Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book Banning Gets My Goat! (A Red-Goat Short Ranty-time Thing)


Book Banning Gets My Goat

“Yes, the hard-bound human mind, like the hard-bound soil, has to be ploughed up. Let it shriek as it will, the work must be done, or the light and air will never penetrate, and an ocean of seeds will lie barren on the surface.”

– G.W. Foote

I know many of my rants are dedicated to the perceived ills of religion, but there are other certain things that will get under my skin just as deeply as a religious injustice, and mainly it is the idiocy and the general injustice which comes with willful ignorance.
Browsing the news, we discover it reported that the Idaho school district of Meridian has recently banned Native American author Sherman Alexie’s latest book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for allegedly containing bad language, sexual content, and anti-Christian content.
The book having been banned cause somewhat of an outcry among the Meridian district students at Junior Mountain High School who contested the ban. With the support of their local bookstore, the went around handing out free copies of the banned book (off campus of course to comply with the ruling).
This is when the cops were called in to break up their merry free book giving charity endeavor.
Having the cops called on you nothing new in the day and the life of your average teen, as teenagers are known for traveling in loud obnoxious packs, playing their music at a billion decibels too loud, and generally getting into their fair share of mischief. But the reason for this particular incident is new.
So why were the cops called on these mild-mannered, book loving teens?
The whole series of unfortunate events began earlier in the year when the Meridian school board voted to ban Sherman Alexie’s book. The book, which was assigned reading at Junior Mountain High School, had alarmed a concerned Christian student who in turn showed his (may or may not be Nazi) parents what he deemed to be an offensive and anti-Christian passage in the book and the parents, not being happy about it (since it did not comport to their may or maybe not Nazi beliefs) brought it to the attention of the school board.
So the cops were call, again, why? Because some Meridian district students were giving away a book that some adult somewhere disagreed with. Really, that’s it.
Now before you go jumping to conclusions, let me just say right off the bat that the book’s passages in question are not pornographic in anyway. It was regular old literature. Yes, folks. Literature written by an acclaimed, award-winning, Native American author, Sherman Alexie. Whether or not Alexie’s ethnicity had anything to do with prompting the parent’s hateful attack on his literature is anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Banning books and racism often go hand-in-hand, just ask any Nazi.
Needless to say, I think banning books is, in general, a really terrible idea. But banning books you haven’t ever read, I’m sorry to say, makes you a complete idiot (if not a Nazi). At any rate, the story gets better.
The (may or may not be Nazi) parents who objected to the book were obviously not thinking about the teens living on Idaho’s five Native American reservations, who look up to Sherman Alexie, a succesful Native American author and a role model for those who want to follow in his footsteps. The whole book-banning thing didn’t sit well with those who had read the book and found it innocent of the charges lobied against it, and the district’s local teens fought back, organizing a petition to have the book reinstated.
In response, a local Boise bookseller, Rediscovered Books, crowd-funded a $3,400 campaign to buy copies of the book for each of the 350 students who signed the petition. The teens handed out books in Kleiner Park (a public park) and gave away nearly every copy. That’s when the cops were called in to break up this otherwise peaceful protest.
Boise news station KBOI reported that the cops were baffled when they arrived on the scene—and how could they not be, for the teens weren’t doing anything remotely disruptive. The police didn’t find any harm in what the teens were doing and left them to their business of sharing free literature and spreading knowledge (a gift the so-called Nazi parents who called the police in would greatly benefit from).
But the story gets even better yet.
Sherman Alexie’s publisher, Hatchette Book Group, heard about the ordeal and sent 350 additional books to Rediscover Books to give away on top of the ones they had already given out. So, I feel a hearty congratulations goes out to the teens of Meridian school district and Junior Mountain High School for a victory well-deserved.
In fact, the parent’s brash cop-calling behavior is already backfiring in their faces. I am sure there are many like me who haven’t read a good Sherman Alexie book since college, and this whole incident piqued my curiosity, so I went ahead and purchased my own e-book copy The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for my Kindle. I’ll be reading it this weekend.
But that leaves one pressing question. More of a concern, really. Who are these horrible, anti-intellectual, narrow-minded parents who think they can go around banning books they obviously haven’t read? Who do they think they are to tell the district of Meridian what books it can and cannot read? Who are they to decide that handing out literature is a felony so terrible that the cops must be brought in to put an end to it? Finally, don’t these parents realize that peaceful public protests are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? What could be more peaceful than giving away free books in a public park?

It seems the moral of the story is clear, while the young people of the Meridian school district, posessing wisdom beyond their years, are out on the streets doling out knowledge, quite literally, the book-banning parents need to go back to school to get “ejumacated” and stop wasting everyone’s time attempting to ban books and maybe read some instead.

For more on the incident please see:

And here:




Saturday, April 26, 2014

Quote of the Day: Ashley Mobley

My friend Ashley said something that I think needs to be said much more often with regard to the perception of the self which many religious seem to foster, especially Christianity. Basically, that old canard that we are broken, tainted, and in need of repair--in need of saving. It's all malarkey. The idea of being fallen, or sinful, or whatever has never been anything but a far-fetched, highly implausible, practically incoherent, unsubstantiated, metaphysical concept that is so absurdly dehumanizing that the only way one wouldn't find it offensive is if they had been literally brain-washed. 

"I was not born into a magical curse.

I am not inherently evil or broken.

I know of no evidence or convincing philosophical argument for the existence of god(s).

The end."

