Sunday, February 24, 2013

"The advancement and diffusion of knowledge... is the only guardian of true liberty."
James Madison

Which Jesus is More Absurd

David Henson doesn't seem to be offended by the recent Saturday Night Live sketch that lampoons Tarantino's tendency to resort to over-the-top violence by making a Tarantino Jesus film in which the "Good Shepherd" goes on a blood thirsty rampage. I feel I should give him credit for at least seeing the humor in it. However, his piece on Patheos, "DJesus Uncrossed: Tarantino, Driscoll and the Violent Remaking of Jesus in America", makes it pretty clear that he is just as delusional about Jesus as any other theist.

He seems to think there is only one Jesus in scripture and that he is the hippy-like version that so many prefer. I admit that if people are going to follow "Jesus" I prefer they follow the peaceful variation. With that said, there are multiple versions of the Jesus persona in the scriptures and not all of them are that nice. There are passages where Jesus commands his followers to do some pretty horrendous things including committing mass murder (Luke 19:27).

Buddhism and the God Concept

Even though Justin Whitaker seems to have reached some similar conclusions about Buddhism he also seems to have fallen prey to a number of misconceptions and stereotypes. The very title of his post poses the question "Would a Buddhist Affirm that belief in God is a Delusion?", apparently as a rhetorical device. Part of his conclusion and the reason a number of other American Buddhists agree that God is a delusion is premised on a variety of logical errors and misattributions.

He starts by pointing out that, "I have come across several reasons to think of God as a delusion. The first is the fact that believers in God seem very confused about God, or, at least, consistently unable to agree about what He (or, for fun, she) is like or wants humanity to do." So what? If this is one of the standards to judge something delusional then we are all delusion about a vast number of things. We all lack understanding and consensus on numerous topics.

Whitaker is both a Buddhist and an atheist. He sees no contradiction and since there is nothing indicating his views on such metaphysical Buddhist concepts as dharma and nirvana I see not direct contradictions, either. That said, he does not seem to grasp that there is more than one version of the God concept. He goes on to mention, "Buddhism might best be described as non-theistic in the Western sense, as it has no creator God. The Gods (devas) of Brahmanism (proto-Hinduism) do find their way into early Buddhism and have remained there ever since." While it is true that Buddhism does not officially recognize a personal God many of its beliefs are dependent on various supernatural elements that fit easily into more abstract ways of viexing God. If you didn't pick up on those few sentences do contain a contradiction. Traditional Buddhism does have a creator God, albeit in a round about way, in Brahma. Hinduism is not as polytheistic as many assume. All the Hindu gods are believed to be incarnation. They trace back to three gods and then those three are in turn seen as incarnations of Brahma.

Basically, Buddhism can be perceived as "non-theistic" or even "atheistic" from only the most narrow interpretation possible. As I have previously noted ("How Atheistic is Buddhism?" December 31, 2011), Buddhism is just as prone to supernatural/metaphysical nonsense as any other faith. That Whitaker and a decent portion of American Buddhists are themselves non-theists or atheists does not necessarily mean that the religion is itself amenable to disbelief in the God concept. I would have no problem with that being the case but it is not an accurate evaluation.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

*"It's such an easy one, that one; it gets you out of all sorts of holes. In fact that leads on to this rather interesting thought. If you invoke the notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, eternal being, the standard idea of God, absolutely anything follows, and correlatively nothing counts as counter-evidence against the existence of a God. We're all familiar with Karl Popper's dictum that if a theory or claim purports to explain everyhting, and nothing counts as inconsistent with the claim, then it's empty: it explains nothing and does no work."
*Responding to a popular theistic dodge, "God moves in mysterious ways."
A.C. Grayling
"A.C. Grayling on Atheism"
Philosophy Bites: 25 Philosophers on 25 Intriguing Subjects

Atheists Are Not the Closed-Minded Ones

A recent post by Bob Seidensticker, "Atheists: What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?", is well worth reading but I do feel compelled to point out that there really isn't much in it that should surprise an atheist, or non-theist. I also consider the questions he poses at the end to now be foregone conclusions. Theologians and apologists have been making bogus claims about atheists being closed-minded and issuing disingenuous challenges over "proof" for centuries. We have always, as a whole, answered back without their ever attempting to meet their own standards or challenges. So, the notion that we need to routinely answer such charges is a matter of double standards and hypocrisy on their part. Personally, I have no problem with reiterating what is acceptable as proof and certainly have no problem with re-assessing what I believe and why. I think we should all do precisely that.

