Thursday, May 30, 2013

Atheism is not a world view, and neither is theism

Many religious people (especially creationists) will claim that atheism is a world view.

I would postulate that this is incorrect. Atheism is not a world view. Moreover, I would even postulate that theism is not a world view either.

By definition, a "world view" is a large set of opinions, beliefs, stances and notions on different aspects of the world and life, a big philosophical framework consisting of lots and lots of questions and answers to them.

Theism and atheism, on the other hand, deal with one question, and one question only: Do you believe in the existence of a god? If you do, then you are a theist, and if you don't then you are an atheist.

What other possible views you might hold in addition to, or as a consequence of, theism or atheism, is completely irrelevant. Those views might be a consequence of that one question, but they are not what defines you as a theist or an atheist.

It might seem strange to say that theism is not a world view, but I think it can be perfectly justified.

Having a bit of fun with Christians

There are quite many passages in the Bible, especially in the books of Moses, that most Christians are not aware of, or mostly avoid. It's always a fun exercise to bring them up in a debate with them, just to see how they will rationalize and whitewash them.

For instance, this is a perfect one to bring up in the book of Deuteronomy:
18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
You don't even need to start arguing with them. Just bring it up and watch how they try to rationalize it. There's wide variety of "explanations" that will come up.

There are a couple of answers that would elicit a bit of retorting. If this is the type of Christian that argues that we cannot apply this law nowadays because the elders being referred to is talking about those of Israel, and that system is not in place anylonger, just retort that that's not the point. The point is whether he or she thinks that the death penalty here is justified. Either they have to agree with the death penalty in a case like this, or they have to oppose it; many such Christians will have to admit to agreeing with the death penalty (followed by a bunch of whitewashing a femtosecond later), and that's the point.

Another explanation is that this particular law is not in effect anymore because of Jesus or something. This is just dodging the actual issue. Regardless of whether it is in effect after Jesus, it was certainly in effect before, and therefore the death penalty for such a "crime" was good and right and in accordance to God's will. Ask if they agree with this.

Some will not know what to say, and will often say something to the effect that they don't really understand it, but surely there's some higher reason for this that only God knows. You don't even have to answer anything to this.

Some conversations with theists

I recently had an online conversation with a theist. The conversation was about the veracity of the Bible. My argument was that the Bible is the only source for most of the events described there, and there's no reason to believe why the writers couldn't have made things up. Fictional depictions of events (which in themselves may have never even happened) is completely normal, and there's little reason to believe that the Bible is anything else than fiction.

What was this person's counter-argument? He believed that the events were real because of all the eyewitnesses and their reactions to those events.

That's right. Eyewitnesses, whose very existence is claimed solely by the very book that this person is trying to prove as factual. (And this is not even going into the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.)

This is quite an amazing form of begging the question: This person tries to demonstrate that the stories are factual by assuming that the stories are factual. It's also circular argumentation.

Some months ago I had another online conversation with another theist, this time about, among other things, the cosmological argument. This person kept talking about "the creation of the Universe", and I pointed out that by using that term he's begging the question: By saying "creation" he is already assuming that the Universe was "created" and therefore there was something, or someone, that "created" it.

He responded with what effectively amounted to "what? You don't believe that the Universe was created?" And then said that if that's the case then its useless to discuss this any longer. I responded with "why should I believe that the Universe was created?" This person did not continue the discussion.

I was quite perplexed by this, as I thought that it was this very question (ie. whether the universe was created or not) that we were discussing the the first place. By his tone it seemed like he considered me delusional or something because I didn't believe that the Universe was created, even though we had written quite many messages on this very subject. I didn't quite understand why this sudden change. Maybe he just wanted out with an excuse?

Then I began to suspect that this was, perhaps, a case of false equivocation. Perhaps when he was saying that "the Universe was created", what he really meant was that "the Universe began to exist". As if "creation" and "beginning of existence" were the same same thing. All the while I was using "creation" to mean "something or something deliberately created the Universe", as a willful act. (I thought I had clearly explained to him why it bothered me that he kept talking about the "creation" of the Universe, for this very reason.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"No atheists in foxholes" is actually pretty insightful

The "no atheists in foxholes" is an adage that's meant to say that when people are in dangerous situations they turn to a higher power for help.

I recently realized that the expression is actually quite insightful, but not in the manner that believers think. It's pretty insightful in that it's saying that "God" is simply the product of fear, hopelessness, anguish and torment. It's the thing that human minds come up with when they are in dire circumstances and extreme stress. A hope spot which they wish might be true, that would save them. Nothing more.

This really digs into the psychology of theism.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Professional psychics

While professional psychics (in other words, those who actually make a living from it) are despicable because they basically earn money by deception, which is a form of fraud (and this is especially despicable when they take advantage of people who are grieving or otherwise emotionally vulnerable), I also find the interesting in a psychological sense.

These people, much like magicians, are masters at deception. Many of them are experts at making people think that they know more than they rationally should, or are doing more than should be normally possible, even though they really aren't. Even very intelligent and smart people may not be immune from being deceived.

For example, I find this quote from Wikipedia about the movie Red Lights very interesting:
Robert De Niro researched and met with psychics for his role and developed the cautious belief that there is something to the phenomenon based on allegedly psychically obtained information they were able to tell him that he insists only he knew: "There's no way they could have known certain things and they said them, so in that sense, I have no answer than to say that I have to believe that there's something there that they pick up psychically. I don't know what it is".
While I of course don't know Mr. De Niro, I'm convinced that he is a very intelligent, smart and rational no-nonsense person who would never fall for simple scams that would fool most people. (And it's not like he's outright falling for it in this case. As his statement says, it's not like he is outright accepting that there's something supernatural happening, only that something yet unexplained seems to be behind this.) I'm sure that he is the kind of thinking and sharp person that would require very special tactics to deceive him into actually believing that there must be something genuine behind all this, rather than it being just pure deception.

But these professional psychics are masters at this. They are magicians: They know all the tricks in the trade in order to fool and convince the people who don't know these tricks. They are masters at making you think that they know something that they physically shouldn't be able to know.

Actual magicians know these tricks, and they are never fooled, because they know how the deception works. This is the reason why the best debunkers are magicians (rather than eg. scientists.)