondary definition.

“That which is right is that which we have a moral obligation to God to do and that which is wrong is that which we have a moral obligation to God to refrain from.” Not only does this mean nothing to anyone who doesn’t already believe and therefore has no persuasive power, it also undermines the moral argument entirely. Assigning morality a definition that assumes God exists, cannot then be used to demonstrate that God exists. It is a simple example of circular reasoning. The crazy thing is, I’ve heard many apologists be fine with that--to the point that they ask “what’s wrong with circular reasoning?” Jesus Christ!

Don’t follow apologists down the moral rabbit hole until you know just what they mean by right and wrong. Depending on how these terms are framed, morality can be subjective, objective, relative, conceptual, nonsensical or anything in between.

Monday, June 9, 2014

An Interview with Sabio Lantz

The following is an interview with Sabio Lantz of Triangulations.

On your blog, you use the pseudonym Sabio Lantz to, in your words, protect your professional and personal relations. What do you expect would change if you went public with your real name? (I’m obviously not judging, I also use a pseudonym.) What is your advice for other atheists who are unsure if they should conceal this aspect of their identity or embrace it publicly?

As you know, Religionists look upon Atheists with great disgust (see here). I have significant personal experience with Christian bigotry both as a victimizer and a victim.  I’ve written here and here of incidences where I lost (or almost lost) jobs because Christians were disgusted by this atheist. Also, my children have lost many new friends over the years when their parents found that our family were not believers. And as a former Christian, I unfortunately totally understand why believers do this.

I work in medicine and most of my patients are very web savvy.  They not only look up information on their health but also pull up info on their medical providers.  So I need to be careful because the overwhelming majority of my patients are Christian.  Even at my place of employment I am careful about how I say things in our Christian dominated milieu.  If my colleagues could easily find my on-line writings —and they would— it  could present unnecessary challenges at my work place and possibly threaten to my livelihood and well-being.

My advice to other atheists on this issue is that they be simultaneously cautious and brave.  Religious folks can be dangerous.  A good balance between being quiet about your beliefs or out-front about them comes from wisdom and luck — and I wish them much of both.  The answers will be different for everyone.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  I have made many mistakes and hope others don’t make as many as I have.

You have mentioned that you’ve been banned from atheist sites in the past. What were the events that lead to this action? When your beliefs cause you to dissent from the common atheist worldview, how do you find the atheist reaction? What do you think can be done to keep free thinking at the valued over a pressure to conform to the beliefs held by the more prominent atheists?

I must start this reply by saying that I have also been banned on several  religious sites, but I am sure your readers can imagine why.  But it is odd to be banned by atheists.  Banning because of violations of commenting policies is one thing.  And indeed, based on my comment policy, I have banned one or two atheists who made personal attacks on my site.

Atheists come in all stripes.  Sure, we all share several traits: not believing in gods  and valuing empirical evidence more highly than anecdotal subjective evidence are the two that come to mind.  But short of those, differences abound — and thus the difficulties of an “atheist community”.  We all have different temperaments, religious backgrounds, political alliances and philosophical positions.  Mostly, we all have different experiences.  All these differences have caused me trouble with other atheists who expect more uniformity.

Put simply, many blogging atheists are so angry with the religions that they are familiar with, that they detest when I point out when they overgeneralize about “religions”.  These anti-Anti-religion atheists seem to prefer the echo-chamber of the back-slapping buddies in their comment threads.  When I question the over-reach of these atheists’ claims and challenge their self-righteous hyper-rationality, they usually counter with ad hominem attacks and eventual banning. Most of these atheists are more interested in rhetorical lambasting of religion than they are in careful analysis.  They will spare nothing to attack religion — including, ironically, their rationality.

The solution:  I think we will always have these sorts of personalities — both in religious and atheist circles.  This sort of personality is difficult to change.  Probably the best way to change each other is by in-person meetings and not on the web where our social skills are not activated in the same way as they are in face-to-face encounters. That said, most atheists I deal with are delightful, but blogging draws disproportionately from the angry, cloudy-thinking sort.  In your comments, I will let those who dislike me tell you their version —why they really dislike me. I am sure their evaluation will be far less glorious, for we are always the hero in our own stories — and I am sure I am no different.

According to your “Share Thyself” (I’ll link to this) table, you list your ontology as naturalist, yet your posts are often sympathetic of the supernatural, especially those that share mystical experiences. How do you reconcile naturalism while leaving the door open for something more?

As I have posted here, I have had, and continue to have, many very odd experiences. Though I use to , I no longer don’t believe in the supernatural, but I also don’t think that just because I have these experiences that I am deluded, silly, weak or stupid.  Some of them are indeed tough to explain.

Many atheist have never had these sort of experiences and look down on those who do. I actually feel a bit sorry for these folks because such experiences are fascinating!

So my goal in sharing my “supernatural” experiences is to loosen Atheist disdain for those who claim such experiences.  But likewise, I am trying to show theists that even atheists have these experiences and that we can interpret them in naturalistic ways or at least not jump to the supernatural.  I try to show that supernatural experiences, no matter how strange, are probably more natural than our minds try to tell us they are.

Like you, I’m a father of a boy and girl. I’m always interested in how fellow atheists approach teaching the concept of religion to their children. What do you tell them about God, if anything? Do you have any tips for me?

My wife, like you Grundy, was raised Catholic and was far more bitter about religion than I was — I have softened her over the years as she has observed more benign forms of religion.  Several of my atheist friends have taken their kids to local churches so they fit in and can learn about religion and then choose on their own when they grow up.  We have opted to not play that game — but if played well, I do think it can be an OK option.

