Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christian Contradictions Redux

Much of this has been covered in other posts on this blog, but I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of what I think are the most blatant internal contradictions I have encountered with religious beliefs over the years, specifically with Christian beliefs.  And by “internal contradiction” I mean incoherence: one part of the doctrine contradicting another part, not the doctrine contradicting empirical fact or scientific theory.

  • Jesus stated many times in the New Testament that if his followers asked for anything in his name (or in the name of the Father or with faith, etc.), it would be given to them. And yet, when you ask most Christians why they didn’t get what they prayed for, you are told that “God promised to answer all prayers, but sometimes the answer is ‘no’” and “God moves in mysterious ways.”
  • Many theists claim that it is impossible to have any sort of “absolute” morality without God, since man’s morality is always relative. Furthermore, the way to discover God’s absolute morality is by reading the Bible. However, when pressed to explain why God commanded or permitted many things that seem horrible today (slavery, genocide, etc.) or why God forbade many things that seem perfectly all right today (eating pork and shellfish, mixing two different types of fabrics, etc.), the answer is often that those rules were given for the people who lived at that time and don’t apply to us today. In other words, God’s morality is relative and not absolute after all.
  • Many theists claim that the apparent design we see in nature is “proof” (or at least strong evidence) for the existence of God, since only a perfect being such as God could be responsible for the perfection of design we see all around us. However, when you point out all the obvious flaws with nature’s designs (blind spots in the human eye, etc.), the response is that Adam and Eve sinned, thereby causing the universe to enter into a “fallen” state. If the apparent design is obviously flawed, however, how can you point to its perfection as proof of God’s existence?
  • If all children are said to be innocent (“Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven”), how can some Christians also believe that the mere act of being born means that they have sinned enough to be condemned to an eternity of torment in Hell unless saved by Christ’s redeeming grace?
  • If God loves and cares for all his creations (including the lowly sparrow, according to scripture), why did he create a world where there is so much suffering in the natural world? I’m not talking about man’s inhumanity to man and suffering caused by free will, but the fact that some animals survive by eating other animals, some wasps lay their eggs in living hosts who are eaten alive once the eggs hatch, etc. Saying, “It’s all Adam and Eve’s fault since their sin cause the world to enter a fallen state” doesn’t resolve the contradiction, since God set up the rules in the first place. The world didn’t have to enter a fallen state when Adam and Eve sinned, that’s just how God set things up. He could have set it up so mankind suffered, but the rest of the natural world didn’t. So either God’s not really omnipotent after all or else he just really likes to see small cute little animals suffer and die.
  • The so-called “Prosperity Gospel”. On one hand, Jesus commanded his followers to give their money to the poor and said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven. On the other hand, worship Jesus (by giving me all your money) and he will make you fabulously wealthy, just like me!
  • On one hand, Christians believe that God is eternal and unchangeable (“the same yesterday, and today, and forever”) and that Jesus did not come to destroy or abolish the law of the Old Testament (“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”) On the other hand, when asked why we no longer have to keep kosher today, or stone homosexuals, or avoid mixing threads of two different fabrics, etc., the answer is invariably because Jesus did away with the Old Testament law and we don’t have to follow it today. Well, except for the parts we really like, such as the 10 commandments. And, really, anything that says homosexuality is bad. But shrimp and bacon? Om nom nom nom…
  • Many Christians here in the U.S. insist that America was founded as a Christian country and that our legal system derives from the Bible. As such, they think it would be great to have laws that outlaw abortion, gay rights, etc. However, the Bible also requires believers to aid the poor and needy. So we should have laws in place to help the poor and the needy, right? No, of course not, since that is something individuals should be concerned with and not the government. In other words, legally banning gay marriage is good since it accords with the Old Testament, but food stamps and welfare programs are bad, despite the fact that they accord with the New Testament. Gotcha.
  • Theists often attack atheists who believe the universe was NOT created by God by claiming that atheists believe that the universe “came from nothing” (a patently ridiculous concept, apparently). But when asked how the universe was created, they state that God created it… from nothing!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Puny God Redux

