Sunday, March 31, 2013

The "Christian" definition of marriage

I find it quite amusing, especially nowadays (because gay marriage has somehow become such a big issue recently in many countries) how Christians define the "traditional" and "Christian" marriage as "between one man and one woman."

Where exactly is this definition found in the Bible? Sure, there are some passages that allude to marriage, but nowhere is polygamy prohibited. On the contrary, polygamy is not only allowed (and quite many of the greatest and most righteous men of God were polygamous) but there are laws governing such marriages, such as for example (Deuteronomy 21):
If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love.
There is, in fact, no passage in the Bible that forbids polygamy, or even recommends against it. So where exactly does this "between one man and one woman" come from?

A few Christians will argue that either those laws were for the ancient Israelites only, or that they do not hold anymore (because of Jesus or something.) This doesn't help much, though. Nowhere in the New Testament is this corrected or changed, and nowhere is it said that it's exclusive to Israelites and that gentiles have a different rule for this. What's worse, that argument would imply that God's universal, objective law about such an important thing as marriage does not apply to all of his followers equally or, what's worse, has changed.

The two "ten commandments"

This is something that surprisingly few Christians, even those who avidly study the Bible, know or think about, even though it's very plain and direct, and it's a very well known thing among most biblical scholars. I find it quite curious and strange how largely unknown this is, even among avid readers of the Bible.

According to the story described in the book of Exodus, after the people of Israel escaped Egypt, Moses climbed the Mount Sinai, where God gave him two stone tablets with the famous and well-known "ten commandments." These commandments are listed in that part of the story (in Exodus 20.)

Moses spent a long time there, and when he descended from the mountain, he saw that the people of Israel were worshiping a false god, he got extremely angered, broke the stone tablets and ordered the perpetrators to be killed (way to obey the commandment he just got about not killing, but that's besides the point here.)

After the whole mess was sorted out, he climbed the mountain a second time and got two new tablets with the commandments.

This is the version of the story that 99.9% of Christians know and love. But here comes the tiny detail that, quite amazingly, very few Christians are aware of: The commandments written on that second pair of tablets are quite different from the first ones. (A few of them slightly resemble their counterparts in the first set, but the majority are completely different.)

What makes this especially egregious is that the scripture explicitly states that these new tablets contain the same commandments as the previous one. The beginning of the chapter (Exodus 34) that describes God giving Moses the second pair of tablets explicitly and unambiguously states:
The Lord said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.
This is not something that's up to interpretation. It couldn't be much clearer than that. It quite explicitly states that the words are the same as those on the first tablets. Yet quite obviously they are not.

Moreover, and even more egregiously, after the new commandments are listed in this chapter, they being the ten commandments is then explicitly reinforced like this:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.

It couldn't get more explicit than that.
This is a well-recognized discrepancy among biblical scholars. The two sets of commandments actually have names: The well-known ones are named "the ethical decalogue" and this new set of commandments is named "the ritual decalogue."

Yet, among most non-scholar Christians, even those who study the Bible a lot, this is surprisingly little-known.

Grand-scale projection and scientific revisionism

There's a section of Christianity that not only has the "classical" set of dogmas and religious beliefs, but on top of that has built a large-scale revisionist world view that basically rewrites the history of science, as well as its current state. The size and scope of this world view is actually quite incredible at times. It could almost be classified as a religion all in itself.

Two of the core tenets of this revisionistic world view are the (mostly made-up) concepts of "atheism" and "evolutionism", as well as the complete rewrite and reversal of the history of science.

The historical fact is that science started to proliferate in the so-called Age of Enlightenment when science was separated from philosophy and religion (before that, the three were generally considered parts of the same thing.) A new movement of science emerged, which was based on rationality and evidence, and the examination of reality without any preconceptions or biases. It is also a very well known fact that religion, especially Christianity and Islam, have always hindered scientific progress, sometimes to incredible lengths.

As incredible as it may sound, this Christian revisionist movement tries to completely reverse this. They claim that Christianity actually spawned modern science, and that Christianity has always encouraged scientific progress. Moreover, they claim that "atheism" and "evolutionism" (as they define them) has on the contrary hindered scientific progress. They say that "atheism" and "evolutionism" have never produced any scientific theories nor practical applications, and that it's the theistic Christians who have.

