Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Ten Commandments of Atheism: A Brief Refutation



       I came across an article on the Huffington Post entitled 10 Commandments For Atheists Who Want To Explore Their Values by Kimberly Winston. In the article, she gives a synopsis of a recently published book called "Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-First Century". The book, she reports, is intended to be a "philosophical road map" for the essential beliefs of nonbelievers.

       I have a few issues with the article, particularly with the equivocations and misleading information about the authors. However, that is something best left to the side. Regardless, I wanted to offer a brief refutation of their humanist ten commandments, since it is a perfect reflection of how unsophisticated the atheist community is. They have a habit of pumping out popular level books, 'fun' books, that lack any philosophical depth and are easily refuted by someone possessing elementary knowledge in philosophy. It's a shame since both authors are promoted as having "studied philosophy and logic." I'll begin by listing their ten 'non commandments' and then offer a brief critique.

The Ten Non-Commandments:

I. The world is real, and our desire to understand the world is the basis for belief.
II. We can perceive the world only through our human senses.
III. We use rational thought and language as tools for understanding the world.
IV. All truth is proportional to the evidence.
V. There is no God.
VI. We all strive to live a happy life. We pursue things that make us happy and avoid things that do not.
VII. There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave.
VIII. We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy.
IX. We benefit from living in, and supporting, an ethical society.
X. All our beliefs are subject to change in the face of new evidence, including these.


      Commandments I, II, and III contradict each other in the sense that they form an invalid  argument. This is easily seen if we read them in reverse order. Looking at commandment III, it should be noted that rational thought and language are inept as tools for understanding the world without content from our experience of the world in the first place. This is supported by commandment II, which claims that we can only know of the world through our 5 senses. However, this certainly doesn't support commandment I. If all we can know about the world comes from our senses, then it is highly presumptuous to claim that the world is real. Why think, on atheism, that the world is real simply because we can sense it? This is a textbook example of a circular argument. Epistemologically speaking, evolution only cares about behavior that yields survivability, not beliefs that yield truth. A false belief is just as likely to yield adaptive behavior. Our cognitive faculties are suspect under naturalism, but that is a topic for another time.

      Commandment IV is simply false. Not all true propositions require evidence. Using their first commandment, if I say "show me evidence that the world is real", then what evidence could they provide that wouldn't already assume that the world is real? It's question-begging. Secondly, we assume that our evidence is true when we present a cumulative case -- more circularity! It should also be added that this creates an infinite regress of evidence required for any truth claim. Thirdly, this commandment makes truth probabilistic. However, statements like "I exist" or "something exists" are immediately true, and no amount of evidence would add or subtract from them without already assuming the truth of the proposition in question. Evidence is merely something that assists us with coming to some beliefs, and doesn't itself determine truth. Reality determines truth and evidence only helps us believe it. Show me an atheist providing evidence for the laws of logic and I will show you an atheist providing only examples of those laws. Examples aren't the same as evidence.

    I was caught off guard with commandment V, since most atheists claim that they merely have a lack of belief in God. However, this is saying that there is, in fact, no God. Therefore, it's a claim that requires a valid argument(or, if you prefer, evidence). I find it particularly interesting that they have just claimed the world can only be known through the senses, but are eager to claim that God doesn't exist. Does God not exist because we haven't perceived Him with the senses? This appears to be arguing from ignorance. Just because Group A doesn't perceive entity B, doesn't therefore mean that entity B doesn't exist. The absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. Of course, this is the byproduct of their faulty epistemology and metaphysical assumptions. They ought to have said, "Based on what we know, God is unlikely to exist" or "Belief in God is unwarranted."

      Commandments VI - IX, like their first three counterparts, are incoherent when taken together. If becoming a peeping Tom makes me happy, then according to commandment (VI) I should pursue it. Likewise, if giving money to a homeless person makes me unhappy (the loss of money), then according to this commandment I should avoid doing so. Commandment VII reinforces this by claiming that, essentially, moral phrases carry as much weight as declaring your favorite ice cream flavor. VIII is completely redundant and was already dealt with in VI. Finally, commandment IX is incoherent so long as the word "ethical" remains undefined. It's not easy to see what they mean by "ethical society". Is a society ethical if they maximize the happiness of the majority, or merely your own happiness? Surely we'd benefit if our happiness is preserved under such a society, but not so much if the majority is considered. At the end of the day, the authors implicitly admit that such atrocities like the holocaust weren't really 'wrong', but rather were the subjective expressions of a German people. In fact, one can use their so-called ethic against them epistemologically. Truth, or the pursuit of it, is really a trivial thing since the man who chases after whatever gives him pleasure and comfort is doing nothing epistemologically wrong. These last four commandments destroy the spirit of science, philosophy, and degrade human beings while simultaneously destroying society.

