It’s in the Bible. You’re probably thinking of Jesus and Isaac. Isaac almost got sacrificed because god wanted to test Abraham’s obedience, even though being an omniscient deity, you’d think he’d already know the outcome and spare the kid a traumatic experience. I take that back. The god of the Bible is a jerk, so he wouldn’t care about the kid emotional well being. Jesus’s sacrifice is a can of worms in itself. It’s not exactly a sacrifice since he got resurrected, according to the story. People like me are baffled by the contortions Christians go through to make it necessary. The whole trinity thing is just surreal with one entity sacrificing itself to itself. It gets nastier in some interpretations where Jesus replaces regular death with Hell and expects us to play Pascal’s Wager on his particular horse out of the infinity of metaphysical beliefs. This is familiar ground for a lot of us.
Welcome to the next post in this little series of one-word-wrongness in religion.
To scientifically minded thinkers, authority is a shortcut for time and convenience. If I want to know the answer to a physics question, I can ask a physicist with appropriate letters after his name and published peer-reviewed articles attached to his name. A doctorate degree and peer-reviewed publications generally indicate that the person has done the hard work needed to understand physics and has demonstrated that understanding to the scientific community. So there is a basis for trusting in the accuracy of his answers if I want to save time and effort researching it. If I want to investigate deeper, instead of relying on the physicist’s authority, I can choose to read the accumulated literature to find a consensus or even perform the experiments myself if I’ve got the resources. If the physicist abuses his authority to push unproven or disproved hypotheses as if they were proven, he will be criticized by his peers, hopefully making people more hesitant to just trust his credentials.
To people with secular morality and politics, authority is generally given by social consensus. We vote for our leaders, and in theory, they are obligated to serve our interests. If they fail in that task, we can vote for a different leader next term. If a leader abuses his authority and works against the public’s interests, we can feel justified in resisting in various ways, whether it’s public criticism to sway voters and lower his chances of being reelected, mobilize other officials as checks against the abuses, or, in the most extreme cases, openly rebel against their authority.
In both these cases, authority is provisional and circumstantial instead of absolute, and the possibility of abuse is acknowledged. In religion, however, this often isn’t the case. Gods are often given absolute authority, and the “Big Three” Abrahamic religions are well-known for it. Being an American, and particularly a Texan, I’m pretty familiar with Christianity’s take on it, and there are a lot of recurring themes in attempts to justify it that are equally applicable in other religions.
John Loftus, one of the bloggers I started following in recent months is thinking about quitting or semi-quitting, handing the Debunking Christianity blog over to other writers, maybe dropping in for the occasional post. I’m familiar with this sort of “skeptical burnout,” so I understand the frustration. Writing as a skeptic is often a thankless job, and when we do end up having a result, it’s probably more often in the form of planting the seed of doubt, rather than an abrupt deconversion. I hope to keep fighting the good intellectual fight, but there’s nothing wrong with a skeptic who wants to move on with his life.
I can especially understand John Loftus wanting to move on from his criticism of Christianity. He was once educated to be an apologist before becoming an atheist, which means he wasted a lot of his life on Christianity on one level, and emotionally speaking, it can feel like dwelling on the past. On another level, it does help him to quickly and more thoroughly refute the apologia he once used and educate new skeptics about lesser known arguments. Whatever he decides to do with his life, I wish him luck.
In the mean time, I’m going to pay a little tribute to one of his favorite topics, the Outsider Test of Faith.
Plantinga’s “exclusivism” might better be called religious exceptionalism — the silly idea that, of the class of abstractions purporting to describe reality, the ones described as “religious” should be exempted from common standards of evidence and consistency.
What Plantinga calls “withholding belief” is better known as “admitting ignorance,” and it’s the beginning of knowledge, not the end of it.
But what annoys me most about this kind of philosophical apologetics is the transparent effort to to fix one variable (the truth of Christianity) while bending every other concern (consistency, logic) to fit. Sure, you can put together a jigsaw puzzle by whittling the pieces until they go where you want them to. But the result isn’t pretty, and it doesn’t make much sense.
Followed by cipher:
“You pays your money and you takes your choice, realizing that you, like anyone else, can be desperately wrong.”
And it would never, ever occur to him that it is unreasonable and lacking in compassion for his Invisible Friend to place us in such a position in the first place – especially as the stakes are supposedly so high.
It’s been a while since I’ve focused on this issue, but it’s an important one. According to the Bible, (and many, many theists) their god is a trickster who deceives people to bring about their ruin. Let’s take a look at some passages:
I may consider Christianity to be just another form of woo in terms of science and epistemology, but it’s pervasive where I live and wields undue political influence. That’s why I tend to devote more time to talking about it. Of course, like many American atheists, I used to be a Christian, but it tended to be in a far vaguer sense than the mainstream.
The typical Easter story never made sense to me.
It’s an annoying type of argument that tends to show up when theists are backed into a corner. Other people have covered it pretty well. I feel like adding a little bit of my own thoughts. If you’re not familiar with it, one goes something like this:
1. I can imagine something of maximum greatness.
2. It’d be even greater if that thing I’m imagining was real.
3. Maximum greatness means the thing I’m imagining must exist.
Okay, so I mangled it a little, but I think my summary helps bring out one of the problems I prefer to focus on: It assumes the universe cares about what humans define as “great.” I think that’s a pretty arrogant leap to make. Of course, the arrogance seems greater when we’re talking about what certain humans think of as “great.”
To illustrate the latter part of that, let’s move into the world of fiction for a moment. Comic books, specifically. Compare Superman and Batman. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but generally I’m a bigger fan of Bats than I am of Superman. While many comic heroes have innate powers granted by alien origins, mutations, lab accidents, and so on, Batman is the Ur-example of a “Badass Normal.” Sure, he’s smart, athletic, and has the bank account to afford all of those wonderful toys, but he’s still a “mere” human. And yet, despite the relative handicap of lacking innate powers, he can still pull his weight among his superpowered allies. That’s part of what I think makes Batman a great heroic character.
And theists generally want me to accept a lazy super non-hero (if not outright villain, depending on how much cherrypicking the theist does) as the greatest being in existence, and use that alleged greatness as a foundation for asserting its existence. Kind of falls flat with me.
Another ontological argument goes like this:
1. It’s possible that there is a necessary being.
2. If it’s possible that there is a necessary being, then a necessary being exists.
3. Therefore, a necessary being exists.
I may not know as much nuance about types of logic as the source I quoted, but a question that seems obvious to me is “what do you mean by ‘necessary?'” Naturally, another observation for both of these ontological arguments made in the Debunking Christianity links I’ve added is this: Being able to conceive of something, or of a possibility for something doesn’t make it real.
The fact that theists (Christian or otherwise) use these kinds of arguments make me wonder who they’re trying to convince: Atheists, or themselves?