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It’s been a while…

I haven’t written a post here for a while. Over a year in fact. I guess the reasons for my neglecting this blog are many. First and foremost this blog has been focused on atheism—a subject that I feel I have little to talk about at this moment in time. There comes a point when you see little reason to carry on going around in circles with your arguments, and you decide focus your attention on other things—which I have been doing. Sad as it might sound for those few who enjoy my posts on these topics; I just don’t have much else left to say on the matter.

 

That being said, I don’t want to abandon my passion for writing and sharing my thoughts with the world, so I do want to resurrect this blog with the intention of doing so. I think what I shall do is use it as a space for writing anything and everything that I feel compelled to write about. Hopefully it will interest my existing followers and perhaps garner some new ones.

 

Maybe one of these days I will find a reason to post about atheism again, but for now I have nothing else to say on the matter. God is imaginary, the arguments have been done to death, going around in circles is boring and unproductive.

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William Lane Craig and his nonsense ethics

Christian apologist William Lane Craig, author of Reasonable Faith (the irony of this title will soon become apparent) argues that if objective moral values exist then God must also exist. Objective moral values do exist, he asserts, therefore God exists. One might be forgiven for thinking that someone with a Ph.D. In philosophy would be able to formulate a cohesive argument in favour of his assertion that objective moral values do indeed exist. One would be mistaken however. His reasoning is as follows; “objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it.” This is an utterly asinine philosophical argument that is almost too embarrassing to dignify with a refutation. Nonetheless I shall endeavour to persist.

His argument can, without parody, be translated thus; I have a gut feeling that something is wrong therefore it must be objectively wrong. But there are lots of things that human beings have strong aversions to; consider eating rotten meat for example. Most of us would wretch if we were presented with a platter of semi-decomposed carrion. Our strong abhorrence, or gut feeling that rancid flesh should not be consumed does not mean that it is objectively wrong to do so. There is no universal law that prohibits such an act – plenty of organisms do feed off fetid meat. Humans however, have evolved an innate sense of disgust in response to it as a defence against the potential diseases that we might contract from consuming it.

Similarly, our conscience doesn’t necessitate the existence of a universal code of ethics. It merely necessitates that we have evolved a defence against certain destructive modes of behaviour. If you imagine there are two populations; one in which the people have no qualms about murder, theft and other such detrimental behaviour, and another in which the people have a fully developed conscience that prevents them from committing such actions. It is easy to see how the first population would fail to prosper. Their socially destructive behaviour would prevent the necessary cohesion that is required to persist as a population with for any great length of time. The second population on the other hand would cooperate and trust one another with ease, their society and institutions would flourish and they would have the means to deal with the challenges that face any culture. Whilst the first population are too busy squabbling and killing each other to solve even the simple challenge of making sure everyone gets fed, the second population could gain the strength and resources necessary to form armies and conquer the first population with ease – thus eliminating them, and their destructive habits. It is clear to see why having an aversion towards certain behaviours is an advantage in evolutionary terms, without appealing to the existence of objective values.

 

In order to move on however, I shall be unusually generous and put all that aside. Lets assume for the moment that there is some substance to Craig’s claim that objective moral values do exist. Does it follow from this that God exists?
Craig’s reasoning is predicated upon the assumption that only God could provide the grounding for objective morality. If one subscribes to the ‘divine command theory’ – which states that an act is either good or evil depending on whether God commands it or prohibits it – then there are some problems with this assumption. If we take an act generally considered to be immoral, such as killing a child, for example. Is killing a child wrong because God prohibits it, or does God prohibit killing children because it is intrinsically wrong?

If God prohibits killing a child because it is intrinsically wrong, then it is wrong regardless of whether or not God exists – and thus objective moral values do not necessitate that God exists. If something is right simply because God commands it, and wrong simply because God prohibits it then anything can become right or wrong based upon the whim of God. Thus if God commands a person murder a child (a problem which is amplified by the fact that God does command exactly this in the Bible) then this would be the right thing to do by definition. This renders morality completely subjective, and arbitrary.

