bookmark_borderThe Slaughter of the Canaanites – The Grand Inquisitor Jones – Part 2

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

Carl Sandburg, in The People, Yes (1936)

One response to my sixty objections against Clay Jones’s attempt to defend Jehovah’s command to the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), is that my my objections “argue the law” thus betraying a reluctance to “argue the facts”.  There is some truth to this point.  I have indeed focused primarily on “arguing the law”.  That is because the laws of Jehovah are clearly sexist, arbitrary, unclear, and harsh (indicating that Jehovah was either stupid or unjust or both).
However, the FACTS are not especially on Jones’s side either.  Jones actually makes very little effort to “argue the facts”.  So I’m more than happy to shift gears for a bit and to show that Jones’s attempt to justify Jehovah’s command to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) fails even when the focus is placed on “arguing the facts”.
I will imagine that it is my own daughters (at ages 8 and 18) who are being charged with a sin or crime that Jones believes to be worthy of the death penalty.  I will imagine Clay Jones to present the case for convition and for the punishment of death (based on his comments in his article “Killing the Canaanites“), and I will imagine that it is my job to vigorously defend my daughters against the charges and the case made by Jones, to ensure that they are given a fair trial.
To emphasize the human fallibility of Christian religious leaders and authorities, I will refer to the character representing Clay Jones’s views as: GRAND INQUISITOR JONES (or GI Jones).  The title “Grand Inquisitor Jones” is to remind us that in the past Christians have practiced systematic terror and torture and murder of innocent men, women, and children for MANY centuries (i.e. the Inquisition), and that such  horrible crimes against humanity were authorized and justified by Christian leaders and Christian theologians for MANY centuries, thus firmly establishing beyond all reasonable doubt that Christian leaders and Christian theologians are fully capable of being morally blind leaders of morally blind Christian followers.
Grand Inquisitor Jones will be a “kinder and gentler” sort of Grand Inquisitor who does not torture the accused to obtain a “confession”.  GI Jones will, in a fair public trial, attempt to present a strong case based on objective empirical/historical evidence and good reasoning that is sufficient to convict my two daughters of the alleged sin or crime in question, like a prosecuting attorney in a criminal trial.
In Part 1, I presented a mini-trial of Lisa and Kathy conerning the charge of IDOLATRY.  Today, Grand Inquisitor Jones will take another swing at these two girls, arguing that they have committed the sin or crime of INCEST.

Judge:  The Grand Inquisitor Jones will now present his case against the accused, and then Bradley For the Defense will present objections and arguments defending the accused.

GI Jones:  Thank you, your honor.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: today I will present to you my case for the charge that Lisa (age 8) is guilty of the horrible crime or sin of INCEST, and for the charge that her older sister Kathy (age 18) is also guilty of this terrible crime or sin, and that because of this horrible sin or crime, they both deserve the penalty of DEATH; they both deserve to have their heads chopped off by a sword-wielding, Jehovah-worshiping soldier of the army of Israel.*

Lisa and Kathy have committed the crime or sin of INCEST.  I assure you that both of these wicked girls are Canaanites who were raised to worship the gods of the Canaanites. Like all Ancient Near East (ANE) pantheons, the Canaanite pantheon was incestuous. Baal has sex with his mother Asherah, his sister Anat, and his daughter Pidray, and none of this is presented pejoratively. Although early Canaanite laws proscribed either death or banishment for most forms of incest, after the fourteenth century BC, the penalties were reduced to no more than the payment of a fine. [The preceding italicized sentences are a quote from Clay Jones’s article.]

Since these two Canaanite girls have participated in worship of gods who engaged in incestuous sex, these two girls must have followed the example of their gods and also engaged in incestuous sex.  So, you must, on the basis of this fact, deliver a verdict of “Guilty” and condemn these evil and perverse girls to death by beheading.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury for your attention to my case for the guilt of Lisa and Kathy.

BFD:  What the hell!  Is this a joke?  I was expecting hours of testimony from multiple eyewitnesses, or at least a lengthy presentation of dozens of facts to make a circumstantial case for the guilt of the accused girls.  But instead we are offered a fifteen-second, guilt-by-association “argument”.  Grand Inquisitor Jones, have you no shame, sir?

The Grand Inquisitor has failed to cite the law that the defendants have violated, and the Grand Inquisitor has not even hinted at what he means by “the crime or sin of INCEST”, so we have no clear idea of what the defendants are being accused of doing, or whether the law even applies to these beautiful, charming, and intelligent girls.  Since the laws of Jehovah were directed to the men of Israel, the presumption is that any such laws do NOT apply to young girls who are Canaanites, not Israelites.

Though GI Jones has utterly failed to make a rational case against the defendants in terms of the alleged law against INCEST, let’s ignore that for the moment, and simply assume the common sense notion that the word “incest” means: having sexual intercourse with one’s parent, child, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent.

Since GI Jones has presented ZERO facts to show that either Lisa or Kathy have ever had sexual intercourse with ANYONE, there is no case here to consider.

