Archives for category: Religion

Well, you’re partially right. Christianity is only a general term that is inclusive of all non-Jewish, non-Islamic Abrahamic religions. One is a “Christian” if one is a follower of Christ. In that sense it could be a philosophy without being a religion, but ONLY if you do not hold any beliefs not based on evidence and hold no supernatural beliefs with regard to the nature, purpose, and cause of the universe.

You’re *almost* right. Religion is just philosophy that has hardened into dogma–so all religion is philosophy, and indeed much philosophy is religion. However, there is a difference that clearly demarcates the difference.

A philosophy is a manner of mentally modeling reality. It’s not so much a thing as it is a process; so for example a philosophical Christian would start with the things Jesus was reputed to have said and examine them and try to clarify the model of reality so presented, and try to act increasingly as an exemplar of those characteristics.

Hold onto your hats; we’re about to go into dangerous waters here. Now Christianity for example, is a larger blanket term representative of an infinite and fractally nested set of sub-sects, each of which interprets things differently and acts differently because the other data they have is different and the only commonality relates back to the notion of a person named Jesus. It is easier, however, for you to say, “I am a Christian” and stop thinking than it is to do the hard work of pinning down exactly what that means, then figuring out how to put it into practice and express it to others. So the term, “Christian” is useless except as a starting point.

The tricky part is that because philosophy is just a $5 word for “method of looking at information and the associated processes that allow you to do something with that mental map” we lose track of the fact that it is possible to have MULTIPLE philosophical positions simultaneously.

For example, I am an agnostic atheist and a skeptic. This means that while I do not claim to know there is no god and are no gods as an absolute (agnostic modifier), neither have I seen any evidence for their existence, therefore I do not hold a positive belief in them (atheism) AND I will demand evidence in proportion to the degree to which a claim runs contrary to my mental model of reality (skeptic).

Sit down, and keep your socks on, this might blow them off: it is actually possible to be a Christian, an agnostic atheist, and a skeptic all at the same time, if we are strictly confining the term “Christian” to mean “person who attempts to use the putative words of the supposed Jesus as a basis for moral judgments” because for example, when we read that ‘Jesus’ said to “love one another”–one can agree on a philosophical level that affection for others on a generalized level will tend to lead to increased cooperation and other related benefits while also not believing that there is a creator God.

The trouble we run into is that “Christian” doesn’t actually mean that in common use. It means a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus (zero evidence) which means there is a creator God (zero evidence) who judges us (no evidence) and possesses certain qualities (effectively no evidence). The line of demarcation in philosophy that defines “religion” is just that: claims about the fundamental nature of reality including claims about the cause and purpose that are based on zero replicable evidence.

Essentially philosophy is the name for the study of systems of human thought. Religion is the side that explores human dreams, emotions, and desires without caring about what is actually true–the goal of religion is to fabricate a framework that allows us to ground our emotions, irrespective of objective reality. Science is the side of philosophy that deals with objective reality and cares about what is true, where “true” means, “what is observable”. Science cares about things being replicable, logical, and useful.

I might then say that you are religious and non-skeptical, because you care more about retaining the sense of being grounded, you care about justifying your feelings but not about what is true. The trouble of course is that because we are human, we all have something of both sides in us–you don’t EXCLUSIVELY care about your feelings, reality does poke its head in to see you occasionally. Same for me, I occasionally do wish things were different than they are. The difference comes from the preponderance of action and thought.

In general, humans only accept things into their mental model if those things reinforce that mental model. If this was not how it operated, we would not be able to model behaviors and make useful predictions. Our brains are constantly on the lookout for coincidences that we can causally link to events and actions. Unfortunately this causes many humans to mistake correlation for causation. E.g. People who are on fire tend to be running around and screaming; ergo running around and screaming must cause people to be on fire. I choose the example specifically to expose the cognitive mechanism while being ridiculous enough to not convince you.

If for example you lost your keys, prayed to find them, and then found them, you might conclude that God answered your prayer and helped you find your keys. Judging by thousands of years of objective evidence this cannot really be the case, even judging by the evidence of the past 10 minutes worldwide it can’t be the case. It is a cognitive mistake because your brain, always helpfully searching for causal links, has mistaken correlation for causation. In effect, the cause of the prayer was your own distress, and you looking for your keys was the cause of finding them. When we give up–frequently correlated with the prayer–we let go of the temporary mental model we had of the area and we very often find our keys!

It has nothing to do with the prayer except that the two are correlated. Experimentally, we can find that if we are convinced we have searched in a location, we will exclude that location from our search. Upon giving up (correlated with prayer) we let go of that mental model and begin to address reality. So when someone says, “let go and let God” what they actually mean in real terms is, “drop the flawed model and address reality”.

