Friday, April 29, 2011

About a Friend

A writer for the Guardian, Martin Amis, attempts to capture the essence of Christopher Hitchens in this wonderful and eloquent pieceThe article contains contextually perfect quotes and humbling witticisms - a must read. 

I have utter respect for the Hitch, but at the same time I also can't help but think his friend Amis speaks powerfully in his final paragraphs:

My dear Hitch: there has been much wild talk, among the believers, about your impending embrace of the sacred and the supernatural. This is of course insane. But I still hope to convert you, by sheer force of zealotry, to my own persuasion: agnosticism. In your seminal book, God Is Not Great, you put very little distance between the agnostic and the atheist; and what divides you and me (to quote Nabokov yet again) is a rut that any frog could straddle. "The measure of an education," you write elsewhere, "is that you acquire some idea of the extent of your ignorance." And that's all that "agnosticism" really means: it is an acknowledgment of ignorance. Such a fractional shift (and I know you won't make it) would seem to me consonant with your character – with your acceptance of inconsistencies and contradictions, with your intellectual romanticism, and with your love of life, which I have come to regard as superior to my own.

The atheistic position merits an adjective that no one would dream of applying to you: it is lenten. And agnosticism, I respectfully suggest, is a slightly more logical and decorous response to our situation – to the indecipherable grandeur of what is now being (hesitantly) called the multiverse. The science of cosmology is an awesome construct, while remaining embarrassingly incomplete and approximate; and over the last 30 years it has garnered little but a series of humiliations. So when I hear a man declare himself to be an atheist, I sometimes think of the enterprising termite who, while continuing to go about his tasks, declares himself to be an individualist. It cannot be altogether frivolous or wishful to talk of a "higher intelligence" – because the cosmos is itself a higher intelligence, in the simple sense that we do not and cannot understand it.

Anyway, we do know what is going to happen to you, and to everyone else who will ever live on this planet. Your corporeal existence, O Hitch, derives from the elements released by supernovae, by exploding stars. Stellar fire was your womb, and stellar fire will be your grave: a just course for one who has always blazed so very brightly. The parent star, that steady-state H-bomb we call the sun, will eventually turn from yellow dwarf to red giant, and will swell out to consume what is left of us, about six billion years from now.

It's a Strange World in There

I am in the process of reading John Loftus' book Why I Became An Atheist and I came upon a wonderfully descriptive paragraph that sums up Christianity from the view of someone, I claim, who is completely unbiased and knows nothing about religion.  It is in the beginning of Chapter 7: The Strange and Superstitious World of the Bible.

"We find a world where a snake and a donkey talked, where giants lived in the land, where people could live to be nine-hundred-plus years old, where a woman was turned into a pillar of salt, where a pillar of fire could lead people by night, where the sun stopped moving across the sky or could even back up, where an ax head could float on water, where a star could point down to a specific home, where people could instantly speak in unlearned foreign languages, and where someone's shadow or handkerchief could heal people.  It is a world where a flood could cover the whole earth, and where a man could walk on water, calm a stormy sea, change water into wine, or be swallowed by a "great fish" and live to tell about it.  It is a world populated by demons that could wreak havoc on earth and aslo make people very sick.  It is a world full of idol worship, where human and animal sacrifices pleased God.  In this world we find visions, inspired dreams, prophetic utterances, miracle workers, magicians, diviners, and sorcerers.  It is a world where God lived in the sky (heaven) and people who died went to live in the dark recesses of the earth (Sheol)."

I can't believe these things happened.  Perhaps if I witnessed several of these situations, and there was a large group of people who claimed to have experienced them as well, would I begin to think "Something strange is going on here.  Maybe it's time to rethink my view of reality."  Either that or "I drank way too much Absinthe."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hitchens' Address to American Atheists

Such an eloquent man.  Thank you to Pharyngula.

Christopher Hitchens was scheduled to appear at the American Atheist convention, but had to cancel because of his illness. He sent this letter instead.

Dear fellow-unbelievers,
Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstitition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.

That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit...) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson's wall of separation. And don't keep the faith.

Christopher Hitchens

Friday, April 22, 2011

Psalm 14:1

I cannot quite remember where I heard the reference to this scripture.

1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.  2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. 3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD. 5 There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous. 6 Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the LORD is his refuge. 7 Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

I thought God loved everyone?  Including me, a non-believer!  How am I corrupt?  I find it fulfilling to be truthful and honest.  What are my abominable works?  I always listen to my students when they have problems.  I do not do good things?  My wife, my family, my co-workers, my friends and strangers would attest to the fact of my altruism.  If I am working towards an understanding of how our wonderful world works, am I not seeking the truth?  How am I filthy?  I may be a 'worker of iniquity', but I have much knowledge.  Am I a cannibal?  OK, I know that is not a literal translation, but hey, who am I to know what God would have me understand in a literal or figurative sense? 

Darn it, this saddens me...OK no it doesn't.  I will always be on an ethical quest for knowledge and if this is frowned upon by the Christain God who apparently made me the way I am, then well now I'm just confused.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Evidence 4 Faith

I try to be unbiased and listen to both sides of any argument.  I cannot be quick to judge, especially since I am a teacher.  But when it comes to the guys at Evidence 4 Faith, I just have to speak my mind.  This is a Christian apologetic blog and podcast site.  The podcast I was listening to was Choosing among the world's religions

The first thing that should sound the alarms is one host stating that someone proved to him that God exists.  I shouldn't have to elaborate on the consequences of this.  Next, the other host attempts to explain how to prove God's existence.  How you may ask?  By looking around at the natural world.  "This is a God thing.  God must have done this."  The logical fallacy meter is now broken.  "I can see God in nature.  I can see natural order.  I can see things that go well beyond the primordial soup."  What does this even mean?  "There are great evidences in the natural world that we can see if were open to looking for them."  They go on to describe the beauty of the stars and of the pictures of cells at the sub-microscopic level.  I can absorb this beauty and let it fill me with awe and wonder, but I am not invoking their wants. 

Later on they state that "all religions cannot all be true.  One of us is wrong.  You can't have everybody correct in their choice of religion."  No justification.  Wow!  I didn't know pluralism was invalid.  News to me.  I have heard apologists state that all religions might not be true, but never definitively like this. 

Next point: they claim there definitively was a beginning with the Big Bang.  Now I know this is the reigning theory of how all the cosmos came into existence, but the way they fashion this statement is intellectually dishonest.  "This is how the atheist attempts to explain our origins.  You can't create nothing out of nothing."  The way apologists make this claim seems arrogant in its defiance of how the process that is science works. 

The next section's focus is lost on me.  "The Big Bang, I call it the Big Flash on purpose because in space there is a vaccuum, you don't have noise you don't have the Big Bang per se.  Flash of light, and I try to frame this in Einstein's equation E = mc^2, which means the energy is equal to mass, the mass of the planets and the universe and everything, times the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second, squared, which is an astronomical number.  If you look at that in the context of energy and mass and light, yes there was a Big Flash, and that's my news flash to the secular humanists."  I was truly at a loss for words when I heard this.  Does this man think that because he remembered the speed of light and one of Einstein's equations, that he is now a cosmologist?  No where does he state how this equation has anything to do with the Big Bang, Flash I'm sorry.  The sad thing is that the Christians hearing him attempting to sound scientifically literate are thiking to themselves, "Wow, this guy is smart.  God must exist and Christianity must be true if he says so."

Next: We can learn that God is a personal God by studying nature.  He has volition and is conscious and has thoughts.  If we read a holy text and that God is not described like that then we know this religion is not correct.  How is God's "personal" side reflected in the beauty of a landscape of snow-capped mountains?  When I walk through a forest I do not stop at the stream and conclude that some deity has thoughts, let alone that I can realize what those thoughts are. 

The "connections" these guys try to make are not even connections.  They seem to be rambling on incoherently with a smitter of science and a smatter of 'feel-good, Christian God is conscious and loves you' talk.  For them to be propagating their rhetoric to the world through this podcast is dishonest and disingenuous.  Period.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

More Craig/Sinnott

OK so I am posting another tidbit about this debate. At one point in the debate, WLC and Walter are answering questions posed by the audience. One person asked Walter "On what basis would you respond to the evidence for Jesus rising from the dead and its relevance to God and the problem of evil?" Sinnott supplies a wonderful analogy. First, he states that he does not think there is sufficient evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He says there is some historical evidence that some people reported that the grave was empty after 3 days. He then explains how a psychologist would analyze this testimony from 3 decades after the fact. When they are surrounded by peer pressure which points them in a specific direction, this is exactly when eyewitness testimony is not reliable. Naturally, we would not accept this kind of evidence in a court of law.

Now the good stuff. He states 'even if the grave were empty, this would not show that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. That's like saying if I have a point of my favorite ice cream, which by the way happens to be Coconut Almond Fudge Chip by Ben and Jerry's, in the freezer and I am dying to have some when I come home and it's not there and my daughter Miranda says "I didn't take it" and my son Nick says "I didn't take it" and my wife Liz says "I didn't take it", that I conclude that the ice cream ascended into heaven and sitting at the right hand of Ben and Jerry.'

Friday, April 8, 2011

Gratuitous Evil: God's Dagger

So I am listening to a debate between William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott. This is one where Craig's opponent actually gets to speak first. In watching the thread at Debunking Christianity the other day about WLC vs Sam Harris, I realized that WLC always speaks first. This in itself is interesting. However, I digress. WLC begins with "As a strictly intellectual problem" (ignoring emotion), "the problem of evil does not constitute a disproof of God." Well duh! There can never be a proof of a negative. Here is where WLC summarizes Sinnott's argument: 1) If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist. By this WLC means "evil which is morally unjustified, evil which God would have no morally sufficient reason to commit." 2) Gratuitous evil exists. 3) Therefore, God d.n.e. Now of course as a math teacher I will use shorthand notation whenever I can.

Let's look at WLC's interjection between 1) and 2). Gratuitous evil is evil which God would have no morally sufficient reason to commit. Why does God need a reason to do anything? If God is the supreme being of all that has ever and will ever exist, does he need to act morally according to human standards? How does the objective morality exuding from God translate into a code which humans must live by in order to attain salvation? I know, I know, it seems like salvation comes only in our dreams. Wait a minute, that's Nine Inch Nails. I digress again. If evil is something which we should try not to be, why does our supposed creator make evil seem the way it does to us humans, as, well evil, even if it is supposed to balance the cosmic scales at some future time?

I am now reading this to my wife,(so she can proof read it - I suck at writing) and I think she just realized that she is not a Catholic or a Christian. Her beliefs would categorize her as a pantheist or animist, I'm not sure.

Anyway, I might report on the rest of the debate, but for now these are my thoughts.