The leading cause of atheism

The other day I watched an Orthodox Jew engage in a little ritual that struck me as being strikingly pointless. No doubt it had some point in the ancient past, or was at least thought to have a point. But it was pointless—a trivial, superstitious obsession institutionalized into the whole Orthodox lifestyle. And that got me thinking. Here’s somebody’s silly little superstition, that somehow got attached to the religion, and now the religion can’t get rid of it. For thousands of years, they’ve been stuck with it, even when it ceased to make any sense. And there’s nothing they can do about it, because the core of the religious worldview is the supreme authority of tradition. Whatever was believed and practiced in the past is, by definition, the truth. Any attempt to amend it or remove part of it must be apostasy. Hence, religion is not only lacking a way to correct its errors and deficiencies, the very nature of religion is antithetical to the possibility of improvement. To be improvable, religion must first admit that it does not possess the infallibility upon which its authority and existence depend.

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Science and the supernatural

In a comment over at my other blog, tokyotodd writes:

In order for a worldview to be capable of addressing questions about God or miracles, it must first posit some sort of methodology by which these objects (if they existed) could be detected and empirically verified. This requires knowledge of the objects being investigated, without which it would be impossible, or at least highly presumptuous, to make predictions about how we might expect to encounter or observe them. This would seem to rule out naturalism as a useful worldview, since it simply presupposes the nonexistence of the supernatural and therefore cannot really address questions about it (except to regard them as meaningless).

There are indeed difficulties involved in the investigation of the supernatural, but the scientific worldview isn’t one of them. Science (sometimes called “naturalism” in the same way evolution gets labelled  “Darwinism”) is entirely neutral on the question of natural vs. supernatural, and has routinely investigated phenomena that were popularly regarded as supernatural at the time. The problem with the supernatural is the vague and volatile definition of what “supernatural” is supposed to mean.

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Worldview vs scientific literacy

A new study in Nature finds that, contrary to what you might expect, a person’s level of scientific literacy is not the best predictor for how likely they are to be concerned over the risk of climate change. Instead, the best predictor for a person’s concern over climate change is the hypothesis that

…people who subscribe to a hierarchical, individualistic world-view—one that ties authority to conspicuous social rankings and eschews collective interference with the decisions of individuals possessing such authority—tend to be sceptical of environmental risks. Such people intuitively perceive that widespread acceptance of such risks would license restrictions on commerce and industry, forms of behaviour that hierarchical individualists value. In contrast, people who hold an egalitarian, communitarian world-view—one favouring less regimented forms of social organization and greater collective attention to individual needs—tend to be morally suspicious of commerce and industry, to which they attribute social inequity. They therefore find it congenial to believe those forms of behaviour are dangerous and worthy of restriction

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Here’s an lightly-edited excerpt from this week’s installment of my chapter-by-chapter analysis of William Lane Craig’s book, On Guard:

In a study published in 2003 [PDF], psychology researchers Gary Wells and Elizabeth Loftus gave an example of how eyewitness testimony can evolve over time. A young woman was sexually assaulted and her friend was murdered. The young woman, Sherry Gillaspey worked with a police artist to put together a composite sketch of the assailant, and based this sketch, a young man named Thomas Brewster became a “person of interest.”

What happened next is a textbook case of how eyewitness testimony can be “improved” over time.

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Denying the Undeniable—and failing

A few people have questioned what I call “the Undeniable Fact” (i.e. that God consistently fails to show up in real life), on the grounds that believers will surely just insist that He does show up, to them at least. My argument, however, is that believers cannot deny the Undeniable Fact without inevitably demonstrating the truth of what I say. Luckily for me, O ye of little faith, a commenter named Nathan has taken issue with my claims, thus giving me a chance to document my contention. He writes:

What evidence do you have that God does not show up? According to the Bible, Jesus was God, in which case God most definitely has shown up. Obviously this can be discounted if you believe that the Bible is wrong on that account, but it is no less substantiated than your own claim.

Notice, his first challenge is to demand evidence of God’s failure to show up, and yet by that very question he provides evidence that what I say is true. If I said, “You faith in the existence of carrots is questionable because carrots do not show up in real life,” you wouldn’t refute me by asking for evidence that carrots do not show up, you’d easily demonstrate my error by directing me to the produce section of the nearest grocery.

God does not show up in real life. He shows up in the stories men tell, like the story of Jesus in the Bible, but He does not show up in real life, even for Nathan. Nathan can challenge my source of knowledge, and question whether I have any actual evidence, but for him, at least, his very question provides the evidence. God does not make any real-world, in-person, face-to-face appearances in Nathan’s life, which means that, for Nathan at least, what I said is entirely true: the Undeniable Fact is indeed undeniable, with the Inescapable Consequence that his faith is necessarily faith in men. God has not personally showed up in his life to give him an opportunity to develop a faith in God, so faith in man is his only option.