--Ashley Mobley  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

New Anthology Collecting 'Deconversion' Stories



I have co-edited a new anthology with Jonathan M.S. Pearce, a publisher, philosopher, and blogger from England. You can check him out on his blog The Tippling Philosopher over at the Skeptic Ink Network (SIN). 

 The anthology, Beyond an Absence of Faith, collects the personal 'deconversion' stories of ex-religious believers. A deconversion story of the irreligious is the equivalent of the religious 'testimony' of faith. Just as with a 'testimony' which is a personal account of how one came to God or found faith, the deconversion story is the opposite account of how one lost faith and realized all the God-business just wasn't for them. 

What I like most about the book is that it's not an attack on religion. It's not a philosophical piece trying to deconstruct religion. It's much more a reflective piece looking back on individual experiences collecting the personal stories from people from all walks of life who went from living a life steeped in religion to a life without it.

Some of the stories are harrowing, as we have people literally escaping cults, we have stories of mysticism and spiritual pilgrimages across India, we have stories of pastors turning away from nearly 30 years of preaching because they couldn't live with what they came to see as a great big lie any longer. 


 Perhaps my favorite story is by a Muslim girl, a teenager, whose parents have pre-arranged her marriage to a man she's never met and who refuses to answer her Facebook messages to get acquainted. And amid this confusing time in her life, she personally decides she no longer believes, and takes off her head scarf. The weight of this action is no trivial matter, and the rift it causes in her family and friends is no laughing matter either, and I can honestly say that her story is a real tear-jerker. 

It looks like this book will hit the presses this week or next and be just in time for the first couple weeks of May. Keep a look out for it and I'll keep you all posted!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Jesus the Corn King: Examining some Parallels Between Jesus and Dionysus



“BEHOLD, God’s Son is come unto this land
Of heaven’s hot splendour lit to life, when she
Of Thebes, even I, Dionysus, whom the brand
Who bore me, Cadmus’ daughter Semelê,
Died here. So, changed in shape from God to man…”

– Euripides (The Bacchae)



According to the biblical scholar and historian Dennis MacDonald there are extensive connections between the Gospel stories found in the New Testament and the Greek myths and legends of old. In fact, MacDonald has gone further than anyone by showing that these links are more than just mere parallels but has shown, in many instances, these links to be exact copies of Greek phrases lifted right out of the Iliad and Odyssey.[1]
If these borrowings are undeniable, as MacDonald contends they are, then what about other parallels and similarities to the ancient Greek stories and the New Testament? Shouldn’t these exist as well? I contend that they do, and more specifically, I contend that the Jesus narrative closely follows, if not borrows from, the myth of Dionysus.
Modern scholars such as Friedrich Holderlin, Martin Hengel, Barry Powell, Robert M. Price, and Peter Wick, among others, have argued that there are distinct parallels between the ancient Dionysian religion and early Christianity. Perhaps more striking than this, however, are the parallels between Jesus himself and the pagan god Dionysus, especially when it come to ritual, wine, and symbolism.[2]
In fact, there seems to have been a direct rivalry between early early Christianity and the popular Dionysian religion. Scholar E. Kessler has detailed that the Dionysian cult had developed into a monotheism by the 4th century CE giving direct competition to early Christianity.[3] It does not take a leap of faith to imagine this rivalry existed prior to the Dionysian cult’s transformation as well.
Meanwhile, Peter Wick has shown how Jesus turning water into wine at the Marriage of Cana (John 2:1-11; and John 2:3-5) was intended to show that Jesus was superior to his pagan counterpart Dionysus.
Wick notes that the numerous references to wine, miracle and wine, and ritual and wine cannot possibly represent a Christian vs. Jewish controversy, as there is no discernible wine symbolism in Judaism, but that the entire book of John is laden with such wine symbolism as it is meant as a Christian attempt to depict Jesus as superior to Dionysus. [4]
The biblical historian Robert M. Price, citing the second century Greek geographer Pausanias, tells us that

Jesus changes water into wine in John 2:1-11, in apparent imitation of the annual miracle of the priests of Dionysus at Eleia. “The worship of Dionysos is one of the principal Elean cults, and they say the god himself visits them at the feat of Thuia…. The priests take three empty basins in the presence of the citizens and of any foreigners there may be and deposit them in a building. The priests themselves and anyone else who wants put seals on the doors of the building; the seals can be inspected the next day, and when they go inside they find the basins full of wine (Pausanias Guide to Greece 6.26.1-2). This would not be the only Dionysian legacy in the Gospels. John’s True Vine discourse is another. Some ancient writers considered Dionysus and Yahveh to be the same deity, and the Sabazius religion of Asia Minor certainly seems to have been built on that premise.[5]

