Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Argument from neener-neener-neener

The Argument: You can't disprove the existence of God, therefore God exists.

The Rebuttal: you can't disprove the existence of hypotheticals. Otherwise, the following would be just as compelling an argument:

You can't prove that the universe wasn't created by a tasty cream-filled snack cake. Therefore, the universe was created by a Giant Twinkie.

I rest my case.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Existmas!

When you assert that God exists and Jesus is his earthly representative and that only through belief in Jesus can you reach heaven and enjoy eternal life, you have to jump the following cognitive hurdles:

- you have to believe in the supernatural

- you have to believe that there are supernatural entities that persist that can interact with our reality in a meaningful way

- you have to believe that one supernatural entity exists that is responsible for the creation of our natural world, is capable of and in fact does intervene with us in response to our prayers or in positive or negative response to our belief in it and our adherence to its written or unwritten rules

- you have to believe that the Old Testament describes this being - which we'll call "God" - and that this conception and the words that describe its rules and expectations supercede all other written and unwritten descriptions and conceptions of an ultimate supernatural being throughout the existence of the universe.

- you have to believe that an addendum to the Old Testament - the "New Testament" - describes an earthly representative of God called Jesus, whose words, transmitted to us through intermediaries whom we know little or nothing about, modify and supercede the basic conceptions laid down in the Old Testament, and that these words and rules must be followed in order to achieve life after death and eternal existence in a place called Heaven while the vast preponderance of humans who ever lived and/or who do not believe this particular set of words and guidelines will suffer eternal torment

- you have to believe that God will eternally maintain both Heaven and Hell for all eternity to reward and/or punish the aforesaid for a few decades of existence in the real world and the adherence to and belief in the written words and concepts

In polite conversation, the response to this is usually "Are you insane"? A less polite response - which I will convey to you in the interest of completeness - is "ARE YOU F**KING INSANE???"

When you try to convince another person that they should jump the cognitive hurdles that we outlined above, and that they should not inquire of your sanity but should instead accept your assertion at face value - you'd be well served to bring evidence that each hurdle that we described above is in fact an accurate representation of the world that can be affirmed through repeated, systematic observation, and not just some insane f**king sh*t someone made up.

That's putting it politely.

Merry Existmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Serenity Meditation

I will find serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
One of the things that we must admit to ourselves - the unbeliever and believer alike - is that we humans can draw inspiration from secular and religious sources. It does not mean that the motivation for the words (religious or not) confirms or disconfirms the reader's world view. It just confirms that the words and acts of others can touch us, regardless of the motivation that the other has in performing them.

I like the Serenity Prayer - it is simple and direct, and speaks to a need that reoccurs in my life - I need serenity, courage and wisdom all the time.

In keeping with my disbelief in the supernatural in general, gods more specifically, and the specific god referred to in the Bible, I believe it's consistent to remove the word "God" from that prayer, while continuing to use the words as a meditation to achieve the same result. Thus - The Serenity Meditation.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hitch is dead

I felt like I lost a trusted mentor when Christopher Hitchens died.

Of course I didn't know him ... I'm a one-man intellectual and literary cul-de-sac that he would never have guessed existed ... but it would have been fun to be in his presence just once.

I ***do*** know him through many videos I've watched on-line, through ten or twenty articles in Vanity Fair that I've read, and through many TV appearances back when the Iraq War was just spooling up. I hated - HATED him back then ... he was an obnoxious arrogant, neo-con - or so I thought. It wasn't until I learned that he was one of the "Four Horsemen" of atheism that I paid attention to him for more than his views on Iraq ... and I realized that he could speak and write wonderfully, and he could explain why he felt the way he did.

He's dead. He will never write again. Never speak again, never debate again.

It's final.

His words live on ... and for that, I thank you, Christopher Hitchens.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I picked up an article on Americans and God at the NYT by Eric Weiner. He speaks for the "Nones" - non-affiliated believers - not religious, not atheist - allegedly searching.

Darned if less than an hour later, P.Z. Myers hadn't already fired off a take-down. Regardless of where you stand in the continuum of possible world views, and possible stances on your world view in contrast to others, Weiners article prompted me to reflect on my one-time "neo-paganism".

First, definitions. Neo-Pagan is the label applied to me by a survey that I took at Beliefnet's Belief-o-matic some years back. I must have expressed a disbelief in organized religion, and an affinity for deist and/or ancestral spirits. I never consciously applied this label to myself until after I'd read in on the soulless automatonic interwebs.

That was many years ago.

Second, P.Z. is out-spoken ... out- out- out-spoken. He's right, of course, belief in something that is not there is not smart.
It just means you’re halfway to crazy town

Human beings are a deeply deeply superstitious bunch. We are also, largely, conditioned to defer to those with power, money, knowledge. Combine the two ... and religion - or something just like it - will not go away for centuries.

The task, as I've set out for my life, is to be honest with myself. Deal with the world as it is ... seek understanding where I lack it ... seek wisdom from understanding. When I retreat into fantasy, I need to be aware that I'm doing it, I need to acknowledge it to myself, and I need to understand why I'm doing it, how it is a benefit (if it is a benefit at all) and how to advance again beyond it.

Kinda a metaphor for civilization.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I am an indexed reasoner and a religious hobbyist

I will use the word "indexed" here thanks to John Wilkins' Evolving Thoughts article "Atheism, agnosticism and theism 5: Scope and indexing" - wherein he illustrates that "doxastic attitudes" can be indexed to specific claims ... which is a fancy way of saying that beliefs can be stronger or weaker about specific subclasses of a general class. Regarding the existence of gods, then, you can be a gnostic atheist (you know god doesn't exist) - or more specifically, you can be a gnostic atheist about Thor (you know that Thor doesn't exist) - but an agnostic atheist about the "god of the philosophers" (you believe god doesn't exist, but you can't know for sure).

That said, I reason about some things, and fly by the seat of my pants on others - therefore I am an "indexed reasoner". This is the most general statement I can make about my stance on reality, one that, I'll bet, is widely held.

One subclass of things that I can hold beliefs about is the supernatural, and a subclass of that is entities that have influence over physical reality, and a subclass of that is entities such as YHWH, Baal, Asherah, Vishnu and the like.

I don't believe in the supernatural, but if it can be shown that it exists, I'll change my belief. It would be irrational to withhold belief in the supernatural if it can be demonstrated that it exists. There's no reason to hold a belief in the supernatural today - except as a hobby - because it's never been demonstrated to exist, has no effect in the real world, and doesn't affect me specifically. Logically, it follows that I feel the same way about gods in general, or YHWH, Baal, Asherah, Vishnu or any other named deity specifically - since they are a sub-subclass of the class that I call "supernatural". There is no value to me in believing that god exists. I understand the positive feelings that belief in deities and participation in religion may bestow on the believer/participant ... I just don't value it except as a hobby.

Therefore my claim that "I am an indexed reasoner and a religious hobbyist".