Monday, December 31, 2012

Main tactics used by religion

Religions have formed (or evolved, if you pardon the pun) during the millenia. Some tactics used by religions have become very prevalent because they are so effective due to how human psychology works. Here are some of them.


Many people do not fully realize this, but from all the tactics used by religions, including the ones listed in this post, guilt is possibly the most fundamental and effective one. It's even more fundamental than fear or intimidation.

The basic tactic is to make the person feel wrong about themselves. Things that you normally do are  wrong, harmful, and shameful. You are guilty, you are a bad person at a fundamental level, you are worthless. Most importantly, you must immediately correct these problems if you want to make amends and be a slightly better person.

Usually it's important to emphasize that no matter what you do, you can never get completely rid of the shame and bad things, not in this life, but at least you can make amends to be slightly better and to earn your better standing in the afterlife. In other words, it's not like you can just make amends, do some magic rituals and poof, you are a good person again. No, you can become slightly better, but never completely perfect. The sense of guilt must always be maintained, even if you try to do something about it.

Of course the solution to this enormous problem is, what else, the religion that's being sold via this guilt trip. You must accept the religion and fully submit to it, and you must spread it further, teaching it to others.

This tactic abuses the fact that humans are naturally gullible. We have evolved that way because it has been a survival advantage during the history of humanity. (If someone tells you that there's something wrong with what you are doing, that it's dangerous, in average it's more beneficial for your survival to believe it than to ignore it. Thus instinctive gullibility has been naturally selected into the human psyche.)


Of course the other extremely common tactic is eliciting fear and intimidation. If you don't do what the religion mandates, you will experience great suffering, either in this life or in the afterlife (or, in the case of some religions, in your next life.)

Christianity has taken this to its logical extreme: Indescribable endless torture, the worst possible pain and suffering you could ever imagine, up to eleven, for all eternity. The greatest possible punishment that the human mind can come up with.

And why not. If you can scare people into accepting your religion, then why not go all the way to the absolute extreme with it? Especially since so many people are ready to believe it, completely disregarding the logic of it. (It really is quite amazing how the exact same person could claim that a perfectly good, all-loving god who is incapable of evil could punish people with the worst possible torture that can be imagined for all eternity. This is almost Orwellian double-think.)

Demonization of the opposition

Demonization of the "enemy" has been a common tactic for all kind of warfare during the entirety of human history, be it physical warfare or just "warfare" at the ideological level. It consists of making the opponents to be depicted as extremely unpleasant, horrible, wicked and dangerous.

This tactic actually serves two roles. Firstly, it gives confidence to your own followers that they are in the right path and that "fighting" the opponents is a good thing. Secondly, to instill fear into your followers (in other words, if you ever leave the religion, you will become such a wicked and horrible monster as those, and you wouldn't want that, would you?)

Sometimes the "opponents" to demonize are people, usually people who follow a different religion or don't follow any religion at all. Sometimes the "opponent" is at an ideological level.

Science is a perfect example of the latter category. Many believers demonize science, especially certain branches of it, and make all kind of outlandish claims about it, such as it being a demonic plot, a world-wide conspiracy to overthrow religion, the biggest lie ever told, and of course extremely dangerous (for example that the theory of evolution causes this and that negative thing, such as racism or the holocaust.)

The difference between psychics and magicians

With the title of this post I don't mean to say that the first are scammers and the second are just entertainers. What I mean to say is what's the difference between psychics (or, for that matter, anybody who claims supernatural powers) and stage magicians from the perspective of people who want to believe in the supernatural powers of the human mind?

The only difference between them is that the former claim that their tricks are not tricks at all, but completely genuine, while stage magicians make no such claims (at least not seriously; sometimes they may allude at mystical powers, but it's just for the entertainment, and they are fully ready to say that it's just an act for the purposes of entertainment if asked about it.)

The strange thing about this is that this difference is really effective. The mere claim that the fraudsters present is enough to convince the believers. Nothing else is needed. The believers are completely ready to accept said claim, and will defend the claim to death if challenged.

What makes this really schizophrenic is that these exact same people who defend alleged psychics do not have any problem whatsoever in accepting and acknowledging that the exact same tricks performed by stage magicians are just that, ie. tricks with no supernatural origin of any kind. Just sleight of hand, misdirection, doing things behind the scenes hidden from the viewers...

