Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review of Bertrand Russell's Lecture "Why I am not a Christian" Part 2

Here we go again! Let's finish this. I started review/critiquing Bertrand Russell's lecture and I highly recommend that you read part one before continuing here. Without any more intro, let's jump right back in.

"The Moral Arguments for a Deity" -- His understanding of the argument is fairly rudimentary, but I agree with this first part, "One form is to say that there would be no right and wrong unless God existed." The way Dr. William Lane Craig phrases the argument is actually in the negative form: "If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. Objective moral values and duties do exist. Therefore, God does exist." So, his phrasing isn't a problem at the outset. Then he goes into this:
"I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God."
Here's the problem I have with this section. It's all stolen. It's basically a modern version of Plato's famous Euthyphro problem (often called the Euthyphro dilemma). To boil it down, either God commands goodness, or God is subject to goodness. This is a problem for the Christian making the moral argument because the crux of the issue is "objective moral values." If God commands goodness then is it "objective"? Russell doesn't have much more to say, other than it could very well be some other source of morality, he calls it a "superior deity." There are lots of good answers to the Euthyphro problem and I don't want today's issue to be as long as yesterday's so I'll merely point you to my two previous writings on the subject and this other post.

"The Argument For The Remedying Of Injustice" -- Here we come to what seems like the least invested of Russell's arguments. He says that, "they say, that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world." The odd thing that doesn't make sense in this argument is I can't see where one can conclude, "therefore God exists." Maybe one might conclude, "therefore it'd be better if God existed." Essentially, we have a cruel world where is seems that bad people are rewarded and good people suffer. I don't see this as a very strong argument so Russell's critique is fair. He uses this analogy: "Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: 'The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.' You would say: 'Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment;' and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe." Even though I don't think the argument can conclude that God exists. I do think the existence of Heaven/Hell does make living more comfortable for the Christian. Think about it, if bad people are guaranteed to get their comeuppance, that could give some comfort to believers, but not necessarily.

Here is seems that Russell finally tips his hand. He says, "What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people's desire for a belief in God." Basically, Russell seems to portray a level of omniscience here. Has he interviewed every believer ever? Interesting though, surely Russell knows of the Apostle Paul. Paul is well known as one of the most prolific Christian missionaries, and he certainly didn't seem to have a wish for safety. Paul lists the "safety" that he was enjoying as a Christian teacher in 2 Cor. 11:24-31. It's only the modern "prosperity gospel" teachers that really state that Christianity really brings a comfortable life. Still none of this concludes, God does not exist or even that God does exist. In fact, this is a textbook kind of genetic fallacy. Even if every Christian everywhere only believes in God because of emotional desires and because they were "taught from early infancy to do it," that doesn't mean that God does not exist. What does it matter why people believe in God?

"The Character of Christ" -- This series of arguments are, again, rather unconvincing to the existence of God, though they are aimed directly at Christianity. As I said in part one, if Christ isn't divine, then Christianity is worthless/false. This leads to an interesting conundrum though, because Russell freely admits that he just doesn't agree with some of the teachings of Christ. This whole bit is just Russell's opinion. Also, this is just Russell saying, in a sense, I don't like these teachings. This also wouldn't conclude, "Therefore, God does not exist." The best one could conclude is that Russell doesn't like the teaching of Jesus. He starts with the "turn the other cheek." But, he dismisses this by saying that it wasn't original to Christ. Does Russell really think that an itinerant rabbi in first century Israel would steal a teaching (or even know, without being divine)? This is a teaching that Russell says came from "Lao-Tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ." Which is more reasonable, that Jesus simply taught this or that he somehow had access to Far Eastern thought and teaching centuries before the rest of the Western world? I guess this is just Russell complimenting Jesus' teaching, but then dismissing it because others have had similar teachings. Next he takes aim at, "'Judge not lest ye be judged.' That principle I do not think you would find was popular in the law courts of Christian countries. I have known in my time quite a number of judges who were very earnest Christians, and they none of them felt that they were acting contrary to Christian principles in what they did." So, Russell likes this teaching but has a problem with Christians following His teaching!? This, like so many other things in Russell's lecture, betrays a serious lack of logical reasoning. This is kind of like Russell saying that because Christian judges ignore Jesus' teachings, Jesus wasn't a good teacher. Clearly that is a total non-sequitur. One last thing that Russell likes, "Then there is one other maxim of Christ which I think has a great deal in it, but I do not find that it is very popular among some of our Christian friends. He says, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor." That is a very excel ent maxim, but, as I say, it is not much practiced. All these, I think, are good maxims, although they are a little difficult to live up to." Again I have to ask, what does this prove?

"Defects In Christ's Teaching" -- Here Russell falls in with some extremely outlandish views. "Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one." Why would he go and say a silly think like the existence of Christ is doubtful? The existence of Jesus Christ is one of the best attested things in history. There is more textual evidence of the biographies of Jesus Christ (the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament) than there is anything else of that age. We have more evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ than is necessary to conclude that Jesus certainly existed. His first actual problem with Christ's teaching is, "[Jesus] certainly thought his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that." Here's the kicker for Jesus' supposed claim that His second coming would be soon. The key phrase in the passage is that certain things will not happen until "the Son of Man comes into His kingdom." What exactly does Jesus mean by "come into His kingdom"? Now, clearly some in the early Church thought this was true. However, Paul specifically taught early Christians at the church of Thessalonica that they need to not live lazy lives just waiting around for Christ to return. So, sure Christians in the early Church thought that Jesus was returning in their time, but just because people have misunderstood this teaching doesn't mean that it was false. One interesting point though, Russell quotes Jesus as saying, "Take no thought for the morrow," but like so many before, Russell is taking a verse out of context. But, here it's used to deceive. The context for Jesus instructing his followers to not worry about tomorrow is not in the context of the Second Coming.

"The Moral Problem" -- Russell now aims his criticism of Jesus' teaching to what he calls moral deficiencies. He says, "There is one very serious defect to my mind in “Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment." So, despite Russell previously saying that Christians don't have to believe in Hell to be Christians and that he's not going to criticize that view, he now says that Christ can't be moral if He teaches about Hell. Russell also seems to have a problem with how Christ speaks to those with whom He disagrees. He compares Jesus' harshness with Socrates, but again this is a misunderstanding of Christian theology. Jesus doesn't level criticism toward those that merely disagree with him. That's not what salvation in Christianity is about. You don't have to "agree" with Jesus to be saved. Sure, if you are a Christian you will agree with Christ's teachings. But, salvation is a matter of accepting the teaching that Christ is the payment for one's sins, not just agreeing with Jesus' teachings. This doesn't sound like a convincing argument, "I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of this sort into the world." Russell doesn't think that a kind person would preach in a way that makes people afraid!? I've  heard this analogy a few times so I don't remember the exact source. Imagine you know that someone is walking towards a cliff. Is it a kind person who just lets that person walk off the cliff? Is there even a time when telling someone that they might die that might be scary for that person? Is that okay? Again, the kind person would be the one that tries to keep the person from dying, even sometimes using fear.

His other criticism was fairly personal. He doesn't like Jesus cast out demons into some pigs that then run off a cliff. He thinks that wasn't very nice and that a kind person wouldn't do that. Same with the withered fig tree. A kind person wouldn't do those mean things. These are petty and not very powerful arguments against Christ's teaching. Just because you don't like the way Jesus did things doesn't mean that he wasn't kind. Russell's opinion, for what that's worth, is clear, "I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to History. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects."