All we have is GI Jones’ personal assertion that Lisa and Kathy “were raised to worship the gods of the Canaanites” and that some of the gods of the Canaanites engaged in incestuous sex.  So what?  The fact that they worshiped gods who were believed to have engaged in incestuous sex, does not mean that these girls had any interest or desire to engage in incestuous sex, nor does this show that they ever in fact engaged in incestuous sex.   One simply does not always do everything that one believes that a god has done.

The Israelites believed that Jehovah created the universe.  Does that mean that each and every Israelite has desired to create a universe?  Does that mean that each and every Israelite has tried to create a universe?  Of course not.  The Israelites believe that Jehovah caused a great flood that nearly destroyed all life on earth, except for a handful of people and a few hundred selected pairs of animals.  Does that mean that each and every Israelite has desired to cause a worldwide flood?  or desired to destroy virtually all life on this planet?  Does that mean that each and every Israelite has actually tried to cause a worldwide flood? or tried to destroy virtually all life on this planet?  Of course not.  The actions and behaviors of a god are NOT automatically taken to be an appropriate example for humans to try to imitate.

Grand Inquisitor Jones has already admitted this obvious point, and has admitted it specifically in relation to the issue of incest.  He himself points out that “early Canaanite laws proscribed either death or banishment for most forms of incest”.  So, it appears that early Canaanites, at least, did not take the incestuous sexual activity of some of their gods to be a model of behavior for them to follow. Furthermore, although the severe punishments of death and banishment were later replaced by fines, that still constitutes a PUNISHMENT, and still indicates that the Canaanites don’t view all activities by all of their gods as being an appropriate model for human behavior, just like Israelites don’t view all activities by Jehovah as being an appropriate model for human behavior.

Finally, even if it was true that Canaanites in general admired the engagement of their gods in incestuous sex, and even if Canaanites in general desired to engage in incestuous sex, and even if Canaanites in general have tried to engage in incestuous sex, this is NOT sufficient reason for convicting these two particular Canaanite girls and condemning them to have their heads chopped off!  At the most, GI Jones has shown that there is some modest probabiltiy that one or both of these two girls has committed the sin or crime of incest, but such a weak conclusion falls obviously and hopelessly short of the requirement that guilt be established beyond any reasonable doubt, especially in a capital case.

Let’s briefly consider each category of incest, in accordance with the above common-sense understanding of what “incest” means.

1.  Did either of these girls have sex with one of their parents?

First of all, there is nothing in the laws of Jehovah that prohibits a girl from having sex with her mother.  So, we can eliminate that issue right away.  Second of all, shockingly there is also no law of Jehovah that prohibits a father from having sex with his daughter.  That might well be the case because the laws of Jehovah are SEXIST, and daughters were considered to be the property of their fathers.  In any case, there is no such prohibition in the laws of Jehovah.  So, we can strike this first question as being irrelevant, because this court is only concerned with alleged violoations of the laws of Jehovah.

2. Did either of these girls have sex with one of their grandparents?

First of all, there is no law of Jehovah that prohibits a grandmother from having sex with her granddaughter, so we can immediately set aside that possibility as irrelevant.

Leviticus 18:10 does, however, prohibit a man from having sex with his granddaughter.

There are two obvious problems with applying this law to the accused Canaanite girls.  First of all, the death penalty was NOT assigned to this form of incest by the laws of Jehovah, so it would be UNJUST to implement the death penalty on these two girls for a violation of Leviticus 18:10.

Second of all, it seems fairly obvious that any punishment for violation of this law would be given to the grandfather who had sex with his granddaughter and NOT to the granddaughter, who in many cases would only be a child or a very young woman.  If the laws of Jehovah did require that BOTH grandfather and granddaughter be severely punished, that would be an obvious and grevious injustice, and would provide powerful evidence that Jehovah and his laws are UNJUST.  There is no good reason, however, to think that a granddaughter was supposed to be punished at all in such cases of incest.

Therefore, although it is possible that one or both of these two girls has engaged in incestuous sex with a grandparent, this would not be grounds for punishing these girls in any way.  Finally, Grand Inquisitor Jones has presented no specific facts showing that either of these girls has had sex with her grandfather.

3.  Did either of these girls have sex with one of her children?

At eight years of age, it is obvious that Lisa has not ever given birth to a child, so Lisa cannot have committed this form of incest.

Kathy is 18 years old, so it is biologically possible that she had a child at a very early age (say when she was 14 years old) and then recently had sex with her four year old child.  But I have placed into evidence sworn statements from Kathy’s parents and from Kathy’s physician stating that Kathy has never been pregnant and never given birth to a child.  Since Kathy has been living at home with her parents for her entire life (so far) , they would have known if she had become pregnant and given birth to a child, so we can rule out the possibility that Kathy has engaged in this form of incest.

There is no law of Jehovah that prohibits a mother from having sex with her daughter, so we can eliminate that possibility as irrelevant to this trial.

