Tag Archives: reason

Being Irrational About Being Rational

I’ve seen this before, but it’s come up recently in a debate with a Muslim who is completely convinced that his beliefs are rational, yet cannot see that, as he describes them, they are anything but.  He tries to use things like the Cosmological Argument, but when I point out that, even if it was true, it only points to a very generic entity and he cannot make the logical leap from a generic being to his specific god without faith, he says he can, but he simply cannot, or will not, show how he got there.  But it’s all very rational, he assures me.

These people are idiots.

I mean, I get that people don’t like to think they are irrational in their beliefs, but you either are or you’re not.  Redefining terms to get around the failure in your beliefs is absurd.  I honestly don’t think these people know, or care, what these words mean in the first place.  It certainly isn’t the first time that I’ve been engaged in a religious debate with a theist where they assure me they’re being rational, only to turn around and behave totally irrationally.  I have a feeling that they equate rationality with “it makes sense to me” which is diametrically opposed to what rationality actually means.

See, the very word means “relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason”.  That means we have to look to reason, which means “a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense; especially :  something (such as a principle or law) that supports a conclusion or explains a fact“.  I also include objectivity in my requirements, which means “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.”.  Hence, an objective and rational person is concerned with what is demonstrably factual, without regard to their personal feelings or beliefs.

And very few people want to do that.  In fact, what a lot of people who claim to be “rational” about their religious beliefs are doing is simply rationalizing their beliefs.  That means, again turning to the dictionary, “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.”  Anyone ought to see why this kind of behavior is problematic if your goal is to get to the facts, as mine is.  But very few people actually care about the facts, they care about their feelings, they want to feel good about the world around them so they invent ad hoc explanations for how the world operates and then clench their eyes shut and stick their fingers in their ears so nobody can correct their misconceptions.

Is it any wonder I point out how stupid these people are?  Is it any surprise they refuse to change their mind?

 

I’m Right Because I’m Right

Lots of people out there who are actually offended that anyone disagrees with them, to the point of calling anyone who opposes their point of view abusive.  Disagreement isn’t abuse, it isn’t offensive and so long as it isn’t done in an insulting way, you shouldn’t feel bad about it.  In fact, if you do feel bad that someone challenges your beliefs, then your beliefs are pretty poorly supported out of the gate.  Saying “I’m right” doesn’t make you right.  You have to prove that you actually are.

Let’s be honest, you are only correct on any particular subject if you are actually correct and the only way to demonstrate that you are actually correct is to have some kind of objective evidence of critically evaluated reasoning to back you up. If you have that, you ought to be able to present it to all challengers in order to convince them that you’re actually correct in your assertions.  If you cannot, then you have no good reason to think you’re right in the first place.  If your evidence does not convince your detractors and they can point out logical fallacies and failures, then you need to go back to the drawing board. Of course, we all know this isn’t how it works in many cases.  People get emotionally attached to their opinions and really couldn’t care less if they are objectively correct or not.  It makes them feel good, therefore they have to be right.  There are any number of examples that I could give, of course, but I wanted to limit it to just a few.

Religion is probably the biggest one that comes to mind.  The overwhelming majority of religious adherents are emotionally attached to their beliefs, such that even daring to question them results in a serious emotional reaction, not a rational one. Most religious people cannot step back and evaluate their beliefs critically, they are not able to doubt that what they believe is true, they just have to have blind faith because to do otherwise causes emotional pain and suffering.  That’s why you really can’t argue with the majority of religious believers because they cannot even imagine being wrong, it isn’t even a remote possibility for them, they are fundamentally convinced, not by reason or logic or evidence, but by feelings.  It makes them feel good. That’s all they care about.

Then we get to the other end of the spectrum with feminism.  Feminism is rarely associated with religion but it looks an awful lot like it.  Modern feminists, particularly third and fourth wave feminists, are really indistinguishable from the religious in their faith.  They believe the things they believe because they are emotionally invested in believing them.  It doesn’t matter if they are true or not, it doesn’t matter if they have any evidence to support the craziness like the patriarchy and the gender wage gap, they just have to be true because their entire ideology depends on it and there is no point in challenging them on it because disagreeing, to them, is the same as “raping” them, which is idiotic in and of itself.  The same is true of other fanatical beliefs, like some of the more extremist libertarians who follow essentially the same path, they believe what they believe and anyone who doesn’t agree is the enemy.

Just to show you that this is ridiculously widespread and not necessarily politically connected, I wrote a review on my other blog about this season of Dominion where I pretty much panned it, said I was done watching it and, if there’s any justice in the world, it would be cancelled (and it was).  I gave my reasons why I thought it was an actively bad show.  The responses I got were just mindless insults, both on the blog, on Facebook, on Google+, etc.  Nobody could be bothered to explain why they liked it, why they thought I was wrong, or to defend the show against my charges, they could only say “you suck” and “you’re a hater” and other mindless crap like that.  There’s no conversation to be had with people like that, they cannot be reasoned with, they are right and everyone else is wrong, so there, fuck you.

But how can anyone actually discuss their positions, regardless of what those positions are, if they are unwilling to even examine or think about what they already believe?  How can they find out if they are wrong if they won’t listen to the criticism leveled against them?  Simply put, they don’t care and in not caring, they have excused themselves from any form or rational conversation.  There was a time that I wasted a lot of time on debating abortion and creationism and all of that, but no longer, because it doesn’t actually accomplish anything.  Nobody will change their minds.  Nobody will listen to the arguments.  Nobody will look at the evidence.  In the end, you’ve just wasted your time and the other party leaves even more self-assured that they were right all along.  What’s the point in that?

Lies, Damn Lies and Making Stuff Up

dilbert14Even though this particular example is directed at a Christian, it seems to be a problem all over so I don’t want anyone to think this is a religious-only issue.  On an atheist forum, a Catholic member asserted that there were more male forum members on atheist forums and more female members on religious forums and was wondering why this might be.  Now, it’s an innocuous question but while other forum members were trying to provide possible answers, I took a step back and started wondering exactly how she came up with those statistics in the first place.  Having been a member of the atheist forum for a very long time and going to the religious forum she mentioned, there was nowhere that I could see where the members identified their real life genders and besides, even if they did, how would anyone know if they were telling the truth?

So I started asking questions about how this data was determined and how was it tested?  I would have actually been satisfied if she could point to anywhere on both forums where gender statistics were listed, but she couldn’t.  She said through “observation”. Well how the hell can you observe someone’s gender in an online forum?  Guess?  Still, she maintained that somehow she had that knowledge, just like she maintained that somehow she knew that God was real.  I guess delusion is an equal opportunity liar.