"The Emotional Factor" -- "One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous," I think Dennett stole this (at least I don't recall him giving credit to Russell). He talks about this in his work Breaking the Spell. Why does this seem to be an unspoken, often spoken of, rule? If anything, Christianity has welcomed a huge history of probing and analyzing of its claims. It's also interesting to note that the very existence of the supposed New Atheists is the 9/11 attacks. The New Atheists responded to the 9/11 by trying to debunk all religion as dangerous. Please convince me that religion makes men virtuous and yet, is somehow the cause of more bloodshed than anything else and dangerous. Either Russell is wrong, or the New Atheists are wrong (they could both be wrong). Here again Russell fails in his rhetoric, "That is the idea -- that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called Ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion." He contradicts himself. We can't attack religion because it keeps people behaving morally, but people behave very badly when they are religious. He insists that Christianity is morally bankrupt: "I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world." Dawkins rips off this idea in The God Delusion. He refers to a moral zeitgeist. That morality is progressing, but Christianity is holding it back. Funny word though, progress, what would it mean to progress morally? Progress implies an intended direction. Where are we heading morally speaking?

"How The Churches Have Retarded Progress" -- Here is the main quote:
Supposing that in this world that we live in today an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man, in that case the Catholic Church says, 'This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must stay together for life,' and no steps of any sort must be taken by that woman to prevent herself from giving birth to syphilitic children. This is what the Catholic church says. I say that that is fiendish cruelty, and nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.
But, we don't really have a good accounting for what is moral or immoral action. This critique of the "Catholic Church" (by which I assume he means the Roman Catholic Church) is nothing more than, Russell doesn't like the presumed teachings of the Church. This is nothing more than Russell's opinion. As such, it doesn't really deserve a response. Just as the previous issue, if we don't know where morality is progressing, we can't say that the Church is retarding its progress.

"Fear, The Foundation Of Religion" -- Russell says, "Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things." Again, mere speculation. Is this really the truth? How does Russell know that Christianity is based on fear? Sure, there can be aspects of Christianity that are scary, but really, does Russell think that it's all about fear? Russell says that science can alleviate these fears, but how is that? He doesn't explain what science has to do with alleviating fear.

"What We Must Do" -- Finally, we come to Russell's conclusion and not a moment too soon. Russell says, "We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world -- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it." (Emphasis mine.) Again, what's the meaning of "good"? Russell hasn't given us what goodness means, so these are just his opinions. Also, facts cannot be good or bad, they're just facts. This final quote I completely agree with, except the idea that Russell is implying that Christianity is what's wrong with the world and it is what needs changing/abolishing. "A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create." I find a bit of irony in Russell implying that Christianity is full of "ignorant men." Christianity has long been a bastion of education. Maybe today it's not as focused on education as it has been in the past, but it definitely isn't full of "ignorant men." In this final thrust, we have another genetic fallacy. Even if Christianity were full of and lead by only ignorant men, that wouldn't make it false.

Let's wrap this up. I don't have much more to say. This lecture was pretty sad. If anything it was like Dawkins' book The God Delusion. Just like that book, reading this lecture actually strengthened my faith. If this lecture represents the best arguments against Christianity, then Christianity is almost definitely true.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review of Bertrand Russell's Lecture "Why I am not a Christian" Part 1

So, two instigating factors drove me to read this famous lecture given by Bertrand Russell in 1929 (or at least the text I have was copyrighted in 1929). The first was a conversation online with a skeptic. We were discussing the moral argument for God. To be more specific we were discussing whether or not the skeptics I was engaging (on a Facebook site specifically for discussing religion) were actually atheists or "simply lacking belief in God." The discussion was started by the page owner sharing a post that said there were only three options, you either accept the proposition that there is a God, reject the proposition, or just don't care or know. This kind of discussion comes up all the time as modern (New Atheists) online skeptics often like to shirk the burden of proof (or really any responsibility in their position) by saying that they don't believe that God doesn't exist, they simply lack the belief that any god exists. Basically they often try to claim the null view, as opposed to a negative view. Anyways, that's backstory. One of these atheists quoted Russell's famous lecture as a response to my posting of the moral argument for the existence of God. Then, Friday night I met up with a small apologetics discussion group to watch the recently released movie, The Case for Christ. I'd seen the movie before, but on this viewing it struck me that Lee Strobel had once been strongly influenced by Russell's teachings (he specifically references this lecture). I then decided that if this was a good enough lecture for them, I ought to know what this great lecture actually taught. I didn't expect it to dissuade me from Christianity, but I want to know what Russell actually taught rather than hearing it secondhand. Without further ado, here we go.

I'm going to tackle each section separately:

"What is a Christian?" -- Here I actually appreciate Russell's honesty. He is clearheaded enough to not attack a straw man. He talks about watered-down Christianity that was, and still is, popular. He's right to say that Christianity is more than just "... a person who attempts to live a good life." I disagree that "The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions." I know Christians that could be described that way, in fact, I consider myself to be one! I also disagree with the notion that a Christian can believe that Christ was the "best and wisest of men." A fundamental doctrine of Christianity has to be that Jesus Christ was more than just a wise man, but that He is divine. If Christ isn't divine then Christianity is false, and the surety for that truth is the truth of the resurrection. I also agree with his point concerning the abandonment of the doctrine of Hell. While I accept that Christians can, without abandoning Christianity altogether, have different views of Hell. There still needs to be some kind of understanding of an afterlife, which generally entails Hell and Heaven at the least. It's interesting from a rhetorician's point of view that while he here says that he's not going to include belief in Hell as part of fundamental Christian views, but later he does attack the theology of Hell saying that, "I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment." So, believing in Hell isn't fundamental to Christianity, but it is a fundamental teaching of Christ and Russell can't be humane and believe in Hell at the same time. Despite what seems like Russell going back on his statement that Christians don't have to believe in Hell to be Christians, let's move on.

"The Existence of God" -- I was hoping that this would be where his really heavy-hitting arguments against God would start to come out, but alas this section is more about how this is too big of an argument to condense into such a short space (this was a lecture), and that he was only going to summarize his position. It is curious though that he brings up the Roman Catholic Church's teaching "that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason." This is a bit confusing because it seems like he's lambasting the Roman Catholic position as being about faith without reason, but then he says that he's going to take on only a few of their arguments here. I am puzzled. If their position is that it's a matter of faith and not reason, then why would they have arguments at all? Arguments are a feature of rational inquiry and persuasion, not blind faith.

"The First Cause Argument" -- Here we go, finally. His first critique of this argument is to call into doubt the concept of causation entirely. He says, "The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have; but apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity." I don't appreciate the hubris. He hasn't made an argument yet and yet he's already assuring us that it cannot have any validity!? Also, it seems he's trying to say that science has somehow removed the need for a First Cause. How so? He hasn't offered any explanation of that, just a throwaway phrase that "men of science" have somehow debunked this argument. If anything, this argument has only gained traction in the area of science. Big Bang theory has exploded (yes a pun) on the scientific scene as a cosmology that destroys Russell's claim that "men of science" have reduced the vitality of this argument. They have demonstrated quite convincingly that there was an ultimate beginning to the universe, which plays right into the Christian's hand. In Russell's defense Big Bang cosmology was still young in the 1920's but he still doesn't have a scientific leg to stand on here. In addition to floundering scientifically, I think Russell just hasn't contemplated the philosophical arguments against a temporally infinite universe. He says that "the philosophers" have gotten at this as well, but still doesn't address how there could be an infinite past.

After this failure Russell commits probably his worst philosophical argumentation misstep (at least so far), he sets up an easy straw man. He says that when he was eighteen he was convinced by John Stuart Mill's autobiography that there is this question that kills the First Cause argument: "Who made God?" Really? That's your knockout blow? His parody (well, I wish it were a parody, apparently he take this seriously) is, "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument." First, no theist ever says, intentionally, that "everything must have a cause." There are different varieties of this argument, so I can't include them all, but suffice it to say that Christian theologians/apologists who use First Cause arguments aren't so stupid as to clearly paint themselves into a corner with "everything must have a cause." The phrase that I've heard from most is, "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." That is a fair premise and it doesn't sound anything like Russell's straw man of First Cause arguments.

