Friday, August 21, 2015

Sheriffs Showing Allegiance to god, Not Duty to Citizens

Several counties in Missouri have begun placing "In God We Trust" stickers on patrol cars.  Today, Jasper County, where I live, have begun to do the same.  The pic below is the "press release" the department put on Facebook.

The release reads:
MEDIA RELEASE
The Jasper County Sheriff's Office is very pleased to announce that we are adding "In God We Trust" decals to the vehicles in our fleet. The first vehicles have begun to have the decal applied this week. We are extremely fortunate that many citizens, businesses and organizations of Jasper County have volunteered to help finance the making of the decals.
Randee KaiserJasper County Sheriff
Does the Kaiser not know that he is alienating pretty much every citizen that does not believe in the Abrahamic god?  I have no problem with a civil servant wearing a cross, or a crescent, or a pentagram on a chain around their neck.  That is a personal statement about the individual, and I'm all for that. But when they advertise for Yahweh on public property, that is a big no-no.  It is the religious equivalent of them painting a Confederate flag on the roof of the squad cars.

I have sent the Freedom From Religion Foundation a violation report.
If you live in Jasper or Stone county, please send in a report to the FFRF, or Americans United to report your sheriff department for a blatant violation of church and state.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Atheist Answers "Atheism on Trial" from Philosophy Now Magazine

In the August/September 2015 issue of Philosophy now, Stephen Anderson explores Atheism by putting the concept on trial.  While the author thinks it is a clever way to write an article, the meat of the article is lacking; it is all style, no substance.  I love reading Philosophy Now magazine and I implore you to read Atheism on Trial for yourself in its entirety preferably before or even after you read this article.  I will not reproduce the entire Philosophy Now article here, as I usually do, but rather I will pull out quotes from the article and respond.  Feel free to put any questions you have or inaccuracies you find in the comments below.
There was a time – some years ago – when to profess disbelief in a Supreme Being could be hazardous to one’s health. You could get hacked to pieces with a scimitar or boiled in oil. Neither the public nor the authorities had much tolerance.
This is called the Middle East, and it is NOW!  Anderson is, of course, talking about Medieval Europe, and Christianity, but killing apostates and Atheists still happens, and by followers of the same Abrahamic god.
 Today, atheism has taken its comfortable seat by the fire and has its feet up. It has de facto control of education, the universities, and the academic press. It is the go-to position of our media and the controlling assumption of political discourse. Popular atheist authors have no trouble churning out bestsellers and culling invitations to speak. Atheism has never been so respectable. 
Anderson must be from a Scandinavian country.  In the US, most people have no qualms about reminding Atheists about their not-so-comfortable seat IN the fire.  The US was built as a secular government so all religions would have equal protection under the law.  Yet, we have god on our currency and our patrol cars.  11 States have statutes that bar Atheists from holding public office and celebrities such a Oprah and Steve Harvey publicly declare that Atheists cannot have morals because they have no god-belief. The only place in America where Atheists are treated respectably are in academia, which itself is a very small percentage of the population.
Maybe the really daring thing today is not being an atheist, but challenging atheism. It can certainly be risky, and can provoke a whole lot of knee-jerk animus, even if one supplies good arguments to back one’s case.
Anderson must be a Christian.  Why do I say that?  In two sentences he tries to build the case that being non-Atheist means being persecuted.  I run into this all the time with Christians.  At first I thought it was just a rhetorical tactic, and for some it is, but for most Christians it is because they've never had their core beliefs challenged on such a fundamental level.  Theists place a great deal of their identity in their god and their religion.  To claim it is all fairy-tales is to claim they are living a lie.  Such a notion causes great cognitive dissonance within the theistic mind.

But Anderson is saying something else too.  It's subtle until you see it.  He is right off saying that Atheist counter-arguments to his theistic assertions are merely "knee-jerk animus" despite what Anderson considers a good argument.  Mr. Anderson, if your argument has a soul-crushing (as it were) counter-argument, then it is by definition NOT a good argument.

Before we begin the trial, perhaps we ought to clarify the case. What is ‘atheism’?
Good start, we must always define what we are to argue against not only to clarify and elucidate our exact position, but to also so counter-points can be honestly made.
In answering, let us observe the principle of charity.
I smell a trap.
This means we ought to address an opposing view in its strongest and most representative form, rather than in any of its weaker or less representative forms. In charity, then, we must ask ourselves, ‘What is the strongest form of atheism?’
 And here is the first mistake.  Catch it?
To begin with, we could consider a basic definition. ‘Atheism’ is clearly ‘a-’ plus ‘theism’. Theism is from the Greek for God (or gods), of course; and the ‘a-’ prefix is the Greek negation of whatever it’s prefixing. Thus atheism means simply ‘no God’. It claims there exists no kind of god.
That’s basic. But we might ask, ‘Is it really necessary to understand atheism as so  
Here is Anderson's mistake: The Fallacy of Equivocation.  What Anderson is equivocating is Strong Atheism with run-of-the-mill Atheism.  In itself, Atheism simply means a lack of belief in any gods. In Strong Atheism, not only are the various gods not believed in, but the Atheist takes the position that it is more likely that proofs against the gods is stronger than proofs for the gods.  Strong Atheism is not held by all atheists.  In fact, Strong Atheists are a minority in the Atheist community.  Why? I don't know. What I think to be the case is that Strong Atheists tend to be exceptionally skeptical and rational and were once theists. However, it was their skepticism and reason that saved their mind. Most Atheists in the world were never indoctrinated to begin with.  Most Atheists in the US realized at some point that it was all hogwash and that was that, their Sundays are now free.

