Slippin’ and Slidin’

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I’ve written before about how impossible it is to argue with Christians. It’s either that they have superior knowledge because an invisible ghost possesses them and is guiding them towards truths that non-believers can’t possibly perceive. Or it’s that the supernatural just cannot be understood in an evidential, naturalistic way. Science and empiricism – what we can detect with our own eyes, with specialist equipment that serves as an extension of those eyes or that can be mathematically demonstrated – just cannot detect, perceive or understand the supernatural. Gary Matson is currently experiencing this on Escaping Christian Fundamentalism, where a Catholic Christian (an oxymoron to many other religionists) is arguing that the things he believes in – hell specifically and his God generally – are just too sophisticated for the ignorant layman to understand. We’ve met this before too, from pseudo-intellectual Christians who think their faith, which its supposed founder said was best understood by becoming like a child, requires a degree or three in theology or philosophy.

It’s all a sleight of hand, and rather like wrestling with a jelly-fish. The assertion that the believer in the supernatural makes, that his or her particular brand of woo lies outside the purview of science, is mere flannel. ‘You can’t prove this because you haven’t the tools to’, applies to any form of magical belief – in heaven and hell, in an afterlife, in ghosts, and angels, gods who speak to mortals, mystical saints, flying horses, reptilian overlords, UFO abductions… you name it – does not stand up to scrutiny. If supernatural entities and states are outside the natural universe (and they are, by definition) then they will never be detected by science, observation and empirical measurement; but not because our means of detection is inadequate, but because they don’t exist. It isn’t that they are out there somewhere, detectable only with the right frame of mind or with the help of a spirit that itself has no physical presence; they are nowhere; they are not real. It is not the inadequacy of our means of detection that is at fault; it is that the invisible, non-physical and intangible have no substance outside the human imagination. As I’ve said before, remove human imagination from the equation and the supernatural goes with it. If humans were to become extinct tomorrow, so too would all the magical beings and places that humans have ever conjured up. They have no  existence independent of the human imagination.

Arguing that this isn’t so is to assume your conclusion in your premise: ‘Of course supernatural things exist, you just can’t see them. But I can prove them with my argument/philosophy/faith’. This, however, is a demonstration of irrationality, not of the supernatural. In any case, the fact the supernatural has to be argued for at all is evidence that it doesn’t exist. Nothing real has to be argued for, it can be detected, shown, demonstrated and measured by the senses, by instruments, by mathematical proofs. That gods and ghosts can’t be, but have to be argued for, tells us they are not real – not that they are beyond the scope of our capabilities.

Covid+Science

Science created Covid-19. Or at least scientists did. The evidence is conclusive, being laid out in Failures Of State published in April 2021 by investigative journalists Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott. In short, the virus was first detected about ten years ago in caves in south China after it had killed several miners. Scientists from Wuhan collected samples of the virus from bat guano in the caves. They returned to their lab where, after an initial investigation, they froze the virus until 2019 when they revived it and began experimenting on it, ostensibly to develop a vaccine effective against SARS-CoV2 viruses. They undoubtedly altered the virus at this point, adding the element that has been recognised as being engineered. They also allowed it to escape. This was probably not intentional; pathogens regularly escape from laboratories all around the world. We now know this is the most likely scenario for the origin of Covid-19.

Science propelled us into lockdowns and restrictions. Strictly speaking, the worst case predictions of scientific modellers propelled the world’s politicians into panic mode and, in consequence, populations into lockdowns. Whether data analysis, number crunching and computer projections can be properly defined as science is a moot point, but those involved in this work regard it as such, as do the politicians who act on modellers’ advice. They have been wrong more than they have been right.

Science is helping us out of the pandemic. The vaccine has reduced the number of cases of Covid and its variants. It is not as effective as was originally predicted, three inoculations providing only about five months’ protection. We can only hope that this is sufficient to get us though the next few weeks by which time it may be that the virus will have run its course. We know from previous pandemics that they last about two to three years, after which they become endemic (though naturally scientists are arguing about the meaning of this term). In other words, we will to have to learn to live with a (hopefully) weakened virus.

