Archive | December, 2008

What is faith?

31 Dec

Today I went to the dentist. As I sat in the chair I looked over and saw a painting of a young woman with the title  “Saint Apollonia” and a little caption stating something to the affects of  “St. Apollonia is the patron saint of dentistry. She refused to give up her christian faith, so her torturers pulled out her teeth one by one. When she still refused to recant, she was burned alive.”

This got me thinking, what is faith? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary faith is:

1. allegiance to duty or a person

2. firm belief in something for which there is no proof

3. something that is believed especially with strong conviction

#2 is very important to remember, “for which there is no proof.” Theists often say “well it doesn’t matter, it’s a matter of faith.” That really is a conversation killer. But what does that say about the nature of faith? When in the face of reality you must resort to saying “it’s a matter of faith” you are basically admitting “I have no idea how this logically makes sense, I have no evidence to support it, but I like it and I’m going to believe it’s true despite the facts….”

That’s disgusting. Lets apply this approach to other aspects of life. I’m going to run a red light at a busy intersection, but don’t worry, I have a strong faith that says nothing will happen to me. I’m going to stare at the sun for hours, but I’m strong in my faith that I won’t go blind. I’m going to put a loaded gun to my head and pull the trigger, but I have a strong faith that I’ll be fine. I’m not going to wear my safety belt in the car, but I have it on faith that everything will be ok if I get into a crash.

People who believe things on faith and disregard facts ascertained by logic and observation are the types of people that get snuffed out by the cogs of evolution. If it were not for the good graces of other people who employ things developed by observing facts (ie. Medical science, physics and seat belts, etc) the people who relied on faith alone to make decisions would die off. (I sometimes wonder why we keep them from fulfilling their ridiculous desires…)

It blows me away how some people can argue against logic and reason. One example given in this wonderful video (the inspiration for this post) is how a christian could argue “Well, we all could be brains in a jar, or in the Matrix, and observation is circular, if you want to describe ‘red’ you have to point to it’…” True, but as the video points out the christian has already disproved his own argument about how logic and observation are inferior, for he his trying to have a rational, logical argument with the atheist. Secondly, (again, as the vid points out) look at where the two have gotten us.

Faith, on one hand, produces nothing. It is a flat statement of authority. Logic, reason, and observation (the very foundations of SCIENCE) have produced the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the electricity you use to heat your food, the computer to are reading this on, and the medicine that heals you when you become sick. Just about everything you touch and do in your life has been created by science, by people observing, testing, improving. Yet despite the fact that they use the benefits of science every day, some people still claim that this is inferior to faith.

Since when has this arrogant and extremely aggressive ignorance, nay, sheer stupidity, become a virtue? Why, in a society as technologically advanced as ours, with weapons capable of destroying all life on the planet, do we hold up this behavior on a pedestal?

Ask yourself this, would you apply the same attitude of faith to aspects of your life other than religion? Would you leave your money out on the sidewalk on faith that it would be there in an hour? Would you not pay your bills on faith that the utility company will do nothing? There is strong evidence based on observation that your money would be gone and the utility companies would shut off service, just like there is strong evidence that god did not create life, nor create the world in 7 days with dinosaurs and talking snakes.

So go ahead, apply an attitude of “faith” you have with religion to other parts of you life. See what happens….

A matter of faith....

Rules of the game

29 Dec

Apparently some people dont’ understand how reality and arguments work when it comes to debating religion, so I’ve decided to try and explain. An argument about religion has to follow the same rules that any argument has to follow. Some people blatantly try to ignore this, and it only hurts their claim.

Firstly, when you make a statement, you are making a claim. “I ate cereal for breakfast, I have $20 in my pocket, I have a diamond the size of a car in my backyard, there is a god.” Those are all claims. When you make a claim, no matter how big it is, you have the burden of proof. That means that it is reasonable for someone not to believe your claim until you prove it. We have this same idea in our legal system: Innocent until proven guilty. When someone makes the claim that you committed a crime, you are innocent (meaning the state doesn’t believe the claim) until they prove your guilt.

