Tag Archives: Apologetics

More Reasons Why Free Will Still Isn’t A Good Apologetic

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

Last week, I talked about how libertarian free will is not only a ridiculous concept, but the belief in it leads us to hold attitudes and perform actions that end up being discriminatory and antithetical to human rights. Add it to one more items in the stack of Christian beliefs that lead to poor actions being carried out.

Strangely enough, free will doesn’t fall within the purview of Christianity because of what the Bible says or by the decrees of church official. There’s not really much said about free will in the Bible (go ahead and look!). The reason Christians rely on the tenet of free will so much is primarily because it works well in Christian apologetics and caulks up a few holes in the theology. Largely, free will is useful when solving the problem of evil, as well as explaining why the lord doesn’t reveal himself.

The problem of evil isn’t a particularly strong counterapologetic for atheism in general, but it’s sometimes useful for addressing Christianity. After all, if we have an all-powerful being who cares about what’s best for us, why does this being allow us to suffer? The usual answer is that due to the fall in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were able to gain the knowledge of good and evil at the expense of creating a fallen world. After this, every bit of suffering is ultimately a result of the actions of Adam and Eve in the garden.

Holocaust? Free will.

9/11? Free will.

Duck Dynasty? Free will.

When asking why the Christian god allows for people to perpetuate horrendous acts, people are able to bring up “free will” as the excuse, as people are allowed to decide to do monstrous things of their own volition*. The problem is that free will doesn’t even account for all the variables here.

Take a horrendous human act, such as the Sandy Hook Shooting. Let’s assume that the perpetrator does have free will granted to him by some almighty force. He is perfectly capable of carrying out his deeds however he wants. But an omnipotent force could easily prevent suffering without restraining his free will. Why doesn’t the lord dissolve the bullets into thin air as the shooter pumps them out? Why can’t the lord redirect the bullets as they fly towards innocent children? Why can’t the bullets magically pass through people? All these could happen and they would impact the shooter’s free will in no way. He is still carrying out the action entirely of his own volition, it’s just that the physical laws (which I assume the Christian deity is in control of) have been manipulated such that they don’t cause unnecessary. In this case, evil has been freely chosen, yet this choice has been made without unnecessary suffering.

It’s not like it’s out of character for the Christian god to do something like this. In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar throws Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace for not worshipping his golden statue, yet they come out of the furnace unscathed for staying loyal to the Lord. While the king certainly was able to perpetuate an evil act of his own volition, there was no suffering or death.**

Of course, free will doesn’t just come up when discussing the problem of evil. In many lay arguments, it pops up when a theist wants to defend why their god doesn’t provide clear evidence that they exist (or more bluntly, why they don’t show their self). After all, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). The apologetic is that if the Christian god were to reveal himself, he would violate our free will and force us to believe in him. It’s apparently necessary to our eternal fates to believe in an omnipotent deity on faith over evidence. While my tactic of choice in this situation would be to question why faith is valuable in the first place, can we take some time to examine how ridiculous this logic is?

Apparently the idea is that if the Christian god were to appear right in front of me, it would force me to accept his existence, thus making my free will to believe in him irrelevant. Setting aside the fact that we don’t choose our beliefs, why does this type of thinking stop at observing the lord? After all, as I type at this computer, I am observing my screen fill with the words I type and I feel the resistance of the keyboard against my fingertips. As a result of this, I am forced to accept the existence of my computer. When I look up at the night sky, I have no choice to observe the bright dots among a black background. To make a big picture statement, the mere fact that I observe anything about the world around me means that I am forced to believe at the very least that the universe exists. The lord not showing up to me is just selectively providing evidence to me, and selectively forcing me to believe in different things.

Hell, if the Christian god were to exist, then he would be violating my free will just by making me be born. At some point, to interact with the world I am forced to accept certain things outside my own control. As the supposed creator of these certain things, he is the ultimate reason why I believe them, and thus he has violated my free will since I have no choice but to believe them.

Libertarian free will has problems no matter how you slice it. In my last post about free will (see link in the first line), I talked about how libertarian free will is an incoherent concept, as well as how it inherently prevents us from treating humans in the best way we can. In this post I discussed how it is an insufficient apologetic for the problem of evil and divine hiddenness. Not only that, but it’s effectively impossible for a universe creator to avoid violating our free will, since we are forced to confront the universe in some way. You could also make the case that even the Bible shows that the god of the Bible violates free will (such as when the Pharaoh’s heart was hardened during the ten plagues). Free will seems like a coherent concept and a good way to support basic Christian apologetics, but as soon as you take some close looks at it and turn it around in your head, cracks in its foundation start to emerge. Once it’s fully explored, it reveals itself as yet another flimsy excuse for a philosophical concept propped up by ancient armchair-level theology and ultimately conceptually empty. Libertarian free will belongs in the dumpster pile of bad ideas from the rest of theistic apologetics, and if we want to make the world a better place we will be better off abandoning it altogether.