Anderson makes his equivocation so he may commit on of the most basic of logical fallacies.  He is trying to set up a straw man. By using Atheism in a highly specific, and inaccurate, way, Anderson can use arguments specific to a certain position even though those arguments do not work on the basic position as a whole.  The reason for this is that, to Anderson, it will be easier to show that Strong Atheism is a weak position, without addressing Atheism as a whole.  Remember, Atheism is simply a lack of belief in any gods, so even if the theist can show that there might be some sort of deity floating out in space, the Atheist can always fall back on asking which one.  That then puts the theist on the defensive as they then have to prove that their specific deity is the correct one. Apparently, Anderson has made that mistake before and does not want to repeat it.

I will spare the quote, but Anderson brings in agnosticism into the mix and tries to muddy the waters by saying that agnostics want to believe, they just have no proof.  Of course he then goes on to say that Atheists do not want to include agnostics because that would make believing in a god a personal thing, and not a statement of reality.  I won't say much on this other than Anderson confuses agnosticism with atheism.  Agnosticism meant "I don't know".  If someone says they are agnostic it means that they don't know if there is a god or gods.  That is a statement of reality.  Most Atheists are agnostic Atheists meaning that they don't know if there are any gods and they do not believe in them. A Strong Atheist is more of a gnostic Atheist, meaning they find arguments against the gods convincing and do not believe in any gods.  By itself, Atheism is a personal statement, but then so is theism!  Belief is a personal thing.  However, most theists are gnostic theists, meaning they know the god they believe in exists. But their religion requires it.  Atheism has no such requirement.

Anderson then goes on some asinine comments about whether or not he should believe that Denmark is a real place or not. What he is trying to do is get the reader thinking that his denial of evidence to the existence of Denmark is of equal value to Atheistic skepticism of supernatural deities.  This is done to make the point that an Atheist wouldn't want his agnostic friends coming along for the trial. Again, most Atheists are agnostics, so still, it is only a minority of Atheists that Anderson is willing to put on trial.
Again, the principle of charity must come into play. In ancient Rome, Christians were persecuted as ‘atheists’ because they failed to believe in enough gods. But I doubt very much that sort of characterization of their position would satisfy modern atheists. So we must be clear: do atheists wish to deny only one God, or two gods, or the entire spectrum of possible gods?
I think it must be all. I don’t know of any atheist who would be happy to think that Zeus doesn’t exist but Ares does; that Thor and Loki don’t exist but Allah does; that Yahweh doesn’t exist but the pantheon of Hindu gods is real. For a true atheist, I think all gods, no matter of what name or nature, have to be out: and I think I’m staying in the true atheist spirit in saying so.
Well, at least Anderson gets something right.  Christians are still atheistic about all but one god. Atheists just disbelieve in more more god than Christians.
But if this is true, then this thorough-going atheism can no longer get any support from one of the New Atheist’s favourite objections; namely, that things in this world are messed up, and this negates any possibility of there being a good God. For the apparent disorder of the world could rather be evidence of an evil or uncaring God. But these possibilities cannot matter here, since atheism has to deny the existence of even an indifferent or evil Supreme Being. 
Ah, the specter of New Atheism!  Again, equivocation.  To be fair, most, if not all New Atheists are Strong Atheists, but New Atheism is and Anti-Theist movement.  Anti-Theism holds that religion itself is a bad thing. No good religion has done cannot also be done by secular means.  However, religion - or more specifically faith-based belief and the absolute obedience righteousness requires - can make good people do the most evil things. That is a far different position than simply not believing in any gods.
 This makes the famous ‘Argument from Evil’ so beloved by New Atheists simply off topic: the existence of evil or injustice does not count as evidence against gods of every possible kind, and leaves harsh, judgmental or indifferent gods as possible. (Though maybe it can even be answered with some explanation that allows for a benevolent God, such as the argument from free human will).
Quite the contrary!  I love invoking the problem of evil to Christians and Muslims.  They hold their god as a loving god, yet cannot morally reconcile the flood story or even that of Sodam and Gamora, or the plagues of Egypt.  As far as free will goes, the concept of free will further muddies the waters of morality (the last topic in the video here) and free will itself is a wonky concept especially when applied to religion (the first topic in the video here).
So atheists say that no god of any kind exists. But we must now ask, do they do so merely out of raw will, or fear, or personal preference, or private taste, or do they sincerely hope to do this on an evidentiary basis? The atheists I meet say, “We disbelieve because of the evidence.” Usually, they insist that something like history, science, truth or logic is on their side; and that something like credulity, superstition, and foolishness is essentially on the other side. But here, we need to pause to consider rather than assume the nature of appropriate evidence.
Quite right, most Strong Atheists are skeptics.  In fact, it is skepticism that led to Atheism to begin with!  So, what does Anderson want to do?  Attack skepticism.  Funny that skepticism was one of the terms he eliminated at the beginning, yet his first real attack on Atheism is an attack on skepticism. Intellectual battles, like that of the god question often encompass far more than the immediate topic. Today is no exception. However, I should say that the intellectual battle that Anderson is readying his analytical knife for hinges on whether or not it is better to not believe until evidence supports such a belief, OR should we believe first and try to reconcile that belief with the current body of knowledge until evidence shows the belief cannot be true.  The latter was the mode of thinking during the Dark Ages, the latter was developed by Rene Descartes to show that reality is real and that there is a benevolent god.  Ironically, it is Descartes who re-birthed skepticism and gave Atheists one of their strongest tools; the doctrine of doubt.  This is the basis not only for modern skepticism, but for science as well.  I won't go too much into it here and I've already covered all of this in addressing R.R. Reno's desire to dumb down our education system.