Some will respond to this problem by stating that goodness is derived from God’s nature. However this creates a very similar dilemma. Is helping a suffering individual good because it is in God’s nature, or is helping a suffering individual in God’s nature because it is already intrinsically good? The latter option again removes the necessity of God, and the former can be refuted with an example from the Bible. Consider Jeremiah 19 verse 9: “And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters”. Here God is causing people to cannibalise their own children – thus we can consider it to be in God’s nature to induce others to eat their own progeny, and as such we can conclude that doing so is good. If one protests that causing people to eat their own offspring is morally wicked then they are either appealing to a moral standard that is beyond the nature of God, or they are saying that God is capable of acting against his own nature. But if it is in God’s nature to be capable of acting against his own nature then the whole argument is rendered meaningless.

Either objective moral values do exist, but God is superfluous – which is contradictory to Craig’s argument. Or objective moral values do not exist, and morality is down to the subjective and arbitrary whims of God – which again, contradicts the original assertion that objective moral values do exist. Craig’s moral argument falls flat on its face.

William Lane Craig doesn’t stop his ethical embarrassment here by any means. In his debate with Arif Ahmed, he openly declared that: “The premise that pointless suffering exists, or gratuitous evil exists is extremely controversial. We are simply not in the position to make these kinds of inductive probability judgements”. What does he mean by this? He appears to be casting doubt on the existence of gratuitous evil, in other words, evil that is without reason, cause or justification. So, if we accept the implications of this, then we must accept that all evil and suffering exists to serve some kind of purpose. What might that purpose be? Well, God’s purpose of course, as Craig states on his website reasonablefaith.org:

“God may well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. We all know cases in which we permit suffering because we have morally sufficient reasons for doing so. What Law would have to prove is that it’s improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. But how could he possibly prove that? God’s justifying reasons might never appear in our lifetime or locale or even in this life. Suppose, for example, that God’s purpose for human life is not happiness in this life but the knowledge of God, which is an incommensurable good. It may be the case, for all we know, that only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the maximum number of people freely come to know God and find eternal life.”

So, if evil exists to serve a purpose, and that purpose is God’s supreme plan – which is ultimately good (unless you want to concede that God is evil), then it follows logically that all evil is ultimately good. Such a perfect way to commit moral suicide! Although to be fair on Craig, he doesn’t assert that gratuitous evil definitely does not exist. However, his doubtful stance does completely undermine his ability to make any moral judgements whatsoever. If, for example, the torture of a small child for fun cannot definitely be said to be gratuitously evil, and that it might be a part of God’s ultimately good plan, then there is no way to say for definite whether such an act is ultimately good or evil. Thus contrary to his laughably inane assertion that we can just know that something is right or wrong, Craig’s own position actually undermines his ability to make moral judgements.

 

From Craig’s asinine argument from objective morality, to the absurd conclusions that follow inevitably from his scepticism over the existence of gratuitous evil, it is evident that his theological beliefs do nothing to advance any real ethical philosophy. That is not to say that William Lane Craig, is himself devoid of coherent ethics, however I think it is safe to say that they stem from somewhere other than the whims of a supernatural law-giver.

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Appreciating Nature

I eased myself down the steep bank gently, trying my best to avoid stumbling like a buffoon and tripping on the exposed roots that created an almost-staircase out of the slope. The initial stretch of woodland was largely deciduous, without much canopy overhead. A nutrient-rich layer of broad-leaf litter and dead wood crunched underfoot. The absence of canopy during the autumn and winter has several effects on this area of woodland, firstly it provides the soil with lots of organic matter as the leaves decay – which can provide nutrients to ground flora such as flowers and other shrubs. Another effect is the large amount of light that gets in during these months – which is also vital to the ground flora. A certain amount of precipitation (rain, mist, hail, snow etc.) is intercepted by the canopy during the summer, however the absence of cover throughout the winter months, allows a lot of water to enter the soil directly – which I noticed had made the ground rather boggy as I continued on my stroll.

