Archive for March, 2012

Who are you, O Man, to Question God?

Posted in The Narrow Path on March 31, 2012 by RWZero

If I say “a loving God would never torture people in hell for eternity,” and you say:

“Who are you to say what God would do? Do you realize how arrogant you are, to think your morals are higher than God’s morals?”

Then you have made a mistake.

The Christian’s Reasoning

1. God decided that it’s moral to send people to hell forever

2. This guy thinks it’s immoral to send people to hell forever

3. This guy thinks he’s morally superior to God

What’s Really Going On

1. If there’s a God, he probably endowed us with logic and our sense of morality.

2. There is a story about a God who sends people to hell forever.

3. That seems morally absurd and it sounds like something that people with primitive moral sense would come up with.

4. This God probably isn’t the real God, and he probably was invented by people who did not have a very well-developed moral sense.

These are two completely different things. It isn’t that hard to understand.

“You always criticize everything!”

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on March 30, 2012 by RWZero

Some people are overly critical. They pick everything apart, demand excessive levels of proof for a limited human being, dismiss evidence against their position without a second thought, and so on.

But some people are overly wrong. Pretty much everything they say needs to be criticized, because it’s plainly ridiculous, contradictory, logically impossible, selectively compiled, and so on.

It can be hard to tell the difference sometimes. We shouldn’t try to prove that this scenario “usually” means one thing or the other–we should just remember that a hailstorm of constant criticism is not, in and of itself, grounds for believing that you are facing off with an obstinate or closed-minded person. It just raises the stakes.

Since beginning to debate against Christians (it will take a while before I catch up to how much arguing I did for them), I’ve gotten this a couple times: “you can’t be convinced by anything I say anyway. You’re just blind to the truth. You think I’m illogical and wrong and so on, but you just don’t have a relationship with God like I do. Why can’t you just accept…”

The difference between right people and wrong people is that right people give reasons for things they say. Wrong people restate the situation, and merely express the frustration that would be warranted, were their position correct.

Kirk Cameron

Posted in Humour etc. on March 29, 2012 by RWZero

Look at this.

Americans…

Meaninglessness

Posted in The Narrow Path on March 26, 2012 by RWZero

Here’s a question:

Can Christianity really solve the problem of meaninglessness?

A big part of this problem is the threat that everything I’m doing is pointless. All this engineering, all this recording funny songs on the weekends for my friends’ entertainment, this study of philosophy, this writing of novels, etc. That’s what I spend most of my time on.

If I die and I cease to exist, this is all pretty pointless. But if I go to the Christian hell, it was also pretty pointless; and if I go to the Christian heaven, it was still pointless.

In heaven, none of the stuff we did on earth will have mattered (except for accepting Jesus and being saved from hell). This view of life and death is not any more motivational. It takes something more nuanced than this to get me out of bed in the morning.

Smart People who Believe Not so Smart Things

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on March 24, 2012 by RWZero

I’ve known some smart Christians (the smartest ones I met became atheists or agnostics over the last few years, but that is beside the point). There are Christians out there who can grasp complex material that I myself have not ever studied. Others can grasp material that I could never grasp, myself.

So how can I discount the Christian God on intellectual grounds, when great minds are able to accept him? How can I discount the “problems with evolution,” when great minds see problems with it?

The first point is that there are always a few people who believe in anything. 99.9% of scientists in relevant fields accept the fact of evolution, and I am not any more concerned that a few outliers have creationist biases, than I am concerned about Obama being an alien lizard king, or humans having not landed on the moon.

The second point is that intelligence does not trump facts. If I go into a room and I see a wooden chair there, I will not be impressed by some guy with a beard, who, with divine confidence, tells me that he is “99% sure” that there is no chair in the room.

The third point is that smart Christians are often smart in some field that has little to do with the intellectual matters that are shoring up his/her faith. Having a PhD in cone-shaped molecules does not make you any more knowledgeable about the Bible, philosophy, or other sciences that demonstrate the facts about our earth’s natural history (though people who get such PhD’s tend to learn about those things and come to non-fundamentalist conclusions–the statistics show this).

The fourth point is that being smart tends to make people leave religion (read up on the trends on religion and IQ), so pointing out that smart Christians exist is probably the worst point you could make. What more do you want? Do you want every single person with half a brain to leave religion? Obviously things don’t work like that.