Religion is exclusively formed from these flawed models. It is why religion is, “fossilized” philosophy–because a religious worldview insists on ignoring data that doesn’t fit the model. In the case of Abrahamic monotheists–Jews, Sunni, Shiite, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Pentacostals, etc etc etc–each took a book of allegories and fables written in the Bronze Age and have fossilized it into their own particular flavor of dogma.

“Christianity” as a broad category is laughably simplistic and stupid. Not because “Christians” are bad, unintelligent, or stupid–but because they are attempting to address reality with flawed data and receive constant reinforcement which attempts to prevent them from altering their mental model to a closer congruence with observable reality. Why do you think religion requires faith and belief?

Any philosophy that requires faith or belief is a religion and must be excluded from the government because it cannot be traced back to objective evidence and therefore cannot be agreed upon by everyone. Only things that can be universally agreed upon belong in government. Ergo, religion-which by definition REQUIRES faith–has absolutely no place in government.

(Look at the constant fight theists put up attempting to legitimize young Earth creationism and “intelligent design”–theists manufacture false controversy because it is the only way they can continue to pretend that their fossilized dogma has any relevance or truth to it.)

Hello and welcome to the inaugural edition of Senseless Scripture Sunday. I was having a very difficult time picking a single, manageable topic for today’s post, but upon realizing that a single scriptural point is often used as the justification for evil acts, I thought I would be well-served by picking a single portion of scripture, (today’s is from the Bible, but everyone’s sacred texts are up for grabs,) and examining its ramifications. Here we go!

Obviously I personally have no evidence to consider any of these texts anything but just-so stories; but I will take their claims seriously for the purposes in demonstrating that the text is self-contradictory.

P.S. My apologies for the lateness, I had a busy day and I succumbed to the desire to be thorough.

Genesis 2:16-17

New International Version (NIV) courtesy of http://www.biblegateway.com.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

I chose NIV over KJV or one of the others first because I do not speak Aramaic, Greek, Latin, or Hebrew and second because the NIV provides a relatively clear, if somewhat bland, gloss of the original words. Let us begin first by defining the words used in the NIV:

  • “the Lord God” refers to the monotheist God common to Abrahamic religions, from Allah to the triune God of the Catholics. This entity has the salient characteristics of being omnipotent (all-powerful,) omniscient (all-knowing,) and omnibenevolent (all-loving.) If these characteristics are not those of the God you believe in, kindly refrain from posting as though I was referring to another entity. Do, however, feel free to define your deity for me in comments or in an email, and I’ll get back to you.
  • “the man” refers to Adam, and at this time in the chronology, Eve does not exist.
  • “the garden” refers to the Garden of Eden.
  • “the tree” refers to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is important to note that the fruit of this tree does not necessarily need to be the source of the knowledge of ‘good and evil’ for the point to remain relevant. The fact of the matter is that the Bible refers to it that way means that the actual mechanism is irrelevant; the action of eating the fruit was the causal trigger.
  • Finally, a word that is relevant but not appearing (though it should) in Genesis: entrapment. Entrapment consists, in the legal sense, of three things: [ Wikipedia ]
  1. The idea for committing the crime came from the government agents and not from the person accused of the crime.
  2. Government agents then persuaded or talked the person into committing the crime. Simply giving someone the opportunity to commit a crime is not the same as persuading them to commit that crime.
  3. The person was not ready and willing to commit the crime before interaction with the government agents.

If we take these things to be reasonable definitions, Christian theology runs into problems right from the get-go. I have inquired of a minimum of  ten or so theists of varying but generally Protestant sects but none of them were able to give me an answer that did not immediately collapse under its own weight. The difficulties are legion, but I will only point them out rather than providing detailed examination of their inconsistencies.

1. We can begin by indicting God on the first point of entrapment.  The idea for the crime had to have come from God because he, if he is both omnipotent and omniscient, chose to create Adam and Eve in such a way that the concept of disobeying him could occur in their minds. Thus the first qualification is met in the most complete possible way: if we assume that the theological beliefs held to be absolutely true are in fact the case, literally everything within Adam and Eve cannot help but come directly from God–Adam and Eve simply would not exist without having been created.

2. Second, and this is perhaps the weakest point of my argument in some ways, or at least the one most likely to be pounced on, we can indict God on the charge of inducing the commission of a crime. The defender of God will doubtlessly try to claim that our putative antediluvian progenitors were given free will and they chose to sin. However, if God is in fact eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent, he chose to create Satan and chose to let him speak to Eve. Satan then, is an agent of God, and the Bible is quite clear that his is the silver-tongued serpent’s voice that motivates Eve to her disobedience.

Furthermore, the Bible explicitly spells out the utter and complete moral innocence that is Adam and Eve’s natural state before the consumption of the fruit. If sin is disobedience to God’s will, and sin is evil, that makes obedience good. Unfortunately, given that we know from the Bible that Adam and Eve were created unaware of the distinctions between or even the meanings of good and evil, they were in fact completely devoid of the ability to make moral decisions or understand the ramifications of their actions.

