Thursday, July 26, 2007

The progress to monotheism that is absent.

Having graduated from a Christian high school, and having spent a few years in seminary, I’ve known a lot of Christians in my time. The reality is that very, very few of them have ever consciously considered the idea of whether or not a deity exists.

They accumulated a belief in a deity the way we accumulate many beliefs. Many such beliefs are true. For instance, most of us accept the theory of gravity and the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. Yet, very few of us could present a rational argument as to why these things are true.

How did we absorb such ideas? They were transmitted to us by various aspects of our culture. We may have heard references on the television set. Our parents may well have told us such things and assured us that it was true. The idea was presented to us, in films, books, and in the schools. Certainly in the last couple of centuries no other competing theory has really been given much play.

Luckily for us these beliefs that we accepted unconsciously are correct. They jive with the evidence.

A small number of theists, a very small number in my experience, claim to have rationally concluded that a deity exists. Of these most of them only draw the conclusion first and then “discover” the evidence after the fact. In other words, the evidence didn’t convince them. They were convinced first and then sought out arguments to justify their prior commitment to a specific conclusion.

Now, I’ve never heard an original argument for the existence of a god that actually seemed to have some merit. So, I never gave the matter much thought beyond that point. That is, I never thought about what would happen after they had “proven” their thesis.

But the other night, as I was falling asleep, I was contemplating a problem that a theist would have if he actually managed to prove the case he was setting out to prove. If there is evidence that a deity exists what is there in this evidence that leads him to instantly conclude the existence of just one such deity.

If one honestly believes they have proven, to their own satisfaction at least, that there is a supernatural being we call a god, then why must this god be a solitary creature? If his existence could happen once why not twice?

For example, I don’t believe that aliens from outer space have been visiting the earth. I find that thesis highly unlikely. Almost, though not quite, as unlikely as the existence of a deity. As an imprecise illustration I would suggest the likelihood of space aliens on earth as being several hundred million to one.

However, if I were to look out my window and see a space ship hovering a dozen floors above the ground I might revise my estimates. Then if one of those funny green men materialized on my balcony I would now assume that the chances of there being a second one to be somewhere around one to one.

The possibility of there being a second one is far greater than the possibility of there being the first one. The existence of one almost makes the existence of another certain. It could be the last of a dying species but the odds are now that a second one is floating around somewhere.

If a theist proves that a god exists then the possibility of there being a second or third god goes up dramatically. Yet, those who claim they were logically convinced of the existence of the first deity almost never entertain that idea. Their own “proofs” ought to be sufficient to prove that there are indeed two, three, four or more deities.

Certainly there is no need for a hierarchy of deities with bigger and smaller gods vying for space. The idea of coequal deities is no more absurd than the idea of any deity at all. They could be of one mind, in perfect harmony. Separate but equal. Much the way Christians claim concerning father, son and holy spook.

As I said, I suspect most, if not all, believers starts out with the conclusion and search for the evidence afterwards. They find what they need to justify the conclusion they have already drawn.

Consider the process of argumentation through which they would go. First, they would have to convince them self that a deity exists. But the immediate result of those proofs would be that the possibility of a second deity existing increases to almost certainty. Ditto for a third, fourth, etc.

They can then conclude that there could only be one such deity. But logically one wouldn’t draw a conclusion as to the number of a species prior to proving the species exists. Before you can start debating the nature of the entity, including how many there are, you have to prove the entity exists. But once you prove one exists the likelihood of there being more is almost certain. At this point you would need good evidence to then restrict the number of the beings to only the one.

I would think that the believer who claims to have been rationally convinced would first draw the conclusion that a deity exists. From that the most reasonable second, and virtually instantaneous, conclusion is that many such deities exist. Then one might contemplate this newly discovered entity and reduce it down to just one.

But I’ve never heard of a single monotheist who says he first concluded a deity exists, immediately saw that this meant that multiple gods were floating around and only then concluded there was just the one. The logical progression would be atheist, polytheist, and only then, monotheist.

I don’t know of a single believer who ever went through the polytheistic stage. They all seem to have jumped right to the end. It is not logic that would warrant that immediate assumption. Once one is convince a deity exists that doesn’t immediately tell you the numbers of that deity. To go straight to monotheism is evidence that the belief was not derived rationally. It indicates that the individual started out with a conclusion and only later invented a justification for that which he already believed. The progression of their own beliefs indicates the beliefs were not actually derived through reason.

PS: I hate the title of this essay. But it is 4 am and I can't think of a better one for now. If you have a suggestion I'll appreciate it if you leave it in the comments.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Religion versus god and the danger of faith.

One of the few prominent religious figures in the United States who, I think, attempted to be a decent human being was Tammy Faye Bakker Messner. Sadly, and I mean that, she passed away after a horrible bout with cancer. After seeing her being interviewed only a couple of days ago I can say that death, in this case, was a blessing.

