Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why are there so many historical cultures that were fixated on God?

This post is going to be very unscientific and about a view that I hold very tentatively, so reader beware.

A friend recently posed the idea to me that it was very interesting that so many culture over the course of history have posited God or gods in order to explain things, and I really began to think about why this is.  He stressed that this wasn’t proof or evidence for the existence of a creator, but one explanation could be that deep within our core, we have been endowed by a creator to yearn for one.  

 

This actually sparked another possible explanation that I would like to present:

God is the ideally perfect human.  With evolution and natural selection, there is a yearning deep within all of us to be better than we were yesterday.  This evolutionary process is driving us towards improvement at every step. 

We all have goals, we all have ideas of what the perfect version of ourselves would be.  It naturally follows that we might start to believe that this perfectly evolved version of ourselves actually exists.  

Like I said, this is not concrete, but here’s my very unscientific evidence for this hypothesis:

1.  God concepts typically reflect the culture presenting them.  Warrior cultures tend to believe in warrior gods, peaceful cultures tend to believe in loving peaceful gods, etc.

2.  Gods concepts typically reflect the specific person presenting them.  Even within sects of religions the concept of God is very dependent on the person telling you about them.  Conservative Christians tend to believe their God is conservative, liberal Christians tend to believe their God is liberal, etc.  Think about someone with an understanding of some quality God has.  Let’s say a liberal Christian believes that God loves gay people.  The Bible clearly doesn’t depict that.  Their concept is more indicative of the fact that THEY love gay people. 

2.  Gods are typically perfect in ways that humans find to be valuable.  Perfectly good, perfectly just, perfectly knowledgable, etc.  You rarely find a God who is perfectly lazy.  Perfectly smelly.  

3.  Gods are typically depicted visually as human-like creatures. 

There you have it.  My very weak and unconvincing argument for why God concepts might have existed throughout history.  There are also some other reasons like the need for purpose, answers, etc, but I found this particular hypothesis new and compelling.

Social Justice 1: Why I do not support ShitRedditSays, Atheism +, Freethought Blogs, and Radical Feminism.

I am new to the atheist community.  I quickly found that within the community there are smaller divisions.  One of the most prominent to gain exposure over the past few years is the Atheism + movement.  This is often associated with Freethought Blogs and ShitRedditSays.

This will be a series of blog posts dealing with the individual aspects of this movement that I do not agree with.

First, I want to be clear that I am in agreement with the main ideas behind this movement.  Treating people equally, caring for those who are oppressed or less fortunate, etc.  I am in agreement with the stated ideals of this movement, but the movement is quite more than what supporters say it is.

This isn’t JUST caring about social justice.  In fact, there are several other unstated aspects to this movement, namely the methodology by which these goals are carried out.

Here are some ideas I will attempt to flesh out in later blogposts on this subject:

  • Divisive “with us or against us” mentality.  This permeates the entire movement.
  • Determining how much someone’s opinion should matter by their race, sexual orientation, gender, etc.
  • Harshness of methodology

There may be more, but that will be enough to get me started on.

Conversations with Friends: Possibly the Saddest Thing I’ve Read in a While

This friend is someone I haven’t known very long, but he is a seminary student, and I was drawn to his facebook page by the open discussion he has with theists and atheists alike about various topics.

I’ll call him CW.

His status updates often entailed provocative statements.  He never deleted or moderated dissenting opinions and seemed to welcome open debate.  This seemed like a good outlet for my desire to discuss religion with others so I joined in a few discussions.

They were good.  The first few were about hell and the Bible and God, and many of his friends were skilled at apologetics.  One quick thing I noticed about CW is that he was quick to ignore large statements I had made detailing an error in thought he had, and simply asserting that I had it wrong, or didn’t understand at all.

This puzzled me.

If I had it wrong, that’s unfortunate, but please point out specifically where I am wrong.  He never could.  One of the worst such occasions was “read your Bible”.  That’s it.  Implying that I had never read the bible or didn’t understand it, and this his understanding was superior, all without demonstrating it.

I felt that things we going well when CW was taking historical bible classes from seminary.  He was learning a lot of things that I had already studied that were quite damaging to Christianity. The fact that the bible was likely not a literal transcribing of events.  That the Torah was likely not written by Moses, nor was it likely that Moses ever existed in the first place.

