Monday, March 13, 2006

Atheist Self-Justification

1. The very notion of the Christian God is self-contradictory ('Euthyphro's Dilemma')

God is both 'good' and 'omnipotent'. So, is something 'good' because God decrees it to be so, or is it because it is 'good' that God decrees it? This is not in fact tautological. If something is 'good' because God decrees it to be so, then whatever is good is entirely and utterly arbitrary. If God had said 'murdering small children with battleaxes is good', this would be equally as acceptable as the statement 'telling the truth is good'. The definition of 'good' is relegated to 'good is whatever God says is good'. 'Good' has effectively been stripped of all positive moral connotations - it is an entirely empty and nebulous description of a divine decree.

However, if it is because something is 'good' that God decrees it, the starting description of God is equally impossible to accept as this suggests that a standard of morality exists outside of God - he is not omnipotent as he possesses no control whatsoever over what actually constitutes 'good'. God cannot logically be both 'good' (in any meaningful or self-evidently positive sense) and 'omnipotent'.

2. Everything that is regarded as true in every facet of reality requires strict standards of empirical evidence to be applied to it - unless it is religious in nature

Every scientific discovery that is regarded as 'true' must be empirically justifiable - it must be 'perceptible'. Every aspect of reality is accepted as so because it meets empirical standards (this tree can be seen, smelt, felt etc). If something has no empirical evidence to justify it (e.g. 'there is a fifty thousand foot green alien in my garden'), it is rejected as false. Why is religion separated from this need to apply empirical standards? To argue that religion is somehow 'sacred' is unhelpful - it is an entirely self-justified remark ('Why is the Bible sacred? Because the Bible says it is sacred'. Great.) and therefore this kind of statement is utterly nebulous and empty. If there is no evidence for something in any other human realm, it is immediately rejected. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that the Christian God exists - yet the notion of his existence is not rejected. Why is this? The Bible is not empirical evidence - it was written by man and has no empirically verifiable qualities to distinguish the veracity of its content from Norse stories of Thor or Greek mythology, none of which is assumed to be true.

3. The Bible is NOT the unmediated, uninterpreted 'word of God'

'35% of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of the Creator of the universe' - Sam Harris

This is plainly ridiculous (and very disturbing) for several reasons. Firstly, the very fact that the Bible has been written down inherently means that 'the word' has been mediated and interpreted by man and the acknowledged scribes (unless of course you subscribe to the belief that a copy literally and physically dropped down from Heaven). Secondly, the Bible itself is terminally riddled with contradictions and inconsistency of style - a perfect, omnipotent, omniscient deity would not make errors. Thirdly, it is horribly coloured by the now outmoded cultural norms of the day (such as the repression of women) - an all-powerful, benevolent deity would not have allowed this.

4. The Bible contains numerous calls to brutality and violence which would not be condoned by any modern, civilised, morally upright society and cannot be ignored by 'moderate Christians' without them being forced to question the very foundations of their faith

'If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods," unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following. You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God' (Deuteronomy 13:7-11)

This is effectively a call to murder all non-Christians, including atheists (who could quite easily be considered to 'serve the god(s) of materialism'). A 'moderate Christian' would either argue that this passage should be read symbolically (which appears virtually impossible in light of the fairly unambigous nature of its diatribe against non-Christians) or ignore it completely. However, this is unacceptable - if God wrote the Bible, surely it is a heretical act to selectively ignore any part of it simply because it contradicts secular and civil standards of morality? A 'true Christian' cannot selectively decide which parts of Scripture to accept based on secular or civil moral standards - if the Bible is a perfect interpretation of God's word, no other guide can be used to call into question any element within it, regardless of how repulsive or seemingly immoral it may be. Effectively, a decision to ignore any part of the Bible is, for a Christian, an inherently and entirely arbitrary one - non-religious guides are of no significance whatsoever if the Bible is uniformly perfect. Each part must necessarily be perfect as any other part. It therefore is equally justifiable for a Christian to ignore the statement 'thou shalt not steal' as the Deuteronomy verse. As Sam Harris says, 'moderation in religion... has nothing underwriting it other than the unacknowledged neglect of the letter of the divine law'. No 'divine' standard whatsoever can possibly exist to decide which elements of the Bible should be maintained by 'moderate Christians' and which should be ignored, and therefore, for a Christian, no standard exists to make this decision. Either the whole of the Bible is accepted or the whole of the Bible is rejected.