Anderson sets up his next attack by eloquently (at least far more so than myself) bringing in evidence for finding the rate of gravity on earth and then saying that (rightly enough) that the strength and type of evidence depends on the subject and depth of the question.
 For atheism, the statement is that “Evidence shows that there is no God.” 
And here it is. Why Anderson spent the introduction to his piece  defining Atheism in general as Strong Atheism.  Most Atheists hold that there is no evidence for gods, NOT there is evidence of no god.  See the difference?  In the first case, the burden of proof rests solely on the theist because the burden of proof lies with the person making the positive claim.  When you hear positive claim, it means the claim the evidence is FOR.  A negative claims is what the evidence is AGAINST something.  Negative claims happen all the time; as it turns out, you can prove a negative. Most atheists hold a null hypothesis, meaning that they recognize no proofs for the existence of gods, and do not recognize, or bother with, proofs against the gods yet refuse to believe in any gods until at least one is proven. The soft Atheist position is the hardest to assail, so Anderson leaves them alone. Instead he attacks the Strong Atheist position as he thinks (wrongly) that it is easier.

Many theists believe God is eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent. They also believe that He transcends the limits of time and space. They believe He has existed historically, and will continue to exist indefinitely; and so on. We must ask, then, “What is sufficient evidence to rule out the existence of such a being?”
Ah, the ever-impossible Abrahamic god.
As with the gravity example, one would have to conduct an investigation that fits the scope of the subject. It would certainly not be enough to decide the matter on the basis of personal preference or taste. Nor would it do to make a perfunctory personal search of the local terrain, and then declare victory. For an evidentiary denial of the God concept implies much more substantial proof. One would need to rule out every reasonable possibility of positive evidence for his existence.
Or we could take a short cut and rule out classes that meet the requirements. If god is outside time and space, then we can rule out all tests that measure time and space. But then if we do that, we've eliminated everything that would indicate any involvement of a deity on the universe.  We should also eliminate personal tastes, preferences as they are purely emotional in nature, and have no bearing on reality outside the person experiencing the emotions.  We should also eliminate any and all personal accounts because not only are eye-witnesses notoriously inaccurate in their recollections, but because any way to test their claims is eliminated by the space-time non-test-ability.
If indeed a description of God includes the sort of attributes I listed, then the atheists’ claim of evidence against His existence is completely unfounded.
This is a subtle attempt to throw in the Ontological Argument for god. While Anderson does not do so explicitly, the specter of ontology is brought up as a matter of fact, not as something itself that is disputable, which it is very much so.
Adequate evidence for atheism would require the observer to go everywhere, at all times, see everything, test everything, and eliminate all possibilities – then, having found that God was neither here nor there, neither in time nor in any dimension of space, neither on earth or anywhere around the universe, not in history and not in eternity – only then could he or she justifiably claim to have sufficient evidence to warrant atheism! 
We've already eliminated this, by holding god to be outside time and space. To say that an Atheist must physically look everywhere is to make a sort of reverse god of the gaps argument.  To say that every physical place must be observed is to hold that god was just where you weren't looking.  We can make the same argument with gravity.  No one can observe gravity.  Look under every rock, on every planet, in every galaxy and never find gravity.  This is because gravity is a concept to explain a certain phenomenon. While the phenomenon itself cannot be observed, its effects can. So what would the effects of a god be? Life? Something rather than nothing? we have to ask the right questions, and not look for the smell of the color two.
Now ask yourself: what sort of evidence will be necessary if I am to win? It’s not impossible. I will have to travel to all the places where an okapi could be found – the deep jungles, the grassy plains, the mountain valleys, and perhaps as well the zoos, the private collections and the illegal markets for animals. Having done all that, I could say, “I was right; no okapi exists.” Now, in contrast, ask yourself this: what would my colleagues, the okapi-believers have to do? How far would they have to go, and how many okapis would they have to locate in order to falsify my skepticism? That’s right: one. One single, solid, verifiable counter-case would be sufficient to bring my whole okapi-skepticism down.
Anderson is playing at sophistry here.  I am becoming convinced that he is a Sophist, and not a philosopher. What Anderson illustrates in the above paragraph is quite correct.  Without producing an okapi (or a yeti, or a unicorn) the skeptic mind would not believe in it.  And producing just one would suffice to provide belief.  Would that make the skeptic wrong?  nope, he would just reserve belief until evidence shows otherwise.  This is the position of most Atheist towards the gods.  However, Anderson is wailing not against Atheism as a whole but rather the Strong Atheist position.

