Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number Two

Based on my recent post about trying to break my writer's block, I'm tackling this list of ten things Christians/theists need to keep in mind.  See this link for number one, this is the second point:

Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.

First off, let's discuss definitions of various terms here.  I'm not claiming that these are the best or dictionary definitions, but it seems these are commonly agreed upon definitions.  If you disagree with these definitions I'd be open to hearing alternatives.

Science -- the methodical study of the physical/natural universe.
Radically altered -- completely changed.
Universe -- the totality of physically existent things.
Grapple with the implications -- consider and think about with relation to meaning.
Prescientific beliefs-- (honestly I'm not certain here, but I assume) metaphysical statements.
Truth -- that which best coherently explains and correlates with reality.

Given these definitions I find it curious why this would even be a problem.  Science deals with the physical nature of the universe, religion/Christianity deals with the metaphysical and sources of what it means to exist.  I think the original assumption is that science has somehow proven that God doesn't exist or at least that God doesn't need to exist.  I do not agree with the concept of NOMA, (Non-Overlapping MAgesteria) but in a sense the two are on a one-way street.  Science is concerned with what is happening or from what cause something happens, but it is limited to physical universe.  Science cannot get to a deeper meaning of existence.  Science cannot give why there is anything at all instead of nothingness.  Maybe, but honestly I'm not holding my breath, science will someday give us how the universe came into existence, but even then it still doesn't say why.  To try to apply purely scientific views to morality, consciousness, deeper meaning etc. only leads to disastrous results.  Pure logic says that one must torture the innocent if it will bring about something good.  Applying mathematic principles to life leads to devastating consequences.  As portrayed in the popular movie, Watchmen the hero/villain Adrian Veidt is perfectly justified in killing millions in order to potentially save billions of people.  Also, in V for Vendetta the government is perfectly justified at rounding up innocent people to do scientific experiments on them.  As I insinuated before any number of thought experiments seem to easily slip into absurdity.  Say you somehow could save one person by the torture of another, innocent, unrelated person.  Under strict utility, you have to weigh things that are totally unrelated to their value as human beings.  In a strict utilitarian view the idea of inalienable rights (life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness) is foreign.  You do not have a right to life if somehow your death brings about some good.

So, the study of the physical universe has greatly altered our lives including how and what are able to do, but it has had no impact on the meaning of life.  Just consider what I'm doing right now.  I'm typing out my thoughts on a laptop computer that is able to connect wirelessly at great speed to the largest collections of facts ever compiled.  It can process information at a speed faster than what used to take up several rooms of computing devices.  This isn't even all that amazing of a machine either.  Even small electronic devices can carry thousands of books.  We can nearly instantaneously communicate visually even at great distances.  We've landed on the moon.  We've sent probes deep into outer space.  But, all of this wonderful progress doesn't bring any deeper meaning or better moral value (whatever that may mean).

So far I've been bringing out the point that science doesn't bring meaning or really better people, only better convenience to living.  But what about the implication that religion is trying to control or denigrate science and scientific progress?  Why is this such a common theme?  I've actually written about this a couple times here and here.  Science actually only makes sense in the context of belief in God.  If everything is the result of random chance (under a strict materialist view), why would one expect any semblance of order to nature?  How can we perform scientific tests without first assuming that things won't randomly change?  Materialists won't admit it, but the consistency in nature is a presupposition smuggled in from the Christian/theistic view of the universe.  These "prescientific" beliefs actually guide science to be better, not just by giving science moral guidelines within which to work (think Nazi science experiments), but by giving it a foundation from which to spring.  If everything is random, then the scientific method itself will never work, because there's no reason why we should expect our testing and hypothesizing to be consistent in a framework of randomness.  Science, in the proper context is not lessened by believing that God created (creates) the natural universe, it a deepened understanding of the creator.  Indeed science is a form of worship, studying to know the Creator better by studying the creation.

Truth ... As Pilate so famously asked of Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), presumably not knowing that Jesus had already given the answer, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6)."  If you're trying to get to the truth of things, there is only one source of truth revealed to humanity in various ways.  Science certainly is a wonderful study and can teach us much about God, but God has also revealed much of Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 1:18).  There is no reason to expect science to "find God," or truth about God, but I'd say the reason some scientists can't find God is they are looking at the trees and missing the forest.  Big Bang theory also points to a creator.  The awesome intricacies of biological life, particularly the information found in genes, also points to God.  Also, based on a video I watched recently about quantum theory it seems that one of the conclusions we can come to is that quantum mechanics actually indicates that God is the reason for the universe.  So, science has proven God, just not in the way dogmatic materialist scientists will accept.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number One

Based on my recent post about trying to break my writer's block here's number one:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.