Things were getting interesting on his facebook page as he espoused some of his professor’s teachings.  It made some of the bible literalists on his page squirm.  My friend was smart and I assumed that he was taking this knowledge in with the thirst for understanding that I knew he possessed.

But then something truly depressing happened.

I was distraught for almost a day over this.  In one fell swoop, in one facebook status, he basically denounced everything his seminary professors had taught him in deference to “the God he knew to exist”.  “How can anyone believe in a God that is weak like this” he said.  As profound as that statement was, he failed to reach the natural conclusion of that statement.  Oh, he denied belief in that God, but he embraced his own version of God, completely unsupported by anything other than what he believed to be true about his God.

“Blind faith at it’s worst”  I commented shortly after.  I was upset, and I didn’t feel like hiding my distain for what had just happened.  This is the faith that is so damaging.

When reality sharply presses against your faith, you can either let it be squashed, or you can pull it away and protect it, ignoring reality completely.   

When this happened with my friend, we had heated words.  We both apologized, but he concluded that “I have just finally come to the conclusion that faith is not something someone comes to by an ascent of the mind.”

And that was that.  The conversation is over.

To learn that there are people, smart people, in this world that will decide that furthering their understanding of a subject is not worth it if it threatens what they believe.  That knowledge is somehow evil, stemming from the Garden of Eden perhaps.

This is the true power of faith.  The true evil of it.  Convincing you that your own mind, and the minds of other rational people are the true enemy.

This was a wake up call for me.  Through my studies, I assumed that everyone would accept my position if I presented it in the way that I had learned it.  If we carved away all but true statements.  If we followed those true statements to their logical conclusions.  My reasoning is sound so this should be a simple matter of explanation.

Boy, was my bubble burst.  I was depressed about CW, who had lost something very valuable.  His mental vigor.  But I was more depressed about something else.

I had failed.

I did something wrong.  I didn’t explain something correctly, or maybe I derailed a part of the conversation.

But, in a few days after reading the conversation again and again I realized that I hadn’t failed.  There is nothing you can do against certain mindsets.  The mindset that “I can’t be wrong about this one thing” is something you can’t win.  I couldn’t have failed because there was no way to succeed in the first place.

This is something CW will have to come to without my prodding.  That faith isn’t a path to truth.  Believing something really hard, so hard that it’s above any criticism is irrational, and often leads to false conclusions.

I set my sights on the horizon though.  Maybe this wasn’t a loss, but a push.  And even if it is a loss, it’s not a reflection on my poor arguing skills or faulty logic.

And even if it were my fault, even if I drove this man into stubbornness, skepticism is growing worldwide.  I side with the Beatles:

The Marketplace of Ideas: Show Me Yours and I’ll Show You Mine

The post I wrote earlier tonight originally started as a big giant rant, but in writing it, I found that my ideas would be better communicated by splitting them up by subject.  Here is the second subject I had in mind.

I am a big fan of the marketplace of ideas.  You show me your ideas.  I’ll show you mine.  Let’s see whose sound the best.

To use a poker analogy.  You have your hand.  I have mine.  We can bet all we want, but if we really believe in our hand, I mean really believe in it enough to not get bullied out of the hand by overenthusiastic betting, then at the end of the day, we’ve gotta lay our cards down and see who has the winning hand.

In my conversations believers aren’t willing to do this.  They are either completely unwilling to showdown their entire hand (“I just believe I have the winning hand and you can’t convince me otherwise.  It’s just a matter of faith”), or they will show most of their cards, but claim to hold tight to the cards that actually “make” their hand.  They’ll show you the 7, 3, and J while claiming they still have two aces left that they aren’t going to show.  They will claim with absolute certainty to have the winning hand.

Maybe they actually do, maybe they don’t.  Who’s to say?

But there’s a lot to be said for why they wouldn’t be willing to show their cards in the first place.  If they actually do have the winning hand, what’s the harm of showing?  If their faith will actually stand up to the fire, why protect it?

I would say there are three distinct possible answers:

1.  They know that they aren’t the best cards.  This is possible, but unlikely.  I don’t think people typically hold strongly to ideas they know are wrong.

2.  They honestly have no idea what they actually hold and are embarrassed to be proven wrong.

3.  They are unwilling to risk the possibility they are wrong due to an emotional investment in their ideas.

I think the last two are especially probable, but this is a bad thing.  This keeps bad ideas alive.  This is what I seek to avoid.

We must get over our emotional ties to bad ideas.

We must not be embarrassed to admit defeat if that admission promotes better ideas.

