Sunday, March 30, 2014

Can there be an objective morality?

Is objective morality possible? The short answer is no. ... and it happens to be the long answer, too, but this is a blog after all, so I'll dive deeper into why "no" is the proper answer.

First, we need to understand what objective means. Objective is defined as not influenced by personal feelings in regards to opinion on factual occurrences. It's counter is subjective, which means to be influenced by prejudices such as taste and experience. In other words, objective is rigid, untainted and non-human while subjective is very much human, personal and varying.

So, can morality be objective now that we know the definition? Before just saying no again, let's put it to the test. Is there one perfect answer for every moral conundrum? For instance, a man steals a loaf of bread from a store on a dare from his buds. Is this wrong? Sure, most would say this is wrong because he didn't pay for it, didn't earn it and he stole from another person (the store owner) who will now be negatively affected by this through lack of profits and inventory. The ramifications are far-reaching as well. The store owner may now choose to install security cameras, which costs him more money and could force him to raise his prices, and now the thief has affected an entire community. Or the owner may decide to choose a questionable (immoral) path and call his supplier and say the loaf of bread had expired before its date and demand a replacement or credit on his next order. Now he's straddling the morality line and causing problems further down the chain.

Let's start over and change some of the circumstances. A man, who's fired from his job because of a misunderstanding, gets turned down for unemployment benefits, injures himself in a car accident badly enough that he can't work but he doesn't qualify for disability, has five young children at home and he's a widower. He has no money, no family to help him and his kids are starving. In a moment of weakness and a desire to take care of his children, he happens upon a convenience store dumpster and swipes a stale loaf of bread from it to feed the five mouths at home. Is it morally wrong since the contents of the dumpster don't belong to him? Probably, but the degrees of morality are as plentiful as colors in a box of crayons, so how could there be objective morality? Is there one right answer here? If the objective punishment for thievery is to cut off the culprit's hands, do we cut all thieves' hands off, regardless of circumstances and degree?

We have larceny and petty theft for a reason, because there are varying levels of punishment for varying levels of crime. There is no one-punishment-fits-all mentality in our society. It's why we educate and hire judges, to be as impartial as possible. You may say, "A judge is forced to be objective so how can you say no to the initial question of objective morality?" But, as I mentioned at the start of this paragraph, we pass laws and set rules to give judges and lawyers a guide that we as a society agree to and vote on for such an occasion and system. Those rules are subjective because we collectively feel they are fair. It's the same with juries, who weigh the evidence and circumstances before rendering a verdict.

So why is this topic being broached on an atheism blog? Most people who believe objective morality exists believe their god is the being who possesses and sets this morality. For the sake of simplicity we'll use the Judeo-Christian god. Christians believe their morals come from the bible, which they feel houses the infallible word of god. They believe there is one set of moral standards and ethics that remains constant because they are eternal, from their eternal deity. This also has loosely become known as the Kantian Categorical Imperative, because Kant's view of an objective morality was steered by his Christian views. This, however, is the very reason his imperative is rendered biased and moot. And of course any decent reading of the bible, particularly the OT of Yahweh, will find countless horrific effronteries to any moral compass.

Here's my take on this: If there were a god, and we truly are created in "his" image, then this god is a being, and a being has opinions, and opinions are subjective by definition. "God" judges all actions based on what he/she/it believes is right, and that makes it subjective. It may be the final judgement of your actions, making it feel objective, but ultimately there's still one being making the determination, and that means it's not objective.

But we don't need a god to tell us what is right or wrong because morality is subjective by nature; it's a living, breathing thing that adjusts to the times and needs, just like the U.S. Constitution, which is not set in stone so that we may/can change it. Think of the morality of this country more than 150 years ago when people owned slaves and women were considered second-class citizens. Isn't it great to know we have progressed beyond these atrocities, that we are more moral than a "god" that a billion people still worship?

No, objective morality doesn't exist; it can't. And that's a good thing; it's the right thing.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Right from wrong without a bible

I found myself biting my tongue yesterday because I didn't want to spoil the mood at my brother's home. Generally I don't start arguments, but I'll gladly engage in them if I disagree with a subject and am cornered or fed up with the other side.

As I sat in my brother's living room awaiting the fine dinner my sister-in-law was making (yes, that same SIL I debated through email and via Facebook recently), I noticed one of the throw pillows on the couch had been stripped of its decorative frills. My brother said their dog, a beautiful but less-than-well-behaved Lab, had grabbed the pillow in the night and pulled off all of the fringes and destroyed another pillow, too.

We all laughed because it was a perfect representation of how this dog behaves. But now the fun part. My SIL walks over from the kitchen and says, "Yeah, she knew what she did was wrong," and I perked up when I heard this. So I asked how did she know that? She said, "Oh, it was so obvious she was guilty." I again asked how and she said, "She came out and when she saw us picking up the pillows and all of the stuffing, her tail was between her legs and she had her head bowed down." And I followed with, "Isn't that amazing?" And someone said, "What's amazing?" And I said, "That a dog knows right from wrong. That she knew she shouldn't have done that and displayed guilt and emotions the minute she saw you picking up the wreckage of her tirade."

Everyone was like, "Oh yeah, it's not surprising, dogs know when they do something wrong all the time."