In this case, Anderson is being disingenuous with his analogy.  In fact he is making a false analogy. it is false because because okapi are just another species of deer, or elk, or something similar. While they may be so rare that zoologists took forever in finding them led to skepticism of their existence, their existence was always held to be possible.  A more accurate analogy would be with unicorns. While there may be, or once have been, a horse with a single horn protruding from its head, it is not possible that such a creature existed that had magical powers.
You see, by positioning themselves as defending a negative, atheists have put themselves at a horrible disadvantage. If it should turn out to be the case that just one of the various sources of religious revelation claimed by the many varieties of theists should turn out to be true, if even one of the many phenomena attributed to the Supreme Being should turn out to be genuine, or if just one of the people on the earth had ever had a real experience with God, then atheism would be decisively defeated. And this explains yet another reason why atheists are forced to pretend they’ve rationally eliminated the possibility God exists – they are terribly vulnerable to disproof. Only if all religions are bunkum, only if all believers are deluded, only if all Gods are eliminated is atheism secure.
Even the most stringent of Strong Atheists are still waiting for this proof. If just ONE verifiable case of the supernatural (let alone any gods) were to present itself, then the Atheist would reevaluate his or her claims. If that supernatural phenomenon can be conclusively linked to a supreme being, then the Atheist would change his or her world view.  At least I hope they would, that would be the only intellectually honest thing to do.  After all, the only game changer to human outlook than aliens stopping by to say hi, would be to find proof of Odin or Zeus!  Yet we are still waiting for that evidence.
I am not saying that just because atheism is irrational we must all become theists immediately – various forms of agnosticism are still viable. It is however true that we have already detected significant vulnerabilities in these alternatives, and that is why we did not burden atheists with them in the first place. This has spared atheism instant humiliation, perhaps; but we have not been able to save it. Atheism simply isn’t a rational choice.
Oh this'll be good.  let me guess, we're in for some presuppositional apologetics. It's a tiresome approach because of the mental somersaults needed to go through to arrive at the conclusion that presuppositional apologetics is basically one of the most convoluted arguments out there. So, on to the nest paragraph and let's begin.
Its chief proponents know it. I can think of no atheist of recent times more celebrated than the late Antony Flew. But he died a Deist, leaving an account of his transformation titled, There is No A God. What about contemporary atheism’s most famous proponent, Richard Dawkins? He’s not much help: he’s realized the problem and publicly declared himself a ‘convinced agnostic.’ (Witness it for yourself: youtube.com/watch?v=dfk7tW429E4). This, of course, raises the question why, on other occasions, Professor Dawkins still allows himself to be called an atheist. Perhaps he senses that agnosticism simply cannot offer the kind of serious resistance to the idea of God that he wants to promote; and as a rhetorical flourish, atheism makes better press. But whenever he is pressed on the irrationality of that term, you can see that he lapses into calling himself a ‘convinced agnostic’ instead.
Really?  Seriously? Anderson offers not an argument but rather the word-salad above that amounts to nothing more than an argument from authority fallacy? I had to look up Antony Flew, I had never heard of him before. That he turned to Deism late in life is no surprise, he was dying.  It is more comforting to believe in something after death than nothing.  And the comment on Dawkins, sure, he said that, but the joke is on Anderson.  remember an Atheist simply does not believe in a deity, an agnostic finds no evidence for or against the existence of a deity.  He allows that a god may be possible, but not in any way that is meaningful to humans, and definitely not the Abrahamic god!

Yet the strength of Anderson's claim that Atheism is irrational is not in presuppositional apologetics, but in that he produced a case where one influential Atheist turned into a theist, and another considers himself more of a hard agnostic than an atheist. Mr. Anderson, listen very carefully: in the Atheistic community, we do not recognise authority in ideas.  Expertise, yes, but not authority.  Just because someone says something, does not make it so. Just take a look at the Richard Dawkins Facebook fan page, when ever he says or tweets something a bit off, like the fiasco about aborting a Down's Syndrome baby and starting again, we call him out on it!  No one in the Atheist community speaks with authority, which is how it is in the science community.  It is the strength of WHAT is posited that is evaluated, not WHO said it.

The Verdict

Why then, we might ask, is atheism so popular? Why does it enjoy so much grace in the public eye, and why is it so often the default position in the academy? The motives cannot be philosophical, for atheism is not a position that can be compelled or sustained by logic. It is perhaps tempting to observe that something more visceral is at work. Ignorance? Evasion? Faddism? Or posturing? (After all, there is a considerable difference between wanting to appear intellectual and actually being intellectual). Whatever the case, it’s hard not to see that reason has left the building.
As for the Supreme Being, if He has seemed reticent to weigh in on this debate, it is not too surprising. Those who claim to know something about Him have often insisted that God is particularly uninterested in bowing to the demands of the hard-hearted cynic. As the Tanakh says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” That looks justified. Even by our most charitable account, we have seen that atheism is a disingenuous, bombastic claim to certainty, one without evidence or logic. What then can one call it but foolishness?
Oy vey!  Here is Anderson's closing in its entirety. Is Atheism popular? No, not at all, but religious "nones" are growing in America. It is not at all popular, even a death sentence in the Middle East and in parts of Africa and the Far East.  Is it illogical?  Mr. Anderson, you claimed to be able to show that it is, but failed in a most basic way. In failing to do so, you must resort to intellectual name calling. Calling someone a fool for failing to hold your particular god-belief is just that, name calling. Is it just me or does anyone else find it interesting that Anderson posits that those "in the know" about the gods say that their god will not "[bow] to the demands of the hard-hearted cynic." A cynic? That's a word that gets thrown around a lot, so let's look at it:
cyn·ic╦łsinik/
noun1.
a person who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honorable or unselfish reasons.
"some cynics thought that the controversy was all a publicity stunt"
2.
a member of a school of ancient Greek philosophers founded by Antisthenes, marked by an ostentatious contempt for ease and pleasure. The movement flourished in the 3rd century BC and revived in the 1st century AD.
So which is it? Is Anderson saying that Atheists view others as motivated solely by self interest, or that we follow a 2000 year old Greek aesthetic lifestyle?   I think he means skeptic which is simply to doubt until evidence shows otherwise. But even then, that is skepticism, not Atheism. I shall resign myself from name calling; or at least any further name calling. I will not make fun of this article that one would normally expect from a first-year philosophy minor.  The kind of work that said student would re-read two years later and laugh at his own naivety.  We can be comfortable in the knowledge that Mr. Anderson  tried to run with the adults, but he came in last and must go back to what ever church he preaches at in the kiddie pool.
© Dr Stephen L. Anderson 2015
Stephen Anderson is a philosophy teacher in London, Ontario.
Oh.  Doctor?  Teaches philosophy?  I couldn't find any further credentials for Anderson, so I don't know if he is a medical doctor, has a doctorate in divinity, theology, astrology or other flim-flam, or if he has a legitimate doctorate.  Nor could I find out if he teaches on the street corner or at a university.  Oh well, he calls himself a doctor, but still, unless this whole piece was satire, and I missed it (I really hope that is the case) or he should get a refund on his degree.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A rebuttal to "Answering the Skeptic: Is the Bible a Myth?"

