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Thursday, July 9, 2015

In Defense of Ignosticism (Part 2): And Reflections on the Philosophical Discourse

Philosophical discussions can be daunting. This is because there are so many areas of philosophy, so many competing ideas, and so many concepts that really push one to think deeply about issues, sometimes trivial and sometimes important, that makes philosophy challenging.

There was a time when I thought philosophy amounted to little more than sophistry, arguing over nothing, thinking deep philosophical thoughts about irrelevant questions, that it was all semantic word games and esoteric nonsense. I felt that anytime a philosopher gave their opinion they were obviously just full of it.

About six years ago I began re-reading the works of Immanuel Kant at the behest of my friend John J. who recently became an ordained priest and is a theologian. At that time I was getting back into linguistics as well, so I picked up Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

I don't know what it was, but over the years my taste in literature matured and I developed a love for reading non-fiction, and I grew to appreciate philosophy.

What I learned helped me re-evaluate the importance of philosophy. Philosophy literally means the 'love of wisdom', and who couldn't afford to grow a little bit wiser?

It seems I may have been wrong about philosophers. They weren't deliberately trying to be sophists, they weren't trying to bamboozle or hoodwink me, it was just that the language philosopher's employed was foreign to me and, furthermore, it wasn't that they were unintelligible to me because they were all quacks, but they were unintelligible to me because I simply couldn't speak their language.

Now a days, whenever I engage with anybody in a philosophical discussion, I try to keep this in mind. Many people find philosophy confusing or difficult to grasp as I once did because, like I was back then, they simply don't speak the language.

Even so, I try to go out of my way to explain things as simply as I can in a manner which will relay the same concepts and ideas but without resorting to exclusively esoteric language. Instead of just speaking about properly basic beliefs, for example, I will first relay what a properly basic belief is and what it means and why it matters for the discussion we're having.

I do this because I think that when we are confused we tend to talk past one another, and it's hard to find common ground when you keep missing each other at the halfway point. Philosophical misunderstandings are rather like formation skydivers whipping around uncontrollably, never quite getting in sync. It can be a dizzying affair.

Recently, a theist reader, whom we'll simply refer to as "Rocky," had some trouble with what I was saying and accused me of having a "vacuous blog."

I'm sorry he feels that way.

It seems Rocky had several problems with the way I worded some things, and the fact that I dismissed one of his questions outright (I mean, I wasn't deliberately trying to be mean, I dismissed it because it was irrelevant to the conversation. But now I see that in retrospect how it might have seemed like I was dismissing him as not worth bothering about). He went on to say that

"You operate on a basis of contempt for those who disagree with your (limited) assessment that God does not exist. You operate under the misassumption [sic] that your limited intellect can finally decide the question."

Clearly, we were talking past each other, and like the analogy of the formation skydivers spiraling out of control, so too the conversation went.

I wasn't dismissing Rocky's belief that God exists because it's not a valid philosophical topic, I was dismissing it because it wasn't valid to the topic of the conversation, which was the logical validity of ignosticism. 

At any rate, I amended my language to better reflect the fact that I wasn't trying to be mean to him (or other theists) by not taking his beliefs seriously but that, in this case, his presuppositions and heart felt convictions simply had no baring on the conversation at hand.

That said, his long response to my response raised some interesting tangential philosophical concerns that I would like to address here in the spirit of the philosophical discourse. After all, the only way we can ever make sense of philosophy is to keep having these kinds of conversations.
Forgiving the tone of the language (since I obviously had inadvertently upset him), he went on to say:

"You have provided no substantive response to fundamental questions yet you still hold to your intellectually arrogant position: First: you have utterly failed to provide a logical foundation for the ultimate and singular efficacy of empiricism as the only basis for logical argument while using rationalism (logical argumentation) as the basis to simply STATE that empiricism is the only viable means. That ignores hundreds of years of rationalist thinking, and a subject with which Kant strove mightily in his attempt to wed rationalism and empiricism. I must have missed your treatise that trumped Mr. Kant."

A couple of things are worth mentioning here.

First, anyone who is familiar with my writing on this blog knows that I am a staunch defender of Kant and that when it comes to discussing metaphysics I take the Kantian view more often than not.

So Rocky's assumption that I am somehow anti-Kant is simply mistaken. 

Presumably, this misconception that I reject Kant arose because he thought I was dismissing his religious beliefs on the basis that I reject supernaturalism. But this doesn't in any way mean I dismiss metaphysics. The two are different, after all. As such, I disregard supernatural suppositions that do not carry with them an demonstration for their validity, and I just happen to reject certain kinds of metaphysical assumptions because I don't find them convincing, especially when they have no relevance to the conversation at hand. And so that's what I did.

The second thing I want to say is that I never said that empiricism was the only viable means of attaining knowledge. I actually can't know this, nobody can. In fact, this was Kant's very objection to Hume! The truth is, I remain open to the possibility of an underlying metaphysical reality (in the Kantian sense), but it wasn't my intent to open up a discussion about metaphysics since, once again, it wasn't related to the topic I was discussing. But I am more than happy to discuss it with anyone who asks me about what I think and why.

One thing I think we should try and keep in mind is that the dialectic of one person taking a side and arguing for it can often create a sense of tension between those who take an opposing side or point of view. 

Just to clarify, I don't view the other side as an enemy, which it seems Rocky may have mistook for my official stance. Rather, I think of them as a partner in the greater philosophical discourse. Their opposing views actually help me to consider the objections to my own philosophical views so I can better defend them or else reject them in light of a better understanding.

Rocky went on to add:

"Sorry, but I find Aquinas far more satisfying in his deliberations than your simple excising of God from the human concern because God can't be described as a "noun." This could only make sense to an English major such as yourself. You refuse to manfully wrestle with a question that has interested all thinking peoples since thought arose: that of the existence of a possible transcendent."

I too find Aquinas highly satisfying. Not only as a theologian but as a philosopher in the truest sense of the word.

That said, I hope everyone can see that the rest of this comment represents the very point of contention where the confusion lies. I wasn't talking about other deliberations or questions regarding the topic of God's existance, such as transcendence, which is an entirely different discussion altogether. I was talking about a semantic argument which, in my estimation, acts as a defeater to the very claim that it is meaningful to talk about God at all!

What I mean by defeater is that, it seems to me, ignosticism nulifies the idea of God as a meaningful subject to talk about. Although I've talked at length on ignosticism as I've tried to develop it more thoroughly as a semantic argument, it's worth repeating the main premise of the argument here. Ignosticism, in a nutshell, states that people assume too much about God (evidenced by the numerous and competing definitions of God which exist), and then states that because everyone makes their own assumptions about God that the term "God" becomes incomprehensible to us because it can come to mean anything and everything.