The amazing revisionism actually doesn't stop there. They claim that even today "atheism" and "evolutionism" are hindering science, and that only a Christian world view can help science progress. (As "evidence" of this, they cite some mistakes that science has made during history, and claim that, somehow, they were caused because of the "atheist" world view, and that, somehow, if they had a "Christian" world view, they would have not made those mistakes.)

In other words, they are projecting the known effects that the Christian religion has had on scientific progress during history, and even today, onto "atheism" and "evolutionism", blaming them for their own faults, completely reversing the known facts.

And no, this is not just a fringe idea that some random people on the internet have come up with. There are many publications, "documentaries" and a lot of material written about this among these revisionists. There's an entire web of material that reference one another, rivaling and even surpassing the largest conspiracy theories out there. Completely in par with holocaust denialism, AIDS denialism and the anti-vaccine movement.

Like conspiracy theories, I consider this revisionist movement a religion of its own, even though it stands on top of Christianity. (It endorses Christianity, but in principle it's pretty independent of it.) The people advocating this are extremely religious and dogmatic about it, have built an incredible amount of psychological defense mechanisms to counter any criticism and objections (rivaling those of Christianity itself,) they have an astounding amount of material, and discussing this with them is basically futile. It's as impossible to change their minds as it would be to convince them that the Christian god doesn't exist.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Christians don't actually read the Bible

It's a kind of an old adage among atheists and skeptics that most Christians haven't actually even read the Bible. And this is true.

It's extremely hard to estimate any kind of numbers, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if, worldwide, less than one self-proclaimed Christian in a thousand has ever heard more than about 20 verses of the Bible in his or her life. Heard. Much less read. (I wouldn't be surprised if less than one Christian in a hundred thousand has actually personally read more than about 20 verses from an actual Bible.)

Most curiously, the majority of regular churchgoers read surprisingly little of their own holy book. These have obviously heard significantly more verses (because of them being preached from the pulpit) but surprisingly many have never even opened a Bible themselves.

The obvious problem with this is, of course, that they are fed only certain selected parts of the Bible. They never get to hear or read the most problematic parts.

Not that it matters much, though. Even if they stumble upon some of the more problematic parts, they just tend to ignore them and quickly shove them aside (with at most a thought of "there's probably an explanation to this.")

Just to take one example, and not even from the Old Testament, but the new one, consider this (from 1. Corinthians 14):

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

This notion isn't isolated. There are other passages that affirm it, such as this one  (from 1. Timothy 2):
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

There are, actually, some denominations of Christianity that take these passages seriously and apply them in their congregations. However, quite obviously these denominations are a very, very small minority among Christianity in general (unless we count Catholicism as one that applies these verses.) In the vast majority of them these and other similar verses are happily ignored.

The vast majority of churchgoers don't even know of the existence of these verses and have never even heard of them. Those who have heard of them simply ignore them or make up hasty rationalizations. In denominations which completely ignore these verses and allow women to preach and speak in churches, obviously these particular verses are never preached to the congregation. If someone asks about them, the explanations become quite wild and varied.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dinosaurs being alive disproves evolution?

There's a really common notion among creationists that if dinosaurs were alive today, it would somehow disprove evolution.

I have never quite understood where this notion comes from, or what the rationale is behind it. I have never actually seen any creationist explain why this would be so.

The theory of evolution has nothing to do with when or how some specific clade went (or didn't go) extinct. Dinosaurs going extinct 65 million years ago has exactly zero relevance with respect to the theory of evolution. The theory does not deal with history and extinction events. It deals with the biology of large groups of living beings.

There have been actual cases of clades that were thought to have gone extinct tens of millions of years ago, yet only recently it was discovered that they did not. So what? It doesn't say anything at all about the theory of evolution.

I think this is yet another case of creationists having a completely mistaken notion of what "evolution" actually is, but in this particular case I am having hard time figuring out what exactly it is that they are thinking. I have yet to see any actual explanation from them on this.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Slavery in the Bible

The fact that the Bible talks about the people of Israel owning slaves is so utterly undeniable that basically no Christian dares to even try to deny it. However, the majority of them often go to incredible lengths to try to justify, whitewash and rationalize it.