And the thing is, the stage magicians do the exact same things as the psychics, such as "mind reading", "predicting the future", spoon bending and all other kinds of seemingly impossible feats. Yet, somehow, the believers still have this weird attitude where they fully accept these things as just physical tricks, while still defending the exact same stunts as genuine and supernatural when performed by psychics.

It seems that if someone claims that the trick is not a trick, that it's a genuine supernatural event, that's enough. It doesn't matter if it can be demonstrated that the exact same stunt can be performed via entirely natural means; that makes absolutely no difference. It's still genuine and supernatural when made by a psychic.

When challenged, the believer will inevitably resort to an argument from ignorance. "Yeah? If it's a trick, then how does he do it? Can you explain that to me?" Any counter-argument along the lines of "well, can you explain to me how a stage magicians does the same thing?" will be ignored. If you can't explain how the psychic does it, that's proof enough that it's genuine and supernatural. Never mind the stage magicians.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Biblical literalism is actually quite rare

Quite many secular people, and even many Christians, have the misconception that the vast majority of Christians are fundamentalist biblical literalists. In other words, that they hold the position that every single story of the Bible is literally true as described, and should be interpreted as such, rather than being eg. an allegory or parable.

This notion isn't actually true. In fact, the fundamentalist literalists form a minority among all of the world's Christians (even if we count only those who consider themselves believers and who actively practice Christianity, rather than being "Christian" in name only but are in practice as secular as any atheist.)

For example, the biggest denomination of Christianity, Catholicism, is not a young-earth creationist denomination, accepts that the universe and the Earth are billions of years old, and considers the events depicted in the book of Genesis to be more or less allegorical and figurative. While individual catholics might themselves be biblical literalists and young-earth creationists, the vast majority accept the official position of the Catholic church.

Many, if not most, of the protestant denominations also have no problem in accepting the old age of the universe and consider the first chapters of the Bible more or less allegorical.

So why does one easily get the notion that the vast majority of Christians are fundamentalist literalist young-earth creationists? This is most probably because this minority of Christians tends to be the most vocal as well, and the subgroup of Christianity that gets into the biggest and most visible fights with secular people and the ones who most vocally demand special privileges at a governmental level. All the non-literalist non-fundamentalists are much more "moderate" and do not tend to be so vocal, start fights and demand special privileges and changes to law.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

An alternative hypothesis for the origin of the universe

Many apologists and creationists have this strange notion that if nobody can present an alternative explanation for the origin of the universe, then their God hypothesis should therefore be accepted by default, until something better is presented. In fact, many apologists actually present this very argument in all seriousness.

It shouldn't be necessary to emphasize the fallacy in this kind of thinking. Even if there were no alternative explanations whatsoever, no alternative hypotheses to rule out, that doesn't make such a made-up explanation as "God did it" any more plausible. Having only one hypothesis for something quite obviously doesn't make it somehow automatically true or even more believable. It's not like it gets an exemption for being the only one.

But if we wanted to present an alternative hypothesis, just as a thought experiment, and just to show that it's not outright impossible to come up with such an alternative, consider this one:

Our universe resides in a kind of "meta-universe" (or "metaverse" for short) whose properties might be completely different from the ones inside this universe of ours, and nigh impossible for us to fully comprehend. (Think of quantum mechanics, up to eleven.) Our universe is a kind of "bubble" inside this metaverse.

Concepts such as space, time and causality might be completely nonsensical in this metaverse. They just don't work in the same way as inside our universe. If you want, you could hypothesize that the metaverse might be "spaceless" and "timeless", and that things like causality are really fuzzy things (a bit like in quantum mechanics, but at an even more incomprehensible level.)

There could be a physical mechanism, like a law of nature, in this metaverse that constantly pops up randomized universes into existence, like bubbles appearing in boiling water. This mechanism is just a simple physical mechanism, just like gravity or entropy in our universe. It doesn't have any kind of mind or goal, it just is. It's simply an intrinsic property of the metaverse, just like eg. gravity is an intrinsic property of our universe. (We could further hypothesize that it always creates universes in pairs that cancel each other, one universe always being the exact negative of the other. Balance seems to be an intrinsic property of everything, so it would make sense that entire universes are also always balanced in this manner.)

These universes might or might not have a limited existence.

Each universe has a random set of energy and physical properties. In the vast majority of these universes the amount of energy and the particular physical properties are such that they never develop any kind of life (if they develop anything at all; they might just remain devoid of any structure for their entire existence.)

In the case of our particular universe, it just happened, by chance, to have the exact amount of energy and physical properties for our kind of life to form. There was no higher purpose or goal for this universe to be like this, it just happened to be like this from among innumerable random universes.