This applies to every claim that someone makes. Religion does NOT have special exception status!

To “prove” a claim, you need evidence. Evidence is support that backs up your claim. The more evidence the better. Again, this is valid everywhere in day to day life, and religion is not immune.

However! There are many types of evidence. There are 8 criteria to decide how good a piece of evidence is. They are:

Reliability, Expertise of the source, Bias, Consistency, Recency, Relevance, Completeness,  and Accuracy.

The more of these tests a piece of evidence fulfills, the stronger it is, and thus the more weight it carries in an argument.

Reliability: How many times has this been proven correct in the past?

Expertise: Is the source competent on the subject that it addresses?

Bias: Does the source have a stake in the claim?

Consistency: Is the evidence consistent with other data from the same source? (Internal consistency) And is it consistent with data from other sources? (External consistency)

Recency: How recent is the information? The more up-to-date the better.

Relevance: Is the evidence related to the claim? Does the data support the claim?

Completeness: Does the source provide enough information for a critical thinker to accept?

Accuracy: Are the citations complete? Are the sources of evidence fully identified?

Now remember! These tests apply to EVERYTHING we do in our day to day lives. A critical thinker is someone who uses these tests to access the validity of any and all claims. If the evidence supporting a claim is numerous and pasts these tests, the claim is most likely true. Again, we know this is true from day to day living. Religion DOES NOT get a free pass. It has to pass these tests just like everything else. Making a special exception to reason that can’t be applied to all arguments is invalid and logically dubious.

So lets apply this shall we? Christians often bring up the bible as evidence to support at a claim.  How does the bible hold up as evidence when put to the 8 tests?

Reliability? There are numerous times the bible has said things that were incorrect. List of scientifically unsound claims

Expertise of the source? The people who wrote the bible lived between 400 BCE and 600 CE. They had no knowledge of germs, evolution, chemistry, biology, physics, etc…so no, they’re not competent about the things they make claims about (namely existence)

Bias? Yes, the people who wrote the bible had a personal stake in it. They were writing a book that would become their religion. They wanted to put themselves in the most favorable light. Hence why god is so similar to an angry, jealous, misogynistic desert dweller.

Consistency? World renowned biblical scholar Dr. Bart Ehram points out that there are more inconsistencies in the manuscripts making up the new testament than there are words in the new testament. For a small list of 408 of them, go here.

Recency? Again, the bible was written between 400 BCE and 600 CE, it’s not recent at all, and the scientific and moral contradictions reflect that.

Relevance? Depends on how the bible is being applied to an argument

Completeness? So far it has failed all the tests up to this point. There is almost no evidence around today to support the biblical claims.

Accuracy? While we might know some of the authors of the bible, we don’t know the countless number or scribes that hand copied their words and changed things. Again, you must see “Misquoting Jesus

After applying these critical thinking tests to the bible, it shows itself to be weak evidence, yet christians keep holding it up as proof.  It is important to remember that these are the rules we use everyday to evaluate all types of claims, be they advertising claims, your spouse’s claims, or a minister’s claims about god. Religion is not exempt from the tests of logic.

*facepalm*

Gott Mit Uns!

27 Dec

Earlier this morning I went with some friends to see “Valkyrie”. My extremely religious friend was unable to tag along, but I wonder if he would have given this any thought. When Hitler survives the assassination attempt (again) he goes on the radio and talks about how this is proof that god is protecting and guiding him, and by extension guiding Nazi Germany.

Hitler  used this to reinforce the idea that what Nazi Germany was doing was god’s will. At the time, to the average religious Joe, this might seem plausible. Hitler had survived “miraculously” and Germany had all of Europe under it’s dominion. Clearly some higher power was helping.