The typical whitewashing goes something like this:
"Slavery" in the Bible should not be confused with what we commonly understand as slavery, ie. the kind of slavery that was prevalent for example in the southern United States in the past. In the United States slaves were basically like animals, often even less. They were regularly mistreated, abused, tortured and even killed, and of course they were slaves for life. "Slaves" in the Bible, however, were more like servants. They were well cared for, they could own property, and they could even buy their freedom. God's law imposed severe punishment on those who mistreated or killed their slaves. Slaves were also freed as a matter of course each seven years.
This kind of whitewashing sounds good and grandiose to those believers desperate to have slavery in the Bible explained to them, and why it's not a bad thing there. With rationalizations like this they can shut the nagging voice in their head that casts doubts on this particular aspect of the Bible (which should otherwise be perfect.)

However, this rationalization (which is extremely common) ignores several facts, all of them found directly from the Bible itself. (There are also many other facts that we know from history.)

Firstly, this kind of rationalization glosses over the fact that many of said slaves were spoils of war. There are numerous examples in the Bible where, very directly and unambiguously, it is told how the people of Israel invaded an enemy city, killed all of its men, and took its women and children as spoil of war.

Most apologists dare to object to this by claiming that this was actually an act of mercy. So let's get this straight: Enemy combatants invade your city, kill your husband, father, brothers and other male family members, possibly before your very eyes, and then take you and your sisters and children against your will as slaves to a foreign country. And this is supposed to be an act of mercy? In which universe?

Most importantly though, regardless of how "well treated" these slaves might have been (which in itself is a suspect claim,) it's undeniable even from the Bible itself that they were considered property (which is directly stated as such,) and that they were not free to do whatever they wanted and leave as they wanted.

Owning other people as property is an abomination, and nowhere does the Bible forbid this practice. If the Bible were truly perfect and the word of a benevolent God, most certainly there would be clear prohibitions against this, along the lines of "you shall not own other people as your property, for that is an abomination in the eyes of your Lord."

Moreover, not only does the bible not forbid owning people as property, it actually does not forbid mistreating them either, unlike the typical rationalization claims. There is an infamous commandment in the old testament that if you hit your slave and he dies immediately, you must be punished, but if he dies a few days after, then no punishment. Curiously, and quite inexplicably, apologists take this very passage to demonstrate how God forbids mistreating of slaves, and how killing them is deserving of punishment. (They argue that the exception in that law exists because if the slave dies a few days later, it's not possible to tell if he died because of being hit or because of something else.)

These apologists are missing the main problem with this, and that's that the passage doesn't actually forbid hitting your slaves. It only forbids hitting them so hard that they will immediately die. In other words, according to the Bible, it's allowed to hit your slaves.

(By the way, it's quite incredible and outright amusing how much some apologists and Christians read between the lines and add their own embellishments to this particular passage in order to whitewash it. One of the worst ones I have seen claimed that it's actually talking about a soft rod used to discipline unruly children, and slaves, and that you were only allowed to hit once... because you know, the passage talks about hitting once, therefore we can deduce that hitting the slave twice is forbidden. It doesn't matter that nowhere does it say anything like this. But we can read it between the lines, of course.)

From history we know that there were several types of slaves in Israel; and in fact there are references to this in the Bible itself as well. The two major types of slaves were, as already said, foreigners taken as spoils of war, as well as indebted Israelites who paid their debts in the form of involuntary servitude. If we examine the passages talking about slaves buying their freedom, and being freed each seven years, it becomes quite clear that these passages are, in fact, talking about the indebted people who are paying their debts with servitude, not the ones taken as spoil of war.

The New Testament does nothing to correct any of this. The status of slavery is taken as a matter of fact, as a fact of life. Instructions are given in several passages to slaves (for example to be subservient to their masters.) Nowhere is it declared as an abhorrent practice nor prohibited.

As far as the Bible is concerned, slavery could well be practiced today without it being against any commandment or teaching in the Bible. Yet, curiously, no Christian endorses this. (And quite ironically, no Christian ever thinks where this new moral code came from. It most certainly did not come from the Bible.)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Argument from fossil forgeries

Many creationists keep repeating the half dozen most famous fossil forgeries (and at least one misinterpretation of events) over and over like parrots, as if that had anything to do with whether the theory of evolution is true or not, completely ignoring the facts.

People create forgeries of all kinds of things, usually for money or fame. Forgeries of historical and archaeological artifacts are being made all the time. Sometimes forgeries of fossils are made. This is something that just happens, and there's nothing that can be done to avoid it, other than study carefully all alleged findings that are of potential importance to determine their authenticity.