      Finally, commandment X can effectively be ignored since one is just as likely to change his or her beliefs based on the amount of emotional comfort or pleasure it gives them, rather than the weight of rational evidence.

      In conclusion, the authors fail to provide a coherent 'blueprint' for humanism. They only succeed in revealing atheism's shallowness and inability to work as a tenable worldview. This brief refutation was done within an hour's time. I wonder how much red ink would be spilled if their project was submitted before a philosophical committee, or was peer-reviewed. Perhaps the atheist community's preference for publishing 'fun' books is the reason why it's dying in academia, but I digress.



     

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Existence: A Brief Ontological Excursion

 
The Philosopher is Mocked

Philosophers are often mocked when they ponder trivial things such as the reality of the external world, or even existence itself. “What does it mean to exist?” The philosopher reflects on this question with the utmost sincerity while a crowd of onlookers gazes upon him with a mocking pity. Shaking their heads, they wonder what the point of such a question is. “My poor man, cease from thinking about those things! You won’t add a single hair to your head!” Perhaps they’re right. After all, when one thinks of a philosopher they think of a wise fool who possesses a large vault of useless knowledge. Perhaps philosophers didn’t get the memo that scientists now hold the keys to truth and knowledge.

However, if philosophers really are the village idiots, then they would have died off a long time ago when science gained prominence in the 19th century. Obviously philosophers still exist, and their questions certainly haven’t been answered by scientists. Despite science’s inability to answer this particular question, is it a worthwhile pursuit? The goal of this short work is to answer this in the affirmative by entertaining a dialectic which will lead to the greatest truth of all. And so, “What is existence?”
                                                                    Existence

To begin, I want to point out how inept most dictionaries are when it comes to defining existence. Many simply use the words ‘to be’, but this is extremely unhelpful when one finds that the definition of ‘to be’ is ‘to exist’. Even certain advanced definitions which use the word ‘substantiation’ are lacking in depth. Yet despite this unhelpful circularity, we all use the word, and its variations, daily. There must be more going on here than what meets the eye -- literally.

Let’s start with the undeniable: I exist (as do you, my reader). Rene Descartes’ metaphysical axiom, Cogito Ergo Sum (I think therefore I am), is an undeniable truth to us all. So whatever existence is, we certainly partake in it. Therefore, the “I”, the self, is the starting point from which this idea evolves, for we cannot escape ourselves. I argue that pure objectivity is an illusion; it’s either something we can never achieve or a chimera all together. Subjectivity is the undeniable foundation for our experiences.

Descartes’ axiom allows us to derive two additional undeniable truths. First, we are all equipped with the idea of negation. Negation is a byproduct of any proposition. For example, the proposition, “The stone has a mass of X”, negates the proposition, “The stone has a mass of Y”, where X and Y are distinct quantities. It follows that the stone has a mass of X and not a mass of Y. It follows that we can know of the ‘me’ and the ‘not me’, the self and the other. Secondly, we know that universal negation is impossible. Nothingness, what many mistakenly envision as a black void, cannot exist since it is causally impotent (i.e. nothing cannot give birth to something). But we know that at least one thing exists: the I. It follows that there is at least one thing necessary in its existence (see my blog “Necessity Concluded” for more details). However, through honest reflection we know that we aren’t necessary in our existence. Therefore, I exist and there is at least one thing necessary in its existence which isn’t me. Consequently, solipsism is defeated.

Coming back to existence, we can therefore divide the world into the inner and the outer. As for the inner, I mean my thoughts, intentions, memories, and anything constructed by my imagination. My thought of a dog can, on a whim, be transformed into a flower, a bird, or even into a different dog. I have authority over them because I can manipulate them with my will. Their existence is contingent upon my existence. As for the outer, I mean those appearances that we know intuitively do not originate within us, are not us, and are not under the jurisdiction of my will. A stone that I witness with my senses gives me a certain appearance that I am compelled to experience, and neither can I will it to change into a piece of bread despite my utmost sincerity. I am without authority with regard to its being. This I call objective existence.

