Chronicling the follies of religion and superstition, the virtues of skepticism, and the wonders of the real (natural) universe as revealed by science. Plus other interesting and educational stuff.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!

And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!

Morality: Getting “ought” from “is”

Apologists like William Lane Craig will argue that you can not derive and ought from an is. That is a catchy way to say that just because things are a certain way, that doesn’t mean you ought act in any particular way. They say that god can be the only objective judge of what we ought to or ought not to do. Otherwise, they say, it becomes purely a matter of arbitrary opinion. As if it’s not arbitrary if it’s God’s opinion.

There are a couple of fatal flaws in this reasoning:

First, since god doesn’t actually talk to us and since the holy books are entirely understood through subjective human interpretation, this idea does nothing but simply invoke an unseen authority to support those “arbitrary” opinions that the faithful are so worried about.

If you believe that God demands that you terrorize infidels or homosexuals (for instance) as a moral imperative, while another person believes that God’s law is to love your fellow man no matter what, which one represents the objective moral standard that the faithful are so sure of? The scriptures have effectively been used to reach both conclusions. Compassionate believers find scriptures to support compassion and love while hateful believers find scriptures to support judgment and hate. The scriptures are nothing but a post hoc explanation to support values that originate from humans.

Secondly, the only thing that can offer an objective moral directive is the consideration of consequences. The path from “is” to “ought” is defined by “if”. This is just as true for religious morality as it is for the secular version.

Moral standard: don’t murder..
Religious: if you want to go to heaven/don’t want to go to hell
Secular: if you don’t want to live in a world where you or your loved ones are subject to murder, or don’t want to be branded a murderer and ostracized from society.

For the faithful, the “if” simply comes down to consequences in the afterlife. For the secular, the “if” comes down to consequences hear and now. It’s just that the former is disconnected from the consequence of actual human and societal well being and the latter is based on it.

Some argue that their moral imperatives come down to societal consequences as well. For instance, they will argue that homosexuality is forbidden by their God because it is bad for society. Well, in that case there must be evidence for this harm, and if there is what need do we have for god? Since there is no evidence for harm done to society by equal rights for gay people, secular moral world views tend to not see any problem with it. But since some people find it plain icky for two men to have sex, they use god has a post hoc explanation as to why it’s immoral and why they’re justified in there bigotry.

I do not expect God to single me out and grant me advantages over my fellow men…

I do not expect God to single me out and grant me advantages over my fellow men…

skepticalavenger:

If we must have faith, let us have faith in ourselves.
via We Love Atheism

Stop wasting time trying to please the supernatural.

skepticalavenger:

If we must have faith, let us have faith in ourselves.

via We Love Atheism

Stop wasting time trying to please the supernatural.

Resources for Atheist Parents

Thankfully, there are many fabulous resources available both for parents and for kids to navigate this world without religious guidance. Here are just a small sampling…

Top 10 Resurrections

Death fascinates humans, and probably always has. The oldest extant epic, that of Gilgamesh, directly addresses the question of why death exists. With Easter on its way, it seems timely to remember a religious figure who died and came back to life—I’m just not sure which one to choose. World mythology is full of religious figures who have undergone resurrection. Here are ten of the more interesting stories

Can They Offer Anything New?

academicatheism:

matthewsedition:

“It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”
— Sir Francis Bacon on atheism, visit www.sirbacon.org

This insight is anachronistic. In the modern day, it’s simply wrong. Does depth in philosophy bring people’s minds to religion? Statistics disagree with that conclusion. One move that should be called out is Bacon’s conflation of religion and Christianity. Christianity isn’t the only religion, but his quote should end with “depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to Christianity.” This is what he meant. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. A little philosophy actually brings people to Christianity. I discussed this in a recent post. Christians seldom know philosophy in depth; in general, they simply agree with the views that align with their beliefs. Depth in dogmatism brings people’s minds to Christianity. Depth in philosophy—in thoughtfulness, in reflection, in reason, in the consideration of all options—undoubtedly takes people’s minds away from Christianity. Given the current state of academia, it also brings people’s minds to atheism.