Since I have lived all over the world, I read my kids stories from many religious traditions and try to make it clear that all religions have silly ideas but that they all can carry great morals and ideals within their mythology.  Nowadays, I don’t read books to my teenagers but I point out and discuss stupid, bigoted religious beliefs as they pop up in the news.  We also discuss the bigotry they feel from religious kids in their schools. But I don’t care if my children grow up religious, I just don’t want them embracing a non-inclusive flavor of any religion, but otherwise, I don’t care. Instead, I care that I maintain a close, affectionate, supportive relationship with my children if I can.  That is a challenge for all of us, no matter how we raise our children. I have no advice on this, however, because I am never sure I am doing the “right” thing.  :-)

As atheists, we often talk about the harm caused by religion. What do you see as the primary benefit of religion, if any? 

“Religion” is a broad fuzzy term, even if anti-religion atheists or even religionists try tell us they know the true definition.  Nonetheless, using that broad notion we can see philanthropy, social care networks, psychological comfort and many more potential benefits of religions.  There is no one “primary” benefit, there are lots of different potential benefits.  As for the potential harms, they are clear to all of us.  I wrote a post here that attempts to show a more sophisticated way to evaluate harm vs. benefit in religion.  You may enjoy the diagram.

A favorite mantra of anti-religion atheists is that “the harm of religion far outweighs any good”.  First, ironically, these self-proclaimed gloriously-rational atheists are making an empirical claim without evidence and without any way to clearly test their pseudo-science claim.  Secondly, their claim is based on their own very simple view of “religion”, but that is a long conversation.

Would we be better without religion?  Well, not if it meant everyone would instantly be turned into the nasty sort of atheists.  Being a good person is not dependent on being atheist vs. theist and I only care about good people. Grundy, your blog’s subtitle is cute and clever: “One Day we’ll all be atheists, I’m just an early adapter”, but I don’t think religion (or things like it) will ever disappear — so I am for always improving religion for those who are unable to leave it.  I think theists can improve their theism to be more inclusive and kinder.  For example, see my post on “My Favorite Kind of Christians”. Likewise I think atheists can improve their worldviews.  Hell, we can all improve ourselves.

Is there anything that would once again convince you that there is a god? If so, provide an example.

Probably like many atheists, for me to again believe in a theist god, it would take amazing, overwhelming evidence. After all, the theist God is suppose to be all-powerful, all-caring, all-knowing, personal and interventional, so evidence for such a being should be able to blast us out of the water with clear evidence. The story books tell us that once God did give amazing signs and wonders, but that was before there were cameras, recorders and such.  But I am open to have my opinion changed yet again.  For if nothing else in my life,  I am a master of embracing ridiculous beliefs.  Se my post: “Confession Tales”.

But re-embracing God would be difficult.  For as my post call “The God Switch is Off” shows, there are several obstacles to my believing again.

In my post, “Most Christian’s Don’t Believe”, I again try to illustrate that “religion” is something much different than the mere declaration of supposed doctrinal truths that many religion-is-evil atheists try to maintain. With that in mind, my post on “A God I could Believe In”, tries to get behind the word “god” to show the complexity of how religious people hold their beliefs.

So, sure, in some kind of highly qualified way I believe in “God” today.  Heck, in my post “Monkey Religion vs Cat Religion” I try to show theists that there are many versions of “God”.  The monkey religion version is still one that my mind has echoing about without much cognitive dissonance. To understand that sentence, the reader will have to understand my view of “Many Selves”.

As this post illustrates, my atheism is an accidental epiphenomenon.


Thank you for the invite to write out replies to your questions.  I never dreamed I would spend so much time addressing atheist’s opinions of me.  I thought my insights and opinions were fairly bland and uncontroversial among atheists until I started blogging.  My blogs is full of posts pointing out the problems with theism, atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism and myself.  For indeed, nothing should be sacred!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Life Gives You Objectively Good Lemons

The moral argument for God is very convincing to Internet apologists because they believe in something called transcendent morality. It comes up by many names including objective morality, absolute morality--and as I prefer, cosmic morality and magical morality. Regardless of the name, it is seen as a moral standard that exists somewhere independent of the minds of mere mortals and supersedes alternative judgements.

That’s the claim. Is there proof? No. Is there evidence? No. The defense for the claim is essentially finding a moral value agreed upon between the apologist and the non-apologist, such as “murder is wrong,” and using that shared common ground to say all other assessments aren’t just wrong from their perspective, but wrong independent of perspective.

What do you think, is murder wrong independent of perspective? In my experience, “wrong” means different things to different people. It is like saying not murdering is better than murdering. “Better,” like “wrong” in this case, is imprecise language that the apologist can leverage during these exchanges. Analogy time. What if I said lemons are an objectively better fruit than blueberries? This seems laughable because we understand taste preferences are opinions. However, we can say something is objectively true here if only I use a clear metric. I value sour flavor. Lemons are objectively more sour than blueberries. This isn’t a matter of taste, we can actually compare pH levels and know for a fact that lemons are more sour and are therefore objectively more appealing to one who values sour flavor.

Apply this to morality. Instead of saying something imprecise like not murdering is better than murdering, which could be subjective or objective depending on the metric used to judge something as “better,” let’s say not murdering allows for a safer world than murdering. This specification allows us to say not murdering is better for those who value safety. That is an objective fact and an instance of an objective moral.

I cannot say anything about one’s morality without saying something about one’s values. Because the majority of us value human life, safety, and equality (at least to some degree) the discouragement of murder is near universal...but transcendent? No, that is neither justified nor demonstrable.