I have actually written a few posts on what I would consider decent proof for the existence of God.
"Proof of God: Scenario1" (February 25, 2012)
"Proof of God: Scenario 2" (March 12, 2012)
"Proof of God: Scenario 3" (March 24, 2012)

And, of course, a number of atheists far more eloquent than I have also written on this topic. Off the top of my head I recall reading similar things from Greta Christina and Richard Dawkins.

Update on an Actual Course on Atheism

I have been sidetracked a few times but I did finally finish the first of the two required texts, Philosophers Without Gods. Overall, it is an excellent anthology. There were a few pieces I found to be a bit weak. I did not understand why they were included given that they lacked any perceivable scholarly merit. A few were comprised almost entirely of emotional appeals. One, which I will not name, was especially irritating. The entire work relied not only on the author's preferred definition of a commonly used term but the whole piece was built around his own modifications to that term. Simply reverting to the standard definition completely negated all his "reasons" and "arguments." If every aspect of your writing can be reduced to special pleading and logical fallacies there is definitely something wrong with your thought process.

I also answered the first set of questions and developed the required student created questions. I have not finished answering the second set but will shortly. I may consider converting all the questions and answers over to a Google Doc for the sake of posting. I am planning to start the next part of the course work within the next few weeks. This part should not take me nearly as long since it is a matter of re-reading and I am going to refrain from submitting anymore inter-library loans till after completing Boghossian's syllabus. Some of what sidetracked me was reading through various books I had previously requested.

Note: This post refers to a previous one, "A Course on Atheism?" (November 24, 2012).

Infomercial Disguised as a Course

I've spent the past few weeks trying to find information on a course that a number of blogs and aggregaters have mentioned. I found next to nothing. Regis College's (University of Toronto) own site only contains the vaguest of references. Searching Regis' site for its so called "Responding to 21st Century Atheism" turned up this pathetic little blurb:
"Professors Scott Lewis, S.J., Gordon Rixon, S.J., Joseph Schner, S.J. and Michael Stoeber from the faculty of Regis College will explore responses to the challenges presented by contemporary atheism. Eight lectures will discuss the role of Scripture, tradition, theology, psychology and pastoral studies to address the questions about human living posed by today's culture and climate of disbelief."

I did not want to pass judgement on the course without finding more information on it than what was provided in the original Religious News Service piece and the HuffPo repost (which was identical) I first came across. The posts were not very enlightening and gave a rather poor first impression. Based on the few comments made in the piece by Lewis I got the distinct impression that the course was far from what it was being advertised as. It is supposedly a balanced approach yet all Lewis comments reveal a considerable amount of ignorance and bias on his own part. He claims that atheism is "militant, aggressive and prostelytizing." This is, of course, a common refrain that has been debunked countless time. He also seems intent on perpetuating a variety of myths and stereotypes about atheism. One example is his false claim that atheists insist that "people who believe are stupid." No we don't.

In the end this course is being taught by three Catholic theologians who do not seem to know anything about atheists or appear to have any interest in learning about atheists beyond the common caricature that can be found in mainstream media. I have found nothing to replace my initial impression that this will be a series of lectures designed specifically to smear atheists and help theists feel superior.

During my search I did find an interesting post on Jerry Coyne's blog Why Evolution is True. In "Jesuit college teaches atheism!" Coyne seems to have gone through a similar experience.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Philosophy is critical thinking: trying to become aware of how one's own thinking works, of all the things one takes for granted, of the way in which one's own thinking shapes the things one's thinking about."
Don Cupitt
"What is Philosophy"
Philosophy Bites

Another round of titles

"Can religion prevent violence?"
      Considering how long religion has been around you'd think this would obvious to anyone with a functioning brain. NO

Why It’s Important to Lose Your Mind (at least twice a year)
Note: title on main page read “Why You Should Lose Your Mind”
     Losing your mind certainly makes believing in religion a whole lot easier.     

"666 W-2: Walter Slonopas, Christian Employee, Quits Over Mark Of The Beast On Tax Form"
      Seems to imply that he's he's not only stupid but lazy. Isn't sloth one of the seven deadly sins?

