Thursday, 30 July 2009

Can god not be Omnimax?

Can an omnimax god decide not to be omnimax? That's an interesting question, and one that some may try to use to defeat some of the inherent problems with both the Bible and the contradictions that arise from omnimax deities (i.e. contradictions with the different abilities, contradictions with free will, etc.) So, it seems an appropriate question to ask, does it not?

So, let's focus on the main three omnis. They are:

omnipotence - the ability to do literally anything
omniscience - knowledge of everything
omnibenevolence - infinite goodness at all times and places.

First, let's look at omnipotence. Can god choose not to have the ability to do anything at all? This is a tough question. Logically speaking, if god were to give up the ability to do anything, he could always get it back so long as he keeps the power to regain his powers. If he gives that up, he may forever be in a non-omnipotent state, which would mean that god was omnipotent at some time but is not now and has forever given up that ability. I doubt many theists would be happy with that, however. So, I think what we find is that god must either always be omnipotent or would have given up that power forever.

I think we can similarly argue in regards to omniscience. god could use his omnipotent powers to give up knowledge, hence allowing him to now know what Adam and Eve had done in the garden.

Lastly is omnibenevolence. Can god give that up? I think the answer here must be no. If god gives up omnibenevolence or decides not to exercise it so that he can commit evil, then that evil mark stays with him and he can no longer claim omnibenevolence at any point.

If we were to throw in the concept of omnipresence - presence at all places and all times simultaneously - it makes the answers above different as none of them could be given up at any time, or else they are simultaneously given up at all times, which would cause some very serious weird time effects I should think. Suffice it to say that if we were to add the fourth omni in there, god would have no ability to not be omnimax.

A different question would be whether god can choose not to use his omnimax powers. This I'll tackle in a subsequent blog post, as well as the addition of "perfection" and what that means to the god concept. Until then, thoughts?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Abort a Baby and Save a Soul

In the comments, there's been quite a bit of talk about abortion lately. Specifically, for Xians that believe in an age of accountability (not a Biblical idea) it's inconsistent to be against abortion. Should we not rejoice at every soul that is saved and gets to go to heaven? That's exactly what they must believe an abortion does. If it is indeed a sin for someone to kill another, even if that murder sends the deceased to heaven (which BTW, is also inconsistent), then if one person decides to sacrifice her own life in order to help as many souls go to heaven as possible, shouldn't we thank that person?

In fact, abortion allows the soul to go to heaven without the messy problems of life and sin - without even the possibility of becoming corrupt and going to hell. The souls that are sent directly to heaven have been done a favor! They never have to suffer from some virus or disease, they never will have to experience hunger, they'll never be tortured as a supposed enemy combatant. In fact, if they were going to be born to the wrong religion, they never have to endure believing in the wrong god(s).

But, theists may argue that they don't get to experience the joys of this life, right? So what. They joy they experience is in heaven, which according to Xian theology far outstrips the fleeting joys of this life. It is far better to be in heaven than here on Earth, even for those living the Life of Reilly here.

And, for those Xians that don't believe in the age of accountability, don't think you guys are off the hook. I can say that it's a more Biblical stance, and that it's more consistent with opposing abortion, but it's not at all consistent with the idea of a just and loving god. It ends up being a trade of consistency in one area for inconsistency in another. (Note, the age of accountability group also runs afoul of the idea of a just and loving god, just in a different way.)

Just one more inconsistency from Xianity.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Evident Evidence?

So, apparently some apologists think that we all have enough evidence to be convinced that god exists. Yet, it's demonstrable that this is not the case. Just look at the presence of atheists or non Xians, and this assertion is clearly false, unless one wants to try and argue that all non-Xians really believe in god but are denying it for whatever reason, which is clearly absurd. If we had the evidence that we need, we would all believe. Plus, god, being omniscient and all, would know what we all need in order to believe. So, god can't claim that we have what we need, especially when he knows that we don't.

The apologist might object, however, that god can't give us the evidence we need as it would violate our free will. But, isn't that exactly what theists try to do when trying to convince others of god? Isn't the theist trying to give us the argument that we need to come to god? Is that a violation of our free will? I don't think anyone would claim that the theist is violating the atheist's free will by arguing for god. Then why would one claim that if god gave us that information it would somehow be a violation of our free will? This is a case of special pleading.

So, bottom line is that god has made an error in the Bible by claiming something that is not true. Actually, worse than that, if god really is omni-max, then god has lied. Of course, in reality, it's just another example of how the Xian myth simply doesn't make sense.