I've talked about this before and I don't really want a rehash of the same thoughts.  But, I want to revisit this idea to flesh-out how this really matters (or rather, how it doesn't).  What are the supposed extraordinary claims that the theist is supposedly making?  I can't speak for all the atheists who argue about this, but I assume that most of them are calling miracles "extraordinary claims."  Now, let's look at this.  Are miracles extraordinary claims?  Well, yes.  Of course they are, by definition a miracle is something extraordinary, but they're really only unexpected if there's no God.  If one takes a materialistic approach to philosophy, then a miracle cannot occur.  However, there's an important point missing from this whole conversation about miracles.  The very existence of anything whatsoever is a miracle in itself.  It's an ongoing miracle of creation.  I know, some theologians will balk at this, as the Genesis account implies that God is no longer creating.  Gen 2:1 says that the heavens and earth were completed and that God had "completed His work."  So, where do I come off saying that existence itself is a miracle?  Well, Col 1:17 Paul talks about how, in Christ all things hold together.  In this paradigm a miracle is not surprising at all.  Hebrews 1:3 has an even more active phrasing about how God holds everything together by His power.  So, the God who holds everything together can, by His mere willpower, suspend, cancel, or defy His own control over the entire universe.  Miracles are not nature behaving wrong or differently than it normally does or should.  It's God doing His will contrary to what we think or what we expect.

Also, as I commented before, which is a bigger miracle: A) The universe, for no reason with no cause exists, or B) God made the universe out of nothing?  Again, toss aside materialism for a minute.  If you a priori take materialism to be true then of course the theistic answer sounds extraordinary.  But at face-value the A) choice is obviously much more extraordinary.  I have seen arguments, most notably from Hawking, that attempt to use science to say that because of the laws of physics the universe must exist.  I don't even pretend to understand his scientific arguments, but have read some interesting things online that summarize Hawking and other prominent scientists' claims, and I've got to say, "I'm not buying it."  First off, every time I hear these types of arguments I hear a redefining of the word "nothing."  Now I understand that in certain contexts nothing can mean different things.  For example, one might ask, "What's up with you lately?"  To which you might answer, "Oh, nothing."  Does that mean the same as deGrasse Tyson's use of "nothing" which apparently means some type of quantum field in flux?  Obviously not.  But, these are the types of things I see when I discuss the beginnings of the universe with a materialist.  There was something (called nothing) and it exploded and became something else.  I pointed at Big Bang cosmology as an argument for God with an atheist one time and after going around and around, this interlocutor ended up admitting that the Big Band was true, but we don't know what happened before the Big Bang.  It's funny though, this particular atheist refused to accept that it might have been God. Basically reduced to saying, "We don't know and likely will never know what caused the Big Bang, but I refuse to accept that it could have been God."  If you give me a just-so story and make all your pieces fit together by inventing facts and theories that have never been shown to work in reality and only really work in some outrageous mathematical formula, all of which you cannot explain in terms that any regular person could follow or would accept, I have every right to dismiss your claim as extraordinary.  I have a saying I've been using for a while now (not sure if I've used it in my blogging before, if so I apologize for repeating myself), "Any claim made without evidence, can be dismissed without argument."  These are indeed extraordinary claims, but for sure the more extraordinary is the one that defies definition, explanation, and reason.

Lastly, I want to comment on the final part of the statement, "the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist."  Now, I know I'm only an amateur philosopher, but my knee-jerk reaction is, "So what?"  I, as a theist, have no qualms with making a case.  In general, yes, I'm making a claim.  (I don't think we can completely let off the atheist, but the point still stands, I'm making a truth-claim.)  My claim is fairly simple to prove though, "I believe, with good reason, that God exists."  Throw that one out there and see if anyone can disprove it ... notice some important points before you attack it.  First, "I believe," with this important qualifier, no one, can ever prove my claim incorrect unless that person somehow has mind-reading capabilities, which apparently doesn't exist outside God.  One might attack the second portion, "with good reason."  Well, let's look into various reasons/arguments. There are so many!  I've already mentioned the cosmological argument.  Then there's various design/fine-tuning arguments.  There's the moral argument made popular by CS Lewis in his masterwork Mere Christianity.  And, there are many others, some based on evidence and some on philosophy.  But clearly, there are plenty of "good reasons" to believe.  If you don't accept my claim, then not only are you calling me an idiot who hasn't examined these arguments, but you're making the claim that the millions of other Christians throughout history have all done the same thing.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't typically think an appeal to authority is a particularly compelling argument.  However, if the authority to whom I'm appealing is sprinkled with such intellectual greats as Plato/Socrates, Aquinas, Newton, and even many of the top ten highest measured IQ test scorers who are at the very least theists, some clearly Christians, I'm justified in making such an appeal.  So, tell me again how you, Mr. Internet Atheist, know that only stupid, backwoods, country-bumkin, redneck, low-brow, Bible-thumpers believe in God.

Sorry for the abundance of sarcasm, but it seems that Mr. Internet Atheist is getting to me.  He's been drinking the Dawkins koolaid and doesn't really have anything new to add to the conversation.  I am by no means creative or worthy to be called an innovator in this discussion, but at least I admit that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants.  I don't know very much, but I do know that I exist and that I have good reasons to believe what I believe.