I suspect my religious friend would counter by saying “No, god was not helping the Nazi’s, he was helping us. We won in the end after all.” True, we did win in the end, yet 70,000,000 human beings died in the conflict. If it was god’s will for Hitler to be defeated, then why didn’t he just zap him and the Nazi’s out of existence? If he’s all knowing then he knew this was going to happen when he created everything. He knew the names and faces of every man, woman, and child that was systematically slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis. He knew how much grief and destruction the war would cause.

Why not just stop it? Since god had the power to prevent it and didn’t, then that means he wanted it to happen. He wanted us to go through it. What like a test? Murder 70,000,000 people just so we would learn a lesson? (This isn’t the first time he’s reported to have done this. See also Noahs ark) Are you going to sit there and tell me you’re comfortable with a god that lets atrocities like this happen, all for the sake of learning a lesson, whatever it might have been?

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God? –Epicurus

Defeating religion and arrogance

25 Dec

I was skimming some forums today about religion, and one user made the comment that “atheism is arrogant to suggest that it can prove that god does not exist…” This is a funny little twist of thinking. Atheism (and science) can’t prove that god does not exist. They can no more prove that god does not exist than they can prove that fairies, trolls, goblins, and unicorns do not exist. No, saying that you don’t believe in someone’s faith is not arrogant; claiming that you are god’s chosen people, and that you alone hold the keys to morality and immortality IS arrogant.

Another guy pointed out that nobody likes you when you insult their beliefs, and that you get more flies with honey. True, but what is an anti-religionist to do? For many people, merely questioning them on their beliefs is insulting, let alone calling them out on bullshit like 3k year old dinosaur bones on a 6k year old earth, or Noah’s ark, or all of us descending from 2 nudists in a garden with a talking snake, etc… Hell, for some the mere existence of an “atheist” or “anti-religionist” is insulting.  The problem is that we are fighting dogma, not ideas. Ideas are open to question, debate, they can change and evolve. For dogma, this is unthinkable. If dogma can change, then it reveals that those who made it don’t hold the keys to unalterable truth.

Another problem is that the faithful, since there are more of them in society, have written the rules of etiquette to prohibit the questioning of their beliefs. It is a major no no to tell someone that their faith is wrong. We are instructed not to question religion. But why? We can question a person’s politics, beliefs on the economy, and choice of favorite sports teams, but not religion? Given it’s bloody and horrendous track record, why does it get a free pass? The only thing we can do is call them on their bullshit. There is a favorite quote among atheists pertaining to just that:

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.” –Thomas Jefferson

The fact is, religion can’t hold up to science. Sorry. Religion said the earth was flat, that gods made thunder and sent rain, that it was their judgment that made people sick. Science came along and proved that the earth was a sphere, that thunder and rain were natural,explainable, and even predictable phenomenon, and that germs, not god, made people sick. Religion was born to explain the unexplainable. So was science. The difference is that religion is fixed in it’s answers, whereas science always tests and provides evidence that can then be replicated for consistency. The two cannot co-exist.

Yet this gives me hope. As an atheist, it is easy to despair when you see just how religious the world is. (Especially in America…) Sometimes it feels like the fight to ride the planet of the virus is hopeless. But take comfort in this, we’re winning…. How so you ask? Just look around you. Yes, there are still a lot of religious people, but every day science continues its triumphant march, closing the gaps in which god can hide. Every time science can explain something new, there is one less hole for god to hide in. Science has slowly been proving religion wrong ever since its inception. I think there is a reason why the future in so many sci-fi shows is an enlightened atheist future, free of superstition.

You’re a sinner!

