Tag Archives: god

Worthy of the Worship

Christians are always telling me that I need to worship their deity of choice. When I ask why, they warn me of eternal punishment and damnation in the fires of Hell. Sometimes, they will entice me into worshipping their deity with promises of eternal bliss in Heaven. But all threats and bribes aside, they still haven’t really answered my question. Why should I worship their god?

Then Christians will often inform me that God created me. That’s great and all, but how does that answer my question? Am I expected to worship my creator or something? My parents created me and while I respect them most of the time, I certainly don’t worship them. Many people have parents who are not even worthy of respect let alone worship. If I someone creates a robot, should he or she demand that the robot worship him or her? That seems awfully vain. In my mind, such a trait would make the person less praiseworthy, not more praiseworthy. Clearly a creation should not be the slave of the created. So even if I were to accept the premise that God existed and created me (which I don’t) that still wouldn’t compel me to worship such a being. We are still left with the question, why should I worship the Christian God?

Next, many Christians I talk to appeal to power. They tell me that their God is all powerful and that is why he should be worshipped. This to me goes back to the threat of Hell and the bribe of Heaven. “God can do anything and is all powerful, you better get in line.” I don’t accept the appeal to power as a reason to worship. Taking this argument to the extreme, if Hitler were all powerful, would that make him praise worthy and more worship worthy? I really don’t think it does and I doubt that anyone would if they really thought about it. This appeal to power is quite honestly insulting.

In fact, the only reason to worship anyone that I could even remotely understand would be based on morality. At this point my Christian friends tend to smile and tell me that their god has that too. He is the very definition of moral goodness they claim. But as someone who has read the Bible, I just don’t see it. One cannot just claim to be moral, one must demonstrate that morality. If God wrote or spiritually inspired the writing of the Bible and if that book is an accurate picture of who God is, than I can’t see myself worshipping that being at all. This is where the excuses and justifications come in. “God doesn’t need to explain his morality to a mere human like me,” “God’s ways are mysterious,” “God is good because he says he is good,” “Without God there is no moral grounding,” etc.

The truth is that I really don’t believe in worshipping anyone, God or otherwise. I worship ideas not personalities. While I might say that I would follow an Aristotelian “person of practical wisdom.” I would stop following such a person the moment they proposed something which I considered to be immoral. I might start following them again when they proposed something more reasonable. Take our current President Barack Obama for example. I respect him and admire him. I think he is a smart person who is trying to do what he can to help people. I’ll follow him on most things, but I will also be critical of him when he refuses to stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians. I am critical of him for reaching out to religious fanatics and hoping that they will support hi even when he doesn’t need their support and will not get their support. So while I admire the President and will follow his lead on many things, I most certainly don’t worship him or follow him blindly.

I can’t think o a single reason why I would possibly worship any god let alone the Christian God. I certainly am not a coward who is afraid of eternal torture in Hell, nor am I a greedy person who would accept the bribe of Heaven. I don’t think the Christian God created me and even if I did, I still don’t see that as any reason to worship such a deity. The awesome all-powerfulness of God doesn’t really concern me since I don’t consider power to be a reason for worship. And the Christian God of the Bible doesn’t seem very moral to me either. So my question still stands, why should I worship the Christian God?

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God Personified

Why is it that the Christian God is supposed to be all-powerful and yet it took him a full 6 days to create the world? Shouldn’t he have been able to do it with a snap of his metaphysical fingers? A real god should be able to think it and it happens. And while we are at it, if God is so all-powerful, why does he have to rest on the seventh day? Humans need rest, not gods.

However, the people who created god could have simply personified nature and if that were the case, than since people do rest, a personified deity might need to rest too. In the ancient world, deities like Zeus lived on Mount Olympus and deities like Odin lived Valhalla. So where does Yahweh live? Heaven. But God’s don’t really need to live anywhere, right? I mean isn’t an all-powerful deity supposed to be everywhere?

As you can see, Yahweh like all the other gods that have come before him are all personifications. Ancient people who couldn’t understand the world used these deities as an attempt to explain the world. They created elaborate stories and gave their deity of choice personalities based on human stories and personalities. That is why God is a jealous God, a vengeful God, a wrathful God, a Just God, etc. These are all human traits. The war in Heaven is based off wars on Earth. God has a son? Humans have sons. God’s live forever and always were and always will be, so how can they give birth to a divine child?