This next section was particularly humous to me so I have to point it out. He tells of how the Hindus believe "that the world rested upon an elephant, and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, 'How about the tortoise?' the Indian said, 'Suppose we change the subject.'" And, then proceeds to do the very same thing! He says, "The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause." In a sense, he's saying that we're just too naive to see how something could not have a beginning, and like his imaginary Indian says, "suppose we change the subject." Let's hear it, what is your best argument that the universe did not have a beginning. It's no use saying that we're just not imaginative enough to see how that's possible. That's like saying that we've never observed anything starting without a cause nor have we seen anything be infinitely existent, nor could we even imagine what that would look like, but it certainly is just our lack of imagination, it is possible. Just saying that something is possible doesn't make it so. I could say that a married bachelor is "possible" all I wanted, that doesn't make it so. I've said too much on this one part, let's keep going.

"The Natural-law Argument" -- This one is a more interesting one to me because I think Russell has something going for him, at least in part. These types of arguments are commonly called teleological arguments, arguments from design, or fine-tuning arguments. Russell is trying to take on what is, in my opinion, one of the strongest arguments for God. Unfortunately for Russell he didn't have modern science to again demonstrate just how delicately balanced the universe really is. He speaks of the popularity of these types of arguments in Sir Isaac Newton's day as they appealed to the "laws of nature" and that those laws are best explained by the existence of God. He does get something quite wrong here though. He says that once people had God as their explanation that it was "a convenient and simple explanation" and that it "saved them the trouble of looking any further for any explanation of the law of gravitation." Really? He even says that "Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated fashion that Einstein has introduced." But, if we now explain gravitation differently, how did we get to that new understanding if we stopped looking for any further explanation of the law of gravitation back in Newton's day? He contradicts his own position! I will read him with a bit of charity here though and say that what he's really trying to say is that we've now come to understand gravitation differently and that it's not the law that we used to think it was. That's fair enough. "We now find that a great many things we thought were Natural Laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depth of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature." This is his strongest point, though it misses the mark.

His strongest point is that what we call "laws" of nature, are really just as subjective as the length of a yard. This is a good point because it cuts out the common phrase (I've heard it from numerous Christians, I've probably even said it) "if there's a law, there must be a lawgiver." The tact that many try to take here is that the laws of nature are like the governing laws of humans. That God wrote the, if you will, constitution of the universe, which included things like the law of gravity. I think this phrase, "laws require a lawgiver," is wrong-headed. I think Russell (and others) have a point. The law of gravity is, at its heart, just a human construct. It's not that gravity would go away if we didn't know about it or if our law were wrong (clearly we've had numerous wrong scientific ideas in the past). However, here's where I think this strongest point misses the mark. The teleological/design/fine tuning arguments don't rest on what we call "laws." What these arguments are really pointing to is the fact that the universe has qualities that only make sense given a divine Designer. Take the law of gravity, it's one of many that has to be a certain strength or the universe would collapse. Cosmologist have techniques and computer models where they have simulated, using complex mathematical modeling, what would happen if any one of the universal constants were somehow different than it is. It's not that there's some law that requires a lawgiver, per se, it's that there's a delicate balance that could only have been set up on purpose.

Russell points out that "Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which way you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and, being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were you are then faced with the question, Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?" I believe I've sufficiently answered his question in my previous paragraph, but let me summarize it. In cosmological modeling there are very few that will "work" that is, there are very few settings on the cosmological dial that will actually allow for the existence of a universe at all. So, while Russell is right to point out a distinction between human laws and natural laws, we're talking about a different situation altogether. One could say by way of analogy that the universe does seem to be running by a set of laws not unlike a country runs by a set of laws. And, just as a country needs a good set of laws to keep running a universe does as well. Only a perfectly knowledgeable, powerful Creator could set up laws and enforce them in such a way that keeps the whole universe running. Here's another important point that I think Russell gets completely wrong, "if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary." This doesn't take into account what it means to be all-powerful. It seems that Russell is taking omnipotence to mean "able to do absolutely anything." Again, he's breaking with Christianity. Christianity teaches that even God is bound by His own nature, logic. Nonsense is still nonsense even when spoken of about God (I think that someone smarter than me said that, but the closest quote I can find is from John Lennox "Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.") God can no more make a married bachelor than you or I, because the very concept is nonsense. God chose to use gravity, atoms, quarks, strings (maybe), photons, strong and weak nuclear forces, etc. etc. to build His creation. Those physical things are limited by their natures to be physical. As physical things they have to be arranged in a certain way or else they wouldn't be anything. That is the design. Less like "laws," and more like a delicately balanced masterpiece.

"The Argument from Design" -- He starts off his critique of design arguments with a lot of silly things that people say things are designed for, but they are clearly misconstruing the purpose for which things are designed. Yes, we who hold to a design argument will need to give an accounting for this. If we say that such and such a thing was designed, we have, in a sense, said that we know for what purpose that thing is made. This is obvious with man-made objects. The lamp sitting beside me is clearly purposed to give light to an area. Knowing that purpose I can then say whether or not it was designed and if it was designed well. But, there is another level that Russell doesn't even attempt to address here, probably because it destroys his whole counter to design arguments. He says, "When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it." While I support the first part, we can't speak to the mind of God and say for what purpose the universe was designed (except with God's revealed truth, that is, God has told us some of His purpose for creating), we also cannot speak to whether or not that design is good or bad without knowing the mind of God. But, that is just what Russell is doing. He's saying that the design is bad. How could he know whether the design is good or bad? This is like an ordinary child looking at the design of the so called "Bird's Nest Stadium" (the actual name is the Beijing National Stadium) and saying that the design was bad! Who knows how to design a stadium better, the architects that built that amazing structure or this snotty, haughty child? God is many, many orders of magnitude above our understanding of design than the architect is above the child. So, who is Russell to say that the design is bad?

In addition to claiming to know that this design is bad, Russell also seems to think that the idea that this world will come to an end someday is a point against God's designing the earth. Once again it seems that Russell has fallen into his own trap. He has implied that we can't know something is designed without knowing for what purpose it was designed. But, here Russell has implied that God probably didn't design the world or at least didn't design it well because it will someday be dead and lifeless. Does Russell know for what purpose God made the world? If and only if one knows the ultimate goal of the existence of the world can one say that its dying is a bad design. Think of an analogy here, a lightbulb. It gives light and works. Is it poorly designed if it eventually wears out and stops working? Russell seems to be implying that an omniscient/omnipotent God would be able to design a lightbulb (from our analogy) that can last forever. But, again, does he know God's goal in making the lightbulb? Maybe, and I don't know for sure, God wanted the lightbulb to last only this long and no longer. Only if one knows when something is supposed to go defunct can one say whether or not it performed as expected or not.

When I first started writing this I had hoped I would be able to keep my comments to one entry. But, as I reach this point I realize I should have broken this up into multiple entries. So, I'll do just that. This is part one. Come back tomorrow for part two!

Ancient Okinawan Village on Ikei Island

Friday, October 6, 2017

Do We All Need to Become Scholars?

This is a response to Richard Bushey's post here. I highly recommend you read his post first. Here I'll give you a few minutes.