And that's the main point: How exactly do we know that those fossil forgeries are indeed forgeries? Because the people who have the necessary expertise, the scientists, are examining those fossils and determining whether they are genuine or not. In other words, the same people who creationists claim are trying to fool us into believing a false theory.

So why, exactly, would the "evolutionists" (as creationists call them) expose their own forgeries, if their intent is to deceive us into believing that they are genuine and to promote the theory of evolution?

Moreover, the claim is that "evolutionists" are trying to fool us with all kinds of fossil forgeries, and the half dozen famous examples are cited. Never are any names or actual examples presented of this happening in the present. If you ask them "who exactly is trying to pass these forgeries as genuine?" they never answer the question.

What's really happening is that individual persons are creating forgeries for profit or fame, and the scientific community are exposing them, as they should. This is exactly what one should expect to happen. It's unfortunate that some individuals are trying to make money from this, but it's inevitable. The important thing is that these forgeries are studied and exposed as such.

One thing that these creationists never acknowledge is that hundreds and hundreds of forgeries of biblical artifacts have been created during the history of humanity. By their own logic that should mean that the biblical stories are likewise false. But no, this is somehow different, even though they cannot explain why.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Why should I be more "open-minded"?

An extremely common adage said by people who believe in the supernatural to skeptics is that they should be "more open-minded."

I have a question to them: Why, exactly?

And I'm asking this in all seriousness. I'm not debating what exactly they mean by "open-mindedness" (even though that's an interesting question in itself.) I'm going fully with theirdefinition of the concept. So, why exactly should I be more "open-minded"? What exactly would I benefit from being more "open-minded"?

They talk about "open-mindedness" like it were a positive, desirable thing, a good quality for a person, something that brings them something better. What, exactly?

In fact, these people usually don't actually have a clear and unambiguous definition of what "open-mindedness" means, but often it has something to do with accepting things as at least possible rather than rejecting them outright.

So my question is: Ok, if I start just accepting things as at least possible, how exactly do I benefit from that? What possible advantage or gain would I receive from doing that? How would my life become better?

Even the most hard-core believer ought to admit that at least some of those things will most probably be false explanations. So what exactly do I gain from "being open-minded" and considering them as plausible? The only thing I would end up doing is believing in falsities, sometimes even for my own detriment, and for what? What possible gain is there to be had from all this?

I find it interesting that the suggestion is always phrased as "you should be more open-minded" (or some variation of it.) Why should I?

Friday, March 22, 2013

The different degrees of taking credit

As I have written in a previous blog post, many religions, especially Christianity and Islam, really love to take credit for things that they did not invent (such as morals or scientific discoveries.)

These claims can actually be roughly divided into degrees by severity. The mildest possible degree is when someone does agree that there are seeming contradictions between what the religion's holy book says and what we can observe in nature, but it's not a question of the book being erroneous, it's simply a question of interpretation (eg. it's just metaphorical text, or we are misunderstanding what the text actually means.) A higher degree is when someone outright claims that there is no contradiction whatsoever between science and the religion's holy book. (Usually a rather wild amount of handwaving goes to try to explain the contradictions away. Or alternatively to redefine what's meant by "science.")

However, the highest degree of taking credit, the most obnoxious one, is when someone claims that not only are there no contradictions, but in fact their holy book actually spawned scientific research and knowledge, and that said book contains advanced scientific facts that were only corroborated centuries later.

For some reason many muslims are fond of making this curious claim. They actually outright say that modern science originated from Islam's holy book. Some go even so far as to completely ignore history and claim that before said book humanity lived mostly in chaos and self-indulgence, and had little to no curiosity about how the universe works, and that it wasn't until the koran was written that actual scientific progress started.

I just finished watching a "documentary" that made incredibly obnoxious claims like that. It claims that before the koran there was little to no scientific curiosity, and that the koran spawned most branches of science. It says things like:

When we look at the verses, we find indications of all the main branches of science in the Koran. For example, in the Koran God encourages the science of astronomy like this: "He Who created the seven heavens in layers. You will not find any flaw in the creation of the All-Merciful. Look again - do you see any gaps?"
This "documentary" is full of laughable claims like this. (Come on, "the seven heavens in layers"? What's that supposed to mean?)

In general, in these types of claims there's willful ignorance of history. Scientific curiosity and discoveries have existed for over a thousand years before the koran. Moreover, science has always thrived the most when it has been independent of any religion.