Certainly though, she’s not alone, there are plenty of people out there who claim that they have knowledge they cannot possibly have, there is no end to online debates and discussions where one side will say they know things they can’t conceivably know and when cornered, they will ignore any and all requests for their methodology.  They just know.  I guess it’s magic.  Everything from the feminist’s favorite whipping dog, the patriarchy, that thing they can’t prove exists but they’re sure is real, to various motivations ascribed to large groups of people without a shred of evidence to back it up,  This is a huge barrier to having intelligent discussions with people whose confirmation bias not only leads them to cherry picking data that agrees with them over that which does not, but to just make things up when they can’t find any actual data to trot out during the debate. And, of course, they can’t be honest about any of it because that gets in the way of feeling good about their positions.  They’re too busy just making stuff up to care about reality.

It’s sad that rationality is a lost art for so many.

More Bad Reasons to Believe in Jesus

15-reasons-fullEvery now and then I’ll find someone’s top 10 or top 20 list of reasons to take some absurd proposition seriously and discredit them.  Usually I don’t go looking, they just fall in my lap, as this one did, and the reasons are every bit as ridiculous as most of the rest I’ve taken a look at.  This one came up with an infographic, they must be special.  Well, short-bus special anyhow.  I’ve added it to the right, please click for a full-sized image but it doesn’t make any more sense visually than it does in text, I assure you.

Therefore, let’s jump into “15 Reasons Intelligent People Believe in Jesus“.

1. Other Smart People Do. Among the worlds smartest and most influential people are those who believe in Jesus. Faith is no barrier for intelligence, as illustrated by the enormous list of way-too-smart people that believed in Jesus. 65.4% of Nobel prize winners between the years of 1900-2000 identified themselves as Christian. From rocket scientists to biochemists, believers have proven themselves to be just as intelligent as the rest.

Hey, let’s jump in with a logical fallacy, the Argument from Authority!  Of course, they have to go back to the 1900s when science hadn’t progressed nearly as far, to find a decent list of believers for their list.  Usually they go back to the 1600s or so, when religious adherence was the norm and people believed because the church took a dim view of anyone who didn’t toe their theological line.  The fact is that in the modern world, more than 93% of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists and the religious are continuously losing ground in most of the serious sciences.  This will, of course, be entirely ignored by the zealots.

2. Jesus Likes Science. Zoology was the first occupation. (see Genesis) The formation and incubation of modern science began with believers in Jesus in the mid 1500s. The Christian passion for truth drove the early scientists, who were mostly theologians, to seek natural knowledge. Jesus is not scared of truth, and if Jesus is true then science will eventually point to him.

This is complete nonsense, it assumes that the Bible is factually true without demonstrating anything of the sort. Because the whole of the creation story is factually incorrect, the idea that zoology is the first occupation (who was paying Adam for naming all of the animals anyhow?) is just laughably absurd.  As I pointed out above, they have to go diving back into antiquity to have any hope of finding people who didn’t know about modern science, which has now answered most of the questions that kept older times mired in superstition.

3.  His Life Was Predicted. There were 353 precise predictions documented about the coming arrival and life of Jesus. Most were not clearly understood until after Jesus’ life. It was clear enough, however, that the Jewish people had been expecting his arrival for centuries.

None of which are actually demonstrable.  That’s the thing when you combine wishful thinking with an amazingly vague book that can be manipulated into meaning virtually anything.  I’m sure we  could come up with all kinds of predictions for alien visitation and multiple modern disasters, just like people have done with the writings of Nostradamus.  Oh wait, people actually have done that with the Bible, haven’t they?  Interestingly enough, they say the Jews have been waiting for the arrival of Jesus for  centuries.  Too bad they don’t consider Jesus to be the Messiah, huh?

4. The Disciples Were Convinced. The disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, along with performing about a zillion other miracles. Scholars agree that the disciples found the tomb empty on the third day. Either they were all crazy, all deceived, or all right. One thing is for sure, they were convinced.

There’s no reason to think that the disciples ever existed, we have no independent historical verification of any of them, any more than we have independent historical verification of Jesus himself.  We only have the Bible, which is a book of religious mythology.  No credible scholars agree that the disciples, which haven’t been shown to exist, found any empty tombs, which also hasn’t been shown to exist.  There is no evidence of anything of the sort.

5. The Eye Witnesses Were Willing To Die. If the eyewitnesses had made the story up, they would not have sacrificed their lives to prove that the story wasn’t fiction. Eleven of the 12 disciples were murdered in ridiculously brutal ways for their faith.  All they would have had to do was shut up about it, but instead they were hanged, beheaded, boiled in oil, stabbed, stoned, crucified, beaten to death, to prove the story was true. Now that’s tenacity.

Again, they’re using a book of fiction to prove that fictional people died to prove the story in the book of fiction isn’t fictional. Even if it had been proven that these people ever lived and that they died in the ways described in the Bible, that isn’t proof that their claims were true.  We have records of lots of people dying for their faith, we have modern accounts of Buddhist monks immolating themselves for what they believe.  Does that prove that Buddhist beliefs are factually true?  Of course not.

6.  Historical Method Is a Trusted Process. Not only were the disciples convinced, but virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most Biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.

Actually, no they don’t.  Those who study the facts and not observe the faith are not so sure that Jesus ever existed, especially the Jesus as described in the Bible.  There are many who assume that some real person must be at the center of the Jesus myth, but the born-of-a-virgin, miracle-performing, raising-from-the-dead Jesus described in the Bible?  Nobody outside of religious believers buy into that load of nonsense.

7.  You’re betting your Life, you might as well play the odds. All humans are betting their lives on a wager, that God does or does not exist. The consequences of not believing if it turns out to be true, are far greater than if one believes and it turns out to be false. Therefore a rational person should live as if God exists and seek to believe in him. Mathematically speaking, it’s the safest bet.

Oh good, let’s play Pascal’s Wager, another fallacious position.  Complete and total refutations of this fallacy are available pretty much everywhere, it’s hard to believe that anyone but the utterly stupid or the willfully ignorant still use it today.  In short, it assumes that there are only two positions, that the Christian God is real, or that no gods are real.  It also assumes that the Christian God is so completely idiotic as to not know that someone is playing the odds and pretending to believe because it bears the best potential outcome.  If there are any other gods out there, then blindly believing in the Christian version is distinctly dangerous, when it turns out that Krishna is the one true god, those Christians are in deep doo-doo.

8.  He can’t just be a good moral teacher. He is either a crazy man, a compulsive liar, or he’s Divine. His teachings did not leave the option “Only a great teacher” open to us. If he’s a liar or a lunatic, his moral teaching is not to be trusted. However, his moral teaching has proven itself, so we are left with one option. Logically he must be Lord.

Let’s keep the stupidity rolling with C.S. Lewis’ “Lunatic, Liar or Lord” fallacy.  Again, they assume that there are only a limited number of possibilities, then they create weak excuses to throw out two of those possibilities and proclaim their favored answer to be true.  Of course, there are more reasons than just the three, the most logical being “Legend”.  There’s no reason to think the Biblical Jesus ever existed.