Now, the point of this hypothesis is not for it to be a correct explanation, especially since there's zero evidence for it. Its point is to show that the God hypothesis is most certainly not the only possibility. It's easy to come up with other explanations.

Of course if you present this hypothesis to an apologist, he or she will most probably, and quite ironically, immediately object with the same objections that are presented against God: Where did the metaverse come from? Where did this universe-popping mechanism come from? Why would you believe in this hypothesis given that there's zero evidence of it? And so on.

The irony here is, of course, that apologists want to exempt God from being subjected to all these questions, while not having any problem presenting them about other hypotheses such as this one. Anyway, as said, that's not really the point. The point is that there are other possible hypotheses. The God hypothesis is not the only one and does not have any special status.

The God hypothesis is quite useless

Theists offer the God hypothesis as an explanation for the most fundamental questions about this universe. They consider it a beautiful, complete explanation for everything. The major problem with it is that it doesn't actually explain anything at all. It simply shifts the exact same questions one step further, with the drawback that one additional mystery is added in between.

Theists also want God to be exempt from the very problems that it's trying to solve.

Why does the universe exist? They say that it's because of God. Well, why does God exist? There is no answer to this. He just does, period. God's existence is exempt from being explained.

How did the universe come into existence? They say that God created it. How did God create it? Again, no answer. It's just "somehow." No further explanations are needed. Thus this "explanation" doesn't actually explain anything.

What is the cause for the existence of the universe? They say that the cause is God. Well, then what is the cause for God's existence? But no, God is exempt and doesn't need a cause. Again, a mystery is simply replaced with another mystery.

They say that the universe cannot be infinite because it's "logically" impossible (as if logic had anything to do with that.) Yet they claim that God is infinite and has always existed. Again, God is exempt from these rules, with no justification of any kind. He just is, period, no justification or demonstration needed.

The fact is, the "God hypothesis" is completely useless. It actually doesn't explain anything. Moreover, it's worse than no hypothesis at all because it only adds more questions than it answers.

Friday, December 28, 2012

William Lane Craig is a deceitful liar

When an apologist is presented with a counterargument that he or she cannot refute, there are a few tactics that are usually used (instead of, you know, just outright admitting that yes, that's a good and valid counterargument.) Some start outright avoiding the counterargument, others move the goalposts. Others start playing dumb. A fourth tactic is to distort what the other person said or clearly meant, and attack that.

A perfect example of this fourth tactic is William Lane Craig's response to one of Richard Dawkins' counterarguments to the so-called cosmological argument. Dawkins writes:

Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts.
How does Craig respond to this objection? He says:
Dawkins doesn't deny that the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of an uncaused, beginless, changeless, immaterial, spaceless, timeless and unimaginably powerful personal creator of the Universe.
No, that's not at all what Dawkins is saying. "Even if we allow..." and so on does not mean "I accept the proof as valid." It means "even if we assumed it to be valid" which is a completely different thing. What Dawkins is doing here is pointing out the huge and completely unjustified leap in logic that happens at the end of the argument (which even itself is very much questionable.)

What Craig is doing here is blatantly distorting what Dawkins is saying, in order to try to win. Why does he do that instead of actually addressing the objection? The only possible conclusion is that Craig does not have an actual response to the objection and therefore must resort to distortion.

And this is coming from someone who loves to emphasize the correct use of rigorous logic and philosophy, and who belittles anyone who he sees as not being in par with his own knowledge and education on these subjects.

Transcendental argument

One of the most typical and popular forms of the so-called "transcendental argument for the existence of God" is that the laws of logic exist, are immaterial and must have been created by something.

This argument makes no sense. The laws of logic are simply concepts that describe something (eg. existence.) Claiming that the laws of logic must have been "created" makes as much sense as saying that, for example, the concept of "roundness" must have been created.

We describe a ball as "round." Roundness is a concept that we use to describe a geometric property of certain things. Nothing needed to first "invent" this concept for round things to be possible, or for us to be able to describe them with such a concept.

The geometric property which we describe with the concept "round" is not something that "exists" on its own, independently of anything. If absolutely nothing existed, then there would be no concept of "round" either. The concept is completely tied to what it describes. It's simply a notion we use to describe a property that we can find in existence.

Moreover, the concept of "round" does need to be "created" or "invented" or anything before it becomes possible (as a description of something.)