*While there are apologetics addressing why “natural evils” like natural disasters exist and cause suffering, I’m only going to focus on ones where free will is relevant.

**Also, if you claim that in that case that Nebuchadnezzar’s free will had been violated, then you can’t make the case that the Christian god can’t violate free will.

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What is More Foundational: The Bible, or Faith?

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

I try not to get hung up on theology with fellow atheists. That is, I don’t really enjoy arguing with other atheists over which doctrines were more theologically correct than others, such as Catholicism versus the teachings of the Southern Baptists, for example. After all, we already agree that the religious beliefs are wrong. It doesn’t seem to make sense which of the beliefs are the correct wrong beliefs. I could see the appeal some people have in it, much like how Star Wars fans might argue over canonical differences in the Expanded Universe or which superhero film adaptation was closer to the original comics. But for me, I have other things to think about.

That being said, I’ve also pushed against the idea of holding all Christians to Biblical literalism. Atheists will often make the assumption that a Christian must take every word in the Bible literally. This is not always the case, as there’s a wide variety of beliefs between denominations. Plenty of the more liberal denominations (as well as Catholicism) do not adhere to things like Young-Earth Creationism, for example.

Really, it appears that all Christians pick-and-choose to some extent what teachings of the book they value. It’s obvious throughout the Bible that it is not a good thing to be rich, yet there are plenty of prominent politicians, millionaires, and televangelists who claim to hold strongly to their faith. Nobody today follows the Old Testament teachings such as bans on shrimp and mixed fibers. And really, sometimes Christians are forced to pick and choose as there are teachings that appear to conflict with each other. The important part, though, is that any given religion is not simply just what the Holy Book says. Besides holy books, religions are made up of doctrines, rituals, church hierarchies, teachings, and traditions that didn’t originate anywhere in the text.

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[Image: a wooden crucifix lays upon the pages of a Bible]

However, I’m biased. I didn’t come out of a fundamentalist background as many of my peers did. They were taught that every part of the Bible happened literally as it was stated, keeping in mind that some parts are obviously poetry or parable, and should be treated as such. Each command in the book should be followed to the letter. I hold a fantastic admiration for my fellow atheists who got out of the fundamentalist mentality, where they were taught that they couldn’t question a single word of the book. I cannot put myself in their position, and I can’t say for certain that I would have been able to escape from the effects of their indoctrination had I been born in their situation.

However, I could not ever merely take the Bible at face value, and I definitely held some parts as certainly false. People tell me that I was being more intellectually dishonest at the time, and I hope to get into that in a future post, but I don’t think I was. I knew as a child that dinosaurs had existed 65 million years ago, and there was a big bang event that “started off” the universe long before that. I could not take the words of the Bible at face value, at least in Genesis, based on my knowledge. From a very young age I began to see the early parts of the Bible as either folk tales from early tribes that would eventually become Jews, or as records of laws that these ancient people attributed to their god (whether it actually came from a god or not). I simply couldn’t reconcile the history of the Bible with the natural history of the universe, nor could I take seriously many of the laws against people such as gay folk and women, I could not agree that they were moral in any sense.

This is puzzling for my ex-fundamentalist atheist friends, as well as never-Christians who make the assumption that whatever the Bible says goes for every Christian. After all, Christians must have a foundational source for the beliefs that they hold. It’s necessary for Christians to believe the gospel stories, so what justification should they have for accepting that part of the Bible but nothing else? Christians rely on the word of their god, which apparently manifests in the form of the holy book. After all, “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Furthermore, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). While it may be circular, the Bible supports inerrancy, since “the words of the Lord are flawless” (Psalm 12:6) and “Every word of God proves true.” (Proverbs 30:5). It wouldn’t be very coherent for a Christian to accept certain parts and reject others, therefore it makes sense that the Bible is the foundation of Christianity.

This has problems, though. How can Christians justify following the Bible in the first place? What reason do Christians have for accepting that the Bible is the true word of their god?

There are a few approaches that Christians often take to justify the Bible as foundational. One approach is through evidential means. They will often try and tie the Bible to historical events, and though many of their claims are questionable, there are of course some historically accurate people, places, and events to be found within the holy pages. Another form of this appeal to evidence is claiming that prophecies in the Bible came true. They will look at prophecies found in the Old Testament and claim that they came true in the New Testament even though the books were by different authors. Both of these are used as an attempt to show that the Bible has been accurate in certain areas, and therefore we can extrapolate to assume it’s accurate in general. This is poor epistemology, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make right now. What’s important is that if an apologist tries to verify the Bible’s accuracy by these means, then their worldview is not based entirely on the Bible. Rather, they are basing their worldview on evidence from the world around them, or at least they are attempting to do so. If that’s the case, then the Bible cannot be the foundation of their Christian beliefs.

A Christian could also appeal to personal experience. They’ve gone to Church and “felt the presence of God”. Or they’ve witnessed a miracle. Or they’ve heard a voice speak to them. Or perhaps they went the intellectually rigorous route of Francis Collins and saw a frozen waterfall that was super duper pretty (and therefore, God). While this is weak justification, it is still justification. And if this demonstrates why the Bible is important, then this is the foundation of their beliefs, and not the Bible.