Studies in comparative myth have shown how Jesus shares the dying and rising god mytheme with many other ancient gods.[6] Jesus’s mythic qualities are also highly reflective of many of the mythical and mystical beliefs of other cultures and traditions which predate him.
Even the beloved Christian apologist C.S. Lewis acknowledged the Dionysian and mythic elements in the Jesus Christ narrative often referring to Jesus as the dying and rising “Corn King” which parallels the symbolic celebration of the harvest, which Dionysus is traditionally representative of.[7]
Lewis clearly took his language from Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, in which Frazer refers to the archetypal “sacrificial-scapegoat,” such as the dying and rising gods Osiris, Lityerses, Adonis, and Bacchae as the “Korn King.”
The dying and rising Dionysus was more than just symbolic of the seasons, however, as in Euripides play The Bacchae (circa 405 B.C.E.) it is said that through Dionysus’ death and the spilling of his blood, like wine, freed his followers from sin.[8]
In The Bacchae, Dionysus frequently refers to himself as the Child of God whereas Jesus is frequently referred to as the Son of God in the Gospels. Each of them are considered by their followers to be God incarnated as man. Both are raised by foster parents with royal ties (King Athamas and his wife Ino in the case of Dionysus and Joseph and Mary of the royal bloodline of King David in the case of Jesus) and in both cases the foster parents are instructed by angelic figures (the winged Hermes in for Dionysus and the winged Gabriel for Jesus) to raise the child in a specific way or manner. Both infants are birthed in secrecy while fleeing from the powers that would seek to have them killed (the ever jealous queen of the gods Hera in the case of Dionysus and King Herod the Great in the case of Jesus). Both Jesus and Dionysus get sentenced to death and both overcome death. After being reborn it is said each will be “exalted on high.”
Perhaps even more significant, however, are the Pontius Pilate and King Pentheus discourses which contain parallels so ripe and numerous it almost seems as if those anonymous Greek writers of the Gospels were so enamored with The Bacchae discourse between Dionysus and Pentheus that they simply retold it using their own dying and rising god figure, Jesus Christ.
In fact, the Pontius Pilate and Jesus dialog mirrors the King Pentheus and Dionysus dialog in such profound ways that I am strongly inclined to think it was the template for that particular discussion found in the New Testament.
Comparing the Gospel stories of Jesus’ trial with the trial of Dionysus in The Bacchae, we discover that both Jesus and Dionysus get arrested and, subsequently are interrogated by the appointed ruler of the land; Pontius Pilate and King Pentheus respectively, who then proceeds to take time out of their very busy schedule to share a philosophical exchange with the offenders. Pilate is worried about another insurrection thinking Jesus might be attempting to lead a revolt, whereas Pentheus is worried that Dionysus’ influence will continue to spread a rebellious kind of madness among the people who worship him. After they are questioned about their intentions, both give vague responses in much the same way, the most notable being that they both claim to “bare witness to the truth.”
Finally, after the lengthy philosophical exchange, both of our demigod protagonists are accused of sedition and ultimately killed in a blood sacrifice to cleanse their followers sins. But this is just the summary overview. If you were to actually read The Bacchae a little bit more in depth, you would find that there are many more parallels worth considering as well.
For example, after his discussion with King Pentheus, facing the charge of treason for claiming divinity (which, we shall not forget, Jesus faces similar, if not the very same, charges against himself),[9] [10] Dionysus refers to himself as a lion walking into a net (The Bacchae, line 1036) thus predicting his own demise. This mirrors Jesus’ prediction of his own death as well. Although it could be claimed a rather loose parallel, Jesus too is likened to the Lion of Judah in Revelation 5:5. It is simply interesting to note that both figures were likened to lions by those who authored their stories.
Other parallels between Jesus and Dionysus include the previously discusses fact that both share direct ties to wine symbolism (cf. John 2: 1-12 with The Bacchae lines 254-56; 493-96; and 834-35). At the marriage in Cana, Jesus turns water into wine, and takes on the ceremonial role of Dionysus who fills the empty wine flasks of his followers. It is worth noting that, along with the guests, Jesus and his disciples had drunk all of the wine (whether or not they get drunk isn’t mentioned, but one can assume it a likely possibility given what follows). This prompted the call for more wine, and instead of performing the Dionysian miracle of simply refilling everyone’s flask just once, Jesus goes above and beyond and changes six stone water jars, each holding 30 gallons, equating to roughly 180 gallons of water into wine.
Needless to say, 180 gallons of wine is far more than required for such a small wedding. Was Jesus trying to get everyone drunk? We might be forgiven for wondering if the Gospel writers weren’t overcompensating in trying to make Jesus into the new Dionysus, or perhaps this is this just another example of the Bacchean spirit of drunkenness being embedded in the story of Jesus? It is appropriate then that Jesus, like Dionysus, was also accused of drinking with known drunkards and that he himself was a known glutton and a drunkard (Mat. 11:19), an accusation he never denied.
Further similarities between Jesus and Dionysus include the fact that each of their sacrifices guarantees the salvation from sin for their followers (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 with The Bacchae line 1037), and both are sacrificed on a hill (cf. Mark 15:22 with The Bacchae line 1047), and both rise into the heavens upon the clouds (cf. Matt. 26:64 and Mark 14:62 with The Bacchae lines 1685-86), and both are referred to as God’s true Son (cf. 1 John 5:20 with The Bacchae line 1050).
Finally, it is well worth mentioning that throughout their final hours before death both are surrounded by their most loyal female followers (in the case of Jesus the book of John mentions it’s the three Marys – his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the wife of Cleopas – and for Dionysus it’s Agave and her women attendants) and upon rising from death it is specifically these loyal female followers who discover them risen.
Now these numerous parallels do not guarantee beyond a reason of doubt that all or any of the aspects of the Jesus narrative was based in any way on the Dionysian myth, but I feel that the parallels are so numerous, so uncanny, with the very order of events corresponding to one another, that it would be unwise to dismiss such a possibility offhand.
As for the antagonists, both Pontius Pilate and King Pentheus, meet similar ends dying atop mountains. According to legend, Pontius Pilate is filled with sorrow and remorse after Jesus’ death, and commits suicide during the first year of Caligula’s reign, while another legend places his death at Mount Pilatus, in Switzerland. Likewise, King Pentheus, whose name literally means ‘man of sorrow’ (from the greek word péntho [πένθος] which means sorrow), is driven mad and runs into the woods of Mount Cithaeron, and is killed when he runs into the Bacchanalia (the all female Maenads), the followers of Dionysus, who cut off his head.
Given these similarities, I have to ask myself: were the Gospel writers, who were educated in Greeks and were trained in the ancient myths and stories of their culture, wouldn’t have put such references into the Gospel narrative of Jesus deliberately? If it is all just one big coincidence, what a coincidence indeed! A whole string of them! All seeming to form a distinct pattern connecting Jesus to Dionysus!
As noted earlier, there is no prevalent wine-symbolism in Jewish culture, but suddenly it is ripe within Hellenistic Christianity and the Jesus narrative. Why should it be so prevailing here in association to Jesus if not to pay homage to the Dionysian myths by retelling them using the new dying and rising Corn King? It makes sense that those living in the first, second, and third centuries would have been familiar quite with the Dionysian myth and Euripides’ The Bacchae, and would have instantly seen the parallels. I can only imagine that in the Hellenistic minds of the time, Greeks seeing Jesus as the new and improved Dionysus would be more inclined to accept Christianity. Why shouldn’t they?
It is only modern Christians, most of whom haven’t read Euripides and remain largely unaware of these parallels, who would find the suggestion that the Gospel writers were deliberately trying to make Jesus into a revamped Dionysus a troublesome consideration. But to those early Greeks, in a time when Christianity was rapidly expanding, such deliberate parallels would have made excellent pieces of early Christian propaganda for gaining pagan converts and allowing Jesus Christ to usurp one of the most popular and prominent pagan gods of the old religion and replace him, thus gaining status as the definitive Corn King.