Okay, ready? Let's talk about why I disagree with him. Here's the first sentence wherein I think Richard has really gone awry, "A possible resolution to this problem is to start doing real scholarship." Particularly the wording, "real scholarship." What kind of career are you involved in right now? If you regularly read my blog you'll know that I'm in the military. When I read "real scholarship" I think consistent, long-term studies. I think reading original sources in the original languages of those sources. I think there's no way that I have time to seriously devote myself to "real scholarship" at this time except in small chunks when I'm taking a college class. I would rephrase this as, "A possible resolution to this problem is to start being more scholarly." I have no problem with the conclusion being, let's work hard to be smarter on a particular subject (particularly when one enters the arena to defend that subject). In order to illustrate why I think Richard is wrong I made some graphics about how I see the world of Christianity divided up:

I realize there are definitely more subdivisions that this, but I feel like I captured all the relevant sections in this. There are certainly LOTS of Christian scholars, and I do honestly have a goal of someday being a professor and being considered a scholar. Authors, I think, are often more keenly aware of this distinction when they write. If you go to a bookstore and pull a book off the shelf on _____ topic. More than likely you're reading a popular-level book on _____ topic. If you go to a college bookstore, the opposite is true; you'll more than likely be reading a scholarly text on _____ topic. This graphic is what I feel Richard is trying to push:

And here is a more balanced proposal that I'd offer:

Now, before Richard rips my head off I want to point out an important distinction (one that I feel Richard didn't deal with at all). If we change our triangle to be behaviors as opposed to people it will look very different, and it'd be one that I'd be more inclined to agree with.

I think all Christian apologists would agree that the bottom tier is something people shouldn't do. In fact, it denies some biblical instructions "... always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you ..." (1 Pet 3:15b). And, I agree with Richard that merely memorizing answers to skeptics' questions or giving generic, basic arguments for the Christian faith is not the best. However, I'd argue that not everyone is cut out for true scholarly studies. As I started this off with, for many of us scholarly studies runs secondary to the rest of our busy lives. Let's look at a prominent scholar who also works tirelessly in the field of Christian apologetics. Dr. William Lane Craig has been a scholar since 1971 (that's ~46 years, longer than I've been alive!), he has a B.A. two M.A.s, a PhD, and a D.Theo. He's been published over 234 times (only about a third of which would be considered "popular level" [source])! Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for Dr. Craig and all the great work he does as a scholar and as a Christian apologist. But do I really think that ANY of my readers can get to that level? Maybe one of you but certainly not all of you, not me, and probably not Richard himself (though he might be on track). This is the sign of life-long devotion to scholarship. We would do well to emulate him. But, if you're shooting for and expecting that, you're probably going to be disappointed. I'm aiming for a much more modest goal. I want to become a military chaplain and then retire to a small college philosophy professorship (or associate professorship).

One other key point that I disagree with Richard on is this: thinking purely from a practical perspective with regards to apologetics. In fact, I completely agree with Greg Koukl's points in Tactics (available on Amazon) that there is not enough focus on the practical perspective in the field of Christian apologetics. He says, "These three skills — knowledge, an accurately informed mind; wisdom, an artful method; and character, an attractive manner — play a part in every effective involvement with a nonbeliever." He goes on to say this and it's something that I think Richard seems to be completely missing, "The second skill, tactical wisdom, is the main focus of this book." A practical perspective is what many are missing!

What do I think we should do? I think we should all study harder. We should all study arguments from people with whom we'll (probably) disagree. We should devote more time than we already are doing these kinds of scholarly activities. All in all, I don't really disagree with Richard, we need more Christian scholars. But, as Koukl says, I think we also need more, better diplomats -- ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Book of Job

The following synopsis of the book of Job was posted by a friend of mine the other day expletives edited out:


The Book of Job in a nutshell:

Job is a rich guy with tons of bling. Hot wife, loads of kids, all kinds of stuff.

God and Satan are talking. Satan's like, "Job only likes you cuz you gave him an easy life. Take it away and he won't like you anymore."

God's like, "You're on. Let's [mess] up his life."

So they do.

Now the cliffnotes version of the story you'll hear in a [bad] church is that Job remained faithful, so
God gave Job all his [stuff] back.

The ACTUAL version that's ACTUALLY in the Bible does not say that.

In the actual version God and Satan wreck Job's [stuff]. Job is like, "man, this... really sucks. I'm not being flippant here. My kids are all dead. I am... I am not in a good place right now."

Job's friends show up and are like, "DAMN, dude! God is seriously pissed at you! What did you DO?"

And Job says, "Nothing, seriously. He just wrecked my life and killed everyone I loved for... as far as I can tell, literally no reason at all."

And Job's friends are all, "Ok, there's no way. God would only do this to you if you REALLY sinned. You'd better beg for forgiveness."

And Job says, "I've got no forgiveness to beg for. I didn't do anything. This all happened for no reason."

And his friends, "No, this definitely happened for a reason. God liked you so he gave you a good life, now God doesn't like you so he screwed your life up, obviously you sinned and he's angry with you, you need to apologize so he'll give you back the high life to which you were so sweetly accustomed."
And Job says, "No. I didn't do anything. I'm not apologizing for [stuff] I didn't do."

And his friends are like, "Man, [forget] you. Not only did you sin, like, MASSIVELY, you aren't even repentant. You suck. I don't know how we didn't notice this before."

And then they bail on him because no one wants to hang out with a secret pedophile or whatever they thought Job was.

So Job sits there and is all, "Ok... God? I'm not fooling here. I'm in pain. Do you not... do you not understand that people... hurt? When you hurt them? Do you not... get what suffering is? Do you not understand what you've... what you've done here? Are you just so far away that you... don't... understand how fragile we are? Or that you can't... care?"

So God here's this and is SUPER PISSED. Because he just told Satan that Job was all pious and [stuff[ but now Job is calling him out. So he shows up and SCREAMS at Job. He goes on this big rant about all the monsters he's killed and the things he's seen and how amazing he is and HOW DARE JOB QUESTION HIM! He gets super into it, and REALLY threatening.

And Job just falls on his face and begs forgiveness because seriously what else is he going to do, he doesn't think he can take God in a fight.

So God takes some deep breaths and counts to ten and goes to his happy place for a minute and gets himself under control again.

Then he says, "Ok, ok... so... we all gotta move on from here... Tell you what. You did tell the truth about me, back there. That's worth something. You at least get me, even if you don't always RESPECT. So I'ma give you new women and kids and cows and [stuff]. Not your old ones, Satan and I killed those. New ones though. These are gonna be better, I swear. And, what else. Oh yeah, your so called friends. They didn't tell the truth about me. So I'ma murder them all."

And Job begs God not to do that, because Job really is a stand up guy, that's been established. And God lets them live.

So... the thing Job did that was telling the truth about God was stating that God sends good and evil to us without respect to our righteousness. And the thing that Job's friends did that was telling lies about God was claiming that God sends wealth and easy living to the righteous, and misery to the unrighteous.

In other words, the moral of Job is that if you believe in the prosperity gospel God will straight up ice you unless Job asks him to chill.

Just kidding, God's not real.


First, I want to admit that I failed at how I handled the subsequent discussion. I was overly critical of some of the comments that others posted and I didn't offer much in the way of answering the challenge. Now, let's have a quick rundown on orders of causes/effects. A first order cause, is the actual, immediate cause for a certain effect. Now, think of a row of dominoes. A second order cause would be the next domino in the chain of dominoes, the one that knocked down the one that knocked down the final one. Then of course it goes on and on up the chain. In addition to this causal chain there's cause by inaction. In our example, a person standing by a chain of dominoes could stop the chain, but doesn't, that person could be said to have a secondary cause or at least secondarily culpable  for the final effect. But, think about how this works. Am I culpable for my inaction concerning abortion doctors? I'm not actively intervening by stopping abortion doctors from going to work, am I responsible for their evils? If I buy a latte from a company that supports an organization that supports abortion, am I causing abortions? Clearly not. Now let's look at the passages from the book of Job and see how the parallels go. First act that God does in chapter one is God talks to Satan. What did God say? He asked Satan what he's been up to. Then asks if Satan had considered Job, since he's blameless and upright, fearing God. Then God says, "Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him." (All my quotes will be from the NASB.) The only actions God has actually done so far is speak. However, what actions were taken against Job in the first chapter? The "Sabeans" (apparently it refers to people from "Sheba") kill the servants and steal all his oxen and donkeys. Here we finally have something else God does, or do we? The phrase translated "The fire of God fell from heaven." It could be translated "a mighty fire" or "a divine fire." Again, this doesn't actually say that God did _____. It says that a divine fire came from heaven and killed the sheep and the servants watching them, which is not the same as God killing them, especially since we have Satan in the beginning of this chapter being given permission to test Job. Then the "Chaldeans" kill the servants and steal all his camels. Lastly, it says, "a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on [Job's children] and they died ..." We've come to the end of the first chapter and God hasn't done anything to Job.