And that's when I finally bit my tongue. You see, the next thing I wanted to say was, "Tell me how a dog knows right from wrong without the benefit of the bible's horrific morality lesson or god's objective guidance?" But I restrained myself; it was my brother's birthday, we were having a really nice night and I didn't think it was worth the hassle. I love being an atheist and I love telling anyone who will listen why religion and belief in its fairy tale is hokum, but there's a time and a place for everything.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Apathy at its most extreme

Whenever I go on my daily walks I like to think about all kinds of things, including reasons why I'm an atheist. Don't get me wrong, it's not some reaffirming practice or anything, I just like to think about different things, and on my walk I often pass homes with religious symbols in their yards. There's one home that has a giant wooden cross in the front yard that is still covered in green tinsel and lights from Christmas. So naturally my mind drifts to religion and why I'm so opposed to it, etc.

One thing I thought of was if Jesus were alive today and persecuted like he supposedly was 2,000 years ago, that person would have an electric chair or a huge syringe in their front yard. Imagine people wearing little Ol' Sparky around their necks and tattooed on their arms. Hilarious.

But something else burrowed into my brain today as I hit Mile Marker No. 2. Since evolution is fact, and many religions accept this, that means Homo sapiens have been walking on the planet for about 200K years, communicating and using tools. The late great Christopher Hitchens was famous for mentioning this on his book tours and debates. He even granted an error of 100K years and would say humans have been in our current form for at least 100K years.

And I'll borrow from him again and reflect on his perspective toward god's apathy. He made the most excellent point that if god were real, that means he watched us struggle, kill each other, live in complete fear of weather, animals, natural disasters and almost die out as a species (we were down to about 40K people at one point) for about 94K years (I agree with 200K years so it's really more like 194K years) and he did nothing. He watched indifferently and chose not to reveal himself until about 6,000 years ago, and when he did, he did it as a burning bush, a talking donkey and in one-on-ones with highly suspect characters from the OT.

Then, about 2,000 years ago, another version of "god" appears in the womb of a teenage girl and lives for 33 years without knowledge of microbial disease, germs, etc., before dying to save the people he didn't give a damn about for nearly 200K years. Why all of this doesn't seem highly peculiar to more people is beyond confusing. If god were real, why can't he just live among us now, for all time? Why can't he just be here guiding us? If he's immortal then this would be a piece of cake. There is no reason why a god couldn't walk among us and make his presence known. And why doesn't he do this? Because we made him up. It's so obvious, but the indoctrination blinders are thick so too many people can't see it.

Any god that didn't care about humans for nearly 200K years doesn't deserve my worship, respect or attention.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Well, that was quick

As you may have read in my post below this one, I joined a Christian forum to offer a chance for those believers to ask an atheist anything they wanted. I set some ground rules and the Christians could resist me. 

One guy, who said he was a scientist, though he clearly was just regurgitating some tripe, threw a bunch of science crap at me about the cell and DNA, and I played along for a bit before I finally told him atheism is just a stance on one topic and that's it; it's not equivalent to science nor does atheism claim anything about science, the origin of life or the universe. 

He didn't even know what the God of the Gaps argument was and he shoved his head into the sand the second I offered to explain all of the fallacies he was committing. And despite finally understanding what atheism is, he still couldn't stop asking me about science conundrums and I pleaded with him to understand what the Gaps argument was so he would stop asking me similarly ignorant questions. But like most Christians the indoctrination ran deep with this "scientist" and he couldn't see past his own agenda.

Others used beauty as their incredulity toward someone not believing in their god. Some asked if I believed the words of Jesus were recorded accurately and when I told them no they again were incredulous. Many resorted to ad hominems, despite me being very patient and taking the high road.

I was so looking forward to responding to the rest of their questions when I found out I was banned. I had at least a dozen alerts in my account, meaning there were that many questions or remarks waiting for me but alas, I am banned. It took less than 36 hours, and I'm terribly disappointed for two reasons. The first is I wanted to use this exercise for content on my blog. But the other reason is a couple of people were PMing me asking questions, and I felt like I could have worked to get them to open their eyes, but now I won't have that chance.

Pussies. But all is well, and I have joined another forum and made the same offer, so stay tuned.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Uh-oh, look what I did!

So I was bored one night and went to sign in to my favorite forum, the Thinking Atheist, but the site has been crashing relentlessly lately, even randomly banning people by accident through software glitches. So when I finally got into the site, one of the members posted a link to a thread he started on a Christian forum. So I went there because the thread was about Cosmos.

I couldn't help but chuckle at the conversations going on there, so I joined to have some fun. I started to dole out some advice without telling anyone I was an atheist, but eventually I came clean by starting my own thread titled, Ask an Atheist! This is a pure ripoff of one of the mods over at TTA who is a theist. He started an Ask a Theist thread and it's wildly popular.

So I started this one in hopes of creating some excellent fodder for this blog. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cosmos, Week 2: Evolution

I don't plan on reviewing this show every week; it's not like Cosmos is some atheism vehicle. But whenever the mood strikes me I will post something. I admit I was very happy to see the writers move immediately to tackling evolution, which comes at a very poignant time. Intelligent Design, which is beyond preposterous, is making another surge throughout this country. The ignorance this movement displays is beyond perplexing, and, as Cosmos executive producer Seth MacFarlane parenthetically has said, this country's science knowledge is slipping because of these nutjobs.

I'm sure Neil deGrasse Tyson works with the show's writers, so when I refer to what he says on the show, I don't for a minute believe everything he says is written by him. But the way they opened the show with the evolution of the domesticated dog was pure genius. It's a perfect example because it shows the layman a tangible element, and it's a way to show evolution happening essentially right before our eyes. There's no need to refer to "micro" evolution vs. "macro" evolution to show this incredible life-altering event occurring (as creationists are wont to do).