We must also be more cautious about science and scientists. Science is a tool that humans use to understand the world. It is a good tool, but it is only as reliable as those who use it; scientists who, like all other humans, make mistakes (lab leaks), have biases (towards worst case scenarios) and agendas (predictions of doom, profit, panaceas.) Science sits uneasily on a pedestal.

 

God: Probably not

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As God-botherers everywhere are fond of telling us, we can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. Of course, no negative can ever be proven. My own conviction that there isn’t a God does not rely on ‘proof’, but on the probability that he doesn’t. Perhaps this is the same as Christians’ own dismissal of Zeus and Krishna as real beings; if they think about such things, that is. So what is the probability that God does not exist? My next couple of posts will look at my reasons for concluding that the likelihood of the Christian God existing is ridiculously low. Some of these reasons have developed from my reading of the last thirty odd years, others from my own thinking about the subject. Both are now so intertwined I don’t know exactly which is which. You’ll have encountered some of what I’ve got to say in other posts on this blog but it seems worthwhile put all my arguments in one place.

So, reason one: God explains nothing. He isn’t required to explain the Big Bang, evolution, human psychology, germ theory, viral pandemics or anything else that science explains with far greater proficiency and conviction. At best, the god concept has atrophied into a god-of-the-gaps desperation. Science doesn’t know how life began, goes the ‘reasoning’, therefore it can only have been God. This explains nothing, merely adding an unnecessary element into the equation; Occam’s Razor demands we remove any such elements from our arguments and attributing life to an unknown supernatural agent is just such a redundancy. I’m confident that science will one day answer the question of how life started, but even if it that were never to happen, the answer would not be, as if by magical default, God.

Two: the more characteristics we attribute to God, the less likely it is that he exists. Let’s say, by way of analogy, that I’ve put myself on a dating app to look for a new partner. To start with I specify that all this partner needs is a good sense of humour. Then I wonder if this is enough. Wouldn’t they also have to be within my preferred age group? Of course. I’ve already narrowed my chances of finding my ideal person. So I think I may as well go for it: I want some who’s good looking too, with a place of their own, within travelling distance of where I live and with interests similar to my own, including a passion for the ukulele. The likelihood of my finding this person is pretty remote. The probability they actually exist, with all the attributes I want, is equally unlikely.

So it is with God. If he were only the creator of the universe he would be unlikely enough (because of reason 1 above) but that’s not all that is required of him. He has to be also a God that is interested in his creation, and not only interested but intimately involved with certain aspects of it, humans particularly. He is now beginning to recede from the possible into the margins of the improbable. But then it’s claimed that in addition to being the creator of everything and a micromanager to boot, he’s also ephemeral and unknowable. He’s simultaneously loving and a severe judge. He’s both omniscient and omnipotent (this last doesn’t follow from his being the creator; it’s a separate attribute). He’s a god of reason and yet only satisfied by blood sacrifice. And on and on, well beyond the bounds of probability and into the realms of the impossible, like my hypothetical ideal mate. God as envisaged by Christians (and others) is an impossibility.

To be continued.

Theoidiocy

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Theodicy – how to square suffering with an all powerful, loving God. A meme doing the rounds neatly summarises the four possibilities as applied to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here it is and here they are:

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Assuming God exists and given his apparent indifference/inaction during the current crisis (not to mention numerous previous ones) these are really the only four options. However, if

  • he is unaware Covid-19 is happening then he’s not omniscient
  • he is aware of it but is unwilling to stop it then he’s not all loving
  • he is aware of it but is unable to stop it then he’s not all powerful
  • he deliberately caused (or allowed it) it then he’s nothing but a complete and utter bastard

Oh wait – turns out there’s a fifth option! (Pause while we phone a friend.)

So that’s it – God doesn’t exist, which is why we see him doing f**k all in this and every other calamity we’ve ever faced.