(P.S. "Acedemics" indeed.)

Friday, 24 July 2009

Let us read from the book of Mark
The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.

Yea verily.

So, let's get this straight, shall we? Jesus has to die. In fact, that's the whole backing to the Xian religion. If Jesus doesn't die, then no human/deity/blood sacrifice is made to allow god to allow himself to convince himself to forgive us for the sins that we commit by being made that way by god. Anyway, Jesus dying is a good thing.

Jesus has to be turned over to the authorities so that he can be tortured, because apparently that's a good thing too. god requires lots of blood, so Jesus needs to be sacrificed.

In order for that to happen, someone needs to betray Jesus. If someone doesn't betray Jesus, then none of the sacrifice stuff happens and Xianity has no reason to exist.

But, that person, Judas, that betrays Jesus, "woe to that man...good were it for that man if he had never existed." What? Judas does Xians a favor! Judas makes it possible for Xianity to have a reason to exist. Judas makes it possible for god to allow himself to forgive us, since he can sate himself with his own divine blood. Judas should be a hero. But, what does he get for setting the whole thing in motion? "Woe to that man." I can only surmise that Judas gets hell for doing what is a good thing according to the Xian tradition, a necessary thing.

Xianity is full of contradictory ideas such as this, which is why I'm surprised that people take it seriously.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Don't Make Fun of Bald People... least not ones that god likes, I guess.

Bear attack!

23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. 25 And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.

Oh how loving the Xian god is. Because some children were impertinent, they deserved death. Forty two of them (yes, 42 - you know what I'm talking about). And, the worst part is that the children had no ability to repent of their sins before being mauled by the bears. They should all be smoldering in hell right now.

And, this underscores another difficulty in the Xian theology - that of the untimely death. For those sects that believe that one must repent of all of one's sins, what happens to the person who meets an untimely death? The person in question may be a completely upstanding citizen, wholly moral, but because their death comes suddenly, they wind up in hell. What nonsense is that? Of course, we shouldn't be surprised coming from a religion where it is somehow just that we are cast into hell by default (unless god decides to "grace" us) simply for being born human, and god makes determinations on who gets saved based on thought crime and one's ability to discern whether god's existence is indeed in evidence or not - i.e. it has nothing to do with morality. This puts the lie to those who would argue that Xianity is all about morality, that we gain our morality from it, and other such lies.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


I had another post in mind for today, but after watching the excellent documentary called Marjoe last night, I had a new topic for today.

I first found out about this documentary by a passing reference to it in Daniel Dennett's book Breaking the Spell. It's rather old, having come out in 1972, so I'm disappointed that I haven't watched it sooner.

Marjoe Gortner was born to two evangelical parents who were both fire and brimstone types and tent revivalists. He is the fourth generation of preachers in his family, and by the age of 4 he was an ordained minister himself. By the age of 5 he was performing marriages.

The film picks up with him as an adult, as he tours around the country holding tent revivals. He preaches, he sings, he struts, he lays on hands, he speaks in tongues, he heals people, but there's only one problem. He's a sham, and he admits it. He's playing these people for their money. He has no special powers, yet the people are still sent into paroxisms of supposed joy with the feeling of Jesus. They are supposedly healed, and they are convinced they are healed, even though Marjoe is a fraud. He even talks about how once one person does it, everyone else wants to follow suit. They want so much to not be shown up, they want so much to be the most pious one there. I feel sort of bad for some of them, but I'm also reminded of the old adage about a fool and his money.

In summary, I highly recommend this film, especially for anyone who's familiar with these tent revivals. (Confidential to Robert Madewell: I really think you'll appreciate it very much.)

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Huge Amount of Ignorance

In the comments section, I was challenged on my knowledge of a couple passages that are late additions to the gospel. In even went so far as to look up what Xian sites had to say. Christianity Today just so happened to agree with me...

But, that's not what I'm writing about today. Sometimes fate just smiles on you, and in a totally unconnected and unrelated way you find something just so perfectly funny that it has to be brought up.

[There] is a huge amount of ignorance that we're catering to in the Christian public.

Couldn't have said it better myself!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

OK, so many creationists just don't get it - let me spell it out. The Flintstones was not a documentary.