Screenshot from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/finetuning

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mere Moral Argument Part 2

Checkout this entry I submitted for the Christian Apologetics Alliance Newsletter:

Mere Moral Argument Part Two
The moral argument for God as laid out by C.S. Lewis in, Mere Christianity.
by: Samuel Ronicker November 2014

This is a continuation of a review of the book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Of course it is recommended that you read along in the text as we move on to book two; “What Christians Believe.”  Without further introduction let us examine the next section of this great text.

Chapter six; The Rival Conceptions of God

Lewis continues his masterwork with a somewhat puzzling comment, “If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through.”  Unfortunately, this is not a commonly held belief among many Christians.  Though it can be said of other religions as well, many seem to believe that they have a monopoly on the truth.  However, it is important that a Christian views other religions as wrong and that they are different from Christianity.  Here Lewis goes on to divide worldviews along the lines that are important in this ongoing discussion of the moral argument for God: the materialist vice the theist.  Then among theist views he divides those that believe god is somehow “beyond good and evil.”  The one that calls a cancer evil because it kills a man, but that person could just as easily say that a surgeon is evil because the surgeon kills the cancer.  In both the atheistic view and the pantheistic view, there really is no such thing as evil.  In the Christian view God is separate from creation and there are things in creation that work against God’s will.  Lewis finishes this chapter with a knock-down argument against any naturalist answer to the so-called “problem of evil.”

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.”

Chapter seven; The Invasion

Lewis takes this chapter to discuss two types of invasion, one of over-simplified Christianity.  Just as atheism is too simple in leaving so much out and having no explanation for too many things so too is watered-down Christianity.  This is a type of Christianity that “simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right--leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption.  Both these are boys’ philosophies.”  The goal is not simplicity; religion is never simple.  The world is not simple, why would we expect relationship to God to be simple?  Even a “simple” child’s prayer is not truly simple.  It’s enemies of Christianity that often set up this simple version in order to tear it down.

To read the full article click here: http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2014/12/19/equipped-vol-1-no-2-the-word-became-flesh-and-dwelt-among-us/

Picture credit here

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mere Moral Argument

Checkout this entry I submitted for the Christian Apologetics Alliance Newsletter:

Mere Moral Argument
The moral argument for God as lain out by C.S. Lewis in, Mere Christianity.
by: Samuel Ronicker September 2014

This article will seek to set out the moral argument for God as C. S. Lewis presents it in the first “book” of his momentous work, Mere Christianity.  This text was first published in 1952 partly based on a series of radio lectures given from 1942 to 1944.  If you have never read it, you should add it to your reading list; it is considered by many to be one of the best apologetics works of the 20th century. Lewis’ style is powerful as he lays out an argument that points to the existence of God based on moral intuition.  Lewis was famous as an atheist who set out to disprove Christianity and ended up, as he describes his conversion in Surprised by Joy: “In … 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God … perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”  In order to cover as much of this work as possible this article will attempt to summarize each chapter of the first section in order, future editions of the Christian Apologetics Alliance newsletter will feature expositions of the rest of the text.  Also of note, because there are multiple editions page numbers will not be referenced rather chapter and section headings only as they haven’t changed much through the different revisions.  Without further introduction:

Book One; Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe
Chapter One; The Law of Human Nature

This section contains the foundation for the rest of the arguments throughout the text.  Without a Law of Human Nature any dispute is empty.  Lewis uses the example of two people quarreling, and when two people argue, they generally do not dismiss the other person’s standards.  They actually agree on a standard that there is such a thing as right behavior.  In the typical quarrel, each person attempts to justify his or her actions within an accepted moral standard.  As Lewis puts it:
It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.
So, if there’s no such thing as right, then there’s also no such thing as wrong.  Though this law is not like the Laws of Nature (i.e. gravity).  One important difference is that humans can disobey this law.  There can be exceptions to the Law of Human nature, just as there are occasionally people who are colorblind or tone-deaf.  Lewis handles one important objection right away here.  Some skeptics claim that morality is totally different in different cultures, but this is missing an important point.  Just because there are differences, does not dismiss that all cultures have a sense of right and wrong.  The clearest example is in this simple quote, “Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.”

To read the full article click here: http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2014/10/18/equipped-vol-1-no-1/

Picture credit here

Writer's Block Fix (Hopefully)

Since I've been struggling to come up with content I figured I'd look through some of my notes on potential bloging topics. While doing so, I found this: John Loftus posted this, and "Kel" posted this on his blog: "Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists."

1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.

2. Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.

3. There is a gap between natural theology and revealed theology. Arguing for a prime mover is not the same thing as arguing for any faith tradition.

4. An atheist is under no obligation to take your theology seriously. It's your belief, you need to justify it in secular terms. Just as a Hindu or a Scientologist would.

5. The problem of miracles is a serious challenge that must be overcome for any testimony or private revelation of the divine to be taken as veridical.

6. Faith is not an [sound] epistemology, and the retreat to faith is a concession of the failure of the belief to be defended on rational grounds.