From what has been discussed, I define existence as the capacity to provide an appearance in the form of a thought or an object. It follows that something does not exist if it does not have this capacity. For example, a married bachelor is not coherent, for it implies a logical contradiction and therefore cannot have a capacity to form an appearance. Typically, however, we see existence in the objective sense, or at least count it more worthy of our time. For example, there is nothing impressive with saying that my thought of God exists. What does matter is whether God exists in the objective sense I defined above. However, before I get into that I must deal with some anticipated objections.

One may say that it’s possible that there exists a thing that does not provide me an appearance whatsoever. After all, why should existence be all about me and my experiences of appearances? First, I never ruled this out. The question isn’t about whether it does provide me an appearance, but whether it has a capacity to do so. Obviously there are billions of things not providing me appearances right now but can do so under the right conditions (e.g. my proximity to it). As for whether there can be a thing that does not have a capacity to provide me an appearance, but still exists, I say this is impossible. There would be no difference between such stealth objects and things that don’t exist. By stealth object, I mean an object that cannot be thought of nor experienced by any of our senses or cognitive faculties. However, this turns out to be the same as a logical contradiction. Moreover, even if it was possible for such stealth objects to exist, they would still be known and experienced by the Necessary Absolute, which I am compelled to believe is God (more on this later).

But perhaps I am complicating things as my opponents claim. Surely there’s a straightforward, self-evident, scientific definition of ‘exists’ that doesn’t require the use of suspicious ontological philosophy. Like many naturalists, they define existence much more narrowly than myself, which will prove to be its downfall. Many claim that something exists if it takes up space. This is an appealing definition, no doubt, but it doesn’t work because it suffers from the fallacy of begging the question. If it is true that taking up space is a ticket to existence, then how would they answer the question, “Does matter, space, and time exist?” They would of course say yes, but would be lacking an explanation. You cannot appeal to the criteria when the very units of the criteria are under investigation. To demonstrate, consider what they would have to say in order to answer the aforementioned question. “Space exists because matter occupies it, which in turn exists by virtue of change (time).” So, does matter exist? Yes. Why? Because it occupies space. Does space exist? Yes. Why? Because matter exists. Does time exist? Yes. Why? Because change exists. Does change exist? Yes. Why? Because matter exists. However, their original criterion was that something exists if it takes up space, but obviously the referent to space is matter (i.e. it is unhelpful to say space exists because it takes up space). Therefore, their criterion for existence boils down to ‘is made of matter’. However, we then reach the prime example of circularity when we answer “does matter exist” by saying “Yes, because it is made of matter.” So much for the naturalist’s definition.

[Briefly digressing, it should be added that Buddhism suffers a serious defeater if what I say is true. A central belief within that Eastern religion (if it could be said to be a religion at all) is that the ‘self’ is an illusion (anatta). This betrays, in my eyes, the most basic and familiar self-evident truth to us all: I exist. In essence, you must convince yourself that you don’t have a self, which is nonsensical. Moreover, this incoherent idea has consequences for their view of an afterlife, or lack thereof. Categorically, ideas of the afterlife can be reduced into two camps: eternalism and annihilationism. The former implies an eternal preservation of the self in some state after death, whereas the latter implies the destruction of the self at some point after death. In one you exist, and in the other you don’t. The Buddha, however, is forced into a corner. Despite all his teachings about what you ought to do, it all amounts to the annihilation of the self after death. It makes no sense to suggest that I have achieved nirvana when I am at the same time nonexistent. After death, there can be no present tense “I have done it” in Buddhism any more than a dead atheist can claim “I am correct.” Buddhism, like its more advanced cousin atheism, is annihilationism.]

Finally, I agree with some philosophers, Kant especially, that existence isn’t a property a thing has. This is why I prefer to use ‘capacity’ when talking about existence. My thought of a quarter and a ("real") quarter both exist. It’s not as though there are degrees of existence, such that my thought of a quarter has 45% existence verses the quarter’s 99%. Either something exists or it doesn’t. Existence is the presentation of qualia, and therefore cannot be a quality itself.