First, let's get something straight. A scientific theory is a well supported explanation of natural phenomena, facts, and data that is has not been falsified, and best explains the data we have. Theories are the upper echelon of science. Theories are not wild-assed guesses, as some creationists like to pretend. Nor are theories simply problematic guesses trying to become laws. Laws and theories are quite distinct things in science and there isn't a hierarchy whereby ideas go along stages, with "law" being the last and best stage.

Also, science changes as new data becomes available. This is not a failing of science, but a strength. It shows a willingness to incorporate the best information we have in formulating the best explanations that we can.

Evolution is a theory. It is well supported by many independent lines of scientific inquiry (paleontology, biology, genetics, geology, etc.) We have many different independent lines of evidence that support it. Evolution is built on facts, many facts, and is the over-arching explanation of those facts. No other alternative "explanation" even comes close (and no, creationism and ID are not theories - they aren't even proper hypotheses). Evolution has been rigorously tested for over 150 years now and it is still weathering the test of time, even though it has made predictions that could have falsified it (like the chromosomal fusion of human chromosomes from our last common ancestor with apes that was predicted and found, for example).

Evolution, as an explanation, is (very simplified) that mutations to the genetic material of organisms provide for variation, which is then selected by nature for survival and the passing on of those genes.

All animals on the planet are just as evolved as we are. We are not more evolved than other animals. Evolution is happening still.

Evolution is not random. The variations that arise do have a random component, but selection is not a random process.

It does not mean that we should see giant flies with 20 wings, or dats (dog/cat crosses). It doesn't mean that we will grow another arm (not unless genetic material for another arm arises and is selected for over say the next 20 million years that is).

Now, why go through all this? It's because I'm constantly amazed at the amount of creationists who know just about nothing about evolution, but are dead sure it's wrong. They don't know what a theory is. They don't know how science works. They don't know how evolution works. They don't even understand the very, very simplistic overview that I just gave above.

But they do know that it all has to be wrong, wrong, wrong.

Do these creationists really think that either virtually all scientists are part of some atheistic conspiracy to dupe the public, or that virtually all scientists are stupid or blinded by atheism and that they, having done no research or any other lab work, somehow know more than the professionals? Any other options?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Evidential Gaps

A favorite creationist tactic is to deny any and all evidence for any piece of science that contradicts their beliefs. But, some take it even further. They will look at the evidence that does exist, declare that it's not enough, then summarily dismiss all the evidence as non-existent. I hope the following example shows how absurd this line of thinking is.

Suppose person A lives in California and person B lives in New York. Let's say that person A and person B run into each other in CA and person A asks how person B got there. B claims that she drove her car from NY to CA. A then asks for evidence.

B remembers that she kept some of her receipts. She has receipts from gassing up a couple times along the way. She has some receipts from eating meals along the road. But, alas she doesn't have every single receipt, so she can't form an unbroken line. Further, she can't account for the gaps in between receipts - for instance, how did she get to dinner from lunch? She can present her car, but this is not enough for A. A claims that due to some missing receipts and not having enough evidence, none of the receipts, the car, or anything else that B presents count as evidence that B did indeed drive across the country.

Clearly, this is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater though. A has taken the evidence that does exist, and thrown it away as if it did not simply because it did not meet A's demands. Without a full explanation down to some nebulous detail, nothing counts at all toward an explanation in A's eyes. Yet, it's absurd to claim that those receipts do not constitute some evidence of the claim made by B, as we can all hopefully see. Never-the-less, we see this attitude from creationists all the time in denying wide swathes of science, whether it be evolution, abiogenesis, the age of the Earth, the age of the universe, or even modern medicine. In short, the creationist would rather deny reality in order to hold onto her preconceptions than to accept reality for what it is and shape her beliefs around it. Yet, it's a bad argument to make, because it only makes the creationist look silly and uninformed.

Sunday, 12 July 2009


I've been thinking about Post Modernism and the interpretations of literary works. Can we discern what the author is talking about? I think that in many cases we can, or at least we can make a good guess. In the case of non-fiction works, this should be trivial, as this is the intent - for the author to introduce a point and communicate it. Once we start talking about fictional works, it gets more difficult. We usually can, however, discern an author's intent because it will inevitably be about things that we relate to and/or understand.

OK, so let's look at the category of religious writings. These have to be thought of as a separate category unto themselves, because of the vehement disagreement on whether they are fictional accounts or not. Also, there's an argument over whether these books tell us about things we can comprehend or not? If we deal with the Xian texts (the OT and NT) we find a story that most believers will claim is non-fictional (indeed elements of it are pretty clear in that regard, whether they are correct or not) and about an entity that we can hope to understand.