This calls for some data: The Largest-Ever Survey of Philosophers: What Do They Believe?

confrontingbabble-on:

Whenever religion manages to maneuver into a position of absolute power…the world does not become a better place…it becomes a very evil…dark…insane…place…!
Full of torture…slavery…rampant intimidation and fear…controlled information…curtailed freedoms…subjugated women…abused children…oppressed minorities…stoning to death for the most subjective infractions…instructions for genocide…dashing babies against walls…burning the frivolously accused, alive at the stake…and an almost endless list of immoral debauchery…by religious leaders…
See…
http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/vatican/esp_vatican29.htm
http://readingshouts.wordpress.com/2008/05/12/most-painful-20-torture-devices-in-the-history/
http://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/10-medieval-torture-devices.htm

confrontingbabble-on:

Whenever religion manages to maneuver into a position of absolute power…the world does not become a better place…it becomes a very evil…dark…insane…place…!

Full of torture…slavery…rampant intimidation and fear…controlled information…curtailed freedoms…subjugated women…abused children…oppressed minorities…stoning to death for the most subjective infractions…instructions for genocide…dashing babies against walls…burning the frivolously accused, alive at the stake…and an almost endless list of immoral debauchery…by religious leaders…

See…

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/vatican/esp_vatican29.htm

http://readingshouts.wordpress.com/2008/05/12/most-painful-20-torture-devices-in-the-history/

http://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/10-medieval-torture-devices.htm

The Way of The Mister: Skepticism & Atheism

Can you be a good Skeptic and believe in God?

Vsauce, the master answerer of life’s toughest questions and professional blower of minds, tackles something so philosophical in his latest video that you’ll start to wonder what in the hell our purpose is on this Earth. And if it’s any different than a purpose of a rock. It starts with the discussion of art and then fakes and forgeries of art and what forgeries really mean and what it means to be original and eventually leads into a discussion on how we’re pretty much all just forgeries too. He ends by pointing out that you are quadrillionth cousins with water, rocks and the clothes you’re wearing.

academicatheism:

new-age-conservative:

A little simplified in a few parts but overall a correct and valid argument.

Just to prove how philosophically bankrupt this entire presentation is, I’ll pick it apart. He starts with the Argument From Motion; what follows is a joint refutation—a refutation that includes the input of a few people who take issue with the argument:

I put up a post asking my followers to refute Aquinas’ Argument from Motion.  I only received two responses, but two are definitely better than none.  The point of the post was to establish correlation; in other words, the point was to try to ascertain the general understanding people have of Aquinas’ argument.  Why did I do that?  Because I was told that I didn’t understand Aquinas’ argument.  Thus, I wanted to prove that I understood it even better than the person that used it in a recent discussion.

So, first we’ll consider my response and then we’ll consider the other two responses; then I will also include one of the common refutations listed on Lander University’s website.

The relevant part of my response read as follows:

How is his creation of the universe and his involvement in the universe reconciled with the fact that he is unmoved?  If it strikes me to grab a snack at this very moment, it would be safe to conclude that I’m somewhat hungry and/or craving a specific snack.  It is obvious that I can be moved by thoughts, other people, good advertising, and a number of other things.  However, if this mover is truly unmoved, what compelled him to create the universe in the first place?  Is it that supernatural neurons fired in his supernatural brain?  Is it that divine advertising made him crave creating a universe for himself?  Is it that another supernatural entity told him it was a good idea?  What initially moved him to start the motion we observe?  The notion that he’s unmoved is irreconcilable with the notion that he created the universe.  If you were to say that he was moved by his own nature, then how can he be perfect?  Needs and desires belong to beings that seek to add value to themselves or their lives.  However, being perfect, why would I seek to add value of any sort if I already embody infinite value?  That is to say that I can’t possibly need or desire an add-on.  I would be self-sufficient.  So the question would remain, what compelled him to move?  So rather than the question, “who created god?,” we arrive at the question, “what moved the unmoved mover?”  The question is clearly a logical contradiction—one that arises from Aquinas’ argument itself.

This logical contradiction is one side of the coin.  The other side of the coin is given by my followers’ responses:

The argument makes a halfway decent case for the logical necessity of something as a possible first mover, but fails to demonstrate the existence of a god as an actual first mover.

To accept a god as a first mover, You have to ask how it’s possible for a god to both be a mover yet be un-moved, or exist yet be un-caused. Any answer to those questions will consist of either special pleadingcircular arguments, non-sequiturs, or glib non-answers.

source

Interesting how Aquinas tries to avoid infinite regress by simply asserting that there isn’t one. The logic (everything that moves needs a mover) can go into infinity and indeed it does. What moved god? If god needed no mover, why does the universe? Of god can be eternal, why not the universe?Special pleading, that’s why.

