Thursday, 26 February 2009

god vs. the Unicorns

Two times recently I've seen Xians whining about not being taken seriously, because atheists compare belief in god to belief in unicorns or the FSM or Santa Claus, or leprechauns. "You're not taking us seriously enough," they whine. They also whine that belief in god is reasonable while belief in those others things is not.

So, what evidence do they have for this? Really, it all boils down to an argument from popularity. You see, more people believe in god, have said they felt god, etc. than leprechauns, unicorns, etc. so that somehow proves that a) belief in god is rational, b) belief in god is at least worth looking into while belief in those other things isn't, or other such trivially stupid assertions.

So, for your edification, theists, here is what you need to give us to show that belief in your god really is more warranted than belief in any other fanciful notion: evidence. It's that simple. And, no, your cousin's testimony that she felt god within her doesn't count, because it's too easy to have been falsified or wishful thinking on her part. And, no, your holy books don't count because they were written by men, not god, no matter how much they may exclaim that their words come from god. What we need is real, tangible evidence that unequivocally leads to the god that you have in mind. Saying, "Well, the universe was created, so my god wins," also doesn't cut it, and not only because saying that would be not even wrong.

I predict, however, that all we will ever see is more whining, as apologists have yet to pray hard enough to produce any evidence for their gods. Oh, but I'm sure we'll see many more proclamations about the overwhelming evidence that they may someday get around to presenting.

Monday, 23 February 2009

My Prayers Have Been Answered

Hallelujah, my prayers have been answered. Yep, you heard it right. Here's the story:

See, my car fob didn't work. I couldn't unlock the door without the key...or lock it for that matter. So, I prayed to god for the thing to start working again.

After that, I did some online research. I figured out that the battery was probably dead and that I would have to replace the battery. I found a tutorial online for opening up the fob and finding the battery. I went to Radio Shack and bought the batteries, opened up the fob and put the new ones in. And then it happened...

Yes, that's when god answered my prayers and miraculously made the fob work again - right when I had replaced what was a dead battery. Oh, praise be god. I never would have been able to do it myself...

Friday, 20 February 2009

Burning punishment...on Earth

So, I guess we're all aware of the brush fires in Australia that have recently claimed the lives of many people. It's almost just as sad to know that some people are cynically using these fires in order to push their agendas. For example, one Xian group in Aus. is claiming that the fires are the result of punishment due to abortion laws being enacted. No, I'm not making this up. They actually claim that god is mad at Australians for having abortions and allowing them to be legal, and so has killed quite a few people to exercise his wrath. So much for their "loving" god.

At least they are asking for material donations, which is a good thing, although I find it to be inconsistent with their message. If god is punishing people, then by stepping in to help, they would be acting against god. If people suffer and die in the fire because god is angry with us, why would you want to possibly anger him more by working against his divine retribution?

I think this shows that either they really haven't thought it through (very likely) or it's simply a cynical political ploy to hide their agenda behind what looks like an altruistic action on their part (also very likely). You would think that god's team wouldn't need such sleazy tactics and that god would not need such sleazy people on his team.

Sunday, 15 February 2009


Once again, I'm behind the times by a little bit here. I wasn't aware that the Catholic Church was once again giving out indulgences. (Hat tip to PZ Myers at Pharyngula.) Who are these people kidding?

It's pretty obvious that the Catholic Church has nothing by cynical intentions. With church attendance dwindling year after year in developed nations, they need something to get people back into the pews and guilt them into attendance:

“Why are we bringing it back?” asked Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who has embraced the move. “Because there is sin in the world.”


Getting Catholics back into confession, in fact, was one of the motivations for reintroducing the indulgence. In a 2001 speech, Pope John Paul described the newly reborn tradition as “a happy incentive” for confession.

“Confessions have been down for years and the church is very worried about it,” said the Rev. Tom Reese, a Jesuit and former editor of the Catholic magazine America. In a secularized culture of pop psychology and self-help, he said, “the church wants the idea of personal sin back in the equation. Indulgences are a way of reminding people of the importance of penance.”