[1] See Dennis MacDonald’s two books on this topic: The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark and Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? by Yale University Press.
[2] See: Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 26. 1 – 2, and cf. Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 2. 34a
[3] E. Kessler, “Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire,” Exeter, pp. 17-20, July 2006.
[4] Peter Wick, “Jesus gegen Dionysos? Ein Beitrag zur Kontextualisierung des Johannesevangeliums,”  Biblica (Rome:Pontifical Biblical Institute) Vol. 85 (2004) 179-198.
[5] Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, 2003, Prometheus Press, pp. 158-59.
[6] Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, 1985, pp. 64, 132. Also see: The Christ Myth (Westminster College Oxford Classics in the Study of Religion) by Arthur Drews, 1998, p. 170. Also: Deconstructing Jesus by Robert M. Price, 2000, pp. 86-93, and all of chapter 7. And James Frazer’s The Golden Bough.
[7] C.S. Lewis, The Complete Signature Classics, 2002, HarperCollins, p. 402.
[8] See the Gilbert Murray translation of The Bacchae. Available online: http://www.bartleby.com/8/8/3.html
[9] Barry B. Powell. Classical Myth Second ed. With new translations of ancient texts by Herbert M. Howe. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1998.
[10] Martin Hegnel, Studies in Early Christology, 2005, p.331.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stephen Colbert Interviews Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Although it is slightly dated, it's still one of the funnest, most informative, and best interviews I've ever seen. It's definitely worth your time to view the full thing.







God & Naturalism: Take Us To The Threshold!


Analytical reasoning is not easy. I'll be the first to admit it. It took me four years of studying philosophy before I became comfortable with it. It took another year to feel like I knew how to even apply it to the questions I had. I've always been a systematic thinker, and I aced all my philosophy and theory classes back in uni, if you consider such things an accomplishment. I've taught rhetoric and argumentation at the college level before, so I do know that people struggle with it. Organizing our thoughts is never easy, let alone making them clear to others.

So even though I got better at analytical reasoning, having read Kurt Godel, Burtrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein and having taken courses on modal logic and being a student of Kant's reasoning, it has only been incrementally, not to mention painstakingly, baby steps that I have gradually become able to see the analogs that are lying under the surface of any given philosophical problem.

But in philosophy the big questions do not usually have easy answers. Analogs helps us make sense of the philosophical problem, but they aren't the end all to the philosophical debate.

Like those Magic Eye autostereogram images that you have to step back from and squint peculiarly at before the hidden image becomes clear. Sometimes taking a step back gives us a much needed perspective.

It seems there was some confusion regarding my earlier statements regarding atheist vs. theist assumption in relationship to nature, and I wand to expound on this topic a bit.

Earlier I said that both the atheist and the theist make a priori assumption to get their respective theology off the ground. This, I mentioned, was true of any belief.

As such, I explained that the respective premises are as follows:

Theism: God x 1 = 1 God.

Atheism: God x 0 = 0 God.

This is the a priori assumption either position must make to form either belief there is a God or belief that there is no God.

Additionally, I claimed that the atheist's assumptions are finished since their assumption apparently matches with the physical reality we observe.

The reason is obviously because atheists haven't added anything to the equation. In philosophical language we say the atheist has not made a positive claim while the theist has.

The theist has added--or posited--something to the equation. They have posited +1 God to the physical reality we observe.

***

Atheists and theists are both in agreement that God should, in principle, be provable. A theist who says we can't prove the existence of God has backed themselves into an impossible corner of an impossible hole they cannot climb out of. As such, no reasonable person would negate their own belief by making it impossible to prove. As such, theists and atheists alike look toward the natural world for signs of what might constitute evidence for God.

Some people think it is up to the atheist to disprove the negative claim. But I maintain this doesn't make sense because the atheist claim seems to match with observation.