As for me, I’ll put my trust in science. Already those damn scientists with their ‘man’s ideas’ (©Ken Ham) have started solving the problem. No need then to rely on an imaginary, non-existent friend. Thank God for that.

Coronavirus defeated

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Thank God the Coronavirus pandemic is over. It was scary there for a minute or two. Over 3,000 people died from it. Fortunately, they were mainly Chinese and South Koreans. Vice-president Mike Pence and other anti-abortionists Christian leaders have now taken care of it. On Friday they prayed that it would go away and God has done as they asked. The picture above, courtesy of The Friendly Atheist, shows them doing it. Here’s some other nitwits righteous ones doing the same thing and here an article about the prophet whom God chose to announce to the world that the threat was over. You have to wonder, though, why he made the virus in the first place and why he allowed it to spread so indiscriminately. I mean, even Christians were infected.

Truly, the way to resolve a world wide health crisis is to enlist the help of an imaginary sky fairy who, as usual, does f**k all to help.

Next week: the coronavirus continues to spread. These same men of God then realise that the virus is actually God’s punishment for abortion… er, homosexuality… um, opposition to Trump… er, people shaking their fists in his face (he really doesn’t like that.) Then it all becomes clear why God made the virus in the first place. Difficult to explain why he started it off in China though, but the Lord will surely let his prophets know that too (I mean, those Chinese are commies.)

Life must be easy when all you have to do is make stuff up. It’s more than a little bit worrying that those who do it are listened to by multitudes who’ve switched off their critical faculties. More worrying still when some of these fantasists are in charge of entire countries. The only way coronavirus will be defeated is through science; the development of a vaccine, which is still many months away. Imaginary deities – and they’re all imaginary – prayers, pleading and blaming are all worse than useless.

Abandon Reason all ye who enter the Faith

Descartes

The question of whether religious believers are less intelligent than non-believers surfaces every now and again. The atheist blogs I read are usually courteous enough to say that of course believers are not less intelligent, and there are no studies that I can find that have considered the matter.

Evidently there have been intelligent Christians; C. S. Lewis comes to mind, Francis Collins of the Human Genome project and William Lane Craig are evidently intelligent men. (I can’t think of any obviously intelligent women who subscribe to religion; I suspect intelligent women are intelligent enough to avoid superstition altogether.) It seems to me though that what those who profess religious belief are prepared to do, is sublimate whatever intelligence they have and sacrifice intellect in the service of faith. They suppress their critical faculties, usually through a form of cognitive dissonance, and press rationality into the servitude of beliefs that have been arrived at irrationally. I might be wrong of course, but this what the evidence suggests to me.

A recent commenter on this blog by name of tides99, does seem to support to this hypothesis. tides99 originally wrote to say how his chosen superstition, Catholicism, is the one true way (aren’t they all) and that while I’m right to criticise Protestantism, I really should investigate Catholicism for myself. When I declined his very generous offer, tides99 responded – you’ll find his comments in ‘the author’ section above – with a number of points about the limits of human reason. It is these I take apart respond to here.

tides99: I have a PhD in philosophy, so I certainly would not believe in anything that goes against reason or requires one to repress or contradict one’s critical faculties.
For one who professes a PhD in philosophy, tides99, there is some very sloppy reasoning here and throughout your argument. Already in this first sentence we see the contradiction between belief and reason; they are not the same and can’t ever be; belief doesn’t require reason. That is why it is often called ‘faith’.

Criticsl (sic) reason is only one way of encountering and assessing reality… You’re right, tides99, but not for the reason you think. Critical reasoning is one way of assessing reality, but is insufficient on its own. It needs the support of evidence. Evidence is supplied by science and the methods used in scientific enquiry that seek to eliminate, as far as possible, human bias and presupposed conclusions.

and there are aspects of reality that reason cannot adjudicate because it cannot access them. If there are aspects of reality that reason cannot ‘adjudicate’ (whatever that means) and that science cannot access, then how do you know these supernatural aspects exist? You feel them? Your church says they do? You’d like them to? Maybe so, but none of these mean that these mysterious ‘aspects’ really do exist. You’re sneaking supernaturalism in through the back door here, tides.