7. The link between theism and morality has been conceptually (Euthyphro dilemma), empirically (evolutionary ethics), and culturally (morality existing without theism) discredited. Thus coupling God with the notion of Good is not only misleading, but trying to own a fundamental aspect of the human condition.

8. Atheism is not materialism. Materialism is a scientific doctrine, while atheism is a stance on the position of gods. Arguing against materialism is not going to make the case for theism.

9. Atheism is a conclusion, not a worldview. Atheism is not an answer to life, the universe, and everything - just the conclusion that theism isn't.

10. Attack the arguments for what is said, not what isn't. Though this should apply to everyone - not just theists. Arguing against interpretations not in the text is setting up a caricature, as is arguing against uncharitable interpretations of what is said.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Response to: "Why Didn't Anyone Do Something?" by J.T. Cardwell

If you haven't check out the original entry "Why Didn't Anyone Do Something?" by J.T. Cardwell.
"Why didn't anyone do something to stop him?" my best friend looked directly at me and asked with overt disgust and incredulity as we sat on the couch in our living room. The expression in her face and voice was a plea for the justice that was missing from the story. Her eyes bored through mine. I began to open my mouth to answer but ... I couldn't.
Honestly I don't think I can answer this either.  People are evil and it makes me sick sometimes how evil they can be.  I didn't really follow the story of the Steubenville, Ohio rape case, but the perversion of people never ceases to amaze me.  I'd like to think that if I were put in the same situation as the many many bystanders, I would have stepped in and stopped the tragedy.  I know, I have a completely different perspective than those involved.  I've been trained to see things like that and intervene.  The people involved (the bystanders) were probably all kids.  They probably knew nothing about how to step up and intervene when they saw the perpetrators taking advantage of the victim.

I think that is actually worse, if one can really put a measurement on such evil, that is the reaction to the bystanders had.  Would you know what to do if you were a sixteen-year-old kid at a party and saw a young woman being carried around partially clothed and passed out?  I would hope that my children will never be in a situation like this, but if they do ever see anything like this I want them to step up and stop the violence.  The reactions are again, even worse.  Many in the community commented on the pictures of the incident with evil spite and claims of her impropriety as if she somehow wanted this to happen?!  Really people?  I can kind of forgive young kids for not intervening, but what about the adult reactions later?!  These are supposed to be adults, they should know better. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steubenville_High_School_rape_case
Looking at my best friend's disgusted and incredulous expression, I recognized the real emotion she felt: betrayal. And I realized I didn't have an answer for her.
"Betrayal" is right!  Betrayal of an entire town of this poor young woman.  Especially in their "defense" of the perpetrators.  I think the most disgusting fact in the whole situation came from the media coverage:


If anything, the "punishment" did not fit the crime!  These boys knew what they were doing.  They knew that it was wrong.  They should have been punished to the fullest extent of the law!  Their lives were rightfully ruined!  They ruined the life of an innocent, they deserve to be punished.
I didn't know why coaches and school administrators were impeding the investigation and attempting to conceal information.
I didn't know that either!  Those administrators and coaches should also be punished to the fullest extent possible.  There is some truth to the idea that an immature brain cannot make decisions on the same level as an adult, but what were they thinking?!  These are adults.  They should be thinking through their decisions.  How could they impede the investigation?  Did they think they wouldn't get caught?  Did they think they were somehow doing the right thing?  What kind of world are we living in where school leaders would stand up to illegally defend rapists rather than a victim.  One could almost forgive them if they had broken the law to defend the victim.
Empathetic enough to open my eyes wide enough to finally recognize the complexity of the truth: rape culture isn't just an over-sensitive exaggeration college girls claim exists to get attention, as is often asserted. No. It was as American as apple pie. And it was now Steubenville, Ohio's legacy.
It's tough, but we need to find a balance between seeing a rape culture in the entire US, and acknowledging there's a problem and seeking ways to address it.  We will never eradicate this disease completely, but there are definitely steps we can take to help.  There needs to be a balance between maintaining gender identity and gender roles, while promoting gender equality and educating about rape and the evils thereof.  http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_culture

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reblog: Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 9

Part 9: Apples, Oranges, and Character Assassination
“When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.”  — Socrates
Only two fallacies on the docket today, but they are biggies!

Category mistake/error

I’m sure you have heard the term, “It’s apples and oranges.” Maybe you have used it, yourself. When Person A says this to Person B, it might be the case that Person B has made an explicit comparison between two things, in which case Person A believes that the things in question are not sufficiently alike to warrant Person B’s comparison in support of his case. A timely example of this might go as follows:

“Person A: How can you be against same-sex marriage? It’s like being against mixed-race marriages, which everyone knows was bigoted and unconstitutional. Miscegenation laws were repealed and so should bans on same-sex marriage. 
Person B: That reasoning doesn’t fly. It’s apples and oranges. 
Person A: Why do you say that? 
Person B: First, there are no federal bans against same-sex marriage in the U.S.; there just isn’t any legal provision for it. But, more to the point, same-sex marriage and interracial marriage have extremely little in common. There is no difference between a black and a white human being (or any other color), because skin color is biologically and morally trivial. There is an enormous difference, however, between a man and a woman. Race or ethnicity has no bearing on marriage. Sex, on the other hand, is fundamental to marriage, in regards to both reproduction and child-rearing, which constitute the primary, societal purpose for marriage.”