Side note: Robert Green Ingersoll (1899) argued that:

If we have a theory, we must have facts for the foundation. We must have corner-stones. We must not build on guesses, fancies, analogies or inferences.

The structure must have a basement. If we build, we must begin at the bottom. I have a theory and I have four corner-stones.

-The first stone is that matter (energy)— substance — cannot be destroyed, cannot be annihilated.

-The second stone is that force cannot be destroyed, cannot be annihilated.

-The third stone is that matter and force cannot exist apart — no matter without force — no force without matter.

-The fourth stone is that that which cannot be destroyed could not have been created; that the indestructible is the uncreatable.

-If these corner-stones are facts, it follows as a necessity that matter and force are from and to eternity; that they can neither be increased nor diminished. It follows that nothing has been or can be created; that there never has been or can be a creator. It follows that there could not have been any intelligence, any design back of matter and force.

-There is no intelligence without force. There is no force without matter. Consequently there could not by any possibility have been any intelligence, any force, back of matter. It therefore follows that the supernatural does not and cannot exist. If these four corner-stones are facts, Nature has no master.

source

Lander University’s philosophy department has a list of common criticisms and what’s at the top of that list?

There seems to be a contradiction in the argument. Premise (2), “Whatever is moved is moved by another,” conflicts with the notion of God in this argument as that of something unmoved, i.e., that of the Unmoved Mover. God, then, is an the exception to the truth of premise [special pleading] (2). Nevertheless, cannot God move or act? If God is pure actuality, then it would seem to follow that God can’t do anything, for God is already all that God could be. If, then, God is already all that God can be, there’s no potential for God to be able to act or be in any way different from what God is. If God is claimed to have a privileged status and not subject to the first premise, then the argument becomes viciously circular.

(Bold emphasis mine in each section)

What conclusions can we make concerning the general understanding of Aquinas’ Argument from Motion?  Lander University’s list of common objections include logical contradiction and special pleading (which I consider two sides of the same coin in this case), and circular reasoning.  It follows that I understood the argument.  We can then conclude that my opponent doesn’t understand the argument or that he accused me of not understanding the argument to get out from under the weight of my refutations—refutations that are common.  This isn’t to say that commonality implies truth, but in this case, commonality implies the general understanding of the argument. The argument is generally understood in the same way I understand it.  Therefore, it’s either that the general understanding is mistaken or that the objections defeat the argument.  The latter is the likelier conclusion.

Also, the Argument from Motion rests on an outdated Aristotelian physics. Please watch this debate and see why the concept of god is utterly irrelevant in modern cosmology.

Kreeft then continues with a fallacy—namely, an argumentum ad ignorantiam: “just because scientists don’t see a cause doesn’t mean there isn’t one.” This is essentially unscientific thinking; it is to make one’s conclusion unfalsifiable. Unfalsifiable conclusions are the hallmark of pseudoscience (i.e. astrology, Marx’s theory of history, Freud’s psychoanalysis). Kreeft has now intruded on the territory of science and thus, must play by its rules; to put forth an unfalsifiable conclusion is to break the rules. And that’s neglecting the fact that there are other refutations. Philosophers have questioned causality. Causality, as we think of it, may not even exist. In any event, to apply causality to the universe is to commit the same mistake found in the Kalam Cosmological Argument. That mistake is yet another fallacy—specifically the fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition occurs when one applies to the whole that which applies to the parts. Therefore, causality may apply to the parts of the universe, but it wouldn’t follow that it also applies to the universe itself.

Not surprisingly, he rolls right into the KCA. I’ve already shown its pivotal flaw. He states that “nothing can come from nothing.” Unfortunately, the definition of nothing in cosmology isn’t the same as the definition he’s using. The primary difficulty in discussing the KCA is this difference in definition. What the apologist means by nothing and what the cosmologist means by nothing are entirely different. The apologists’ definition is the absence of something; it’s a type of nothing that’s never been observed. What cosmologists mean by nothing is simply the fabric of space minus galaxies, stars, planets, comets, asteroids, and life. The fabric of space was there at the Big Bang; that’s what permitted inflation and expansion to occur. To envision this, think of a balloon. The balloon, prior to inflating, already exists. Air is then blown into the balloon and it begins to expand. Or you can think of a rubber band before it’s stretched.

The fabric of space is not unlike these examples. Some physicists have posited (consider Max Tegmark’s Our Mathematical Universe) that space may even have phase changes akin to the phases of ordinary matter. Using this logic, they arrived at the conclusion that the universe may undergo a Big Rip. That is to say that if our cosmic rubber band expands too much, it will tear and collapse onto itself so to speak. It is better to look at the universe as it is rather than how you want to be. The universe is queerer than we supposed.