The people who use the TAG argument seem to have this weird notion that the laws of logic are somehow "existent" on their own right, independent of anything, rather than simply being notions we use to describe something in the same way as we use "round" or "square" or "twice as large", etc.

(And of course, like every single other such argument, this one also falls into the same fallacy of jumping from "an unknown caused X to exist" to "God" with no justification whatsoever. This is not only a completely fallacious jump in logic, it's also completely useless because it tells us absolutely nothing. It just puts a label on an unknown, which is completely useless.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Another approach at the source of morality

As I have commented in previous blog posts, I find the argument from morality (in other words, the typical "where do you get your morals from?") really strange. I find it really strange because the answer is so clear and simple, and there's nothing to it. We are a social, intelligent species that can deduce what's good and bad for the society as a whole and its individuals, and it's beneficial for everybody if they follow these principles. I really can't understand what's so difficult about this.

So I thought of a different approach at trying to explain to someone why there's no need for a "god" to explain morality.

Would you like it if a stranger came to you and punched you in the face and kicked your ribs, sending you to a hospital? No? Why not? Because it really hurts, it's dangerous and damaging (both physically and mentally), and there's no reason to do that.

Would you like it if someone robbed your home, leaving you with nothing? Of course not. It would damage your livelihood, cause lots of problems and stress, and affect you in many negative ways. It may even cause permanent damage to your wellbeing if you lose something important or valuable.

Likewise you wouldn't want for someone to deliberately burn your house down. You would lose your place to live and it would be a huge monetary loss, besides being very mentally damaging and stressful.

Would you like it if you were raped? Of course not. It's one of the worst possible ways to mentally damage someone, and physical damage is also possible. There's also the risk of an unwanted pregnancy from a stranger, which is not something to be taken lightly in the least.

Would you like it if someone murdered you? No. You want to live, like everyone else, and you should have the right to live, as everyone else.

And so on, and so forth.

Note that in none of these cases the answer was "because God forbids it." There's always a rational and justified reason why those things are considered bad and punishable. These are all practical moral values that benefit everybody. Where exactly does God enter in the picture? What exactly makes this alleged "god" the source of all this?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making people believe your argument is sound

While this is most certainly not exclusive to religious people, it's nevertheless extremely common among them, probably way more common than among atheists. And that's a really heavy bias towards accepting and supporting arguments that they don't really understand and which don't actually make any sense.

For example, the so-called ontological argument for the existence of a god is one of the most insane arguments that have ever been seriously presented by Christian apologists. And I mean really insane. It makes absolutely no sense, it has so many logical fallacies and is logically twisted beyond all belief. No sane person could ever take this argument seriously or believe that it's actually a good and sound argument.

Yet when a charismatic speaker such as William Lane Craig presents it to a religious audience, the vast majority of them accept it and think that it's a good argument. The majority of them do not actually understand what the argument is saying, yet they still accept it as a good, strong argument, just because the speaker is so eloquent and charismatic, and sounds so educated and formal.

They are extremely biased and want to believe it's a good argument. Even if the most attentive of them have a nagging thought in their heads that says something like "hmmm... I don't really understand this, does it actually make any sense?" they quickly shut that nagging voice up and accept the argument without thinking about it, simply because they want to believe it. Then they can feel so good about themselves, how there are such good arguments against skeptics and atheists.

I believe that this is a kind of religious mentality seeping into a meta-level. The same kind of mentality that outright fears having doubts about the very existence of God also affects their mental attitude towards arguments that (seemingly) prove the existence of God: If they doubt the argument, it's like doubting the very existence of God himself, therefore it's scary to have such doubts, and such nagging voices must be immediately shut off.

(Of course there are exceptions to this, and some religious people do fully accept that an argument like the ontological one does not make any sense and is completely invalid. However, these people are a very, very small minority.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The argument from population growth rate

Many young earth creationists argue that the world's population today can only be explained if there were 6 people about 4400 years ago (as per the flood story of the Bible.) To prove this they assume that the world population doubles each 150 years, and count backwards using that number.

This, of course, makes two major mistakes. Firstly, the number 150 is completely spurious and based on absolutely nothing. It's pulled from one's behind. It has been carefully chosen to give the right answer when you plug it into the equation. So rather than taking a known fact (in this case the alleged doubling of population each 150 years) what they have done is to take the equation and ask "which growth rate would give me 6 people 4400 years ago?" and come up with the answer "population doubles each 150 years."