Another way one can commit a “category mistake” fallacy is by implicitly assuming — as evidenced in one or more statements — that a thing belongs to a particular group with certain characteristics, when in fact the thing in question does not belong to said group — at least, not in the proper context (e.g., within the relevant worldview or under the specific set of circumstances being discussed). Therefore, it should not be expected to have those characteristics, and the argument fails.


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Again, sorry for the lack of content.  I wasn't able to take classes this semester so I might be able to take some time to write more.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest Post: "Why Didn't Anyone Do Something?" by J.T. Cardwell

"Why didn't anyone do something?"

From Facebook: 15 October 2014 at 09:27

"Why didn't anyone do something to stop him?" my best friend looked directly at me and asked with overt disgust and incredulity as we sat on the couch in our living room. The expression in her face and voice was a plea for the justice that was missing from the story. Her eyes bored through mine. I began to open my mouth to answer but ... I couldn't. 
My friend was referring to the news story from Steubenville, Ohio where a female teen was carried around unconscious and at times naked or exposed, as if a sex doll, by another student throughout the night ... to multiple house-parties ... with dozens of witnesses. Despite being at parties or in a car surrounded by people, some of whom knew both her and the perpetrators, no one did anything to stop the ongoing victimization. Worse: several people photographed or recorded her being penetrated (raped) and posted pictures with "rapey" and lewd comments about the unconscious girl on social media. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steubenville_High_School_rape_case

Looking at my best friend's disgusted and incredulous expression, I recognized the real emotion she felt: betrayal. And I realized I didn't have an answer for her.


I didn't know how it was possible that those things happened in such a public manner and no one present did anything to stop it.


I didn't know how the community could defend the teen perpetrators, pointing to their bright future as football players, identifying them as the victims, and dismissing their behavior as simply 'boys being boys.' (Three CNN correspondents also expressed similar opinions)





I didn't know how the community could blame the girl for what happened to her while she was unconscious.



I didn't know why coaches and school administrators were impeding the investigation and attempting to conceal information.



I didn't know that my ignorance of these answers and my inability to explain my best friend's empathetic feelings of betrayal would cause me to be ... curious.

Sincerely and passionately and empathetically curious.


Sincere enough to stop, question, and re-evaluate the things I thought I knew.


Empathetic enough to open my eyes wide enough to finally recognize the complexity of the truth: rape culture isn't just an over-sensitive exaggeration college girls claim exists to get attention, as is often asserted. No. It was as American as apple pie. And it was now Steubenville, Ohio's legacy.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_culture


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Once again I must apologize for my lack of content.  I've hit a serious wall of writer's block.  I'll attempt a response to this soon.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 25, 2014

On Debating and Bad Arguments

I've recently started listening to the NPR radio program, Intelligence Squared US.  I listen to various podcasts during my daily commute, and since I typically drive home for lunch I spend about forty minutes in my car daily.  The debates have been quite interesting.  So far I've listened to; Was Edward Snowden Justified?Should The President Be Able To Order Citizens Killed Abroad?It May Be Flexing Its Muscles, But Is Russia A Marginal Power?, and the last debate for this entry was Does Affirmative Action On Campus Do More Harm Than Good?.  I've also listened to More Clicks, Fewer Bricks: The Lecture Hall is Obsolete, but I'd like to save that one for its own full entry.  A word about the formatting and "scoring" of these debates; there are four debaters, two for the motion two against.  There are three rounds.  I assume the team that gets to go first is chosen at random because in the five debates I've listened to so far they seem to have alternated who goes first.  Each person gets seven minutes to state his or her case.  The second round is a Q&A session with both sides responding off-the-cuff to questions from the moderator, John Donvan, and audience members about the discussion.  Then the third round is another two minutes of uninterrupted time to state closing arguments (again, I'm not certain of the order I haven't really been keeping track if there's a pattern relating to the first round).  The scoring is fairly simple.  There's a poll taken at the beginning (before the debate) and another poll after the debate and the side whose percentage points change up the most wins the debate.

In, Was Edward Snowden Justified? the results were:
Before: 29% for, 29% against (wow even amounts!), 42% undecided
After: 54% for 35% against -- the side arguing that Snowden was justified won the debate.

What do you think?  I think (and as always my thoughts are my own and not the opinion of the US Gov. or the DoD or the US Air Force) that he was NOT justified.  I have a bit of an interesting point of view on this one, given my job.  But, I know there are multiple avenues through which one can lodge complaints, and I don't feel that Snowden did his due diligence to use them.  I understand that he was working within a system, and that he was dealing with appealing to those that perpetuated the situation itself. However, I feel that there are so many better ways he could have handled what he apparently thought were egregious violations of the constitution.  Also, if he were legitimately worried about the constitution he would have been more judicious in what and how he made the information available.  He released so much stuff (according to the debate and some news articles I read some time ago), that there's no way he could possibly know all the harm that he could be causing to the US and it's allies.  If he were really worried about specific injustices, he should have only dealt with and worked with those specific injustices.  The harm that he did, most certainly outweighs the good (if any), that came from his breaking his oath.