The following is from the ComeReason ministries found at www.comereason.org.  The exact address of the article can be found at http://www.comereason.org/skeptic-bible.asp
The original post is in plain text, my comments are in itallics.
Answering the Skeptic: Is the Bible a Myth?

Recently, I received some e-mail from an avowed skeptic that repeatedly made the following claims:
"Is not the bible simply a book of parables and mythology, written by men for men? Is not the parable simply a short story, never intended to be taken literally? With the events of September the eleventh behind us, is it not reasonable for humanity to take another look at religion and it's contribution to the chaos in the world?"

Such a sentiment is common. So many people today think that belief in the Bible is for the simple-minded of the past whereas we are now "enlightened" through science and discovery. However, in that view lies some unfounded assumptions - making the position as unreasonable as that which they object to.
Assumes Myth With No Good Reason
When a skeptic asserts that the Bible is merely a collection of myths, he must put forth evidence to bolster his claim. This is a misuse of burden of evidence.  It is true that those making the POSITIVE claim must put forth evidence.  Thus if I say that there are unicorns living in my shoes, I must provide evidence to that effect.  The skeptic's position is a negative.  All stories are fiction unless shown to be otherwise.  But if we are to compare the Biblical texts against other ancient documents, we find a marked difference. The Bible speaks about real people, places and events and dates many of those events within an historical framework.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens also is about people, events etc.  But it is fiction.  If you notice, the original author sneaks the world real into his list without explaining how he determined they are real.   The New Testament especially reads not like myth at all, but like recorded history. This statement means nothing.  How something "reads" has nothing to do with if it is true or not.  And, no, I've read the bible several times and it most certainly does not read like a history book. In fact, if we use the rules of textual criticism consistently across all ancient documents, we find the Bible to be some of the most reliable historical documents of antiquityAgain, the author makes a claim that is absolutely false.  I'll even give him an out: what rules are you talking about?  List them and explain how they apply.

More importantly, it is evident that the authors of the Bible intended for the readers to take them literally.  That still has no bearing of whether the stories are true or not. Luke begins his gospel by explicitly stating, that he has carefully investigated the accounts of Jesus from the eyewitnesses and he seeks to write out "the exact truth about the things you have been taught." To claim that this was intended as a parable or myth is wholly without meritIf a freshman in high school were to use book A as proof to the claim that book A is true, the teacher would patiently explain that you cannot use a source to prove that source true.  IF that student were a freshman in college, the professor would be less patient, and probably mutter something about the failing of the US educational system.  If a senior in college made that mistake, the professor would tell the student that he should look at trade school as an option.  Why?  It is called begging the question.  Begging the question is a fallacy where the truth of a proposition is assumed in its evidence.  In layman's terms it means that a piece of evidence you present is only viable if the conclusion (point you're trying to make) is true.  Here, the book of Luke is assumed to be true based on the evidence that the book of Luke says it is true.
Assumes The Evil In The World Is Attributable To Religion
The more prevalent assertion today is that religion is at the root of much of the world's evils. Some anti-theists do make this claim. However, it is not a "skeptic" position.  A skeptic is someone who demands evidence to accept a proposition, and will hold that proposition until evidence indicates otherwise. Here, the author is mixing terms.   Skeptics will argue that a serious belief in Christianity promotes a type of fanaticism that causes more harm than good. History has shown this to be the case. But it is not JUST Christianity, but ANY form of faith based belief.  This includes Christianity, Islam, Roman Polytheism, Scientology, Babylonian Polytheism, Mayan Polytheism, and the Cult of Personalities found around such people as Vladimir Lenin, Pol Pot, Jim Jones, Joseph Stalin, Joseph Smith, Charles Manson and the list goes on.   Again this assumes much, but provides little support. Where are the facts? The Inquisition, Slavery in the US, the Twin Towers, ISIS, the Salem Witch Trials, Jim Baker.  Just to name a few. Exactly what evils are we talking about and from where are they drawing your data?
If faced with having to provide proof for the above claim, most skeptics tend to either reassert their assertion or shrink into anecdotal tales of a particular event (such as the Crusades.) Anecdotal evidence is hearsay of one highly specific incident. For example, Alice tells Bob that smoking is linked to lung cancer.  Bob replies that his second cousin on his mother's side smoked all his life and never got lung cancer.  Bob is giving an anecdotal account.   A skeptic wouldn't offer anecdotal evidence, at least not a good skeptic.  The bible is nothing BUT anecdotal evidence.  And for the record, the Crusades are most definitely not anecdotal evidence.  There is an archeological record, and corroborating accounts of the Crusades. However, it is illogical to argue from a particular to a general. Actually, not at all. There is a whole field of logic that does exactly this: it is called inductive logic.  Everything we use today is the result of it.  Computers, cars, wine glasses, tracking game through the woods, all owe their existence, as it were, it inductive logic.  Therefore, the skeptic's claim dismissed as irrational.
The One Question
The main problem with both these objections is that the skeptic assumes Christianity to be false a priori. Again, it is the Christian making the POSITIVE claim, not the skeptic.  The default position is that something isn't. In other words, they are coming from an anti-Christian bias and then trying to muster support for their position. The use of anti-Christian is what is called a weasel word.  The author is trying to play on the fears of his intended audience (Christians) to strengthen their resolve against reason.  The skeptic is not anti-Christian, just as the skeptic is not anti-Unicorn.   But this is neither fair nor rational. It is both actually. If a skeptic were to say there IS NO god, then they would be making a positive claim.  But that is not the skeptic position.  The skeptic position, is that they will not BELIEVE in a god, until one is proven to exist.  A sincere seeker of truth would look for just that - truth. We all have biases and we all start examining truth-claims leaning in one direction or another. But if we're honest, we will study all positions with an open mind until they have proven themselves to be not true. Not at all.  It is the reverse.  Positive positions must be shown to be true, or at least shown to be the most plausible position.  Keeping an open mind does not mean believing, or giving credence to any old idea.  Keeping an open mind means to weigh the evidence for claims and give them credence based on that evidence.
The most reasonable stance to take on any position is the one that is true. If the Bible records history accurately and it portrays Jesus' life, death and resurrection as history, then it follows that Christianity is true. If Christianity is true it becomes the only rational position to hold. In rejecting Christianity out of hand, one runs the risk of rejecting the truth - and to reject the truth is the most illogical thing someone could do.  Again, the author implies that the bible is true, yet has not provided any evidence to that effect.  He is trying to shift the burden of proof to the negative claim of the skeptic, which is unfair.  Why is it unfair?  Because negatives cannot be proven!  Prove that unicorns do not exist.  Prove that aliens did not impregnate the Virgin Mary.  Prove that George Bush was not responsible for the Twin Towers. 
The skeptic position is the same as the Missouri State motto:  Show me.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