                                                                Concluding Remarks

This brief excursion into ontology is only a starting point.  The significance of the endeavor cannot be seen unless one takes it out of isolation. All our beliefs and questions are linked together in a complex hierarchical web. Furthermore, it makes no sense to live one’s life in the pursuit of happiness when we are at the same time believing lies at the core of our worldviews. From what has been discussed, we know that there must be a power greater than ourselves who sustains existence itself. Up until now I have simply referred to it as the Necessary Absolute. I am of course referring to God Himself. I conclude with the sum of all that has been said: We are before God at all times. How shall we live now?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Philosophy of Revenge


 
There are few words in the English language that carry as much emotion and imagery as the word revenge. Entire movies and books are based on this idea and many of them are considered classics. In The Count of Monte Cristo, the main character, Edmond Dantès, is falsely accused of treason and sent to prison where his entire young life is ruined. After escaping prison and finding a treasure, he becomes hell bent on exacting his revenge upon those who wronged him. We watch a movie like this completely hooked while sympathizing with the victim. But why? Why do stories of revenge captivate us? Why are so many of us often motivated by it?

I begin by presenting four hypotheticals which will set up my case:

1.       Imagine driving down a city road when you notice in your rearview mirror a large truck tailgating you. You are already doing 10mph over the speed limit. The truck then passes you, but immediately turns into a gas station a block down the road. He turns slowly which forces you to apply your brakes suddenly. Infused with anger, you pull into the gas station and curse him out.

2.       A friend who owes you $1,000 has decided to go back on his word. Since you gave him cash, you cannot prove that you lent him money. Knowing where he lives, you destroy his car by slashing the tires, breaking off the mirrors, and smashing the front windshield.

3.       You decide to surprise your wife with an early visit after a long tour in Afghanistan. Entering your house, you find your wife in bed with another man. Red with anger, you beat the man mercilessly and proceed to destroy all of your wife’s belongings.

4.       Your only daughter was killed by a drunk driver. You await the verdict against the killer only to hear the judge say he isn’t guilty due to a technicality in the investigation. Unable to hold onto your sanity, you follow the man to his house and shoot him to death on his lawn.

Despite the increasing intensity of each example, there is a clear pattern that all of them share. The situation begins with an offense or the feeling that one was wronged. What follows is an act of revenge. Immediately we enter into the realm of morality and justice or, as I prefer to use, ethics. Morality deals with the reality and knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong. Justice deals with rewards and punishments for either adhering or failing to adhere to the moral law; it seeks to right a wrong. Using the aforementioned examples, we can spot the moral nuggets contained within them. It’s obvious that road rage, failing to pay back your debt, infidelity (cheating), and lethal drunk driving are all wrong actions. ‘You’ were clearly wronged in each example. However, has justice been served in each case?

Revenge, contrary to avenge, is personal. It is issued by the victim to correct a wrong done to the victim, rather than correcting a wrong done to another person. Revenge appoints the victim into the judge, the jury, and executioner. However, what does justice say about all this? Does revenge have justice’s blessing? It’s here where the difficulties arise. To introduce my point, I offer a different take on the previous examples:

          1.* The driver tailgating you was speeding in order to make it to the hospital to witness the birth of his first child. After passing you, he noticed his tank was empty and suddenly decided to pull into the gas station.

          2* Your friend who borrowed $1,000 used the money to pay for his sick mother’s hospital bills. He recently lost his job and is no longer able to pay you back.

          3.* Your wife found out about the affair you had overseas with a female soldier. Distraught, she turned to her coworker whose advice led to an affair.

          4.* The drunk driver who killed your only daughter lost his wife and two sons a week before in a fire caused by faulty wiring that he installed in his house. Depressed and full of guilt, he went to the bar to drink his troubles away.

                With these clarifications in place, was your revenge warranted? Was justice served? It’s a rather tricky thing to answer, for now there seems to be both perspectives available. Although these clarifications might not take away from the fact that you’ve been wronged, a little sympathy is owed to the offenders. This should tell us all something about revenge: We simply aren’t in the position to know all the relevant variables. We, as finite beings, are limited to the present moment. It’s impossible to know another person’s circumstances when that particular offense happened. Yet we are quick to make the situation into an unforgivable, unforgettable, offense. “No, they need to pay for what they did to me! How dare them!”

                There is nothing wrong with demanding justice. In fact, recognizing the moral law forces us to recognize the evil in the world and the fact that it needs to be dealt with. However, pretending to know why the offense happened, the offender’s intentions and circumstances, is highly presumptuous. To make matters worse, we want to issue a punishment on top of all our ignorance. Why is smashing your friend’s car justice when you lack most of the relevant data about the situation? Are you that supreme in your thoughts to know that smashing your friend’s car is worth the $1,000 that they owed you? More than likely this punishment of yours set your friend back so much that the damages far outweigh the inconvenience they gave you. I sense a bias in favor of oneself, which is a prime reason why we shouldn’t presume to pursue revenge.

                I’m speaking ideally here, for I recognize the reality of short tempers and other human shortcomings. Of course, we all do what I claim we shouldn’t do. There have been countless times I’ve wanted to pay back a wrong done to me, often in a harsher way than I received. None of us want to be trampled on. None of us want to feel inferior. But we have to come to the realization that we aren’t solving anything by having short tempers and exacting revenge upon others. It causes an unending cycle of hatred and self-serving justice, which turns out not to be justice at all. Revenge is after a feeling, a type of personal vindication that convinces us that we are our own masters. This leads me to a greater point.

                Revenge is despair. It is a form of hopelessness that needs justice now, on our own terms. From this, I argue, that revenge is godless because it lacks faith in God’s goodness and justice. It’s as if revenge is saying, “If I don’t pay back this evil then this wrongdoer will get away with it.” But this is precisely why revenge is hopelessness. It’s the same as saying, “I don’t trust in God to bring about a greater good and to vindicate me.” If this sounds farfetched, consider what would happen if a police officer, some witnesses, and a judge were present at the time the offense was committed against you. Would you not throw up your hands, look at the judge, and point your finger at the offender as soccer players do when a player on the opposing team pushes another player? None of us would lift a finger because we want to be presented as blameless in front of the onlooking court. You wouldn’t punch, curse at, or destroy the property of the offender because you would have faith that the court would deal with him. In fact, nothing would make us more at ease knowing there is a police officer nearby when thugs approach to mug you.

                But we rarely act like the judge is present at the time of the offense. This is because we are in a state of despair, and consequently a state of faithlessness. God is everywhere and is aware of everything that goes on in this world. He knows when you are in trouble, and He certainly knows when another human being trespasses against you. It’s important to listen to St. Paul when he says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) It is God that possesses the knowledge and goodness necessary to avenge you, but He may not do it on your time. Why? Only God knows, but what I can say is that He promises that he has fixed a day in which all will have to give an account of their lives, and a day in which all evil will be punished. This is at the heart of what the Lord spoke: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Again, none of us would lift a finger if a court was present at the time of the offense. Likewise, we ought to believe that God witnesses each trespass and have faith that we will be avenged and vindicated.

                I don’t present this as if it’s easy. It’s one thing to talk and another thing to do, I know. Very few of us would let a stranger hit us, because we fear pain, theft, or any kind of evil another human being can inflict upon us. But this should reinforce the idea that many of us are lacking and have much to improve upon. Faith is never automatic or easy, but instead requires steadfast prayer and communication with God. Am I saying that a Christian who fights off an attacker is a false believer? No. But he certainly needs to develop the heart of a martyr. The Pagan onlookers were in amazement at the steadfast faith the Christians had when they were executed by the thousands. The martyrs acted as if God was right there with them, and in fact He was. Why put up a fight as though you have something to lose? I end with St. Paul:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 31-39)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Place of Religion in American Society

   


A Brief Comment on Religion and Postmodern Contempt

     Now that I am finished with my practical education in welding technology, I can return to my impractical studies of philosophy and theology. After all, according to many atheistic commentators, or even just whimsical and overly sarcastic commentators in general, philosophy and theology are the weakest of disciplines. However, this rarely brings a tear to my eye, but rather invokes an inner sigh as I reflect upon how confused our culture has become. I'm happy that I've taken a break from the blog world, as it has allowed me to sit quietly and carefully observe the 'mood' of our times.

    I've gathered much from my observations and it shouldn't shock you to find that I am disappointed with where we are heading. The emotionalism that flows through young adults is disturbing. I can't think of a single outspoken person aligned with the progressive movement who doesn't resort to calling anyone opposed to their grand vision as being 'bigoted', 'intolerant', 'on the wrong side of history', 'fundamental', 'extremist', etc. They have assumed that their position is true and common sense, which consequently shuts off most routes for constructive dialogue. Yes, we all start from some worldview as our assumption, but when that worldview sees 'constructive dialogue' as a threat, something hateful, then all sorts of dangerous absurdities begin to arise. [That last sentence is aimed at some Christians as well.]

     Thanks to the current 'mood' of our times, the terms 'religion' and 'religious' carry an unfashionably negative connotation. When many think of religion they think of oppression, power hunger, hypocrisy, hatred, rational suppression, and false piety. Religion is blamed for mass atrocities, illiteracy, close-mindedness, and halting social progress. On and on the accusations go, but the fundamental problem with all these criticisms arise from a complete lack of understanding of what the word 'religion' means.

     A religion is not, despite the common rhetoric, a blanketed shotgun term. Rarely does it make sense to use the word in such a way. Islam and Buddhism share almost nothing in common, yet the all-knowing commentators will use the word religion to describe both in a single critiquing stroke. The last time I checked, truth excludes and each religion makes various, often contradictory, truth claims about reality. For example, the sentence "Jesus Christ died on a cross" is either true or false. Islam is inclined to think the latter option is correct. Christianity, obviously, would maintain the former option. Which is true? A "free-thinking" progressive person might evade the question all together and erroneously suggest that all religions teach the same thing and only differ in emotional expression.  For the postmodern disciple "Jesus Christ died on a cross" is really an emotional expression which gives the believer purpose. This is a safe thing to say as it appears to agree with Christianity and as a result avoids hostile confrontations, yet is only camouflaged sophistry.

    Am I being bigoted when I say that Jesus Christ died on the cross, rose from the dead, is seated at the right hand of God, is the Son of God, and is the only way to come to God and receive forgiveness? Again, the postmodern disciple will attempt to relativize my claims. "No, no, what Max really means to say is that Jesus was a wise man who taught many moral things and who also gives him a purpose in life." Surely, I cannot utter such an offensive claim as suggesting that only Christianity is true! Well, I am and I did. I mean what I say to the dismay of progressives.

   I'm not merely stating what makes me 'feel good' or gives me purpose. Obviously I know my own intentions more than anyone else could possibly know (more on this later). So to reduce what I say into emotional, subjective, babble is more offensive than proposing that what I believe is false. I respect the person who disagrees wholeheartedly with Christianity and is bold enough to call it false. They are in no way being bigoted or hateful towards me. My faith isn't above criticism or evaluation, but it certainly is above the unwarranted contempt and lazy analysis by the progressive movement.


Defining Religion

    What is the difference between a philosophy of life and a religion? It's rare to ever get a straight answer on this topic from my opposition. That's telling. To start, both are worldviews, that is, a web of interconnected beliefs that make claims about reality as a whole. A philosophy of life is a worldview that is derived from within the sphere of reason. They often are developed over many years of trail and error, success and failure. Philosophies of life can even include a personal ethic or even a model to achieve personal happiness. A religion might contain some or all of what a philosophy of life has. However, one property separates them: A religion is a worldview which bases its core claims on revelation.

     Revelation is simply revealed information by another person. This includes everything from intentionality, subjective preferences, points of view, emotions; basically everything that's necessary to know what it's like to be, for example, Maxon Bruno. Despite what materialists claim, the brain does not equal the mind. I have privileged access to my thoughts and intentions. My thought about an apple does not equal a certain firing of neurons in my brain, because chemical properties are not the same as mental properties, however arranged or expressed. Due to this reality, reason (science) cannot have direct access to this knowledge. There is no way to prove scientifically, for example, that my intentions for giving money to a homeless person was to honor God rather than trying to score a date with an attractive humanitarian watching from a distance.

     Faith is the means by which we believe in revelation. I have faith that you will fulfill your promise, or faith in your good intentions. I typically don't like reducing faith into a mere trust in something. A scientist doesn't have faith that a certain chemical reaction will take place, because he stands in a direct observable relation to the reaction such that he could have access to all the relevant  variables. Probabilities are within the realm of reason, not faith. I would even hesitate to use faith for our philosophical presuppositions, such as the belief that the external world exists. I cannot help but be appeared to in a fashion which makes me believe that the external world exists. No, faith ought to be reserved for the invisible, the hidden. When you say that you love me, I believe it on faith even if reason helps me get to that cliff's edge by factoring in your previous reliability.

     Religious revelation is similar to this, albeit in a stronger sense. God is a person, and He therefore has privileged access to His thoughts, desires, and intentions. It is not through reason that we come to know God, but only through faith in His revelation. This might be tweaked depending on the religion in question. For example, a Hindu pantheist might express this differently, because they might not see God as a person. However, in terms of the Judeo-Christian worldview, God has revealed Himself, personally, via Scripture. Therefore, the Bible isn't merely book about ethical teachings as hasty progressives assume, but primarily about who God is, what He has done, and what He plans on doing.

Religion in Our Society

     Now that I've explained what religion entails, I can proceed to relate it to our present culture. As I mentioned before, there is a sour opinion of religion in the minds of progressives. Ironically, this contempt is aimed almost exclusively at Christianity. When was the last time that Hindus were condemned in American politics? When was the last time a Buddhist was slammed for his stance on a social issue? Islam occasionally enters the spotlight, but it's usually softened in a politically correct way by reminding us how peaceful it is at its core. Christianity is left to the front lines mainly due to its evangelistic emphasis.

     I begin with a question: Is it wrong for a Christian to use his or her Christianity as a compass when voting for laws and bills? Those who say no often point to the idea of the separation of church and state. According to them, religion has no place in politics. Fair enough. However, I ask one more question in turn: Is it wrong for a secular humanist to use his or her humanism as a compass when voting for laws and bills? Ah, it isn't such an easy answer if you denied Christians that right, isn't it? The truth of the matter is that we all operate on worldviews which guide our actions and literally how we see the world. Humanism makes just as many claims about reality as Christianity does. Even if progressives aren't operating on humanism, the point remains whether you are a naturalist, a spiritualist, or any other 'ist'.

     Is this denial of religion in politics stemming from a bias against the supernatural and the idea of revelation? That's it? So humanism is the default position? But why? Contrary to their claims, however, the 1st Amendment disagrees with this. No where does the 1st Amendment claim that a politician is forbidden to use her Christianity as a compass in her decisions. In fact, the 1st Amendment recognizes the freedom of speech. It only forbids the government from establishing a state church or making Christianity, for example, the unchallengeable presupposition of our government. The government cannot sponsor one religion by hanging banners which state something like, "In Jesus Christ we trust."

    The context of the 1st Amendment is easily demonstrated by how the Founding Fathers interpreted it. John Jay (1745-1829), the first chief justice of the United States, was an outspoken Christian. He used his Christianity as a compass for his decisions. Are we to believe that he smuggled himself into the Judicial system against the wishes of the 1st Amendment? He and many others were around when the 1st Amendment was drafted, and in none of their commentaries did they suggest that religious belief was forbidden in politics. Therefore, the modern extremist view of many progressives is simply false.

     Due to this religious ignorance and bias, there is a progressive hypocrisy in our culture. The moment Christian-based laws are implemented, they weep and cry "theocracy!", "religious oppression!", "Stop shoving your religion down our throats!" But what do they think they are doing when humanistic laws are being implemented? Marching towards a social utopia? No, if Christians are shoving their religion down other people's throats when passing "Christian" laws, then humanists are shoving their humanism down other's throats as well. They can kick and cry all they want, but at the end of the day democracy cannot accommodate everyone's worldviews equally.

A Brief Refutation of the Huffington Post in Light of What Has Been Discussed Thus Far

     An article appeared in the Huffington Post entitled 8 Other Laws That Can Be Ignored Now That Christians Get To Pick And Choose by Ryan Grim. It's a rather snarky and condescending article filled with all the ignorance I just mentioned. You can read it in full here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/30/religious-companies-opt-out-of-laws_n_5544582.html .

    Ryan Grim opens by explaining the Hobby Lobby controversy. The retail chain, Hobby Lobby, found that it shouldn't have to supply its employees with abortion inducing 'contraceptives'. This stands against the Obama administration's mandate that requires companies to supply contraceptives, regardless of the deeply held beliefs of the owners. The high court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby.

     Grim sarcastically adds, "Their deeply held religious belief that some particular form of contraception is immoral carries more weight than the force of law." I believe this misses the point, however. The majority of Christians are in agreement, and rightfully so, that aborting a fertilized human egg is killing a human essence, and therefore is tantamount to homicide. It should be added, briefly, that this isn't strictly a religious objection for there are many who are against most forms of abortion who share no religious affiliation at all. Regardless, I wonder what Grim would do if the law commanded him to report Jewish activity, knowing that by doing so it would lead to their arrests and executions. Would his "deeply held" moral beliefs carry more weight than the force of the law? I certainly hope so, for not all laws are moral laws. We only have to take a trip back to Nazi lane in order for us to remember that no society is immune from immoral laws.

     The hypocrisy in Grim's post comes about by recognizing that not even his worldview, if implemented politically, would accommodate all 'deeply held' beliefs. So ultimately his point is mute and uninteresting. He offers no solutions to his own grievances, because I suspect that if he did then he'd realize his own hypocrisy in the process. He appears to be another (atheist?) progressive attempting to rig the political chessboard by purchasing the rights to the words "bigot", "extremist", "religion", and "intolerance". But I suppose it's just Christians who fight dirty?

    It should be added that the word 'contraception' literally means "against conception"( contra = against, conceptiō = conceive). By the word's very etymology, it's very definition, a contraception that causes abortion is no contraception at all. Moreover, it's not as though Hobby Lobby tossed out the mandate in full because they are not against safe or, what I call, true contraceptives*. They are only against offering abortion-causing "contraceptives".

    The last I checked, the abortion debate isn't over. It remains one of the biggest social issues in our country because of the amount of protests and opposition coming from both sides. This isn't merely a  complaint from a minority, as most of Grim's sophomoric examples illustrate**, but rather is arising from a strong political force. The problem is with Obama's mandate, and its hastily deciding the issue before the debate is over and forcing companies to offer its employees what many consider homicide pills. A fair compromise is already on the table, but those who wish to shove their humanism down our throats seem to want none of it.


*As for the claims that Hobby Lobby is hypocritical for 'investing' in abortion companies, I refer you to this article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreybrown/2014/07/02/is-hobby-lobby-hypocritical-or-just-complying-with-u-s-pension-law/


**For example, he claims the Bible is "packed" with stories of women being stoned. I'd love to hear these 'various' and plentiful stories. Moreover, it's ironic that he includes a picture depicting the stoning of St. Stephen, who died for expressing his faith.
    

    

    



   

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Government, Deism, and the Establishment of Religion: A Postscript to Theistic Reemphasis

 

    I argued in the blog Theistic Reemphasis that atheistic criticisms of religion do not warrant belief in atheism. I justified this claim by suggesting that God can be a religiously neutral term due to the inherent nature of deism as a non 'revelation' (religious) based belief in a god of the universe. It follows that not only do criticisms of religion not warrant belief in atheism, but that they could also beg the question. The reason why miracles are 'unrealistic' to them is because they already don't believe in a god that can perform them*. I argued that Atheism must, in order to be taken seriously, give a reason to suggest why the substance called 'god' (a transcendent, non physical, timeless, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, and necessary being) does not exist or is highly unlikely to exist** rather than the mere personal, or religious specific, properties. If they ignore the former, then atheism is synonymous with words like 'nonChristian', 'nonMuslim', and 'nonJewish', which tell us absolutely nothing useful in discussions. This blog, however, will explore the consequences of my conclusion, that God does not always equal 'religion', and relate it to the political debate concerning the separation of church and state.

    As my previous blog mentioned, atheism has strangely become 'religion-centric', and this has spilled over into the political sphere. It is now common for 'freethought' communities (whatever that truly means at this point) to protest any inclusion of God on government property or in oaths. The debate has traditionally been centered around a phrase in the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Therefore, says the atheist, there is a serious breach of their 1st Amendment right when phrases like "In God we trust" or "One nation under God" are included on government property.

    However, if what I said is true, and I believe I have argued for it properly, then the mere presence of the word 'God', absence of a religious context, does not entail any religious belief or ideology that can be 'established' on "We the People." Since deism is the simplest form of theism and lacks any religious connotations inherently, then it is deism to which we interpret 'God' (absence a religious context) in these situations.

    To clarify, the difference between a 'philosophy of life' and a religion hangs on the word 'revelation'. If I, through my various observations of the world, formulate a worldview (i.e. a web of interconnecting beliefs about reality), then I have developed a 'philosophy'. If, however, I receive knowledge that does not originate from within me, and transcends the limits of reason, then I have a religious belief. For example, through a philosophy I can establish the existence of nonphysical substances, eternal things, and self-evident 'moral truths'. I may even learn this from other people, but as long as it originated from 'within the limits of human reason', then it is a philosophy. For example, there is no rational argument that can show that there is a loving God,  that Jesus Christ is His son, and that we need to worship Him and have our sins forgiven through Him, without revelation.  The 'limits of reason' are also the limits of deism, and it is for this very reason that deists should not be considered 'religious'.

    No one would take seriously the claim that "In God we Trust" is synonymous to "In Jesus Christ we Trust". The former is religiously neutral while the latter isn't. Until the atheist assumes the burden of proof and demonstrates that the context of such phrases are inherently religious, then they lose all basis for objecting to the inclusion of God on government property.

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* It's question begging to suggest that you don't believe in God because you find the idea of miracles 'silly' when this criticism presupposes a belief that God doesn't exist in the first place.

** [a point I take issue with since no scientific or probabilistic argument could reasonably be offered without a methodological bias in favor of naturalism, which consequently begs the question]