9.  It’s Effectiveness. The story of Jesus has proven to be unstoppable, as demonstrated by its growth throughout the world, constant cultural relevance, and intense personal acceptance. It overtook the Roman empire, and today 2.1 billion people, or about a third of the world identify themselves as Christians.

It wasn’t effectiveness that led to Christian supremacy, but force.  By converting Constantine, he declared it to be the official religion of Rome.  For more than a thousand years, the Catholic Church spread its religion via the sword, through Crusades and pogroms to wipe out and/or forcibly convert the pagan masses.  It didn’t spread because it had a superior message but because it’s followers had superior weaponry.

10.  Mythology Takes Time. Mythology takes time to develop. Jesus could not have gone from historical figure to folklore in the amount of time between his death, and the first writings of the Gospels. It would have been immediately rejected. Imagine someone trying to honestly claim that George Washington was a Ghost Hunter… Although it might make a fun Quentin Tarantino film!

In fact, Jesus remained relatively unknown for a significant amount of time after his supposed death.  The early Christian church was far smaller than most Christians want to believe, we have examples of modern religions reaching much farther, having many more members and much more influence than early Christianity did in a fraction of the time.  Look at Mormonism or Scientology today, both of which claim millions of followers within a few short years of their creation.

11.  He was accepted by his peers. The most scrutinizing audience would be the contemporaneous observers of Jesus’ life. However, his story was accepted as truth, by a large portion of that contemporaneous audience. Not only did a huge number of eye witnesses believe he was Divine but the story is not refuted by ancient sources.

We have no independent eyewitness accounts at all from antiquity, there doesn’t exist a single demonstrable eyewitness account of Jesus whatsoever.  This is, as with many of these absurd claims, just a bald assertion without a shred of objective evidence to back it up.

12.  He provided an adequate cosmology. “Why are we here,” you might ask. The teachings of Jesus provide an adequate explanation for the purpose for the existence of mankind and the universe. Theoretical Particle physicists are still trying to develop the theory of everything, but billions of people around the world have found Jesus’ explanation adequate.

There is quite a difference between homespun philosophical masturbation and legitimate science, yet these people seem not to comprehend that simple fact.  The teachings of Jesus provide an emotionally comforting answer for people who are not particularly interested in critically evaluating their beliefs.  It’s all faith, no fact.

13.  Faith in Jesus is good medicine. The belief in a loving benevolent Savior is a favorable perception that has measurable psychological, and emotional benefits regardless of his actual existence.

As are beliefs in other gods, having close friends and family and being part of a supportive community.  Having a pet also has measurable psychological and emotional benefits.  Give me a cat or dog any day.

14.  His moral teaching works. In societies where Jesus’ teaching are applied properly they have been proven to enhance human rights, improve education, elicit gender equality, increase the value placed on children, and break down class inequality.

All of which only proves the vague nature of the Bible which can be twisted and contorted to support virtually any position, depending on which passages you pay attention to and which ones you ignore.  However, the Bible is a host of horrors, supporting slavery, rape, murder, religious intolerance and social disorder.  Picking and choosing which parts you like and pretending the rest  doesn’t exist is absurd.

15.  He performed Miracles to Back his Claims. The claims he made about himself were so audacious, he would have had to prove his authority by supernatural means. Luckily he did. Even those who were against him recognized that there was something supernatural going on. His opponents described him as a miracle worker, or a sorcerer. you can bet if there was any way for them to claim that jesus did not perform miracles, his opponents would have. It was too obvious. It was too well known. The populace was too well aware of his miraculous actions for his opponents to deny it.  Multiple eye witnesses accounts verify that he performed supernatural acts, exercised demons, and rose from the dead.

Nope, no independent accounts of any of these things exist, there’s no better reason to believe that Jesus performed any miracles than there is to believe that Mohammed rode off into the sky atop a flying horse.  Harry Potter was as much a wizard because there are books written about him.  We find the religiously gullible believing things for which they get emotional validation without having any critical evaluation of the work in question.

So that’s 15 completely failed reasons why anyone should believe in Jesus.  It isn’t even intelligent people, if they do believe these things, they’re people who believe despite their intelligence.  There is no evidence for any of the claims, there is no logically laid-out reasoning to support them, it’s all blind faith and wishful thinking and only an idiot is going to fall for that, even if they are intelligent in other areas of their life.  Infographic or no, this list is laughable in the extreme.

More Philosophical Nonsense: Mary’s Room

maple treesI ran into this on a short podcast and honestly, I have no idea how philosophers can spout this crap and not see the obvious flaws in their “thought experiments” that I identified in mere seconds.  This is hardly the first time I’ve talked about the utter failure of much of modern philosophy, there are tons of examples of “thought experiments” where anyone with half a brain that looks at the set up can disassemble it quite quickly and easily because the assertions made by philosophers are just downright ridiculous.  Therefore, let’s go take a look at the philosophical argument called “Mary’s Room”.

The concept, thought up by Frank Jackson in 1982, proposes:

Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’. […] What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not?

Of course, the concept assumes that Mary is a super-genius scientist who is working with every bit of evidence and information possible in making her conclusions about vision.  They they introduce more information, in the form of a color monitor, and expect people not to recognize that all of a sudden, there is an increase in the amount of physical evidence that she’s now been exposed to!  They argue that suddenly, there’s some form of supernatural evidence that has made her see color for the very first time.  That’s absolutely ridiculous, nothing “beyond the physical” happened in this example, she thought she had all the data, she was wrong, she got more physical data and discovered something new!  If you think you have all knowledge, then you leave the room and gain more knowledge, then you didn’t have all knowledge to begin with.  Nothing magical happened!  It’s like saying if you take someone who has been colorblind their entire lives and then you surgically correct whatever the cause of their colorblindness might have been, you’ve done something mystical.  That’s ridiculous.

But this is par for the course for a lot of modern-day philosophers.  They come up with these bizarre ideas, completely fail to recognize what they’re saying and take a sharp left at Albuquerque when it comes to critically thinking about their ideas.  This is especially true of those who claim that somehow, this thought experiment proves physicalism false.  They say that if she learned something new by being exposed to a direct experience of  color, that suddenly, physicalism can’t explain it.  Why not?  It’s not my fault that the whole thing is set up very, very badly, as I’ve already pointed out.  In reality, if Mary walks out of her black and white world into a world of color, the particular wavelengths for color strike her retina, which is interpreted in the brain and experienced by the conscious mind.  All of that is a wholly physical process.  Where is the disproof of physicalism?  How have any of the mechanisms she’s worked out in her black and white room changed, just because she’s gone from seeing only black and white images to color images?  They haven’t!  The whole process works exactly the same, she’s just experiencing a different kind of image than she did before, she’s still experiencing it in the exact same physical way she did before.  There is nothing “beyond the physical” that’s been added.  Sorry, philosophy loses once again.  The kind of twisting and turning that philosophers have to do is absurd.  Even Jackson said:

It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then it is inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.