5. Christian dogma and Church interference in matters of state dangerously undermines vital stem cell research

A ball of cells in an early embryonic state is not 'sentient'. If the ball of cells cannot understand, feel or respond to pain or indeed react 'sentiently' to any stimulus whatsoever, it seems odd to regard it as possessing a 'soul' (which surely must be defined as incorporating sentience and awareness of the world). The argument against this is usually that if I 'cannot prove that the cells do not have a soul, it is not right to use the cells in stem cell research'. However, this is strange reasoning - I cannot prove that I do not have an invisible weightless elephant on my head that cannot be perceived by any human senses, but it does not mean I should operate under the belief that I do! It is far more rational to assume that the ball of cells does not have a soul than the opposite as it has been empirically and scientifically demonstrated as being likely to possess no sentience or comprehension of the world - if some justification and empirical evidence exists for one unproven point of view and none exists for another unproven one, it will always be more rational and justifiable to accept the point of view which has evidence attached to it. No proof exists to determine that I do not have an invisible weightless elephant on my head, but the basic rationality and worldly experience that suggests that I do not (no elephant has ever been known of small enough to sit on someone's head, an animal with no mass has never been known of and is therefore highly improbable, etc) suggests that it would be ridiculous to assume that I do ahead of the educated assumption that I do not.

6. The Catholic doctrine of 'Natural Law' is preposterous

'Natural law' is predicated on the idea that everything has one purpose. The purpose of the eye, for example, is to see. The purpose of sex is to procreate - therefore, any sexual act which does not result in procreation is sinful (e.g. using contraception, masturbation, etc). This is clearly ludicrous. Firstly, who decides what the 'natural purpose' of something is? If God has not unambiguously stated within the Bible what the 'natural purpose' of absolutely everything is, then it is entirely down to fallible men to decide - and any judgment they make is entirely arbitrary as no divine element to an entirely human decision can possibly exist. It would be equally justifiable to assume that the natural purpose of sex is to receive pleasure - and therefore protected sex is perfectly acceptable. Secondly, why should something only have one 'natural purpose'? Legs, for example, can be used for standing up, walking and kicking. Is it sinful to walk?? The natural purpose of sex may be to receive pleasure in certain situations and procreation in others. The Vatican condemnation of the use of contraception (even in situations where women have been raped and are pregnant with their abuser's child) is therefore entirely arbitrary (and disgusting).

Three of these ideas were shamelessly stolen from Sam Harris's 'The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason' - READ IT NOW

Ed's Mood: Furious

Ed's Incessant Auto-Repeat Musical Tip: Anathema - Pulled Under At 2,000 Metres A Second


Anonymous George said...

wow, someone's been brushing up on their AS-Level Philosophy of Religion! nah only joking man, I won't play the Philosophy trump card here, cos to be honest i found the PoR module up here last year to be pretty dull, save for some Dawkins reading i did concerning the design argument and paley's (blind) watchmaker.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Chandler said...

Nothing wrong with a bit of simplistic cod philosophy dude. Should help convince the masses that I've actually put even a semblance of thought into my religious views at least.


P.S. Read Sam Harris- he's trenchant and controversial and oversteps the mark a few times but is still strangely convincing.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous billy said...

(easy/stock/cod response to questions of religion coming up...)

i think these arguments are good but that they demand agnosticism rather than atheism.

atheism is too strong a conclusion; it constitutes a positive theory (cf there is no god). the question follows - why is everything like it is?

consider the popular reply: there is a material world. when examined this belief crumbles between our fingers.

my point here is that any positive theory(cf religion, material world) is going to run into difficulty. any certainty aside from the certainty of uncertainty is debatable. cf problems of underdetermination.

where does that leave us??

phenomenology(bob would like that)? even this failed as constructive philosophy.

tentative conclusion: never mind, stuff still looks nice...

9:17 AM  
Anonymous bwirry. said...

"it constitutes a positive theory (cf there is no god). "

obviously this is complete bollocks...i think what i was trying to get at is that we can't be certain of anything, including the failure of a given theory.

11:14 AM  
Blogger bob said...

can we be certain that we cannot be certain?

11:52 AM  
Anonymous bweiereray said...

self-refuting??(you would like that rob cf protest for the right to protest)

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Oliver said...

transcendental arguments lads.. it's the only way to get some common sense into this crazy world. there's your certainty. (cf kant)

home and dry.

speaking of which, i am in fact home, and would enjoy undrying my throat in a traditional essex pub.

5:30 PM  

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