23 Dec

Earlier tonight I turned on the tv while getting a snack and landed on the history channel. For those of you who haven’t watched the history channel for years, they have slowly devolved from focusing on history to focusing on either the apocalypse, aliens, or the bible.  A commercial flashed across the screen that made my cereal loose it’s tasty sugary goodness. The commerical: “Do you like to eat? Are you desirous of a woman? You could be a SINNER and not even know it! Next week is 7 deadly sins week, on the history channel! “

This got me thinking about sin and what it is. For the catholics, the 7 deadly sins are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. For the protestants it’s everything that brings pleasure. (Ok, maybe not everything, but a lot of things that are pleasurable are viewed with suspicion) Now what does that tell you about god? If the majority of things that are pleasurable are bad, that implies a doctrine of “salvation through suffering.” I don’t know about you, but as a humanist, I would like to limit human suffering. Sure, telling someone that they can’t have sex before they’re married because it’s a sin might not cause huge suffering, but telling someone that wearing a condom is evil does. (Unwanted children, STD’s and the medical bills and social stigmas both bring) I feel that any group that devotes a good amount of attention on furthering suffering is guilty of  crimes against humanity, and ought to be stopped.

What is the purpose of sin? Why does sin exist? If god loves us so much and hates sin equally so, then why give us the free will to sin? If all he wants is for us to love him, then why not just make us like that? He is god after all. Some might respond with “but this life is just a test, to see if we’re worthy!” Well if we’re born with original sin, and we naturally seek pleasure over pain, dangling something pleasurable in our faces while at the same time telling us that we’ll burn if we enjoy it is sick. If he’s omniscient then he already knows if we’re going to sin or not (see predestination) and free will goes out the window. So why bother with the dramatics? Why go through all this if the end is already decided?

As a humanist, the concept of original sin really pisses me off. Christianity in particular keeps pounding on this idea that you are worthless. You’re a worm. A horrible sinner. And unless you buy their product you’re going to regret it. This just makes me wonder what kind of psychological problems the founding church fathers had. It’s a kind of masochism.

You see, when it comes to human beings, there is a huge difference between humanism and christianity. Humanism is very positive. Instead of scum, humanists believe you’re an amazing being, capable of wondrous things.  You weren’t born evil, you were born with the potential for great goodness! Just look around you, it’s mind blowing what we are able to do! We’ve built massive cities, altered out environment, created artificial intelligences, cured diseases, invented art!, conquered the skies, and put people on the moon! All this from simple beginnings! 500,000 years ago as our ancestors looked up at the moon, they could not have imagined that one day we would walk on it. They couldn’t imagine Mozart, or the Red hot chili peppers (depending on your tastes), they couldn’t imagine van Gogh, Picasso, or Rembrandt! All this by our own hands! I don’t know about you, but I’d take joyous awe at human potential over despair of worthlessness any day.

triumph

Christmas crazyness

21 Dec

On the way home for the break I drove past this house in my neighborhood and thought I’d share. The pictures don’t do the place justice, it looks worse in person.  I honestly don’t know what to think of this house. I do know that the people are extremely religious, two of their sons are training to be ministers.  Perhaps this display of power waste and running up their electricity bill is an attempt to show their devotion….

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God’s simple plan of Salvation

18 Dec

One of the major unfortunate things about living in Lynchburg is that one often get inundated by religious pamphlets. I found this one in wal-mart and decided to look at it more closely. It’s titled “God’s simple plan of Salvation” by Lifegate inc.  The pamphlet tells me that “I must first realize that I am a sinner.”  Secondly, because I’m a sinner I’m “condemned to die and burn forever in hell.” It sounds a lot like the classic advertising strategy of telling a person they can’t live without a product, and they badly need it. (Literally in this case)

This is where it gets really confusing. The pamphlet says that god (the guy who’s rig this whole existence thing up, with me as a worthless sinner doomed to suffer for eternity) loves me so much that he sacrificed his only begotten son, and that “jesus had to shed his blood and die.” It then points out the rules that jesus was operating under that forced him to have to die: “…without shedding of blood is no remission.” [Hebrews 9:22]  Ok, now wait just a second. God (at the same time also jesus) set up the universe, they set up these sick “there must be blood” rules. It’s god! He’s all powerful! Why does he go through all these dramatics? Why not just forgive us all outright, instead of killing his only begotten son? (And why does he only have one? Can’t he make more? And from where was he “begotten”?)