All of that is just bullshit spread on shit toast.  You cannot claim that she had all the information, then provide more information, and still hold that she always had all the information.  It’s crap, pure and simple.  It could be that this particular thought experiment is just very badly formulated, which may well be the case, but this is exactly the kind of thing that I see modern armchair philosophers noodling their navels over constantly, pretending that they are intellectually superior because they cannot see the clear and logical implications of the arguments.

Yet another reason why I think the vast majority of modern philosophy is shit.

The Rules Don’t Apply to Religion

logicMaybe you’ve noticed this as well but it’s becoming absurdly common in my encounters with the religious.  A religious person simply cannot abide by the rules of evidence, logic and common sense that actually exist so they pretend they get to make up their own rules and insist that by following these imaginary rules, they can proclaim victory.

Bullshit.

That doesn’t stop it from happening every day though.  I can’t tell you how many theists I’ve run into recently who freely admit that they have no evidence whatsoever for their claims, yet they pretend they have no obligation to support anything they have to say because, well, they’re right and that’s all there is to it.  And, of course, they have “proof” but they’re not going to share it because we wouldn’t believe them anyhow.  Because we’re all materialists.  Well yes, we’re materialists, not because we have some quasi-religious belief in materialism, as they seem to believe, but because the material world is all that anyone has ever managed to find a shred of objective evidence for.  I’m a materialist for the same reason I’m a “gravitationalist”.  That’s where the evidence points.  If you want me to accept the supernatural, you’re going to have to make a convincing argument, complete with objective evidence and until you can manage to do that, I’m not going to take your claims seriously.  Of course, these people are convinced that we’re all somehow biased against the supernatural, that we practice some bizarre form of materialist religious belief, in fact I recently had someone make that exact accusation.  All I could do was roll my eyes at his stupidity.

There are reasons that we have established laws of logic and basic rules for rational discourse.  It’s because it is the only system we’ve found to date that produces demonstrable results.  We use it because it works.  If they can come up with another system that produces objectively true results as well, I’d be more than happy to use that as well.  Unfortunately, they simply cannot do that, all they can do is make things up, follow their emotions and when logic and reason shows their conclusions are faulty, instead of rejecting their conclusions, they just make fun of logic and reason, as though that makes their faulty beliefs somehow better.

So where did this load of nonsense start this time?  There were a couple of people arguing that “mysticism” was real yet they were unable, or more likely unwilling, to actually define what they meant by “mysticism”.  I therefore filled in the blanks from Google, producing the definition “belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender”, but suggesting it was closer to “belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.”  Yeah, that didn’t go over too well.  However, they spent the next couple of days running all over the field with the goal posts, accusing me of being biased against “higher consciousness”, again without being able to provide a working definition, and finally one of them came up with that wonderful chestnut “well, maybe that’s how reality is for you, but it isn’t for us!”  Oh brother.  That was about the time I gave up, I had no more interest in dealing with complete and utter idiots.  Unfortunately, those people are not remotely alone in their inability to deal with reality or logically evaluate their own claims.  It’s also unfortunate that these irrational, illogical basketcases are among the loudest idiots on teh street corner, standing on their imaginary soap boxes, declaring how true the idiotic nonsense they believe really is.

What is Philosophy For?

Philosophy imageI’ve questioned a lot of “philosophers” over the years, asking what is modern philosophy good for and haven’t really gotten a lot of good answers.  Sure, they’ll toss out all the things that the ancient philosophers have done, but what has philosophy done for us lately?

Anyhow, I came across this short video on YouTube and wanted to address what it has to say.  I still find philosophy, at least as I see it practiced most often, to be entirely problematic.  I’m not saying that philosophy can’t be valid or useful, only that in practice, at least as I see it practiced, it just isn’t all people pretend it’s cracked up to be.

First, go watch the video.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIYdx6lDDhg#t=53′]

Let’s just go through this in order, shall we?  First, they say that philosophy is about asking the “big questions” and points out a couple of them.  “What is the meaning of life?”  “What’s a job for?”  “How should society be arranged?”  He argues that only with sound answers to these questions can we direct our energies meaningfully.  Unfortunately, he’s wrong.  Most of these questions have no good answers, and by that I mean that they have no answers that can be demonstrated to be actually valid or true.  Individual people might have personal answers that they find valuable, but these vary from person to person.  Philosophy has no means of actually finding objectively true solutions to these questions because no such thing actually exists.  He tries to pretend that philosophers are being brave in asking big questions because they’re likely to be ridiculed.  No, professional philosophers are desperately trying to find someone… anyone… who will pay them for sitting around and thinking and trying to pretend that what they think up is actually valuable.

But let’s move on.  He does make a good point about common sense being terribly uncommon, but what, exactly, is common sense anyhow?  It’s not something that is easy to define and therefore, demonstrate actually exists.  The video argues that people ought to think for themselves, but that’s what causes the error in the first place, isn’t it?  That’s why we have defined laws of logic and methodologies for locating irrationality.  It’s why we understand what logical fallacies are.  It’s like telling scientists to think for themselves and not bother with the scientific method.

Next, it says that we are mentally confused.  I’ll agree with that.  Philosophy is interested in self-knowledge, but we have to go beyond that, we need to be able to step back beyond the self and evaluate whether or not the things that we claim to know are actually knowledge, or simply belief and faith and wishful thinking.

Continuing on, he says we have muddled ideas about what makes us happy, but I find that to be entirely irrelevant.  If we’re going to use philosophy to come to actual conclusions about important question in the real world, what makes us happy has nothing to do with it.  Just like in science, how we feel about gravity has no bearing on the reality of gravity, what makes people feel good has nothing to do with philosophical truths.

Lastly, he says we panic and lose perspective.  I’d be in agreement with that until he throws it all out the window and claims that philosophers are really good at knowing what’s important and what is not.  Clearly that’s just not true, otherwise you wouldn’t have so much disagreement between philosophers.  The idea that Zeno’s losses somehow make unencumbering his life a philosophical concept is absurd.  If his leg got chopped off, would he conclude that hopping around on one foot was the better path of life?

There is a reason why we don’t have modern philosophers on the payroll, for the same reason that we try not to have priests and rabbis on the payroll.  They aren’t saying anything worth listening to by and large.  They aren’t solving problems in any way that’s demonstrable or effective.  In fact, they are more like theologians than they are like scientists and I think we need a lot more scientists, people who are more interested in demonstrable reality and objective evidence than in personal opinion and wishful thinking.