Secondly, it just assumes that population growth has been the same for the entire history of humanity. That's of course, completely unjustified and can be easily demonstrated as false.

However, the most ironic thing with this is that they do not realize what their growth rate assumptions imply. Just ask them to calculate, using that exact formula of theirs, how many people there were during important events described in the Old Testament, such as Israel's escape from Egypt.

(The story talks about hundreds of thousands of Israelites alone, yet the formula that these creationists use would give just a few hundreds as the entire population of Earth.)

Noah's flood makes no sense

There are many creationists who believe that the story of Noah's flood in the Bible is literally true and accurate, and happened exactly as described, and have gone to great lengths to try to "prove" it (and try to show how geology and all other branches of science that can actually study these things are completely wrong and biased.)

Here are some of the objections that can be presented about the literal interpretation of that story.

Richard Dawkins presents in his book The Greatest Show On Earth one of the most compelling objections. There are many, many species of animals that appear only in relatively small and isolated parts of the world, and do not appear in the wild anywhere else, not even in fossil form. For example, there are tens of species of marsupials in Australia that do not appear anywhere else in the world. How exactly did they get there from the landing site of the ark, and why did they not leave any ancestors behind during the trip there? There are species of animals that only appear in the island of Madagascar and nowhere else. Worse still, there are species that appear only in the Galapagos islands, in the middle of a vast ocean, and nowhere else. And those are just a few examples. How did they all get to those places (after all, they would have had to cross mountain ranges, deserts and oceans, most of which are way too harsh for them to survive), why did they move all in group to those precise locations, and why did they not leave any ancestors behind?

(Incidentally, the fact that isolated places tend to have animal species that appear only there and nowhere else is completely in concordance with regular evolution. It's precisely what the theory of evolution predicts should have happened during vast amounts of time and speciation of isolated animal groups.)

There are, of course, a multitude of other objections that can be presented.

For instance, was the flood water salty or fresh? If it was salty, how did all the thousands and thousands of fresh water fish species survive for 40 days in such waters? If it was fresh, how did all the salt water fish species survive? And fish are but just one paraphyletic group of animals and plants that only survive in one type of water.

How did all the plants survive 40 days and 40 nights under innumerable tons of water? More importantly, what did the animals eat after the flood was over? (Even if all animals were magically herbivorous at that time, as some creationists suggest, there weren't many plants around for them to eat after the flood had destroyed all land plants.)

If there was a global flood, then everywhere in the world there should be a geological layer that shows this. It should be a layer clearly distinguishable from other layers because of it being full of organic material and fossils, in much more abundance than any other layer. There's no such world-wide layer.

The wackiest creationist theories claim that the geologic column was formed by the flood, and go so far as to claim that more "advanced" animals were able to flee the flood to higher ground than the more "primitive" ones (completely ignoring the fact that both fast and agile, as well as very slow animals, have been in abundance during the vast majority of the history of Earth.) This theory makes no sense because if it were so, the fossils should be found lined up at the edges of old, buried mountains, rather than being evenly distributed. Unless all these animals waited for a certain amount of sedimentary layers to form, then swam miles and miles into the expanding ocean, and then dived to the bottom to get buried at that precise layer.

Speaking of which, what exactly killed the trilobites? They were marine animals, after all. If all the other arthropods and fish survived the flood, why not trilobites?

There are many communicable diseases that can survive only in a specific species. This includes human-only diseases (examples include measles, leprosy, smallpox and typhus.) Most of these diseases are either removed sooner or later by the host's immune system, or the host dies from it. The disease can only survive if the host infects another individual before curing itself or dying.

This is a really big problem for the Arc story because it says that only two animals of most kinds were saved. All the others died in the flood. For those diseases to survive to this day, those two animals would have had to contract every single one of them and keep them alive (ie. not immunize themselves) for the entirety of the flood plus whatever time it took for them to procreate afterward. Then their offspring would have to procreate further in order to keep disseminating said diseases.

We are talking about these diseases surviving for years in one host before they can successfully spread. With the vast majority of communicable diseases this is a physical impossibility (because, as said, either the host's immune system kills the disease, or the host dies.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Natural selection is a good thing?

Many creationists have the misconception that skeptics and atheists who accept the theory of evolution have the notion that evolution and natural selection are good things, and something to embrace and to root for. This is very often related to the concept that evolution is "natural" and the way that "nature" works (and therefore a good and desirable thing.) Therefore if something is (seemingly) against evolution and natural selection, it's therefore "unnatural" and undesirable.