Why not skip the whole sin thing and just make us perfect? If all he wants is for us to love him, why not just make us his personal little fan club? What? Is he bored? Being omniscient he must have know that by making us sinners some of us wouldn’t repent, or might grow up before jesus came, and that all those people would suffer and burn for eternity. It’s really fucking sick honestly.

The funniest bit is when the pamphlet states ” Although we cannot understand how, [jesus died in our place]. It’s true! God cannot lie!” Now who says this is what god said? The bible? That was written by a bunch of men over the course of four centuries, with various parts edited out and altered by the medieval church councils, not to mention scribal error. The pamphlet also says “If this is not perfectly clear, read this track over and over again until it is and don’t put it down”  Don’t you brainwash people by telling them something over and over again?

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Why is what you believe not a myth?

18 Dec

Last night I remembered a huge turning point in my life. I was 16 and in the car with my then girlfriend who had just converted to catholicism. While I was no longer “born again” I wasn’t an atheist. I had been having a discussion with her about mythology. We were talking about the various Greek, Egyptian, and Norse gods. We both found the topic interesting, and then I made the comment “I think christian mythology is really cool too, I wonder if there is a book with all the various angels and daemons…” At that point she became upset and told me not to call her beliefs a myth.

It killed the conversation, and I didn’t bring this up, but the question hit me like a ton of bricks; “Why is what the Greeks, Egyptians, and Vikings believed a myth, but not what you believe?” I just couldn’t think of how she would have responded. Possibly one of two ways “They just aren’t” or “nobody believes in those gods anymore…” The second response begs the question “so the validity of a belief is based on the number of believers?” This is clearly an ad populum fallacy. If 3 billion people believe lead can float in water, it doesn’t make it so. Same as if a great multitude believe in god, it doesn’t make it so.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to….

17 Dec

So today while walking through my local Barnes & Nobles I stumbled across a little gem called “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam”. Now granted, I can’t stand Islam just like I can’t stand any religion, but this was ridiculous. The book, in fact the entire P.I.G. series is written from the viewpoint of a evangelical xenophobic high-school drop-out with a severe case of pompous hubrism. The entire book focuses on how evil Islam is, and how Christianity and the west are the world’s only salvation. Hell, the cover even goes so far as to say the crusades were a DEFENSIVE war! Excuse me, but how the fuck is marching all the way from western Europe to invade the middle east defensive?And don’t give me any of that “pre-eminent strike” bullshit. For comprehensive list of reasons why the first crusade was launched, please visit the “online reference book for medieval studies” Take note, “defense” is not on that list.

I decided to look up a little more on the PIG series (an acronym that I think fits very well) and found another diamond in the rough. /sarcasm “The PIG bible.” The cover of this book makes some interesting claims including “All the enemies of the bible are enemies of true reason and tolerance” Sorry, I just choked. Enemies of true reason and tolerance? Isn’t there a “no true Scotsman” fallacy in there somewhere? And how am I intolerant if I don’t accept the intolerance of the bible? It goes on to say that the bible “promotes human[*] freedom”. *Only if you consider slaves, women, and infidels as not humans.

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Jesus pray for us….

15 Dec

Going to college near Liberty University is hard, especially when you’re one of those godless heathens. It’s Falwell country through and through and it gets shoved in your face pretty hard. I happened to be walking to class the other day and saw a license plate “JCPR4US”. Jesus Christ Pray for US…… This made me stop and think, how the hell does this make sense? The driver is asking Jesus (god) to pray for them. To whom would he pray to? Himself? He’s god according to the trinity, so why would he need to pray to himself for the sake of the driver? Same reason he sacrificed himself to himself to repeal a moral law he himself created I guess…..jesus-watches-over-you

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