Before we move on, let's compare to the summary given above. The summary gets that Job is rich; that is clear. The description of the interaction between Satan and God starts out as a more or less a decent summary. Then everything is completely wrong in the next phrase. God does not say, "You're on. Let's [mess] up his life." And, "so they do," is a completely inaccurate description of the way the story is actually described. "They" don't do anything really (at least so far in the story). God permits Satan to test Job, but God hasn't done anything to Job.

Now we come to the second chapter. It starts in basically the same way as the first chapter. Satan now says that Job still has his health and that's the only reason he still worships God. So, again, God gives permission to Satan to tempt Job this time, he's permitted to harm Job but not kill him. Then another key phrase: "7 Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head." Again they didn't do anything, Satan did. Job's wife is actually the first one to counsel Job. She says, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" Then Job replies with the real message of the book: "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" On to the third chapter. Job laments his birth. Then the lectures from his friends start in chapter four. Their themes are: innocent people aren't punished by God, God is just, God, and a rebuke. Now, each one is answered by Job and their lectures are a bit of a read. I don't blame the author for criticizing the book. It is a bit of a rough read. The longest portions of the text are the series of lectures and they're somewhat repetitive in theme. You've sinned, Job, confess, Job replies that it doesn't work like that, and then they renew their attack. Quite possibly the most famous line is, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him," which is vital to the message of the book. Again, the above summary completely misses that point. It's interesting to me that the summary above completely misses so much of the points made in Job's responses to his "friends." He says in many ways that no matter how bad things are, he honors and loves God. Yes, Job laments and tempers flare, but the goal is all about how God is truly in control.

Now we come to the part when God shows up. God speaks to Job and rhetorically asks (in a way), "Who are you to question me?" Now, we come to one of the clearest mistakes in the summary. This line: "Oh yeah, your so called friends. They didn't tell the truth about me. So I'ma murder them all." Where is that in the text? The closest thing is God saying to one of the friends: "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has." Maybe the phrasing is unclear, but it reads as God saying, "I'm unhappy with you, make a sacrifice and repent." There is a consequence of disobedience, that is, "that I may not do with you according to your folly." No, that's not, as the summary says, "I'ma [sic] murder them all." Job didn't beg God not to do that. They offered sacrifices and God followed through on the promise.

Just what is the moral of the story here? Yes, part of the point is that good and evil happen to both good and evil people. As Jesus said, God "sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." But, the other main point is that God is in control and yet will I praise Him. One other important point to not miss is that God never chastises Job for lamenting. Getting to the end here and the original post betrays that it's all a troll. There's no real point in the summary except to illicit anger from, I presume, Christians. At the risk of feeding the troll, I have written this as a reasoned response to an unreasonable, emotional post.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Church Shopping ...

So here I am ... sitting in a church service (I won't name the church because I don't want to defame the church), and I'm hit by various disappointments. Those of you that are 30+ years old and raised in the church (particularly in Baptist/conservative churches) probably remember what I grew up in when it comes to church services. When I was young, we always sang with the hymnal. In fact, it was a big deal when we started adding praise songs to the service. Even then, when we started adding praise songs, they were still in a book. Then it was another huge step to add slides (bring back the nostalgia, the slides were transparencies on an overhead projector). The praise song books were still available and most of the songs were still sung out of the hymnal. Don't get me wrong, modern praise and worship music can be rather beautiful, and I love the integration of my old favorite hymns into newer songs (and one of the songs this morning did just that). Really, I don't think it's the music that bothers me; it's more that the spectacle of it all that makes me feel uncomfortable. It's a stage (not an altar) and the stage is lit like a concert stage. The words are on two giant screens with cool, moving backgrounds. The ambience is more like a really tame rock concert, not that of a church.

Then, it got worse ... Well, I wouldn't say "worse," just not the atmosphere I want or really think of when I think "church." I knew this was a multi-location church, their website says as much. But I went to, what I thought was, the main church building. But no, the music was live, and there was announcements, but then a screen dropped on stage, the lights dimmed and the pastor appeared on a giant screen on stage. Why? I understand that the pastor is only one guy (and the message was good, a hard-hitting application of James 3), and he can't be in multiple locations at the same time. But, could this be done better? It's confusing, because it looks like he was videotaped giving the message on a similar stage, but where is he? I feel so disconnected. When a church gets so big it can't fit in one building, why not split up and make multiple churches!? If a church gets too big for two buildings (this particular church has, I think, four or five buildings), why not make many churches. Surely the huge congregation can afford to pay multiple pastors. This church is so large it not only has multiple locations, but it has multiple services!

The overall feel, because of the stage-performance-style praise and worship session, the video-broadcasted sermon, the drive-by-style communion, and just how it seemed like everyone left immediately after the service, was that of a shopping mall church. Stop in, get your deals, buy your Christianity for the week (not that they emphasized the offering, on the contrary, they just had a box in the back of the auditorium). It doesn't feel like anyone knows anyone else or that they want to get to know newcomers, though the pastor encouraged visitors to go to the visitors' desk to get a free gift (a t-shirt) multiple times. It's almost like they relegated interpersonal relationships to a specific welcome-table. The service didn't feel like people coming together to worship God and get to know one another.

One last thing that bothers me about many (not just this church) Sunday morning services. When I was young Sunday morning services consisted of Sunday School (for adults and kids, separately), then regular worship services. I don't know, but there's just something special about a church that seeks to educate its congregation. When did we go from churches that seek to educate in small group settings, then worship corporately, then engage with each other in person? Maybe that's boring? I'm not trying to say that the "old way" is better. Rather, I want to draw attention to things I don't like about the "new way" and see if we can have the best of both ways. Can we educate and have authentic relationships in a fun, creative environment?

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Future of My Career

Sorry I'm so flaky on posting. I doubt I have any "regular" readers, so I doubt anyone actually missed my entries, but I apologize nonetheless. I have made some career plans recently that may be taking me in a totally different direction than I thought I'd go for a LONG time.

First, a little background. If you know me in person or have followed me on social media or this blog for a long time you'll know that I'm currently serving as a linguist in the US Air Force (USAF). Technically the name for my job is "Airborne Cryptologic Language Analyst" but that's a mouthful. Linguist is simpler ... though technically incorrect as I'm not really a student of language as the term "linguist" means. Regardless, I digress. I've been an enlisted military linguist for going on eleven and a half years at the time of this writing. I've often joked that I would have signed a twenty-year contract when I first enlisted. At the time I was certain that I wanted to be a linguist and that I wanted to retire from the military. However, I've recently completely changed my mind. I've thought about this before. I've looked into various commissioned officer programs. I first tried to just get my bachelor's degree so I could apply for Officer Training School. When deploying to the Middle East derailed my educational goals, I sought for another option. I tried to get in an application for the Airman Education and Commissioning Program (AECP) (formerly called the "bootstrap" program). This route to commissioning, at first, wasn't available to me. I am a Korean linguist and as such the AECP wasn't open to me. Chinese was on the language degree lists when I first looked into the AECP, but it wasn't until I was nearing the age cutoff that Korean was added to the list. I never completed my application because the bureaucratic nonsense that is commissioning programs got in the way, and I passed the age waiver (sort of, I deployed and moved overseas, both of which interfered). About that time I gave up on my dreams of commissioning. Though I looked into other programs (the nursing program and chaplaincy program both came up), I didn't think I could make all the requirements for them.

