Category Archives: Philosophy

“Sophisticated” theology isn’t all that sophisticated.

In fact, it sort of pisses me off.

I was recently engaged in a debate on Reddit’s ‘DebateAnAtheist’ forum with a person who defined God in a way that made God an incoherent concept. When I pointed this out to him, he actually agreed, saying that God would have to be incoherent to humans. I don’t think he got my point, which is that the concept was logically incoherent; he was describing a god that (by his own words) didn’t exist and wasn’t a thing, but that he still believed in.

If you’d like to read the thread yourself, it’s right here. You may have to search for me (MikeTheInfidel), but if the scores of the various comments are any indication, I’m not alone in my frustration.

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Am I smarter as an atheist than I was as a Christian?

Reader Alex recently asked a question in a comment on an older post:

Hi Mike, I’m sorry for my hard words, but there is no other way to tell it. I just read what you say in “About Me”. The very important question that you should pose to yourself some day, when you feel strong, is the following: Considering that just very recently I was stupid enough to be fundamentalist Christian, how can I be now so sure that being an Atheist is very intelligent?

In other words, if I was so wrong before, how can I know I’m right now? It’s a perfectly fair question, and it’s one I’ve asked myself several times. And there are several reasons I think I’m smarter now.

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Free will is no excuse.

Today I saw a video that disturbed, depressed, and angered me. It’s a clip showing starving, shriveled, polio-crippled children in Somalia who have been abandoned to die. It’s just as bad as it sounds.

If you really want to see it, go here. (Warning: that site has some very NSFW ads.) But be prepared to cry.

It’s a great example of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is familiar to most people, and can generally be summed up as “why does God allow bad things to happen?” Of course, so far as I can tell, there’s no god to blame. Bad things happen either because of nature of because of the actions of other living things (especially people). In this case, it’s a complicated geopolitical problem involving the failure of food aid programs, the lack of a functioning government, the greed of regional warlords, and so on. It’s a situation that desperately needs to be resolved, but we typically feel helpless to resolve it because there’s little any individual person can do other than call attention to it.

Anyway, back to the problem of evil. Continue reading

The good ol’ ought-is problem.

I do love me a good philosophical discussion.

Over at Lacrimae Rerum (ooh, Latin!), Skatje Myers has posted a delightfully scathing review of Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape. Initially I was impressed by Harris’ arguments, and I still agree with much of what he said, but I have an admittedly slim education in philosophy and wasn’t aware of many of the kinds of objections people would raise to what he said. Skatje did a much better job of critically analyzing the book, in my opinion.

The comments over on her blog have raised a lot of interesting philosophical questions, so if you’re into that sort of thing, I’d suggest hopping over to join the discussion. If not… well, don’t. Anyway, I just wanted to copy a couple of comments from there that I thought really distilled the is-ought problem, as originally outlined by Scottish philosophical genius David Hume.

David_Hume

Pictured above being a badass motherfucker, even in drag.

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The map is not the territory

Regardless of what kind of theist I’m talking to online, I tend to run into a recurring argument in favor of their god:

  • My god is [such-and-such a thing].
  • The reality we observe is consistent with this kind of god.
  • Therefore, this god exists.

As far as I can tell, this kind of argument underlies all of apologetics, from William Lane Craig and Frank Turek to your typical evangelical Christian who’s just learning how to argue for what they believe.

This leads to something that’s been bothering me for a long time. Basically, it’s this: It’s all well and good to argue for a model which is consistent with reality. Given a good enough argument, I could even agree that a particular god concept could fit with what we understand.

But as Polish philosopher Alfred Korzybski said, “the map is not the territory.”

It really doesn’t matter how clever an argument a theist has for a particular model of God. This is an argument for a model, not for a being that actually exists. It’s a concept, not something real; that is, it’s just a map, not the territory.

The thing about concepts – “maps” – is that they’re not bound by reality. At best, a map is a reduced depiction of reality. At worst, they’re crude approximations – simplifications of reality designed to help us find the easiest explanation without having to bother with any of the details.

Maps necessarily can’t tell us everything about the world as it is, since any map that reproduced every part of reality would be indistinguishable from reality itself. They can be useful tools for finding our way around, but we should never confuse them for a perfect representation of the world as it actually is.

So, really, it doesn’t matter how well a theist can argue that their model of god is consistent with reality. An intricately detailed map of where we live is still not the actual place where we live. Theology of all stripes, no matter how simple or sophisticated, can only ever boil down to a process of map-building; since it’s independent of any investigation into what actually exists, it can’t tell us what exists – only give us descriptions of ideas that seem to fit with the limited set of information we have.

There’s another pesky detail about maps: we can create maps of places that don’t actually exist. So far as I can tell, the apologetics for gods of all stripes are of this type: maps of man-made concepts, with no reflection in reality.

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be a Fan of Circular Reasoning

Frank Turek, professional Christian apologist, founder of the Cross Examined website, and co-author of the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, recently paid a visit to the University at Albany to give a talk to the Impact Christian Fellowship on the evidence for the existence of the Christian god. I learned about his talk from a student on our local atheist meetup’s mailing list. Having read Frank’s book a while back, I figured it would be worth checking out.

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