What I suspect is most often the case, though I cannot possibly speak on behalf of any Christian, is that it is not the Bible that is truly the foundation of the Christian’s belief. Rather, it is their faith. They have been taught the Biblical stories from Birth, and know in their heart of hearts that Jesus Christ died for their sins. They know when they pray that their god is there for them. Even when they are apparently being tested through a trial in their lives, or when a doctrine doesn’t make sense to them, or the Bible seems nonsensical, they can rectify it through faith.

This was certainly the case for me. I had plenty of skeptical tendencies even as a Christian, and I knew that I should have a good reason for my beliefs. I knew that I simply couldn’t justify the Old Testament stories of the Bible, as they didn’t match historical and scientific evidence. Furthermore, I know that my good feelings from prayer and singing at Church weren’t very good reasons for justifying the existence of my god. For me, I would struggle trying to come up with good evidence for my religious position, and I would be disappointed when my reasons were weak. However, without fail, I would eventually remind myself, “that’s why they call it faith.” Since I had been raised to believe that faith was a virtue, this was satisfactory enough for me. My thoughts were always able to quickly move on to something else once I came to that conclusion.

However, I recognize that to many people, we know we have faith because of the Bible. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

For many Christians, faith is also acceptance that Jesus Christ died for their sins and gave them salvation:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

 

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

 

“Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

Under this model, faith is a gift from the god of Christianity, and is given once the Christian accepts Jesus’ gift. You cannot have this faith unless you accept the words of The Bible, since this is the word that tells us of Jesus’ gift of dying on the cross for our sins. Therefore, since many fundagelicals adhere to this worldview, it is actually faith that is based on the Bible, not the other way around.

While some of this may be perfectly coherent for some Christians, it will be completely backwards for others. That’s fine by me. I don’t claim to be a theologian or a Christian scholar, and I reject it altogether anyway no matter the details of the doctrine. As I stated from the beginning, I don’t care to argue over which belief is the “correct” wrong belief. The Christians are still welcome to share the ultimate foundations of their worldview in the comments below, and make their case for why it’s a good foundation.

However, I’d simply like to urge my fellow atheists to not make so many assumptions about what a Christian believes. If you’re having a conversation about their beliefs system, making assumptions hinders a productive conversation, and you should ask on a case-by-case basis. While it may be far easier to lump all Christians into the category of anyone believes the Bible literally and word-for-word, that’s not how the world works. There’s a whole spectrum of Christianity. There are even people who believe in Jesus who don’t really accept much else of the Bible, and as atheists we don’t have any ground for saying that they’re not true Christians. We are not Christians, so we don’t get to decide what a Christian is. Therefore, we can’t know what someone’s “true” justifications are for their worldview. Instead of assuming their justifications, ask about their justifications and how they go about navigating their beliefs.

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[Image: A meme featuring a person in a black shirt stating, “I’m an Atheist. Debate me”. The meme caption states, “Makes fun of people who take the Bible literally. Takes the Bible literally.”]

Perhaps this will lead to less confusion in the future. I remember one episode of the podcast where all four hosts were talking to dear friend of the show and Episcopal Reverend Alex Moreschi, who is about as far from a fundamentalist Christian you can get. His form of theology quite mapped quite closely to my former beliefs, and his beliefs seemed just as viable to me as any other form of Christianity (though, obviously, I hadn’t dedicated my education to those beliefs like he did). However, the other three hosts of the show come from a thoroughly fundamendalist evangelical background, and as such it didn’t make sense to them that a Christian could hold certain passages as non-literal. It was frustrating for them, because while Alex held the Bible as true, he didn’t appear to accept that it was literally true. They’d ask him about parts of the Bible that when I was a Christian I never would have accepted, such as the creation story, and become more and more baffled when Alex didn’t hold too much credence in them either. My other three cohosts left the episode entirely confused, but my experience of the ordeal was fairly routine, and I was just hearing yet another perspective on the Christian faith.

Were I to have that conversation again, I would like to ask Alex what he believed and why, rather than holding him to a preconceived model. Instead of asking him what he felt about evolution or Creationism, I would like to ask him what was important to him. From there, I would follow up based on what he says, and learn about his worldview based on him. I would love to have another recorded conversation to ask him about the foundations of his faith, and why he holds those foundations, instead of assuming a foundation and sticking to it the whole time, regardless of his position.

At the moment, I don’t know his foundations, and I don’t know the foundations for the beliefs of almost any other Christian. Is it faith, or is it The Bible? Or is it something else? The answer is going to be different from person to person, and that’s just how humans work. Let’s take the time to ask, and really listen, as we learn about each other.

The Dillahunty-Slick Debate: Can Chemicals Produce Logic?