Conversations with Friends: JN #1

Being new at being an atheist, I studied and studied every idea I could find on the matter of apologetics and counter apologetics.  I feel sufficiently caught up in order to talk to most believers and confront some of the popular sayings and mantras.  One thing I was not prepared for was the invincibility of faith.  It’s not, of course.  After all, there have been many converts, myself included.  But faith is a powerful foe.

I’ve been speaking on and off with two friends specifically about God.  One of them is a former youth pastor of my wife.  I will call him JN for anonymity.  He reached out to me in a very pastor-ly way.  Very nice, very friendly.

The stated purpose for him reaching out was just to ask some questions and see where my head was at.  I’m not sure what the end game actually is, but I figured this would be a good time to show that I was educated on the matters of God and stretch some of my brain muscles.  This should also go without saying, but a great bi-product of this type of discussion is that if there is a flaw pointed out in my thinking, I can correct it.  It’s a win-win for me.

At this point, this conversation has reached a few crucial nodes of discourse.

-JN thinks that faith in and of itself is beneficial.  I’ve pointed out it’s flaws, but the benefits haven’t been stated.

-JN believes that there’s no evidence that he could present to convince me.  While I agree with him in this particular moment, the evidence could be discovered one day that would convince me, or any other skeptic.

One important piece of agreement is the ways in which we can answer the argument from nonbelief:

Either

1.  God does not exist and believers are mistaken.

2.  Nonbelievers aren’t looking for evidence.

3.  Nonbelievers haven’t found the evidence for God’s existence, but believers have.

4.  God has not revealed himself to nonbelievers.

We can immediately rule out #2.  I would say that a lot of nonbelievers are looking for evidence of God, myself included.  If a theists questions this, we can merely ask for the evidence, and that should put that theory to rest.

#4 isn’t consistent with most God concepts.  Most theists would reject this one, while I am still open to the possibility that this could be the case.

#3 is where JN has landed.  Nonbelievers are looking, but looking in the wrong places, or in the wrong ways.  In this case, a simple matter of instruction should clear this up.  Ask the theists, show me God, or show me how to find the evidence for God.  They will say, “just open your heart” or “just believe”, but this isn’t evidence for God’s existence.  If it is, then this can be evidence for just about anything you wanted to believe.  Unicorns exist.  All you have to do to know that is to open your heart and believe that they exist.

I’ll use an analogy that my friend, JN, in this discussion actually gave me.  He said atheists are scanning the FM stations for God, and believers have found him on the AM band.

This is a great analogy.  Let’s expand.  The FM band in this analogy is the natural world, while God resides in the supernatural realm, the AM band.  Never mind, for the moment that God apparently manifests himself into the FM band from time to time which would be detectable by those of us scanning it.

So if the theist is claiming to see God on the AM band, wouldn’t the easiest way to reconcile this be for him to show me how to scan the AM frequencies.  Show me where the button on my radio is to change bands.

Instead, in this analogy, JN is basically saying “you just have to believe that the AM band is there, I can’t prove it to you.  You just have to have faith.”  This wouldn’t make sense at all if the AM band actually existed and if the theists actually had access to it.  He would just show me.  Or demonstrate that he could access it somehow.

In addition, there are millions of other people convincing me of other bands that exist.  There are muslims telling me to tune into the CM band.  Alien abductees telling me that their aliens speak to them on the ZM band.  And none of them can tell me how to tune my radio other than to just “believe”.

How can I reconcile this?

My only course of action is to deny that any of these other bands exist until someone has the ability to demonstrate to me how I can change my bandwidth.  Or at the very least that it is obvious that they are listening to another bandwidth.

But none can.

This defeats option #3 from above.  I am left with the fact that either #1, God doesn’t exist, or #4, he has not revealed himself.  In the case of #4, my life would be exactly the same as if he didn’t exist.

How to Apologetics: Godisimaginary.com

(Before you read this or decide not to, I would like to point out that at the end of writing this blog, I came to a very different conclusion that the one that I hoped to point out.  I will address it at the end of the post, and if you’re not interested in the subject matter, you may find my conclusion interesting.)

http://www.godisimaginary.com is one of my favorite sites.  It’s written for the layman, and while some of it’s arguments are admittedly bad, they are laid out in a clear concise and plain way.  The few fallacies and errors are easy to spot.