About that J. Krishnamurti meme going around...

Non-nutritious word salad by J. Krishnamurti


“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”

- Jiddu Krishnamurti

The above quote came across my Facebook feed recently.  At first glance it looks like wise words, Krishnamurti's sentiment is very humanistic, and what he's trying to say is worth listening to. However, if you spend more than a second thinking about it, the woo-woo slaps you in the face. Where Krishnamurti fails in reason is that he is redefining the word violence outside any intelligible meaning.  By saying that violence is when you separate yourself from the rest of humanity.  

The quote above begins with Krishnamurti giving a definition of tribalism, but the tail end of the quote implies that any separation is his version of violence.  Let's be clear on what violence is. Violence is doing tangible, physical harm to others. It is not calling some one a name, and it is definitely not joining or identifying with a group.

Are you a registered Democrat or Republican?  You're being violent!
Have you joined a church? You're being violent!
Do you root for your school's sports teams? You're being violent!
Consider yourself a Humanist?  You're being violent!
Are you a member of a labor union? You're being violent!
Do you consider yourself Canadian?  You're being violent!
What about considering yourself Irish, African-American or Polynesian? You're being violent!
Do you have a name? You're being violent!

To reiterate, This is violence:
Cop beating up motorist
Violence
And this is NOT violence:

Not violence
According to Krishnamurti, the black people in the "Not violence" photo above are being violent because they are identifying themselves as black, and thus not white like the police officer in the photo.  That same police officer is being violent by identifying himself as a cop, and thus not a civilian.  Ironically, that last photo not only exposes the absurdity of Krishnamurti's definition of violence, but refutes the very thing he was trying to say while simultaneously reiterating his sentiment.

How the photo refutes Krishnamurti is that the Black Lives Matter movement is in response to rampant and inexcusable police violence and institutionalized racism in many police departments in America and yet there is a white police officer holding up a #BlackLivesMatter protest sign.  Human identity is a necessary component of our psyche.  To end violence is not to get rid of our differences, but to embrace them when we can, dissect them and change when they cannot.  right now, American police departments are being dissected, we as a people cannot accept their treatment of certain members of our society.  Eventually, we will change the outlook of police officers towards black citizens.

Separating oneself from others does not necessarily breed violence. It can also breed corroboration and cooperation; in fact humanity is at its best when doing so.  But if we all have the same beliefs, the same ideas, belong to the same groups, then what is best in humanity dissipates.  It is not the act of differentiating oneself by idea or nation that breeds violence, the desire for violence is in some ideas themselves. Does your religion allow you to lie or harm non-followers?  Does your group necessitate hostility to other groups (like the KKK or NFL teams)? Then THAT is the cause of violence through groups: the design and desire within the group itself.  Often the purpose of the violence is more power for the group, or at least for the leaders of the group.  Until notions of personal power are eradicated from the human psyche, there will be violence.  Until then, redefining a component of identity as violence only asks the wrong questions, thus seeks the wrong answers.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Rebuttal to "Is Jesus a Myth" from gotquestions.org

This article was sent to me and I will respond to it as I have other articles.  The original will be in plain type, and my comments will be in red.
The original article can be found at: 
http://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-myth.html#.VIZYf0d_zGg.facebook
I last accessed it on 12 December 2014
Question: "Is Jesus a myth? Is Jesus just a copy of the pagan gods of other ancient religions?"

Answer: There are a number of people claiming that the accounts of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament are simply myths borrowed from pagan folklore, such as the stories of Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, and Mithras. The claim is that these myths are essentially the same story as the New Testament’s narrative of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. As Dan Brown claims in The Da Vinci Code, “Nothing in Christianity is original.”

To discover the truth about the claim that the Gospel writers borrowed from mythology, it is important to (1) unearth the history behind the assertions, (2) examine the actual portrayals of the false gods being compared to Christ, (3) expose any logical fallacies being made, and (4) look at why the New Testament Gospels are trustworthy depictions of the true and historical Jesus Christ.

The claim that Jesus was a myth or an exaggeration originated in the writings of liberal German theologians in the nineteenth century. To be fair, this ONLY applies to Christians.  Congregants of other religions already held Jesus to be a myth or at least claims of his divinity as such. They essentially said that Jesus was nothing more than a copy of popular dying-and-rising fertility gods in various places—Tammuz in Mesopotamia, Adonis in Syria, Attis in Asia Minor, and Horus in Egypt. Of note is the fact that none of the books containing these theories were taken seriously by the academics of the day. The assertion that Jesus was a recycled Tammuz, for example, was investigated by contemporary scholars and determined to be completely baseless. It has only been recently that these assertions have been resurrected, primarily due to the rise of the Internet and the mass distribution of information from unaccountable sources.