Some creationists use this notion to attack atheism and "evolutionism" (as they call it.) Others use it to argue against some other things they oppose, such as homosexuality (they argue that homosexuality is "unnatural" and against the concept of evolution and natural selection.)

Unfortunately, even some atheists have this misconception. (There are even a few atheists who argue against homosexuality using this very argument.)

This is all wrong, and a huge misunderstanding of what evolution and natural selection are. They are not "good" or "bad", they just happen. They do not have a mind or a goal, they do not aim for anything, nor are they inherently desirable and good. As said, they just are, period. It's a completely mindless, aimless natural phenomenon that just happens, period. They don't care if something they affect is for "good" or "bad" (because "they" are nothing more than simple blind natural laws in action.)

Natural selection is not automatically "good" or desirable. Sometimes it might be, sometimes it's not. Much of human history has actually been a fight to surpass and overthrow natural selection, and that has been for the better. Most prominently, natural selection would mean that many diseases would have killed a good majority of people, but human medicine has overcome that problem.

(Although, one could argue that even our progress in medicine has been a kind of "natural selection" because it has succeeded in helping our species survive, which is the essence of evolution. But as said, there's no "right" or "wrong" natural selection. The most one could say is that natural selection has "failed" in a sense when a species goes extinct.)

Even if something that the human species does to better the lives of its individuals (eg. through advances in medicine) were to be considered "against natural selection" and "unnatural" (which is just a silly idea, but let's play with that thought for a moment for the sake of argument) then so what? Who exactly cares? As said, evolution and natural selection are mindless physical processes, and there's nothing in them that ought to be respected or followed. If something about evolution and natural selection is bad for us, then there's absolutely no reason to just submit to it. There's nothing wrong in "fighting back" (so to speak.)

(Of course the whole concept of something being "unnatural" is completely nonsensical. "Nature" has no goals or rules that should be followed. Nature just is, nothing more. We can't be "unnatural" even if we wanted to because we are part of this physical universe. We are bound to the properties and laws of the universe, so the whole concept of something being "unnatural" is just silly and makes no sense.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The most blatant argument from ignorance

Argument from ignorance is an extraordinarily common argument for believing in a god. One of the most common ways to invoke it is to try to make the skeptic admit that they don't know something, and from there to jump to god, and to declare victory. In some cases the argument from ignorance is masqueraded as something else by using complex philosophical terminology and phrasings.

However, there's a popular form of this argument that's unusually blatant. Rather than trying to masquerade or hide the actual argument from ignorance, it's actually fully embraced and stated openly.

It goes something like: "If this (often a large circle, or alluding to everything that's possible to know) is everything that can be known, and this (a very small portion, eg. a small dot or percentage) is what we currently know, isn't it possible that God exists in the rest that we do not know?"

That is, rather than trying to hide, masquerade or obfuscate the argument from ignorance, just blast it fully open and outright state it. The big irony is that many people who present this argument seem to think that it's such a clever and outstanding argument, that no skeptic or atheist can respond to it.

For example, in this video a preacher lays out this very argument. He takes a long time to get to it, but the actual argument starts at about 4:30. (After he states the argument the audience laughs. I would like to think that they were laughing at the ridiculousness of the argument. Sadly, that was most likely not the case.)

(Quite ironically he says a bit before that: "and the Lord gave me an answer that I had never thought about until that moment." If such a blatant argument from ignorance is the best that the "Lord" can come up with, he isn't very smart, I would say.)

Of course the major problem with this argument is that it can be used to argue for the existence of anything you want. Dragons, unicorns, fairies, multiple gods, evil gods, the god of any religion, gods of no existing religion... whatever you want. (Ironically, the exact same argument could be used to argue for the non-existence of any god. You could just say "wouldn't it be possible that in that 95% that we don't know there is no god, and instead there is the explanation for everything without any god?")

But why would anyone believe in their existence without any actual evidence? You don't believe in everything just because there might be a remote possibility that it exists in that gap of knowledge. Rational people require actual evidence before believing in such extraordinary things. Believing in things without any evidence, just to fill out gaps in knowledge with hypotheticals, is most certainly not the smart thing to do.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christian vs. secular morality

Many Christians claim time and again that God is the source of all morality, and that without God there can't be moral values. Moreover, God's morals (more specifically, the Christian God's morals) are perfect and absolutely good.

So let's compare the morality as taught by Christianity to secular moral values.