Most importantly, though, Islam didn't spawn science, but on the contrary, it killed it. Two millenia ago Greece was basically the world capital of science, but the Roman politics and wars, and especially the Roman church, killed it. After that science moved mostly to Arabic countries. In those countries science thrived in spite of religion, not because of it. For a time scientific progress and Islam co-existed, but at some point islamic imams decided that mathematics and science are evil and banished the practice, which basically killed scientific research from Arabic countries.

For centuries the world lived in the dark ages, scientifically speaking. In Europe the Roman church, later the Catholic church, stifled science almost completely. In Arabic countries Islam did the same. It was not until the so-called Age of Enlightenment, when a new counter-culture raised with the ideology that science should be separate and independent of religion, that science thrived once again.

No religion has ever promoted or encouraged science, but the exact opposite. Science has always advanced when religion has not been killing it, when scientists have had the opportunity to make research and discoveries without religion meddling in their work. I can only imagine how advanced we would today be if neither Christianity nor Islam, or any other like religion, had ever existed.

No scientific discovery of any importance has ever been produced by either Christianity or Islam. The major difference between those two religions is, however, that Christianity has (mostly) stopped meddling with science, education and progress, thus allowing for giant leaps in scientific progress, while Islam still wants to live in the 7th century.

(Just as a testament of this, count how many Nobel prizes have been awarded to arabic people, and how many have been awarded to non-arabs. And we are not talking about the useless peace prize here. This is not a question of racism or anything like that. This is because high education and scientific research is not promoted nor encouraged in the vast majority of arab countries, purely for religious reasons; thus is it any wonder that no important scientific discoveries are ever made there?)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

One problem with the argument from design

Apologists and creationists love the argument from design: Since the universe has been "clearly" designed, there must have been an intelligent designer that made it.

I'm not going to scrutinize the major fallacies in that argument, but instead I'm going to concentrate on one detail that I just noticed: They always talk about a designer. In singular. Always, and without fail. But why?

Let's take a typical form of the argument from design: If you find a device, like a new kind of computer, and you examine it and study how it works, you come up with the conclusion that it was designed. By the apologists' logic there must have been a designer. In singular. One intelligence that designed and built it.

But we know that's not true. Modern computers are the product of several hundreds of years of work made by thousands and thousands of people, each contributing a tiny part to the whole pool of knowledge required to build a modern computer. There is no one single person who designed and built a modern computer from scratch, with no previous knowledge nor expertise. As the adage goes, "we stand on the shoulders of giants," meaning that all the knowledge we have today is based on the work of thousands and thousand of people from the past, each contributing to this pool of knowledge with their research and experiments.

In other words, a modern computer can be classified as the design of thousands and thousands of people.

So why, exactly, is the alleged design of our universe always attributed by apologists to one intelligent being?

In fact, any argument that they could give for this could also be applied to reasoning why a modern computer has been completely designed and built by one single person (with no previous knowledge of anything that's required.) For example, if they appeal to Occam's Razor, ie. that it's simpler to assume that one mind designed the universe, the exact same argument could be applied to the design of a computer: In other words, that it's "simpler" to assume that one single person designed and built the modern computer. (And, in fact, when we do this, we immediately spot one flaw with this argument: The alleged "simplicity" of assuming one individual designer is a flawed concept. It's a misapplication of the Occam's Razor principle. One single designer is actually less believable than multiple designers. The proper application of Occam's Razor would be to assume thousands of designers. One single designer would require a lot more evidence.)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Creationists don't even know what a dinosaur is

Creationists are often way too eager to showcase their ignorance on the vast majority of scientific subjects, most prominently the theory of evolution (the vast majority of creationists both don't know even 10% of what the theory actually says, and also attribute to it a large amount of things that it doesn't deal with at all) but also other branches of science such as astronomy, geology and paleontology.

One extremely common (and often overlooked) funny detail that most creationists always get wrong is that they don't even know what a dinosaur is. To a creationist "dinosaur" means, approximately, "any largish reptile that's (allegedly) extinct" (small extinct reptiles are also included if they look like their larger counterparts.)

Most typically this mistake can be seen by them referring to plesiosaurs and pterosaurs as "dinosaurs," even though they aren't classified as that. (Curiously, and rather ironically because of this inclusiveness, they strongly oppose classifying birds as dinosaurs, even though in this case that would be correct according to cladistics. So their ignorance goes both ways: Including wrong clades, and excluding clades that are, in fact, classified as dinosaurs.)