"I Talk to Trees: A Lenten Reflection"
      If the trees talk back, up the meds.

"What happened to God in America?"
     Um, did something happen to God? Can imperfect humans really do anything to God? 

Inadvertent Revelations from Concilium

     "The new atheists have failed to refute God, for one cannot prove the falseness of belief in God based on any particular scientific result. Science is simply not about God, one way or another - this is the point that both the new atheists and Intelligent Design theorists have failed to appreciate This is why they are both appear as strangely symmetrical positions, warring fundamentalisms engaged in a carefully choreographed dance that is based, in the end, on false assumptions."

The above excerpt is from a piece by Philip Clayton that appeared in the 2010 4th quarter edition of Concilium: International Review of Theology. It is not only fairly representative of his entire piece but also of the contents of the whole issue. It is chock full of ignorance, bias, false equivalence, and plain old bull shit. Most of it is rehashed nonsense. The paragraph opens with the notion that the burden of proof should rest solely on atheists. Why? Personally, I think atheists should provide reasons but the main focus should not be on us. We are not the ones making exceptional claims. It should also be noted that Clayton, like so many others, uses the term "new atheist" as if it is a synonym for contemporary atheist and has any real validity as a label without ever explaining why it should be seen as such.

One of the most amusing implications is his inadvertent admission that God is not real. It is rather indirect but it is there. In trying to claim that "Science is simply not about God" he implies that God is not part of our reality. Science, after all, is all about studying what the universe contains and  how it works. The only possible way God can be left out of that even indirectly is if God in fact does not exist. I've heard numerous other theologians and apologists make similar attempts at insulating the God concept from Science by claiming God is outside time and space or that God is beyond our sense of reality/existence. The result is the same. By definition such claims would have to mean God is not real. How can anything be outside "reality" and still be "real"? It can't.

He also makes a few false equivalents. The "new atheists" are not a mirror image of Intelligent Design proponents any more than they are of fundamentalists. Clayton never provides anything resemble proof of this comparison. He relies on numerous myths and stereotypes that are informed only by his own biases and those of like-minded faux-scholars. He also never clearly lays out or proves that atheists make "assumptions" at even the same level as theists. Throughout the piece Clayton makes use of a variety of assumptions without ever acknowledging that he has done so. His approach to the burden of proof is a good example but far from the only instance.

Concentrated bullshit is an apt description of his ludicrously named article, "Why Theism Must Evolve in the Age of Science." His view on theism are rather standard fare. Many of the ideas he puts forth have been around for at least a century. His grasp on even basic concepts and methods related to science is weak. If this is the best contemporary theistic scholars can do perhaps there is hope that religion will fade away.

Catholic Hierarchy, as dishonest as they are unethical

"In an interview published Saturday by Germany newspaper Die Welt, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller likened the sentiment directed toward the Church to that of the pogroms against Jews in Europe."

In case you don't know who Mueller is, he is the Head of Doctrine for the Catholic church. He is second to the Pope. Basically, he now holds the position that Ratzinger had before being elevated to Pope. One of the top theologians of the church is trying to claim that criticism of the church amounts to pogroms. This pompous asshole is actually claiming that verbal and written criticism is the equivalent to not just acts of violence, bullshit in itself, but is tantamount to attempts at genocide!

He doesn't stop there, though. According to a story reposted on HuffPo from AP, this fucking ignorant unethical lying sack of shit had the nerve to claim those criticizing the church, "borrow arguments used by totalitarian ideologies such as Communism and Nazism against Christianity." First, there are plenty of non-Catholic Christians who also criticize the the "Holy See" and its lackeys. Communism is not a synonym for atheism even if it were only atheists criticizing the church. And, then, there is the fact that the overwhelming majority of Nazis were Christians. Hitler was a Catholic!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Freedom of thought and the habit of giving weight to evidence are matters of far greater moral import than the belief in this or that theological dogma."
Bertrand Russell
"Is There a God"

Still Not a Church

Recently the New York Times ran a short piece, "At Atheist Church, No Faith Required", in their Room for Debate section on the supposed London "atheist" church.The very first paragraph does a pretty good job refuting such a silly notion with a bit of humor.

