Objective Deliciousness

The NPR blog has a shortish post on “What If Heaven Is Not For Real,” written by self-declared agnostic Adam Frank. You can probably guess what he’s going to say, and I’m not going to say much for or against it. But I do want to take note of the comments, and this one in particular.

JW: That is a very profound verse. Do you believe that there is objective morality?

I’ve heard that argument so many times, and read it in so many books of apologetics (including C. S. Lewis et al), and of course it’s a huge red herring. But just for fun, let’s see how many ways we can come up with to try and make it clear, even to believers, that this is a bad argument. My entry: “Objective Deliciousness.”

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Truth-seekers and god-slayers

PZ Myers is annoyed by the fact that, when it comes core, fundamental, human values, many atheists are as bad as believers, if not outright worse. In the eyes of some, “atheism” means only “lack of god-belief,” which means atheism cannot imply anything more than that, which means that atheism implies some kind of amoral anarchy, above and beyond mere unbelief. So which is it? Does atheism imply nothing more than absence of belief, or does it imply that “they’re right and you’re wrong?” You can’t have it both ways.

In truth, atheism absolutely does have implications beyond mere absence of belief in supernatural father figures. A world without gods to take responsibility for everything is a world where we ourselves are responsible. Atheism implies that we have work to do, morally, socially, and scientifically. And maybe that’s the reason why some unbelievers would rather not acknowledge anything more than just the absence of gods. But I suspect it goes deeper than that. I think what we’re seeing today is the emergence of two broadly-defined tribes within atheism, two different types of atheists, whom I designate as truth-seekers and god-slayers.

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Everyone knows God is a myth—sorta

PZ Myers has a few words to say about Christians like Kevin Sorbo who blithely insist that all atheists secretly believe in God.

So when these loons make all this effort to tell me what I really believe, I wonder how they’d respond if I declared that they were all secretly atheists themselves, that in their hearts they were positive that this god they declaim never was, that Jesus was a deluded fanatic, that prayer is a complete waste of time. It’s a rather dishonest argument, don’t you think? I’m right, but everyone who disagrees is lying about their true opinion, therefore my support is unanimous?

He’s right, that would indeed be a dishonest argument. There’s one fascinating difference though. There’s a bright, clear line between the things an imaginary person can be given credit for, and the things you must be a real person to do. And with few exceptions, every believer knows where that line is, and knows that God will never cross it in real life. He can cross the line in stories and legends and hearsay, of course, but never in real life. In fact, Christians will be offended if you dare to suggest that He should. They will never admit, even to themselves, that they know God is a mythical being. But that line is always there, and they’re very protective about keeping God inside it.

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Hustling the Gospel

Writing for the Huffington Post, Pastor Rick Henderson explains Why There Is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist.

While it is true that there is no definitive atheistic worldview, all atheists share the same fundamental beliefs as core to their personal worldviews. While some want to state that atheism is simply a disbelief in the existence of a god, there really is more to it. Every expression of atheism necessitates at least three additional affirmations…

What follows is another one of those arguments where morality is supposed to come from God, and therefore without God there can be no good or evil, and therefore atheists can’t be “good” because they’ve denied the existence of good and evil. What’s interesting is the way Pastor Rick introduces this particular scam.

For those of you who are eager to pierce me with your wit and crush my pre-modern mind, allow me to issue a challenge. I contend that any response you make will only prove my case. Like encountering a hustler on the streets of Vegas, the deck is stacked, and the odds are not in your favor.

The atheist is talking with the pastor, but he’s being hustled, because the pastor has stacked the deck. I’ve seen believers pull this particular hustle before, but Pastor Rick is the first one to openly admit he’s using dishonest tactics to achieve his goal. But let’s lay all our cards on the table and check out his “three additional affirmations” and then see who deserves to win this particular hand.

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Ultimate authority

Whatever it may sell itself as to believers, presuppositionalism in practice usually boils down to a loose collection of contrived and superficial “gotcha” dialogs in which the entire skeptical worldview ends up “exposed” as self-contradictory and invalid. The catch is that creating this illusion requires that the unbeliever stick to some rigid and narrow constraints on what they’re supposed to say. It’s a schtick that works best with 1-dimensional bad guys, who oppose the hero only to make the hero look good.