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

I’ve had to slow down my blogging output recently, because graduate school has decided to make me drink responsibilities from a fire hose. A responsibility fire hose. I’m bad at metaphors.

However, in the past week, while I’ve been making figures dance on my computer screen, I’ve been listening to the debate between Matt Dillahunty and Matt Slick, hosted by the Bible and Beer Consortium, titled Is Secular Humanism superior to Christianity? I should emphasize that while that is the title of the debate, only Dillahunty appeared to want to have a discussion on the merits of Secular Humanism. Slick, on the other hand, decided that it was a trial of Glenn Beck-esque chalkboard free-association exercises to try and refute Secular Humanism by debunking naturalism instead. The debate went roughly as follows:

  1. Matt more or less rearranged his superiority of secular morality talk into the format of an opening argument, citing the foundation of human well-being as its source, and also citing its ability to change with new evidence as a strength.
  2. Slick tied Secular Humanism to philosophical naturalism (a position Dillahunty doesn’t hold), and then knocked it down utilizing many of the standard presuppositional apologetics, largely focusing on people not being able to trust physical evidence because they could be wrong.
  3. Whenever Dillahunty responded to Slick in a way that Slick appeared to not want to answer, Slick was able to dismiss it by giving the non-answer of, “that’s just your brain chemicals making you say that.”
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for two hours.

You can watch the debate here:

For anyone who isn’t a fan of these types of debates (especially against presuppositionalists) I would recommend skipping it. This debate was a bit of a chore to listen to. However, this presented an opportunity to discuss some cool science shit, something I have neglected to do as NRR’s science expert.

Throughout the entire two hour, forty four minute debate, Slick appeared to only have one analogy in his analogy toolbox, which he brought up as a response to whether brains could do logic via purely naturalistic means. This response focused on brains functioning purely based on electrochemical signals in our neural networks, without any supernatural factors such as a soul weighing in. Slick repeatedly stated that a brain acting purely on physical mechanisms is like a vinegar and baking soda reaction, and that we could not gain “logical inference” from it.

Logical inference is a rigorous type of reasoning where the premises lead logically to its conclusion, synonymous with “deductive reasoning”. Simply put, you start with certain premises, which should lead to a certain conclusion. If the conclusion follows from the premises and the premises are true, then we can also state that the conclusion is true. However, if one of your premises aren’t true, then you can’t logically lead to your conclusion. For example, you establish that if A and B are true, then C is also true. But if A or B aren’t true, then you can’t infer that C is also true. For more concrete examples, check out this handy-dandy Wikipedia page.

Matt Slick brings up that purely physical reactions cannot use this reasoning, and therefore secular humanists “can’t account for logical inference”, while Christians can by inserting “god” in gaps as needed. Matt Dillahunty gave most of the reasons why this is a faulty argument against secular humanism, but I thought I’d use the opportunity go into how we can get reasoning out of purely physical processes.

In 2016 we rely on purely physical processes performing logical inference every day. If you are reading this on a screen, then you are relying on that process right now. Matt Slick relied on it through the whole debate as he took notes on his laptop. Circuits use logical inference every time we use them, as a result of simple inputs and outputs. Instead of “true” or “false” like the logic example above, integrated circuits rely on ON or OFF states in parts like transistors that your electronic device holds. If an electronic current is flowing through a transistor, then it is ON, which is a 1 in binary code. If there is no current then it is OFF, or a 0. Circuits can use these ones and zeros to perform all kinds of functions. In our logic example above, we required two true inputs to create a logically true output, which is analogous to an “AND gate” in a circuit. An AND gate has two inputs, and it will only output a 1 if both of the inputs are also 1. All the possibilities of inputs and the resulting outputs can be seen in the following truth table:

 

A

B

A AND B

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

1

0

1

1

1

 

 

If you look at the abstract logic example from above and submit 1 where you see “true” and 0 where you see “false”, you get these same inputs and outputs. This details how logic in circuits are directly analogous to abstract logical proofs. This is just one type of logical function that circuits can have, there are others too. There’s the OR gate, which requires just one of its inputs to be 1, or the XOR gate which requires either A or B to be 1 but not both. There are many other functions beyond just these.

Not only do purely physical processes perform logical functions, transistors are doing this constantly. If you’re reading this on a phone, you could be holding two billion transistors in your hand, which are constantly going on and off into their respective 0 and 1 states. Were physical processes unable to perform logical inference, none of our computers would work. Considering how integral computers are to our infrastructure and livelihood, if this type of functioning were to fail we would be what logicians refer to as “fucked”. Fortunately, circuits can perform this functionality.

Slick, as a former computer tech, knows how circuits work at a basic level under binary thinking. He establishes this in the Q&A when one audience member brings up a neural network. Of course, before the audience member even finishes his question, Slick interrupts him and insists that a computer model can’t show that a brain produces logical inference. The reason? Basically because it’s really damn hard to model the brain’s neural network and a brain and a circuit are not the same thing. Those statements are true, but then again, no analogy is perfect*. I’m really curious as to what the question actually was going to be. Slick seemed very insistent on shifting the conversation in the way that he wanted. I’m wondering if he would acknowledge that physical circuits produce logical inference or if he’d have some apologetic to explain that away as well.