At a superficial level this is just a smallish mistake, and can be categorized as mainly amusing. However, at a more profound level this demonstrates how little research creationists actually do on the very subjects that they are criticizing. This is extremely typical of creationists: Come up with objections and critique, but don't do even the slightest amount of research to get their facts straight.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Argument from human creative capacity

There's an argument sometimes presented by some creationists that appeals to the current capacity of human science and technology of replicating what appears in nature. The most common form currently is some variant of "humans cannot create a living cell even if they had all of its components." Another variant of this argument is the amount of information stored in something, and comparing it to (of course) computers. The argument takes typically the form of "a single DNA molecule contains more information than can be stored in (a completely arbitrary and made-up amount of computers)."

This specific argument seems a very shaky and stupid one given how fast technology advances. Two hundred years ago you could make a similar argument like "man is incapable of producing a machine that can fly, yet birds fly, which clearly shows that birds were created by something much more intelligent than man." (And, as far as I know, some people did present an argument similar to this back in the day.) Yet nowadays not many creationists would use this argument (at least not in this exact form) because, obviously, we can make things fly (even very small things that are bird-sized.)

The argument requires constantly moving the goalposts as technology advances. If one day science is capable of creating a living cell out of its constituent components, the argument will move to either "but man can't create a multicellular organism" or "but man can't produce those constituent components" (or probably both.) And if technology advances enough that those become possible, the goalposts will be moved again (to something like "but man can't create a living being that's intelligent" and so on and so forth.)

Physical laws acting on energy and matter for billions of years producing, via emergent behavior, constructs that are more complicated than what humans can produce thanks to a whopping 200 years or so of technological advance is nothing extraordinary. It's in fact expected. We are still learning how the universe works, and it's not something that can be discovered overnight. At a very fast pace especially in the last century, but still learning. The argument is just silly.

(And by the way, the argument that "thing X in nature contains more information than can be stored in Y computers" is completely irrelevant. Just a simple rock contains more "information" than can be accurately stored in a humongous amount of computers. If you tried to store the precise composition and location of every single molecule and atom in the rock, it would take an enormous amount of storage space. However, that's nothing extraordinary. There's nothing in that particular arrangement of atoms that's somehow special and would tell us that it has been somehow "designed" and couldn't have formed on its own, due to simple physical laws.)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

God seems quite impotent

Not in that manner, you perv. "Impotent" as in "powerless to do anything."

It seems to be that the more powerful that the god of a specific religion is claimed to be, the more work the followers of that religion seem to have to do in order to impose that god's will and commands, as if their god couldn't do that himself but needed a little "help" from his followers. The most prominent examples of this are, of course, Christianity and Islam. They are probably the two major religions that most loudly and prominently proclaim their god's omnipotence and infinity, and yet go through the most amount of trouble to see their god's commands imposed on others, using very human and earthly methods.

In Christianity, and especially in certain countries (most prominently in the United States, although it's most certainly not the only one,) Christians are trying to pass very earthly and man-imposed laws to promote and protect their religion, to punish people who oppose or deride it, and to stop dissenting opinions from being taught. Many Islamic countries are basically totalitarian theocracies where extremely strict and inhumane laws are imposed, and overblown punishment is applied to non-existent "crimes" (such as the death penalty for denouncing and leaving the state's religion.) If someone insults their prophet or their god, violent protest and riots will ensue, with lots of property damage and even loss of life.

It's as if the god of these people were completely powerless to defend himself, and needed some help from his followers. After all, if someone eg. insults their holy prophet, their god does absolutely nothing about it, and thus it's the followers of that religion who need to punish the perpetrator on their god's behalf, and put a stop to the blasphemy. Because, you know, god seems incapable of doing that himself.

It feels almost like... I don't know... like that god actually doesn't exist. But perhaps that's just me.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Subjective or objective morals?

One argument with which many apologists really love to play with words is the question of whether there exist objective moral values, or whether all moral values are subjective.

One of the most typical fallacies they do here is to posit a completely false dichotomy: They say that either morals are subjective, and therefore any person can decide what is morally good or bad, or morals are objective, in which case it's the same for everybody.