(Note that because there are over 30 thousand denominations of Christianity, each one with different interpretations of the Bible, there are about as many interpretations of "Christian morality" as well. However, here I'm going to take the most commonly accepted ones.)

Christian morality teaches that all crimes are equally punishable in the eyes of God. Even the smallest of infractions is deserving of the same punishment as the largest ones. Secular morality posits that punishment should be proportional to the severity of the crime.

In Christian morality there is only one single punishment for all crimes, no matter what their severity might be, and this punishment is eternal. (It varies by denomination whether this is eternal torture, or simply oblivion; the most popular interpretation is the former.) In secular morality the punishment should be fair and proportional to the severity of the crime (from warnings to fines of varying amounts to prison sentences of varying lengths, according to severity.)

In Christian morality everybody is guilty by default, and deserving of eternal punishment, unless they redeem themselves. In secular morality everybody is innocent by default until they actually commit a crime. Only after they commit an actual crime are they deserving of a punishment.

In Christian morality there is a loophole to erase your crimes without having to suffer the punishment that you deserve. There is no such loophole in secular morality.

And related to that, Christian morality has the concept of punishing innocent people on behalf of the guilty. This thought is completely abhorrent in secular morality.

Christian morality has the concept of thought crimes and victimless crimes, crimes that are "against God" (rather than against anybody else.) Conveniently, many of these crimes are things that are completely natural behavior for humans, so it's guaranteed that the vast majority of people will commit them. In secular morality crimes are those that harm others, and the whole concept of a thought crime or a victimless crime, a crime that doesn't actually do any harm to anybody, is ridiculous.

When we get down to it, secular morality is based on what's best for the society, while Christian morality is all about guilt and fear, about victimizing people for natural behavior that doesn't harm anybody, and scaring them into embracing the religion. The goal of Christian morality is not to make people behave better, but to draw them into the religion.

And then Christians claim that Christianity is the source of all morality, even the secular one...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The two basic "proofs of God"

As I have commented in a previous blog post, trying to prove the existence of a god using logic is a futile endeavor for the simple reason that logic always start with assumptions, and the "proofs of God" always start with unjustified assumptions. Using logic to "prove" the existence of a god is, basically, defining God into existence.

Anyway, the vast majority of these "proofs" have one of these two basic forms:

  1. Something unknown caused X. That something was God.
  2. X is immaterial/transcendental/supernatural. God is immaterial/transcendental/supernatural. Therefore God exists.
When you get down to it, when you strip the "logical proof of God" into its most basic form, it usually is one of the two fallacies above.

The first is, of course, an argument from ignorance. Since something has no (apparent) explanation, that something is then attributed to "God." No further justification needed. Furthermore, in many cases even the premise (ie. "something caused X") is an unjustified assumption. However, even if it were true, the jump in logic is still astounding.

The second form has a multitude of fallacies packed into one. So many, in fact, that listing them all is quite lengthy.

Its basic form is, of course, the so-called fallacy of the undistributed middle ("X has some property, Y has the same property, therefore X is Y; or they share other properties beside that one.") In some cases it could also be considered a post hoc fallacy ("X and Y share some property, therefore X caused Y.")

Moreover, it usually outright starts with a blatant, unjustified assumption, which makes a claim about something without even considering the alternatives. This is often a so-called category error, in other words, categorizing something as something else (one example being, categorizing "sentience" as an entity that exists all by itself independent of a brain, rather than it being a function, something that describes the physical properties and external behavior of a brain.)

The second premise (ie. "God has property X") is, of course, completely fallacious. It's a begging the question fallacy: It already assumes what the whole argument is trying to prove (ie. that God exists and has certain properties.) This also makes it circular logic.

This last thing is, in fact, what makes this type of logic so amusing. It kind of tries to "sneak in" the whole existence of a god without having to justify it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The origin of religions

Religions are ubiquitous to humanity, and have probably existed for as long as humans have had any kind of rational higher-level thoughts. It's often hypothesized, from a purely secular point of view, why did religions form in the first place, and why they are so ubiquitous. Some hypothesize that, from an evolutionary perspective, religions offer a survival advantage to the species, which is why they are so prevalent. Others hypothesize that religion is simply a side-effect, a by-product of something else that was evolutionarily advantageous. (Such side-effects are extremely common in evolution, after all.)