That doesn't mean the atheist couldn't still be wrong, but if they are, God's features are hidden from us otherwise there would be no dispute over the issue. In order to claim atheists simply haven't understood the obvious evidence staring them in the face is to talk down to the intelligence of people who are the majority in fields such as philosophy and science. If God was obvious, we'd know it before most theists would (but that would technically make us theists, but you get my point).

However, I don't think the theist assumption pans out. At least, it doesn't appear to be the case.

Traditionally, theists haven't felt secure in the claim +1 God exists either.

In fact, they have posited things such as God existing outside of reality, beyond space time, as an eternal being, who is all powerful and all knowing necessarily, otherwise there would be no interaction between this being's open-existence with our closed-off existence.

Somewhere on the Venn diagram God's reality must intersect with our reality or there is absolutely no way to detect God and the theist claim is rendered futile.

It is because we live in a physical world where these things are easy to measure, observe, and test that any disturbance of them would be equally noticeable. That is, anything crossing that threshold would be immediately detectable as a disturbance or anomaly.

As such, this is the playing field where we would look for interactions with a supernatural entity like God.

So when theists posit +1 God, we look toward nature to see if any residual ripples are immediately detectable from the overlap which would need to exist between our reality and God's to confirm the existence of such an entity.

But when we look down at the pond, all we see is clear, still waters.

***

The atheist isn't required to make any additional assumptions about the nature of reality. Some may, but it's not required. Our belief with respect to the non-existence of God appears tentatively justified by the features of the natural physical world we observe.

Theists on the other hand, well, all their work is all still ahead of them if they want us to assume along with them that there is more to nature than what is observed. And in order to take the next step in forming a comprehensible belief that takes +1 God beyond a mere a priori assumption, more assumptions will have to be made--at least until definitive evidence is forthcoming.

The assumption that God exists, for example, is not enough to actually establish +1 God exists. You see, if God existed within the same physical reality as cats, airplanes, donuts, and porn stars there would be no dispute as to God's existence. Scientists would have surely detected him by now. But they haven't. Therefore theists have to assume God exists outside of physical reality in order to safeguard God from being imminently falsified when everybody suddenly realizes that the claim +1 God does not match observation.

Now one may say we shouldn't always demand empirical evidence for God. But this argument doesn't hold water because it ignores the fact that the reality we do live in does act in accordance to certain detectable physical laws. It is precisely because we exist within such a system that we have no reason to expect that the system wouldn't detect an anomaly such as God or the supernatural; either directly or indirectly.

All we can do is say, take us to the threshold. That intersecting segment on the Venn diagram where the interaction will be.

So the real question becomes, in a world where a basic set of physical laws explain the features of reality we observe, why wouldn't we be able to pin-down a God?

***

God may be complex, but the system we are seeking to describe in relationship to this God is rather simple. To suggest we couldn't detect something like a God's interaction with that system goes back to making God unfalsifiable, thus impossible to prove. In which case, the claim +1 God exists becomes incoherent.

Now, I am certain some smart-ass theist will come along and point out that atheists cannot prove that God does not exist, but then they have misunderstood how demonstration works.

You don't prove things exist by proving what doesn't exist.

If you say something doesn't exists but someone can conjure it up for you to test, then you'd have no further reason to claim it didn't exist.

The very reason atheists can claim God doesn't likely exist is because the burden of proof simply hasn't been met to establish, beyond a reason of a doubt, that +1 God is a valid claim.

It's true that both theologies appear tentative, but it seems to me one has a higher probability of being correct. Mainly the one which makes less assumptions and doesn't complicate the equation. The more assumptions you make the more arguments you will require to justify each additional assumption, ad naseaum--or at least as many times as will be required to get everyone to the same understanding of God.

That's the challenge. It's a rather big challenge. And it's probably why after two-thousand years of theists professing the existence of God we are still having the same ole conversation.

If only professing were enough though, because I'll tell you something--I have lots of things I'd like to profess. Like how much Angelina Jolie loves me, the fact that I'm a multi-billionaire, and how I will likely live to eight hundred years old. Well, like I said, professing is one thing--proving it all is entirely another thing.







Thursday, April 10, 2014

Antinomy of the Atheist: An Open Letter to Anyone and Everyone


Here's the thing.

Atheism for the sake of atheism is rather absurd.

In fact, there is no good reason to repeatedly bring up that which one does not believe in.
Do you believe in flaggermaroos and kaliwag snicker-poodles? If not, does it bother you that you haven't immediately informed me and everyone else on the planet of it?

Probably not. 

Then why do atheists, especially these so-called "New Atheists," seem to revel in reminding everybody that they don't believe in God?!

Well, needless to say there are historical reasons for why atheists feel hard pressed to explain themselves. Mainly because the religious won't stop pigeonholing us into uncomfortable definitions of what it means to be an atheist.

How do I know this? Because everybody and their dog has an opinion on atheists!

As if they knew better than I do about what I don't believe! Ha!

It's god-awful presumptuous, if you think about it.

It is a lot like me, a Caucasian male trying to define what it means to be an African American female. Really, how would I know what it's like to be one when I'm not? But this is how religion has typically treated atheists over the centuries. 

Yeah. Atheism is a strange word. I'll be the first to admit it. It explains one, and only one, sort-of-belief a person has. 

In this case, it explains what they don't believe to be the case. 

God? Not so much. 

We atheists, for whatever reasons we may have, just can't bring ourselves to believe that one proposition. But that's all the term atheism or atheist denotes. Nothing more, nothing less. Atheism = 0 God(s).

Simple. To the point.

I hope you realized, that as people, atheists have so many more beliefs than the simple and unassuming belief that there is no God. It's strange that this doesn't get brought up. 