Using guilt and fear of god to coerce people into the church is nothing new, of course, and their Xian brethren are well versed in it as well, but there's also the absurdity that some priest can somehow grant you less time in purgatory. I have to wonder if those priests actually believe that they have this power, or do they know they are fleecing the rubes? Problem is, it leads to quotes like this:

Still, she supports their reintroduction. “Anything old coming back, I’m in favor of it,” she said. “More fervor is a good thing.”

Yes, in a world where people are blowing themselves and others up over their religious fervor, that's exactly what we need. Geez. But, hey, there's some good news in all this:

“The good news is we’re not selling them anymore,” he added.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Reconciliation? (Part Three)

Now that I've dealt with Giberson's questions, I want to turn to the question that started it all - can we reconcile science and faith?

In a word, no.

Science is the process of setting aside preconceptions and assumptions and getting to the actual data and evidence to figure out the world.

Faith is the process of holding onto preconceptions and assumptions against all evidence to cling to made up stories about the world.

Science deals with empirical data.

Faith is purely made up.

Science is about rationally studying the world.

Faith is about abandoning reason.

Science is a way of actually knowing something about the world, and it actually works.

Faith is purported to be a way of knowing about the world, but has yet to show any success.

I don't see any way to reconcile what looks, to me, like completely disparate things.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Reconciliation? (Part Two)

In my previous post (Reconciliation) I mentioned that Giberson had a couple questions in his response. I now want to focus on his other main question, which is as follows:
Empirical science does indeed trump revealed truth about the world as Galileo and Darwin showed only too clearly. But empirical science also trumps other empirical science. Einstein's dethronement of Newton was not the wholesale undermining of the scientific enterprise, even though it showed that science was clearly in error. It was, rather, a glorious and appropriately celebrated advance for science, albeit one not understood by most people. Why is this different than modern theology's near universal rejection of the tyrannical anthropomorphic deity of the Old Testament, so eloquently skewered by Dawkins? How is it that "science" is allowed to toss its historical baggage overboard when its best informed leaders decide to do so, even though the ideas continue to circulate on main street, but religion must forever be defined by the ancient baggage carried by its least informed?

First off, I want to point out that in his very first sentence, he explicitly admits that science is a better than revealed truth. Period. I'd also like to point out that his assertion of Einstein "dethroning" Newton is not quite correct. Newton's laws are correct, so long as one is within the correct regime for them to function properly. Once you leave that regime, quantum mechanics is needed to more accurately represent the natural world. It's a mistake, however, to claim "that science was clearly in error," in this instance. Never-the-less, science has been in error before, so we can proceed to his actual question.

So, why do we allow science to evolve and get better, but not extend the same "courtesy" to religion? Once again, the answer is really quite simple. Science is an iterative process, while religion is not. When scientists go through the process of the scientific method, they search for data, refine hypotheses, re-test, etc. As more and more data are gathered, science can better explain and predict natural events (more accurately). When god comes to you and gives you revealed "truth" about the world, however, what iterative process would one use? god has essentially come down from on high and given the final answer.

Further, when modern theologians reject the god of the OT for the sadistic, cruel beast that he is, they claim to have better theological knowledge, but from whence does it come? Did they do experiments to figure out that god is kind? Did they gather data of any kind? No, they simply proclaimed that this is what they believe. Once again, I'm left wondering how their beliefs are any more authoritative than the beliefs of those who still hold to the god of the OT.

This argument also leads to a certain kind of philosophical arrogance as well. Does Giberson think that he understood the revealed message of god better than the person that it was revealed to? What does this say about god that he can't put forth a message that the recipient can follow as well as someone thousands of years hence? Or, is Giberson saying that god put forth a message that was cruel and vindictive to those people because that's all they would understand (hence the extreme arrogance of this position, as it assumes all the people then were barbarians that could not be otherwise - and once again what kind of god forms people like that and then tries to give them a moral code?) Or, maybe Giberson is saying that god intended his message to evolve over the ages to the modern ideas we have now about morality. But, this suffers from (at least) two problems. The first is that if god's morality is dependent on our own evolved morality, then what do we need god's rules for? We are basically making our own morality in this situation. The second is that it puts god in the position of allowing immoral laws and practices.