Also, I must point out that he’s wrong. Though I understand why apologists think the Big Bang is confirmation of a beginning and a creator, it’s not. That’s precisely why I highly recommend the debate. The KCA, when argued from a misinterpretation of cosmology, doesn’t rest on the Big Bang. It rests on a singularity theorem—namely the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin Theorem. Sean Carroll demonstrates why the argument rests on a flawed interpretation and he even Skype calls Alan Guth to explain why the theorem doesn’t imply the type of beginning apologists argue for. That’s exactly why I said it rests on a misinterpretation of science.

The recent discovery of gravitational waves complicates the matter. Our universe may not be infinitely old, but it could have arisen from natural processes that are infinitely old. Gravitational waves confirm rapid inflation just after the Big Bang; they also provide good evidence for the inflationary multiverse. See this post for a little background. Keep in mind that the inflationary multiverse is one of nine options. In The Hidden Reality, Brian Greene offered multiverses that are consequences of mathematics. We know now to take the predictions of math very seriously. Einstein refused to accept to predictions implied by his own general relativity: 1) black holes 2) the universe is expanding. The latter is why he introduced his “blunder,” the Cosmological Constant. This constant has been revived, in some sense, due to an anti-gravitational force that’s speeding up expansion: dark energy. It may or may not have the value Einstein thought it did. Quantum mechanics, theories in cosmology, and m-theory imply a number of multiverses. Like Michio Kaku stated, our universe could be the result of a fusioning or fissioning of other universes. Science doesn’t absolutely disprove the concept of a deity, but it definitely makes it unnecessary.

Kreeft then goes on a strange tangent and attempts to use relativity to ground his logic. Yes, general relativity says that time is relative, but it doesn’t follow that there isn’t a before the Big Bang. Given inflation, there very well might be! If the Big Bang is a singularity, Einstein’s field equations break down; it’s the same thing that happens within a black hole. On episode 4 of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson offered that our universe may exist within a black hole. Think about it! The Big Bang may have been a singularity; an attribute of black holes is a singularity. Who’s to say these singularities aren’t one in the same?

That a multiverse has a beginning is again, flawed cosmology. A multiverse wouldn’t have a beginning at all. A multiverse would complicate matters so much that there’d be no room left for creator concepts. According to Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, there are an infinite amount of parallel universes. If anyone wants to posit a creator at that point, they’d have to speak of a massive quantum computer or a simulator. All of the common concepts fold before this interpretation. Your concept would be devastated because biblical cosmology doesn’t even offer an adequate scope of this (!) universe—let alone a multiverse. Sure, the Bible isn’t a science textbook, but wherever applicable, the omniscient creator would have been careful to mention scientific truths. He would have known of this move away from him long before it happened; thus, he would have been sure to be firm on whatever science he communicated to Iron Age writers so as to ensure that we aren’t deceived or compelled to question his existence. A literal interpretation of the Bible leaves us with a universe that’s a fraction of a hair follicle on a full set of hair; in other words, it leaves us with a universe to young as to be comparable to the universe we know. Given this difficulty, Christians have turned to looser interpretations that still don’t match.

By the way, mathematics is empirical. Mathematics, in many places and through many mediums, implies a multiverse. Therefore, there’s empirical evidence for a multiverse. Again, when mathematics suggest something is likely the case, it’s not long before we find that that something is the case.

In any event, the Bible is demolished by history, archaeology, and textual criticism. Given that I’ve already overstayed my welcome, I’m not going to go there, but if I do, I’ve no doubt you’ll be thoroughly convinced given that you don’t pull wool over your eyes. I understand the logic behind not questioning the authority of apologists—especially ones that boast qualifications like Kreeft does. I don’t doubt that he’s an excellent philosopher, but when he attempts to use philosophy to defend his religion, he comes off as someone who’s very ignorant of the modern scientific current. After all, Christians are in the business of not questioning authority; that’s the beginning of a journey away from such beliefs. To question authority eventually leads one to question god’s authority; then one questions his existence. Before long, you’re not just a non-believer in all other gods, but you’re a non-believer in the god you once claimed as your own. My advice: read more; stay updated; question authority; question everything. Truth requires a diligent seeking process; truth simply isn’t whatever we want it to be. I hope you realize now that atheism definitely doesn’t require faith.