So that brings us back to those supposed big questions.  What is the meaning of life?  There isn’t one, at least not an inherent one. We all give our own lives meaning and no meaning is inherently better than any other.  You don’t need to sit on a mountain top and noodle your navel to come up with that one.  What’s a job for?  For making money so you can live and be a productive member of society.  How should society be arranged?  However society wishes, such that society operates as the majority of its members are comfortable living within this arrangement.  These are answers that we should ask, but not questions that can be demonstrated by the philosophers.  In fact that’s really the problem with modern philosophy, it’s just people using big words to express opinions that are wholly undefended and unsubstantiated.  Where philosophy might be useful is in pointing out irrational arguments and logical fallacies, but if they did that, they might have to “know themselves” and realize that they’re often engaging in exactly the same thing.

The Childishness of Religion

TantrumWhile it will come as no surprise to people who have had experience with debating irrational theists, theists can be pretty childish when it comes right down to it.  In a recent discussion, we were discussing the rationality, or lack thereof, of religion and how faith really isn’t a rational process.  I explained that rational people don’t believe things for which there is no good, objective evidence, therefore rational people no more believe in gods than they do in leprechauns or unicorns. It doesn’t mean we automatically reject the possibility that these things exist, only that we will not assent to their existence until it is proven objectively.  This, of course, pissed off the theists.

One guy came back and said that he could believe whatever he wanted and nobody could stop him and if I didn’t like it, I could take a long walk off a short pier.  Sure, I could do that.  Instead I pointed out that this person, ostensibly an adult, was acting like a petulant child, stomping his feet and screaming that he deserved to get his way. Again, this is not how rational, intelligent, mature adults act.  They do not pitch a fit because someone else happens to disagree with them and they certainly do not hold their breath until they turn blue because someone dared to suggest their ideas might be wrong.  That is the stuff of children, not adults.

At least not unless those adults are religious and emotionally attached to their beliefs.

Now not to pick on Roger, who occasionally posts here, but he suffers from this quite dramatically, although certainly not as obnoxiously as many I’ve run into.  I don’t have an irrational hate-on for Roger like a lot of people seem to but when it comes to his religious beliefs, Roger most certainly is not rational and he makes the same childish arguments, that he’s going to believe whether anyone likes it or not, so there, pffffft!  Now sure, he can believe whatever he wants to believe but rational adults don’t work that way, they don’t just pout and act upset because someone dares to question their faith.  Anyone who cannot step back and objectively evaluate what they believe, no matter what it is that they believe, has some issues.

i-believeBut Roger is in good company because most serious theists are exactly the same.  They believe because it makes them feel good to believe, not because they have any good reason to do so.  They are convinced, not by reason, but by emotion.  They are largely incapable of deconstructing their own faith to see if it is something they ought to be believing, they simply cling to it, like a child clings to a security blanket.  It provides emotional comfort, even if it is as pointless as keeping a lucky talisman on your keychain that doesn’t do anything useful, it just makes you feel good.

Note that I am not saying that religion is the only place where supposedly mature adults have taken irrational steps to believe things for emotional reasons.  Believe it or not, I’ve had theists tell me that there are lots of other irrational things that people do, as though that was somehow permission for themselves to do the same thing.  There’s a lot of irrationality in the world and all of it is wrong.  You shouldn’t be proud of any of it.  You ought to be ashamed and doing whatever you can do to rid yourself of that illogical affliction.  That’s how rational people, logical and critical skeptics, operate. We see our intellectual failings, acknowledge that they exist and move to correct the problem.

Theists do not, mostly because they haven’t gained the emotional and intellectual maturity to even see that there’s a problem.

Logic Escapes Christians

Logic FailI know this is like a broken record, but lots of theists out there, Christians particularly in this example, just don’t have the slightest clue what logic is.  I had someone argue that there is an objective morality because, assuming God exists, then such a morality is a characteristic of God.

Says who?

Let’s look at an example of this.  Let’s say you had never seen a cheetah, you had no idea what a cheetah was.  I came to you and told you that one of the defining characteristics of a cheetah was that it ran really fast.  You could ask me how I know this and I could take you to see a cheetah and you could see it run really fast.  You could, and should, ask me how I know that this claim I’m making is actually true and it would be on my shoulders to demonstrate how I came to this knowledge.  Even if I wasn’t able to take you to see a cheetah first hand, I could show you all kind of videos online, books, expert testimony, etc. And you could, and again should, ask how those experts came by their knowledge and the same rules would apply.  Eventually, those experts would have to get back to actually having a way of seeing a cheetah in action or studying the structure of a cheetah or something whereby they could have rationally gained that knowledge.

Claims about gods don’t work that way.  Theists cannot produce any rational means of coming by the information they claim to have, they cannot show that the gods that they claim are real actually operate the way they assert.  There are no experts that can show that they have achieved such knowledge through any demonstrable means.  There is no way of demonstrably differentiating between a real characteristic of a god and an invented one.  You cannot go see a god and find out if the claims made about it are actually so.

This kind of thing goes right over the head of theists.  There’s some circuit in their head that insists that their gods are exactly  as they imagine them to be, they’re entirely unable to contemplate the possibility that they have no way whatsoever to know if their gods are real or what they might actually be like.  In that way, it is exactly like an imaginary friend and that’s important.

Seriously, how many times have you had a theist tell you in complete confidence exactly what God is like and how God would react in every possible situation, but can’t explain how it is that they know any of this?  Oh, they might say they read it in the Bible, but again, they can’t describe how the people who wrote the Bible came by their knowledge either.  It’s just magic!  Or maybe it’s personal revelation!  Unfortunately for them, there’s no way of telling the difference between personal revelation and just making something up and again, they’re left with empty, un-demonstrable claims that nobody with the slightest grasp of reason ought to take seriously.

That’s probably why they buy into it.  Zero reason skills whatsoever.  And they wonder why we laugh at their absurd beliefs.

Applying a Rational Standard

keep-calm-and-raise-your-standards-3I actually had a somewhat interesting discussion with a Muslim recently where I questioned him on the validity of beliefs, not his in particular, but of all religious beliefs in general.  He is one of those theists who says they’re not proselytizing, they’re just telling people what they believe, as though that isn’t exactly the same thing.  Clearly, I told him, the reason he’s telling people what he  believes is because he thinks others ought to believe the same thing, otherwise why bother?  What’s the point in engaging people he will never meet in an online forum to discuss the religion he holds if he doesn’t care if they believe it too or not?

That made him stop to think for a while but he came back with the statement that, even if he wished people would take Islam seriously, no one should believe anything he has to say unless they have personally verified all of the things that he and his religion say.  Well then, I had him!  So I asked if he had personally verified the things that his religion claims.  He said yes.  Well then, how had he verified that Allah actually objectively exists?  He had an experience, of course!

