Tuesday, November 04, 2008

USA Today calculator - are you like McCain or Obama?

So it turns out, according to the USA Today Candidate Match Game II, that my personal views more reflect the policies of Barack Obama.

What a surprise.

Here is the proof:
Above: screenshot of my results at the Candidate Match Game II

Tee-hee, look at McCain's little head. Watch it shrink as I select my policies *giggle*

The best part of this is, that means that I am just like 86.9% of the rest of the world if they could vote, too (you can add your hypothetical vote).

The Poll of Polls at CNN.com has Barack leading at 51% by 7 percent. Let me tell you, if Obama doesn't win the planet will cry foul. Even the stoners would cry out.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Things Your Mother Never Told You About Atheism part 4

I have had some feedback on my previous sections and for that I thank you for your contributions so far. I enjoy discussing ideas with people and your comments only help make us all better. That's true even, or especially, if you disagree with me - just as long as you can tell me why.

I began with why examining the claims about the existence of God needs to be taken seriously and with correct methodology. I moved on to examine the poor ways in which people reject religion, and weak reasons to declare oneself an atheist. Those parts quite understandably drew some reaction from people (freethinkers and atheists I presume?), some of whom possibly didn't realise that my final aim WASN'T going to be to argue in defense of religion or gods.

I wanted to start this way, regardless of the ire that it risked drawing from sympathetic readers, because I think that it is very important that an argument AGAINST the possible existence of God needs to begin with a proper consideration for what theists actually claim and that the popular yet weak arguments need to be ejected from the dialogue early on.

Now it is finally time to annoy the theists.

Things your Mother never told you about Atheism
and several other reasons why God doesn't exist.

* * *

Part IV - Poor reasons sometimes used to criticise somebody becoming an atheist

1 - The atheist was 'brainwashed' as a child, or 'too young' and therefore isn't really thinking clearly about God.
This sword cuts both ways. Either teaching our children anything is ‘brainwashing’ (as providing any information during development & rearing contributes to their worldview), or you have to leave parents alone. Equally, either children can make their own decisions about God whenever they want (let the little children come to Jesus?) or we have to sit down to decide when exactly a growing human being develops ‘spiritual consciousness’. We already have one hair-splitting argument about when exactly a human is conceived; let’s leave the brain out of this. After all, surely the great number of parents who feel that the faith of their child teaches them new things about God can’t criticise another child who decides there is no god.

2 - The atheist has suffered trauma or emotional damage (therefore mustn't be an atheist for any valid reasons).
Believers should consider this point very carefully. How many Christian testimonies talk about hitting the bottom, bad choices, trauma, fear, and pain? How many of them speak triumphantly of the breaking point they experienced, their repentance, their conversion, and the new and bright life that they now have found in Christ? A great many of them do. To condemn the decision of an individual to change their minds about what they think, feel, or believe based on their life experiences would write off the religious beliefs of a very large chunk of the world’s population.
Believers can’t happily accept any and all converts that they receive – no matter how traumatic their ‘testimony’ – all the while rejecting the validity of an equally traumatised individual turning their back on faith. Either broken people can make any kind of religious choices that we have to accept as valid, or Churches will need to start vetting their new members for their Emotional History – not too heavy or not too light, mind you.
As a psychology worker in the mental health industry, I see that so many people in the world today are hurt in some way. The solution isn’t to presume a lack of individual competency for people to make decisions about their own lives and opinions.

3 - Atheism is asking too much when it relies on 'rationality' and 'proof'.
In other words, this is the view that you can't be 'scientific' about God or religion. For one, as Richard Dawkins points out, no Christian would reject evidence that science unsurfaced that demonstrated any biblical historicity or validated their religious claims; it is absurd to claim that the reverse - demonstrations to the contrary or expectations of proof positive - is impossible.
But if we demystify the fancy words here, we find that Science could just be another way for saying, “coming to sensible conclusions about the world by doing tests, writing notes, and comparing what we think and observe with people around us who are also making observations.”
When doing theology, in order to avoid heresy or other embarrassing ideas, people like to do it ‘in community.’ Coming to conclusions about things by talking it over with others is something as common in a University as it is in a Seminary; nobody likes the rogue scholar. ‘Rationality’ could be just another way of saying, “avoiding illogical ideas,” or, “being reasonable.” I’m absolutely certain that anybody engaged in any thought – either scientific or theological – would like to entertain the notion that they themselves are managing to do so without being illogical or unreasonable.
Churches are full of people who want to ‘share their walk with God’ with others; scientists take on a lab partner. Preachers and others who stand up to talk in front of the congregation have people use the Holy Spirit to ‘discern the truth of their words’ as they ‘test the spirits’ to see whether they are a false prophet; scientists like to write articles for peer-reviewed journals.
Science and religion are not so different when you realise that they are both ways in which people try to explain, predict, and control the world around them. So when people tell me not to be scientific about matters of faith, I can’t help but wonder whether they have ever shared a personal story with their home-group or been encouraged by joint prayer with others. Christians have dealings with their church community all the time in matters of faith, even going so far as journaling their experiences (taking notes on God? Shock!). That sounds an awful lot like common-experiences, science, and rationality to me.