This leads us to the next area of investigation—do the mythological gods of antiquity really mirror the person of Jesus Christ? As an example, the Zeitgeist movie makes these claims about the Egyptian god Horus:

  • He was born on December 25 of a virgin: Isis Mary
  • A star in the East proclaimed his arrival
  • Three kings came to adore the newborn “savior”
  • He became a child prodigy teacher at age 12
  • At age 30 he was “baptized” and began a “ministry”
  • Horus had twelve “disciples”
  • Horus was betrayed
  • He was crucified
  • He was buried for three days
  • He was resurrected after three days

However, when the actual writings about Horus are competently examined, this is what we find:

  • Horus was born to Isis; there is no mention in history of her being called “Mary.” Moreover, “Mary” is our Anglicized form of her real name, Miryam or Miriam. “Mary” was not even used in the original texts of Scripture.
  • Isis was not a virgin; she was the widow of Osiris and conceived Horus with Osiris.
  • Horus was born during month of Khoiak (Oct/Nov), not December 25. Further, there is no mention in the Bible as to Christ’s actual birth date.
  • There is no record of three kings visiting Horus at his birth. The Bible never states the actual number of magi that came to see Christ.
  • Horus is not a “savior” in any way; he did not die for anyone.
  • There are no accounts of Horus being a teacher at the age of 12.
  • Horus was not “baptized.” The only account of Horus that involves water is one story where Horus is torn to pieces, with Isis requesting the crocodile god to fish him out of the water.
  • Horus did not have a “ministry.”
  • Horus did not have 12 disciples. According to the Horus accounts, Horus had four demigods that followed him, and there are some indications of 16 human followers and an unknown number of blacksmiths that went into battle with him.
  • There is no account of Horus being betrayed by a friend.
  • Horus did not die by crucifixion. There are various accounts of Horus’ death, but none of them involve crucifixion.
  • There is no account of Horus being buried for three days.
  • Horus was not resurrected. There is no account of Horus coming out of the grave with the body he went in with. Some accounts have Horus/Osiris being brought back to life by Isis and then becoming the lord of the underworld.

When compared side by side, Jesus and Horus bear little, if any, resemblance to one another.

Jesus is also compared to Mithras by those claiming that Jesus Christ is a myth. All the above descriptions of Horus are applied to Mithras (e.g., born of a virgin, being crucified, rising in three days, etc.). But what does the Mithras myth actually say?

  • He was born out of a solid rock, not from any woman.
  • He battled first with the sun and then with a primeval bull, thought to be the first act of creation. Mithras killed the bull, which then became the ground of life for the human race.
  • Mithras’s birth was celebrated on December 25, along with winter solstice.
  • There is no mention of his being a great teacher.
  • There is no mention of Mithras having 12 disciples. The idea that Mithras had 12 disciples may have come from a mural in which Mithras is surrounded by the twelve signs of the zodiac.
  • Mithras had no bodily resurrection. Rather, when Mithras completed his earthly mission, he was taken to paradise in a chariot, alive and well. The early Christian writer Tertullian did write about Mithraic cultists re-enacting resurrection scenes, but this occurred well after New Testament times, so if any copycatting was done, it was Mithraism copying Christianity.

More examples can be given of Krishna, Attis, Dionysus, and other mythological gods, but the result is the same. In the end, the historical Jesus portrayed in the Bible is unique. The alleged similarities of Jesus’ story to pagan myths are greatly exaggerated. Further, while tales of Horus, Mithras, and others pre-date Christianity, there is very little historical record of the pre-Christian beliefs of those religions. The vast majority of the earliest writings of these religions date from the third and fourth centuries A.D. To assume that the pre-Christian beliefs of these religions (of which there is no record) were identical to their post-Christian beliefs is naive. It is more logical to attribute any similarities between these religions and Christianity to the religions’ copying Christian teaching about Jesus.
While the Jesus myth is not exactly like any other tradition, they often share similarities in certain aspects.  The above shows that this essay is written for an audience of believers and not for skeptics.  A skeptic will read this and ask, "what is more likely, that there is this Demigod named Jesus who share some similarities to various other deity-figures as a matter of coincidence, or is it that the tradition of the Jesus myth is a conglomeration of other myths mixed into some original ideas?" 
This leads us to the next area to examine: the logical fallacies committed by those claiming that Christianity borrowed from pagan mystery religions. We’ll consider two fallacies in particular: the fallacy of the false cause and the terminological fallacy.

If one thing precedes another, some conclude that the first thing must have caused the second. This is the fallacy of the false cause. A rooster may crow before the sunrise every morning, but that does not mean the rooster causes the sun to rise. Even if pre-Christian accounts of mythological gods closely resembled Christ (and they do not), it does not mean they caused the Gospel writers to invent a false Jesus. Making such a claim is akin to saying the TV series Star Trek caused the NASA Space Shuttle program.

