The subjective choices of religion

Our old friend Murk has returned with a reply to a comment on one of my older posts. Rather than let it languish in the past, I’d like to reply to it up front. Let’s start by reconstructing the thread of the conversation so far.

KEVIN: Yeah, murk. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. You see, there’s this little problem you theists have. It’s one of a plethora of choices. You claim that your choice is the correct one. OK, fine. But every single person who believes in the supernatural makes the same claim.

MURK: Let me see if i get this straight – many choice = non-existence? by analogy then since there are many counterfeit moneys there is no real one? the counterfeit is dependent on the real my friend.

DEACON DUNCAN: Not quite. The problem is not just that there are many choices, it’s that all the choices are based on subjective preference, in the absence of any objective means of demonstrating that any of them is actually true. After all, if you had objective proof that any of them were correct, you’d be walking by proof, not walking by faith.

So far so good, eh? Granted, Murk is making a bad analogy with his counterfeit money example, and I didn’t address that specifically. I wanted to focus on the weakness of the theological argument, which is the lack of a “gold standard” against which you can apply the various conflicting theological positions. We know that counterfeit money is fake precisely because there is a real-world standard to compare it to. No similar standard exists for the innumerable, conflicting versions of the story about what god(s) ought to be, and what he/she/it/they expect from us.

Turnabout’s fair play, so Murk wants to pick apart my response and see if he can find any weaknesses in it.

” it’s that all the choices are based on subjective preference,” is this an objective claim? if so by what standard?

My replies are below the fold.

[Read more…]

Opinions

I said it again the other day, but then I had second thoughts. “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion,” I said, but is that really true? Have you ever thought about the full range of opinions we’re implicitly endorsing by saying everyone is entitled to believe whatever they believe?

[Read more…]

Trust vs trust

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I think it’s also worth mentioning that their are two kinds of trust. Our friend murk seems to think that only believers acknowledge that their beliefs are based on trust, and that skeptics are mistakenly assuming they don’t need to trust. He seems to think that this is because only God is trustworthy, and skeptics don’t want to trust God.

What he’s overlooking is the fact that there are two kinds of trust: there’s reality-based trust, which skeptics have, and then there’s the kind of trust where you believe what someone tells you, even though it isn’t really consistent with what we find in material reality. That latter form of trust has acquired a bad name: gullibility. But why is gullibility a bad thing? Because we’ve learned through experience that gullibility deceives you and makes you more likely to be wrong. Yet among believers, believing what you’re told, despite the evidence, is considered a spiritual virtue. It’s called “faith,” and it’s seen as a sign of closeness to God and as a source of spiritual insights. Small wonder, then, that this kind of “faith” leads to so many different kinds of belief.

[Read more…]

Gospel Hypothesis 1: The nature of revelation

[This is the first post in a series comparing the Gospel Hypothesis with the Myth Hypothesis in the light of Occam’s Razor.]

One of the reasons apologetics does so well with a lot of people is because skeptics try to prove that religion is wrong. In other words, the issue focuses on a binary question regarding religion: is it true or is it false? So long as believers can come up with an answer—any answer—to skeptical objections, they will feel justified in continuing to believe regardless of the evidence. And because humans are so good at rationalization, there will always be some answer.

Instead of focusing on the question of whether religion is flat out wrong, we want to take a comparative approach, demonstrating that, even if someone thinks they have good reasons for believing in religion, there are even better reasons for believing that religion is a myth. This makes the apologist’s job more difficult, because then it’s not enough to think up some random, unverifiable rationalization. In fact, random, unverifiable rationalizations may even begin to hurt the case for religion, by highlighting the fact that skepticism doesn’t need them.

[Read more…]

Gospel Disproof #51: No good arguments for God

I’m going to piggyback off an excellent post by The Uncredible Hallq on the topic of whether there are any good arguments for God. You often hear Christian apologists protest that, when you disprove Apologetic Argument X, you still have not disproved the existence of God, because you haven’t addressed Apologetic Argument Y (and when you address Y, then they’ll claim you need to address Z, etc. etc.). All the apologist has to do is keep drawing one more line in the sand, indefinitely, in order to claim that the skeptic has failed to cross the right one.

Despite this ingenious exercise in goalpost-moving, though, the nature of the arguments themselves is enough to establish the fact that there are no good (i.e. valid and reliable) arguments for the existence of a deity like the Christian God.

[Read more…]

A modest baseline

I’ve been staying out of the current debate over sexism/feminism because frankly it’s a bigger issue than I have time to address. It’s a big deal, though, so here’s at least a couple cents worth: I’d like to propose a modest baseline for inter-gender interactions, and I’d like to aim it particularly at guys.