Personally I find the latter idea more plausible. I'm not an evolutionary biologist nor an anthropologist, but I can perfectly well imagine that the origin of religions is something like this:

Humans are a social species, and have been so for a really long time, even from before our ancestors could even be classified as humans (ie. homo sapiens.) In our case being highly social was a survival advantage because we weren't so fit for survival as individuals. Strength in numbers, and so on.

For a society to work, some ground rules must be agreed upon, and all the members of that society have to agree to follow those rules, for the benefit of everybody. This is, in fact, where "morals" come from (especially the instinctive ones.) Those individuals who obeyed the norms of society had a bigger survival advantage than those who didn't, and therefore an instinct to follow societal rules was naturally selected.

Societies themselves evolved into being quite authoritarian. After all, what good are societal rules if the members of the society don't follow them? If there's someone who breaks the rules and harms others by doing so, the others are prompted to do something about it. To enforce the rules. The law breaker is punished or cast out of the society. This further strengthens the natural selection happening that prefers individuals who obey the rules of the society.

It was thus only natural for an instinctive "respect the authority, the authority knows what's good for me and everybody around me, abhor people who don't respect the authority" mentality to form. The stronger that this instinct was, the higher the survival advantage.

While "authority" in this case could well be a concrete person or persons, more generally it was much more abstract. Originally, "authority" was in fact the society itself. The instinct was to follow the society, regardless of who was concretely in charge. And this society, the "authority", was conceptually larger and more powerful than any single individual.

Is it any wonder that at some point this went a bit overboard? People started instinctively respecting a "higher authority" that was much larger and more powerful than themselves, and from which everything that's good and beneficial came from. The source of all morality and rules. As the mental capacity of humans increased over time, it was only natural for these people to come up with all kinds of invented descriptions and claims about this "higher authority."

The abstract concept of "the higher authority" (which was originally just the society as a whole) became more and more concrete, albeit fictional, as the stories developed and were repeated. Every storyteller would add their own flavor, their own details. Their listeners would repeat these stories to their children and other family, and so on.

In other words, religions are simply a by-product of humans being a highly social species (which has a survival advantage of obeying the rules of the society.)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Using your opponents' arguments against themselves

When little children are arguing and calling each other names, one of the most common and stereotypical answers is the classical "no, you are!"

From an adult perspective this is, of course, pretty childish, although understandable. A small child can't be expected to be able to invent witty comebacks or actual refutations, so throwing back the exactly same insult or claim is often the only thing that a child can think of.

One would think that as a person grows older and gets more experienced and knowledgeable, such a childish response of using your opponents' arguments against themselves, with little to no modification, would become as ridiculous as it really is. One would think wrong.

It's a surprisingly common occurrence for an apologist or a creationist to use the exact same arguments as skeptics use, right back at the skeptics, just with reversed terminology, even when it makes absolutely no sense. The wording may be fancier, but in its core it's a simple and straightforward "no, you are!"

In some cases it can get astonishingly blatant. For example, this is a direct quote from a creationist video:

"And to explain all this they pile up just-so-story on top of just-so-story. And if you try to ignore the problems with evolution, your world view becomes just crazy, just untenable, inconsistent. If you want to believe in evolution and live in your world view that's completely inconsistent with everything that we observe in the universe, that's just fine. But don't make it your mission to brainwash our kids; you can't even teach them to read properly, and that's the first step. We need engineers that can build stuff and solve problems by examining both sides of an issue rather than attempting to suppress or censor all the evidence for a world view that they are uncomfortable with. [...] What you believe happened millions of years ago isn't science. It's just just a belief, it's faith. It's faith in a particular version of history that's part of your world view. You can't prove it to be true."
This text is just astonishing. It's like they took a typical skeptical text and just changed a few words here and there to reverse the direction of the criticism.

In fact, try to count how many words you need to change in the quote above in order to make it a relatively valid criticism of religion. I count two (change "evolution" to "religion", and "millions" with "thousands.")

Perhaps one of the most common (and blatant) "no, you are!" arguments that this video shows is that the science of the history of the Earth is "just a belief, faith based. You can't prove it." This is the exact same argument that many atheists present against religion (although in many cases it's more of a caricature of an atheist rather than a real, experienced skeptic.) Trying to throw the exact same claim right back is just purely childish. (Yet this video goes even further, and throws right back the claims of "brainwashing" and "inconsistent with everything that we observe in the universe." It couldn't get more blatant even if it tried.)

The sad thing? Many Christians swallow this kind of text without a second thought, with no questions and no criticism whatsoever. Not even a mild "hmm, isn't this a bit of an exaggeration?" crosses their minds.