However, three major things just recently changed my mind. First off, my position at my unit has steadily and inexorably gotten worse and worse. I feel like I have been passed over for multiple positions. I've sort of been shafted by being placed in (and somewhat in charge of) one of the toughest offices in the unit. These things and some others have really struck me hard because I'm a very hard worker. I think nothing of staying late, working weekends and holidays, and I intentionally shield my subordinates from the most trying parts of the job. I work in the scheduling office (over the last year) and as just an example, this past Christmas I worked my tail off. I went in on Christmas eve, Christmas day, the day after, and the day after that. We were supposed to get a four-day weekend (Monday and Tuesday were "down days," basically free leave days for holidays). So, on a four-day weekend for the holiday, I worked every day. Now, I didn't go in all day each day. I went in only a couple hours on Christmas eve, about five hours on Christmas day and only a couple hours the two following days. Regardless, I didn't get a holiday at all really. I had to go in and make multiple phone calls for schedule changes all weekend. I did this voluntarily because I didn't want my subordinates to lose their holiday. Basically, I'm saying I work my butt off, but it doesn't matter, I've been passed over for upgraded positions and marked down on my performance report. One quick addendum since I first wrote this piece. I have just recently been selected for an upgrade position. I start training this year in August. Though I've asked for this upgrade, I doubt very much that this change in position will effect my career plans in any way.

Secondly, my good friend recently punched his ticket and went for this. His daring willingness to serve God has inspired me. He got out, he had served as an enlisted member for about twelve years (I'll be at about fourteen when I reach the end of my enlistment), and he got out and is now attending Liberty University Seminary full-time. He plans on finishing his M.Div. degree and applying for chaplaincy in the USAF. I want to follow his footsteps (though I'm thinking of going to Denver Seminary).

Thirdly, and this one is the oddest one, I ran into a vociferous liberal chaplain. He spoke of being proud that he was the only (military) chaplain on Okinawa that would perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or counsel same-sex couples on marital issues. Two things in our conversation really spurred me on to this career change. One is that Bible-believing chaplains need to be strong in the military if only to respond to people like that liberal chaplain I met. Not unlike CS Lewis' comments about philosophy: "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered." I feel that one can substitute "chaplains" for "philosophy." Secondly, and this was huge(!), I found out that one can complete one's ministry experience preparation simultaneously with one's seminary attendance. One of the most important prerequisites for becoming a military chaplain is two years of practical ministry experience. When I first looked into military chaplaincy I considered the way closed to me because I didn't think I would be able to support my family while getting that experience. I was worried that if I tried to become a chaplain I'd have to find some way to support my family for about four years without a job (two in seminary and two getting ministry experience). Armed with this knowledge I now know I only have to do two years "unemployed" or "minimally employed" while getting the requisite credentials.

So, here's the plan ... I'm planning on finishing out my current enlistment (separation date: Aug 2020). Immediately upon separating I'm planning on enrolling in seminary (where is still up in the air). While in seminary I'm going to seek part-time ministry at a church. As soon as I finish my M.Div. degree and have the requisite two years of ministry experience I am planning on getting ordained (sponsored) and rejoin the USAF as a chaplain. From the time I rejoin, I will only have to serve about six years and I'll be eligible for retirement from the military, and I plan on doing so. After that, I'm not sure. Maybe working as a chaplain will fit me so well that I keep going until the military kicks me out for being too old ... I don't know. I've been told by several people that I'd make a good chaplain. And, based on some of the above description of what's going on with my current job, I'm immensely more excited about a career as a chaplain than I've been about being a linguist since when I was in language school.

Is this God's will for my life? Well, I'm not certain. I think so, and as I said I've been encouraged by multiple people that it is. However, my wife has proposed a kind of fleece (as the story of Gideon setting out the fleece to test God's will/message). Basically, it goes like this. IF at the end of this overseas assignment (March 2019) I get an assignment to the language institute in Monterey, CA (DLI), I'll take that as God's saying, "stay where you are." I've wanted to teach at DLI since I attended from 2006-2008. If God wants me to stay a linguist, He'll open up that path for me to continue in this job. If I get the assignment to teach at DLI, I'll, more than likely, stay as an enlisted military linguist until 2026 when I retire. Again, after that, I have no idea what I want to do. That's too far in the future to really make plans. Given all this I think "chaplain Sam" or "chaplain Ronicker" has a good ring to it, doesn't it? We'll see.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Determinists' Delusion

Before I get to this topic I want to apologize. I have been over a year without an entry (I have been busy but that's a lame excuse). Before I get into the meat of this issue I want to talk about what started me thinking about this issue. I got into a short discussion on Facebook about the HBO show Westworld and the ramifications of artificial intelligence (AI) (I have since started also watching the British TV show Humans). They both deal with AI and how humans would interact with very human-like robots.

The premise of the show Westworld is complicated and I won't give any spoilers away. Essentially a group of people (only one of the founders of this company appears to be still alive, that is somewhat of a mystery) started a theme park. At this theme park, instead of riding roller coasters, you get to experience a fully authentic style Old West town (and surrounding area). The visitors to the park are free to do, say, behave, kill, rape, etc., etc. anyone and anything they can imagine. The park is set in the future (obviously, since we don't have human-like robots today) and the park's technology keeps the visitors safe. The "hosts" (the term the show uses for the robots) can fight back, and they're programmed to behave in the typical manner of an Old West town, but the "hosts" are incapable of hurting the visitors. The "hosts" can try to shoot the visitors but the bullets don't really hurt the humans (they sting a little), and if a "host" tries to stab or otherwise seriously harm a visitor their primary programming stops them and they freeze (usually). I can't say that I actually recommend the show ... I wish HBO hadn't done it. It intentionally and brazenly uses nudity/sex/violence/etc. to sell the show to a crass, sex-addled society. I understand the nudity (in a sense); basically, when the "hosts" are in the shop for "repair," they never (unless it's to practice a scene from the theme park) wear clothing. So, there are lots of scenes with lots of naked "people" in them. Also, there are a wide variety of sensuous and violent scenes, including rape scenes and scenes depicting slaughter of random "people/hosts" (I don't recall if there are any scenes directly displaying the slaughter of children). What often happens in the theme park is, visitors come to the park and live out their wildest fantasies. There appears, the non-violent characters are not highlighted, that there are some who just come to the park and have fun, explore, play games, get their picture (there is an old-timey photographer often shown in the background), and leave. But, of course, the show revolves around several characters living out their darkest, vilest, cruelest dreams in the park.