So, Rocky had claimed that I failed to logically defend ignosticism by not engaging with other arguments for God, and then became angered when I dismissed these other deliberations. The reason, though, I think becomes obvious given the fact that ignosticism defeats any and all arguments for God by its premise that it's impossible to talk about God in any meaningful way.

Until this objection is overcome, I really do think ignosticism is a very strong argument against the theological position. It may not disprove the possibility of God's existence, but it shows there is an underlying semantics problem that plagues discussions about God which needs to be overcome before such discussions can be deemed valid topics of discussion.

Our disgruntled theist however seemed to miss this point and said,

"And forgive me, I do not speak insultingly here, but the arrogance of your position is breathtaking. And to think that all of us missed it because we have trouble understanding something that necessarily transcends that which it has created."

That's not the case at all.

I think I have sufficiently explained above, and in the previous post as well, why I dismissed the other deliberations. Nor to I feel I am being arrogant by sticking to the argument as presented. I am perfectly fine talking about other theological points of view when that is the topic I am engaged in, but this was specifically a challenge to ignosticism and I was treating it as such.

 "Well, lets just throw the whole thing away since it doesn't fit within the human definitional capability."

That's actually the consequence of ignosticism, yes. Which is why I think it is such a hard hitting argument against the validity of theism.

"Lawyerly semantical nonsense."

Well, I could see why one would think this. But it's untrue. Semantics is literally the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.

There are two main areas of semantics: 1) Logical semantics, which concerns itself with matters such as sense and reference and presupposition and implication; and 2) lexical semantics, which concerns itself with the analysis of word meanings and relations between them.

What I view ignosticism to be is a type of semantic argument that makes use of both logical and lexical semantics and shows that there isn't any real meaning to the idea of God as commonly talked about. It then discusses the implications of this and shows that all presuppositions regarding belief in God are nullified, or defeated, by theism's failure to make God into a substantive "noun" (or more generally a substantive entity) worth talking about even though this is how believers are using the idea of God as expressed by the language they invoke.

Really, at its most basic, ignosticism is defeater to the theist position that it is in anyway meaningful to talk about God.

I suppose from the perspective of a believer who takes for granted their presuppositions, this might look like arrogance to them. They often site the biblical passage Psalm 14:1 that "The fool in his heart says there is no God."

But this isn't the case. There is no arrogance here. It's simply a logical argument that raises very real, very devastating objections to theism (and more broadly speaking to god belief in general).

"Your argument sounds as though you gave birth to an intellectual child you simply can't give up."

That's merely because nobody has had a good answer which addresses ignosticism's objections to theism. You don't give up a successful argument and solid logic simply due to the fact that others have failed to come up with an adequate defense against it.

 Another question our theist friend asked was:

"If God does not exist, what do you, through empiricism, propose as an alternative to explain the birth of the universe from nothing?"

I consider such questions a red herring. It also makes incorrect assumptions about my position, which means it's also a bit of a strawman.

After all, I never stated ignosticism is disproof for the existence of God. It is proof of the unintelligibility of God. As such, it invalidates theism on the basis of a semantic argument, which can be empirically justified.

I have called ignosticism a justification for atheism in the past because, it stems to reason, we have to know precisely what it is we are talking about in order to talk about that thing in any meaningful way. It if is incomprehensible to us, we simply could not talk about it, and so it might as well not exist in the first place.

Additionally, for a thing to be substantive, that is having a firm basis in reality and so important, meaningful, or considerable, it needs to be verified as such. Ignosticism is the attempt to verify the theistic position that God is substantive and finds that theism fails.

It fails because, when put to the task to show that there is a direct link between any given description of God and the meaning people imbue this God with, they cannot do it. The implication is, God is not a substantive entity. Now, God may be a conceptual entity, or a conceptualization. Yes, I know, it's a fancy way of saying God is imaginary. But that's the consequence of theisms failure to justify a basic substantive noun, which makes ignosticism a truly devastating semantic argument.

It's the same as saying the theist cannot substantiate their belief in God because the thing they say they believe in is rendered incomprehensible when asked to do one simply task--provide a referent for the thing itself so that a third party (someone other than the believer) can come along and describe it in such a way that the two descriptions align and thus allow us to empirically check our descriptions against one another to see whether or not they relate back to the same thing. This would be the easiest way to falsify ignosticism. But nobody has been able to do it!

Ignosticism proves God is not a substantive entity, thus justifies the atheist's skepticism of theism. In other words, because ignosticism shows there is no substantive entity, the atheistic assumption that there is no God is rationally warranted.

What I have detailed above is how atheism relates to ignsoticism. So my dismissal of God, in this case, isn't because of my consideration of the strengths or weaknesses of other theological considerations. Although I have considered many and find them lacking for various reasons seperate from this issue.

As for my idea of what caused the universe, and how something could come from nothing, I think Lawrence Krauss said it best when he noted that nothing is unstable.

But this would require a long discussion of the underlying physics, and although I am familiar with the theories and could relay them, I would actually recommend consulting with a real physicist, maybe even reading Krauss's book, A Universe from Nothing.

"Of course, you'll just retreat into a science of the gaps response indicating that, given enough time and knowledge, the (adequate) human intellect will finally be In a position to decide. (as though something finite could ultimately grapple with something that transcends it.)"

Actually, to address this concern, I find the opposite is true. Theists hold that God transcends the universe and is needed to explain the universes existence. But a scientist cannot say this as there is no evidence that God created the universe because there is no empirically valid evidence for God. Science only seeks to explain the forces, called physical laws, the govern the universe we live in. As such, it's not an argument from ignorance. The opposite is true. Not knowing how the universe came to be, theists posit God -- precisely because they don't know. This is a true argument from ignorance.

"I'd like to see a defense of the contention that just because something is too difficult for or ultimately unavailable to human reason, that thing is of no concern to us since we cannot process it. That sounds just like cavemen denying that bacteria causes disease."

I don't think anyone is making such a claim here. Besides, cavemen didn't have science and didn't understand cause and effect, certainly didn't know about the importance of hygeine, and didn't know how to evaluate evidence because they didn't have the tools of science. We do. So it's really not a question of dismissing the unknown, it's whether or not the claims of the theist can meet the burden of proof. All our theist friend has done is simply shift the burden of proof, I'm afraid.

"If you claim that the universe was not birthed from nothing, then you must come to grips with the logical absurdities generated from the presupposition that the universe has existed in some form (multiversal or otherwise) for eternity. Note that any response you might make here to arrive at a comprehensive and satisfying answer must presume the fitness of a finite human intellect generated from chaotic and random inputs to adjudicate an eternal truth."