This is a completely false dichotomy because there are, in fact, different degrees of subjectivity. A community of people can agree on certain ground rules of what's good and bad, and these moral codes will be much more objective than those of any one single person. A larger society, such as a country, can agree with a common code of conduct, and this will be much more objective than those of smaller communities. A group of countries can agree on a universal moral code (such as universal human rights,) and these will be much more objective than those of any one single person, or even one single country.

However, the apologists want to build a straw man: If you think that morals are subjective, then it means that you think that every single person can decide on what's good and bad.

That's not how it works. Morals being subjective, but still not up to each individual person, are not mutually exclusive propositions. As said, a society can impose a global moral code which, technically speaking, is subjective (because it's an agreement,) but much less so than the arbitrary thoughts of a single person.

The more people are involved in agreeing on a common moral code, the higher the standard of that code will be, because it will naturally affect positively a larger amount of people. And that's what morality is about: Creating a code of conduct that affects positively the largest amount of people possible.

This code of conduct will be by necessity, and technically speaking, subjective, but significantly less so. As said, there are degrees of subjectivity.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is absolute nothingness possible?

A bit related to my previous blog post, one concept that many apologists and creationists take completely for granted is that absolute nothing, the absolute non-existence of anything at all, is possible. They casually throw expressions like "the universe came from nothing" and so on.

However, we can ask a quite relevant question: Is absolute nothingness actually possible? Is it possible for such a state to exist under some circumstances? Can we actually say that "the universe came from nothing"?

Perhaps a bit surprisingly, we cannot factually state that absolute nothingness, the complete non-existence of anything, is possible in our reality. That's because we have no examples of this. We can only observe this universe, and everything we can observe has something (space, time, possibly all kinds of quantum phenomena such as quantum foam or virtual particles...) We cannot point anywhere in the universe and say "there's absolutely nothing here," because there is no such place. If there exists some kind of "outside" of this universe, something where our universe resides in, we do not know what kind of properties it might have.

This is not just nitpicking, playing with terms, or highly abstract philosophical discussion. This is an actual question of physics: Is absolute nothingness even possible? Or is our reality such that something always exists in some manner by necessity? This is, in fact, an unanswered (and maybe even unanswerable) question. We cannot take it for granted.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Terms taken for granted

In theology, there are certain terms whose meanings are kind of taken for granted by the vast majority of people, without them ever being actually defined in the conversation. Yes, often even by skeptics/atheists.

It is, in fact, a good exercise to force the theist to define their terms before proceeding in the conversation. For example, whenever they use the term "soul" or "spiritual," try immediately stopping them and asking for a definition. "What do you mean by 'soul'?" "What do you mean by 'spiritual'?"

In surprisingly many cases they will actually be unable to come up with a concrete and coherent definition. In an online conversation I asked what they meant by "soul," and the only answer I got, even after asking several times, was "you know what I mean." No, I don't know what you mean, please explain it to me, I responded. I was not just playing dumb. I was honestly trying to get a coherent definition of "soul" so that we could proceed the conversation with a clear definition. The other person was unable to give any kind of definition.

Most theists take terms like "soul" for granted, as if it was completely clear and everyday knowledge what that term means, when in fact it's not clear at all, not even to them. "Spiritual" is another related term that's likewise taken for granted.

Of course even in the case where they can give some kind of coherent definition, you can then proceed to ask them how exactly do they know that such a thing even exists. (Although, according to my experience, from that point forward the conversation will typically start going in circles, jumping from one thing to the next, and coming back to the same thing again and again... This usually leads nowhere, and trying to break the circle can be really difficult. But such definitions can be a good starting point for an actual discussion nevertheless.)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Another problem with God's "perfection"

In philosophy it has been pointed out innumerable times the many problems that the notion of (the hypothetical) God being omnipotent, omniscient and whatever-fancy-adjective-you-like-the-sound-of brings to the whole premise. But here's another one:

Is God perfect? The typical answer is yes, of course.

Does that mean that everything that God does is perfect? Again, very few theists would disagree.

Since God (allegedly) created us, and creating is doing something, and everything that God does is perfect, doesn't that mean that we, God's creation, are likewise perfect?

Now the contradiction starts to slowly dawn. If God is perfect, and everything he does is perfect, and we are his creation, shouldn't we be likewise perfect? Because if we are not perfect, that means that there's something that God has (allegedly) done that's not perfect.