A couple of years ago I made a post entitled "Puny God" wherein I talked about how odd I found it that God was so often depicted in modern media as, well, less than the omnipotent, omniscient, infallible being in whom most modern theists claim to actually believe.  At the time, I had just finished reading a set of novels upon which the FX Series "The Strain" was based, and [*SPOILER ALERT*] I was struck by how often God is depicted simultaneously as (a) wholly involved in this little teeny corner of all existence and (b) willing to let huge amounts of his creation suffer and die because of some oversight on His part.  I mean, we are not even talking about suffering caused by mankind's exercise of free will or living in a "fallen" world due to Adam's original sin or any other apologetic justification for why bad things happen to good people.  No, I'm talking about cases where an Angel rebels and decides to wipe out most of humanity.  Or where some ancient artifact once touched by God has been left behind to gather power until a servant of the Devil (or the Devil himself) is able to possess it and wreak havoc.

Anyway, today's redux comes after finishing the entire "Preacher" series of graphic novels, upon which the new AMC series of the same name is loosely based.  It's certainly an entertaining series (albeit a bit too heavy on the sex and nudity and foul language for my taste, even though it's clear that it all serves an important part of the story), but once again it just makes me wonder what sort of God is actually being worshiped here, anyway?

I know all about Young Earth Creationists and their literal view of scriptures.  Yeah, they believe the entire universe really was created 6000-10000 years ago, all the animal species alive today descended from the animals Noah brought with him on the ark 4000 years ago, all of humanity descended from a pair of human beings divinely created as-is in the Garden of Eden, etc.  And I know that many of them have even tried to explain that, since the universe is only 6000-7000 years old, it can't possibly be as big as astronomers want us to believe or, if it is, that's because God created it that big in the first place and set all the photons from distant stars and galaxies midway on their journey to us so it would only appear that they must have traveled millions or even billions of years to get to us.

But seriously, do any of them actually still believe that the Earth is flat, that the sun (and the entire universe) revolves around it once a day, that God is "up there" in the clouds somewhere and that Satan and Hell are "down there" below our feet?  I'm assuming the answer is no, but that just brings me back to my original question as to why God is always depicted as if that's exactly the way the universe is?  The majority of modern day theists seem to prefer to talk about a God who is immaterial, timeless, etc., whose love and intelligence fills the entire universe, as opposed to a glowing white guy with a beard who sits on his thrown in the sky looking down on us.  That presumably lets them maintain their belief in God specifically in the face of all the incontrovertible evidence that the universe is vastly old and vastly huge and that there is no heaven in the sky and no hell beneath our feet.  And, as I said, I don't think even the most die-hard literalists really think God is up there in the clouds somewhere.

So why, why, why does God keep getting portrayed as if our knowledge of the universe had not advanced a whit from the days of those who wrote the scriptures thousands of years ago?  What is this fascination with a version of God that most (if not all) theists agree couldn't possibly be correct?  I mean, I'm fine with it because I acknowledge that it is all fiction and quibbling with the way God is depicted would be like complaining because the Ewoks from Star Wars don't seem realistic enough.  But if theists really do believe that God is some immaterial, timeless being that has an entire universe to take care of, why isn't he ever actually portrayed that way and why are books and movies that portray him as a "puny God so darn popular?

Is it just because all these popular books and movies are produced by atheists?  Are the audiences that lap them up also atheists (even if they won't admit it publicly)?  Or do they, like me, just enjoy these stories as the fiction they are despite the fact that acknowledging them as wholly fictional undercuts the very foundation of their beliefs?

I would honestly like to hear from theists who like these sorts of movies, books, comics, etc.  Are they comfortable with God being literally depicted as the holy scriptures describe him instead of the way most "enlightened" theists talk about him today?  Or would it be more disturbing to actually depict God as he is usually described today (immaterial, timeless, etc.) instead of as a glorified, glowing figure in a white beard who sits in a thrown in the sky and comes down to chat every now and then?

I suspect that most "enlightened" theists today want to believe in a personal "Sky Daddy" of a God who, just like the scriptures teach, looks like us, watches over us, cares for us, and could possibly come down from his thrown and provide individual help if we needed it.  Of course, they can't actually say that's what they actually do believe, since they know they would be ridiculed for doing so (which is why they've come up with this whole idea of an "unprovable" God who doesn't show himself directly and whose very existence must be taken on faith alone).  But maybe that's why these depictions of God in movies, television, books, etc. are so popular -- because theists today desperately want to believe that God is how he is depicted in the scriptures and not the watered-down, science-accommodating, non-falsifiable "God is love" type of being that most theists seem to espouse these days.