These are ancient stories told to explain what was unexplainable. Now science can explain much of what was unexplainable and so now God is forced to fill the gaps. However, even though science can’t explain everything we should be mature enough as a race to simply say that we don’t know the answers to all the questions without the need to make up answers with stories of divine intrigue. God is no longer even needed to fill the gaps as long as we are mature enough to accept the gaps and curious enough to attempt to fill those gaps through the continued exploration of science and philosophy.

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A Science Lesson for Christians

Often times when discussing religion with Christians the conversation turns to science. I am not an expert in the sciences. My field is Philosophy. Just to make sure that I have all my facts straight, I e-mailed this blog to The Science Pundit for peer review. However, having gone to a fairly decent public school program which taught science fairly well, I would say that I have a slightly above average knowledge of the subject. I am beginning to think though that I am a bit more than just slightly above average. It seems that I run into the same problems over and over again. Many of the Christians that I talk to have no idea how the scientific method works.

The thing is that most of these Christians claim to know how science works and they claim to have studied in detail the relevant scientific theories that we are discussing. But then their mouths open (or in case of internet conversations, they write stuff). And based on what they are saying, it becomes painfully obvious that they have not studied the relevant theories and have no idea whatsoever how science works.

There are a few particular misconceptions that keep popping up. The first is that a “scientific theory” is “just a theory.” Here there is as Wittgenstein put it, a “Family Resemblance” between the two uses, but make no mistake that the term “theory” is being used in two very different ways. In the general sense the term “theory” is used to describe an analytic structure designed to explain a set of observations. As used in the scientific sense, a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena. In other words, “just a theory” is very different than a “scientific theory” which has considerably more weight attached to it.

Another common misconception is that science is “faith based” just as faith based belief is faith based. These particular Christians don’t seem to understand the difference between the scientific process and the religious process. To them, all ideas are the same and deserve equal time. The problem is that all ideas are not the same.

Let’s start with religion. The way religious belief works, they start off with the belief in God and in the Bible. That belief supersedes everything else. Then they specifically look to find anything which might be considered supportive of their conclusion (This is called “confirmation bias.” The scientific method goes to extreme measures to minimize or eliminate this as all people—even scientists—are susceptible to confirmation bias). If evidence comes to light which disproves their belief, that evidence is attacked, ignored, and/or destroyed. Their view is that God exists and that the Bible is true and nothing “science” can say or show will convince them otherwise. Many times, they will even tell you that straight up.

Science doesn’t start with the conclusion. Science starts with observations. From the observations we make a hypothesis, which is an educated guess as to the explanation of an observable phenomenon or phenomena which makes predictions and is therefore testable. We then look for evidence and/or test the hypothesis through experimentation to see if our hypothesis holds up. One thing science tries to be very careful about is to make sure that when we run tests and look for evidence we do so in as non-biased manner as possible. We don’t want to fall prey to confirmation bias. We are not specifically looking to confirm or deny the hypothesis, just go where the evidence leads. If the evidence supports the hypothesis, then we keep looking for more evidence in the same unbiased manner. If the evidence does not support the hypothesis, then we revise the hypothesis and start the process over again. Science never draws a 100% certain conclusion. Science is always willing to change. But the more and more evidence which supports a given hypothesis the more and more certain we are that the hypothesis is correct. But we will never say that we are 100% certain. A theory is a more general model which includes facts, laws and hypotheses and explains a whole family of phenomena.

So as you can see, while science starts with observations and evidence and investigates as non-biased as it can, religion is the exact opposite. Religion starts with the conclusion and looks in a biased manner for anything which could be persuasive and rejects what does not fit with the already stated conclusion (i.e. God exists and the Bible is true).

Please keep in mind that this blog is only giving a basic and quick guide to science and the scientific method. I encourage anyone who lacks sufficient scientific knowledge to go online or pick up a science text book and learn more.

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How to win at “What if?”

This is brilliant stuff. And it sounds even more brilliant because it is juxtaposed with such idiocy.

There are many things that I disagree with Christopher Hitchens about. And I don’t think all of his arguments are the best, or even the correct ones. But when he is on point (and not drunk) there’s no question that he can go toe to toe with anyone in intellectual debate.

Needless to say, evangelist radio host Todd Friel never had a chance…

(Thanks to Pharyngula for pointing me to this.)

Moral Grounding

Almost every time I get into a prolonged conversation with a fundamentalist Christian the issue of morality come up. The claim of the Christians is almost always the same, “without God there can be no moral grounding.” Personally, I find that to be a pretty arrogant and inaccurate statement. The way I see it, with God there is no moral grounding. The shear number of differing sects of Jews, Christians, and Muslims who have completely opposite opinions on so many moral issues certainly suggests that God hasn’t grounded morality at all. If he had, all believers in the Bible who have the same set of morals and quite obviously they don’t.

It seems that God was so clear about his moral grounding after all since so many Christians disagree about God’s moral grounding. We really need to ask, how do we know what God commands? That is the real problem with believing is deities, you never really know what they want. From what I can tell by talking to so many Christians, God seems to communicate by one of two ways, either by divine revelations or through divine texts.

When it comes to divine revelation things get pretty problematic pretty quickly. This was a big problem early on for the Mormons when Joseph Smith declared that any Mormon could have a divine revelation. Very quickly people were getting some pretty opposite commands from God. It seemed to be impossible to know what a real divine revelation was and what thoughts were just people’s imagination, desires, or random thoughts or beliefs. And then of course mental illness is an issue with divine revelations too. You will find that there are often stories in the news of someone murdering their child because they had a divine revelation. How can you tell if someone had a divine revelation or is just crazy?

Divine texts like the Bible have a whole new set of problems. The Bible was written a long time ago and we don’t even have the original verses of the text. Over the years, the texts have been recopied complete with people’s deliberate and accidental changes. People seem to have revised the texts to fit their own personal philosophies, beliefs, or situations as well as miscopies words or mistranslated words as the text moved from language to language. People’s religious framework has become entirely dependent on their interpretation of inaccurate “Holy Scriptures.” With so many changes and translations and interpretations of the divine holy book, it is impossible to really know what God truly desire.

Even if we could deal with those issues, the problem doesn’t get any better. According to Christianity, God defines morality and this causes a host of other problems. What if God changed his mind? Some Christians will argue that God wouldn’t change his mind because God is perfect or God is his character or something. But the Bible claims in numerous places that God does change his mind and the real issue isn’t whether he will change his mind, but rather whether he could change his mind if he so desired? If God did change his mind, then morality would change with God. This doesn’t seem like moral grounding to me. If God declared tomorrow that rape was now morally good, I really don’t think it would be so.

Many Christians will then typically argue that, “either all morality is absolute or all morality is subjective.” This line of thinking is a very problematic one which deals with a limiting of options and an absolutism all its own. When we look at the philosophy of ethics and morality, we see that some of the greatest minds in human history have been working on this problem and have come up with some very complicated solutions which still don’t fully make morality clear to us. Some of the greatest of moral thinkers include, Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, John Stewart Mill, and John Rawls. There are of course many more, but these thinkers in particular have helped to shape modern concepts of morality.
Morality just isn’t as simply as a rulebook of do’s and don’ts. Morality isn’t all absolute nor is it all subjective. Morality is part principle based and part situational based. Personally, I think Kant and Aristotle have helped me better understand morality in that morality is more about the means than the ends as Kant viewed it and it is more about following moral role models or “men of practical wisdom” as Aristotle had suggested.

Currently, work is being done in the field of neuroscience to explain mirroring synapses and how that relates to compassion and empathy, which may help to teach us more about human morality from a biological level. But until more study is done, we are left in the philosophical realm. And from what we can gather, morality is in no small part linked those two aspects of human life, empathy and compassion.

So what is our moral grounding? Right now, there isn’t any. Not for Christians and not for atheists or anyone else. Morality is not completely absolute nor is it completely subjective. There is a delicate balance and we are all trying our best to navigate these often-difficult moral paths. As human society has progressed, we have learned more and more about how best to treat each other in a moral way but our moral journey is far from over.

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Hating the Sin, Not the Sinner

Since the “Four Horsemen” of atheism have had their books on the top of the charts, Christians and even some atheists claim that any atheist who criticizes Christianity or calls Christianity out for the evil that it preaches are themselves intolerant bigots. To this, I always say the same thing. I hate Christianity, not Christians. We don’t choose what we believe. We have reasons to believe what we believe (even if those reasons are not reasonable). There are many reasons why Christians believe what they believe. Some are indoctrinated at a young age, some were manipulated out of fear, guilt, despair, etc., and some are brought to Christianity through some other sort of emotional experience. It isn’t their fault that they don’t question their beliefs or that they believe in a ridiculous bronze aged mythology. So I have nothing against Christians as people. In fact, I think most Christians are very good people, who believe very ridiculous things which sometimes cause them to do very evil things all in the name of their deity of choice.

Christianity, on the other hand is not a person, it is the religious system of belief (relationship with God) and the beliefs based on the Bible which has continued to refine themselves for over 2000 years for the express purpose of converting people and spreading itself like a virus. This system has discovered which buttons to push on whom and exactly how and when to push those buttons. The sad part is that even the people pushing those buttons don’t see it as doing anything dishonest or immoral. So I can’t even blame Pat Robertson or James Dobson. They have been tricked by the system of Christianity (i.e. other Christians who have also been tricked by the system). They really have no malice in their heart. Even Fred Phelps doesn’t hate “fags” because he is a hateful person, he hates “fags” because he believes that his God punishes him because he allows “fags” to sin. If you truly believed that the fate of your eternal life rests in the hands of pleasing your deity, you would do whatever hateful thing you thought your deity would want you to do. That doesn’t make you a bad person, just and dangerous person.

All we have to do is get these Christians to start wondering how the trick is done. Get them to ask questions and to question what they have been taught and indoctrinated into believing. But the point here is that I don’t blame Christians, I blame Christianity. My view on this is similar (ironically enough) to the Christian view of loving the sinner and hating the sin. In this case, the sin is Christianity as a belief system. So you won’t hear me (or read me in this case) say that Christians in general are stupid or dumb (some particular Christians maybe, but more often than not they are just lazy and ignorant) or that they have no rights to believe in stupid or dumb belief systems. They have every right to believe whatever ridiculous thing they wish to believe. But I think it is important to point out to them just how ridiculous those beliefs are and to point out that their beliefs are dangerous to others. If they have the right to force their beliefs on everyone else than I have the right to fight back though education. If they have the right to preach their system of belief, than I have the right to criticize their system of belief. That doesn’t make me hateful of them as people nor does it make me intolerant of their beliefs. I fully support their right to preach, but they don’t seem to respect my right to criticize their ridiculous bronze aged fiction.

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Christianity is Wackier than Scientology

I am not trying to defend Scientology in today’s blog, but I do think that Scientology performs a valuable service to our society for the moment.

Now, I know what you are thinking, “what the hell can Scientology offer the rational world?” Well, I think it helps us to compare it to Christianity. In my view Christianity is far more unbelievable and far more dangerous than Scientology and it helps to bring people of the Christian faith to reason when you can compare the beliefs of the Christian religion to a religion which most people (especially Christians) view as clearly wacky and show very simply which is actually wackier.

Let’s look at Scientology a little bit.

One of the more wacky aspects of Scientology is that of Xenu who is an evil alien dictator of the Galactic Confederacy who threw humans into a volcano and then nuked it 75 millions of years ago. Here is the funny thing about this story. As bizarre as it is, every part of it is possible.

What I mean by that is that nothing about this story violates any of the laws of physics as we know them nor does this story contain magic of any kind or anything necessarily supernatural. This story as unlikely as it is and as fanciful as it is, is entirely contained within the natural world and our laws of physics. Even the Scientology idea that humans can learn how to use superpowers isn’t necessarily supernatural. In fact, the only thing in the Scientology story, which MAY even come close to supernatural, would be the idea of Thetans and even that idea really makes more sense than the Christian concept of the soul.

Speaking of which, let’s look at the bizarre story of Christianity. The basic Story of Christianity (because all Christians are different of course) is the story of the God Yahweh and his son Jesus. Right from the start, this story is already wackier than Scientology. A deity is much more unbelievable than an alien dictator. We live in a vast universe in which it is probable that other life could certainly exist and so it is possible for that life to be intelligent and to form Confederations and such. But a deity isn’t an alien life form, it is a supernatural being capable of violating the laws of physics.

The Christian deity in particular is said to do exactly that in the form of miracles, which are impossible under the natural laws of physics. But the Christian story gets crazier when we bring Jesus into it. To the vast majority of Christians, Jesus is not just a half man/half god, but he is 100 percent man and 100 percent god. This of course makes Jesus 200%. Now I’m no math genius, but that doesn’t exactly make logical sense, but it does make supernatural sense and that is the point. This man/god died and bodily came back to life so that everyone on earth could somehow be forgiven for all the sins against the deity (Enter the concept of blood sacrifice).

This story is dripping with supernatural events and the bending and even the breaking of the laws of physics not just in small ways, but in really, really large ways. This story simply put, is just impossible (as in not possible by the laws of physics which make up this Universe). This story is not just impossible, but it is also illogical and quite frankly beyond reason.

So which of these stories is really the wackier story? Scientology, which reads like bad science fiction, is still completely possible given what we know about the natural world or Christianity, which reads like bronze aged fiction full of supernatural events and characters which defy the laws of nature, logic, and even reason itself?

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