Rationalism is itself based Upon faith, of faith… Oh dear, this old chestnut.

in the ultimate intelligibility of the universe, and its perfect transparency to human reason. Is rationality really based on these things? Scientists concede there may be aspects of the universe which, while we might observe them or extrapolate mathematically, we might never properly understand or be able to explain. This doesn’t, to my knowledge, prevent the exercise of rationality.

This of course cannot be proven, yet you believe it anyway. Scientists and free-thinkers rarely go in for ‘proof’. Your use of the word makes me suspicious of your claims about your credentials. Things can be proven mathematically, it’s true, as can matters in a court of law (beyond reasonable doubt) but by and large science is more interested in theories, working models and demonstration. So, no-one is looking to ‘prove’ that the universe is ultimately intelligible and no-one ‘believes’ it is perfectly transparent to human reason. This is a strawman argument, tides.

It’s quite superstitious to have such faith, but yet have nothing really to ground it on. Whatever reason and rationality are based on, it is not faith in the universe’s intelligibility or transparency. The use of reason and the application of the scientific method are nothing like ‘faith’. Both are tools, and they are the best we have.

The truth is that the reason why reason exists is because the universe is ordered… Beware any statement that starts ‘the truth is’! Reasoning is a manifestation of the human brain. It is not something that has discreet, independent existence. It has not been floating around for aeons, out there somewhere, waiting for advanced apes finally to discover it and make it their own. The only reason reason exists is because the human brain evolved to the extent it became capable of reasoning. All the same, the brain did not leave behind its capacity for irrationality, unreasonableness and disorderly impulse. Might we not then claim, this being an equally viable proposition, that because these are human traits of even longer standing than our capacity for reason, that the universe must therefore also be irrational, unreasonable and disordered? Of course not, because the universe’s characteristics are not a reflection of the human brain’s abilities, and vice versa. The inclination to project human behaviour onto an impersonal, indifferent environment – to anthropomorphise the universe – exemplifies our irrationality, not rationality.

But, just a minute, we have another contradiction here, tides99. You have already speculated that there are aspects of reality beyond our grasp – and yet here you are telling us that, along with the rest of the universe, these supernatural aspects are ordered. How do you know this? How do you know anything about parts of reality which reason cannot ‘adjudicate’ and science cannot access?

and the reason why it’s ordered is, of course, because there is an orderer, namely God. And there we have it. It’s God. Of course it is. Far from demonstrating that the universe is ordered, you now conjecture that the order you claim for it has an orderer behind it. Yes, it’s another leap of faith, reason be damned. Anthropomorphising the universe leads inevitably to deities and, ultimately, the Christian god, who is merely ourselves writ large.

Speaking for myself, anyway, I can say this much. When I was an undergrad I came across the saying that learning a little philosophy leads you away from God, but learning a lot of philosophy leads you back. As a young man who had learned a little philosophy, I scoffed. But in later years and at least in my own case, I would come to see that it’s true.

It’s no good blaming a surfeit of philosophy, tides99. If what you say were true, all philosophers with PhDs would have reached conclusions similar to your own. The majority haven’t.

To summarise your argument, you claim – without evidence – that there are supernatural aspects to the universe/reality which reason and science can’t detect. You assert that nevertheless the universe as a whole is ordered and it follows therefore that there must be an orderer. This orderer, you then go on to assume, is the very God you’ve chosen, for entirely irrational reasons, to worship.

Science and reason tell us that every one of these assertions is wrong. You are projecting your beliefs onto the universe as you perceive it, tides99. Project away, by all means, but remember, these beliefs and your version of reality are only in your head. The real universe as science, and, I’d venture to say, reason demonstrate, is busy doing something else entirely.