In, Should The President Be Able To Order Citizens Killed Abroad? the results were:
Before: 29% for, 44% against, 27% undecided
After: 54% for, 39% against -- the side arguing that the president should have the power to target and kill U.S. citizens abroad won the debate.

Honestly, I am still mostly undecided in this one.  I think that we shouldn't handcuff the executive office when it comes to targeting enemies of the state (regardless of their nationality).  Also, I don't think we should restrict such targeting to specific countries, "war zones," or "hot battlefields" etc.  If we say, we won't target US citizens then terrorist organizations will (more than ever) seek to recruit US citizens as a type of human shields.  Also, if we restrict our targeting to "hot battlefields" like Afghanistan, the terrorist organizations will (more than ever) seek the "safety" of Pakistan and other neighboring countries.  I'm undecided because I think the constitution restricts such power in certain circumstances, but I think that in certain circumstances the power is under the executive's authority to wage war.  The side that argued for the motion did a much better job arguing than the opposing side.  The opposition's numbers actually went down, which is the first and only time I've seen that so far.

In, It May Be Flexing Its Muscles, But Is Russia A Marginal Power? the results were:
Before: 25% for, 43% against, 32% undecided
After: 35% for, 58% against -- the side that argued that Russia is not a marginal power won the debate.

I am against the motion, but I feel that though Russia's once-world-superpower status still exists in a certain degree, it is quickly losing it's global meaningfulness and might even someday fade into obscurity.  I doubt that it will happen any time soon and it can be turned around with strong leadership, but it's current road is one towards weakness.

In, Does Affirmative Action (AfAc) On Campus Do More Harm Than Good? the results were:
Before: 22% for, 48% against, 30% undecided
After: 36% for, 55% against -- the side arguing for the motion changed their percentage of votes the most and though they had a lower percentage at the end, they are considered the winners of the debate.

This is a tough one, as it really doesn't apply to me and I don't really know many people to whom it would apply.  I feel like the side that won, those arguing for the motion that AfAc does more harm than good, made better arguments.  The side against, seemed to focus on emotional pleas and things like appeals to 50 years ago status quo.  They had an easier case to my mind, but they didn't make a very strong argument.  The side that argued for the motion cited multiple, peer-reviewed studies that showed that when weaker students were given AfAc bonuses to get into higher-level schools and programs they typically failed out and ended up being discouraged and dropping out altogether.  The much better option would be to place students appropriately according to their abilities and have them in a place that is better suited for their level and they complete their studies and go on to be better, more productive members of society.

What's the point of all this you may ask . . . Well, I've been thinking.  What makes a good argument?  Do passionate pleas of how the status quo is wrong and needs to be changed make good arguments?  I'm not willing to rule out all appeals to emotion, as after all, we're emotional beings.  We should, at least a little, think and act with our hearts rather than our minds.  But, what about issues like the AfAc question?  On the emotional side it seems wrong to criticize a system that has, or at least has as its core goal, helped so many that are unable help themselves; victims of a bad system of sorts.  But, should we let our hearts overrule our minds?  If there are legitimate studies that show the program doesn't work, should we maintain it, just because it's goal is to help these "victims"?

In the Snowden debate, one of the primary arguments against him being justified was the amount of irreparable damage his actions caused.  Is that a very powerful argument?  On its own, I'd say, no.  Just the amount one steals doesn't make it worse.  I know it's somewhat countercultural, but I believe that if one steals a $.05 pencil from one's place of work that person is just as guilty of stealing as the multimillion dollar embezzler.  I do NOT feel that the punishment of those crimes should necessarily be the same.  (I know what some of you might be thinking, "But wait, doesn't the God that you claim to believe in do that?" "Sentencing everyone to Hell regardless of the degree to which one sins!"  You'd be wrong, in fact, because the punishment for sin is death of which everyone is guilty and must submit to, but the punishment of Hell is for the ultimate in rejecting God's forgiveness.  People are not sent to Hell because of their sins, they are sent to Hell for the specific sin of rejecting God.)

I do have some difficulty listening to these arguments dispassionately sometimes.  I have certain arguments in mind when I hear the topic (sometimes, the debate about Russia's marginalism really didn't occur to me to be an issue), and when I am listening to the debate I try to divorce my preconceptions from the discussion and only weigh the arguments based on their individual merit(s).  There is no such thing as a complete tabula rasa, and we will always have some kind of bias.  Though to me, it's a hallmark of a truly thoughtful person to be able to examine one's own biases and understand them and keep them in mind when approaching new ideas.