Whenever a Christian or Atheist puts together a popular well-thought out argument, there are always people on the opposing side who decide to undertake the challenge of debunking the entire argument, usually due to confirmation bias.  I want what I believe to be true so the things you state that contradict that CAN’T be true!

For today, I am going to be examining The Rational Choice’s attempt to debunk the “proofs” from http://www.godisimaginary.com.  So yeah, this is going to get really complicated.  Before reading this I would go read two things:

The first ten proofs presented by www.godisimaginary.com 

The Rational Choice’s first 10 rebuttals on this page.  It’s pretty short and I will be quoting from it quite a bit.

Proof 1

The Rational Choice accuses God Is Imaginary of a non sequitur.  The Rational Choice straw mans the argument into “Prayers aren’t answered therefore God doesn’t exist.”

The actual argument here is:  The Christian says he answers prayers God.  The Christian Biblical God cannot lie because he is perfectly moral.  Prayers are not answered therefore The Christian Biblical God does not exist.

God Is Imaginary is specifically arguing against the Biblical God and even says this in the first paragraph, “One way would be to find a contradiction between the definition of God and the God we experience in the real world.”

He’s showing a logical contradiction.  God cannot fail to answer prayers, tell us he’s going to answer prayers, AND be incapable of telling a lie.  Therefore if we show that God is not answering prayers either God is a liar (in which case he’s not the Biblical God), he hasn’t told us he’s going to answer prayers (in which case the Bible is untrue and the Biblical idea of God is false.

The Rational Choice then states that “He did not promise that He would give us whatever we desire.”

I was going to link to all the verses that explicitly say this, but I realize the God Is Imaginary already listed all the ones I was thinking of.  The Rational Choice dismisses all of these by stating that these verses are “taken out of context”, and don’t actually mean what they say they mean.  Jesus was just making a point about how God can use a tiny amount of faith to do impossible things.

Okay, sure.

It’s just a coincidence that in EVERY one of those verse, Jesus is illustrating this point by telling people that WHATEVER THEY ASK FOR THEY WILL GET.  He wasn’t telling people that what they ask for is what they get, only that if they have faith then God can do great things……such as getting them whatever they ask for.  Sorry, the context card is not going to work.

Proof 2

This was dismissed by The Rational Choice except to clarify “Also worthy to note here is that the writer seems to think that God must answer yes to every prayer…but where in the Bible does it ever say that? No where.”

But wait, a prayer is a request for God to do or give something, and Jesus in Matthew 21:21 “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

This is about as clear as saying a “God will answer yes to all your requests” so The Rational Choice is demonstrably wrong here once again.

Proof 3

The Rational Choice makes the point here about a non sequitur and this time he’s actually right.  God is Imaginary’s point that other God stories and similar mythic tales to the Bible’s invalidate it does not follow, but it does point out a possible explanation for the Bible being a myth.

Proof 4

Okay maybe The Rational Choice’s charge of non sequiturs was more on the money that I originally was willing to admit.  This proof from God is Imaginary did not show that God doesn’t exist because “science”, but like the previous one, it makes a point. Science has never been debunked or negated by anything remotely resembling a supernatural phenomenon, whereas the inverse is almost always true.  Supernatural explanations get replaced with natural ones all the time.

Proof 5

The Rational Choice gives up here and screams “CONTEXT!” then moves on.  Here’s the problem with this context argument, or any argument regarding the Bible.  The Bible is not a coherent monolithic document.  It is easily taken out of context and can be used in almost any fashion to justify any action or belief.  So when someone gets it “wrong” it’s difficult not to see both sides of it, but to me that shows that this book is not divinely inspired also.  The fact that it’s such a confusing collaboration of documents containing justifications for all sorts of actions.  I think God Is Imaginary’s point that such a book doesn’t have the qualities of a divine document is accurate.

Proof 6

The Rational Choice is really good at dismissing or completely ignoring the point, and shoving it aside with a…rationalization.  Here he quarrels with God is Imaginary’s use of Rick Warren’s particular theology.  And again, he’s right that not every Christian agree with Rick Warren, but he missed the point.

The point is this.  God has free will in choosing what type of universe to create, what type of people to create.  He also has perfect knowledge.  Knowing exactly what consequences his actions will cause.  This illustrates that God knowingly created evil.  Not just “the capacity for evil”.  God directly, knowingly created evil.  This is far from a perfect plan.