That's just my theory, though.  I'd love to here what you think...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

"Molecules In Motion"

There's a recurring statement that comes up in a variety of contexts, whether it be discussions of free will, morality, evidence of God's existence, etc., that atheists believe that nothing exists in the universe except for matter and energy and therefore must think that human beings are nothing more than "molecules in motion" (or words to that effect).  For example, when discussing morality, a theist might claim that atheists have no way of justifying a belief in morality without a belief in God since, after all, atheists think we're all just a bunch of molecules in motion (or matter and energy) following Newton's laws of motion and acting in predetermined ways based on stimuli.  Or something like that.  So, the argument goes, how can there be any morality if we are not free to choose our own actions?

This same argument is used to explain why there supposedly can't be any sort of free will without there being a supernatural being to give us that free will.  Sometimes it's even used to prove the existence of God, since there's supposedly no other way that consciousness could possibly arise from "mere" matter and energy.

When this argument is raised, in whatever context, the person representing the atheist point of view often tries to defend how its possible to have morality based on natural laws that are wholly apart from human consciousness.  Or perhaps that it doesn't matter whether we "really" have free will as long as we think that we do and act in accordance with that belief.

Personally, I think trying to argue along these lines misses the boat.  Once again, theists are just presenting another form of "Argument from Ignorance" and claiming that, since atheists can't explain it, God must be the answer.  However, rather than falling into this trap and trying to explain something that may very well be inexplicable, I think it's better to simply acknowledge that we don't know how consciousness and free will could arise from matter and energy.  The fact that we can't explain it doesn't mean that it has to be God.  It just means that we can't explain it.  And it also doesn't mean that the theist explanation of God is the correct explanation, either.  I mean, if we're going to assume that any explanation must be better than no explanation, then I'll go ahead and posit that consciousness and free will arises due to the presence of immaterial and undetectable "mind" particles that permeate the universe and accumulate over time in our brains.  Sure, I have no evidence that these particles exist, let alone that they do what I claim they do, but apparently that doesn't matter as long as they explain the observed phenomena that we do have consciousness and free will, right?  And can anybody prove that my immaterial and undetectable particles don't exist?

The bottom line, as always, is that atheism is not a claim to have all the answers about everything in the universe -- it is simply a lack of belief in the claim made by theists that they do have all the answers to everything in the universe.  Sure, I suspect that scientists (not "atheists", mind you) will someday figure out just how consciousness and free will arises naturally from matter and energy.  Or perhaps they really will find evidence of the "mind" particle I joked about earlier.  But until they do, it doesn't mean that the "God" explanation must be true in the meantime, any more than it was true that Thor was responsible for thunder until we figured out how it was really caused.

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Revelation Regarding Arguments for the Existence of God

OK, so the title of this post is intentionally meant to be humorous, but after watching yet another debate between a theist and an atheist regarding the existence of God, I had a sudden realization.  An epiphany, if you will.

The theist side of most of these debates usually consists of three main angles of attack:

  1. God's existence can be logically proved via a number of different arguments, such as the Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Design or the Argument from Contingency (which is really just a subset of the Cosmological Argument).
  2. Science (usually equated with atheism for some reason) can't explain everything (or anything, with 100% certainty), but the "God" hypothesis can, so therefore it is more reasonable to believe that God exists.
  3. Faith, personal revelation, etc., "prove" that the theist's accepted version of God is the right one (which is why Muslims use the same exact arguments as Christians to "prove" wildly different versions of God).
Now, the third angle of attack can usually be dismissed out of hand, simply because the theist acknowledges that there is no way to prove the assertion and it's really just a statement of belief (no matter how deeply held).  And the second line of attack is also pretty easily dismissed, since it's trivial to explain that the burden of proof lies on the head of he who is making a positive claim ("God exists") and atheists don't have to be able to explain anything (or everything) with 100% certainty if theists can't even prove that God exists in the first place.

And so, most of these debates tend to revolve around the first angle of attack.  The theist runs through the same tired arguments that have been refuted time and time again, and the atheist goes through the motions of pointing out how they have been refuted time and time again.  And nothing ever gets resolved!  Even if the atheist refutes every single point made by the theist, even if he explains in careful detail the unwarranted assumptions, begged questions, leaps of logic and major fallacies employed while making the arguments, the theist just continues blithely on to the second and third angles of attack as if nothing happened.