The show Humans (technically the 'a' is upside down) is a much less (so far, I'm only on episode three of season 1) dark show. There certainly is much less nudity, the "synths" are nude in some scenes but they're mostly covered or clothed throughout the show (the nudity has not been full-frontal-nudity as it is Westworld several times). However, the show tackles similar philosophical and existential issues with AI. It seems, so far, that the theme is, some of these "synths" are gaining full consciousness or at least seem like they are (what does it even mean to have full consciousness). And, in a sense, some of them seem to be rebelling against their human masters. There are some clear displays of how "synths" are enslaved (some even in the sex industry), but mostly they are just unpaid, unfeeling, slavish (but most often not mistreated) household servants. For example, the primary family characters bought their "synth" to help around the house because the mother was often away on business and the father also worked outside the home and just neither of them had time for domestic issues like cooking or cleaning. So, they bought a "synth" to cook and clean for them and to free them up to spend time together as a family. There are a couple side-plots that haven't fully developed, but apparently, "synths" are hackable and some have gained a certain level of independence/consciousness. They're governed by something similar to Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" 1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. It isn't overtly stated that they must obey these laws (the Will Smith movie I, Robot makes these laws a quintessential part of the plot, but the writers of Humans are more subtle. The "synths" aren't permitted to touch a human unless given direct, explicit permission. Also, and this comes up in the plot, children are not permitted to be "primary users" and may not be touched by the "synths" unless given express permission by an adult/"primary user." Anyways ... I prattle on. These two shows illustrate human depravity like few others I've ever seen. But, all that is just the precursor to what I really want to talk about. That is something that Sam Harris and Paul Bloom discussed in this podcast.

Sam Harris is (in)famous as one of the "four horsemen of atheism" and is an outspoken author and speaker on the subject of atheism. Even in this podcast, which isn't really about atheism/theism, Harris seems to be unable to control himself in deriding the Christian God. He says that God is the worst possible "mind criminal" (a term from an author that he references in the podcast). He says this because God created minds, and then tortures them in Hell (I believe he may have phrased it, "consigns them to torture in Hell"). Nevertheless, the discussion is very interesting. They talk about empathy and compassion. They talk about it with regard to how we will or should treat (future) AI (I'm not going to keep calling these "robots" by the monikers used in the TV shows, I'm just going to call them "AI"). The biggest thing that hit me in this whole conversation wasn't directly about AI. In the course of the conversation Harris insisted (without much argument or support) that though determinism leads us to less anger when people do evil, but doesn't lead us to less desire or love of empathy/compassion (those are not the same, but in this discussion we can treat them together). This inexplicable insistence leads me to think that Harris (and presumably his guest) is deluding himself. Let me put this more straightforwardly. Determinism is the idea that everything and I mean everything, is determined. There is no escape. This is not the "nature versus nurture" argument. This is a combination of nature and nurture that says, essentially, given the combination of one's genes and upbringing that one will behave exactly the way one behaves. So, we cannot blame the despot because he was programmed to be despotic because of his genes and upbringing. If the despot had been born with different genetic makeup he would be different, and if the despot had been born to different parents, he would be different. Regardless, one cannot change one's genes or upbringing, so we shouldn't be mad at the mass murderer because he's just acting out his genes and upbringing. People are just complicated forms of biological machines.

On the other hand, though, Harris insists that we can praise the virtuous person. How does this make sense? He says that we can praise this person because she chooses to care about the wellbeing of others. But wait, doesn't determinism mean that a person is merely the sum total of his/her genes and upbringing, there's not really any such thing as "choosing" something at all. Choosing requires an agent, a person. But determinism destroys personhood. The bad person is just being bad because his genes and upbringing make him do so, just as the good person is just being good because her genes and upbringing make her do so. Harris phrases it something like, people with compassion want the best in others. When I heard him say this, "With loving kindness, you really just ... you want that person to be happy." Isn't "wanting something" a choice? He says that it's different in two ways: first because in hating a bad man, we're assigning ultimate agency to the man, and under determinacy, there is no ultimate agency. But, loving kindness doesn't ascribe ultimate agency to the good person, it's just wanting that person to be happy. Well, no offense to Harris, but his logic is clearly flawed here. The statement may technically be true; that loving kindness doesn't claim that the good person that you're loving has ultimate agency. However, what he's clearly ignoring (perhaps unintentionally), is that his idea of loving kindness clearly ascribes ultimate agency to the person doing the loving kindness. Also, the good deeds for which Harris is saying one might show loving kindness to someone requires that he/she must have ultimate agency (despite Harris' claim otherwise). Harris is deluding himself if he thinks he can have his cake and eat it too. Either determinism absolves both bad and good behavior or the determinists are just lying about their insistence on determinism. Harris (and many, many others) only really claim determinism in a way that suits their preconceived notions.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Running and Relativism

I know, these two topics seem unrelated, but I'll try to explain.  First off I want to preface this entry with my intentions here.  Specifically, I am not here to proselytize you to any particular view.  In fact if anything, this is just a rant and a rather random observation.

As you may or may not know, I've been a barefoot/minimalist runner for about seven years and a runner in general for almost twenty years.  I'm not saying this to boast, but to give my background to show that I have an idea and know a bit about running.  I know, being a lifelong runner doesn't really make one an expert, but let's just leave it at, I know running and barefoot running.  I've been noticing a trend when people ask for advice about shoes and I recommend barefoot running.  They say something like "that's not for me," or "that might be fine for you" or something similar.  Anything seem familiar about those kinds of statements?  To me they sound just like things one might hear in a discussion about truth objective morality versus relativistic morality.  Is there really a right or wrong way to run?  I'd say there's no clear cut answer to that question, but one thing is certain, there is such a thing as a more natural way to run.

Does natural equal better?  I wouldn't say for certain, but I can say that millions of people all around the world spend millions of dollars (more than they really have to spend) to buy things that are "natural."  If you don't believe that check out Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, dōTERRA, Lemongrass Spa, Norwex, MovNat, and many many others!  All these retailers seek to capitalize on the overwhelming sense that most people have that natural = better.  All other things being equal (particularly price), wouldn't you pick the natural alternative over a chemical/synthetic/artificial option?  So, with regards to the question of barefoot/minimalist running/walking/living, tell me what would be more "natural."  I understand, we, especially in the West, fight an uphill battle against our nurture.  Many (probably almost everyone) since the 1980s have been indoctrinated into the idea that barefootedness is unsafe.  Like the mom in A Christmas Story, we're told not that, "you'll shoot your eye out," but that you'll cut your foot if you walk around barefoot.

I won't lie, there is a definite danger of cutting your foot, but I'll be honest, in my seven years (including a half-marathon) of barefootedness I've only cut my foot a handful of times and every time it hasn't been serious.  In fact the worst cut I ever got was when I was a teenager swimming barefoot and exploring an island in Michigan.  That one hurt (it was right on the arch) and seemed to last forever.  But, in reality the danger is minimal (pun intended)!  When you walk or run barefoot you're much more attentive than you are normally and your footfall is such that you don't drag your feet across the ground.  Even if you do step directly on a piece of glass you still probably won't cut your foot.

The key in all this is, I think, twofold indoctrination.  First, the whole it's dangerous thing, with glass and nails and rocks etc etc etc.  The second and I think more difficult portion of our indoctrination is the "I have low arches" or "I overpronate/supinate" or something similar.  Basically, and I blame shoe companies, we're taught from the moment we think about starting running, that everyone's foot and gait are totally different and each person needs a special shoe to deal with that difference.  While there is a real difference in how everyone walks/runs, and that can make a difference when it comes to speed or style/gait one runs with.  These differences do nothing to undermine the foundational truth that we are all fundamentally built the virtually same.  Obviously this excludes people born with deformities or various handicaps, I'm not saying there aren't abnormalities.  I'm saying that fundamentally humans are all born with the same basic bone and muscle structures.  If one has a "flat foot" or a "fallen arch" do you think that person was born with that or did that happen over time?  Does the person with flat feet have the same basic number of bones/joints/ligaments/tendons/muscles in his or her feet?  YES!  I'm not a medical professional and I haven't done direct research on why people have flat feet, but I can assure you no amount of flat-footedness will change whether or not that person can walk/run barefoot.  Whether you believe in God directly creating humans or evolution through natural unguided evolutionary process humans came to be what they are today, it doesn't matter.  Humans naturally are barefoot.