But that doesn’t get him out of hot water.  He has no way of verifying that Allah was actually the cause of his experience, it’s just an assertion, made without a shred of objective evidence.  If someone from another religion came to him and made that exact same claim about their god, he wouldn’t see any reason to take it seriously, in fact, he’d pointedly reject the notion without bothering to try to verify the claims.  It goes against his religious beliefs, therefore it has to be false.  That’s not verification, that’s rejection out of hand for irrational reasons.

raising-your-standardsIf he has a standard by which he’s “verified” his own beliefs, how can he refuse to acknowledge that standard for other people going by the exact same standard?  It makes no sense whatsoever.  That makes it an irrational double standard and thus unworthy of intelligent people but the religious use them all the time.  The beliefs that they have an emotional attachment to can be “verified” by having an “experience” for which they can demonstrate no causal link between the experience and their god.  The beliefs that they do not have an emotional attachment to are ridiculous when they seek to do the exact same thing.

Of course, as soon as I pointed this out, he stopped responding, only time will tell if he decides to think on what I’ve said, or if he’s retreated into his religious comfort zone and is pretending that I said nothing worthwhile.  He was on the right track, he ought to be verifying everything, he ought to be applying logic and reason to his beliefs and using that to determine what he ought to believe and what he ought to reject.  Of course, as a theist, he’s not doing that, all he can do is make excuses for why his particular set of beliefs is the exception to the rule when we all know it really isn’t.  We all need to look at the things we believe and ask “is that actually true” and to question our experiences and wonder “is this actually what happened?”  That’s the first step on the road to rationality and why theists simply will never do so.  It’s the fast track to rejecting religion.

Being Right All The Time

i-am-rightIt’s a very common human foible, but lots of people have the psychological need to be right all the time, to defend their views to the death, even if those views are factually wrong, simply because their ego will not permit them to admit that they were actually mistaken.  I think this is very commonplace among evangelical and fundamentalist theists, they hold that their beliefs can never be wrong and, when shown that what they believe is actually false, instead of changing their views, they will double down on the false beliefs because their egos will not allow them to be wrong.

I’ve been suggesting this to theists for a while now, especially those who completely ignore any and all evidence that their beliefs are factually incorrect, and I had one of them come back and accuse me of the same thing.  I want to be right all the time.  Well yes, but not in the same way.  See, they’re going to cling to a belief, right or wrong, because it is the belief that they are emotionally attached to.  I, on the other hand, if I find that a belief is wrong, I will reject that belief and go find another that is better supported by the evidence.  As such, I do want to be right, I simply go find better beliefs if I find weaknesses in the ones I hold.  That’s an entirely different thing than the religious do.  My beliefs are fluid, they can be changed if they are found to be faulty.  Religious beliefs are rigid, they can never be changed for any reason, even if revealed to be wrong.  I suppose in some sense, we both want to be right all the time, I just want to be actually right, they just want to present the illusion of rightness.

So what is best?  I think clearly the ability to change your mind on the issues as new information becomes available is best, but the religious seem oblivious to that.  They believe they have the eternal Word of God that can never change, it must always be exactly the same because otherwise, it weakens their religious beliefs.  Therefore, they cannot ever modify their beliefs for any reason, it reveals a flaw in their God if they do.  I have no gods to keep happy.  I just go where the evidence leads.  It makes for a superior position.

So if anyone tells you that you’re trying to be right all the time, explain it to them in small words how your position is vastly superior to theirs and why.  We all ought to strive to be right, not by defending untenable positions, but by continually following the changing information landscape and planting our flag on those ideas that are best supported at the time.

Explaining Causation to Theists

Aliens Correlation CausationI can’t tell you how many times I have theists tell me they don’t understand how something works, therefore God did it.  They don’t seem to be able to get it through their heads that the only way to say “therefore God did it” is to actually demonstrate that God exists and was demonstrably responsible.

Let’s be honest.  Theists, you know you can’t produce a single shred of objective evidence for your God.  I know you can’t produce a single shred of objective evidence for your God.  Everyone knows this so stop pretending that you can.  Even the most ardent professional Christian apologist gave up trying to prove that God was real using objective evidence a long, long time ago.  They know there’s no evidence to give, that’s why, almost without exception, they’ve gone to philosophical proofs and this is really where so much of modern apologetics falls apart.

See, you can play your word games all you want, and let’s be honest, that’s all these arguments are: word games.  They don’t actually prove anything and, if deconstructed, are full of irrational claims and leaps of illogic.  I’d like to focus on one of those leaps because it’s the most common one that I run across, the seeming inability of theists to understand how causation works.

This is very closely associated with the argument from ignorance and therefore, I’m going to start by explaining exactly what that is and why it’s problematic for anyone who actually cares about factual truth and reality.  In very general terms, the argument from ignorance says that because an assertion has not been proven false, that it is therefore valid to believe as a proposition.  Essentially, it’s like saying that because we cannot prove that the pyramids in Egypt weren’t built by aliens, therefore, aliens did it.  The fact is, claims are not accepted because they are not proven false, but because they are actually proven true.  No one should believe that aliens built the pyramids unless we have actual, objective, demonstrable evidence that it is so.  This is also related to the argument from personal incredulity, another common fallacy used by theists, wherein the theist says that they cannot believe or understand the solution presented for a problem, therefore the solution cannot possibly be true and this is often followed by the theist claiming that their favored and totally unsupported explanation, usually God, is therefore what must be true instead.  This usually breaks down to “I don’t know how this happened, I don’t understand the explanation offered for what happened and the explanation that is offered makes me emotionally uncomfortable, therefore I am going to reject the explanation out of hand and assert one of my own, one that makes me feel good and validates my pre-existing beliefs.”  Theists, chime in, I’m sure that sounds very, very familiar.

The problem is, the whole thing falls apart under even the most cursory evaluation.  You’re welcome to suggest your own solutions to the problems but as soon as you do so, you’re obligated to follow the same rigorous requirements to present objective evidence and open your claims to peer review as any scientific explanation. This is why many apologists simply declare that their beliefs are beyond any rational evaluation, they’re just magically true because they want them to be true.  That’s no more worthwhile than saying that waving a magic wand makes things happen and you don’t have to prove it because it’s beyond rational evaluation.  If you’re unwilling to accept every claim of that sort, why should anyone accept your claim?

AliensBut let’s get back to causation, shall we?  If you’re going to suggest that X caused Y, or that X was responsible for Y, you need to show that X and Y are actually real.  You can’t just assert things and pretend that because you believe them, everyone else should as well.  If you’re going to claim that aliens abducted you and performed bizarre sexual experiments on you, you not only have to demonstrate that you were actually abducted, but that it was aliens that did it.  To do this, you have to prove aliens actually exist.  The same goes for God.  If you want to say that God created the universe, we follow the same steps.  We can prove that the universe exists, we’re  good there, but when it comes to proving God, we run into a brick wall.  Since we know that the typical theist arguments, the argument from ignorance and the argument from personal incredulity, are fallacious and must be rejected, we’re really stuck.  There is no evidence to support the factual existence of God, thus this idea grinds to a very quick and permanent halt, at least until someone can come up with objective evidence to support their particular version of God.