Sometimes in philosophy there is a point where you want to continue engaging in a philosophical conversation, but you run up against the limits of your philosophical understanding. I think our friend found his wall.

I don't mean this disparagingly, but the above paragraph illustrates another problem with we can run into when dealing with big philosophical concepts, inevitably we are going to run against the limits of our understanding. Although our friend tries to make use of the philosophical language that he wants to discuss, it is clear he doesn't quite know how. Either the ideas are unfamiliar to him or too esoteric to adequately express, and this leads to a kind of word salad that has no clear meaning. He jumps around from the topic of the universe's origins, to the limitations of human intellect, to multiverses, back to eternal truths, and so on. All these things are interesting topics of discussion, but here they are seemingly thrown together at random.

In all fairness, everyone is prone to making this mistake. I've done it too. It happens to the best of us!

"Third: your arguments smack of special pleading. Ignosticism, by definition, denies the efficacy of the undefineable. At its root, it does. One could replace the word "God" with any other ill defined word, and ignosticism would be laughed out of existence for its juvenile insistence on the human desire for categorization and preoccupation with forcing any other aspect of reality through such a narrowly defined filter."

Actually, I would say he is on the verge of grasping it.

In my book title Ignosticism, which is about ignosticism, I use an analogy that if we replace God with any other substantive noun, in my example I use suggest using an apple, we can empirically verify the referent thereby validate, or rather substantiate, that noun as a real thing that exists in reality and is important, meaningful, and therefore significant.

"It is very unclear to me how materialism can explain just those things that ARE available to supplemented human senses."

I don't think that is in the scope of materialism. Materialism is just a consequence that falls out of naturalism, if naturalism is true. It certainly seems that metaphysical naturalism is true. So, what we can explain must be capable of being explained within this purview, at least until otherwise hitherto hidden purviews are opened up to us.

 "Are you honestly going to claim that you never doubt your doubt (or certainty) that something transcendent very possibly brought this universe into being?"

Yes, I am going to strongly doubt that. Not because I don't find it an interesting consideration, but it is one I must remain highly skeptical of because I see no possible way to substantiate let alone justify such an assumption. It's interesting, but finding it interesting doesn't make it true. And unable to prove it true, I have no recourse but to remain skeptical.

"The privilege of the theist is that we don't have to feel guilty about acknowledging said doubt. Just wondering if you ignostics ply the same waters. Just hoping here that your intellectual arrogance can be restrained enough to answer honestly."

I don't actually think doubting is the problem here. If theists doubted enough to be skeptical of the theistic claim they'd become agnostics. I think the problem is certitude one places in their convictions. Contrary to the accusations made against me, I am not making such arrogant claims that I know with any certainty that God does not exist. I believe this, which is why I am an atheist.

But if I were tasked to prove it either way I know that I can't. As such, I am also an agnostic. I cannot prove God exists, nor can I prove he doesn't exist. The existence of a God is possible, but given the world we observe it just doesn't seem very plausible.

I remain an agnostic atheist precisely because I recognize there is a difference between what I choose to believe and what really is. Since I can't know what really is, I take the skeptical view because I find that believing in something which cannot be demonstrated is an irrational position to take. If you cannot prove something, then uncertainty is the natural conclusion. Not knowing. Yet it seems to me that the privilege of the theist is pretending to know everything while not being able to substantiate any of their claims. I mean, there's not a nicer way to say it because that's exactly what all theists do.

Or, think of it another way, if the theist could demonstrate God's existence, then the question of God's existence would be a moot point. It would be like having a serious philosophical debate over the existence of bananas, which we do not do. We know bananas exist. We do not doubt their existence. Yet when it comes to God, well, doubt it seems is all we really have. Otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

In Defense of Ignosticism

A theist by the handle of rockhound570 theist has raised several objections to ignosticism. 

About a month ago he raised a litany of issues he felt rebutted ignosticism or else felt showed where I failed to logically defend ignosticism. I would have responded sooner, but the truth is I've simply been too busy as of late to find time to respond (writing for a living takes up all my spare time reserved for writing!). 

But, low and behold, I found a few moments to respond. So what follows will be my best attempt to reply as clearly and concisely to his long email comments as possible and to do my best to answer his criticisms and concerns. 

Hopefully this exchange, taken in the spirit of a cordial discourse, will help clear up any confusion regarding ignosticism and, more importantly, may be of use to those who continue to grapple with the big questions. 

(Just for convenience, I shall refer to our theist has "Rocky" while I will just be "Me".)

Rocky: What you are really claiming as foundational postulates are 1: empirical knowledge is the only valid form of knowledge that an ignostic will accept; 

Me: True. An ignostic need not accept any metaphysical assumptions as valid as ignosticism deals with real world grammar of common nouns. It is a linguistics (semantics) argument.

I am not saying that I, as an ignostic, deny other forms of knowledge. I am merely saying than when making an argument from the position of an ignostic no other forms of knowledge are required for the argument to be logically valid.

As an atheist and a skeptic, I leave room for the possibility of other forms of knowledge.

Rocky: 2: that the human intellect IS the final arbiter of the intelligibility of the universe (that our minds can come to ultimate conclusions about things that may transcend them and are possibly not fully available to said minds, and if they are not, such things then acquire inherent meaninglessness because our limited intellects, which were very probably never fully capable of describing them, simply cannot include those things within its subsets of rationality); 

Me: What other intellects did you have in mind? And can you prove they exist?

As for the limits of the human intellect, what would that be exactly? I'm not sure that line has been clearly drawn. 

I acknowledge the human intellect is not unlimited, that there are conditions which do limit it, and biological factors we must consider that may hinder our intellectual potential. But we also have valuable tools, such as science and technology, to help aid us in overcoming many of these limitations. 

So what the exact limitations are on humanity's intellectual capacity (or potential) isn't necessarily all that clear, except that we can always find them out and list them. It would be a massive undertaking to define, list, and catalog all our intellectual limitations. 

That said, the semantic argument I offer here is only concerned with understanding basic terms in relationship to the common noun in which these terms are invoked. The etymology of "noun" after all comes from the late Middle English stemming from the Latin nomen or 'name'. It literally means to name the thing itself. This is why when dealing with nouns, especially nouns said to be substantive (meaning: having a firm basis in reality and so important, meaningful, or considerable) I stress the importance of describing the referent, i.e. the thing itself.

There is no abundance of intellect required to verify whether or not the description of the noun as given matches the person, place, or thing it is assigned to. This is why I point out that the easiest way to check for the validity of any given description of a person, place, or thing is to find that thing and simply have someone else describe it too. 