A few Scots pines were looming tall over head – a species of coniferous tree with distinctive salmon pink bark. They were sparse at first, being surrounded mainly by the broad-leafed trees, however as I slowly traversed along the path, the woodland gradually became more coniferous, under which the pine needles had created a thick mat over the forest floor. Pine needles do not decay very fast, and create a layer that does not incorporate into the soil – because of this, the soil is less nutrient rich than in the deciduous area I had passed through previously (due to an absence of organic matter being incorporated). In coniferous woodland, the canopy stays overhead all year-round, so unlike the broad-leaf area, interception occurs constantly and there is always shade cover. The ground flora was distinctly less varied, I noted; mostly ferns (which can cope with the low light levels).

I spotted a number of Silver Birch trees dotted among the pines, there didn’t appear to be many other species of tree around. I wasn’t sure why this might be, but it seemed as though the Birches were quite capable of competing (height-wise) with the pines, and perhaps other species simply don’t have quite the same reach (or have never had the chance to). Many trees had violently collapsed in the wind, and were now crumbling and being slowly devoured by detritivores, mites and fungi. Two deer swiftly bounced through the ferns just ahead of where I was walking, and a pheasant was calling in the distance. I turned back and started to walk home in a rather blissful state.

There is nothing quite like surrounding oneself in nature. The experience is heightened immensely even after having acquired a rather rudimentary understanding of ecosystems, and forestry etc. I would advise anyone to spend as much time around nature as they possibly can, and to learn as much about it as they can. Its good medicine for your consciousness.

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Let’s Talk About Kony

As most of you are probably aware there is a propaganda film circulating the internet at the moment, with the aim of making Joseph Kony famous (although I think ‘infamous’ would have been a much more appropriate term for the film makers to have used). Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock for the last week or so, you probably by now know a bit about what Kony has done, and why there is such a fuss about him, so I won’t go into much depth about who he is and what he has done.

 

The film appears to advocate peaceful action, which suggests that the aim is to capture rather than kill Kony, however no mention of how this might be achieved is put forth. I think it is safe to say that someone as corrupt and evil as Kony would not give himself up without a fight, and thus the first problem – which is left completely unanswered by the film – is how would you go about capturing Kony whilst he is using his child soldiers to fend off his would-be captors? He is unlikely to want to turn himself in, given his track record, so what is one to do other than attack him along with his child bodyguards? This difficult problem is completely abandoned in the film, in favour of over simplifications and appeals to emotion.

 

Therein also lies a major contradiction in this film too, it seems to advocate for a peaceful solution – yet it’s main slogan is ‘stop at nothing’ which presumably translates in to ‘kill him if you have to’. Now I’m not saying that one has to advocate either a peaceful or forceful solution, however I do feel that consistency is important. If you’re for peaceful action then presumably you wouldn’t stop at nothing, you’d stop before it gets violent. Most people are so drawn in by the emotional appeals when they watch this film that they do not see such a glaring contradiction. It’s hard to imagine that the film makers themselves could have over looked such a thing however.

 

The other thing that I find troubling about this film is it’s uncritical support of the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defence Force) who themselves have the age limit for joining their ranks set as low as 13 years old (condemned by many as being military use of children, precisely the charge levelled against Kony), and are also accused of rape and looting. Now this ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ attitude in this case is misguided, and I think that the film makers are unjustified in supporting the UPDF simply because they are equipped and prepared to take on Kony.

 

There is no explanation of the situation in which Kony adopted his position, there is no real idea put forth as to how we might capture Kony without harming any of his child bodyguards. The whole film hinges on the simplistic idea of Kony being the bad guy – he is bad to be sure – however, it is utterly naive to propose that the problems in Central Africa will cease once the bad guy is finally captured – which is the idea you get from the film. Things are far more complex than this film makes out. What happens after Kony is captured is not even hinted at, other than some idealistic notion that these kid soldiers will be happily reunited with their parents. Personally, I am doubtful that this would put an end to problems in the region. It is put forth rather condescendingly that the situation is so simplistic that even a child ‘gets it’, however this simply is not true, a guy doesn’t just turn up and start kidnapping children for soldiers and sex slaves without some pretty complicated causal factors behind it – none of which are mentioned in the film itself. Any film which treats a complex situation as though it is overly simple should be viewed with caution in my opinion.

 

In conclusion I would urge anyone who reads this not to share this film, and to certainly not give money to these film makers. There are plenty of charities who are dedicated to helping with the problems in Africa, I would urge you to look into those, rather than to put money towards a bunch of film makers.

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R.I.P Hitch

Christopher Hitchens 1949 – 2011

Christopher Hitchens died today at the age of 62. After reading his rather harrowing piece in Vanity Fair last week (found here) I realised that he may not be with us for much longer, I didn’t think it would be this soon though. Long may he live on through his prolific writings. I hope that he was not in too much pain.

 

“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.”

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A Response to Peter Mullen on Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins says that David Cameron is “not really a Christian”. The fact is that it is only God to whom all hearts be open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid. So Dawkins has no means of telling whether Cameron is a genuine Christian or not.

We can, however, know that Dawkins is not a proper atheist – that is an intelligent atheist – from his own puerile writing and pathetic attempts at philosophical theology. For example, he writes: “Either God exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question. The existence of God is a scientific question, like any other.”

This is idiotic. Science investigates material phenomena, observable entities in the universe. No competent theologians or philosophers – not even the atheist ones – have ever declared that God (if he exists) is an object in his own universe. Perhaps there is no God, and intelligent Christians readily admit that there may be some legitimate doubt. But if the Judaeo-Christian God exists, then he is the maker of the universe and not an entity within it

The only idiotic person here is you Mr. Mullen, you’re making the argument that I addressed in my post ‘The Cop Out’, that God is outside of the universe and therefore immeasurable to science. However you are a Christian and you believe that this God parted the waters of the red sea to allow Moses to pass, you believe in a God that impregnated a woman and walked around on the Earth in human form – these are examples of your God acting within his own universe, and therefore it is perfectly logical to conclude that his actions would be measurable in some form. If you disagree, then I pose this question to you Mr. Mullen; how can a woman become impregnated magically by God, with absolutely no trace of this event being left? If your God exists and performs miracles within the universe then he would be resolutely measurable to science.

It may be that Christians are tragically misled and that there is no God. But before you rush into atheism, you have to know something about philosophical reasoning and how theology works. In other words you have to know what it is about and what it is not about. When he discusses religious belief, Dawkins does not know what he is talking about. And to fire off ignorant opinions is only the first mark of a fool.

It is as if I should presume to lecture the zoologist Dawkins on his own subject: as if I should idiotically declare that all the subtleties of modern biological science could be summed up in a book entitled Janet and John Look at Frogs.

You don’t have to be a philosopher or a theologian to know that religious claims are bogus. All you need to know is that there is no evidence of God’s existence or the extraordinary claims attributed to him. The difference between theology and zoology is thus; zoology looks at things that we know tangibly exist, therefore it is quite easy to make incorrect statements, misunderstand evidence and so on – the real evidence exists to be able to correct mistaken claims, therefore prior knowledge is useful in order to ensure that mistakes are not made. On the other hand theology is essentially pseudo-philosophical masturbation around an imaginary entity, and you don’t need to delve far into it before you realise that there is absolutely no evidence for this nonsense whatsoever. You don’t need to be an expert to know how and why Astrology is a load of nonsense, you do however need some prior knowledge to make statements about Astronomy. Notice the difference? One is talking about something that we have no good reason to believe, the other is talking about something with a wealth of material evidence that speaks for itself.

By contrast, there have been, and no doubt are still, competent atheists. If I were asked to name my favourite atheist, I would say David Hume. Hume was a thorough-going atheist, a man who on his deathbed declined the consolations of religion, saying: “I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire.”

Moreover, the atheist David Hume did not possess an irrational, inhumane, roaring opposition to men of faith. He was a close friend of that great English Christian, Samuel Johnson. Unlike Dawkins, Hume did not wish to obliterate Christianity from the public realm. Hume was guided by a conscience which was generous enough to understand that other men’s consciences may guide them differently.

This is called a decent tolerance and liberality – instincts which are alien to the secular bigot Dawkins.

I don’t think Dawkins wants to obliterate Christianity from the public realm, he just wants to ensure that it does not affect government policy, education and scientific advancement. Your argument from emotion seems to portray him as a person who wants to knock down all the Churches in Britain and lock up all the clergy – however, Dawkins is actually quite tolerant of religious people in general (although he has no qualms about telling you that he disagrees), he just takes a stand against the rising tide of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism.

Your inane rant didn’t actually address anything that Dawkins said in his article, you just entered into a blithering tirade against his character, with no attempt at even finding any examples to justify your attacks. I think the Telegraph should be ashamed to have such a reactionary and facile moron contributing to their blogs.

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On Education and Closed Doors

I left school at 16, and like most people of that age I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do in life. I decided that it would be a good idea to pursue a course in Art and Design for the simple reason that I was talented at drawing. There was nothing more to my decision than that, I no inclination to pursue a career in art – I just did it because  everyone else I knew was going to college, and because I was good at it. After studying at college, I decided to take a degree in Art.

 

For reasons I won’t go into too much detail over (basically the course was terrible) I decided to drop out after 2 years. I realised that I didn’t really want to be an artist and I had just gone down that path blindly in my youthful ignorance – it was pretty much a dead end. After a couple of years I started to realise where my true interests lie, in science, I spent a while working and spending most of my money on popular science books – and most of my spare time reading them. After being made redundant, I saw an opportunity to go back into education, and am now studying an access course in Natural Science.

 

Here’s where the problems come in, I realise that having already studied at HE level before my entitlement to tuition fee loans has decreased and I would only get funding for 2 years of a degree. I am expected to fund a whole years worth of tuition fees out of my own pocket. What with the tuition fee increase set for 2012 in the UK, my chances of being able to fund a years worth of tuition fees are slim to say the least. The door to university has been closed for me.

 

This makes me extremely angry. I know the standard response is that I should have completed my Art course, or not done it if I wanted to do science instead, but the whole problem starts with this expectation that a 16 year old should know precisely what they want to do with their lives. I had no clue what I wanted to do, I just went down a route because I was pressured to do something, so I chose an area in which I had a level of talent – there was nothing more to my decision than that. Once on a particular route the pressure is to carry on until you reach the end – so I persevered, until I got to the point where I realised that I didn’t actually want to do art for a living and that I had wasted a lot of money on a sub standard course. So now I have reached a level of maturity and have found something which I would really like to do with my life, I head down a different route and find the door slammed in my face.

 

I am sure there are many people in this a similar position. I think the first part of the problem is that 16 is far too young to be leaving school. Most 16 year-old people want to explore and learn about the social side of life, rather than make mature decisions about their future. Secondly the pressure that is put on you to make such decisions is not healthy, and causes people to decide rashly because they feel pressure to do something – even if they have not much of a clue what they would like to do. Thirdly this system of denying funding to those who, like me change their minds and want to do something different with their lives is destructive. Whilst I can understand that it is in place to prevent people from simply living at university for the rest of their lives, it allows no room for people like me, who are committed to undertaking a degree and making something of themselves – there must be many others in a similar position who under different circumstances might be able to contribute a lot to society, but have the door closed on them because they studied a degree in drama when they were young and had no clue what they really wanted to do. Finally the rise in tuition fees is obscene, and will deny many talented and driven people the opportunity to undertake higher education in their field of interest.

 

Thankfully I am currently exploring the option of studying with the Open University (which could potentially be a lot cheaper than a degree at university) – as well as looking into other things, so as yet the door is not locked shut, but I do find myself disheartened at the number of obstacles that stand between me and my ambitions.

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