So, we see that Giberson's complaints are both easily shot down and not very good arguments. Science and religion are very different things, and it's folly to complain that they receive different treatment because of those differences.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Creationist Mythbusters

Recently I've been masquerading as a creationist


Can science and religion be reconciled? That's the question that Jerry Coyne posed at The Edge recently. I do have thoughts on this question, but I wanted first to focus on one of the answers given.

Karl Giberson is one of the authors that was initially reviewed that brought up this question. In his response to the question, he brings up a couple questions that I thought I might address. The first of which follows:

Coyne, who affirms Dawkins's approach, speaks of "theologians with a deistic bent" who inappropriately presume to "speak for all the faithful." The implication is that the "faithful" are the more authentically religious and the theologians are an aberration. This seems unfair to me. The great unwashed masses of these "faithful" should be juxtaposed with the great masses of people who "believe" in science but are not professionals...What do you suppose "science" would look like, were it defined by these "believers"? The physics would be Aristotelian; astrology and aliens would accepted as real; General Relativity would be unknown; quantum mechanics would be perceived as a way to influence the world with your mind. And yet all of these people would have had far more education in science than the typical religious believer has in theology. Science as "lived and practiced by real people" is quite different than the science promoted by the intellectuals in this conversation.

So, why do we attribute real science to what science actually says and seemingly not do the same for religion when theologians disagree with the rank and file theist? The answer is actually quite simple, and it has to do with the fact that comparing science to theology is like comparing apples and oranges.

Science is the study of the natural world and relies on empirical facts. If two people get into an argument about what science says or what the empirical facts are, they can research the question, they can run experiments, they can empirically verify who is right and who is wrong (speaking simply). We don't equate what science is/says to the rank and file person who doesn't know science, because we can often find the empirical or "correct" answer.

Let's contrast this with theology, shall we? If two people get into an argument about some aspect of god's nature, how will we ever resolve it? What method will we use to figure out who is right and who is not? What measure can we use to elevate one person's opinion over the opinion of the other? The ramification of this is that there is no necessity to accept the proclamations of the theologian over the average person. Both of them are making proclamations based on their own interpretations and their own subjective opinions. So, the complaint holds no weight unless one makes the mistake of assuming that theologians hold some sort of advanced knowledge of god, which they don't. Theology is the study of making stuff up, and what average Joe makes up in his mind is just as good as what scholar Joe makes up.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Like Cattle to the Slaughter

I actually recently ran across an argument that god sent Jesus to us in order to save us and change the paradigm between the OT and the NT, and that he had to wait in order to allow the conditions to be correct, which is why we had an OT and a Jesus-less world up until the time of Jesus. When faced with arguments like this, it's hard not to ask, "Are you serious?"

The obvious objections are that god, being omnipotent, would not have to wait for any conditions to come true, especially not just to decide to forgive us for our supposed sins against him. What possible conditions are there that god could not overcome? This, once again, makes god somewhat less than omnipotent (which is easy to do since an omnipotent god is so hard to actually argue for). There's also the problem that this doesn't account for the bloodthirsty attributes of the god of the OT. If he was simply waiting for conditions to allow us to be "saved" by Jesus, it doesn't make sense that he would be as cruel, petty, vindictive, and evil as the OT shows him to be.

But, apart from all that, one problem really stands out to me, which is that this argument reduces all the people that came before Jesus into simple cattle playing out some part - being slaughtered until this god was satisfied in his blood lust and would allow us individuals (post Jesus) to live a life with the possibility of salvation. How arrogant (not that the normal Xian perspective isn't arrogant, but this is just piling on). When you can view all of pre-Jesus humanity as simply cattle that are playing a part to pave the way for your personal salvation, I'd say that you've lost all perspective of what it really means to be human.