If our descriptions match to an overwhelming degree, then odds are we have described the same thing! If not, and our descriptions diverge, then there is a semantic problem. 

In my explication of ignosticism, I point out that ignosticism offers two solutions which address why our descriptions (in this case descriptions of God) might not align themselves. They are as follows:

  1. God is a conceptualization, or rather a series of concepts applied to a theological template. This being the case, ignosticism holds that people assume too much about God otherwise the descriptions of God would align more often than they do.
  2. Descriptions of God are dependent on the prior presuppositions of the believer, thus any description of God will grow more convoluted over time since believers usually change their descriptions of God to fit better with their presuppositions, thus necessitating a tendency for descriptions of God to grow more discrepant over time as well.

These two considerations are explanations for why people's definitions of God do not match, because they are, in essence, describing their own ideas and concepts of what they think God should be, not what God actually is should such a being exist.

If God was a substantive noun, and there was a referent to derive an adequate description from, then our descriptions would match. With matching descriptions we would know what it meant to speak of "God" any time we invoked God language. This not being the case however, we can be fairly certain God is not a substantive entity. Rather, by all appearances God seems to be exactly as we would expect if God were a conceptualization that gets convoluted the more theists try to force him to fit into their ideal image of what God should be.

That is about all the intellectual complexity required to validate ignosticism and its objections.

Nothing more is needed for ignosticism to be accepted as a logically valid argument.

Rocky: 3: the verisimilitude of the scientific approach can ultimately adjudicate all of reality, including those things very probably beyond the scope of its methodology, whether or not it can ever offer full, nonnebulous descriptions of that reality

Me: No. That's scientism. Scientism isn't foundational. But I'd be remiss if I didn't at least add that the scientific method is necessary for us to ultimately make sense of reality. That is, we cannot just throw science out of the window and hope to make sense of it all. It is a requisite tool, and a highly useful tool, in helping us to understand the world. 

Rocky: 4: nothing that is unavailable to the human senses can ultimately find any traction within ignosticism.  If possible, can you supply me with short, direct answers to these questions?  Just acceptance or rejection of said postulates?

Me: I think this is correct (note: substitute anything for nothing to avoid the double negative, and then your meaning becomes clear). I would add that if something is unavailable to our human senses, however, we would not know it except, perhaps, indirectly. Like dark matter, for example. But then again, even dark matter is indirectly observed via our sense of vision when we look for gravitational lensing effects it has on light. I suppose if something was completely unavailable to our senses then we would not know it exists, and therefore it might as well not exist.

Granted, this doesn't mean that something which is unavailable to our senses couldn't possibly exist. Anything is possible, but not everything is plausible. Since it would seem to not exist, being unable to perceive it, and we would have no way to prove it did exist, not even indirectly, then to talk about it as something which exists would be illogical. It would also, as a consequence of its imperceptibility, be rendered completely irrelevant thus a moot topic ergo meaningless.

As far as ignosticism is concerned, we need not worry about things unavailable to our senses. Ignosticism deals only with things we can generate valid descriptions of, whether substantive or conceptual.

As such, we could say that substantive descriptions, being substantive, wouldn't diverge from one another (at least not enough to cause any concerns) whereas conceptual descriptions will diverge since every conceptualization is created differently, thus contains differing features, which thus explains any dissimilarities we might find between competing conceptualizations of the same thing.

If "God" was a substantive noun, we'd be able to all describe God in the same way. But this doesn't seem to be the case. Most descriptions of God diverge. And this divergence can be great or miniscule, but the trend of the descriptions assigned seem to be conceptions derived not from the observation of the thing itself but as a means to create a conceptualization in lieu of the things absence.

Wherever the conceptualizations seem to overlap we can safely assume they do so because the conceptualization itself shares features, called templates, but not because they have derived these features from what they purport to describe. They have simply made up a template which they find appealing, and others might generate similar templates, and this describes the overlap. But the templates themselves are still divergent -- that is, instead of moving toward any agreement they continue to grow dissimilar. 

Rocky: Next, if God exists and is foundationally exterior to the universe (its root cause), why would you expect that our understanding of God to somehow become more illumined by processes of understanding that have to be limited by finite minds that must necessarily operate at a lower level of complexity or awareness? 

Me: In the hypothetical you propose, you make the following assumptions: 1) God exists; 2) God is foundational to the existence of the universe; 3) God is the cause of said universe; 4) God is beyond human understanding.

I don't think I need to explain why we should not waste our time on addressing these particular presuppositions in a discussion about ignosticism. After all, ignosticism's position is that you cannot know what it is the term "God" even means! So we cannot even begin to talk about these until this issue is resolved. That's the argument at hand.

(Note: I am not being dismissive here simply to be mean to believers. I am dismissing these topics because they are defeated by ignosticism's premise. Separately, apart from a discussion on ignosticism, they may be fine theological and philosophical topics of discussion. These topics have their place and time to be discussed, certainly, but here I am mainly concerned with defending ignosticism and laying the foundation for a logical argument from semantics against the comprehensibility of God.)

Rocky: Are you asserting that God, if it exists, must avail itself of full human comprehension? Explain why that should be a criteria of assessing whether or not the concept of God should be discarded.

Me: The reason that God's comprehensibility is a requisite of whether or not the concept should be discarded is precisely that if God did exist yet was completely incomprehensible then there would be no way to make sense of God's existence or talk about God in any meaningful way.

One might argue that it's not a black and white case. That it may simply be a case of the elephant in the room. We merely dimly perceive God, and because we can only vaguely piece together constituent parts of a greater whole, it's not that God's incomprehensibility is due to any trait of his existence but due to our limited knowledge of the bigger picture.

I understand the objection here, but it's not valid. It's not valid because if God were to exist, then our experience we have of God is the only way to make sense of God, thus the only way to talk about God, and if all we can talk about devolves into a meaningless, incomprehensible, jumble of fragmented ideas without a means to ever improve our understanding of him then you have a big problem. You are saying you are perceiving something but you can't quite make it out through the fog of imperceptibility, but yet you choose to call it God. Why? And then you're back to square one. 

As far as the ignostic is concerned, in such a case, this itself provides a valid description of God. In fact, it may be the only logically consistent description of God which believers can agree on. Mainly that God is beyond our limited understanding. 

If this is true, then what use is it to talk about God? Everything you mentioned in your list of presuppositions about the nature of God would be rendered erroneous based on your assumption that God is too complex to comprehend or is, somehow, beyond human understanding. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!

Rocky: You are making some very large postulational assertions. 

Me: I don't think that I am. I would argue that I am making very reasonable objections here. 

First of all, they are logically consistent and sound objections. What about the premise that theists likely assume more than they can know about God sounds illogical to you? What about the premise that descriptions of God should be consistent and match when two believers are describing the same God sounds problematic to you? As far as postulates go, it seems these are valid.