Slick doesn’t state outright within the debate that physical processes can’t produce logical inference; he merely claims that chemicals cannot produce logical inference. Chemical processes are indeed a type of physical process, but there are physical processes that aren’t changes in chemical states (like circuits). When this audience member asks him whether physical processes can produce logic, he retreats to stating the following:

“One chemical state that leads to another chemical state… There is now way that has presented that we know of in any way, shape or form, how one state that leads to another chemical state produces proper logical inference.”

I find this interesting for two reasons, one because based on this answer he doesn’t rule out logical inference entirely from pure physics. I’m genuinely curious whether or not he thinks physical processes that aren’t chemical signals can produce logical inference. However, if he does think that circuits can produce logic, then he should have no problem accepting that chemicals can also produce the same thing.

Slick is right when he states that the brain is not the same thing as the model, particularly when comparing it to circuits. Circuits give their signals through the flow of electrons via wires, while the neurons in the brain go off of electrochemical signals like transferring calcium ions from one axon to another. However, in principle, they can do many of the same things. While, it’s true that neurons don’t give the same signal as a circuit, what’s important is that it gives a signal.

In fact, it’s simply not true that you can’t get logical functions out of changes in chemical states. Chemical state behaviors rely on inputs and outputs all the time. This is how we get things such as molecular circuits, molecular switches, and signaling pathways. At a very basic level, biochemicals undergo logical functions all the time, relying on certain inputs which create certain outputs. For example, a certain hormone will interact with a protein at a cell wall, which will release a signal comprised of something like ions into the environment, which will further come into contact with other proteins or receptors, releasing more signals, etc. Such behaviors are known as a signaling pathway, where the introduction of one chemical to the system may cause an output of a completely different chemical. A certain input gives a certain output, much like logic.

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[Image: Signaling pathway in a cell, detailing the incredibly complex pathways chemicals go through in the cell to create certain outputs based on certain inputs. Source- Creative Commons by Roadnottaken]

In fact, there are people who are able to create genetic “circuits” that give logical outputs much in the same way that electronic circuits give logical outputs. Christopher Voigt is a researcher at MIT who has essentially created a programming language for cells, titled Cello software. A researcher is able to design a simple genetic circuit that has similar logical gates discussed above, but instead of wires, the genes output chemicals through a particular pathway of gates until there’s a final output. The paper which discusses this (which is unfortunately behind a paywall) states that 37 circuits that they designed gave a clear ON or OFF output as a result of a desired input, meaning that they were following through logical processes to produce a desired state. To put it in Matt Slick’s terms, there was a difference between one chemical state and another, which was achieved through the use of a logical process.

Let’s look at the brain then, keeping in mind that I’m far from an expert in neurology. We know the basic functioning of how neurons work, transferring an electrochemical signal from one neuron to the other, which can change the total state of the brain when neurons in bulk give signals. We know that the brain receives many inputs from neural pathways that reach across the body and multiple sensory organs, as well as giving outputs to other organs. Is it too much of a stretch to think that the brain can receive inputs like words and numbers from sounds and visuals, translate them through a series of complicated neuron signals, and create a brain state that produces a correct answer? Given that we can do that for simple circuits and molecular reactions, it’s not exactly far-fetched to conclude that a complicated organ such as the brain can do the same thing. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect, as no physical process is, but absolute certainty doesn’t appear to be attainable for most beliefs anyway.**

We don’t know a lot about the brain, still. Even in 2016 neurology seems like a wide-open frontier, and there’s a lot to discover. Is consciousness just a certain pattern of signals that we perceive as our own identity? How do we store memories? Could we “solve” the brain, such that we could read someone’s mind or make our own? There’s a lot to say about it, but one thing we know for sure is that it’s complex, and we have far more to learn. When Slick interrupted the questioner, he made sure to push his answer towards emphasizing that the brain had been designed and it’s far too difficult to model, at least for now. From my perspective, maybe there’s some mystical soul, a ghost in the machine, driving our bodies to move, but I see absolutely no reason to accept that as true. While I don’t claim to have perfect knowledge of how brains work, it seems perfectly reasonable that they could perform amazing, though imperfect, logical tasks, especially considering its complexity. Perhaps Slick is content in saying that our brains can never perform logical inference, but I’m not. That seems like an unjustified claim. This uncertainty means that we have to put more work into figuring it out, and a mere appeal to the supernatural doesn’t do anything but make us curtail our attempts to understand it. Our brain is far more than fizz, so let’s investigate what it is!

For the record, Slick poo-pooed the questioner for drawing an analogy between a brain and the model comprised of circuits, saying that since we can’t model the brain and it’s so complex that it would be silly to compare the two. I find this incredibly dishonest coming from a man who spent almost all of his speaking time comparing the brain to a simple reaction between vinegar and baking soda. He does not get to make a ridiculously reductive comparison, and then shame someone for someone making something that is far closer in design, even though it’s imperfect. For this reason I found his treatment of that questioner incredibly dishonest.