Why should religion have such a hard-on for what we atheists don't believe?

It's like the moment a religious person hears you're an atheist they want to strap on a dildo and fuck you in the ass with it to teach you a lesson. 

You see, religion has developed a bad taste for atheism.

Atheism is the antithetical position who what most believers feel to be a sacred truth. Therefore, atheists must be bad, right?

Over the centuries atheism has been vilified by the religious. After all, atheists certainly haven't been going around claiming they eat babies or worship the devil. These are specifically religious hang-ups.

Religion often brings up atheism in negative ways, and tries ever so hard to diminish the value of atheistic belief by attacking the individual, saying things like those who don't believe in God are somehow morally depraved. 

Religion is in the habit of highlight atheism and putting it in a negative light. The religious will often try to make it seem like anyone who is an atheist is also corrupted or deficient in some way.

In fact, they will go as far to suggest that if you're an atheist, something very traumatic must have happened to you when you were young--maybe your parents divorced, or you were molested by your priest. They always try to take away from the rational or intellectual reasons one may have for being an atheist by raising non-sequiturs or distracting us with wild absurdities.

This maltreatment of atheism, and atheists in general, is a historical occurrence. It's sad, but true. It's been going on for thousands of years and continues to this day.

That's the thing that bothers me the most.

It continues to this day.

Famous news anchors go on national television and call atheists pin-heads simply because they are atheists. 

I mean, what if the same famous news anchor went on and called all Jews pin-heads simply because they are Jews?

What if, for that matter, he went on and announced all women are pin-heads because they are women?

It's called oppression. Women and minorities have valiantly fought to get out from under such oppression, and now atheists are pushing back too.

Which is why I miss Christopher Hitchens so goddamn much. He always was able to land a much needed Hitch-slap to such odious, obnoxious, and deserving news anchors.

But it's this very oppressive attitude taken by the mainstream religious, and religions historically, that gives the "New Atheists" cause to correct the misconceptions of what atheism is and, in doing so, help to counter the blatant and often spiteful misrepresentations of it. 

Of us.

I doubt the religious realize the irony when they ask why us atheists can't stop talking about a God we don't believe in. 

The answer is, we wouldn't, if you religious folks would only stop cramming God down everyone's throats while actively slandering those who think differently in the process.

Learn to agree to disagree, for Christ's sake. 

Granted, not all religious people are this dense. But the level headed ones often seem to get drown out by the obnoxious noise of zealot believers trying to silence the atheist anyway they know how, whether it is burning them at the stake, hunting them and jailing them, making up absurd laws that means any atheist who professes to be an atheist will be considered a terrorist of the state and arrested and given an automatic 20 prison sentence such as in Saudi Arabia, or whether it is simply religious apologists like Randal Rauser blocking atheists like me because he didn't like the fact that I called him out on his rude behavior towards, you guessed it, other atheists.

So we still have a long ways to go before we can publicly announce that we don't believe in flaggermaroos and kaliwag snicker-poodles, but I suppose that's why I created this blog, The Advocatus Atheist.

To help bring awareness to these issues.

I probably wouldn't have had to either, but the moment I became an atheist everyone seemed to either turn their backs on me or turn on me.

This blog was my defense--not only of what I don't believe--but what I DO believe.

And that, perhaps, is the more important part.

If you don't want to believe in something, more power to you. I won't stop you, and I certainly won't expect you to not believe in all the things I don't believe in either (if that makes any sense). But to you religious folk out there who may be reading this, if you ask me why I don't believe in God, well, I'll be more than happy to tell you. In fact, I invite you to do so.

Just don't expect that you know better than I do as to what I don't believe in.

Sincerely,

The Advocatus Atheist

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is Atheism More Rational than Theism?



Is atheism more rational than theism?

When I was a practicing Christian I would have simply said "No." 

But, then again, when I was a practicing Christian I didn't know very many atheists and I certainly wasn't familiar with their arguments. Heck, I wasn't very well versed in my own Christian theology. 

Yet now that I have considered both sides, I find the atheist arguments hold up better to scrutiny. If they didn't then I certainly wouldn't have become an atheist.

So then, why do I feel atheism is more rational than theism? Well, several reasons, I think.

It's true theists and atheists alike are both making assumptions as this is required for establishing any belief. 

Technically speaking beliefs are assumptions about very simple yes or no propositions. Do pigs fly? Yes, no, or maybe so? No. Okay, then. Most of us are in agreement on this question, and so most of our beliefs will conform to the answer: no, pigs don't fly. 

How do we know this? Well, we've never seen pigs fly, for one thing. Second of all, they don't have wings. And we've never seen a pig levitate or hover all on its own. So simple observation confirms our assumption, and therefore we know our belief is true. 

Almost every belief can reduce down to a yes or no proposition, thus when it comes to unknown propositions since we know that almost all beliefs are probabilistic (I say almost because properly basic beliefs may be exceptions to the rule) we can presume that disputed beliefs, like the question of God or whether or not the universe came from nothing, are either true or false, and therefore in a state of uncertainty must have a probability of being one or the other. 

So, taking a guess (or better still an educated guess), we use our experience with things like flying pigs to say, well, I know those aren't real because I've never seen one and they're not very plausible given what I know about reality. 

So what about this God business? Well, I've never seen God either, so logically speaking, I probably shouldn't believe in that one either. God doesn't match with observed reality, and it seems to me this is why theists like to say God exists outside of reality, but if so then this requires many more unfounded assumptions and so it all seems that much more less likely to be the case.