Secondly, ignosticism is a very simple and straight forward argument. But it is not a well known one, which might explain some of the confusion people have when they first encounter it. Third, to make matters worse semantics and linguistics are confusing to those who are not accustomed to them, just as mathematics looks indistinguishable from Greek (i.e., it's all Greek to me) to those unfamiliar with it. But in the end, it's why I choose to write on the topics of ignosticism, semantics, and linguistics as they relate to God as commonly talked about in our language that uses semantics and linguistics to express these kinds of ideas.

That said, my assertions are straight forward and to the point. Two descriptions of the same thing should match. If they don't match there is a problem. There are two reasons we can point to for why this dissimilarity might arise. Accounting for these, we have to re-evaluate the question of how we use and talk about "God" in our language.

This seems to me to be a very reasonable position.

Rocky: I'd like to see defense of those in a rigorous logical sense instead of just more descriptions of ignosticism.

Me: I have provided just that. But when someone misconstrues ignosticism and ignores its objections, I think you'll find it is necessary to restate its premises, which does include describing it all over again.

Rocky: Finally, are you claiming that we can make any intellectual progress without some form of faith?  

Me: No. And I never said that.

Rocky: Every decision that we make involves an article of faith on some level or another. 

Me: It must, after all, you have to have faith in your own claims in order for you (yourself) to take those claims at face value!

Rocky: You cannot intellectually survive without faith. 

Me: It depends on what you mean by "faith." If you mean religious or spiritual faith, then I would argue this is a category error. If you simply mean confidence in our belief assumptions, in the philosophical sense, then I'd be more inclined to agree.

Rocky: Faith in the reliability of the efficacy of logic, faith in the ever predictable intelligibility of the physical universe; faith that your sense perceptions are valid enough to support your intellectual investigations, faith that every single postulate that cannot be absolutely proven in your logic train can still be universally agreed upon as valid

Me: The way you use faith here, in the philosophical sense of having confidence in our belief propositions, I would agree with you as to its fundamental importance in all of the above.

Rocky: Why should faith in God be the only suspect category?

Me: Because this isn't the same sort of faith. Belief in God is religious faith, or the belief in something based on insufficient evidence (i.e., conviction not proof -- which is the dictionary definition of faith, FYI).

Now, you might object and say, no, faith in God is an intellectual endeavor as well as a spiritual or religious experience. Well, I guess you'll have to have faith in that claim as well. But, perhaps, instead of merely expressing your strongly held faith in God, you can use the above tools of logic, knowledge of the physical universe, your sense and awareness, and your intellect, to substantiate your faith thereby take it to the point of being a veritable truth, so that instead of having faith you have understanding. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Relative Morality: The Trolley Problem and Seven Scenarios thatDemonstrate Morality is Relative and Dependent on our Prior Knowledge

Many hold to the belief that there is an objective or absolute moral standard that exists externally from us, and that we have a kind of moral sense that sniffs out this underlying moral code, or they believe their religion or their God provides a moral basis for all our moral actions and judgments.

All of these assumptions seem to be falsified by one simple thought experiment. You may have heard of it. It’s called The Trolley problem.

Here I am merely going to consider seven alternate scenarios of the trolley problem and change the conditions of each version of the events in the thought experiment and then discuss the moral consequences of each.

If I’m correct, I think you’ll find that when the conditions change our moral inclination changes as well. When the prior knowledge we have available changes our moral judgement shifts too. This will prove that morality is relative and dependent upon conditional restraints, including but not limited to our level of understanding regarding the conditions themselves.

The first thing we will need to do is set up the Trolley problem.

The Trolley Problem
There are three people tied to a stretch of track. Up ahead is a train baring down on them fast. All three will surely perish if nothing is done.

Now, let’s consider various scenarios and see how changing the conditions changes our moral perspective.

Scenario A
Suddenly we realize we are in proximity of a lever that will switch the tracks and divert the speeding train onto a different path thereby saving all three hapless victims.

 Question: Do you pull the lever?

Unless you’re a sociopath, the answer is most assuredly yes. People, whether it is because of some evolutionary altruistic sense or simply a humanistic desire not to see harm come to innocent people, will always choose to pull the lever and save those people. Nobody who contains such moral feelings ever says, in all seriousness, no to saving the people. At least, I haven’t run across any. Additionally, there is no logical reason not to.

One might object: but wait a minute! What if those people tied to the tracks are escaped criminals and convicts? Well, then we’ve changed the conditions of the thought experiment. Which we are going to do to show, just as this objection shows, that people’s moral views change depending upon the conditions which also change – thus showing that human morality is relative.

Scenario B
It’s the same problem. The train is barreling down the tracks and the three people are surely doomed. This time we happen to be standing on a bridge which crosses directly over the tracks. We look down, but to our dread discover that there is no switch track. Standing to our right, however, we suddenly notice an extremely obese man. He is so large, in fact, that if we pushed him off the bridge and onto the tracks then he’d surely stop the train thereby saving all three lives.

 Question: Do you push the fat man onto the tracks, thereby murdering him, in order to save three hapless lives?

Here is where things start to get tricky. Most people will say no, even though the statistical outcome varies very slightly from the original. Three people’s lives still hang in the balance. If you act quickly you can save all three. It does, however, require you to deliberately push someone onto the train tracks thereby killing them to save three others. But if you do nothing, those three people will surely become roadkill.

Standing by and doing nothing while you watch others suffer while they endure a horrible event is often called the *bystander effect. Most people will make justifications for why they shouldn’t involve themselves. Watching a bar fight, they might say, well, I’ll let those two settle matters. It’s between them. Watching a husband abuse a spouse they might say the same. It’s between them, none of my business. There have been real world examples of public rape in India where nobody interrupted the violent rape of a woman on a bus because it simply wasn’t any of their business.

Other times it appears people are genuinely fearful. If they get involved there is a real risk that they will be harmed as well. This deters people from doing what they feel is the right thing and allowing what they see as the lesser evil (at least from their point of view) to unfold instead of making it into a travesty by involving themselves and putting themselves into harm’s way.

Needless to say, most people are not comfortable taking a life to save three innocent lives. In fact, most would rather (willfully) allow three people to perish rather than (willfully) have to kill someone against their will.

Some have objected that there are other possible ways to grapple with this scenario. For example, you could jump onto the tracks yourself and try stopping the train in a noble act of self-sacrifice. But, unlike the fat man, there is no guarantee it will work. After all, you aren’t sufficiently large enough to halt the oncoming train. It’s a gamble and the odds are not in your favor.