So, to sum up:

  • Simple processes like electron currents in a circuit can create logical inference.
  • Chemical reactions can change chemical states in a similar way, going through a logical pathway much like we treat logical arguments.
  • Brains are comprised of a network of neurons, which transfer signals to each other from cell to cell through simple electrochemical processes that give rise to much more complex behavior.
  • It would be special pleading to say that neurons can’t send simple chemical signals to each other in a way that other chemicals can.
  • We still have a lot to learn, and a simple statement like “the brain can’t work like that” is unsatisfactory.

These are the lessons for this blog post. The lessons from the debate are entirely separate. I would hope, though, that the biggest lesson that Slick took away from this debate is that if he’s going to argue against secular humanism, he’d better stick to the topic he signed up for if he wants to be taken seriously.

Edit: Matt Dillahunty responded to me on Twitter regarding my points.

@Matt_Dillahunty: That wasn’t Slick’s point. This is about whether there’s a solid, objective foundation for the reliability of reason

@nrrprophet: Not saying it was the foundation of his arguments, but he made claims that chemicals couldn’t create logical inference, no?

@Matt_Dillahunty: Not at all. He’s pointing out that a materialist worldview can’t ever move beyond the brain to justify reason.

@nrrprophet: I quoted him stating that chemical rxns can’t produce logical inference. I really value your feedback though.

@nrrprophet: if he thinks that circuits can’t produce logical inference, then my points here are moot except as a science lesson

@Matt_Dillahunty: may have been a slip… Because that’s not his objection

It may have been a slip up, but he raised it multiple times. Dillahunty addressed the meat of the issues they were debating, I have no reason to go into that further. The point of this post is to address whether or not physical processes can perform inductive logic, and Slick claims that they can’t. The logical absolutes are irrelevant to my point here, but if they are the foundation of Slick’s arguments, then I haven’t addressed them here. Hopefully this is informative to readers, though.


 

*As my partner-in-crime Ari has stated once, the only perfect analogy is a tautology. That is, the only time an analogy will not break down is when you are comparing something with itself, which is not particularly useful.

**It’s worth noting that in this debate, Matt Slick claimed not to be appealing to absolute certainty. This is wise, as Dillahunty has made it clear at his debate with Sye Ten Bruggencate that he doesn’t care about absolute certainty. In real physical processes, circuits fail, molecules decompose, and in a reaction the chemicals will never be used up 100%. That’s ok. We can still discuss the logic being formed recognizing that sometimes you will get the wrong logical output due to occasional failure. As long as we look at the inputs and functions of the logical process, we can determine its most likely output, recognizing that we won’t be absolutely certain.

7 Arguments Against Atheism that are Bad and You Should Feel Bad About Using

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Jeremiah Traeger

There are some theological arguments that have a lot of nested assumptions, a lot to pick apart, and therefore a lot to discuss such that they can take entire blog posts and books about. And then there are arguments that barely deserve a mention, arguments that are so vapid that I don’t care to waste any more time than they deserve. I’ve been seeing a lot of them lately. They’re not that interesting and don’t require a long drawn out post tearing apart every little detail, so I thought I’d hit a few out of the way so I don’t have to really deal with them in the future. Besides, the bossman Bobby C says I’ve been using too many big words and he needs something more digestible. A few bite-sized nuggets are a perfect way to knock a few easy ones out of the park, and listicles are always the most fun, right?

 

  1. Atheism says X

 

Atheism doesn’t say anything.  Atheism isn’t even really a thing, it is a non-thing. Atheism is the non-belief in gods. It’s not a belief system; therefore atheism can’t be true or false. There are some atheists that do claim, “God doesn’t exist” or, “There is no god,” but they are simply atheists, they are not practicing atheism. They are just as much an atheist as the person who states, “It’s possible that a god exists, but I don’t have a reason to believe so I don’t.” It’s a fairly useless label, but I think the reason so many of us claim to fall under its banner is not because it means so much, but because so many people do believe in gods and the actions that they carry out on behalf of their beliefs create harm. Since we aren’t tied to certain beliefs that don’t have good evidential support, it makes sense that we work collectively against those unfounded beliefs. If stamp collectors made up 70% of the US population, taught children that evolution was false, and collectively campaigned against masturbating as a result of their hobby, it would be sensible for non-stamp collectors across the country to fight against them regardless of how useless not collecting stamps is as a descriptor of a person. So if you are basing your argument on “atheism says…” then you are certainly constructing a strawman no matter where you go with it.

 

  1. You don’t KNOW X

 

This is an argument that could have some ties to semantics and definitions, which usually makes me exhausted for reasons. But the context I usually see it in is an appeal to absolute certainty. Theists occasionally claim to have the upper hand because they claim they have access to absolute certainty, even though I see no reason how absolute certainty is possibly attainable.