And this is when I had my revelation.  Theists who make these arguments purporting to prove the existence of God aren't actually trying to convince atheists that God exists.  Instead, they are simply trying to offer logical-sounding justifications for what they believe so as to not appear illogical, foolish, gullible, stupid, idiotic, or what have you.  They know that their belief in God is based on a wholly irrational foundation of faith (not to mention cultural inertia, family experience, etc.), and they trot out these arguments to make themselves feel better.

Again, this becomes extremely apparent after a theist runs through all the "logical" arguments as to why a God (of some sort) must necessarily exist, but then has to resort to an appeal to faith or personal revelation or an appeal to emotion to bridge the gap between the supposedly proven "first cause" God and the God that they personally believe in and worship.

All of which is to say that debating theists over the existence of God is probably a useless exercise.  People don't tend to believe in God for logical reasons in the first place, so refuting the logic of their proposed arguments isn't likely to change their opinions.  The arguments are nothing but smokescreens to hide the fact that their beliefs are not based on logic or evidence, since appeals to faith typically don't carry too much weight with the faithless.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Power of Coincidence

So, I've had this little snippet of classical music stuck in my head for months now with no idea what it actually was.  It might have been something I heard on the radio years ago, but it also might have been background music for a commercial or something else like that.  I suspected it might be something by Bach, but that was the best I could do.  It was really driving me crazy, especially since I could only remember the first few bars and really wanted to hear the rest.

Well, last night I went to my weekly choir rehearsal (yes, I sing in a small a capella choir that specializes in Renaissance music) and asked our director, Jay, if he had any idea what this tune was (obviously, it helps that I can actually sing).  He thought about it and said it might possibly be from Bach's "Italian Concerto".  That's a piece I've heard of, but don't recall ever actually listening to, so I told him I'd look it up on Youtube later and let him know.

After rehearsal, I got into my car and headed home.  The radio was tuned to WCRB (classical music), and literally the first thing I hear upon starting the car was, "Up next, Bach's 'Italian Concerto.'"  Cue the "Twilight Zone" music (doo-dee-doo-doo, doo-dee-doo-doo).  The first movement didn't sound particularly familiar, and neither did the second movement.  When the third movement started playing, though, shivers shot up and down my spine as I heard the exact same snippet of music that had been running through my head for months and that I had just asked my director about.  What an amazing coincidence!  I mean, I can't even begin to calculate the odds of it happening the way it happened, but they must be astronomical to the point where it couldn't have happened just by chance.  Except, of course, that it did happen just by chance.

Later that evening, I began to think more about my experience and started wondering what my reaction would have been had I previously taken some action that could somehow be interpreted as triggering this event.  What if, say, I had read a fortune cookie at the Chinese restaurant where I usually eat lunch and it had said something like, "Today, you will find the answer to your question."  Or, what if I had visited a fortune teller who told me that today was going to be my lucky day?  Well, I probably would have still chalked it up to just an amazing coincidence.  But, what if I were still religious and had prayed to God to please, please, help me figure out what this tune was before it drove me crazy?  And then I had this amazing coincidence happen?  Hmmmmm...

Growing up surrounded by theists, all my life I have heard so-called "faith promoting stories" that people have used to justify their faith.  Yes, I'm sure that some of those stories are complete fabrications, but I'm willing to accept that most of them are totally sincere and reflect instances where somebody prayed about something and then had something inexplicably amazing happen to them, something so bizarre that it couldn't possibly have been just a coincidence.  Or maybe they didn't even pray about something, but knew that whatever happened must have been because God was rewarding them for being faithful, or sending them a message, or whatever.  After all, what other possible explanation could there be?

OK, so maybe in the great scheme of things my little brush with coincidence wasn't all that earth-shattering.  Maybe it's not so bizarre as it seemed to me and stuff like this actually happens all the time.  Regardless, it seemed bizarrely inexplicable to me at the time and it gave me an appreciation as to why people are so willing to think that experiences such as this provide evidence (if not absolute proof) of whatever type of supernatural beliefs they hold.  Of course, since I'm using this experience to reinforce my non-belief in the supernatural, I suppose you could call this a "faith demoting story"...