Coming up next:
Part V - Positive points for Atheism 1/10

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Disproving the Argument from Suffering

This one is going out to Lance.

Not happy to have me brush across the Argument from Suffering so quickly in my blog post and not happy, it seems, to ask a local theologian, Lance let me know that "stating that the suffering argument is stupid doesn't exactly explain it".

I was reluctant to go there in my blog because (i) it might be too long for people if I added complete proofs to everything I mention, (ii) it might be boring for readers who want less technical content, and (iii) re-churning over ancient philosophical basics is a little bit like reinventing the wheel.

But, obviously, stating it is stupid like it is a given is not as good as taking time to prove my point. So true, Lance, and so here we go.

Why the Argument from Suffering does not disprove God's existence:

The problem of evil or the argument from suffering goes something like this:

1. God is wholly benevolent and good.
2. God is omniscient - aware of everything and possessing all knowledge.
3. God is omnipotent - able to do anything.
4. An omniscient God would be aware of all suffering.
5. An omnipotent God would be able to stop all suffering.
6. A wholly benevolent and good God would want to stop all suffering.
7. Suffering exists in the world.
8. Therefore, God does not exist.

Now for a little bit of philosophical logic.

The general rule above can be phrased, "For all universes containing a wholly benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God, no such universe can exist that also contains suffering."

In logic, a counterexample is an exception to a proposed general rule. In this case, if we can provide a single specific example of a universe that may violate the proposition we demonstrate that the general rule is flawed. Even if we don't know whether OUR universe is the exception or not, we know that we can't rely on the rule to guide us. It may be wrong some of the time, most of the time, or hardly ever - but who knows?

This is why the argument from suffering is almost doomed to fail before it has begun; just like proving a negative is difficult, for the proposition to be universally true it will have to be able to withstand an infinite number of potential possible universes, one of which may be ours, each with their reasons for being however they are.

There are a few easy examples of weak points in the argument that allow counterexamples to sneak in:

Points 8 and points 1-3; what we mean by “God”. Point 8 presumes that all that makes up God are points 1-3. For one, Christians disagree even as to whether God possess the three ‘omni-’ attributes: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Open Theists take a different approach to omniscience. There will be any number of formulations of what people mean when they say ‘God’; some formulations will more readily allow for grey areas to exist in the universe (some will even demand the existence of evil). If you are going to disprove God then you can’t be sloppy here. Like a hydra, knocking down one particular formulation of a god will only grow two more.

Point 5 - An omnipotent God would be able to stop all suffering. This point is weak because it presumes a certain thing about human free will versus divine sovereignty. Some would affirm that God allows humans to have free will. Making it a choice - a divine SELF limitation - means that human free will is not a threat to divine sovereignty (just like giving your child free choice to play on the playground doesn’t threaten parental sovereignty). That humans have free will at all then means that we are morally responsible for our own actions, for good or ill. Evil and suffering, therefore, can be seen as the products of agents distinct from God.

Point 6 - knowing what God would want to do. Any ethical philosophers will be aware that there is a large gap between the facts as they are and actions that ‘ought’ to be taken. The bridge between is usually built out of value statements. Already, we can see that greyness has made its home in this part of the argument. Even the most lawful and morally black and white among us know that the morality of a given action is not based on a predetermined rule that says “always do X” but is instead based on a careful determination of the context and the best response for the situation. Pushing an old lady over in the street and thus breaking her hip will almost always be wrong except in those situations when it means that she isn’t run over by an impending truck. Rationality shouldn’t break down when we consider God as a moral agent either; whether God ‘ought’ to respond in a particular way to certain things that we perceive in the world will depend on context, intention, facts as God sees them (which, one would argue, is more complete than our perspective), and any number of factors that muddy our nice, simple ‘ought’ statement.

I didn’t need to present three reasons where the argument from suffering may be incorrect, though there are certainly more that could be given. To make my counterexample I only needed one possible weakness. We now see that there could be any number of reasons why ‘God’ and evil or suffering may coexist in the same universe.

The argument is therefore refuted.

The argument from suffering is not a sufficient disproof of the existence of God.

So you see, Lance, I don’t feel that your query on this point has ‘taken apart’ my series or rendered it meaningless. Everybody should feel free to request clarification or justification of my points; I don’t make them lightly even though I may present them as such.