The terminological fallacy occurs when words are redefined to prove a point. There is no such thing as a terminological fallacy.  The only references to it are found in other christian blogs.  The proper fallacy is the definitional fallacy and that fallacy covers any misuse of definition, including tailoring a definition to fit a particular stance. The author does just this when he begins talking about ministries.   For example, the Zeitgeist movie says that Horus “began his ministry,” but the word ministry is being redefined. Horus had no actual “ministry”—nothing like that of Christ’s ministry. Those claiming a link between Mithras and Jesus talk about the “baptism” that initiated prospects into the Mithras cult, but what was it actually? Mithraic priests would place initiates into a pit, suspend a bull over the pit, and slit the bull’s stomach, covering the initiates in blood and gore. Such a practice bears no resemblance whatsoever to Christian baptism—a person going under water (symbolizing the death of Christ) and then coming back out of the water (symbolizing Christ’s resurrection). But advocates of a mythological Jesus deceptively use the same term, “baptism,” to describe both rites in hopes of linking the two.  And the author commits his own "terminological fallacy" by defining baptism to mean a very specific (and Christian) meaning.  Baptism is the Christian name for a sacred washing of the body, which is a religious rite that is shared by other religions.  They just have different names for it. In the English language, baptism can mean more than just a Christian rite.

This brings us to the subject of the truthfulness of the New Testament. No other work of antiquity has more evidence to its historical veracity than the New Testament. This is also not true.  The lost city of Troy was found by Heinrich Schielmann when he followed the clues in the Illiad.  Also, the writings of Heroditus, while biased, are mostly based in fact. The writings of Plato, more specifically the trial of Socrates, has been covered by other authors contemporary to Socrates, thus giving credence to his existence. These are just two instances that I could recall off of the top of my head.  A google search, or better yet, a google:scholar search will turn up many more historical writings that predate the bible, and even more that predate the new testament.    The New Testament has more writers (nine), better writers, and earlier writers than any other document from that era.  I think students of philosophy, and literature would disagree with this statement.  Some of the most influential Roman philosophers were from this period.  Lucretius, Seneca the Younger, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius are still studied in philosophy classes today.  In literature, there is Julius Caesar, Seneca the Elder, Philo, Pliny, Tacitus, Ptolemy, and Pliny the Younger. No serious literati would regard the works in the bible more elegant than the literary authors listed above.  No philosopher would consider biblical works of a greater philosophical value than the philosophers listed above. Further, history testifies that these writers went to their deaths claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. While some may die for a lie they think is true, no person dies for a lie he knows to be false. Think about it—if someone was about to crucify you upside down, as happened to the apostle Peter, and all you had to do to save your life was renounce a lie you had knowingly told, what would you do? This presupposes that those in question knew it was a lie.  The terrorists of the Twin Towers knew that Alah would reward them.  The followers of Jim Jones knew they would die with the kool aid.  So, yes, people die and kill each other because of belief all the time.  This is the reason that militant atheists are against religion in general: If you can convince people that they are inherently evil and only your invisible friend has the cure for that, you can convince them of almost anything.  Islam, Christianity, even Buddhism does this.  The main difference between the three is that Islam and Christianity are founded on the belief in an omnibenevolent god that has the temperament of a spoiled, bloodthirsty sociopath, and in Buddhism there is no god save for a cosmic Karma that metes out rewards and punishment through reincarnation.

In addition, history has shown that it takes at least two generations to pass before myth can enter a historical account. That’s because, as long as there are eyewitnesses to an event, errors can be refuted and mythical embellishments can be exposed. All the Gospels of the New Testament were written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses, with some of Paul’s Epistles being written as early as A.D. 50. Paul directly appeals to contemporary eyewitnesses to verify his testimony (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Eyewitnesses to what?  All of the books in the New Testament were written well after the supposed death of Jesus.  What the author ignores is that for one, eyewitness accounts are very unreliable immediately after an event, let alone years after the fact. Also, the author is pulling a little dishonest trickery here.  The bible verse he quotes is indeed from Paul, but it is Paul quoting from some earlier "scriptures" that Jesus appeared before 500 people. The truth is that there are several differing accounts as to whom and how many Jesus exposed himself to after his three-day nap.
The New Testament attests to the fact that, in the first century, Jesus was not mistaken for any other god. When Paul preached in Athens, the elite thinkers of that city said, “‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean’” (Acts 17:18–20, NASB). Clearly, if Paul were simply rehashing stories of other gods, the Athenians would not have referred to his doctrine as a “new” and “strange” teaching. If dying-and-rising gods were plentiful in the first century, why, when the apostle Paul preached Jesus rising from the dead, did the Epicureans and Stoics not remark, “Ah, just like Horus and Mithras”?

In conclusion, the claim that Jesus is a copy of mythological gods originated with authors whose works have been discounted by academia, contain logical fallacies, and cannot compare to the New Testament Gospels, which have withstood nearly 2,000 years of intense scrutiny. The alleged parallels between Jesus and other gods disappear when the original myths are examined. The Jesus-is-a-myth theory relies on selective descriptions, redefined words, and false assumptions.

Jesus Christ is unique in history, with His voice rising above all false gods’ as He asks the question that ultimately determines a person’s eternal destiny: “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

There are scholarly works that counter many of the claims throughout this paper, and scholarly works that agree with the claims throughout this essay.  But, that is theology, which presupposes that there is a deity, or deities, of some kind    In order for theology to have any meaning, the supernatural, anything supernatural, must first be demonstrated. 

To argue that the new testament is true because it isn't exactly like other mythologies is a mistake in reasoning.  By showing that the new testament is different than other mythologies shows only that the new testament is different from those myths.  One cannot point to the new testament, or any bible, or religious work and say "see it is true because it says it is true!"  This is the very definition of circular reasoning.

This whole essay is written for a theistic argument, by the fact that a godhead is presupposed.  In  the philosophy of religion such a presupposition is laughable as it is unsupportable since it is based in a fallacy.  If this essay was written with the skeptic in mind, a more logical approach would have been taken. 

To me, the whole issue of the bible being close to other mythologies or not is an intellectual curiosity at best, and a waste of time at worst.  In a debate on the existence of a godhead, the mythological argument is a red herring.  It adds no evidence to the possibility of a god or not.