If we are perfect, then how come we are able to sin? How come we are flawed? How can a perfect creation be imperfect in this manner?

If we are not perfect, then that means that God deliberately created something imperfect, and therefore not everything that God does is perfect. Therefore God is not perfect in all possible aspects.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Science just denies miracle healings?

I recently had a small online conversation with someone about alleged miracle healings. Long story short, the one thing that came up was the very typical claim that doctors and scientists just deny the existence of miracle healings and just don't want to believe in them.

If you think about that, it just doesn't make any sense. Sure, there are probably many medical doctors and scientists who would indeed stubborningly deny the existence of any supernatural healing phenomena, but there certainly are likewise many that would be interested in studying those phenomena further, if they really existed and would really work.

When many of these cynical people think about medical practice, the only things they can think of are big pharmaceutical companies and doctors sitting in clean offices behind their desks listening to old ladies and writing prescriptions (both of which they think are mostly in the profession for the money and prestige.)

This is, in fact, extremely insulting cynicism, and I honestly feel offended on behalf of all the people who practice medicine because it's their vocation, and they really want to help people and save lives. People who have eg. studied and practiced surgery for decades, and who often go to incredible lengths to save the life of a dying patient by operating on them for endless hours, even overnight and with no rest. People who try to always find the best way to treat their patients because they honestly want them to be cured. People who research diseases and their causes, and search for cures, often well beyond what's required for them in order to earn their paychecks.

These people would most certainly be interested if there was a phenomenon that is proved to heal people by unknown means. They would certainly be interested in studying it further.

The Christians who claim that miracle healings are everyday occurrences and that doctors and scientists are just in a huge conspiracy to deny them, are nothing but assholes, pardon my french. They belittle and denigrate the thousands and thousands of people who dedicate their lives to help others, to save lives and to cure the sick. To tell the truth, and no pun intended, but these Christians make me feel sick.

Friday, March 1, 2013

William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is one of the leading and most prominent apologists of the western world. Many Christians regard him as a highly-educated scholar who has a strong grasp of philosophy and logic, and who has strong, irrefutable arguments that do not rely on emotion and unfounded claims.

Or that's how he sounds to the untrained hear, to someone who doesn't really understand what he's saying. Craig really is a master of making himself sound scholarly, academic and highly educated, someone who really knows what he's talking about, and who can mop the floor with any atheist and skeptic in a debate. He uses fancy terminology, and he is really good at speaking in a clear and academic manner. Yet to a more trained skeptic he's nothing but a showman and a hypocrite.

He constantly accuses his opponents of committing all kinds of deductive and logical fallacies, yet commits those very fallacies himself with almost every single argument he makes. For example, he's a great proponent of the so-called cosmological argument for the existence of God, yet seemingly can't understand the most basic problems with it (and this is just one of the many, many fallacies he constantly commits.) Moreover, when those problems are pointed out to him, he either chooses those objections that are the easiest to counter (not all objections are all that good, after all), distorts what the objection is actually saying, or just starts playing with words rather than understanding and answering the actual objection.

What's worse, he often proclaims how great and educated of a philosopher he is (and often belittles his opponents for not having an "education in philosophy" and thus not being at the same level as him) yet he miserably fails to understand some of the most basic properties of existence and function of reality (or, alternatively, deliberately interprets them in a manner more favorable to his apologetics.) For example, he has absolutely no understanding of things like emergent behavior, or the simple fact that a phenomenon may simply be a function of simple material elements interacting, instead claiming such phenomena to be "immaterial" and to exist "independent of physical matter." (One of the most common examples of this is that he considers the "mind" as being immaterial and existing completely independently of physical matter, without understanding that the human mind can be, and most probably is, just the interaction between brain cells and electricity. A very complex interaction yes, but still fully material and naturalistic. He cannot comprehend that the phenomenon we call "mind", for the lack of a better term, simply cannot exist without physical matter because it's a function of the interaction between physical elements. It's like saying that sound is "immaterial" and can exist without any space and matter, simply because sound is a phenomenon that's not, strictly speaking, matter itself. It's a phenomenon of matter interacting with itself. I'm sure even Craig wouldn't claim that sound can exist without matter.)

The most difficult thing about Craig is making his followers understand that he's just a charlatan, a showman. As said, he might sound really educated and scholarly to the untrained ear, but when one actually understands what he's saying, and all the theory behind those arguments, one quickly realizes that he is just full of it.