 

The situation will usually go like this: In an attempt to give a scientific explanation for a phenomenon, one person will bring up some scientific evidence. For example, “We know the age of the Earth is about 4.54 billion years due to radiometric dating”. At this point, the theist will state “But you can’t know that the Earth is that old, you could be wrong.” The latter half of the sentence is technically correct. Every experiment testing radioactive decay rates could have had an unseen flaw in them, or the overwhelming number of meteorite, lunar, or Earth rock samples could have been bad, or if I’m gonna go way off the deep end I could just be a brain in a vat. These are reasons why I’m not absolutely certain that the Earth is that old, but absolute certainty isn’t our yardstick for knowledge. In fact, not even the scientists claim absolute knowledge, as there’s around a 1% error on this, meaning there’s about a 99% certainty that the age is between 4.49 and 4.59 billion years old. Yet we are still capable of saying that we know the age of the Earth, since we have a really good degree of support for our claim. This goes for pretty much anything. We know that when we drop a glass, it will fall down. Even though our entire life experience tells us that it will happen and we even have the science nailed down detailing why it will happen, there’s a small, negligible 0.00001% chance it won’t in the back of our mind, and that’s perfectly fine!

 

  1. That’s just your opinion!

 

To be fair, I see this everywhere, not just in theological arguments. But it’s a perfectly inane, useless argument that doesn’t require much to address, so this place is as good as any to put it somewhere. I’ll make sure to frame it in a theistic context so I don’t do atheism wrong.

 

Of course there are things that are completely up to opinion and subjective, like what ice cream flavor is the best or what musicians are terrible (except for Nickleback, that’s a given). This is not what I am discussing. There are broad, sweeping opinions that can also be supported through evidence and reasoning. I am of the opinion that the Bible is a deeply misogynistic book entrenched in harmful, patriarchal gender roles. I also know that there are many who don’t hold that opinion. But I don’t hold the opinion just for the hell of it; I can support it by pointing out a multitude of verses and the logical conclusions that church leaders use to enforce these gender roles. To say that it’s just my opinion is really to claim that something is entirely subjective and can’t be supported by evidence or reason. Obviously, this is silly because there are multiple reasons why I can make that claim. It’s also silly, because for even subjective opinions I can explain why I like things. Film critics are able to explain why The Phantom Menace is such a piece of crap and Citizen Kane is a masterpiece. To say that it’s “just the film critics’ opinion” is such a useless counterargument that it doesn’t really need addressing, so it should make even less sense for a claim for which I do have some support. Saying that something is “just your opinion” adds nothing to the conversation.

 

This goes for pretty much anything, including ethics, standards of evidence, and whether I should get an Android or an iPhone. We are all judges of the world around us, and each of us individually assesses how the world behaves and comes to our own conclusions. When I say, “There’s no good evidence for any gods” I mean that in the sense that I personally have yet to see any good evidence. When I say that the Bible is morally wrong because it condones beating slaves, it’s because I have assessed it that way. I don’t have to claim I have the moral high ground over everyone else to make that claim, nor do I have to promote myself of supreme judge of the Earth to make that statement. We are both able to assess the world and come to our own conclusions, so reducing my statements to just my opinion is so trivial it tells nobody anything.

 

  1. Look at the trees!

 

Next.

 

  1. You don’t want there to be a god!

At its best, this is a claim that we are engaged in confirmation bias looking for facts to support the idea that we don’t want there to be a cosmic dictator ruling our lives and judging us. At worst, it’s ridiculously poorly thought out argument that’s completely untestable. For one thing, there’s no way to test whether or not any individual wants a god to exist. To claim to know what we want is to claim that you can read our mind, and evidentially useless. Sure, prominent secular leaders like Hitchens have stated that they don’t want there to be a god, but there are plenty of atheists who are more reluctant, including ex-pastors Ryan Bell or Theresa McBain. Missing a god isn’t a universal atheist experience, but it’s common enough to be worth addressing.

 

The other point is that it doesn’t get anywhere. I don’t like that one day I’m going to die. I don’t like that the temperature of the Earth is increasing at an accelerated rate. I don’t like that entropy inevitably means we lose useful energy and we’ll die out. I don’t like that children die of leukemia. But these are all realities, and I accept them as realities. Not wanting them to exist doesn’t put me in denial and cause me campaign against people who accept them as true. Why would this be the case for the theism question? Some of these problems are inevitable, some of them may be solvable, but denying their existence does nothing. If I don’t want there to be a god, arguing against theists is a pretty poor way of going about it.

 

  1. X happened to me!

 

This is one that deserves little discussion because it’s something I can’t really address. How am I supposed to verify what happened to you? I don’t have to take any given experience from you as an accurate account, and I don’t even have to think that you’re lying to think any experience you’ve had is inaccurate. We know that a variety of psychological phenomena can cause us to experience things that aren’t there. We also know that human memory is incredibly unreliable, and gets worse and worse as time goes on. I have a very clear memory as a child of watching a man disappear in a window at Halloween. It’s incredibly vivid, yet I have no good reason to think something supernatural occurred. Was my imagination running away with me at the time? Has my memory of the event over a decade shifted? Could I have perceived a perfectly natural occurrence, such as lights dimming in a dark room giving the illusion that a person disappeared? We know all of these have happened and been verified in human history, but we have never verified a person disappearing before the eyes. My money is on one of the first three.

 

  1. Aren’t you sad?

 

The short answer is no, I’m not sad. I could get into all the touchy-feely reasons why I’m happy to have the privilege of having this short life to live and that experiencing everything in a naturalistic universe is actually quite fulfilling. But that requires effort and I’m not very skilled at the inspiring bullshit. Watch Pale Blue Dot again for the thousandth time or something if you want that shit.

 

The reason that this is bad against atheism is it says nothing about atheism. Even if you found that atheists were sad, anxious, or depressed, it would still say nothing about the existence of a god. If you could verify that believers were 100% more likely to live happier lives, it doesn’t mean that what they believe is real. The kind of world that could give us warm fuzzies has no bearing on whether or not that is reality. A lot of people may say the reason they believe that there is a god is that they believe something is out there, and they feel that there is a purpose for them. If that makes them feel happy that’s perfectly fine, but it doesn’t give me any reason to think it’s valid at all. There’s really hardly anything to say about this other than that it’s based in flawed epistemology.

My Christian friend is awesome!

I have a very good friend that I consider a diehard Christian. He is a great friend to me and he and I often have friendly debates about God, Jesus and the Bible. At no time are we ever disrespectful toward one another and it is always a wonderful experience. One of the things I respect about him is he is one of those people who doesn’t just talk the talk, he actually walks the walk. Even though he and I do not agree on the topic of religion, after every debate, we both shake hands and we walk away with a genuine love and respect for each other.

I feel that this type of conversation is so important in our wish to improve conversations between theists and non-theists because it helps bridging a gap that separates us a human beings. Well, my friend came up to me last week and told me he had a paper for me to read. The paper turned out to be six pages! I promised him I would read it but to understand that I will be reading it through the eyes of a skeptic. He did warn me that the paper(s) was written by an apologist and was taken from an apologetic website. This didn’t bother me, I am willing to read anything but that doesn’t mean I will agree with everything I read. After all, I am a skeptic at heart.

So my friend gave me a paper(s) titled Are the Biblical Documents Reliable by Jimmy Williams. You can find the article here if you are interested in reading it, although I will give a quick rundown of what was written as well as my personal comments about the material presented.

Are the Biblical Documents Reliable?

One of the first things I noticed was a section titled Three Errors to Avoid.

  1. Do not assume inspiration or infallibility of the documents, with the intent of attempting to prove the inspiration or infallibility of the documents (sounds good so far). Do not say the bible is inspired or infallible simply because it claims to be (no complaints so far). This is circular reasoning (Finally some truth from a Christian document).
  2. When considering the original documents, forget about the present form of your Bible (hell, I’ve been saying this for years) and regard them as the collection of ancient source documents that they are (sounds reasonable, right?).
  3. Do not start with modern “authorities” and then move to the documents to see if the authorities were right (because they never are). Begin with the documents themselves.

The article then presents a question; “Not having any original copies or scraps of the Bible, can we reconstruct them well enough from the oldest manuscript evidence we do have so they give us a true, undistorted view of actual people, places and events?” This has a simple answer…Hell No! According to the article the scribes were devout Jews who BELIEVED they were dealing with the very word of God. I like that the article used the word believe because they have no way of knowing if it was actually delivered by an invisible sky deity or the ramblings of bronze age sheep herder listening to the voices in his head.

The article then turns to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Apparently the Dead Sea Scrolls consisted of a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah, a fragmented copy of Isaiah and fragments of every book in the Old Testament. As a non-theist, I have no problem with agreeing that something was written down. My problem lies with the lack of evidence to show what was written actually happened.

The article continues, a witness to the New Testament text is sourced in the thousands of quotations found throughout the writings of the church fathers who followed the Apostles and gave leadership to the fledgling church, beginning with Clement of Rome. Once again, my problem with this statement; writings are not evidence! What evidence is provided to show the writings are true besides someone saying they are true? Hmm…None!

The article concludes with the statements “Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established” and “We have the Word of God”. Wrong!!! What you have is a book filled with hearsay. You are no documented or testable evidence that God actually inspired the writings. You have a book full of opinion. I close this post with the poem in the article.

The Anvil? God’s Word

Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime:
Then looking in, I saw upon the floor
Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.

“How many anvils have you had,” said I,
“To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
“Just one,” said he, and then, with twinkling eye,
“The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”

And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s word,
For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
Yet though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed . . . the hammer’s gone.
Author unknown

I couldn’t disagree with the unknown author more. The hammer is not gone, it has gotten bigger, stronger and is multiplying in numbers.

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