But even if you can provide evidence for your agent, you then need to prove that your agent actually performed the action which you assert he engaged in.  Even if Giorgio Tsoukalos somehow manages to prove that aliens exist, he’d still have to show that they actually performed the actions they are being accused of.  In other words, you’d need to provide a direct causal link, evidence that the aliens actually went out and kidnapped some backwoods hick, took him up into their spaceship and diddled his backside.  Every single element of this tale needs to be corroborated independently.  If you fail to do so in any regard, your claims about the event are unjustified and can be safely rejected for lack of evidence.

Yet this is exactly what theists do constantly.  They cannot prove their God exists.  They cannot provide any evidence, except their own self-imposed ignorance of the real evidence, that this unproven God actually did anything, they just claim, without evidence, that it must have been the case because it makes them feel uncomfortable to think otherwise.  However, one’s comfort doesn’t change reality, one’s desire for a particular proposition to be true doesn’t change the facts and one’s insistence that something must be true doesn’t have any bearing on whether it actually is or not.  This is something theists have to learn but I’m not holding my breath that they’ll do so any time soon.

Logic and reason exist because they help us to understand what is actually going on in the world around us.  We’ve developed systems, some of them codified into the scientific method, because they work, they produce demonstrable results, they make testable predictions and they are concerned with factual reality, not individual emotional responses.  So long as theists have nothing more than logical fallacies and are concerned with nothing more than feeling good, theists will remain the laughing stock of the intellectual community.  They have to earn their place among the rationalists and, as we all know, they’re neither interested in doing so, or capable, they hold beliefs which are laughable to anyone and everyone who doesn’t cling to them via impassioned wishful thinking.  I don’t expect theists to understand where they go wrong because to do so would to understand that they don’t have any reason to believe what they believe.  The rest of us, however, know better.

The Bitchspot Report Podcast #67

Bitchspot Report New Icon

Here we go again!  This week, Fox News falls for a 4Chan hoax, or do they?  Egypt outlaws unlicensed Imams and we wonder where you get an Imam license?  Christian persecution, a new study shows it’s nonsense but the Christians probably don’t care.  Pat Robertson encourages children not to involve the authorities in domestic abuse.  Plus, we have a long discussion on where religious debates go wrong and why apologetics fail but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Give it a listen!

Where Are The Non-Emotional Arguments?

Extreme EmotionNot long ago, I came across someone on Twitter who was supposedly arguing for an anti-abortion position from a non-theistic perspective.  I went to read it and was rather surprised at how utterly emotional it was.  It got me thinking and unfortunately, when I decided to write about it, I couldn’t find the original post to reference so… forget about all of that.

It seems like there are some subjects where people have a real problem talking about without resorting to entirely emotional positions.  Many people don’t seem to be able to debate such things rationally or intellectually, it usually ends up with both sides screaming and crying at each other and nothing really getting accomplished because both sides are completely emotionally tied to their positions.  I’ve identified four places where this seems to be the case and I want to talk a little about each of them.

The first, of course, is abortion.  This is what sparked this little discussion and the first one I want to address.  It seems that people on both sides of the argument are acting primarily out of emotion.  There certainly are some unemotional positions to take, particularly from the pro-choice side, but one reason that I rarely ever get in abortion debates is because both sides are just screaming at each other.  A lot of the anti-abortion side is tied to religion and, as we all know, that’s about as irrational as you can get.

The second is the death penalty.  I’m very pro-death penalty, I don’t think we use it nearly enough and I think that if we used it as we  should, the country would be in a better place.  Yet you have a ton of people on the anti-DP side whose entire argument is emotional.  They have nothing rational to say.  You get the constant whine, “if someone you knew was going to be executed, you’d change your mind!”  No, I would not.  If someone I knew, even a close family member, committed a crime for which execution was the proscribed penalty, I’d still support it because they actually did it!  My personal feelings don’t enter into it.  Crime X is punishable by penalty Y. Don’t like it, don’t commit crime X.  Easy peasy.  My positions don’t change because my emotions get involved.  The death penalty isn’t about revenge, it’s about justice.  Some crimes simply are too heinous to allow the criminal to keep breathing the same air as decent people.  Sometimes it’s just a practical manner, I don’t think anyone who is in prison for the rest of their lives with absolutely no possibility of parole is doing society any  good by continuing to let them live.  Flush ’em with the rest of the trash, free up prison cells.  And the hand-wringing argument that we might make a mistake doesn’t impress me either.  Yes, we might.  We make mistakes all the time in everything that we do.  We’re human.  The possibility of making mistakes doesn’t stop us from putting people in prison, does it?  And no, just because we can release them later and give them a bag of money to salve our emotional distress doesn’t give these people  back the years of their lives that they rotted in a cell.  We’re not perfect, deal with it.

Third, religion.  We all know this one and the emotion almost entirely comes from the religious side.  They cannot look at their beliefs rationally, it’s all about how it makes them feel and what strokes their ego.  This makes debating the religious almost entirely pointless because they cannot be reasoned out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.  It only takes looking at the recent Billy Nye/Ken Ham and Sean Carroll/William Lane Craig debates to see that.  That’s why I really support the 30-second debate format, either theists can demonstrate that their gods are real or they lose.

And finally, drug legalization.  It’s all about emotion.  Social liberals, and this includes most libertarians, want to feel good, they want people to do what they want so why not legalize drugs?  I look at it differently.  I think that if we’re going to take something that is currently illegal and make it legal, it ought to  be for a demonstrable purpose.  It ought to do something demonstrably positive for society.  What demonstrable positive does legalizing drugs achieve?  I’ve been asking that question for years and have never gotten a satisfactory answer. What I do get are tons of insults from the drug legalization crowd who just want to stick a needle in their arm or snort things up their nose.  It only takes reading through some of my posts against drug legalization to see that.

I think humanity has a problem and that problem is  an over-reliance on emotion and an under-reliance on rationality.  We have the ability to override these base primitive emotional impulses with our superior rational brain, yet very few people do it.  Why?  Because it’s easier to just react than think.  More than anything, I think this is the issue that causes problems like liberalism and religion.  Even when most people reject the religion, they still cling to their emotions for most other things they believe and the problem just doesn’t go away.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places where emotion is applicable and should be used, but we have to intelligently decide where and when those applications are best served and most people just don’t do that.  Until we, as a species, get better at controlling our emotions and using our rational minds, we’re going to be a mess.

Predicting Religious Failure

Head in Hands
It might be impressive if it wasn’t so easy.

It’s really sad to be able to accurately predict the actions and responses of the religious and predict religious failure virtually every time.  I mentioned this on an episode of The Bitchspot Report a while back, where I was debating a theist and predicting each and every response that she would give, before she gave it.  They really are easy to chart because they only have one path to follow.  Of course, this debate didn’t go on too long because she  got upset that I knew what she was going to do before she did it.  Eventually, she pulled the “I’m right anyway and this conversation is over!”

I predicted that too.