In researching her life for some other projects I came across comments by her son, Jay Bakker. Jay runs a church in New York that attempts to reach out to people rejected by most churches. Both he and his mother spoke frequently of the appalling treatment they received at the hands of their fellow believers. Tammy Faye said it was the gay community that reached out to her when she felt all alone in the world. And she reached back.

Jay Bakker recently preached to a church about how Christians treated him because he turned his church into a “gay affirming” church. He said that even while his mother was dying they ignored her illness and ostracized him. One Christian magazine, Charisma, was upset that Bakker said he doesn’t think it sinful to be gay so they wrote: “Consider this an official apostasy alert.”

The term "apostasy" means abandonment of one’s religious faith. I guess Charisma believes that denouncing gays is one of the main articles of the Christian faith. It’s right up there with other such nonsense as the trinity, the virgin (right!) birth, and the resurrection. I think the Apostle’s Creed has the hating gays part stuck in somewhere between Jesus dying for our sins and resurrecting from the dead.

Bakker says that even while it widely known his mother was dying these Christians didn’t want to offer compassion to him only condemnation. And he said something along the lines that he can sometimes understand why people become atheists. He attributed that atheism to the vicious treatment that people often receive at the hands of Christians.

Bakker seems to be implying, and rightly so, that such a form of atheism is irrational. At the same time he committed the same fallacy in calling on the church to thus reach out in love to the people it had previously rejected. He wants people to believe in a god due to the “nice Christian” but not to be atheists due to the “nasty Christian.”

The existence of a deity does not depend on the nature of those who profess a belief in it. Either a deity exists or it doesn’t. Being nice to people doesn’t prove the existence of a god anymore than being nasty proves the non-existence of one.

The unpleasant nature of so many religious people merely indicates that religion is no guarantee that it makes people nicer or more humane. It may indicate that religion is not particularly adept at turning people into saints but it doesn’t prove anything either way.

An atheist,who is an atheist because some Christian was unpleasant, is as irrational as anyone who believes in a deity because a believer was kind.

The reason for being an atheist is a relatively simple one: the evidence for a deity doesn’t stack up.

Separate from that is the debate concerning the nature of religion. Whether or not a deity is hiding somewhere in the universe does not change the evaluation that religion, on a whole, is a negative for human existence.

The way the Bakkers were treated by their fellow believers does indicate a problem with religion. The way the religious can commit terrorists acts in the name of Allah or throw out their gay children in the name of Jesus shows a problem with religion. God is simply false, not evil. Religion is both false and evil.

God cannot be evil since god does not exist. Religion does exist and it does bad things. Religion is an organized system created by people. So it has the same potentials that people have.

So whey then do I think religion is inherently negative?

The reason is that religion attempts to give people a code of morality that is inherently irrational. Faith is not a tool of understand this world or how one should act within it.

Worse yet, it gives people a divine mandate to indulge every bigotry and hatred they possess. People can justify the most inhumane acts in the name of the god they worship. If a god tells one to not steal the same god can later reveal that they must steal.

Certainly Jehovah, in one section of the Bible, says “thou shalt not steal” while in other sections he demands they steal the homes and livestock of other tribes. The god who tells them “thou shalt not kill” also turns and orders the execution of numerous sinners and the extermination of other tribes. God reveals one morality one day and a different morality another day. And the way this deity reveals himself is through the “small voice” people claim they hear. The burning bush trick hasn’t been used for centuries.

Christians usually don’t mean they literally hear Jehovah. They say, “God spoke to my heart”, or “God led me”. They really mean that their own sentiments led them in a specific direction and they attribute to a deity their own actions and decisions.

So, if they hate one group of people they can tell you how God has told them to hate. And when they hate, they are really being loving because they obey the deity. It was more loving to exterminate “heretics” than to allow them to live. It is more loving to deprive homosexuals of their rights than to allow them to live unmolested in freedom.

Every atheist must rely on human reason and he must know that human reason is not infallible. He can never be fully sure that everything he believes is correct. He must allow others a latitude of freedom because he may be wrong and they may be right. But the certainty of faith is inherently authoritarian. If you know the truth then there is nothing to debate.

Every authoritarian beliefs system, including religion, says it has the “truth” and knows how people must act. No rational atheist can say that. Irrational atheists, who have a substitute religion that has the “full truth” might, but not rational atheists who recognize the fallibility of human thinking. This is why Marxism is more like fundamentalist Christianity than it is different. It is a religion and it suffers the drawbacks of all religions.

Religion relies on faith not facts. As such it is prone to manipulation. It is a god-sanctioned means by which the dark side of human nature is released to inflict pain and suffering on others.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Your empty godless life


Monday, July 09, 2007

James Randi at the Australian Skeptics Conference


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Penn & Teller take on Mother Theresa



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