"Is atheism a religion? Of course it isn’t. Here’s why: we don’t believe in God, but we are ready to change our minds the minute the evidence changes. It is not a question of faith. Should God stride through the door now and say 'Stop that atheist church business at once,' we’d stop it. And we’d believe in God. And we’d say: 'God, put some clothes back on. Naked old guys are gross!' (He’s just stepped out of the shower, we assume.)"

The Sunday Assembly has no clergy and will not be offering anything that resembles a liturgy. There are no religious based doctrines being advanced. Even though the two founders of this venue use the term "church" themselves only proves that they have not bothered to come up with a better word.

Would she accept any reasons?

"A Message to the 'Nones': Don’t Reject God Because of Human Suffering or Christian Bullshit" is a rather inaccurate, misleading, and disingenuous title. It reflects Dollar's thinking rather well. Even though she briefly notes in the very first paragraph that the "nones" are not necessarily atheists she rather quickly treats the term as if it is a synonym. I also am struck by the idea of rejecting God. How does an atheist reject something they don't regard as being real? What's to reject? Dollar also very quickly establishes that she is writing from a rather blatant set of biases.

"Instead, I want to speak to a problem that many good-hearted, quick-minded people have with religion, and particularly Christianity as it is practiced and articulated here in the U.S.—the failure of religion to adequately answer the problem of evil and suffering."

It's nice that  she concedes that the Nones can be "good-hearted" but would have been better if she didn't immediately follow it with "quick-minded." Considering she is talking about an issue that has been widely discussed and debated among philosophers and theologians for over a thousand years, I fail to see it as anything resembling "quick." She would have to assume that at least a decent portion of the nones are unaware of such a long-standing debate or have ever seriously consider it on their own. That's a pretty big assumption. Perhaps she is the one being "quick-minded."

A few paragraphs later she basically attacks the author of the CNN piece "Why I Raise My Children Without God." Most of Dollar's writing from this point on seems to be focused primarily on the author. She insists that the logic is flawed but never really makes her case. I admit that the piece in question could have been better in its presentation but Dollar's main critiques rely on a series of assumption that she never backs up with anything more than her on ignorance and biases.

As far as I can tell the CNN piece is not meant to represent Christianity, let alone, religion as a whole yet that is how Dollar seems to take it. In a few places Dollar actually seems to agree with the author.

"She utterly fails to recognize that 1) most Christians are as horrified as she is at the idea that God would allow children to be murdered for a reason, any reason, and particularly to fill a need for 'more angels,' and 2) many Christians are indeed responding to Newtown by renewing our commitment to more effective gun-control measures."

The author was talking about a specific sub-set of Christians. Rather than bash her wouldn't it make more sense for Dollar to also publicly criticize that type of Christian. She does seem to disagree with them so why take offense at someone outside Christianity stepping up and saying what needed to be said. There are similar examples of this type of nonsensical crap through the rest of the post.

This all leads me to an assumption of my own. Dollar is being incredibly disingenuous. She is not interested in accepting any reasons an atheist may have for not believing. This is simply an opportunity to attack and smear an atheist(s). Unlike her assumption mine are at least based on something that is clearly contained within the writing in question.

An Odd Take on Pluralism

Rabbi Lehmann seems to have a rather unusual way of viewing pluralism. It is especially odd since in the 4th paragraph of his "Exodus 18:1-20:23: The Ten Commandments as a Symbol of Pluralism" he notes a specific concern.

"What disturbed me most about the erection of the Ten Commandments sculpture in Alabama over a decade ago was the assumption that those of us who regard the Ten Commandments as fundamental to our religious belief system agree about exactly which commandments were on those stone tablets."

That is a pretty important thing to note. Many don't realize that there is more than one version of the Ten Commandments. Lehmann himself does attempt to harmonize them in this piece but like so many before him he fails miserably. I can only see this as a symbol of pluralism if you take a very narrow view of the term. If he means to recognize the fact that society is divided over religion it works. However, it is clear that that is not his intent. It never occurs to him that some of his own comments point to the Ten Commandments being divisive rather than cohesive among the three faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) that have any interest in them.

And, of course, he completely ignores the fact that at best all the various other religions of the world would be indifferent to these Commandments. He also never gets into the various theological and philosophical problems posed by the commandments. The majority of these ten are petty, self centered, and hostile to the non-Abrahamic based faiths. If that is pluralism then society is better off without it.