Can we discern the author's meaning? I would have to say that in many cases we can not. Let's take one example: Genesis 1. We can't look back at the obviously erroneous origin story of Genesis with our modern scientific knowledge and conclude that the author obviously didn't intend to claim what is claimed in the text. It's quite probable that the authors did intend to claim that the universe was formed in 6 literal days as the text indicates.

Other instances might be where the authors tell us about god. Did the authors simply make up those passages or was god dictating? Either way, we really can't claim to know what they are talking about or how to interpret the writings when the authors themselves may very well not know what they were trying to describe (seeing as how god is supposedly indescribable).

All of this - plus the ambiguity and contradictions - puts us at a significant disadvantage when deciphering the Bible. Is someone using an incorrect interpretation when they claim that the Bible denounces all homosexuals? Is it an incorrect interpretation to claim that Xians should wage holy war on other religious followers? Should one not ever murder, not murder other Jews, or murder freely when god commands it? And, the list goes on. There's really not a good foundation for Xians to use to conclude that their interpretation is necessarily right when it comes to the Bible.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

As I've talked about before, denying the bad assumptions made by theists does not necessarily mean that the atheist is making her own assumption. This is a rather common error, however, that theists often make. "Well, I assume god and you assume not god, so we're even." No, we are not. I do not need to assume not god in order to point out the holes in your logic and that your assumption is bad. I simply need not to accept your assumption as valid. This does not mean that I'm asserting my own assumption.

But, since this is so hard to understand for some, I thought I would try to create an example to illustrate the point. Let's say that two people are setting up a sting operation where they are going to be listening to a multi-national group of people. Let's pick up the conversation in progress:

Person A - Here's how the plan will go. We'll tap their phones and their meeting room and then we'll have Jane listen in. I assume that Jane will be able to understand any language they choose to use and with her help, we will be able to get the information we need. I guarantee success.
Person B - Um, wait. You assume Jane will be able to understand them?
A - Yes. Why not?
B - Do you know what language they'll be using?
A - No.
B - Do you know what languages Jane understands?
A - No.
B - I'm highly skeptical of your guarantee that this will work.
A - Oh, you're just assuming that Jane can't do it. I assume that she can. What's the difference? You have your assumption, and I have mine. We may as well just go into this operation and believe it will work.

So, in this example, did Person B really assume that Jane can't understand whatever language they use, or did Person B simply point out that the assumption may be faulty (probably is faulty, since most humans don't have the language skills of C3PO)? The analogy breaks down a bit in the theism question, because it's very hard to simply wait and see (although some theists do advocate simply waiting and seeing what happens after death) but I think it's instructive. Questioning or not accepting someone's assumptions do not entail negative assumptions or contrary assumptions are being made. This is of utmost importance in the philosophical debate over god, because theists really are sitting on a bad hand. They are required to make unsupported (read, irrational) assumptions in order to get to their preferred ending point, while the atheist is not under any such obligation.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Response to a Comment

On my recent post on whether assumptions of god are rational a commenter named "mdeltoro" has brought up quite a few questions. I figured that I could not fully answer them all and do the answers justice in a blog comment, so I've promoted the answers to a full blog post. Below is a response to those comments.

mdeltoro's first complaint to my argument is this:
You secularists stake everthing on your ability to observe emperical evidence...But this assumes that the information conveyed to our brains by our senses is an accurate representation of the things "out there" in the world, which our senses are supposed to be observing. This is undemonstrable other than by . . . empirical evidence.

On first blush, one might think that this poses a significant problem, although wouldn't it pose a problem for both atheist and theist alike? Except that it's not an assumption of naturalists to assume that our senses are accurate. We sense that the sun moves around the Earth, but this is not accurate. The idea of using empirical study and the scientific method is to remove the inaccuracies that can come from our senses. And, of course, it's highly pragmatic - simply put, it works. It's not an assumption, but a conclusion that empirical results, once verified and tested over and over, and held provisionally until new data comes along and overturns our conclusions in favor of new, better ones, is simply superior to any method that has yet been devised, especially any religious method.

Next, mdeltoro has argued that it's an assumption to believe that other humans can understand my blog. I argued that this is a demonstrated reality, in that we were having a conversation, which was met with an argument about postmodern literary interpretations:
Many a literature professor would disagree with your notion that this is a "demonstrated reality," as attested by the fact that so often the question has become NOT "What did the author mean?" but "What does this mean TO YOU?"

Yet, this misses the mark by a bit. We can both ask what the author of a piece means and what it means to us, they are not mutually exclusive, nor is this any sort of answer to the demonstrated fact that we are having a conversation via this blog and our meanings (not always fully conveyed, but enough for the purposes of answering this challenge) are being comprehended.

So, now we get to the meat of it:
What I am saying is that, on the basis of your worldview, none of these assumptions can be justified.

Hmmm, let's explore that. So far, none of the supposed assumptions that naturalists hold are actually assumptions. So, let's see where this goes.
In a universe moved along by random chance (which secular evolutionists assure us is THE key to explaining how things came to be as they are), it actually makes just as much sense to affirm as to deny that the sun will not rise tomorrow, that our brains may not have sufficient continuity of process that we really understand each other, or that gravity will shut off tomorrow.

OK, so yeah, in a universe where everything is determined by a roll of the die, it wouldn't make sense. But, that's a strawman representation of the naturalist's position. Do random factors play into how the world works? Of course. Randomly mutating genes of animals provide the change that allows natural selection to select the critters that will propagate their genes, but who said that that is a random process? Answer: no one except creationists.
Let us put the question this way: "Why does the fact that things have 'always' operated in a certain way imply that they will continue to operate in the same way?" How can a secularist answer this question? To say, "We know by empirical observation that things have consistently operated this way in the past" is to (1) assume the basic reliability of our senses (unjustified on a secular worldview, we've already noted) and (2) to beg the question.

I'm confused here. Isn't it a good indicator of how things work that they seem to be consistent? In no way do I have to assume the reliability of my senses or beg the question to conclude that it is highly likely that the sun will continue its pattern of rising in the morning (or more properly that the Earth will continue to rotate in such a way that my senses tell me the sun is rising). Does this mean it will? No, it does not, but it would take a major catastrophe (in which case we'd all be dead) or a violation of the working models that we have of the universe...which leads me to mdeltoro's next argument.

I've argued that if one believes in a god that can and does perform miracles, then one can not conclude that the sun will necessarily rise tomorrow, that natural laws will not be violated, etc. We know that this god (if the Bible is correct) has made the sun stand still in the sky, which would be a violation of physics. Believing in a god that can do and does do these things at any time means that one can not be confident that miracles will not occur and can't assume an orderly universe. mdeltoro's response to me follows:
I know this is a sacred cow of secular science, but it is simply neither historically nor logically demonstrable. Theistic and Christian scientists have made and continue to make valuable scientific discoveries, because they are seeking to discover the universe and the laws which God created.

So, I'm failing to see what "historical" demonstration would look like, nor how it is relevant. Logically, it's pretty sound. If you believe that an entity exists that can violate physical law, then how can you believe those laws are inviolate? And, as an aside, this has nothing to do with whether scientists who are Xians can do science. Of course they can. The problem for mdeltoro is that in order to do science they must check their religion at the door.
From a logical point of view, affirming that God can and has done miracles is not the same as affirming that He does them willy-nilly or does them all the time.

This is true, and it's a good point, but it doesn't address my point, which is that if this god exists, then the potential exists at any and all times for the laws to simply change or be violated at the will of this deity.
If the purpose of Christian scientists is to discover the laws God made that normally govern His universe, no harm is done in affirming that God can and at times has acted outside those laws.

And, here's the crux - this is the problem that arises. All data is called into question once one assumes a god that can change anything and everything on a whim. How can we be certain of the data that leads us to a conclusion, when it might be an anomaly of this god's whim?

None of this, of course, refutes the fact that the god assumption is irrational and that using this assumption and then arguing to a conclusion does not make the conclusion rational. In fact, I think this actually supports my arguments. In order to perform science, we have to check our religious assumptions at the door. We have to ignore the religious conclusion that any or all of our data could be faulty due to god's interference. We have to ignore that a god such as the one in the Bible could very well change physical laws at any time and make anything happen, regardless of what we've previously observed (i.e. the sun may not rise tomorrow morning and yet we would not be dead).

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Not a Xian Nation

In today's United States, it seems that politicians are falling all over themselves to out god everyone else in order to remain elected...since this is a Xian nation and all, right? Well, all one has to do to put that misperception to rest is to look at the historical documents of this nation, like the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli.

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Happy 4th of July everyone.