They did not know of good or evil, or of death; therefore they cannot be said to have the mental capacity to understand the command God gave them in any part.

3. Lastly, and most damningly, Adam and Eve did not even exist before their interaction with God, and showed no signs of any particular concern with or desire to eat the fruit before God’s agent, Satan, talked Eve into it.

In conclusion, I submit to you that Adam and Eve were the victims of entrapment, and to borrow a phrase from Hitchens, “created sick and commanded to be well” on the pain of death and eternal torture, in the absence of the ability to comprehend that command in any meaningful sense.

As a brief and preemptive response to hopeful apologists: I have noticed a pronounced tendency among your ranks to rely on a number of rather pliant sophistries. Allow me to list them now and demonstrate why they will not avail you:

  • “God created Adam and Eve (and humanity) with free will and they chose wrong”

First, I have just explained in some small detail why this simply is not and cannot be the case, but further, you are operating on the presupposition that God cannot take actions you consider logically inconsistent. However, you must admit that if you hold God to be omnipotent, he is certainly capable of taking literally any action, up to and including creating Adam and Eve as free-willed beings incapable of sin. You can have him be omnipotent and able to but chose not to, in which case humans are victims of entrapment and not liable, or you can have him as unable to do something and therefore not omnipotent.

Or, you can claim that God did not know what the result would be when he made them, which solves the problem but then means God is not omniscient or omnipresent. Or you can claim that God knew and had the power to do otherwise but chose to allow bad things to happen, in which case he is not omnibenevolent. Sorry, but you can either accept that there is no original sin and that all sin is the result of God’s decisions or you can define God out of existence.

  • “You just haven’t asked God with enough faith!”

Well, the thing is, I do not need to consult with a deity to look at the evidence and come to a conclusion which follows the understood nature of rational and critical thinking. You are left with three options: you can accept that the Bible is the perfect word of the divine and accept that God is crazy and or evil, accept that the Bible is not divine and just the work of men and consequently your religion is man-made and fallible, or that you are mistaken as to the nature of God and consequently your faith is based on lie(s) you tell yourself.

  • “Well it’s not important, God gave his only son Jesus to save us from Hell!”

Sadly dismissing the argument and trying to bring up Jesus is not going to work. Remember that at this time I am allowing the presupposition that God exists already, which is already giving you quite a lot of rope. You simply cannot bring Jesus into it as the solution because his supposed ‘sacrifice’ deals only with the symptoms and fallout of the problem I have presented; it does not address the problem itself in any meaningful sense.

  • “You are not a Christian, you couldn’t/don’t understand!”

This argument fails for the simple reason that it requires too much. Either humans can understand your faith, in which case I am human and I can understand it, or they cannot, in which case you are human as well and cannot understand it any more than I can. No matter which option you choose, your argument has zero traction.

  • “<insert ad hominem, usually including threats of Hell>

Although I welcome your input, I am afraid that this is not a valid method of arguing against a case. If the best argument you can muster is an emotional outburst utterly lacking in content germane to the topic, I think it safe to declare victory.

I have recently become involved in a discussion with a theist friend of mine, who made the point that he could not see the reason why I attacked people of faith rather than work together with them to build a better world and further claimed that the scientific method taught us to look at things from both sides. My response was roughly as follows:

I am all for working together to build a better world, but my vision of what constitutes a better world seems to contrast rather sharply with that of the religious. I am not interested in tearing down people of faith; it is only the irrational and unsubstantiated beliefs of religious people that I have in my sights. Theists love to argue that I need to see, “both sides of the story” to arrive at the truth. The problem is that I actually do see both sides of the story, and decline to practice doublethink and the fallacy of argument to moderation.

We have the data. Something like 200 thousand of years of superstition and religion did not get us to the moon, cure polio, or create the infrastructure of our modern technological civilization. It might be argued that say, Abrahamic Theism has ‘only’ had 2500 years to get its bearings. Even if I allow that I am referring exclusively to Christian (New Testament) Theism, we still have a rich 1700 year history and countless sects to examine.

It was not Christian Theism that preserved the philosophy of the Greeks, it was Islam. It was only after Islam’s philosophical course had been hijacked by the work of people like Abu Hāmed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazzālī and sent careening toward mysticism and away from reason that the Islamic world fell into something of a dark age. The venerable Aquinas himself was influenced by al-Ghazzālī and similar thinkers.