It started off with a discussion about the existence of tangible evidence for the existence of gods.  Lots of theists popped up and said they had “evidence”, but none of them could present it.  This one Christian said she had “personal evidence” for God,  but that it wouldn’t convince anyone who hadn’t had the experience or didn’t  believe her religion.  I responded that it doesn’t qualify as evidence because, as I had specified in my argument, only objective evidence that is available to everyone and can readily be examined.  I suggested that her “experience” would be something that she couldn’t immediately identify and she’d arbitrarily assign the cause of this experience to God.  In fact, I think I described her experience to such a T that she got extremely defensive and said “I don’t have to prove anything to you!”  That’s true, she  doesn’t, so I just continued on, explaining why such experiences aren’t evidence, or even rational.

See, in virtually every religious experience, and I say virtually only to give the benefit of the doubt because I have never, ever seen a single religious experience where this wasn’t the case, the individual has some kind of experience that they cannot explain.  It doesn’t matter what the experience is, just that it isn’t immediately amenable to a simplistic explanation.  In fact, many times, even if it is clearly a natural phenomenon, they’ll reject the proper explanation for one that’s emotionally comforting.

Hand of God Waterfall
This is not how it works.

I use the case of Francis Collins quite a bit because it’s hard to find one more clear.  Francis Collins is a brilliant scientist, former head of the Human Genome Project and current head of the CDC.  He’s a very intelligent and scientifically-minded man, but one day he was walking in the woods and he saw a waterfall frozen into three parts and he immediately took this as a sign from God.  We know that waterfalls freeze all the time and having one frozen into three parts is not at all unusual, it’s a perfectly normal and natural phenomenon, yet he chose, for emotional reasons, to reject what we know is a natural event and he chose to attach a supernatural cause to it for no reason other than it fulfilled some emotional need.

Humans have an amazing ability to compartmentalize, to wall off sections of their psyche from everything else so that the rules that they live their lives by normally simply do not apply.  Collins is a prime example of this, if he had the same experience in his scientific work, he’d never claim God did it, he’d look for a natural explanation. There simply is no direct causal link between the event that happened and the cause that they claim.  You cannot point to an unbroken chain of evidence that leads directly from the waterfall or other experience to the specific deity claimed as responsible.  There just isn’t, it’s a leap of irrationality from something not understood to something desired.  In cases like Collins’, he rejected a perfectly normal event and instead attached an irrational explanation, just because it made him feel good.  It demonstrates that even the most outwardly rational and intelligent people can still harbor absurd beliefs.

Back to the debate, I said that she wouldn’t take another person’s identical experience as evidence for the existence of that other person’s god if it was different from their own gods.  She got really upset and pulled the “you don’t know me” nonsense, saying that she takes all experiences seriously.  I asked if that proves that all gods are real and she said no, of course not, only hers is real.

I rested my case and she fled for the hills, as predicted.

“Rational and Critical”

This is nothing new, I’m sure we’ve all seen it before, but does it ever strike you as funny to have theists claiming to be “rational and critical” of their beliefs?

See, rational and critical people evaluate evidence in an attempt to discover if a particular claim is actually true.  They do not embrace a belief because it makes them feel good emotionally.  If someone ran up to me and said “Luke Skywalker is walking down Main Street!”, should I believe it?  Now I’m a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy so it might give me a momentary “wow, wouldn’t it be great if it was true!”  feeling, but is there any reason I ought to accept the claim?  Of course not.  Luke Skywalker is a fantasy character, he doesn’t exist in reality.  Yes, Mark Hamill could be over there and I’d go say hi, considering I’ve met him many times before, but it’s certainly not Luke Skywalker.  More likely than not, I’d go see, just to verify the claim.  That’s what rational and critical people do.

Unfortunately, the religious don’t do that, in most cases they can’t do that because of the way they’ve defined their religion.  It’s neither possible, or in those few cases where it is possible, practical, to go see if these things they profess are factually true and to be honest, they don’t care anyhow.  Religion isn’t about facts, it’s about feelings.  It’s about feeling better by believing a comforting lie.

They will claim “there are things about God that we just don’t understand”.  That makes no sense, they’re claiming to understand it because they’re professing belief in it!  It makes no sense to believe something for which you have no understanding.  That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t accept things that we don’t understand completely, we do that all the time in science.  We don’t understand all of quantum physics.  We accept it based on the overwhelming evidence that we do have though, and continue to seek out answers in those areas that we lack knowledge.  With religion though, you have no evidence.  There is no reason whatsoever to believe that any of it is objectively true.  Their claims that we “just don’t understand” are a dodge to get around their own lack of justification in some areas.  It’s so ridiculous that even they can’t come up with an explanation, therefore they feign ignorance as a means of getting around it.  That’s not rational or critical.

How many times have you seen the old canard, “you can’t prove your wife loves you!”  Well no, I can’t prove it, but certainly I can offer demonstrable evidence.  First and foremost, my wife is real and I can prove it.  That’s a lot more than theists can say for their gods.  Secondly, I can identify behaviors in my wife that would support that conclusion.  Not only can the theists not find any demonstrable behaviors  that their deity has taken, but even if we look at the Bible for instance and take the stories told about God, those stories tell a very bad tale.  At least my wife hasn’t flooded the planet and killed millions, she hasn’t sat by and watched someone be tortured just for shits and giggles (Job) and she doesn’t threaten to send anyone who doesn’t do her wishes to eternal torment.  So yes, my wife, who is actually real, is a lot better than that monster in the Bible.  I won’t even get into the fact that we can hook her up to modern medical machinery and test her brain responses, thus objectively measuring her love.

This stuff really kind of pisses me off, not only because it’s so common, but because it’s so blatantly ridiculous.  It’s like theists just string together words in an attempt to make their belief seem less ridiculous.  I don’t know if they just don’t understand the words that are coming out of their mouths, which I suspect is largely true, or they’re just so deluded that they actually believe that they apply critical thinking to their beliefs.  Unfortunately, most theists I run into have a double standard when it comes to beliefs.  They apply one standard, the same standard that most of us use, to just about everything in their lives.  They look for evidence, they apply logic, they withhold assent until the claims pass objective muster, only then accepting them as provisionally true.  Then they apply an entirely different standard to religion, one that ignores evidence, avoids logic, relies on blind faith and wishful thinking, simply because doing so makes them feel better.  I’m not sure if they are just blind to the glaring differences between the two standards or if they recognize but ignore them, but it is difficult to imagine two standards with less in common and even more disturbing when the theist demands that the second standard doesn’t really exist.  Clearly it does and clearly they are using it.  If not, they could not possibly hold the belief that their religion is true or that their god exists.

The next time someone tells you they’re being critical and rational with regard to their religious beliefs, stop them immediately and require that they back that claim up.  It’s just not true.  No person who was applying logic, reason and critical thinking to religion could possibly hold that said religion was factually true.  It just can’t be done.  They’re not being critical or rational, they’re being dishonest and disingenuous.  There is a huge difference between the two.