I haven't been out to see the sunset in a while!  Need to make some time for it.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

An Atheist Answers “20 Short Arguments Against God’s Existence” (Reblog)

I don't usually do this, in fact it's my first time, but I'm reblogging an article I recently ran across from the atheist blogger Boxing Pythagoras. His piece "An Atheist Answers '20 Short Arguments Against God’s Existence'" is one of the best, most honest atheist pieces I've ever read. Without further ado:


This single-panel comic strip succinctly and adequately describes the bulk of my interaction with the other citizens of the Internet over the last couple of decades. If you think that this is an exaggeration, I’ll refer you to my wife, who will attest that we have had some version of this conversation many, many times. I simply have a strange attraction to correcting bad arguments and inane claims, whenever I see them. Now, since I am an avowed and outspoken atheist, one might think that this generally culminates in my conversing with the religious. However, I tend to spend just as much time correcting many of the lies, misconceptions, and really bad arguments that embedded themselves into the modern humanist/materialist/atheist subculture as I spend in debunking poor religious apologetics. The simple fact that someone’s end point-of-view agrees with mine does not make their claims right. Just like in High School math, it doesn’t matter if you stumbled upon the correct answer; you show your work because the process of finding that answer is more important than the answer itself.
To that end, when I saw a video called “20 Short Arguments Against God’s Existence,” by Hemant Mehta, posted on the Friendly Atheist blog, I knew I was going to have to respond.


1. There’s no evidence

This is actually quite untrue. There’s a good bit of evidence. Particularly anecdotal evidence from believers. This is a common mantra among atheists, but it’s a very bad one to utilize because it is blatantly untrue. When engaging in a persuasive dialogue with a believer, if one of your foundational arguments is as thoroughly untrue as this statement, it gives your audience a reason to immediately dismiss your position.

A better, more accurate claim would be, “I am not aware of any demonstrable evidence which is convincing.” This claim is honest, acknowledging that we don’t have complete knowledge and that there may exist something of which we are unaware. It also clarifies that we are referring to evidence which can be verified by outside parties, eliminating things like anonymous anecdotes and personal revelation from the mix. Finally, this statement acknowledges that some things which seem like good evidence to a believer are wholly unpersuasive to a non-believer– for example, the fine-tuning of the universe or current ignorance as to the process by which abiogenesis may have occurred.

2a. God doesn’t stop the evil in the world

Theodicy, or the Problem of Evil, has been a very common question in philosophy for more than two millennia. As such, it is a question which has been tackled by theistic philosophers and theologians for nearly as long. Unless you are familiar with this area of philosophy– particularly Alvin Plantinga’s work, which is extremely commonly cited by modern apologists– it’s quite likely that a believer will dismiss you as being uninformed on the subject.

2b. According to the Bible, God caused a lot of evil

and

3. Drowning everything alive is not a sign of love

and

4. The opening lines of the Bible are factually wrong

Firstly, arguing against the deity described by the Bible does not constitute a very convincing argument against theism, in general. At best, it might show that the Jewish or Christian conceptions of God are flawed. However, it says nothing at all about whether a God exists.

More importantly, however, is that most atheists tend to be wildly ignorant of the fields of hermeneutics and exegesis. They are so used to dealing with fundamentalist Christians who interpret the Bible literally that they are completely unaware that the majority of Judaism and Christianity has never thought this was the proper way to read the text. Atheists who are unfamiliar with hermeneutics are likely to be quickly dismissed by Christians with even a rudimentary knowledge of this process.

5. Prayer has never fixed anything physically impossible [to fix]

The follow-up question being, “Why won’t God heal amputees?” This is, again, an example of conflating a broad and general belief (“God exists”) with specific claims about that belief (“prayer to God can lead to miraculous healing”). Invalidating the latter does not necessarily invalidate the former. There are plenty of theists who do not believe in any miraculous healings.
Furthermore, the idea that the primary purpose of prayer is to request things for oneself from God is a common misconception on the part of atheists, and not one shared by the majority of theists. Yet again, displaying ignorance of someone’s beliefs often makes it very easy for them to dismiss your arguments, entirely.

6. There are thousands of gods you don’t believe in

Followed by, “What makes yours any different?” Given half an opportunity, a great many theists would absolutely love to tell you about why their god or gods are different from those claimed by others. This is especially true for anyone with even a modicum of apologetics training.

7. Where you are born determines what you believe

This is a particularly egregious fallacy. Noting that people in similar geographic areas tend to have similar beliefs says nothing at all about the veracity of any of those beliefs. This is a version of the argumentum ad populum fallacy, and we should strive to avoid fallacious arguments whenever possible, if our aim is to convince others of the rationality of our own beliefs.

8. Who created God? And how does your answer make any sense?

Once again, displaying one’s ignorance of the millennia of philosophy and theology regarding this question is not very likely to be convincing to anyone with even a modicum of experience in these fields. If you are not familiar with the concepts of non-contingency and eternity, or with the manner in which these concepts are applied to deity in classical theology, you really should not be asking this question. And if you are familiar with these things, you would not be asking this question.

9. Pediatric cancer

This goes right back to 2a and the discussion of the Problem of Evil. Again, if you are not familiar with the philosophy which has been done in this field, you are not going to be convincing to anyone, let alone strong believers.

10. Unconditional love shouldn’t come with a list of conditions

Similar to 5, Mehta is again conflating the general claim over God’s existence with specific claims about God’s nature. Commenting on the latter says nothing at all about the former.

11. Every single supposed miracle gets debunked

There are actually quite a few “supposed miracles” which have not been debunked. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches tend to be particularly adept at listing such events. Amongst Catholic apologists, the Incorruptibles and Our Lady of Fatima are particularly popular. While it is far from convincing, to a non-believer, that these anomalous events were supernatural in origin, neither can it be claimed that these things have been clearly shown to be falsely portrayed (which is the meaning of “debunked”).

12. The 10 Commandments left off “Don’t rape” and “Slavery is bad”

Another instance of conflating the general and the specific, as well as another instance of objectionable interpretation of someone else’s beliefs. Generally, “your god doesn’t behave the way non-believers want a god to behave” is not the most convincing argument.

13. The movies and music that honor God are just awful

While there are some fairly prominent examples of bad Christian art, today, this claim is preposterously overbroad. Even as an atheist, I can absolutely proclaim that much of the best and most beautiful art ever produced has been religious in nature. If we are talking about music, it’s incredibly easy to find extremely good pieces which were written to honor God– Gregorian chants, classical and baroque pieces, choir music, gospel music, and much more. In film, focusing on a terrible movie like “God’s Not Dead” without acknowledging the magnificence of a movie like “The Ten Commandments” is simply willful ignorance.

14. The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike

and

15. No hide-and-seek game lasts this long

Radio waves. Gravity. Dark matter and dark energy. We don’t have to go far to acknowledge a number of invisible things which are almost certainly extant. It’d be better to compare the entirely undetectable with the non-existent, but I wouldn’t even recommend that unless two conditions are first met: your opposition has made the claim that God is entirely undetectable, and you are at least somewhat familiar with the arguments for and against Verificationist philosophy.

16. Science explains so much of what we used to attribute to a god

and

17. The more we learn, the less reason we have to believe in God

Scientific understanding of a phenomenon is not mutually exclusive with the attribution of that phenomenon’s explanation to a god. For example, the people over at the BioLogos foundation will completely agree with all of mainstream biology that the complexity of life can be understood through a combination of the blind processes of genetic variance and natural selection. Understanding the way in which it works does not preclude one from attributing the way in which it works to a god.

18. Explaining your mythology makes you sound crazy

Explaining that the Earth moves around the Sun to someone who has never heard it before sounds pretty crazy, too. Explaining that Time shifts and bends in accordance with an observer’s acceleration or velocity sounds crazy. Explaining that there is an infinite quantity of real numbers that are greater than 1 and less than 2 sounds crazy. “That sounds crazy” is not a particularly good epistemological qualifier.

19. If God didn’t exist, the world would look exactly the same

This is just blatant question-begging. Mehta assumes God is not necessary to the world in order to argue that God does not exist. One cannot claim to be supporting a more rational view than his opposition while supporting that view with logical fallacies.

20. If God existed, he would smite me right now

This is one of the most juvenile, ignorant, and fallacious of all the arguments which could be made against God’s existence. Making this claim is like declaring to your audience, “I have absolutely no intention of addressing my opposition’s beliefs in a fair and rational manner.” You might as well just stick your fingers in your ears and scream, “Nuh-uh!”

The Real Problem

My contention against Hemant Mehta’s “20 Short Arguments” is more than just the sum of its fallacious parts. The real problem is that even attempting to formulate arguments against the existence of God unnecessarily assumes a burden of proof which does not naturally belong to the skeptic. I do not believe in the existence of gods. If someone wants to convince me that some deity exists, the onus is on that person to support their claim. If I want to address the problems in a person’s specific case for the existence of deity, I will do so. However, the minute I try to extend that response into a more general claim about the ontology of deity, I am stepping beyond the role of a skeptic and into the role of a claimant. This is why I tend to steer clear of anti-theist religious antagonism. Why should I take the theist’s burden upon myself?

I do not burden myself with attempting to find arguments against the existence of unicorns or fairies or elves or ghosts or UFO’s. There’s no reason I should do so with God, either.

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I have one point I'd like to bring up about "arguments" 2b and 3.

This is a fairly common thing I've read from internet atheists and is a common theme in Dawkins' book The God Delusion. There's a serious problem with critiques like that. If one claims that the God of the Bible did some evil, then one must appeal to some authoritative morality by which one can claim that God did something wrong. If one has no authoritative objective source of morality, then the claim that God has done something wrong rings hollow. It's as powerful as saying, "boo, I don't like that." Your feelings about what I (or anyone else) do or do not do, have no weight. They're just your opinion, and as they say, everyone has an opinion just like everyone has a butthole, and some of them stink. I have every right to dismiss your opinion about what God has or has not done without recourse because so what, you don't like it. If you try to claim some higher authority then what higher authority exists by which you can appeal to judge God?