The baseline is this: before interacting with a casual female acquaintance, I want you to imagine someone you find sexually unattractive. I think, for example, a lot of you might not be attracted to, say, the comic book guy from the Simpsons. Whatever attention you wish to pay to your casual female acquaintance, imagine yourself receiving the same kind of attention from the comic book guy, with exactly the same feelings and motivations. Would it bug you? Would it be unwelcome? If so, assume that you do not have a right to behave that way towards your female acquaintance. You may eventually earn the right, but don’t just assume you have it, or that you can quickly earn it with the right “techniques,” any more than the comic book guy could with you.

That’s a modest and inadequate baseline, but I hope it might have some use as an exercise in promoting a bit of understanding and sympathy. And above all restraint.

 

A top ten list

Happy Easter everybody—I hope you all have prepared your colored eggs for Astarte, the pagan fertility goddess, and have filled your house with other fertility symbols like rabbits and such. Remember, Astarte is the reason for the season (and even gave it her name, slightly misspelled).

Oh yeah, and some guy died too. I suppose we ought to remember him. So here, by way of holiday celebration, I present the Top Ten Ways the Bible Tells Us Jesus Did Not Literally Rise From The Dead.

10.
If Jesus had been literally and physically raised from the dead, the tomb would not be empty—there would have been a living Jesus in it.
9.
If Mary had seen an angel fly down from heaven, roll away the stone, and tell her that Jesus had been raised from the dead (Matt 28:1-5), she would not have run to the disciples weeping over the missing corpse (John 20:1-2).
8.
If Jesus had been physically raised in a physical body, he would not spontaneously appear and disappear and change his shape to fool the disciples (Luke 24:28-36) and would not have needed to “prove” that he was not a spirit (Luke 24:36-43) by showing him his hands and feet and by eating their food—which angels and the pre-incarnate Jehovah can also do, even though they are supposedly spirits (Gen. 18:1-11).
7.
If Jesus had been physically raised from the dead, still bearing the wounds from his beatings, his crown of thorns, his crucifixion, and the spear thrust in his side, people would have noticed him walking to the room where his disciples were hiding, and he would not have been able to enter the room while the door was shut and/or locked (John 20:19, 26).
6.
The Sanhedrin would not have put a guard on the tomb because they had no reason to expect Jesus to rise from the dead (Matt. 27:62-65, cf John 2:19-21 and John 20:9—even the disciples were surprised!).
5.
If the priests found out Jesus had risen from the dead, they would have worried about Jesus, not about the empty tomb (Matt. 28:11-15).
4.
If Jesus had risen from the dead, the priests would have plotted to kill him again (John 12:9-11) instead of plotting to tell lies about the tomb.
3.
If the priests were going to bribe the guards to tell a lie, they would not have picked an obvious falsehood like “The disciples stole the body while we slept.” (Matt. 28:11-15.) If they were asleep, how would they know? Duh!
2.
If Jesus had literally and physically been raised from the dead, Paul would not have insisted that the body that was raised was a spiritual body rather than the body that was buried, and would not have expanded on this claim by insisting that the “last Adam” (i.e. Jesus) “became a life-giving Spirit” (I Cor. 15: 42-48).

[Read more…]

Why God can’t heal amputees

One of Mighty Timbo’s lost posts addresses the question of why God does not heal amputees. As with the question of why God doesn’t show up, though, he phrases the issue in such a way as to miss the most important aspects of the question.

The Atheist has likely never been witness to a miraculous healing or work of God, and when evidence is provided to him of one will often seek a scientific explanation. If none can be found it will often be labeled as a “fluke”, rather than a miracle, they then look to the miraculous things God didn’t do to prove he doesn’t exist, which is where this question comes in.

Notice how he tries to make it sound like the atheist’s problem, as though there were something wrong with seeking scientific explanations. But the atheist’s approach isn’t really the problem here. The problem is one of consistency.

[Read more…]

Does God show up through miracles?

Today I’d like to look at Mighty Timbo’s claim that he has evidence of God, in the form of a miracle that allegedly happened to his wife. It follows the traditional outline for miracle stories, so we can reasonably call this a typical case. And that’s a good thing because it also gives us at least the beginnings of an approach to understanding “miracles” in general. I’m going to go over a few of the general alternatives, and then (unlike Timbo) I’m going to suggest a way that we can objectively evaluate the evidence to find out which alternative is most consistent with real-world truth.

[Read more…]

I am Peter Ingersoll

When Mighty Timbo undertook his disproof of Mormonism, the first point he offered was eyewitness testimony by one Peter Ingersoll (or Ingersol, or Ingersall, not sure why there are so many different spellings), to the effect that Smith’s “Golden Bible” wasn’t really there. When I invited Timbo to submit that article, I told him that I would look for parallels between the weaknesses of Mormonism and the weaknesses of Christianity, and this is one of them. Just as Joseph Smith had eyewitnesses who could see for himself that the Book wasn’t really there, you and I and even Timbo himself are all eyewitnesses to the fact that Christianity’s God isn’t really there. In effect, we are all Peter Ingersolls, because we are eyewitnesses to God’s manifest absence from the real world.

[Read more…]