Monthly Archives: May 2011

Mounting A Real Attack

I was recently accused of picking on weak points of Christianity to attack. I don’t disagree. I could argue against each and every post I’ve put on my blog so far. It’s not like I’m wrong on every point so far, but none of them is solid and complete and impossible to argue against. I wish someone would argue against each post so I could provide the counterpoints, but it seems like in this mental chess game of philosophy I get the same 3 results: People visit without planning to disagree – they’ve forfeited before they start – or they disagree with me but don’t know how to argue or choose not to – they’ve tipped their king over after I make my first move – or they strangely argue that I shouldn’t be allowed to debate – they call chess a game for “sissies”. This last one is strange because by visiting my site they’ve sat down to play my game… they’ve validated my right to argue by taking the time to read my argument. I don’t understand it.

Anyway, I’ve thrown up some of my weaker arguments because I’m baiting an argument in hopes of a deeper discussion, but this never happens. My site should include a stronger argument, even if it won’t be debated, for the sake of completeness. Anyone who has taken a course (or read a book) on philosophy of religion will understand that the strongest argument against religion is the problem of evil. If a person wants to defend the existence of God, he or she has to explain why a perfect god has created an imperfect world. I’ve already brought up this topic but since it hasn’t been debated I’m going to present the counterargument myself (*sigh*) and the problem with this.

There are serious problems with trying to explain evil away as less than evil, or trying to explain why a perfect God can create an imperfect world. I’m not going into them – it’s going to take too much time and effort – but rather I’m going to focus on the “good” and “sound” argument against the presence of evil: God wanted his creations to be free, and true freedom includes free will. For humans to be able to exercise free will, there has to be evil as well as good. There are 3 paradoxes I see with this argument, and I’ll list them from weakest to strongest.

1.  We don’t have complete freedom to be good or evil.  We may, for instance, choose to do evil things such as murder. We can’t, however, kill people with our thoughts. Even if we intend to murder, or steal, or commit adultery we actually have to overcome hurdles to pull these off. Trying to kill the President of the United States is nearly impossible no matter how good you are at murder, and even killing friends can prove to be difficult if they’re paranoid. Stealing is much easier, but successfully getting away with it is much harder. Committing adultery requires an accomplice (unless you go so far as rape, which is another thing altogether), and then your free will is competing with someone else’s.

Good is much easier to accomplish but can still have difficulties in specialized cases. For example, most Christians agree that bible study is a necessary ingredient to living a good Christian life. Illiteracy makes this troublesome in the modern world, and the lack of a printing press was a huge hurdle in the ancient world. For hundreds of years it was impossible to read a single bible verse even once unless you spoke Latin (and had access to a church’s tome). A severe mental disability would be a handicap to almost any requirement of faith, and death at an infant age would make the necessary prayers unlikely to be offered. The best example we wrestle with today is the natural affinity that some people have for lusting after their own sex. Someone who finds heterosexual sex to be disgusting would have a hard time “being fruitful” and “multiplying”.

2. Bias towards our species causes us to ignore good or evil in the animal world. Most Americans, whether Christian or Atheist, find cannibalism to be evil. But when we see it in the animal world we shrug our shoulders and just say “that’s how they are”. Do animals have free will? Are animal actions classified as good or evil? Evolution explains the behavior of animals in terms we can readily understand – animals work towards their survival, and everything they do is predicated on this basis. But why are they an exception? What makes humans so “special”?

If animals have free will, then they can do evil. There are things, like cannibalism, that we would see as wrong if done by humans. So why would these creations of God’s do evil? Original sin explains the human condition (poorly), or God tests the Christians and makes them stronger people, or Satan tempts people to do evil – but all of these are aimed at humans, and none of them explain why an animal would do evil.

If animals don’t have free will, and their actions can’t be seen as good or evil, then why do we put these explanations on human actions? What makes us the exception to the rule?

3. Heaven doesn’t allow for free will. Part of the construct on monotheistic religion is the belief in a paradise after this world, one filled with happiness and a lack of evil. Whatever explanation you give for God purposely creating a world in which evil can flourish makes the absence of evil in Heaven nonsense. Whatever explanation you give for God denying happiness to us on Earth makes the never-ending happiness of Heaven a mystery.

Or perhaps you think that God isn’t perfect, and didn’t create the right world the first time but improved on it by creating Heaven. This creates a problem with God’s aseity, because if God isn’t the same creator yesterday and tomorrow then this creates a problem with Him being deserving of worship (assuming He even exists). To explain God’s insistence on giving us freedom in this world, you also have to explain on his insistence of a lack of freedom in the next world and how this doesn’t create an incompatibility with his unchanging nature.

I’m not picking on a weak subject this time, but taking down a giant. If you’ve got a comment, please feel free to form a hypothesis that answers my 3 points. Attacks to my premises before these arguments have already been answered by philosophers, and I’ll just rehash their answers. This post is specifically aimed at people who understand the arguments for and against God’s existence and who can actually stay in the chess game of philosophy beyond the decided openings.


It’s Okay to be Wrong

“To err is human.” “Nobody’s perfect.” “Everybody makes mistakes.” We’ve all heard these cliches, and I think that most of us agree with them, too. Being wrong is part of life. It’s very common for people to be wrong, yet admitting failure strikes me as uncommon. I’d like to change that.

First, let me admit what’s at stake. If you admit that you’ve failed, even once, you ruin your reputation. This is awfully strange, because nobody assumes that their peers are perfect until proven imperfect, do they? Actually, we do. We have a natural way of categorizing our peers that is very simplistic. We assume that others are honest until caught in a lie, then we assume they’re liars. We assume that others are smart until we catch them doing something stupid, then we assume they’re idiots. I know I’m stereotyping humankind here, and that is also a very human quality: we assume things of entire groups of people until one of them surprises us, which simply makes them an exception. It’s just easier that way.

Also at stake is your ego. No one enjoys feeling like a failure, and we avoid this feeling at all costs. When we lose games, we blame an outside factor (“the sun was in my eyes”) or we redefine loss (“it was a moral victory”). When we blunder, we take solace in the fact that other people blunder even worse (“I only cheated on you once, but you’ve cheated on me several times”) or we downplay how awful the blunder was (“I know marijuana is illegal, but it’s not like I was doing something as bad as cocaine”).

When we defend our point of view, we have even stronger defenses. First, we use The Assumption of Ignorance. This is assuming a person who disagrees with us doesn’t have all the facts. When we discover that he or she is well-researched, we use The Assumption of Idiocy. We assume that, even though that person has the facts, they’re too stupid to make the right conclusion from them. When that fails, we fall back on our final defense of The Assumption of Evil. Sure, our opponent may have all the facts and is actually smart, but he or she must be purposely misleading us, because there is absolutely no way that I could possibly be wrong!

We know that we’re wrong at times, and it’s not so hard to admit past wrongs because they’re history. Past mistakes impact our reputation and ego much less than current mistakes. But I challenge you to try looking at your actions and opinions from a third-person perspective. Do you find yourself making assumptions about people who have contrary opinions?

I know that I personally argue with people about issues of both opinion and fact, and I often cite my sources. However, these sources aren’t checked. When it comes to reading my blogs, I’ve made it as simple as possible to check my sources, and yet WordPress.com continues to inform me that, despite an average of 10 visits per day, the average number of clicks on my blog hyperlinks is less than 1 per day. For each 10 visitors, only 1 of them clicks 1 link to actually make sure that I’ve done the research. I encourage you to click on the one single link I’ve included in this blog, and see if I’ve done a good job of passing on accurate information to back my premise. Then you can move on to assume that I’m an idiot or evil.  😉

-Supernova