At that point, Europe had been re-exposed to classical philosophy and we see a gradual increase in logic, reason, and observation in the Middle Ages, until lo–the Renaissance. It was, alas for the Christian Theist, not the influence of their faith’s antecedents but the antediluvian Mycenaean forebears of the Helladic Greeks that generated the initial impetus, and a culture built on the plagiarized plagiarism of the blood myths and superstitious mythology and justifications of Bronze Age goatherds that carried it forward through time into the hands of ‘Christendom’. Constantine may have given the empire to the Christians, but the Ottomans and Umayyad Caliphate repaired Europe’s all but severed connection to classical antiquity.

The fact that the works of Plato, Aristotle, or Epicurus spread so rapidly and so pervasively speaks volubly regarding the value of an examination of their ideas, but is almost silent on the subjects of intellectual honesty of Christian religion and its sincerity in pursuit of truth. Remember that the great majority of output during this period was devoted to the drafting of philosophy, natural or otherwise, into the service of a theology already deeply in the thrall of presupposition.

All of this is, however interesting or revealing it is, remains somewhat beside the point because the scientific method does most emphatically and assuredly not teach one to consider both sides of a story–it teaches us to look beyond stories to reproducible evidence that functions in a convergent manner. Certainly it has its own presuppositions, but I have yet to see a rational argument and pragmatic articulation for a worldview predicated on the assumption that we do not exist and the world does not exist. While we may presuppose God exists, the question it immediately raises is: which god?

By contrast, notice that we have but one method of science: the scientific method. We do not have endless schisms within the scientific community in peer reviewed literature; when someone is proven wrong and their most cherished theory has been disproved, they swear, abandon their theory, and move on with the business of pushing back the frontiers of human ignorance. Multiple people performing the same experiment get convergent results, and if they don’t they look for the reason why rather than assuming everyone else is absolutely wrong and they are absolutely right.They share information, collaborate, and converge at a conclusion that most effectively models reality given the time, resources, and knowledge that are currently available. Or they say they’re clueless, and look into the matter further.

Now look to religion. There are thousands in existence today, and even the most dogmatic or permissive is not immune to schism. There are endless varieties of the major religions, each with a slightly different view of things. As recently as 150 years ago, various forms of Christianity in America viewed each other with the poisonous hatred only family can bring muster–the religiously motivated and targeted laws of the original colonies prove this beyond any doubt. Each is utterly convinced of its own brand of absolute truth, and nothing can dissuade them from their belief, only amend their practices in the interest of evading government censure.

Yet they cannot all logically coexist–Islam claims absolute knowledge that there is but one God, and Mohammed is the final prophet. Hinduism claims a near-endless succession of gods and goddesses, sometimes allegorical and sometimes literal. The Mormon faith claims all other Abrahamic traditions are apostates and contradicts Islam with a regular stream of new prophets. Baptists contradict Mormons on their views of Heaven. Modern Jews are somewhat unconcerned with an afterlife, but do not accept Jesus, Mohammed, or Josep Smith as prophets. Not all of these faiths can be correct logically, it is inconsistent in myriad ways.

As students of history we need to learn from the errors of the past. Slavery was part of our nation’s past–justified scripturally. So were rape, torture, and genocide. The Spanish came to California and South America for God, gold, and glory, and they got what they came for with savage and mindless brutality backed by an explicitly religious mandate. Check the history of the Russians and Russian Orthodox Church in the Aleutians. Check the British treatment of the Iroquois and other tribes.

Certainly it would be unfair to lay the entirety of the blame at the feet of religion, but recall that I am not attacking belief in religion, but rather propositions held to be true without even the most cursory effort at investigation and without a single iota of evidence. Even though I grant that modern Christianity is different than that of yesteryear, the fundamental methodology of faith has not changed in the slightest: tell a child God said you are a miserable sinner and the only way out of eternal torture is complete obediencewith sufficient gravitas and so long as you have caught them young enough, and reinforce it often enough, they will hold onto it with tenacity that would make a bulldog weep. Which God(s), what precisely a sin is, and complete obedience to what seems to be largely immaterial.

In light of this, how can it possibly make sense to pick blind faith in one of thousands of religions over a universally singular, endlessly adapting but always searching mode of discerning truth from falsity that has proven itself trillions of times over the 300 years it’s existed–that is a methodical systematization of the processes we use every single day to deal with reality–and which everyone agrees on for the simple reason that it works.

Why go with the method that represents the first feeble, struggling attempt by humanity to explain reality in the distant reaches of a benighted history filled with atrocities beyond the scope of our most nightmarish imaginings? Why hold onto these things with such incredible vigor when we have other options and the luxury to find things out, make up our own minds, and talk freely with people all across the globe?

This is why we can’t get along, and build a better world together. As long as you insist that you have access to absolute truth by revelation and supply no compelling evidence of it, I will continue to object to the claim implicit in that statement: you know best, and are justified in telling me what to do–and injecting it into my government–because you have a direct line to infinite knowledge.

Sorry, no. Faith is not a path to knowledge, but functions with remarkable efficacy as a one to confidence.