As for the verity of those beliefs we don't know either way, at least not with any certainty, we can only guess as to what their probability of being right or wrong is given the status of the evidence and quality of the logic.

This realization leads us to demand rather strict demonstrations of proof for low probability beliefs, otherwise, our beliefs simply aren't warranted, certainly not to the same degree as high probability beliefs are. 

Also, there may be certain things we have a lot of evidence for but we still might remain uncertain about. For example, consider questions about love. Is love merely the chemical and biological interplay going on within the brain or is love something more? 

Well, in all probability, love seems to be an emotional and physical condition which arises from the goings on in the brain. We have lots of evidence which demonstrates this, but because it seemingly goes against what we typically think love to be, based on our own experiences of it, we are hesitant to say 'yes, love is merely the chemical reactions happening in the brain' with any certainty. We feel inclined to say love is something more. But feelings aren't proofs. 

The fact of the matter is, the probability that love is merely a byproduct of goings on in the brain is rather high given what we currently know about the chemistry and biology of love, so we can say 'yes' with near certainty that this is what love really is. If we say 'no, love is something more', contrary to what the evidence suggests, then we are placing a higher burden of proof on ourselves to demonstrate our belief that love is something more and thereby lessen our chance of being correct.

The higher the burden of proof the more difficult it will be to prove beliefs that defy observation and evidence, thereby forcing us to make more arguments and assumptions  in order to defend such beliefs, ultimately leading to a greater probability of being mistaken.

So let's write it out another way.


Love is merely a chemical process happening in the brain + Lots of evidence which suggests this assumption is correct = high probability of being correct.

Love is something more than mere chemical processes + Little to no evidence = low probability of being correct. 

Could it be that the scientists and those of us who think that love is merely a chemical process happening in the brain are all wrong? 

Yes, that is a possibility. But because it looks as if we have the higher probability of being right about this assumption, being wrong has a low probability and we won't fret about it. Needless to say, it is up to those who feel differently to demonstrate their claims convincingly, otherwise we have no reason to go from a high probability assumption to a low probability assumption.

So why exactly do I believe, after having given it a lot of consideration, that atheism is more rational than theism? Well, my reasoning goes something like the following.

My claim is atheists assume less. For example: 

The theist assumes God x 1 = 1 God.

The atheist assumes God x 0 = 0 God.

Since the atheistic view aligns with real world (testable) observation, mainly that there is no convincing evidence for the existence of God, no additional assumptions or arguments are required. 

The theistic view does not match real world (testable) observations, however, thus additional assumptions and arguments are required to get the belief off the ground and then sustain it.

Also, the testable part of the observation is important, because if it constitutes a reality, we should be able to make the same observation under the same conditions. Unable to do so would suggests that we might be mistaken about what we think we are observing. Religious beliefs of the supernatural variety have, to my knowledge, failed this prerequisite of testability making it seem far less likely that they constitute any given reality.

Hence the atheistic position is the simpler because it assumes less and, in turn, is easy to test. So much so that we find it matches with real world observation giving us a greater confidence in the assumption that atheism reflects one aspect of the given reality we are able to test and observe.

When I say atheism is more rational it is because it doesn't make unnecessary assumptions and doesn't try to amend failed a priori assumption ad hoc with respect to God-belief. In fact, the only way to force the atheist into a position of amending their atheism is to demonstrate the metaphysics of any given religion true via the classical means of empiricism (this assumes the Venn diagram of both the metaphysical sphere and physical sphere of existence are overlapping--if not then God would be impossible to verify via any recognizable causality, which means such a metaphysics which incorporates God has to be overlapping in order for anyone to discover said God in the first place). 

Positing unjustifiable claims of certitude for undemonstrated claims which often times defy reason is, I would venture, slightly less rational than reserving one's conclusions until convincing evidence is forthcoming.

***

So in the atheistic theory there are no Gods and this matches with observation but with the theistic theory which states that there is a God we find that this does not match with observation, at least not in the way we'd commonly expect, thus on this basis that atheists aren't assuming more than they can know, deluding themselves, or being delusional (i.e. believing in things that aren't there or aren't real), makes atheists more rational; if not also more prudent.

On the other hand, if theists are seeing something atheists are not, then it is up to them (the theist) to provide the evidence and demonstrate their claims thereby justifying their belief that God exists. 

Not to do so would also make them less rational since, technically speaking, they are the ones making the positive claim which is apparently contradicted by observation.

I'll be the first to admit, however, that atheists could be wrong. But if we atheists are wrong, then common sense dictates that it should be quite easy for theists to provide undeniable evidence for the existence of God, and atheists would happily change their minds accordingly. But this clearly hasn't happened. 

Could all atheists be deluded in the same way we claim believers are? No. Why not? Because our assumptions match with observation. So we're not deluding ourselves to the truth of the matter. 

Additionally, the theist demand for the atheist to prove there are no God(s) is asking us atheists to prove a negative which is already in agreement with observation. We do not have evidence for God, we do not observer anything that could justify the belief in God, and so it is perfectly reasonable to believe, as atheists do, that there is no God. This being the case, asking us to prove what already seems to be the case given our current understanding is an irrational demand, once again making theists less rational than atheists. (Granted, only the theists making this demand would be making irrational demands, making them only slightly more irrational than theists which don't.)

Given these considerations, I think it is fair to say that atheism is more rational than theism.

Any arguments for theism, or even to counter the atheist position, would have to automatically assume more than atheism does thereby giving rise to a greater probability that the theist is wrong. After such arguments are made, it is a matter of demonstrating them and taking them to their ultimate conclusion.