The fifth point is that Smart Christians (or creationists) do not make Christianity more credible; they just prove that we’re all far more vulnerable to bias than we think we are. And this is the rub of it all. I live in Canada, where we are digging ourselves into a massive housing bubble. We are more indebted than the Americans at the peak before their own crash, and the price of a nasty little single-family home in Vancouver runs into 7 figures. What do the people in Canada say? “It’s different here. There is no bubble. House prices will go up forever. Asians will pour money into our housing market forever.” People who have no money are mortgaging their entire futures to drive prices up to record highs above actual family incomes, with interest rates at record lows… and everyone believes it’s different. It could never happen here.

When I see my fellow Canadians denying that our house prices are out of control, denying that they will revert to reasonable values, it is not hard for me to explain. This is something that they need to be true. International observers and non-homeowners who aren’t in a rush (like me) don’t need it to be true. But as soon as you’re personally invested, bam. The exact same thing happened in the U.S., preceded by the exact same kind of “new reality” hoopla, and we still can’t see the plain truth–even the smart ones among us.

All it takes is a childhood of Christian indoctrination, a conversion experience, some reflection on the threatening and incomprehensible indifference of the natural world towards us, and we can find a way to rationalize anything. I’m not saying that I’m strong, and that other people are weak. I’m saying that we’re all weak, and it’s no surprise to me that smart people are sometimes just as weak as the rest of us.

It’s the least astonishing thing in the world.

Theology (and Science)

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on March 21, 2012 by RWZero

People who have one foot in science and the other foot in theology are engaging in a remarkable enterprise. On the one hand, they are engaged in the pursuit of new knowledge, presumably to aid them in uncovering a better and more complete understanding of the universe–on the other, they are engaged in the practice of making sure that everything they discover fits into their foregone conclusions.

The discipline of theology is nothing but glorified post-hoc rationalization. It is scarcely even an art form. Can you write a poem that expresses this sentiment? Can you come up with a divine story that makes sense of both A and B being true? An excellent critique of theology that I recently read explained that theology is in the business of supplying the personalized God that suits your needs, by mangling the rigid (and very non-personalized) source material. It is the business of making the Bible say whatever you wish it to say, and providing people with a way to keep believing whatever they wish to believe (or in the few honourable cases, pointing out what the Bible actually says/meant–but this is not theology so much as it is history and sociology).

There is also that well-known, and spot-on analysis by Thomas Paine:

The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.

Even as a Christian, I nearly posted these same words on this blog, owing to my suspicions that the whole enterprise was based on nothing. It just turns out that my suspicions were far better founded than I thought.

If you study Greek, Hebrew, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Ancient Near East, World Religions, the things people believed in the past, or the New Testament, then you are doing something. But you are not doing theology.

If you are serving the poor, playing in worship bands, having potlucks in your church gymnasium, then you are doing something. But you are not doing theology.

Theology has got to be one of the most vacuous of all human activities. Not only is it invented, but it is invented within the constraint of arriving at the old conclusions from the new facts. It is the parading of meaningless language and platitudes. If you are engaged in this discipline, I would advise you to stop before you waste any more of your life, or spill any more ink.

Those who would defend theology (and I have never had the heart to tell a theologian just how pointless I view his/her endeavours, so I don’t know how they defend it) might say that “If you assume the Christian God doesn’t exist, of course there is nothing to study! But if the Bible is true, then it is all worthwhile.” But why’s that, and how’s that? Think about it.

A) Theology demonstrates absolutely nothing. It procures no new information whatsoever; it rests entirely on existing information and assumptions, arriving at no fundamentally new conclusions. If any of its conclusions are new, it must admit that the history of the Christian church has been wholly in error, which it cannot do.

B) Theological rationalizations are stupid. Just read some of that stuff. If you think it isn’t stupid, it’s probably because you’re either a theologian yourself, or you’re thinking about the theologies that fit in with your worldview. But let me show you what some theologians say who are more “liberal” than you, and you will necessarily agree with me on how stupid it is. I have sat through three or four services at a United Church of Canada, and it took effort not to giggle. A presbyterian girl I knew kept glancing back at her boyfriend with a “can you believe how stupid this is?” look on her face. Indeed.