What’s more, knowing that you’ll in all likelihood die, you are technically only committing suicide which, when you think about it, is only adding insult to injury of the three who will surely die regardless of your sacrifice.


The above scenarios A and B are the basis of the classic Trolley problem.

They show us that our moral sense goes into panic when we are faced with a more precarious situation, such as scenario B.

We often hesitate since our minds are desperately trying to figure out a right answer when there isn’t likely one. The truth is, in such a situation we simply don’t know what to do. Which is why in real life we have examples of both great heroics and people idly standing by and doing nothing.

Meanwhile, we know that willfully killing the person would be wrong, so we don’t want to do it. But we also are uncomfortable with the idea that three innocent people will die for no reason – or worse, because we chose to do nothing when we could have, in fact, easily prevented their deaths.

This discomfort expresses the success of the Trolley problem as a thought experiment, because if there were an easy answer, a recognizable objective or absolute moral standard, the answer would always be clear to us. But it’s not. Instead of moral clarity we have moral confusion.

On top of this, the Trolley problem also demonstrates that our moral sense relies on the conditions and prior knowledge and thus is rendered relative to the events unfolding around us and in relation to us.

How do we know this? Well, believe it or not, we can actually confuse our moral senses even more!

Consider the following example.

Scenario C
The same problem as scenario B. The train is rushing at breakneck pace toward three people trapped on the tracks. We are standing on a bridge when, low and behold, we discover there is a fat man standing next to us on the bridge. He is large enough to stop the train if, and only if, we push him off the bridge and onto the tracks.
 As we saw with scenario B, this is where most people grow extremely uncomfortable. But let’s make this scenario slightly more imperative than version B.
 This time we *do know the people tied to the tracks. The people are 1) your mother, 2) your doctor, and 3) your best friend.

 Question: Do you push the fat man onto the track and stop the train thereby saving your mother, your doctor, and your best friend?

When this scenario is given many people (not all, but quite a surprising number) will immediately reverse their choice from scenario B, where they held it was wrong to push the fat man onto the tracks, and will suddenly – and without hesitating – shove the fat man off the bridge thereby saving their important loved ones.

Scenario C is used to express the fact that we place greater moral value in those who are close to us, whether it is our family, our tribe, our neighbors, our fellow countrymen.

But nothing has statistically changed in this example. The only thing that has changes is our foreknowledge. This time we know exactly who are tied on the tracks before we have to face making any moral judgement.

But we’re not finished yet! There is yet another couple scenarios that will demonstrate the greater good is not always necessarily dependent upon a moral judgement and a moral judgement, made in good faith, doesn’t necessarily guarantee the greater good.

Allow me to explain.

Scenario D
This is the same as scenario C, but this time, instead of your doctor the person wedged between your best friend and your mother is Adolf Hitler. Now, Hitler is a real bad dude. You know this. Everyone knows this. The question is…

Question: Do you push the fat man off the bridge and save three innocent lives knowing that, perhaps, one of them is the greatest mass murdering psychotic dictator in all of history?

In such a situation many become even more morally confused. They want to save their mom and their friend but they know that if they let Hitler live he will probably kill millions of innocent people. Once they realize this, they find themselves asking whether or not the value of their friend’s life and their mother’s life is worth millions of other lives, including the life of the fat man which they’d have to push in order to save the three on the tracks.

The things is, if we throw an evil person like Adolf Hitler into the mix most people are back to refusing to push the fat man.

But what if there was no fat man?

Scenario E
This scenario is exactly like scenario A, where there is a switch track and a lever we can pull to divert the train. And like scenario D, it’s your best friend, mother, and Adolf Hitler.

Question: Do you pull the lever?

Many find it harder to do. Some will and some won’t, depending on how much they value their loved ones and how much they despise the evil person on the tracks.

Scenario F
We’re not out of the woods yet. Just like scenarios C, D, and E we know who are on the tracks. But this time, two of the three are evil. This time you see your best friend is next to Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson!

Question: Do you pull the lever?

In this scenario more people are inclined to sacrifice their best friend, because they don’t want two evil people running a muck and harming countless others.

But what has changed here? Notice that now they will sacrifice their best friend when earlier they wouldn’t even sacrifice a perfect stranger to save three people and in scenario C their very own beloved family members and friends!

Scenario G
Same as the above but this time all three persons tied to the tracks are evil sons of bitches. We have Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, and Stalin.

Question: Do you pull the lever?

There is a G-2.0 scenario which says the evildoers are on the clear tracks, safe but still tied up. It asks if you'd switch the lever to deliberately put them in harms way knowing how evil they truly are. In one fell swoop you could take out Hitler, Manson, and Stalin.

Would you do it? 

Some might do it out of a sense that killing these three evil men leads to a greater good than not killing them. At the same time, however, we realize that murdering three people is not moral, and that to seek the greater good, in this case, we'd have to commit an immoral act.

How then is morality not relative?


The Trolley problem frustrates many because there is clearly no straight, clean-cut answer. Many who expect there to be an objective or even absolute morality often become frustrated by the thought experiment's limitations and begin creating wild hypotheticals to try and avoid having to make a moral judgement themselves. Maybe it’s God’s will for these people to die? Who are we to question God? Maybe God is testing us and wants us to learn that we cannot save everyone? Maybe Superman swoops down at the last minute and rescues everyone?

No, I’m afraid these rationalizations do not solve for the initial conditions as set by the problem. Really, the Trolley problem shows that our moral judgments do not abide by an objective or absolute standard. Instead, they frequently shift and change as our perspective shifts and changes and appear to be dependent on the conditions of the events which are unfolding, dependent upon our prior knowledge, and frequently change when the conditions and information changes.

Really, you’ve gotta love the Trolley problem.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why are Certain People More Religious than Others? Answering a Reader's Question

I have a regular reader who emails me questions that he is currently wrestling with as someone who has recently lost faith. I am always glad to lend my opinion and share my own experiences, even though at the end of the day that's all it amounts to--me just yapping my mouth. But if it adds some sort of consolation or comfort to someone else, then I'm more than happy to oblige.

My reader wrote me asking the following (I trimmed it a bit due to length, but I left the gist of it):

Hi Tristan,
I've got one question for you. I cannot understand one thing. Why are some people, like you or me, (more) susceptible to religion than others?
For example, in my family everyone goes by as Christian on paper, except my father and sister. But the thing is none of these relatives of mine even have a Bible in their homes, let alone go to church. It was only me who got interested in Jesus Christ beyond what is considered ordinary Christian life in my country...
Is it a religious gene?... It seems to me that the whole religious business along with the Bible, Church, and the story of God is just the (an) invention... That is my impression. But the thing is and what I have been asking myself is: why one earth was I trying to believe in the first place?
I am not a Christian any more, do not believe in a personal God, and all those years spent believing seem foolishly wasted. It is really foolish to believe so why was I so foolish? This puzzles me.

My response was as follows:


Sorry for the late response. Things have been hectic. I'm burning the candle from both ends, as the late Christopher Hitchens used to say.

Regarding your question about a "religious gene", the idea you propose about certain people being more religious due to genetics has been a line of inquiry I've wondered about ever since I heard Richard Dawkins mention it as a possibility.

Although, I don't know how much our propensity to believe is genetics per se, as it's outside my knowledge base, I only know a few studies that investigate the question very thoroughly. It seems the research I've read suggests it is a real possibility, but as always, more research needs to be done.

Personally, I am inclined to think that it is probably more environmental than genetic.

In fact, our environments influence our genetics more than anything, so even if there is a genetic trait that makes people more or less religious, I would bet this influence is still mainly governed by our surrounding environments.

Jared Diamond's wonderful book Guns, Germs, and Steel shows how certain key inventions and cultural innovations changed the entire course of human history.

Diamond mentions that:

“History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

What's great about his book is that he examines the sociological component, that is to say the human aspect, of each of these main historical and cultural movements--and he shows that many of these changes occurred because the environments of humans changed.

New technologies made it easier to mine and refine steel, trade routes improved, better steel led to the ability to build larger buildings which could contain more people and cities grew bigger. Larger populations with more people traveling on new steel railroads and boats caused the rapid spread of germs to other cultures and countries, which in turn sparked the need for better medicine.

This, in turn, generated more medical research and helped improve medicine, which made it safer and easier to travel and to live in densely populated cities, etc. and etc.

In another one of Diamond's works, Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality, he has this to say:

“Perhaps our greatest distinction as a species is our capacity, unique among animals, to make counter-evolutionary choices.”

I think religion is much the same way.

There may be social reasons humans grouped together in close-knit societies, and a byproduct of this change may have been religion, which at it most basic seems to be a kind of tribalism which aims at maintaining strict allegiance to the group and being distrustful of outsiders.

At the same time, all the harm religion seems to cause can, in my mind, be equated to our capacity to make, as Diamond so astutely observes, counter-evolutionary choices.

Now a days, with the Internet, global communication, smart phones, easy, affordable, and expedient International travel, tribal borders has all but shrunk away to nothing. We are truly becoming a global society. And time marches on.

In this context, of ever shrinking borders, where cultures and ideas rub up against one another, and sometimes clash, it seems that certain religious ideas never had the ability to leave their local region until widespread communication and travel allowed these ideas to spread all across the globe.

Some have likened the harmful aspect of these tribal religious beliefs to a virus. But I think it's probably more nuanced than that.

Many of the ideas have a universal appeal, which is why they hang on. Many people can relate to them, because at their most basic they are still "tribal" stories in nature. Stories about moral values, upholding the values of the group, and keeping your faith safe from those things which would seek to dismantle the harmony of your particular group. This exclusivism often breeds an overzealous conservative streak in those who fear liberalism as a "dangerous" change that will erode and destroy their traditions way of life and as an affront to their conservative beliefs.  Yet the world continues to become more multicultural, and it seems to me liberalism is the only way to engage other cultures and people's without causing unnecessary friction by placing the 'other' into opposition with oneself or one's group.

I only mention all this because, in my experience, when I was in a secluded yet highly religious environment, conservative values were always championed and liberal values always demonized. There was no thought about inclusiveness, it was all about the community, the pride we had as a group, as a church, as a town, as a Republican, as conservative safeguarding our traditional values, as if they were sacred cows that should never be challenged or revised, lest they be tainted by the evils of the outside world.

It was in this sphere is where my religious beliefs and values were instilled.

And to a small degree, I would say when the environment changes the conditions of what we are exposed to changes, and we will change. We are all the product of our environments, after all.

And this is what religion tries to vehemently avoid. Religion doesn't want to be accommodationalist to the outside world and to other worldviews. It wants the outside world and all other worldviews to be accommodating to it and, often times, its archaic, outmoded, even dangerous rituals, practices, and beliefs.

Now, I know not all religions are created equal and not all religion is entirely bad. But it is in this sphere, this circle of conservatism, where religion operates and it uses this political element as a wedge to separate the heretical views of the world outside and creates for itself opposition. This is why religion always seems to butt heads with other ideologies, whether social, political, or moral.

I know, I'm going on at length about this, but bare with me. My point is coming.

I know that i was extremely religious from about 12 years old until I turned 18 and entered into college / university. The reason, I think (looking back now), is that I still hadn't developed enough critical thinking skills to evaluate ideas on my own, and I simply didn't have exposure to other ideas. In my small community, which was highly religious (a church on every street corner for a community of less than 2,000 people) I had a selection of about 20 different churches to attend in my community. The only other thing there was 20 of in my town was bars and pubs.

To put this in perspective, my entire town had one only two grocery stores. But approximately a dozen bars and a dozen churches. So until I turned 21, drinking at all the bars was out of the question. But religion, there was plenty of that to go around.

Now, my parents came out of religious homes, but they were more along the liens of "cultural Christians." That is, they were Christian in name mainly but didn't attend church or practice any of the ritualistic elements. Well, my mother did for a long time, but then sort of stopped. I think she goes to church again now that she has remarried a devout religious man. But she's happy, so that's good.

My parents prayed sometimes, and would go to church on the main days like Easter and Christmas Eve, and if someone they knew died or got married, but that was about it for church services.

But not for me though. Not even by a long shot.

When I turned 14 I made the personal choice to devote my life to Christ.


Because my church had a robust youth ministry. We called it Youth-Group or Kids for Christ. It was sponsored by the church, which organized fun activities for the local youth, and it was always accompanied by bible studies and mini-sermons by either our pastor or youth pastor.

Namely, it was something to do. It kept me out of trouble, so it wasn't all bad. But, in hindsight, it really did amount to basically a brainwashing camp. Because, when you think about it, what else were we learning?

I attended church and church related activities three times a week, and that was about the same amount of times I had math class per week at school. So, basically, I was learning about the Holy Bible just as intensely as I was any of my other studies at school. And, of course, school has distractions, like sports, and girls and what not. Not so much at church.

You see, when I was at church, I focused on church. I was focused on improving my relationship with God. I was focused on faith.

I read my Bible thoroughly. I read it before bed. I read it three times a week at Bible study. I read it on the weekends. Those were the stories I knew, and at school, mainly I was just getting watered down, general overviews of subjects. Nothing too in depth. I mean, we never really got into any subject in any detail unless it was an elective class and the teacher made sure we knew our stuff. My mythology class was one of the better classes I had in terms of content. My Shakespeare class was another one. It was the same teacher, and she really pushed us to read the material and learn it.

But at the same time, my general knowledge of history and science was pretty lacking. Math was a pain in the ass. School life was fine, but outside of that, all there was to do was sports or video games, and hang out with friends. Pretty much what every teenager these days does anyway. But there was no YouTube. I couldn't just go on and listen to religious people debate atheists. There were no outside ideas streaming into my home. This stuff simply didn't exist.

So I spent my free time in other ways.

Religion filled that niche for me.

So I grew more and more religious. And by the time I was 16 -- Jesus and the saving grace of God was about all I could talk about. I was on fire for Christ, as we used to say. In the 90s, we called ourselves "Jesus Freaks." A fitting name, because that's exactly what we were.

At that time I started doing youth ministries, started traveling the U.S. to visit other Evangelical churches like my own, getting to know other Christians. And within this little sub-cultural of the greater Christian culture that saturates America, I had a lot of fun. Made a lot of friends.

And then, my religioisity started to get really extreme.

My friends and I began to burn all our music albums that weren't Christian. We stopped watching movies that were rater R or even PG-13. We vowed not to let our girlfriends or the thought of sex distract us from our mission to be more Christlike.

I even got a summer job as a camp counselor at one of the better known Christian bible camps in my state, and they ran that thing exactly like a cult. We literally used emotional blackmail and fear tactics to scare young children into emotionally breaking down and accepting Christ. We called it "Witnessing."

In retrospect, being a part of that Christian bible camp is one of my life's greatest regrets. But at the time, I didn't know what I was doing was a kind of sick and twisted psychological manipulation of young children's minds.

I honestly thought I was doing God's work, spreading the "good news" and sharing my faith while helping others to walk a righteous path with the Christian Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was about fellowship and making lasting bonds with my fellow Christians.

And we rejoiced in this.

Perhaps the most ironic thing is, thought, that I am no longer in touch with any of the Christian friends I once had back then. Not really. Not since I left the faith. The only people I still talk to from my Bible camp days are those who, like me, left the faith.

But those that stayed true to their faith, every time I've reached out to them, although polite, they haven't shown me the time of day. I can only think back to that religious tendency of wanting to shelter itself from those dangerous outside views that challenge it and which sometimes outright defy it. I know I bring a lot of that to the table in terms of my activism, and so I can't blame my old religious friends for shying away from the Advocatus Atheist. I guess, in this respect, my zeal for the religious subject matter never truly dissipated. But instead of wasting precious hours of my day devoted to atheist, humanist, and secular activism, I have settled to just blog about these issues instead. ;)

So, okay, I've rambled on for far too long.

But my point is, once I left that religiously super-charge environment where there was no other stimuli, when I went out into the world and began thinking for myself, when I found other interests besides religion -- because I learned there was other subjects in the world than religion -- my mind expanded greatly.

College helped open my mind up even more, by challenging my limited knowledge and my views. My move to Japan tore my mind wide open to other possibilities and different worldviews. And somewhere along the way my religion fell out.

When you have an open mind, it's really hard just to hold on to one thing. When you have many interests, you want to learn them all. When you gain new experiences, you can no longer pretend that you've experienced all you need to. When you obtain new knowledge, you cannot pretend you know all there is to know.

Between becoming better educated, learning to critically evaluate my beliefs, and having more experiences I realized that my religiosity was just a small part of who I was.

But it was a big part of who I was when I didn't know anything else.

Finally, I will share one last quote from Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

“Two types of choices seem to me to have been crucial in tipping the outcomes [of the various societies' histories] towards success or failure: long-term planning and willingness to reconsider core values. On reflection we can also recognize the crucial role of these same two choices for the outcomes of our individual lives.”

At any rate, I apologize for going on at length. I really don't know the answer to the genetic aspect of being more or less religious, so I think I failed to answer your question, but it is fascinating to think about none-the-less. Hopefully I gave you something to chew on, if its any consolation.


Tristan Vick aka The Advocatus Atheist



My loyal reader responded with a nice compliment!

Thanks for the reply. Better late than never.

As for the length of your response I can only say that your emails have been so far of the highest quality possible despite their quantity. Your responses have always been informative and I have learned much from them....
Once again, thanks for sharing your experience.
All the best.


What a nice compliment! I was afraid I had bored them to death with my ramble. Anyway, I must say thanks for the compliment! I always enjoy hearing that my words are beneficial to someone and I'm not just wasting my breath.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Is Caitlyn Jenner a Hero?

I thought I was done talking about this topic, but obviously not. There are too many dense heads and unsympathetic people who'd rather sling nasty hate than try for one second to exercise a modicum of empathy.

So, without further ado... 

Some people are saying what Caitlyn Jenner did is not brave or heroic. 

Lots of memes of Caitlyn Jenner juxtaposed against other athletes and war veterans carry the insensitive captions hero, hero, hero, Caitlyn Jenner: not a hero.

A lot of this hullabaloo comes hot off the heels of the announcement that Caitlyn Jenner is going to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

So, the question is:

Is Caitlyn Jenner a Hero? Is she courageous? Brave?

Most Likely. 


Those who still may not think Caitlyn Jenner is doing something heroic, let me just say that I can guess with fair certainty that you are not a transgender person hiding in the closet for fear of walking down the street to get groceries or pick up your kids from school only to be beaten to death in the street for no reason but for the fact that you were different. 

I am sure Jenner's actions seem heroic to those people who have endured such hardships, who live in constant fear and intimidation, and who might have even experienced the trauma of physical abuse first hand and the ostracizing by family and friends as well as their communities.

People's inability to sympathize with the LGBT community is the problem, not the fact that Caitlyn Jenner is a high profile celebrity. Jenner is in a key position to be a spokesperson for the LGBT community and can aid in bringing greater cultural awareness and tolerance for LGBT people. 

So, the question is, should you care? Yes. I think so. I think it is a necessary conversation.

Jenner doesn't need to be my personal hero to be a hero and an inspiration to others. What I find heroic isn't the issue here.

My beef isn't with what people personally find heroic. My beef is that society as a whole cannot accept that Caitlyn Jenner is a hero to LGBT people, simply because they feel confused, or "icky" inside thinking about it. 

Well, if it bothers you that much then don't think about it, but by the same token, don't try to dictate what people can and cannot find heroic because it doesn't fit with your views of heroism. Espeically when you can't muster up enough empathy to say anything supportive of Caitlyn Jenner or any of the rest of the LGBT community but feel more than within your right to share hurtful or damaging memes/ words about them.

The bottom line?

Society needs to grow the fuck up.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist