“We need a leader who is biblically based”

So the Reverend Ralph Martino just got done blabbing his word-flap on CNN about this big shitstorm with Obama alienating lots of black voters by showing that he has a heart. I sort of knew this was going to happen, because black folks in America are slightly more concerned with gender roles and norms than whitey. (Generally speaking; obviously, there are people who break the mold.) Anyway, when asked if he and Watch and Pray Ministries would still be supporting President Obama, he responded that they will be praying for them and went off on a tangent about how we need an über Christ-lover in the Oval Office. I think this is rather coincidental, because I just found out that I got an A+ on my paper about why atheists are qualified to hold public office. If I were clinically insane, I might think this was synchronicity at work.

Anyway, I won’t go into the fine details about why I’m opposed to deeply religious folks running things. If you want, you can read my full project, which is up on my Open Letter to American Atheists page. Really, it boils down to this: Christianity is a deficient belief system, and people who blindly follow its tenets are not going to have the problem-solving skills to run a country. It is perfectly possible to have a secular ethical system based on logic (again, read my paper or this post or the entry on Humanism at ReligiousTolerance.org). In fact, I think it is desirable to have an ethical system based on reason as opposed to faith. You see, the nice thing about basing things on reason is that you actually have reasons for them. Reasons which are objectively verifiable and don’t boil down to gut intuitions.

Also, I was shocked when Rev Martino said that his ministry prays for more than 32,000 minutes a week. What a waste of time. Prayer has never solved any problems. Active doing of things is what gets things done. That’s why it’s called “doing things.” Prayer doesn’t do anything other than shut down certain parts of your brain, causing you to mildly dissociate and think that things coming from your own mind are coming from supernatural fairy-being. Direct action is the way to effect change in the socio-political world.

SOrry, Christians, but you’ve had your millennium of dominance. Time to let the rational empiricists have a turn.

Can science disprove God?

It really irks me when theists claim that science can’t disprove God. To me, saying that is like saying that science can’t disprove the existence of unicorns. It demonstrates an ignorance for how scientific proof works.

The only way to prove that something isn’t true is to look for proof that it is true. Finding none, we can reasonably conclude that whatever we were trying to prove does not exist. This is what science has done for God. We have naturalistic explanations for everything that God was created to explain: creation of the universe, good and evil, the mind (“soul”), natural events such as earthquakes, etc. It’s simple logic: When you have two possible explanations, you go with the one which makes the least egregious assumptions. This is called Occham’s Razor. So what assumptions do each of these theses make?

The naturalistic thesis makes the assumption that our powers of observation, experience, and reason are reliable sources of knowledge. This is why the scientific method is known as “rational empiricism”: it combines the best elements of rationalism and empiricism. The theistic thesis, on the other hand, makes the opposite assumption: we can’t know anything based on reason and experience. Sure, the universe seems to be 14 billion years old and operating on laws which were formed naturalistically in the first few milliseconds of existence, but that’s all really a big hoax perpetuated by an all-good creator-god. Which of these assumptions is more egregious?

Furthermore, absence of absolute disproof does not qualify as proof. It’s called Russell’s teapot, yo. Read it.

What would qualify as absolute disproof, anyway? A note from God saying, “Sorry, dudes; don’t really exist”?

New page: Open Letter to American Atheists

So, I uploaded the final project from my writing class that I mentioned and created a page from part two of the project. It’s an open letter to American atheists, hopefully providing some advice on how to overcome anti-atheist prejudice in the political arena. View it here. The entire project should be available for download at the top there if you want to read it all; if the download doesn’t work, let me know.

Religion, conservatism, and low IQs

So, for a paper I just turned in about two weeks ago I wrote about the debate over whether or not atheists are qualified to hold public office (50% of Americans say no). I’ll be posting some stuff relevant to that in the next few days (as soon as I get some comments back on it), but until then I wanted to throw out some stuff I discovered in the process of doing research for that paper.

First, I discovered an article in Social Psychology Quarterly from 2010 entitled “Why Liberals and Atheists are More Intelligent.” It was a fascinating read. It was the product of two studies, which found (among other things) that adolescent intelligence is one of the biggest predictors of atheism, liberalism, and monogamy in men. Atheists and liberals tend to score higher on verbal intelligence tests than people who are religious or more conservative. To be honest, it doesn’t really shock me that much, since I’m a liberal atheist and as such I’m biased in that direction. Anyway, it was kind of nice to find out that there was some empirical evidence that my bias is founded. According to the author of the article, intelligent people are more likely to be atheists or liberals because they are more likely to think in evolutionarily novel ways.

I told one of my liberal atheist friends about the study and sent it to him, and a few days later he sent me this blurb on Live Science about a study which found that conservatives are more prejudiced and have lower IQs than non-conservatives. So, apparently conservatives really are just ignorant bigots. Again, didn’t shock me, but it’s nice to have some evidence.

Finally, just now Tony (the guy who sent me the above blurb) told me about this new study which found that religious people are less motivated by compassion than non-religious people. That seems to go well with a 2009 paper by one Gregory Paul in Evolutionary Psychology (which I have on my computer but currently can’t find online) which found that religiosity is strongly correlated with social dysfunction. Once again, I’ve always thought atheists and agnostics are more compassionate that religious folks, who are big on the fire and brimstone thing, but it’s nice to have some evidence.

Also, atheists know more about religion than religious people. Shocker! (Not.)

Obviously not all conservatives or religious folks are ignorant assholes; some are fairly intelligent. However, there seems to be a growing body of evidence that intelligence is not conducive to religion or conservative values. My theory as to why religious folks are less compassionate is that their god judges, so they think it’s okay for them to judge. As for the intelligence bit, progressives and liberals and atheists all tend to arrive at their conclusions through careful, well-reasoned critical thinking, which is usually easier to do when you’ve got a lot of brain-power. As for knowing more about religion, it makes sense to me because we get a lot of people trying to convert us, so we like to know what we’re up against. The easiest way to do that is to read the holy books and such. Maybe religious folks should give it a try.

The only thing that remains to be seen is if atheists and liberals get big heads with all this evidence that we’re smarter. Of course, we’re more compassionate, so at the very least we won’t hold it against you that you’re inferior.

(I was being sardonic there. Apparently it doesn’t come thru on the interwebs.)

Souls and justice

So being a good atheist, I’m celebrating Easter by writing a paper for class about why atheists are qualified to hold public office. It’s for a literacy class and I’m supposed to demonstrate public literacy by writing about a public debate and I chose the debate over whether or not atheists should hold office. 50% of Americans say no.

Anyway, for my paper I’ve interviewed a few atheists and theists about their opinions on the issue, and one person in particular really made me chuckle a little. He said that atheists are not entitled to belief in justice, because in order to believe in justice on needs to believe in equality, and the only way to believe that people are “created” equal is to believe in a soul. This raises at least on major question: what exactly is a soul?

According to my theist frienemy, a soul is the root of the intellect, emotion, and creativity. This sounds a whole lot like a mind to me, which is one of the things which has always confused me about souls. If one’s soul is simply one’s mind, what do you say about people who suffer a traumatic brain injury and undergo drastic mental or personality changes afterwards? What about folks with schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s? If, however, the soul is not the mind, then what relevance does it have? If we can’t see any evidence of it, how do we know it’s actually always their, or that it’s the same soul we were born (“created”) with? How do we know my soul isn’t currently flying over into my brother’s body on the other side of the room? These are some questions you need to answer if you posit the existence of an immaterial soul.

As for the belief in justice, any good atheist–such as my friend, Tony, whom I interviewed right after this theist–will tell you that what makes people equal is not a soul but our capacity for emotions, empathy, and sensation of pain. Most people are capable of the same basic emotions as everyone else, and everyone has the same basic reactions to some of them: by definition, everyone likes pleasure and no one likes being depressed. Sure, there are rare disorders like anhedonia and congenitive analgesia which prevent people from enjoying (or suffering, in the case of CA) the whole range of human experience, but these folks–particularly folks with anhedonia–are not lesser in any way, because they can still feel other emotions. (Also, anhedonia in particular is usually just a symptom of a larger problem, which can usually be treated, so these people still have the capacity for pleasure.)

So, in a nutshell: souls are silly, and atheists believe in equality. If you doubt that latter fact, just remind yourself that Amnesty International is founded on what is essentially an atheistic philosophy. They don’t appeal to God for the good work they do: they’re just humanists helping humans.

The inconsistencies of God and free will

So I was reading the Objections and Replies to Descartes’s Meditations for class tomorrow and I think I have stumbled upon one of the most damning arguments against any sort of omnipotent, omniscient creator-god, specifically the Abrahamic one.

So, if you’re not familiar with the Meditations, in the First Objection Caterus engages Descartes on a dialogue about cause and effect, which essentially concludes with the assertion that God is the efficient cause of everything (i.e., he is the ultimate cause of all that was, is, and ever will be). This seems like something that most theists could get behind. However, if this is true, and if God is both omnipotent and omniscient, wouldn’t this make free will impossible? It seems so, since if God is the efficient cause of everything, he is responsible for all of our actions.

If God is omnipotent, he could have created the universe in any way that he wanted. If he was also omniscient, he would have also been able to fully understand every single consequence of his actions. Therefore, when he created the universe, he consciously and knowingly set in motion everything that ever will happen, and all of time is set in its tracks, completely predetermined without any chance of deviation aside from direct intervention from God. Therefore, if God exists, and is both omnipotent and omniscient, free will is impossible. This may not be a problem if you’re like most superstitious Americans and believe in the paranormal phenomenon known as fate, but what are the repercussions of a lack of free will? The most startling one is that it puts the blame for all evil in the world squarely on the shoulders of God.

If all of time is predetermined by God, then every action any individual makes is directly caused by God. This means that if I choose to murder someone, it is not my choice, but God’s. Therefore, I am not to blame for my actions; it was really God who murdered my victim. Therefore, God cannot be all-good as the Jews and Christians (and Descartes) believe he is.

Anyway, to me this last bit seems to pretty much put the nail in God’s coffin. If God is the cause of all evil, why the hell should I worship him?

More on Descartes and God

So I’m reading Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy not just in History of Modern Philosophy, but in Theory of Knowledge as well (although in that class we’re only concerned with the first two Meditations). I’ve been puzzling over Meditation Three (“God”) since last night (I only got a few hours of sleep because my brain was working overtime analyzing Descartes’s argument). I think I’ve got some responses to Descartes, but I’m still uncertain, so if you’re not convinced by what’s about to follow, then don’t be shocked. These ideas are still in their infancy.

First of all, despite Descartes’s fame, he was by no means the greatest philosopher or logician that ever lived. In my opinion, his major contributions to philosophy were in his epistemological work and his methodology. For instance, there are a few logical inconsistencies in his First Meditation. I won’t get into them here, but ask yourself: are you really unable to tell whether you’re dreaming right now?

Anyway, one thing I’ve been puzzling over is the list of attributes he claims God has. But before we get into that, let me fill you in on his line of reasoning at this point (which really is evident as early as the First Meditation). He’s working with this theory that causes cannot be any less real than their effects. So, in order for something more perfect to come into being, even in the mind, something more real (or perfect, perhaps; I’m not sure if that’s an adequate substitution, though) had to create it. Using this line of reasoning, he begins to wonder how the idea of a perfect being could have been created in his mind. He goes on to list the attributes of God:

  • infinite
  • eternal
  • unchangeable
  • independent
  • supremely intelligent
  • supremely powerful
  • created Descartes and everything else

To me, these all seem like attributes of the universe, so to me it seems like all Descartes has done is prove that the universe exists. Let me deal with them one by one.

  • Infinite: This one should be obvious: anyone who has looked up at the sky knows that it’s infinite.
  • Eternal: Time is a function of the universe, so by definition it is eternal.
  • Unchangeable: The laws of physics cannot be changed. Although the elements of the universe may change, the fundamentals are eternally the same.
  • Independent: This one is a little more puzzling because I’m not quite sure what Descartes means by “independent.” I suppose it means it doesn’t depend on an external source for its existence. In that case, the universe is clearly independent: it supports itself.
  • Supremely Intelligent: This one requires that you subscribe to my epistemological views. I believe that we can only have knowledge of the natural world (as I have said elsewhere) and that therefore knowledge is a function of the natural world. Since the universe is the natural world, it is the source of all knowledge. Therefore, it is supremely intelligent.
  • Supremely Powerful: Again, this one is obvious. The universe is the most powerful thing known to humanity.
  • Creator of Descartes and everything else: Again, super-obvious.

I’m not sure how tenable all of this is, but it’s a start.

Also, I think I can use Descartes’s own conception of knowledge against him to force him into agnosticism. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Cartesian conception of knowledge, this is its basic formulation:

S knows that P iff

  1. S believes P
  2. P is true
  3. P is indubitable

This should be simple. Even is we grant that the proposition “God exists” is true, no reasonable person can claim that it is indubitable. Therefore, Descartes cannot truly claim knowledge that God exists.

Like I said, I’m not sure how tight these arguments are. I’ve been puzzling over them for a while and am not completely sold on them, mainly because I haven’t tested them in the laboratory of the classroom, where 30 other philosophers (one with a Ph.D.) can poke holes in them and force me to defend them.

For more on my theories of God, see my post from half an hour ago.