Some of the other highlights of the show include NGT referring to the Theory of Evolution as fact, practically daring the ID community to step up to the plate and take a swing at what he's lobbing up there. The show isn't taking any unnecessary shots at religion, because he's letting the facts speak for themselves. But that isn't to say NGT isn't making statements that will piss off a lot of religious people, including my favorite:

"There is no shame in admitting that you don't know something. The real shame is pretending you know everything."

This clearly is a universal statement that promotes critical thinking, but if the religious are listening carefully they will hear the undertones that their holy texts don't have all of the answers and should never be considered a complete tome of knowledge.

Bravo Cosmos.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Religion means perpetually moving the goalposts

In debate circles, debaters constantly look for logical fallacies in their opponents' arguments because it's a way to expose the weakness of their stance. If an argument is built on a foundation of lies and misrepresentations, then it becomes clear there's no argument but rather an attempt to misrepresent the facts in a manipulative fashion. Identifying these informal fallacies all but ensures victory.

One of the more popular logical fallacies is called "moving the goalposts," aka shifting the goalposts or raising the bar. The term "goalposts" comes from football (American football for any international readers out there). Imagine a kicker trying to make an extra point or field goal and after he kicks the football you move the goalposts farther away (though left or right works, too). Or, you tell the kicker he has to make a 20-yarder, but when he goes out there to kick it you move the posts 60 yards away from the original spot. It would pretty difficult to kick that ball through the goalposts, right?

Now, apply this metaphor to an argument/debate you're having with someone. Your opponent makes a statement, you refute it, and then your opponent changes his stance or adjusts his POV after learning of your refutation. That is moving the goalposts in a nutshell.

Here's an example: There are a lot of uneducated people who fear vaccinations, and there was a time when these people would claim the thimerosal mercury-based preservative in vaccines increased the rate of autism in children. So, after the mob mentality prevailed, this preservative was removed, and guess what happened. The rate of autism remained constant. So the uneducated mob started to claim other toxins in the inoculations were causing autism in children. The point they argued for was removed, and the result remained the same, so they refused to admit they were wrong, and moved the goalposts.

It's my contention that religion is one huge moving of the goalposts. Every time a skeptical/freethinker points out something that questions religious beliefs or holy texts, believers come up with a twisted excuse to reconcile their irrational beliefs and make the argument more difficult to defend. Some examples, and I'll stick with the Judeo-Christian angle:

• The bible says god made everything (universe, earth, humans, animals, etc.) in six days, and when the math is extrapolated from the biblical stories, this "Genesis" happened about 6,000 years ago. They argued for centuries this was irrefutable fact. Science comes along and proves the age of the earth and universe is billions of years old. How do religious zealots deal with this revelation? Well, at first they were truly desperate in the face of irrefutable fact, saying one "day" in the six-day creation story wasn't a 24-hour day like we understand it. They contended that a day could mean an exorbitant amount of time, including billions of years. Goalposts duly moved. So, historians and theologians looked carefully at the bible again and refuted this claim rather easily, as a day was clearly defined to be a 24-hour period in the bible (the sun rose and it was day, the sun set and it was night and this constituted one day). This spawned two ways to move the goalposts for believers: become a young-earth creationist and deny all science so incessantly as to look absolutely insane or agree with science but now call atheist Genesis story poetry and say it is merely an allegorical way to look at god's creation. Goalposts moved.

• Let's stay with the creation story. It says god made humans at the same time from dirt, and then a chapter later it says man was made first and woman was made later on from man's rib. Here comes science again, proving evolution is fact and we evolved over billions of years from common ancestors through natural selection and speciation mutation. Theists deny evolution for a long time (and still do in many circles), but once their superiors admit evolution is fact, they move the goalposts by saying god interceded so that evolution could happen, but only humans have souls. So skeptical people naturally ask, "At what point was the soul inserted?" because there was never just one "a-ha" moment when the first human appeared on Earth. It was an evolutionary process that took millions of years. They raise the bar again by either saying the soul was always there or they ignore the question and change the argument. This also calls attention to the fact that Adam and Eve never existed, so they move the goalposts by saying there was an Adam and Eve somewhere along the line, and they committed the sin, which could never be proved.

• In the bible, Jesus is said to have siblings, most notably James. No one denies this, except the Catholics. It's so ridiculously important to them that Mary remain an eternal virgin that they move the goalposts by saying every man who followed Jesus' ministry was called brother. Here's the problem with that: Why is no one else in the bible referred to as Jesus' brother? If it was common to call his followers "brother" then why aren't the other characters called brother? They will move the goalposts again and say, the word for brother in Greek or Hebrew had many connotations and means cousin in this context. This is easily refutable by asking what the word for brother is in Greek or Hebrew, and when they say it's the same word then they have no leg to stand on and will just deny everything and change the argument.

• When scientists present the Big Bang Theory and "Something From Nothing," theists will say everything that has an effect needs a cause. So, when that logic is applied to their god, they move the goalposts by saying god's not contingent and is eternal, ergo he doesn't need a cause.

Another way to look at "moving the goalposts" is enabling. I've touched on this in the past in my blog, but what it means is, instead of dealing with these weak arguments and using rational thought to come to the obvious conclusion, the believer makes up excuses to reconcile their foolish beliefs. When they can't comprehend something so appalling that their god did, they say he is infallible, works in mysterious ways and we can't possibly understand his plan. It's the ultimate moving of the goalposts when they pull out the faith card.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The irony of religion's stance

Have you ever noticed the religious have a problem with one of the essential tenets of science, which is to revise and refine? It's one of the most beautiful and integral parts of science, that it is not only willing to admit when it's wrong, but it continues to strive for the correct answer to any problem. The religious stance personifies its biggest flaw, never looking for the right answer because it believes the answers are already there and we should never question anything in their holy texts.

But I want to take this a step further by correcting myself. Religions do revise their standpoints, but only when it is dragged kicking and screaming into reality, and the dragging is done by science. Every change religion has made to its beliefs has come at the hands of science filling the gaps the religious' god once filled.

In a recent interview with Huffington Post, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, "As religion is now practiced and science is now practiced, there is no intersection between the two. That is for certain. And it's not for want of trying. Over the centuries, many people (theologians as well scientists) have tried to explore points of intersection. And any time anyone has declared that harmony has risen up, it is the consequence of religion acquiescing to scientific discovery; in every single case."

Can I get an amen?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cosmos, a review of its triumphant return

As I alluded to in an earlier post, Cosmos, rebooted from the original 1980s version, debuted tonight on all of Fox's networks with Neil deGrasse Tyson hosting. I have been anticipating this for months, and I was not disappointed. One of the things I truly appreciated was the homage the show paid to the late Carl Sagan, the original host and one of the most popular scientists of all time. I also was very happy to see them revive some of the concepts and segments from the original, such as the Ship of the Imagination and the Calendar of Time. This episode quite literally was a remake of the original in that it used a lot of the same themes and storylines from the original's first episode (I got to watch a marathon on NatGeo of the original series leading up to the reboot).

Of course the new version has a much larger budget, special effects are a major driving force and Tyson is going to be great. One thing I learned was one of the producers, aside from Seth MacFarlane, is Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, and she also wrote this first episode. This will ensure Sagan will continue to get his credit and the show will not veer off into something that tries to be more entertainment than scientific.

I was a tad annoyed when Tyson was going through the Calendar of Time that they chose to use the birth of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed as benchmarks throughout the final intervals of time. While I understand most people are religious, there are serious doubts that any of these three figures ever existed, much less should have a mention on a science show. But, if it keeps the religious watching and gets some young mind to consider science then so be it. There was a great animated segment that mentioned the Roman Catholic Church and its Inquisition, showing just how narrow-minded and oppressive it was. And the Creationists must have had a cow watching this episode.

All in all, I can't wait for Week 2 and Sunday has just become my favorite night for television.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Of miracles and debates, Part IV

In this, the final part of my Facebook exchange with my theist sister-in-law, you will see just how easily apologists talk out of both sides of their mouths. In the previous posts, you'll note how, without provocation, she offered philosophy and science as examples of ways to prove her stance, but once those arguments are refuted rather easily, she will now (after pointing out the obvious that she's neither a philosopher nor a scientist even though it was her decision to bring those disciplines into the fray) revert back to faith, to where the argument always boils down (and from where it always begins). First, she tried to prove god existed, then will say matter-of-factly that "of course" her entire hole-filled argument (if you can call it an argument) is based on believing something with zero evidence.

So, we pick up these final quick jabs with her showing her ignorance to the Facebook paradigm after I told her I was glad my brother hadn't censored my remarks or deleted the post so that others could see just how poor her stance was and how petty her actions were.

HER: Who is everyone? As far as I can see its you, me and (your brother). You're quest for fame in the atheist world probably won't come from this little back and forth.

Of course my argument is based on faith. That is MY stance. You want to debate science and philosophy and I am neither a scientist or a philosopher. I am a believer who, with my free will, chooses to believe by pure faith, something you will never understand or accept. I believe it's a level of thinking you may not be mature enough to understand. I'm trying to figure out why you keep trying to convince me, or anyone else for that matter, otherwise. Why are you so hell bent on making me prove that God exists when I consider something a miracle? What about that bothers you so much? You can answer or not answer; I'm hiding the post, so I won't see it anyway. And just because I can, I will continue to pray for you.

(At the risk of repeating myself in my below post, isn't it so typical that she plans to hide her head in the sand, and to give up when confronted with someone who has an answer for every piece of effluvium she floats into the atmosphere? And the endless insults are made ironic when she mentions my lack of maturity.)

ME: I guess you don’t understand how Facebook works. Everyone who is friends with you, (my brother) and me can see this. Just because they aren’t commenting doesn’t mean they aren’t reading it. They are likely smart enough not to get involved. I’ll ignore your “fame” remark, as it is merely another poor attempt at an insult and misrepresentation.

Let’s remember who brought religion (miracles, divine intervention), science and philosophy (first cause) into this discussion. In fact, you knew exactly what would happen when you butted in and posted your “miracle” comment to my harmless story about Roosevelt, and even though we agreed not to debate anymore, you couldn’t help yourself. I had every right to tell you what my stance was on your “miracle” claim since you brought it up first.

Funny how you utter freewill almost in the same breath as divine intervention, yet you can’t defend how one rules out the other.

Maturity insults, really? You think it takes maturity to believe in an invisible being who can read your mind? I put away my superstitions and belief in Santa Claus when I was a child. Remind me again who’s the one with the immature mind?

I understand your faith; it’s a crutch and soother for your fear of the unknown, and you’re right, I can’t sink to that level. And I’m fine if you need that, but when you direct your post in a forum at me about your superstitions, I’m going to call you out on it.

I’m not “hell bent” on making you prove your god exists because we both know you can’t. I’m saying you can’t prove the bible-bullet story was a miracle, because the only way you could is to present your god to everyone and have him tell us. You can’t, and any time I can expose to even one person that religion's completely irrational thinking, I will.

It doesn’t surprise me that you’ll hide this post, as that’s common for believers when confronted with reason, to bury their heads in the sand. Just like when you hurl insults at me instead of dealing with the issues at hand. But I’m still posting this because (1) I know you can’t let me have the last word on anything as evidenced by your behavior in our prior debates and on here, and (2) there is the possibility someone else is reading this and I want them to see just how petty you’ve been, calling me arrogant, a hypocrite, an egomaniac, pompous and bringing up pedophilia (of all things) because you didn’t even comprehend the context of the comment, which was homosexuality.

Oh, and if you’re comparing those two things then you’re no better than that bible-thumping backwoods bigoted head of Duck Dynasty that I know you support. You’ll pray for me? Thanks. I’ll write a letter to Santa for you. Both endeavors will have the EXACT same effect.

(At the end of my post I told my brother if he wanted to unfriend me -- for the second time, by the way -- I told him I had no problem with it, but he didn't. And right on cue, she didn't hide the post and she had to try to get in the last word, but I wouldn't let her.)

HER: I love you and God loves you. See you tomorrow.

ME: I love you, too, and Santa says you're on his naughty list right now.

(In the end, it wasn't surprising to me that we had reverted back at breakneck speed to the inflamed attitudes that derailed our debates. I have since seen her twice and our conversations have been perfectly fine, as if these things never happened. But it's always great to force a theist to admit they have no leg to stand on, that their arguments are tired and weak, and that they need to result to ad hominem attacks when faced with a completely confident and rational defense.) 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Of miracles and debates, Part III

When we last left off, my theist counterpart was about to try to prove god exists because I told her she couldn't do it. So here it is her effort to try to prove god exists by copying and pasting antiquated arguments.

HER: Thomas Aquinas - Anything that is in motion is put in motion by another. All motion is the reduction of something from its potentiality to its actuality. So, a matchbox car sitting on the table has the potential to move. If the car does move, it’s gone from its potentiality to its actuality. Nothing can go from its potentiality to its actuality except when moved by something in its state of actuality. A hand moves the car, which is already in the state of actuality. It is impossible for something to be both in the state of potentiality and actuality at the same time if you’re dealing with the same action. So, the car that’s moving cannot be actually moving and have the potential to be moving. Another example would be fire. Fire, which is actually hot, can’t at the same time be potentially hot. So, if that is the case, then it’s logically impossible for something to be both the mover and the moved.

St. Aquinas concludes, if there is any motion, it must be put in motion by another, and that by another, and that by another. All the way back to the beginning and when we reach the beginning, we ask how did the planets start to spin and how did the sun start to burn and the conclusion we reach is that there must have been some external agent an unmoved person that began the first movement. St. Thomas calls this anomaly the prime mover (God).

Why can’t that reaction go on to infinity? Reason demands that at some point you hit the first mover. If there is no first unmoved mover there can be no secondary movement. There are secondary movements therefore there must be an unmoved mover. If there were no first unmoved mover to move everything, there would be no movement from infinity before to infinity beyond. But there is movement so there must have been a first unmoved mover. The prime mover.

The Aristotelian principle: Whatever is changed is changed by another, or, in its more traditional form, Whatever is moved is moved by another.

Physicist Paul Davies said, “science takes as its starting point the assumption that life wasn’t made by a god or a supernatural being,” and acknowledges that, “partially out of fear of opening the door to religious fundamentalists… many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled.”

And because I know you're going to ask me "who made god" Edward Feser answers it best. "Note that the notion of being self-explanatory is not to be confused with the notion of being self-caused, which is incoherent.  Causation is a metaphysical notion, having to do with the source from which a thing derives some aspect of its being.  But explanation is a logical notion, having to do with the way in which we understand or make sense of some aspect of a thing’s being.  We cannot coherently say that a thing derives its existence from itself or its nature, for that would entail, absurdly, that the thing or its nature exists prior to itself, in an ontological sense even if not a temporal sense.  But we can coherently say that a thing’s existence can be made sense of in terms of its nature, for that has to do, not with where a thing “gets” its existence from — an absolutely necessary being doesn’t get it from anywhere — but rather with how we can make intelligible or understand its existence.

The late 17th and early 18th century German philosopher, Gottfried Leibnitz developed a helpful principle that has come to be known as the principle of sufficient reason.  Leibnitz argued that everything, including God, does and must have an explanation for why it exists, but distinguished two kinds of explanations.  The existence of some things can be explained in terms of some external, transcendent cause, whereas the existence of other things can be explained in terms of the necessity of its own nature.  The first are regarded as “contingent beings,” while the latter are regarded as “necessary beings.”

Contingent beings—which include the universe, humans, rocks, etc.—derive their being from an external source.  They exist in virtue of something else that caused them to exist, and thus can be explained in terms of that causal agent.  Necessary beings, however, are not caused by any external agent.  They exist in virtue of the kind of thing they are; i.e. they must exist in virtue of the kind of things they are.  They are self-existing, and cannot not exist.  God is such a being.  He does not derive His being from some transcendent source, but has being in Himself in virtue of the kind of being He is.  God’s nature, then, provides the explanation for His existence.  Not only is no cause needed for God, but no cause is possible."

(She quite literally just grabbed a bunch of quotes from Wikipedia and never even presented an argument, just used other sources to make a house of cards. While I fully admit I would refute her efforts with other peoples' arguments, I've studied those arguments and responded almost entirely from memory.)

ME: Did you just try to prove the existence of god? LOL! Good to know you still cut and paste your arguments because it makes it that much easier to refute. I almost find it surprising you opened with the cosmological argument, especially Aquinas' archaic version, which has long been refuted by the work of numerous freethinkers and scientists, including theories from your favorites Newton and Einstein. I would think you'd look for refutations to these weak arguments before posting them in a public forum. At least make it a challenge and use William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological argument, which is also easily refuted, but at least it's "updated." And then the Ontological Argument? Really? That argument is literally a millennia old. But I'll start with Cosmological since you did.

Even if the Cosmological argument from first cause is accepted, your conclusion needs a god and infers an intelligent being, which carries with it a TON of baggage. If the "cause" of our universe turns out to be just some event, then according to Aquinas, that event is god, which is preposterous. What you (or at least Aquinas) are proposing/assuming is that a first cause needs attributes other than just being a first cause, and you're calling that god, which is a classic fallacious argument from incredulity, aka god of the gaps. Because everything is not known about how the universe came into existence you automatically rush to "god did it." We all know what that horse-and-buggy thinking gets you. Still think the world is flat and the sun rotates around us?

Because we observe cause and effect in spacetime, that doesn't mean the universe must've had a first cause. Quantum mechanics dispels this easily because virtual particles are created (and destroyed) all of the time, in a vacuum, out of nothing, with no prior cause. This refutes Aquinas’ premise. Before the Big Bang, these cause-and-effect properties may not even have existed, and assuming it did is just wishful speculation. Just because you can't imagine things happening without a cause doesn't mean it can't happen.

But let's put the heavy stuff to the side for a little bit and turn to the infinite regress. If people can't comprehend this dilemma that doesn't mean reality needs to change to make people feel better about something they don't understand. And if you insert god as the mover, then who made god? Another infinite regress. But even if this still makes you uncomfortable and we agree an infinite regress doesn't work, why does god have to be the prime mover? Or better yet, you will inevitably say god is infinite and exists outside time, etc. Why can't the universe be eternal?

Remember Occam's Razor? When you have two competing hypotheses, the one with the least amount of assumptions (or in your case, special pleading/circumstances) is the one that should be selected. Following your train of thought, you have to explain not only an infinite conscious being with no creator, but one that created everything, is omniscient and omnipotent, something far more complicated than a universe with infinite matter and energy. Look into Lawrence Krauss' A Universe from Nothing. Funny how theists will use cause and effect for their argument of god, but special plead their way out of it when the same argument is applied to their prime mover.

And finally, even if there were a god who was the prime mover, how do you know that god is interested in what you eat, in what position you have sex and what you believe? Or better yet, how do you know it's not Allah or Ganesh or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? After all, he boiled for your sins, R'amen. :-)

Now, in the ontological argument (which is what your contingency post was and has so much made-up nonsense and wishful thinking it's insulting to everyone's intelligence), existence is given as one of god's attributes as part of the definition (special pleading personified): If X is God, then X has the property of existence. This is logically equivalent to "If X does not exist, then X is not God." It does not prove there are any entities that match the definition. Existence can hardly ever be considered an attribute, as something nonexistent cannot have attributes. Therefore, making conclusions about existence of an entity based on its properties is not logically sound. In short, this argument boils down to "show me a god, and I'll show you an existing god." It's a form of circular reasoning because the existence is built into the assumptions.

Here's an example of this proof to show the fallacy.
Let's define a unicorn as a magical equine that has one horn and exists.
By that definition, such a being must necessarily exist.
Therefore unicorns exist.

You can literally insert any being (fictional and actual) into your "logic" and make that being exist. I can do this all day.

HER: Oh boy, you are so arrogant. Since I don't have time to address your whole "argument" right now, I'll just address the irrelevant insults. As far as copying and pasting, I believe it's called citing my sources. Unlike you, I am not trying to pass off my argument as my own original thoughts, which you are. I know this because I could probably find your argument verbatim if I googled it.

Telling people how to have sex. I guess you agree with Richard Dawkins when he says he was molested as a child and it really wasn't that bad. He sees no harm in it. I suppose you are ok with pedophilia. Or will you admit that it's ok to tell people how to have sex where that's concerned? What a hypocrite!!!

"Your argument" which is not "your argument" at all, has been addressed time and time again, very openly and if you would read anything other than what you choose to believe, you would know that.

Since I have a life, you will have to wait for my reply. A reply, which will have citations and will not lead people to believe that I am the smartest person on the face of the earth.

(You can see the wheels coming off now. Her insults to counter my "insults" are stacking up, and by the way, where were my insults? That I accused her of copying and pasting? That her arguments were archaic? That she did nothing to defend her argument other than enlist others to do it for her and she probably didn't even understand what she was posting? And spoiler alert, she won't ever send that reply because she either gets so frustrated she runs and hides or she just couldn't do it. Either way, I wanted to be really snarky and say, "Don't worry, no one would ever think you're the smartest person on earth, but you have to remember this is a family member, so I restrained myself. She also had edited this last comment and unbeknownst to her I received her first unedited comment via email from Facebook, in which she told me I had nothing better to do with my life than to go around picking fights, etc. So petty and defeated.)

ME: Did you pick up all those ad hominem attacks on wholesale at Costco? You didn't cite sources, you just lifted entire quotes verbatim from 17th century outdated philosophy. Sources are meant to enhance a point, not make your entire point for you. You can't prove god exists from philosophy and logic, you have to have the big guy make an appearance and prove it himself. Sure, I'm using arguments that have precedence, but I tailor it to what is tangible to our discussion. Why try to fix what isn't broken? Those arguments refute you quite nicely. In the end, your entire stance is based on faith and wishful thinking. You have no leg to stand on in the real world. And everyone can now see that when you are faced with logic and reason you resort to insults and misdirection (and as they can also see you edited your comment to erase some of the other insults you hurled at me, but I have the original emailed to me via Facebook). Remember, all I did was post another instance from history where a stack of paper on someone's person stopped a bullet. I wasn't picking a fight (as you posted in your unedited comment). You were the one who brought up miracles and divine intervention and accused me of being angry at your beliefs. Not angry, not arrogant, just clear thinking and factual.

(I will wrap this up with Part IV, when I bring up Santa Claus.)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wormhole pisses me off again!

I'm really tiring of Through the Wormhole forcing "god" into its episodes. I've railed on this before elsewhere, but tonight really pissed me off with one of the scientists declaring that humankind would cease to exist if there were no religion. His experiment was beyond pathetic and hardly thorough.

Basically he gave groups of people a handout with a bunch of five-word sentences and he asked them to cross out the last word in the sentence and then  are a new sentence with the four remaining words. One subset of these groups were given sentences that would ultimately invoke thoughts of religion, such as, "She felt the spirit." The other subset just got regular/secular sentences.

He then made them perform the task that they were "really" hired for, to drink as many disgusting concoctions of vinegar and orange juice as they could as a form of self-control. The group that formed religious sentences drank roughly twice as much as the other/control group. And he did this with hundreds of people.

So, he felt that these people (on some subconscious level) needed to complete the task because the religion in the back of their minds forced them to do it. What a bogus experiment. Did he also do this with sentences that invoked thoughts of punishment, such as, "He was severely reprimanded," or "Crime does not pay," etc.? Did he do these experiments with sentences that explained reward, such as, "Good behavior is therapeutic," or "She earned the gold," etc.?

It basically explored the idea that we would become anarchists because without god in the back of our minds we would have no self-control. Maybe a graphic showing the prison population breakdown by religious and non-believers would have cured this disease.

I'm just so sick of this show pandering to the masses merely for entertainment. It's the Science Channel, know your audience.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cosmos returns Sunday

This Sunday on Fox is the return of Cosmos, brought to you by executive producer, fellow atheist and Family Guy genius Seth MacFarlane. The show, which originally launched in 1980 with Carl Sagan, has been rebooted with one of the world's most famous astrophysicists as host, Neil deGrasse Tyson. The late Sagan was not only one of the greatest scientists in history, but he was an outspoken atheist who championed rational thought and the scientific method.

It's funny, when people wish they could go back in time to change things, they mostly want to stop a tragedy or fix some mistakes, and don't get me wrong, I would do that, too, but one frivolous change I might make is to pay more attention to Cosmos when my eighth-grade science teacher showed episodes to us on his classroom television. I embraced science that year, enjoying formulas and experiments, but I never took it seriously enough to explore it as a career.

One of the downfalls from my science teachers was to mostly exclude math from the education. While it's such an obvious and intricate part of the discipline, in primary education the teachers mostly stuck to anecdotal instruction (likely to try to keep children from drooling on their desks), and only occasionally did we get introduced to formulas and equations. By then, I was already into mathematics and thought of science as its slightly slower younger brother. (I didn't follow my journalistic path until college.)

Anyway, back to the show. Tyson is a perfect replacement for this reboot as he is so energetic and engaging, his passion is infectious and could inspire young minds to think for themselves and to use rational thought. Tyson is an atheist, though he hates that label and sidesteps it when asked directly about it. But it's clear where his stance is, given some of his recent quotes:

"God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance.”

“I want to put on the table, not why 85 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences reject God, I want to know why 15 percent of the National Academy don’t.”

“People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah's ark carried dinosaurs. This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it's about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.”

I can't wait for this show and will occasionally report back here with my thoughts. And I'll leave you with this quote from Sagan:

"For me, it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ding-dong! Ya gotta believe in somethin'

A missionary just rang my doorbell. It was the first time one of these god-selling recruiters had visited my house since I publicly admitted I was an atheist. I used to be rude to these people when they would come to my door, and I had been secretly awaiting for this opportunity. I used to tell them my neighborhood was deed-restricted and there is no solicitation, just so they would say, "We're not selling anything," and I would say, "You're selling god," and then I would slam the door. That was in my non-religious-still-clinging-to-there-being-a-deity days.

After I became an atheist, I really couldn't wait for this next chance to chat, but when it came right down to it I just opened the door, said hi and before he could say anything I said, "I'm an atheist." He quite literally sank within his own skin. I could see the disappointment in his facial expression, and then he kinda shrugged and said, "Well, ya gotta believe in somethin'."

I bit my tongue, and just said, "Take care," and closed the door gently. I really wanted to say, "I believe there is no god," or "I believe you're a brainwashed, indoctrinated victim" and I wanted to hear what he had to say so I could thrash his worldview. But in the end I didn't want to be a jerk and have him walk away and think, "Typical militant atheist." I don't want to perpetuate stereotypes, so I just let it go. The high road is cool, especially when I know there's no eternal reward awaiting me for taking it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Post No. 100

This is my 100th post on this blog, a milestone I never thought I'd reach, at least this quickly. When I first started this blog, it served as therapy, getting out a lot of my thoughts, frustrations and feelings without ever really going public with it. I simply wanted to document my experience so I could some day look back at this remarkable time in my life.

But as I continued my research (reading books, participating in multiple forums and watching debates and Internet shows), I began to realize there are a lot of people who feel like me, who have experienced the same deconversion process, who encounter the same types of people and scenarios I do. My participation in some of these atheist and Christian forums led me to open up about my situation and to post the address of this blog for others to see so they might benefit from my story and point of view.