Real skeptics don’t talk or think like cartoons, however, so when the presuppositionalist tries to interact with a real live skeptic, they end up floundering around trying to force the conversation back into the canned script. Sometimes they meet unbelievers who haven’t thought much about the topic, and are easily steered, but if the skeptic knows anything at all about philosophy, epistemology, and phenomenology, the result can be a series of exchanges so disjointed they border on the surreal. For example, here’s Murk trying to respond to my observation that religious beliefs are necessarily subjective perceptions rather than verifiable objective fact.

“you’d be walking by proof, not walking by faith.” not true- boils down to ultimate authority – we all have one – what is yours again?

His response seems only tangentially related, if not completely disconnected, from the observation he’s trying to respond to. But that’s because he’s trying to get back to a script in which rationalism is really the vain assumptions of a conceited heart. I didn’t say anything that would support such a conclusion, but that’s beside the point. He’s here to have the scripted conversation from his apologetics texts, no matter how the real-world conversation may be proceeding. [Read more…]

The presuppositional proof of atheism

I was thinking this morning about the presuppositionalist’s argument for God, and it occurred to me that in fact, presuppositionalism is really rather an effective disproof of theism in general and Christianity in particular. Consider this snippet from Pastor Stephen Feinstein’s third post in his debate with Russell Glasser.

I am not sure how familiar you are with Thomas Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument… Have you studied the 10-step argument as outlined in Summa Theologica I, Question 2, Article 3? Just for the purpose of classical education, I recommend it. Although I reject the semi-pelagian presuppositions of the classical argumentation for the existence of God, Aquinas actually gets somewhere good between the 5th and 6th step.

The Gospel tells us that God is a loving heavenly Father, more so than any earthly father. And yet, how many children do you know, who have loving earthly fathers actively and personally involved in their daily lives, who need to resort to an advanced study of medieval philosophy, ontology, and epistemology, just to find a line of reasoning abstruse and convoluted enough to persuade them that their father necessarily even exists?

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Atheism on CNN

An atheist mother got a big reaction when one of her posts got published on CNN iReport.

[Deborah] Mitchell, a mother of two teenagers in Texas who feels “immersed in Christianity,” started a blog about raising her children without religion because she felt frustrated and marginalized. She didn’t want to feel so alone, she says.

This week, she gained a whole new audience and the reassurance that she’s not alone. Her essay on CNN iReport, “Why I Raise My Children Without God,” drew 650,000 page views, the second highest for an iReport, and the most comments of any submission on the citizen journalism platform.

As you might expect, a lot of the reaction was critical and knee-jerky, but there were also a number of responses like this one:

“Thank you for writing this. I agree with everything you say, but I’m not brave enough to tell everyone I know this is how I feel,” a woman who called herself an “agnostic mommy of two in Alabama” posted in the comments. “Thank you for your bravery and letting me know I’m not alone.”

A great read to start the week with.

An informal competition

In honor of the new year, I’m going to try something different. We’ve seen a few billboards over the years whose goal is to promote atheism in some way. Some have been good, some have been meh, and a few have been counterproductive (in many people’s eyes, at least). We need more good ones.

So here’s my idea. Let’s have an informal contest to design a good billboard promoting atheism and/or skepticism. To enter, grab your favorite graphics program, put together a mockup whose proportions match a standard billboard size (but reduced to monitor-friendly pixel dimensions of course), and then put it up on Flickr or deviant art or some other online picture service and send me the link. Then at the end of January, 2013, I’ll nominate the 5 submissions I like best and put it up for a vote. It’s just for fun, and unfortunately I can’t promise any cash prize or anything, but maybe if we get some good designs, some individual or organization might pick one and make a real billboard out of it.

Official rules below the fold. [Addendum: in rule 3, clarified that entrants are responsible for securing their own licensing, permissions and releases for any materials and/or persons appearing in their entries.]

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