C) Theology does not speak about tangibles. It is like a horoscope. All of the nouns in theological writing are immaterial objects that have no connection with human experience whatsoever (“Spirit, Holy Spirit, Atonement, Sanctification by Blood of the Faithful Transcendence of the Triune…”), and the best you can do is imagine vague, shifting shapes and colours whilst conjuring up whatever feelings you please. There is no way to imagine what a theologian is talking about; therefore an almost infinite number of theological statements can be equally valid, and they cannot be tested or scrutinized in any way, shape or form.

D) Why would God even download the trouble of theology on us? Why would he obscure himself–but not well enough that you can’t figure him out; just enough that you need to study theology? Or read a theologian (two thousand years later)?

E) Theology is guaranteed to succeed, therefore its existence is meaningless. Have you ever seen a theologian set out to develop a theology… and fail? No. If you want a pro-gay Christian theology, shazam, there it is. If you want a Muslim theology, hadith; there it is.  If you want a theology where aborted babies go to heaven, people get to choose their way out of hell, the wicked get annihilated instead of pointlessly suffering forever, or even a theology where nobody goes to hell, then fear not. We pay people to say these things, and to believe what they say. In robes, no less.

You might say that theology doesn’t always succeed: nobody has theologized that God’s Will is for Catholic Priests to be porn stars. But that’s just because nobody has tried it. If Christians wanted to prove this, it could be done overnight.

Since theology always succeeds, it means nothing when a theology of some topic exists. All it means is that you can always come up with a way of making anything “work.”

You can theologize up a theology that places the end times on pretty much any day you want (see: Harold Camping), and you can even convince thousands of people that it all makes sense. We don’t respect people who are professional interpreters of their own horoscopes. Why should we respect the profession of theologians?

If the purpose of theology is to know God better, it could not have failed more spectacularly. The church today is fragmented into thousands of factions with increasingly bizarre “non-essential” beliefs (if they aren’t essential then why are we arguing about them?). It’s full of Catholics with their own bizarre theologies (I have a book called “Evolution and Eden” which you simply must read–so much for Catholics having one almighty orthodox Christian doctrine). Nobody claims to have any better idea what God is like. Nobody even agrees any better what God is like. The church is farther than ever from having a clue what’s going on. Theology has merely flapped in the wind as science, history, archaeology and linguistics discover new things.

Why look for answers about the nature of the world in science if you already know those answers by divine revelation? You don’t. It’s amazing to me that we have people engaged in both theology and science. It’s amazing to me that I wanted to be one of those people someday. Do you know what I dreamt of doing? I dreamt of doing good science, dusting off my hands, and standing in front of a large crowd of people, saying: “See! I did science, and I am a Christian. There is no conflict.” That is the real purpose of doing theology and science. It was all based on the assumption that Christianity was true, and I just had to find some way of convincing these other people that it all worked out. It was not an effort to discover; it was an effort to make sure that nobody had discovered anything that invalidated the existing paradigm (and if they did, it was an effort to explain it away).

Theology and science are the absolute antithesis of one another. When you sum a positive and a negative, do you know what you get?

Nothing.

The Explanatory Power of God

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on March 16, 2012 by RWZero

A common atheist argument is that God doesn’t explain anything.

“Why is the universe here?”

“God”

“Why is God there?”

“He’s just there”

“Why can’t the universe just be there?”

“God just being there makes a lot more sense than the universe just being there.”

I’ve had this exact conversation with a few people. Of course I always used to agree that an unexplained God made more sense than an unexplained universe. But why did I think this?

One reason I agreed with this is because I thought that the universe began to exist (in time), and therefore a timeless God made more sense. This isn’t a very good point, however, because the universe contains time within itself; it does not begin “in” time. Therefore it is not any more weird for the universe to timelessly exist, than for God to timelessly exist.

Another reason I thought this is because the universe contains intelligence, apparent “design” and complexity. Since I accept all the evolutionary arguments, I am not talking about the design of living things and biological systems, but the seeming “design” of the entire underlying structure of nature. Surely this demands an explanation. But if God is merely a big fat hypothetical piece of “intelligence, design and complexity,” then how does positing the existence of God explain why intelligence, design and complexity exist in the first place? It’s begging the question.

Do I think the universe needs an explanation? Yes. I don’t think it’s OK to argue that it is “just there.” However, while positing God does seem to satisfy some emotional and psychological needs of ours, it doesn’t seem to satisfy our need for an explanation. It just stops us from asking the question.

Does anyone disagree with this? If so, on what grounds?