I've started to get a few people reading this blog, and I mostly get positive feedback, which means it's important to have this blog in a public place. Even if I stop posting some day, this blog will live on and maybe it will help someone deal with a situation in their lives.

I've learned to embrace logic and reason like never before, and if I can help someone else do the same, then I will be happy I started this. Here's to another 100 posts, and if you're reading this, thanks.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My sentiments exactly

Before I continue my series, Of Miracles and Debates, the great website Atheist Republic has a fine set of bloggers who often write posts that perfectly reflect my thoughts. And as a matter of coincidence (though some might say it's a miracle), this week this post surfaced about miracles, and I couldn't have said it better myself.

It's a good read, be sure to like those guys on Facebook.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Of miracles and debates, Part II

This is Part II. Read Part I just two posts down.

It's hard to believe how quickly the wheels come off my sister-in-law's civility, and I think that has to do with a few contributors. I think she got frustrated with me for questioning her beliefs, especially in public, even though she brought it on herself, plus I think some of it was lingering frustration from our past debates, and I think apologetics always start with a strike against it by needing to rely on faith, so those not entirely comfortable defending the indefensible resort to name-calling and deflection.

We pick up the exchange after I asked her to prove the miracle and, as you will see, she proceeds to try to shift the burden of proof and completely forget what burden of proof is.

HER: You can't prove that it wasn't a miracle so why would I try to prove that it was. There is no scientific evidence that you can show me that says this is why this man picked this particular time to place this particular book in that particular pocket. Even if he knew in the back of his mind that maybe this stack of paper will protect him from a bullet in case he got mugged, which btw, anyone who has watched any crime tv show since the 70s could tell you. When you can scientifically prove that, then I'll play. But let me help you out, you can't scientifically prove that because there is no explanation for those events happening in that particular order or at that particular time.

(Her sarcasm is starting to increase, as is her cognitive dissonance. And I don't even know what to make of the crime show reference. She's using fiction to prove a scientific fact for me. And here's the funny thing: She is the only one who interpreted the fact this guy started carrying the bible the week before as the miracle, when clearly the producers of the news story and the witnesses felt the bible stopping the bullet was the moment of divine intervention. But whatever, none of it was a miracle anyway).

ME: You just wasted a lot of your time and mine by typing that non-sequitur. When you state you believe something is a miracle, it is completely on you to prove it. You're absolutely right, I can't prove it's not a miracle because I don't have to; you're the one making the claim. People don't need to prove universal negatives, because it can't be done and they aren't the ones making the affirmed statement. It's like asking someone to prove green elephants with wings don't exist. You would have to search every inch of the universe looking for one, which can't be done, and why would it? I can't believe you are arguing against burden of proof when we both know you are wrong here as any basic debate student would confirm. I'm asking you to prove divine intervention since you (and most people, according to your argumentum ad populum fallacy) believe that happened. You can't because you have none. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and those claims that are asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. And BTW, divine intervention kinda shoots a huge whole in your free will, huh? Your god made sure he carried that bible so he could get credit for this miracle, so the guy had no choice but to carry it. God's plan kinda kills free will, too. This is so much fun, and thanks to my brother having so many friends and not censoring me like so many others on here, I get to appeal to a large audience and show them logic and reason are their friends.

HER: That was my point and I agree with you, neither of us can prove such an argument, so why ask me to? I'm going to quote Edward Feser, "the so-called 'war between science and religion' is really a war between two rival philosophical world views, and not at bottom a scientific or theological dispute at all." Biologist Richard Lewontin, wrote, "Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism… It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door."  Brian Casey

(She basically just gave up using her brain here and copied two quotes, which by the way has three names attributed to them so I can only assume she used someone else's argument here or didn't attribute correctly as Brian Casey didn't say either of these quotes. And the best part, Lewontin's quote completely proves my point, that miracles are absurd. Creationists use just this portion of Lewontin's quote and leave it out of context for their own benefit, which I don't find surprising at all as Christians always lie to prove their point. Here is the link to the entire quote. I didn't have time to get into all of this with her, and I regret it now, because I would have made her look even more foolish and desperate, but that's water under the bridge now.)

ME: I don't need to prove your argument, I'm not making the claim. And to quote Richard Dawkins, "Science works, bitches." Not one miracle has ever been verified by an indifferent third-party observer. Zero, zilch, nada. Why? Because everyday evidence and science can explain everything that believers claim are miracles. You can wish it were true, you can have a biased faith-based hope, you can cling to childish pareidolia when you look at a burnt piece of toast or a cloud in the sky, but it all comes back to you can't prove your claim, and I don't have to because I'm not making one. Nice story? You bet. Miracle that he carried a bible in his pocket? Not so much.

HER: "Science works, bitches!" Great argument.

(Notice how she completely ignores the fact that miracles have always been explained? I can only imagine she would have dismissed or ignored my points about Lewontin, too, had I made them.)

ME: Nice misdirection and avoidance. Here's the bottom line: You said you can't prove it's a miracle, when in fact that's wrong and you know why. To prove this is a miracle of divine intervention all that has to happen is to get your god to show up and tell us he implanted the thought in this guy's head to carry that bible in that specific pocket for this specific reason, which will be proof enough for me. But since we both know you can't prove god exists, another claim of yours, you're forced to do mental gymnastics to reconcile your miracle claim, which can't be proved.

(In Part III, you'll see her try to prove god exists.)