Proof 7

Here, God is Imaginary compares the extraordinary nature of the biblical claims to similar extraordinary claims to equate how we should approach these types of claims.  The Rational Choice disregards this with “Just because the preceding stories are true/false, however, they have no bearing on the truth value of the succeeding story. He ends with another little rant against prayer.”

And while he’s right, he’s missed the point.  One being false doesn’t make the other false, but the manor in which we dismiss one as false is the same manner in which we can safely dismiss Christianity as false.

We have equal amounts of evidence (none) to support the equally extraordinary claims, so we should dismiss them all equally.

Proof 8

To be honest here, I side with The Rational Choice on this one.  God is Imaginary didn’t put forth a proof so much as he tried to debunk NDE as proof of God.  I don’t really have much to say about this except that I don’t know much about NDE’s except what comes from hearsay evidence.  I don’t think there is a scientific consensus about whether or not these actually occur.

Proofs 8 and 9

Nothing specifically addressed with these points because they are a reiteration of prayer.

Conclusion

I admit, I have come to a very different conclusion that I had hoped to on the onset of this quest.  My hope was to show how erroneous apologetics can be, but I came to a different conclusion.  Apologetics AND counter apologetics can both be erroneous.  I knew this of course, but the theist pointed out some very good problems with the atheist’s arguments.

To me, this is important.  We should seek to find flaws in arguments that we accept as valid.  This is the heart of skepticism and why I will be focusing my efforts less on being anti-God, and more on being a rational skeptic.  The two go together quite well because being skeptical naturally leads one to reject the claims of God that lack evidence, but my focus will be slightly more on promoting how to think better, rather than “how not to believe in that stupid God of yours.”

Standards of Evidence Part 2: Risk and Stake

In my first post on the Standards of Evidence, I pointed out how it is rational to adjust our standards of evidence depending on how outlandish or unlikely to occur the claim is.  I concluded that with “believable” claims that our brain works quickly to take into account the small amount of evidence we are given to make a somewhat rational stand on the merits of the claim, and with extraordinary claims, we require more evidence to accept them.

This post will examine another aspect of a claim that we can rationally use to help us determine the level of evidence we should require before accepting a claim:

risk1

Risk is one of my favorite board games even though I have never played it in real life with anyone.  I’ve played it online a lot.  The idea behind the game is that you have to constantly decide what actions to take based on what your opponents are likely to do and what you will lose if you make a misstep.  If you over extend or make a bad map move, you could be easily over run.  A popular strategy (especially early on) is called “turtling”, where you basically conserve your army, and build up numbers until the very end when you overpower the remaining players.  This is a minimal risk strategy.

In the arena of truth claims, minimal risk strategies should be considered.  Consider the following scenarios:

The first scenario is that your close friend tells you that he bought a big dog.  This friend wouldn’t have to try hard convince you of this fact because it’s a common thing for people to buy dogs, but ALSO because if he’s lying to you, it makes no difference to you.  Finding out that you’re wrong about your friend owning a dog will be virtually harmless to you.  It may damage your trust in your friend, but the risk involved with not believing him may be even greater.  If you tell your friend you don’t believe him and ask him to prove it, and are continually incredulous of every claim he makes, he might think it’s not worth his time to be around you.  Constantly having to prove every minor claim he makes would get old, and you would likely lose friends like that.

In another scenario, you’re told by a close friend that your wife and daughter are being held hostage in a nearby building.  He hands you a shotgun, gives you the location, and tells you that you have 5 minutes to bust into the building and take all the guys out before they kill your family.  Well, not only is this an unlikely scenario, but it’s also extremely risky to accept your friend’s claims here.  If he’s wrong, and you believe him you could endanger many innocent lives, go to prison, etc.

On the other hand, if he’s right and you do nothing, you could lose your wife and daughter.  So the claim is at least worth examining.  Merely by alerting you that something valuable to you is at risk, your friend has forced you to examine his claim at least somewhat seriously.  This is why it’s illegal to scream “fire” in a crowded theater.

So here we have two scenarios where, in the first, there’s not much at stake if you’re wrong either way, and, in the second, there’s much at stake if you’re wrong either way.

The risk of losing something valuable is a highly motivating factor when examining claims, and forces us to put at least some standard of evidence on those claims where is much to lose if we’re wrong.

In a later post, I will examine how these two criteria for raising our standards of evidence can help us sort through various God claims.  This will definitely include a discussion about Pascal’s Wager.  For now, thanks for reading!