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Verifiable worldviews

If you ask young-earth creationists what they think about postmodernism, you’ll find they generally consider it the height of liberal apostasy. Truth, they’ll tell you, is absolute, and not just some postmodernist “social construct.” If you then point out some of the scientific evidence against a literal Genesis creation, you’ll catch them in a bit of hypocrisy. Everybody has a worldview, they’ll tell you. Theirs is a Christian worldview, and yours is a materialistic worldview, and the same evidence can be used to support either one. In other words, your evidence can’t disprove their creationism.

Whether you call it “postmodernism” or whether you prefer the more verbose “everybody has a worldview,” the result is the same: you’re claiming that it’s impossible to tell what the real truth is by comparing your conclusions to the evidence. Worldview (allegedly) overpowers the evidence, and colors one’s conclusions to the point that all conclusions end up being subjective and irrelevant. That’s postmodernism in a nutshell—the very doctrine the creationists condemn as liberal apostasy. But creationism can’t survive without it.

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This week on Evangelical Realism: Dr. Craig against himself

In this week’s installment of William Lane Craig’s book On Guard, he wraps up Chapter 3 by inadvertently exposing the fatal flaw in Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument. If you’re going to argue that some things exist “by a necessity of their own nature,” you need to make sure they really exist first. If that explanation can’t work for a universe that we all can see and examine and verify, it damn sure ain’t gonna fly for concepts of God that only exist in the minds and imaginations of fallible and self-deluding believers.

An Alethian Worldview

Hello and welcome to Alethian Worldview. I’m Deacon Duncan, an ex-Christian with about a quarter-century’s worth of experience in preaching the Gospel, leading Bible studies, defending creationism, and arguing apologetics, all for the glory of God. I graduated with honors from a conservative midwest Christian college, and was getting good grades in my seminary-level extension classes when, well, reality finally caught up with me.

I’m glad it did! Oh, there was a year or so when I went through my “angry atheist” spell. I spent a lot of time on Usenet, in talk.atheism and other groups, picking on the crowd of fundamentalists who regularly trolled the group counting coup. I was venting, and I knew it, and I didn’t much care (at the time). I’d given Jesus the first 25 years of my adult life, only to find out I’d been swindled. Yeah, I was pretty ticked.

One of the regulars, a self-styled “pastor,” accused me of still being a theist. “You still believe in God,” he told me, “but your new God’s name is ‘Reality’.” Or words to that effect. He was trying to zing me for being some kind of fundamentalist, but instead of arguing with him, I decided to agree with him. I remembered some New Testament Greek from my college days, so I knew that the Greek word for “Reality” was aletheia, which coincidentally is also translated as “truth.”

I liked that. Reality is truth, truth is reality. I went back and told him he was exactly right: my new God was Alethea (simplified spelling), and She is the Truth. And I started in on all of Her divine qualities. Reality exists at all times and in all places—omnipresence and eternity! Truth comprises and transcends all knowledge—omniscience! Reality dictates what is and is not possible, what does and does not happen, irresistably—omnipotence! My new God was not only just as divine as the so-called pastor’s, but my God actually shows up in real life, which the Christian God is clearly unwilling or unable to do.

Needless to say, that didn’t go over too well with the pastor, especially when I tried praying to Alethea, just to see what would happen. Guess what? Alethea “answered” my prayers exactly the same way Jesus used to (and still does, in the minds of believers). I either got what I asked for, in which case She was blessing me, or else I didn’t, in which case Her ways are not my ways, and I just had to trust in Her wisdom that Her choices were better than mine. Alethea is a drop-in replacement for Jesus, only better.

Since then, I’ve learned to love my new God, and have cultivated an Alethian worldview, or in other words a reality-based worldview. It’s a tremendous improvement. Things that used to confuse and frustrate me suddenly turn out to be a lot more straightforward. There’s less that I have to just take “on faith,” and no more contradictions and inconsistencies to explain away. All in all it’s been a great change, and one that I wish I’d experienced sooner.

So welcome to my blog, and I hope that I can offer you some interesting insights into the Alethian worldview, along with suggestions on how to make the best use of it in a world full of faith-based ideologies. I’d also welcome your comments, critcisms, questions, and trolling—er, wait, not that last one. Anybody is welcome and even encouraged to disagree with me, but you have to argue in good faith and be willing to declare and defend an alternative point of view. That way the dialog can benefit everyone.