I dare say though that after thousands of years of belief in God it seems that theists are still making the same variety of arguments, usually putting a new spin on them here or there (usually to better account for discoveries in science and our better understanding of the universe), but still there is no trace of God.

After two thousand years of failed theistic arguments, not to mention a complete and utter lack of demonstration (and not for a lack of trying either), the only thing we can be sure of is the atheist position has never had to assume anything more and therefore remains the more reasonable position. 

As with the above example of love, the question becomes what convincing reasons do atheists have for going from a high probability assumption to a low probability assumption with regard to their belief?

Atheism: God is not something which exists + Lots of evidence, or rather lack thereof, which suggests this assumption is correct = high probability of being correct.

Theism: God is something which exists + Little to no evidence (matches with atheists level of evidence, or rather lack thereof) = low probability of being correct. 

The answer is there are no convincing reasons to compel us atheists to go from a high probability to a low probability belief assumption, otherwise there wouldn't be such a thing as atheists. Therefore atheism remains the more reasonable position.

Atheists do not pretend to know more than they possibly can. They have no evidence, so their belief reflects this. Theists think they have ample evidence, but they continually fail to meet the burden of proof yet continue to pretend to know with certainty the things they have no proof for, therefore the theist position is less rational.

In fact, the beauty of atheism is is that the only way to truly falsify it is to successfully demonstrate God beyond a shadow of doubt so that it would convince all and every rational minded person in the existence of said God. But this has not happened--not for the Christian God--not for any god. Therefore atheism remains the more rational position to take with respect to belief in God.



Monday, April 7, 2014

The Morals of Cannibal Mice: Excerpt from my upcoming book The Swedish Fish



Excerpt from Chapter 25: Aliens, Serial Killers, and Cenobites! Oh, My!

Look, if mice can ‘morally’ eat their babies, then perhaps a creature more highly evolved than us can rape, torture and murder human beings in accord with their interests. And if this is possible, then it could be the case with Ramirez. (Randal Rauser, The Swedish Atheist, p.120.)



Again, Randal is confused about the way evolution apparently works. If, for example, a mouse evolved a moral awareness and realized that eating its young was morally wrong, that would be in accordance with evolution, because it would represent a mouse passing along its genetic traits more successfully—namely a mouse that refrains from eating its young has a better chance of propagating its genes than one which eats its young. 


But the only way to say, as Randal does, that a mouse might evolve in such a way as to suggest eating its young could somehow be morally good could only happen if eating its young somehow advanced the well-being of the mouse in such a way that directly lends itself to a greater success of propagating its genes so there would be later generations of cannibal mice for evolution to work upon--which could not happen, you see, since all the young mice would have been eaten before their cute little fury cannibal genes could have ever been passed along.(ft.111)

[Mouse breeder Cait McKeown explains that first time mothers often will eat their entire litters if the babies are sick, if the mother is stressed or if the males are not separated from the females after the appropriate given time. But this isn’t to say the mothers always eat their young. Under the right conditions, the mother may have no reason to eat her babies. See: http://www.fancymice.info/birth.htm]

Friday, April 4, 2014

How the Internet Slayed God Like a Jaeger Slaying a Kaiju



Imagine an ultimately powerful being who rules for eons over his creation. Imagine now that this seemingly invincible being was snared by a web, in this case a web which spanned an entire world, and once subdued, the creation turned on this being, like a Jaeger turning on a Kaiju, and with a million billion Occam razors they descended upon this monstrosity and relentlessly hacked away at their antiquated God until the beast died.

And this God did not die with a resounding lamentation, or even the question as to why its creation rejected it, but he died in silence. For this God was simply usurped by a more powerful deity--the bulwark of all human knowledge and ingenuity. 

Perhaps you will better recognize this God-slaying champion by it's commercial name: the Internet.




The MIT Technology Review we reports that the rise of the Internet correlates directly to the rise of atheism and nonbelief. Although correlation does not imply causation, there is more to the data than just the simple growth of Internet use and subsequent decline of faith in God. But don't take my word for it, read the findings of the study for yourself!



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Saudi Arabia Welcomes You to the Seventh Century!


In Saudi Arabia, a Muslim society, where "As-salamu alaykum" or "Peace be upon you" flows so easily from their lips, in a crackdown against so-called 'political dissidents' and by decree of King Abdullah they have made it illegal to be an atheist by declaring all atheists terrorists.

What does this mean in the land where "Peace be upon you" flows so easily from their lips?

It means anyone who is caught advocating atheism, and presumably anything resembling atheistic thought such as secularism, separation of religion and politics, or even godless science will be declared a terrorist and will receive up to 20 years mandatory jail time, according to the Royal Decree 44 issued by King Abdullah.

In the land where "Peace be upon you" flows so easily from Muslim lips, the greatest threat to what you believe is what other people don't believe. 

In the land where "Peace be upon you" flows so easily from Muslim lips, it seems that if you truly wanted peace, you'd have to actually mean what you say, and ignore insular minded, self-serving, ignorant kings.

But who would dare challenge a person willing to toss you into jail to spend the rest of your life simply for what you believe--or more specifically, what you don't believe?

In Saudi Arabia, where they say things like "As-salamu alaykum" or "Peace be upon you" we know now that it is only said as a cruel joke.

To learn more on this shocking display of insular minded reasoning by Saudi Arabia, follow the link:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-declares-all-atheists-are-terrorists-in-new-law-to-crack-down-on-political-dissidents-9228389.html

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist