Monday, March 30, 2009

Is “God” a good answer?

I was reading on Debunking Christianity of a Christian who appreciated the skeptic’s arguments, yet maintains his belief in theism, in part, due to the Cosmological Argument:
Always I have been of the opinion that the unanswered questions of belief are much easier to live with than those of unbelief. For example (and this is a huge one for me), if I choose naturalism (which I see to be the only real alternative to theism), then I must accept that somewhere, at some time, something came into existence out of absolutely nothing. (For all the efforts of contemporary atheists to escape what Frank Hoyle [Ed. – I believe he meant “Fred Hoyle”] saw clearly as the implications of big bang cosmology, this consequence still stands undefeated.)

I don’t get why this argument resonates with theists. Oh…I understand wanting to know what happened at the Big Bang; wanting to know how the universe works—what made the clock start to tick. What I don’t get is why “God” is such a good answer.

Look, we have an innate desire to present an Answer to a Question. Present a solution to a difficulty. If you have picked up any relationship book written in the past 50 years, you have read how men are supposed to learn when women present them with a problem, they don’t want a solution—they just want someone to listen. We are informed, and have to learn and often fail in suppressing our natural inclination to present a solution before our wives have even finished relaying what happened!

And our universe presents some great questions. Like the Big Bang. Or the start of life. Or why deep-fried Twinkies taste good when regular Twinkies do not. And certainly we want answers to those questions. But we want actual answers—not some propped up idea that is both unhelpful and presents more questions!

I had a teacher who, whenever you prefaced a question with “I have a question” would always interrupt with “I have an answer; let’s see if they match.” This resulted in conversations like:

Student: I have a question—
Teacher: Good. I have an answer; let’s see if they match.
Student: --what chapters are we supposed to read?
Teacher: Oh, too bad. My answer was ‘Three blind mice.’

While I appreciate he was attempting to break us of the habit of prefacing a question with a useless clause—doing it every…single…time…became annoying. Yet I get that same sense with the convenience of God

“Where did the universe come from?”

“How did life form?”

“What keeps atoms from blowing apart?”

“How do we impose our moral sense on others?”
“Say God says it.”

“Is our few years of life it?”

“What if I am struggling with my current situation?”
“Don’t worry—God.”

Like the theist has the same perpetual answer for any difficult question. An answer that, in the end isn’t very helpful. It is that co-worker who, when you tell them your car wouldn’t start that morning, says, “There must be something wrong with your car.” Hey—thanks for the valuable insight. Never crossed my mind! I thought cars were supposed to not start!

How did God start the universe? The theist doesn’t know.
What morals does a God impose? The theist makes a guess.
How did God initiate life? The theist doesn’t know.
What exists after this world? The theist makes a guess.
What would a God do to help me today? The theist doesn’t know.

This is what puzzles me about this argument. If you are going to propose an “answer” to our problem—shouldn’t it progress us forward toward a resolution? Instead, the God hypothesis introduces another character we know even less about, with even less understanding (or equal) as to how the problem would be resolved.

I almost find this argument…lazy. Like looking for a solution is too hard to do. So much easier to presume there is this “Unknown Entity” and lay the credit at its feet.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Canard That Needs to Go

Updated...(see below)
Canard (noun) 1. A false or baseless usually derogatory story, report or rumor.

2. A duck intended or used for food.

On occasion, we hear the statement, “You atheists reject claims within the Bible because you presuppose supernatural things can’t happen.” Yeah, Dr. Craig—I’m looking at you! (If you have ever heard a debate with Dr. William Craig, this inevitably comes up—how one’s “philosophical” view affects one’s “historical” view.)

In one very slight aspect this concept is true—because we are convinced no god exists, we necessarily believe no god interacts in the world. The same way you believe there are no unicorns in your back yard results in you not believing the claim unicorns are doing anything in your backyard.

However, just as you are convinced it is more likely there are no unicorns because of the evidence you know—we are convinced there is no god because of the evidence we know.

See, we reject miraculous claims not because of some presupposition; but rather because we are convinced a natural explanation is more compelling. Or, in some situations, a possible natural explanation is more likely.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, for a moment, and demonstrate why it is not presuppositions; but rather proof. Take your average Christian. They obviously believe in a God. They believe in a God who interacts within our natural world. A God who “shifts” things from what would be a natural, normal course, to a new course. A miracle.

Your average Christian even prays that God would intervene. Rather than Aunt Jane dying from cancer, as would naturally occur—God would swoop in and stop the natural process. Rather than miss a job interview, God would strategically place the Christian miraculously next to the perfect employer on their next plane flight.

Your average Christian believes in a God who is so mighty, He could perform momentous miracles--spin the continents with a passing thought, and so conscientious He can perform the tiniest of interferences—a smile from a child when needed.

There is every reason in the world such a God can miraculously affect…toast. So does the Christian really believe God miraculously put the Virgin Mary’s Face on a Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Remember, it is logically possible. (The last bastion of every Christian argument.)

Nothing prevents the Christian God from entering the natural world in Miami, 1994—and instead of the normal scorch marks appearing on such sandwiches—rearrange them so they would take the shape of a face. A particular face. Mom.

This is the same God who obtained a coin from a fish’s mouth. Or broke a few loaves of bread into such itty-bitty, tiny pieces, once divided, it could feed 1000’s with basketfuls left over. A God who made bones dance, and sent dreams, and stopped the sun for a whole day. Toast would be a piffle.

So why does the Christian believe this isn’t a miracle? Is it because of some presupposition against Catholicism? Against Cheese? Against cheesy miracles? Of course not! It is because the natural explanation is more believable than a claim of a supernatural intervention.

We see scorch marks on grilled cheese all the time. Putting butter in contact with heat will do that. And we understand how our minds make patterns from randomly generated shapes. It is how, on a summer’s day, we see pirate ships and flying pigs in cloud formations. It is perfectly natural we would do the same with shapes in scorch marks and “see” a woman. (Obviously, it is made even more humorous that the Virgin Mary appears as depicted in Church art, and no one knows what Mary would look like—let alone if that was her.)

We can pick other miracles. Does the Christian believe the Gospel of Peter, and the miraculous sign of Jesus coming out of the tomb, helped by angels whose heads reached to the clouds? And a talking cross following them out? Or tales of Jesus’ swaddling clothes causing healing? Or Thelca magically opening prison doors and not being burned by a fiery execution?

See-no one believes every miracle story ever written. Not even every miracle story written by those within their own religion. At some point, their own skepticism kicks in and they think, “There is a perfectly good natural explanation for this, outweighing any need to resort to supernatural.”

We do the same thing. Only we happen to find natural explanations more sufficient in YOUR claims of miracles. You may not like it; you may think the evidence is compelling and sufficient. But please understand it has nothing to do with presuppositions—just like you it has to do with evidence.

Lose the idea, “You don’t believe this because you presuppose against miracles.” I’ll show you how you suffer from the same “presupposition”—that you are reviewing evidence and remain unconvinced.

Updated: Bugger Blogger. I posted this twice. Vinny and Bruce – I moved your comments to this one and deleted the repetitious entry. Thanks for understanding

Friday, March 20, 2009

Skeptics are Skeptical of Everything Except Skepticism

I was just involved in a long discussion with Ten Minas Ministries covering a variety of topics. (WARNING: It is two lawyers talking—so it gets extremely long-winded. Read at your own peril. Unless you are suffering from insomnia, in which case: “Enjoy. And sleep well.”) One of the tacit questions asked was whether I was ignoring logical fallacies in atheistic arguments because of my bias toward atheism.

How does one tell one’s own bias? Worse—how does one remove it from consideration of the issue?

I accuse Christian apologists of being biased. (Oh boy—do I!). I see bias in people’s politics, in looking for mates, in handling money. We see biases in play all the time. I would be foolish to see it in everyone else, and presume I do not suffer from prejudices myself.

Of course I have biases. I can even see them come out when listening to theistic debates. I am rooting for the skeptic; the non-believer. I groan when they make a bad point, cheer when they make a good point and hiss at Dr. Craig. *grin* My writing comes from a decidedly skeptical viewpoint when it comes to Christian claims.

I have written before on how I try to remove these biases, by considering arguments in terms of what neutral, disinterested parties would be convinced by. Not by what I think, or what persuades me. Yet in the end, it is my determination of what a neutral would think. No juries are helping me out by giving verdicts on God.

I try. At least I think I do. I try and come at the question as if there may be a God. My brain does something like this:

“Look at the world about you. The complexity of a single cell, let alone trillions working in unity to make a human body work. Or ecosystems. Or the fascinating study of DNA. How does intelligence work? How can we be so certain of our own existence, if it is chemical reactions? Certainly some God is the initiator and holds this together.

“O.K….so we assume there is a God…

“…What does he look like?

“How do I use this world to make determinations about something that is not from this world? How can I look at a plant and derive some concept about this God? How do I look at the history of cosmology and align that with a God? Or evolution? Or planetary alignments?

“How can I be consistent in a method regarding God, claiming some things within this universe must reflect a god (intelligence) and some things must not (time)? What method do we use to pick and choose?

“Why would I use the cosmological argument for God when I see so many issues in the concept of ‘causation’ (specifically the issue of the use of time before there was time) as well as the fact we don’t know what happened in the 1 Planck second after Time=0? Isn’t this speculation based upon unknown facts?

My mind starts to race…

“How is it gods change so much over time and locale? Why is it the more science learns, the more gods must modify to conform to the new information? I can see Christianity is not true—yet they believe so fervently. Couldn’t every belief in God be equally untrue, yet fervently held?

At this point, my mind won’t…quite…reach a god. It won’t snap into place. No matter how open I think I am trying to be, it just doesn’t fit.

He He He. We have all done this with a present in a box, or a screw in a hole. We try it; doesn’t fit. We try it again; still doesn’t fit. We walk away, and come back, “One more time”—still doesn’t fit. Maybe one more time…

I feel the same about God. The arguments against God are still there. I can’t make them go away. I don’t see the logical fallacies being claimed.

But is that simply my bias? Are the questions not honest inquiry, but biases piling on?

How do YOU get rid of your bias?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An argument that misses the point

In these discussions, we often see the claim “You don’t believe in a God, because you want to sin.” For instance, Ten Minas Ministries wrote in this article:
You may be asking yourself, "If everything you've said is true, why are there still atheists in the world?" Think about it for a minute. Belief in God isn't simply a matter of changing your mind then going on with life as usual. There are consequences to that belief, especially if you go all the way to Christianity. It isn't just your beliefs that have to change, but also your lifestyle. If people were to start believing in God, they'd have to give up their gambling, drinking, premarital sex, greed, and countless other vices. We like our vices. We don't want to give them up.

Or Frank Turek’s Friend who cleverly discovers:
He said, “You’re raising all of these objections because you’re sleeping with your girlfriend. Am I right?”

All the blood drained from the kid’s face. He was caught. He just stood there speechless. He was rejecting God because he didn’t like God’s morality, and he was disguising it with alleged intellectual objections. This young man wasn’t the first atheist or agnostic to admit that his desire to follow his own agenda was keeping him out of the Kingdom.

Or Dr. Moore:
I think you know there’s a god, I think you know there is certain fiery expectation of judgment. I just think exactly as the Apostle John says, “The light comes into the world and the men hate the light and they love the darkness” and why? Because their deeds are evil and they want to cover it over…

I guess my question is…why? Why does one have to not believe in God to do certain actions? It is not as if the non-believers have the moral police investigating crimes committed while believing! Does anyone here know of Christian couples who lived together before they were married?

No…wait…strike that. Does anyone NOT know of a single Christian couple who lived together prior to getting married? Did they need to lose their belief in God to do so?

“Sir, I am sorry to bother you, but we are the Local Atheist Patrol.”
“Says here, you are living with a woman. Is that true?”
“Do you believe in God?”
“Uh…yes. What does that have to do with anything?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t believe in God AND live with a woman.”
“Are you serious?”
“Quite. Rules are very strict you know. ‘Giving up belief in God is a prerequisite for living with your girlfriend.’”
“So what do I have to do?””Simple, really. Either give up your belief in God and keep living with her…or move out.”

Anyone know Christians who gamble? (It is March Madness…) Had premarital sex? (Again, know any who didn’t?) Are greedy? Drink alcohol? In fact, we see Christians who perform the same acts we do, to the point an argument against Christianity is that we can’t tell the moral difference, and the Christian defends it by claiming Christians still sin!

If Christians still sin, why do they need to give up belief in God to sin?

A part of me wants to thank the Christians for this argument. Hey—we all know sex sells, right? And the best advertisement in the world is how we atheists, agnostics, deists, wiccan, pagan, deconverts and general non-believers are living a world of such carefree sex we are willing to endanger our very soul to eternal torment just to imbibe. That’s gotta be some great sex, eh?!

We drink, we gamble, we party. We can be selfish. It’s like we are the neighbor who always throws those great bashes people talk about for months afterward, and the poor Christian is never invited. They still believe in a God. They can’t come.

Unfortunately, it is false advertising. The believer becomes the unbeliever and finds out they are having the same sex (or lack thereof) they were before. There was no on-rush of lovers just waiting in the lobby for them to “give up God.” They have the same problems with too much alcohol, or gambling. In fact, not much changes.

Yes, there are differences. The Christian cannot understand it is a symptom—not a cause. If you were a struggling gay Christians, constantly fighting your sexual cravings, and become a non-believer, it is no surprise that a self-imposed belief homosexuality is immoral being lifted causes you to enjoy yourself for who you are.

Christians only see a deconvert enter their homosexual lifestyle and say, “Ha! He deconverted to be Gay!” Nope. He was always gay—after deconversion there was no reason to suppress it.

The reason this argument is an epic failure is because it is not true. Skeptics cannot resonate with it. The only peolpe who believe it are other Christians, nodding their heads and shouting “Amens.”

Using it says more about the Christians’ lack of perspective than it does the skeptic’s reasons for disbelieving in a God.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why Blog?

Sam asked a good question: “Dagoods, your whole blog seems mostly to be about deconstructing Christianity. If you don't care whether people are Christians or not, why do you do it?”

He’s correct—most of my blog entries deal with deconstructing Christianity or Christian themes. And…I don’t care to “sell” Christians to deconvert to non-belief. How do those two concepts align?

As always, there is no short answer with me. *grin*

Why do we Blog?

There are many reasons to blog. Some people write a diary of their lives. “Today I ran 2 miles.” Others post pictures for friends. Or tell of trips. Some theistic blogs concentrate on arguing (“Debunking Christianity” and “Triablogue” come to mind.) Some do not. Some are funny; some sad. And they come and go.

Within blogs themselves, we may veer from our general theme and blog on some other note.

Years ago, I concentrated on forums. Where arguing is the de facto form of communication. And one particular forum thread was started by a blogger who documented her experiences regarding Christian forums on her blog. As I followed that particular blog entry, a fellow named Jeff commented that if this blogger wanted some intelligent Christian interaction-- converse with him. As an initial curiosity, I joined the world of Blogging to interact with Jeff. I was soon up to my elbows, interacting with Jeff, Paul, Sam, and Roman.

Over the years, my blogging has vacillated between apathetic meanderings, argumentative positions, and simple questions. From such humble beginnings…I now blog because I want to.

Who I am

There are two core essentials to understand me and my blogging: 1) I learn by argumentation and 2) I enjoy the topic of Christianity.


I don’t know if I love the practice of law, because I love the argument; or I love the argument because I love the practice of law. They are intertwined.

Now, when I say “argument” I am not talking about two people screaming at each other, faces red and pounding on their chests. While that can be fun (for a bit)—I am referring to the whole process. Researching all the facts both favorable and not favorable to a particular position. Becoming aware of the correct law to apply, and how to apply it. Being fully prepared for any possible contingency (while knowing you cannot cover them all). Carefully framing a weave of the facts and law to present your position.

Then, if screaming and shouting is how to deliver it—do so.

My partner and I often play “devil’s advocate” with each other. Take the other side and argue vociferously from the position opposing our own. This shows the weakness in our own case, the strengths, where we might need more information or be better prepared. It is how we “learn” what we need to know.

I like to watch other cases, and other lawyers present their positions—knitting together the facts and law, while the opposing side presents their own interpretations and emphases. What the public cannot always conceptualize is the lawyer’s ability to separate the argument from the person. We can shout and yell, and be outrageously indignant as to the complete and utter stupidity of the opposing position, and once the argument has ended—outside the courtroom—ask the other lawyer how the wife and kids are doing. Arguing is what we do for a living—we don’t take it home with us.

Even when I am arguing with you, Sam, it is often not as much intended to be a confrontational fight, but rather a way for me to probe and dissect and weigh the strength and weaknesses of each of our positions. It may seem I am 100% gung-ho against you, but in fact I am thinking and wondering and even trying as best I can to see it from your point of view. I may be screaming how bloody wrong you are on the ‘net, while my mind is thinking, “I’m about 90% convinced he’s right.” I know it doesn’t come across that way (and sometimes I am much more emotionally obstinate than merely being a disinterested debater) yet that is how I argue. It is how I learn.

I am sure it is frustrating to other people. Irritating even. I have tried to explain it and never can quite capture how arguing can be a matter of enjoyment and gaining knowledge.

I enjoy the topic of Christianity

This should not come as a surprise. I attended Christian schools all my life—taking Bible courses literally every single year. I took so many Bible/Christian courses in college just for enjoyment; I am only a few credits short of a Bible Major (in addition to my History Major.) I taught Sunday School and small groups.

I like the study; I like the discussion. I like the people.

After deconverting, I approached the friends I had spent 100’s of hours learning and discussing these topics to continue the discussion. “I will not discuss this with you.” “I can’t talk about this with you.” “I’ll call you…someday…in about 175 years…”

I approached my own family. “We don’t know what to say to you, so we won’t say anything at all.”

I approached churches. “We don’t really have a place for you.”

I approached my wife. “I refuse to talk about this with you.”

Gone. Every single human outlet I had to discuss a topic I loved for 37 years; my joy was taken away from me.

If you approached me in life, Sam, you would never recognize me as “DagoodS.” If you said you were a Christian, I would smile and say, “That’s nice.” If you said, “I want to discuss Christianity with you”—I would laugh and say, “Probably not.” And then change the subject. If you wanted to tell me your Christian testimony—you would find me a patient listener, with the appropriate, “Go on” and “How fascinating.”

In person-to-person meetings, it takes an extremely special Christian to interact with an atheist such as myself, and since I doubt happenstance would allow such a meeting, I don’t probe for it. I let the person be who they are, and move on. Every single time I have indicated I am an atheist to a Christian—be it friend, family, former acquaintance or stranger—it has ended badly. *shrug* Maybe its me; maybe its my personality. Maybe it is how life goes.

This blog—this corner of the Internet—is my last bastion to discuss the topic I love in the form I enjoy. Believe me, if I could find Christian friends who would be willing to interact on this level—this blog would disappear like the majority.

I have other places where I can write of who I am, or what my day is like. Of funny medical stories, or lawyer jokes or whatever passes my fancy. While I have tried to struggle away from it, this blog defaults to my talking about Christianity, and why I am not persuaded by it.

The Struggle

I’ve gone back and forth with just ending it. Maybe one out of three books I now read deal with Christianity. It was a full-time endeavor for many a year, but as a good friend told me, “I get it. Move on.” HeIsSailing clearly was able to, why can’t I?

Because I feel guilty, believe it or not.

We talk about how deconverting is a solitary event. People go through it alone. I have written on the reasons for that, and will not reiterate them here. Only to say, THIS is why it is useless to try and “sell” deconversion. People chose to go that route or they don’t. Can’t force ‘em.

As a person deconverting, you read. You read and you read and you read. Since the Internet is so handy—much of what you read is on the Internet. You look for Christian arguments. You hope to find a strong, supportive, impenetrable Christian argument. But since your mind is now questioning—you constantly look for what the other side has to say.

“Judas died by hanging and then fell. Matthew recorded his death; Luke his post mortem fall.”
O.K. (you think to yourself). This sounds like a pretty good resolution to a supposed contradiction. What does the other side have to say about this strong argument for inerrancy in this instance?

“Matthew and Luke disagree on this issue and that and this. Luke’s reasoning for recounting the tale was for death, not what happened to the body. Papais lists another way in which Judas died. What is the method for determining a contradiction?”

And so, for one long afternoon, the deconverting go back and forth between websites and Greek Bibles and commentaries on this one little issue, trying to come to a conclusion in their mind as to whether they should continue to believe the way they have been taught.

Whether I like it or not—I am a part of that process. I have been one of those skeptics that deconverts look at their arguments in the face of Christian ones. I am deeply and utterly appreciative of the skeptics who presented their arguments while I was the Christian, then the questioning, then the deconvert. I feel an obligation to do the same.

It is funny—I consider myself an extremely fresh deconvert. I am amazed it has been almost four years. Who’d a thunk it?! It is not like a new wound, but rather a wound that has scabbed and scarred, and is now just a dull red. Yet I still look at the wound and think, “Hey, that is not what my mental image is of myself. I don’t remember that being there on my hand.” It still seems “new” to me.

And then I read of people who were adamant Christians in 2006, and joined iidb in 2007, to deconvert in 2008. I think, “Wow, they were still Christians when I was already an atheist.” In my mind, I am the freshest batch of deconverts, not an alumni. Not the guy who returns and says, “I remember when the skeptics used to play football where the new Administration Building stands.” I think of myself as the guy who graduated yesterday.

Instead I find myself one of the professors (forgive me, but it works in the analogy.) One of the people the next graduating class is looking at.

I don’t write as well, or as adamantly as I used to. Much of that has to do with my degree of interest. But I leave this blog open for the occasional moment where I want to talk about a cherished topic, let my thoughts leave my head—and if it helps a person along their way, I consider it an added bonus.

I see a difference between writing on Christianity and selling atheism. I like to see the arguments and attempt to present the arguments in a cohesive manner. But if the person is not persuaded by them—so be it. People persuade differently. Let them chose their own path.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I’m too easy

As we know, on Monday the results from the American Religious Identification Survey 2008 were released. I was curious about Dr. Albert Mohler’s impression; however on the same day President Obama lifted the ban on embryonic stem cell research and that took precedence.

Dr. Mohler did deal with the topic on Tuesday. One caller asked how he felt about the results, and in his perpetually long-winded way, he indicated he was both encouraged and discouraged by the results. Discouraged by the decline of main-line Protestants, of course, but encouraged by those who self-identified as non-believers. Why? Because they know they are lost. He finds non-believers to be easier to evangelize to, rather than nominal or liberal Christians who have a wishy-washy view of God.

Clearly there is a wide range of how “easy” it is to evangelize to non-believers. I would think Dr. Mohler would find deconverts, as a generalization, extremely difficult to convince. And perhaps some who had never considered Christianity in any way would be very open to trying out a new thing.

Obviously the easiest people to sell a product are to those who need the product to survive. You don’t have to work hard to convince a person dying of a disease to take medicine. Or a drowning person to grab the life preserver.

The problem with selling Christianity, is that one first has to convince the person they need it to survive. As the euphemism goes--Christianity must first create the disease [sin]; in order to justify the cure [Jesus.] If the person is not convinced they are dying, you can’t convince them to take the medicine.

This works, of course. Otherwise Campus Crusade would have abandoned the Four Spiritual Laws long ago. First convince them they sin. (“Have you ever broken one of the Ten Commandments? Blah blah blah.”) Then convince them they need the cure.

The problem with this is that it creates those very nominal Christians Dr. Mohler feels become harder to convince. They might “get Jesus” but…gasp!...get the wrong one! Now they’ve said their prayer, they can sin guiltlessly. Like getting afterlife insurance.

The second easiest person to sell something, is if they already want it. How hard is it to convince a child to go to McDonald’s? In my house the barest hint of a suggestion within a whisper is MORE than sufficient encouragement to have an instant carfull of kids, eagerly telling me what they want. Tell an employee they can have the rest of the day off…paid. Do they reply, “Mmmm…you’re gonna have to convince me.” Nope, the door is already swinging closed by the time you have finished the sentence.

Again, this is a difficulty with selling Christianity. How many people are eagerly looking to become a Christian and just…can’t…find…a…way to do it? Perhaps we can find anecdotal evidence in a drug addict who wants a way out, and relies upon Jesus, or a person looking for a friend, and finding it in the Church. But how many non-believers are there, with this huge “want” and desperate seeking for Christianity?

How easy are we? What type of person does a Christian think is the easiest to evangelize to?

Then I started to think about it on the flip side—who would I, as an atheist, think is the easiest to deconvert from the Christian camp? And I realized almost as soon as I completed the thought—I don’t care. I don’t gauge people by who is “easy” or “hard” to convince. If they want to discuss theism—great! If they don’t—equally great. I see atheism as neither a “need” nor a “want.” I don’t see it as my obligation to “save” someone from Christianity.

Much of this comes from reading numerous deconversion stories. I have yet to read one (and if you know of it—link me up) where a deconvert says they were a Christian until an atheist came knocking on their door one day… Or until they read some sign and thought, “Maybe I will look into atheism”… Or by being surrounded by atheistic friends.

Invariably, deconversion stories follow the lines of something happening. What that “something” is, varies between people. But whatever it is, it causes the deconvert to take a momentary step back and say, “Wait a minute. I would like to look at this a bit further.” Of course, dozens of books, hundreds of hours and thousands of tears later, they find they no longer believer.

There is no room, in there, for me as an atheistic missionary. To “sell” them on something they neither want, nor need. If they would like my position on theism, I am happy to share. If they want some thoughts or questions, and some sources (both pro and con)—I am happy to provide. But I am not here to “sell” anything.

I wonder what gauge or barometer the Christian uses to determine who is an easy or hard sell? Why do I think I would be considered more on the “hard” end of the scale? *grin*

Friday, March 06, 2009

A Redundant Post on Absolute vs. Relative Morality

But first I don’t want to talk about morality. Remove morality considerations from your mind. Put down your mental battle-gear; take a moment and reflect on something different.

I want to talk about colors.

Remember those watercolor paint tins? With the eight colors laid out in ovals—a very distinct Black and Blue and Red and Yellow and Green? And how you loved to be the first person to use one, and how you hated to get the tin that had been passed around and around where all the colors had mushed together into a putrid brown? No watercolor grass should ever be putrid brown/green.

Or the box of crayons. Sure you could be like 99% of the kids who obtained the Crayola 8-color box with colors like “Red” and “Yellow.” Then there was that fancy kid—you know who I mean—who brought the Big Box. The Granddaddy of them all. The 64-color version. (With the crayon sharpener built right into the box!) A tantalizing display of lambent rainbow splash, merging from the deep red to the pale red directly to deep orange and through pale yellow. Your eyes took it in, jealously reading “Raspberry Red” (not “Red”) or “Magenta Blue” (not “Blue”) and wondering what cruel fate left you with parents who could not understand “Brilliant Yellow ” beautifully depicted the nuance you were looking for so much better than plain old boring “Yellow.”

We grew up learning colors. “Red” means stop. “Green” means go. “Yellow” means—Don’t eat that snow! I say “Blue car” and you have a mental image of a certain color.

Now look at the following three images, and ask yourself these questions:

What color are the rocks?
What color is the doll’s outfit?
What color is the iPod?

The first thought through your head was “Dark Blue, Light Blue and Pink.” You didn’t have to contemplate or get a color wheel to match them up with designated swatches. Even if you were looking for a trick, or trying to be clever—your mind unbidden instantaneously responded with those colors.

Do you realize those answers—those almost instinctive reactions—are culturally determined? We think of pink as a very different color than Red. Your first thought was not “That iPod is light red.” Nope—you thought, “Pink.” Do you know the Chinese do not have a distinct word for “pink”? To them, pink is another shade of red. If you were Chinese, the first thought would have been “the iPod is light red.”

However, the Russians have two distinct words, and consider light blue as a completely different color than dark blue. They would have thought the baby’s outfit was the color goluboy and the rocks were siniy.

I don’t know about you, but this idea of light blue and dark blue as being two different colors seems peculiar to me. Can’t the Russians see they are both blue—just different shades of blue? Yet the Chinese person would consider me peculiar for not seeing pink is just a different shade of red.

Some cultures only have terms and consider two colors—dark and light. The Hanuno’o language (Philippines) only has four colors. English is considered to have 11 separate colors.

Our culture has affected how we view colors. How our minds automatically designate and pattern out into categories what we see. A Russian’s mind, without active thought, differentiates between two colors what an American mind would lump together as two different shades of the same color. The American mind differentiates red and pink; whereas the Chinese would lump them together.

Imagine we sat down people from a variety of cultures, gave them a long strip of paper with the full spectrum of colors (white to red to yellow to blue to black) and told them to mark out the colors. Where it changes from a shade of red to a totally new color.

Not surprisingly, the Americans would generally agree with their markings. Yet even within the Americans, due to our individuality, there would be slight differences. Where one person thought “yellow” had changed to “orange” would vary from person to person. Close, but not exact. The Russians would agree (generally) with the Russians. Cherokee Indians (generally) with Cherokee Indians and so on.

We can see how the culture, society and language have affected each person’s choice of colors. Where they would mark. And how what seems bizarre to one culture (“How can they only see four colors?”); may equally be seen as bizarre in our own (“How can they only see one blue?”)

O.K.—the big switch (like you didn’t see this coming.)

Morals are like colors.

I know; I know—morals are BIG and IMPORTANT and meaningful and how dare I compare the mundane with such a deep theological and philosophical concept as ethics. Why, there are books and sets of books and shelves of books, and sections of shelves of books, dedicated to the idea of morality. It must be far more significant than colors.

However, if you can keep in mind the idea of colors; you will better understand the relativist position.

First, we understand that individual consideration is overwhelmingly influenced by our own culture. If you got it about the colors (even for an instant) as to how other cultures can view what seems so obvious to you, in a very different light and it is so obvious to them—then you can equally understand how morals we are raised with can seem so obvious to us; yet not to other cultures.

In America, we have been raised and constantly infused with the notion slavery is wrong. We read about it in history class in elementary school. Our parents say it is wrong. Our teachers said it was wrong. Our classmates write essays on how it is wrong. Over and over we are bombarded with slavery being wrong, from every aspect in our life.

Is it any wonder we come to the moral conclusion (surprise, surprise) that slavery is wrong? The same way we are constantly besieged with the notion pink is a separate color from red and likewise our mind defaults to being firmly convinced of that fact?

Equally, in America, we focus on our economics. Get what you can, while you can. If I loan money at slightly higher interest than anyone else—hey, who’s to complain? The people borrowing from me have a choice to go elsewhere; perhaps they cannot because of credit problems or bankruptcy issues. That’s our choice in a “free market society,” right?

Yet what happens when we look to other cultures? To the Hebrews in the times of Tanakh, slavery was neither immoral nor moral. It just was. Sure, it could be practiced immorally, just like sex or eating could be immorally performed—but in and of itself (like sex and eating) it was not immoral. However, loaning money at usurious rates was considered reprehensible and completely immoral.

What is wrong (slavery) and right (high interest loans) to an American is the complete opposite to another culture. We choose different colors that seem correct to us because of the way we are raised.

Those morals that just seem right; those times an absolute or objective morals positions claims, “EVERYBODY agrees that _____ is immoral” are just ingrained feelings; an instinctual response from being raised a certain way. Just like “everybody” can see light blue is another shade of blue—not a separate color, right?

Second, there is no method to determine what the objective or absolute moral is.

Who determines what is “absolute blue”? Do you? What if, on this spectrum sheet of paper, you picked one blue, and the person next to you picked the shade to the right? Or two to the right? Who is correct? Or you both turn to the Hanuno’o who says, “There is no blue.” Or the Russian who says, “There are two blues”!

Is Murder wrong? Does shooting another soldier on a field of battle constitute murder? What if they are an unarmed medic? What if they are helping soldiers who will get back up and shoot at you? Is dropping a device that will release so much heat the very air itself will burn moral? But dropping one that releases a gas that kills slowly is immoral? Who drew that line?

Is lying wrong? What if it is to save a life? Or prevent hurt feelings?

There have been attempts to create an objective or absolute moral standard, both theistically and non-theistically. The problem remains, though, that it is a subjective, relativist culturally-impacted human that makes the final determination.

We may claim to use “reason” as the determination—but the question will remain: Who’s reason? Which person? Which time? Which culture? Or a theist may claim a God determines absolute morals, leaving us with similar questions: Which God? Which particular flavor of that God? You will note a common thread—a human. It is a human that tells me what reason to us; a human that tells me what a God is claiming.

And worse, we can see how that human presents an objective moral standard reflective of the culture in which they exist. Like saying, “God says this is absolute blue” when the Russian God determines two blues, the American God one blue, and the Hanuno’o God none at all.

One common attempt to avoid this issue is the claim that while we cannot know what, specifically, the absolute or objective moral standard is—that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. While technically true, this does not provide any help at all. Pragmatically it is worthless.

Continuing with our color analogy—what if I told you an alien on Persei-8 had determined what “absolute blue” was (or if there were none or more than one)? Yet we cannot talk to this alien, we cannot utilize this alien—we cannot learn what “absolute blue” is. We are left here, in this world, debating over the existence of colors. Perhaps it is nice to know the Alien from Persei-8 has all the answers for us; but without providing them to us, its still up to us to work out the color pattern.

Merely claiming absolute or objective moral values exist, without any ability to determine what they are, leaves us with nothing. It has been my experience the position never stops there. It is never satisfied with just “existence.” It always wants to take it a step further and say, “Now that they exist, what can we do to find them” while just conceding we cannot find them! Like agreeing the Alien has determined absolute blue, but leaving the Russian, American and Hanuno’o to debate over what, where and how many. Not surprisingly, the absolute moral position immediately attempts to impose its own cultural norm as the “standard” that certainly the alien must use.

If objective or absolute morals exist, they are only of use if we can determine what they are. To exist without verification, without proof, without method is an impotent position.

Thirdly, yes we impose our morals on others.

One of the silliest arguments from the absolute or objective moral camp is this notion that if objective morals do not exist, we cannot impose our morality on others. Posh and nonsense. This is a complete misunderstanding of terms. It is an attempt to win by definition; to define “morals” in such a way to prevail by default.

It is done thusly:

1. The only morals that can be imposed on others are objective or absolute morals.
2. You do not have an objective or absolute moral.
3. Therefore, pursuant to Statement 1, you cannot impose your morals on others.

The obvious question is in the first Statement: Can I impose a non-objective or non-absolute moral upon you? Sure—I know of no claim to an objective morality regarding bedtime; yet I am able to impose my subjective determination of 8:30 p.m. on my children. We impose relative moral standards all the time without thinking. Burp in public and you are shunned. Speed limits. Ordinance violations. Don’t call the next day, get an earful. We interact and communicate (both verbally and non-verbally) all the time attempting to impose our moral standard (regardless of whether it is considered absolute or not) on others. Simply stating, “you can’t” does not make it so.

Or the flip side, it can be phrased, “If morals are only your opinion, you can’t say the other person did anything wrong.” Why not? While I may not preface it with “It is my opinion…” I am still amazingly able to move my lips, make sounds and grammatically state, “You are wrong.” There remains a question of enforcement, of course. I can state it, but can I enforce it upon you?

Yet enforcement is an equal problem for all moral positions. You may claim a God objectively or absolutely determined homosexuality is immoral, yet you (JUST LIKE ME) work though your human interaction with human courts and human legislatures and human advertisements and human votes and human laws and humans enforcing those laws with human prosecutors, human police, human jailers and all human efforts in order to impose these morals. Absolute or not.

We also hear that relativists “act” as if there is an absolute or objective moral standard, thus proving it exists. This is not quite accurate. We treat morals as a standard, because it aids in communication.

Look, you and I may not agree on absolute Red. On our color spectrum sheet, I may have picked a shade far different than your own. Yet in discussing, we can each understand what “red” means. I can tell you, “Stop for the red light” and while we may not agree on absolute red—this does not mean you will disregard ALL reds!


You and I just thought of a particular shade of color. The chance of it being exact are minuscule. Yet through communication, we can start to compare and narrow down what green we are talking about. If I say, “Road sign green, not snot green” you begin to narrow it down. We can begin to understand and communicate.

Likewise, I can use the terms “good” or “immoral” or “better” and NOT need an absolute standard before understanding these terms. I can use “green” and give further examples, and amazingly enough, we understand each other.

In this discussion I see a great deal of misunderstanding. I see over and over the absolute or objective position attempting to utilize their definition of morals (“Only objective morals can be imposed on others”) and then claim relativists cannot impose morals on others since, by definition, non-objective morals are not “allowed” to be imposed. This fails to take into account how relativists define morals.

Like telling the Russians they can’t have two colors of blue, because, by definition, blue is only one color and those are two shades.

We don’t need “absolute red” to discuss red. To understand the difference between candy-apple red and burnt umber. We don’t hear people screaming “Since you don’t believe in absolute red, you can’t claim there is ANY red!” (Unless, perhaps, they had crayon-envy issues when they were younger.) We don’t need absolute colors to recognize the differences between greens and blues and grays. To recognize other cultures and other times may treat colors differently.

We don’t need absolutes to discuss this issue.

I am far more concerned with how you act than whether you believe morals are absolute or not. If you are a boorish pig, whether you think you are “absolutely” entitled to it or not—I will have little to do with you. What I AM concerned about is that we understand the other person’s position and attempt to interact with what it actually is.

Hopefully remembering how different people treat colors helps in that regard.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Silent Partner

I am currently interacting with a person who has a partner. I met the partner once; seemed a likeable enough person. Nothing out of the ordinary.

And throughout our interactions, I notice this fellow peppers the conversation with, “My Partner requires…” or “We have to do this because my partner says so.” And a pattern emerges. Whenever the news is bad, or the requirement is difficult, this partner—this Silent Partner—is the one who is doing the demanding and requiring.

I am starting to suspect that perhaps…just perhaps… the partner had no clue they are being used as a scapegoat for bad news. That maybe he doesn’t want to come right out and say it, and lessens the blow by blaming the Silent Partner.

God makes the perfect Silent Partner. Think of it—a person can present themselves as most reasonable; it is that they are bound by this Silent Partner to explain away their homophobia. “Oh, I hate the sin, but love the sinner….but…[big sigh]…my Silent Partner says it is an abomination so I must protest against gay marriage.” “I would normally encourage your endeavors but…[clucking of the tongue]…my Silent Partner will not allow me to associate with heretics, so you are on your own.”

The analogy is not perfect in that the fellow I am dealing with is deliberately mis-stating what the Silent Partner doesn’t say; whereas theists truly believe the Silent Partner is making this claims—however there is one strong similarity. Both Partners are Silent.

Think of it—1000’s of theists right this moment are telling others what their Silent Partner is saying and the Partner is not disagreeing. Even though these theists all disagree with each other, they claim the same Partner—God.

This is what has made theism continue to proliferate. You can say anything--anything--and claim it is not YOU who says it, but rather a Silent Partner. A god. One time the Silent Partner says eating pig was O.K. (Adam – Moses). Then the Silent Partner said eating pig was bad. (Moses – Jesus). Then the Silent Partner said eating pig was just fine again.

Of course, only a cynic would think it was the humans that changed. Not the Silent Partner.

At one time the Silent Partner said slavery was fine. Then it wasn’t. Divorce was bad. Then sometimes O.K. Now it is fine again. And the Silent Partner seems to keep changing his rules as to when Divorce is or is not acceptable.

At some point we non-believers start to desire to hear from the Silent Partner. If we are to be condemned or condoned or fried or favored—we would like to reasonably understand the basis of why this Silent Partner is making his/her decisions and not what the human claims.

What is humorous is the extreme to which we convinced ourselves the Partner was Silent. As teenagers we made out behind the church or in the parking lot where the Youth Sponsors couldn’t see us. Our God/Silent Partner supposedly could see us; but he wasn’t around. He was SO silent, it was like…to us…he wasn’t there. As Older Christians we gossiped about the person, but never to the person because our Silent Partner…well…he was silent, see? Didn’t say anything about it.

Or we loaded up our bank accounts. Or justified not tithing this week, ‘cause we were taking our friends out to dinner. Our Silent Partner seemed to be just fine with substituting dinner for tithing. Didn’t say a word….

See, that is the best part of a Silent Partner. When you want to say something bad, or blame, or offend—they are there for you. But when you do not want them impinging on your lifestyle—they conveniently fade into the distant background where they belong.