Sunday, December 16, 2007

An argument in reduced form

I have seen a number of arguments for the existence of God that boil down to the following:

1) Fact X doesn't rule out a weak form of Deism.
2) Therefore God exists.

Now there are many circumstances in which (1) is true - indeed there are few facts that will rule out a weak form of Deism.

My observations are not inconsistent with Russell's teapot and the invisible pink unicorn in my garage either; that doesn't make them reasonable positions. And not impossible is a very, very long way from true... or even "seems likely".

But in any case, if someone wants to take a Deist position, we will probably have little to argue about. Or if they want to believe in orbiting spouted ceramic containers of steaming Orange Pekoe, that's no terribly great loss either.

However, the conclusion simply doesn't follow, even if the God of (1) and the God of (2) were the same God. In practice, they never are. Indeed, the argument is more like:

1') Fact X doesn't rule out an invisible pink unicorn in my garage.
2') Therefore JFK was a reptoid.

Not only is it not a valid syllogism, it's a total non-sequitur. Sentences (1) and (2) are completely unrelated, because they contain no common elements.

This argument is well disguised by using the term "God" twice. It's a very neat bait-and-switch con - just like a used car dealer, the car that got you in and the car you were actually sold can both be described as cars... but they're NOT the same object.

And so with this argument - it's just as much of a con.

The God of (1) is far from the God of (2).

Indeed, often on closer examination, the God actually being introduced in (2) turns out to be inconsistent with the fact in (1), but that's of no concern to the person making the argument - once you've accepted proposition (2), standard apologetics take care of that little problem in (1)!

Sentence (2)'s God has been snuck in through the back door, and you're supposed to uncritically accept all the attributes of God (2) - based on an argument that God (1) isn't completely impossible.

Watch out for it. It's interesting how often some form of it crops up.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Belief and skepticism at the dinner table

My son has announced at the dinner table that he believes in God, twice this week.
(He's being indoctrinated by his school friends again.)

His little sister gave him a withering look each time and said "I don't."

This is no big deal. He's only eight and in a sea of godbottery, so it's not a big surprise that he picks up some of it. With Christmas coming, of course, they're practicing carols for the school christmas concert and stuff, so the exposure to that has had him thinking about it even more than usual.

Personally, I'm not even going to try to disabuse him of it. Not yet anyway, he's still a kid. Unless he tries to engage me in a conversation dealing with the merits of the position, in which case I may try a little gentle exposure to the bible and the actual beliefs of a few other religions. Curing only his ignorance of what belief in deities carries with it will probably be all he'll need, though it may take him a while to sort it all out once he knows a bit more.

He has a decent grounding in looking for evidence. He knows that not everything someone tells him is going to be true. He loves science. He adores the Mythbusters. It all has an impact.

He has expressed open skepticism in a number of beliefs that come with Christianity. Angels make no sense to him - none whatever - and he rejects them as made up. He doesn't believe that a star appeared over the inn where Jesus was born (he already knows that the stars are really far away, so whatever happened, it cannot have been a star dangling over Jesus' birthplace that they saw.)

So he's not particularly gullible - in fact, I have to say he may well be less gullible than I was. I am proud that he's applying logic to what he's hearing - that will stand him in good stead. He's a great kid.

I've told both my kids "Good on your for saying what you think".

I think that I will be helping my kids more by encouraging them to seek their own answers and ask their own questions (even when they come to conclusions I disagree with) than by trying to get them to believe what I do. I want to give them tools that help them figure out the world, not my answers. If I give them tools, they can go where I have not. If I give them answers, they may never realize that there may be better questions and better answers than mine.

And I think the world needs better questions and better answers.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Persecution and discrimination: a challenge

I often read about Christians who complain that they are discriminated against.

Many (possibly even the majority of) atheists in English speaking countries are ex-Christians and so have experienced things from both sides. If you think Christians are hard done by when you haven't experienced things from both sides, you have no basis for comparison and should shut up until you have the faintest clue what you're talking about.

Try this little experiment, oh poor persecuted Christian. For one week, see a little of what it's like to be an atheist:

- Pray to God and explain (though God already knows, right, so you can actually skip this part) that in order to try to understand your neighbors who don't have the benefit of belief in God (remember "love thy neighbor"? Where does that phrase come from again?), you won't be praying for a week, but after the week is up you'll pray extra to make up for it. Then stop for a week.

- Tell your boss you're an atheist.
(it's okay, after a week, you can correct the impression -- but nothing bad will happen in the meantime, since it's Christians that are the ones that are discriminated against, right?)

- Go to your kids' school(s) and tell their teachers you're an atheist
(you don't even have to tell them your kids are atheists - it's your experiment, not theirs). Mention your newly godless status to any parents you talk to while you're in or near the school.

- Tell the people at your local church you're an atheist. Remember, it's only Christians that face discrimination, so nothing bad will happen. Next week you can let them know it was just an experiment; Christians are known for their tolerance and cheek turning, so they will calmly wait for you to come to your senses.

- For one full day wear a shirt carrying an obvious atheist message, and drive a car with an atheist bumper sticker on it.

- Try to notice every time something you read or someone you speak to mentions atheism or God. Notice what is said, and try to imagine briefly what it would sound like if you actually didn't believe. (God, obviously, will still know you do.)

These are only a few things. You won't experience what it actually is like to live every day in the hostile environment many atheists experience, but it might give you the beginning of some insight. It's not like God won't know you're still a faithful Christian.

My prediction: not one Christian not already in a strongly secular/liberal environment will be able to do even these few things.

I'll be pleasantly surprised if even one bible-belter is brave enough to try. If you do it in Texas county, Oklahoma, you get double points!

Monday, December 3, 2007

New PM signs up

Kevin Rudd was sworn in as Prime Minister of Australia today.

He wasted no time, signing the instrument of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on his first day.

A Righteous Wrath

The phrase "per se" is a Latin phrase meaning "of, in, or by itself". The "se" part is what contributes the "itself" to that.

Atheist writers note well: It is not "per say".

If you're going to use it like that, you'll sound like a moron, or even worse, a fundie.

per se

per se

per freaking se

Don't even get me started on "voilĂ ". Voila is okay, since English doesn't do graves and accents and cedillas and umlauts and such but so often incorrectly written viola, or walla or wallah. If I get going on that one, I am liable to insert a "viola" in someone's nose.
(slightly edited...)

A gift for description

Martin Wagner at The Atheist Experience said in a post
calling ID a "theory," ... is like some no-hoper pointing to a Playboy centerfold taped to his wall and calling it his "girlfriend,"