Let's bring this back around to the relativism issue.  People assume that these differences (which I feel are more the result of shoe company indoctrination) somehow preclude them from the truth that barefootedness is more natural.  If that one thing is true and true for everyone then why not follow the truth?  Perhaps people don't really want truth.  I know in all my discussions with atheists about things relating to God they definitely don't seem honest in their seeking of the truth.  I even recently read about Jerry Coyne's "conversion story" to atheism.  I think in both the shoe-wearing world and in the atheist world, sticking one's head in the sand to avoid the truth is much more comfortable than dealing with the truth.  It is more comfortable and easy to say, "well, that's true for you but not for me," than to really address one's views and look for the answers.  Is it more reasonable to believe this or that?

For more info about barefooting check out this book.  For more about how belief in God is more reasonable that atheism check out this book (there are many others but that is my main suggestion today).

It's kinda hard to see, but that's an octopus.  We found it on our last snorkeling outing.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

On the Existential Argument for God

First, I'd like to point out that I very much dislike any existential argument, somewhat related to the argument from desire (for God or anything else).  They're very much appeals to the populous.  And, while there is a point to be made, I hope I make it as we go, I dislike appeals to popular opinion.  Just because a large group of people feel such-and-such does not say anything to the truth of that feeling.

As a bit of background: I was doing some searching for existential arguments when I happened upon this page from "Common Sense Atheism."  This article written by Luke Muehlhauser is a response to an article by Tawa Anderson on "Apologetics 315," and I decided to respond to both of them here.

The first of Tawa’s arguments for God and the one that I want to discuss here is "Can Man Live Without God? An Existential Argument from Human Religiosity.”  Luke points out: "Tawa notes that every ancient and medieval culture was highly religious, and that 'there is indeed a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God.'"  However, Luke has no (real) response.  He only scoffs, "Tell that to the healthy, satisfied, well-educated atheists of Scandinavia and they will laugh at you."  Will they?  This article and this article from the New York Post and this article from the Guardian, all tell very different stories about Scandinavian happiness than seems to be touted in the atheist blogosphere.  The basic points in those articles are that Scandinavians are actually among the saddest people in the world, it's the social norm there to conform and claim happiness and uniformity above all else.  Sure they might be among the best educated in the world, as Luke seems to fall into the confusion between causation and correlation as he blogs on this topic quite frequently.  Let's not assume that just because they're unhappy atheists that that is why they are highly educated or vice versa.  Perhaps education and atheism are only corollarily related.

After scoffing and wrongfully claiming that Scandinavians are happy atheists, Luke moves on to an appeal to the majority in the educated world: "Tell that to the most prestigious scientists and philosophers in the world, most of whom are atheists, and they will laugh at you.  (More scoffing/emphasis added.)  Tell that to the millions of fulfilled, moral, successful atheists around the world and they will laugh at you."  Again not really an argument just mocking scorn.  But, since he's gone there let's play the numbers, and if we're playing we might as well play big right?  On Luke's other post about the causes of atheism he references this statistic: "non-believers skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900 to 918 million in 2000, or 0.2% of world population in 1900 to 15.3% in 2000" from this source.  So, given approximately 10,000 years of recorded human history the largest percentage ever recorded was a measly 15.3%!?  I am not a mathematician (I'm a linguist), but even I can tell that the incredibly vast majority of human beings throughout the entirety of human history were definitely religious, at least in some fashion.  If anything this supposedly educated majority of people that are happy atheists is completely false given simple statistics.  Also, let's look at educated religious people.  This interesting article on "" counts some of the top IQs ever tested as being Christians or at least theists.  Maybe the test is skewed to allow for a religious person to score higher (that was sarcasm!)?

So let's go back to Luke's only critique so far, "The claim that 'there is … a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God' is empirically false."  Is it?  We've shown clearly that trillions of people throughout history have had a desire for the ultimate, the other-worldly, the infinite.  But, because there's been a jump in atheism in the past hundred years or so the claim that most people have a desire for God is "empirically false"?  Perhaps Luke is misunderstanding the definition of empirically false.  How is this argument "a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity"?  It's a verifiable claim from history that most people want to connect with God.  This verifiable fact implies that there is a hunger deep within humanity.  What are we to make of this hunger?  CS Lewis uses the analogy of one's hunger for food.  If an animal was born without the hunger for food, that organism would die within one generation.  Why are we still living with this desire if it's genetically disadvantageous to desire God, why is it still here?  If it's genetically disadvantageous to desire moral actions why do we still have those desires as well?  Luke's "critique" falls flat.

Luke's prejudice is clear when he calls belief in God "lies" that we ought to leave behind.  Claiming that "meaning and morality and happiness ... is available without fear and superstition (again a sign of prejudice), that is when they leave childish (and again) and comforting notions about gods behind."  I'm genuinely confused here though.  In the very next paragraph Luke claims that religion "thrives on existential insecurity," but he just said that it's "childish and comforting."  How can it be both comforting and full of insecurity?  Again a weak critique here because it's internally inconsistent.  Supposedly religion is childish and comforting, yet it seeks to unsettle its adherents.  Apparently this one book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, is Luke's bible and much of his blogging apparently is founded on it.  It may have something interesting to say, but so far based on Luke's comments reflecting what it says, I'm not impressed.  That book claims that "Religion does not provide existential security – instead, it thrives on existential insecurity. It thrives on poverty and ignorance and fear and instability and risk."  And, that "the poorest nations in the world are the most religious," to which I wonder if this took into account the difference in wealth between Islamic countries and Christian or (post-Christian countries) or atheist nation-states like China.  Also, in a sense this is to be expected!  "When people live in a society that already provides them with [any] security ... [that has] stability and safety and education and health care ..." etc. etc. "then people don't need (or want) gods anymore."  (Quotes taken from the blog not from the book.)  Of course, if you lacked nothing in your life, would you want something more?  Oh wait that's the hallmark of the rich!  They become rich because they want more and more.  I found this interesting quote in Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, (I do NOT recommend the book in general, this is merely a quote) "The change in purchasing power over the last half century in the wealthy nations carries the same message: real purchasing power has more than doubled in the United States, France, and Japan, but life satisfaction has changed not a whit."  Even Jesus taught this concept in Matt. 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25.  Why would one think that people with money and security would want God?  They already have security and all the "happiness" that money can buy, which if they're honest isn't really all that much.  Apply this on a societal scale and see a similar result.  If the government supplies all the money, food, health, lodging you could ever want why would you look to God for anything.  That worked so well in the Soviet Union (again with the sarcasm).  So what can we conclude from this?  Safety and security provided by the state quickly and quietly errodes religion (particularly the weak, liberal religions that seek to appease society rather than God).  Scandinavia is the poster child for this.  As the weak, socially watered-down church there stopped appealing to God it became less and less appealing to people as their physical needs were all met by the socialist state.

This last bit is obvious and the clearest indicator that Luke has no understanding of the argument being discussed: "Does my yearning to be the next Matthew Bellamy suggest that I will be? Alas, no. Wishful thinking does not indicate truth."  That is not what the existential argument is saying whatsoever.  The argument does not say that wishing for God makes God exist.  It says, there is an overwhelming desire within humanity for the divine.  Therefore, there probably is something to that desire and the best explanation is that God put that desire in us.  The argument is not saying that wishful thinking makes it so.  Luke's critiques present a clearly flawed view and a deep misunderstanding of the argument in general.  As I said, I don't particularly like the existential argument(s) for God, but Luke Muehlhauser clearly doesn't understand them.  There is a big difference between not liking or thinking that an argument is ineffective and misunderstanding an argument and poorly critiquing it.

One last thing and this is more for my own edification than anything else.  I'd like to try to put the (correct) argument in a syllogism.

P1) The vast majority of humanity has had a desire for God
P2) People *generally* do not persist in desires that have no possibility of being fulfilled
C1) There *probably* is a God

From my recent trip to Korea