Because the laws of Jehovah are SEXIST, there is only a prohibition against a man having sex with his mother (Leviticus 18:7), and this law was directed to the MEN of Israel, not to the BOYS of Israel.  So, it is doubtful that this law prohibits sex between a young boy and his mother.

Furthermore, the death penalty was NOT assigned to this form of incest (it is only when a man has sex with “his father’s wife” that the death penalty is assigned–see Leviticus 20:11–in which case the woman might not be his biological mother and the act would be punishable as a form of adultery), so it would be UNJUST to condemn either of these girls to death for violation of this law of Jehovah.

4. Did either of these girls have sex with one of her siblings?

I have placed into evidence sworn statements from the father and mother of these girls that they have no other children besides these two girls, and that they never have had any other children, even with other partners.  Therefore, there are no other siblings, and thus these girls do not have a brother.

The only way that it would be possible for these girls to have sex with a sibling would be to have had sex with each other.  No evidence has been presented to this court indicating that they have had sex with each other, so there is no evidence that they have committed this form of incest.

Furthermore, the laws of Jehovah are SEXIST, and so they only prohibit a man from having sex with his sister (Leviticus 20:17).  There is no law of Jehovah that prohibits a girl or a woman from having sex with her sister.  Thus, even if it could be proven that these girls had sex with each other, that would NOT be a violation of a law of Jehovah.  This court is only concerned with violations of the laws of Jehovah.

Finally, although it is clear that it is not possible for either Lisa or Kathy to have had sex with a brother, since they don’t have a brother, even if it were shown that they had a brother and had sex with him, that particular form of incest was NOT assigned the death penalty in the laws of Jehovah.

5. Did either of these girls have sex with one of her grandchildren?

Since neither girl has ever given birth to a child, it is clear that the answer to this question is: NO.

There is no law of Jehovah prohibiting a grandmother from having sex with her granddaughter, so that form of incest is irrelevant to this court.

Furthermore, since the laws of Jehovah were directed to the MEN of Israel, it is unclear whether the laws of Jehovah prohibit a BOY from having sex with his grandmother.

It is also UNCLEAR who would be punished in such a case, since in the case of a grandfather having sex with his granddaughter it would presumably be the grandfather who was punshed and not the granddaughter.  However, the SEXIST nature of the laws of Jehovah suggest that it might be the BOY who was to be punished in the case of sex between a grandmother and her grandson.  The laws of Jehovah are simply too UNCLEAR on this point to justify a severe punishment, even if guilt could be established, which it cannot be in the case of these two girls.

Finally, even in the case of a grandfather having sex with his granddaughter, the death penalty was NOT assigned to that sin or crime, so it would be UNJUST to impose the death penalty on these two girls on the basis of an anaologous charge, even if their guilt could be proven, which it cannot be, since they have never had any children.

In conclusion, we have examined the five basic kinds of incest, in accordance with this common-sense understanding of the meaning of the word “incest”: having sexual intercourse with one’s parent, child, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent.

In NO CASE did we find a specific kind of incest in which all three of the following requirements were met:

(1) the specific kind of incest in question was prohibited by a law of Jehovah, AND

(2) the death penalty was assigned for that specific kind of incest by the laws of Jehovah, AND

(3) the factual evidence presented here by GI Jones proves beyond a reasonable doubt that one or both of these two girls had engaged in that specific kind of incest.

Because these three conditions have not been met for ANY of the five different kinds of incest, you must return a verdict of NOT GUILTY.

Please return a verdict of NOT GUILTY for the two beautiful, charming, intelligent, and loving girls who are standing at my side today.  There have been no specific facts or evidence presented by the Grand Inquisitor Jones showing that they have engaged in any kind of incest prohibited by the laws of Jehovah and punishable by the death penalty.  Let there be no chopping off heads today; declare Lisa and Kathy NOT GUILTY.

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* I do have children, but the names and ages given here are not the actual names and ages of my children.

bookmark_borderWhat is Atheism? – Part 2

Levels of Analysis

I’m going to make a second attempt to clarify and define the word “atheism”.  This time, I will emphasize that the analysis and definitions exist at different levels.  Swinburne’s clarification and analysis of “God exists” makes use of different levels of definition or analysis:
Level 0:  “God exists.”
Level 1:  God exists IF AND ONLY IF exactly one divine person exists.
Level 2:  X is a divine person IF AND ONLY IF X is a spirit who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly morally good, the creator of the universe, and a source of moral obligations for human beings.
 
Level 3: X is a spirit IF AND ONLY IF X is a bodiless person.
Level 3:  Person P is a perfectly morally good person IF AND ONLY IF  P is so constituted that P always chooses to do the best action when there is a best action, or one equal best action when there are  two or more equal best actions available, or a good action when there is no best or equal best action, and P never chooses to do a bad action.
Level 3:  X is eternally Y IF AND ONLY IF  X has characteristic Y at every moment in the past, and X has characteristic Y now, and X has characteristic Y at every moment in the future.
In Level 1, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words or phrases in Level 0.  In Level 2, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words used in the definition in Level 1.  In Level 3, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words used in the definitions in Level 2, and so on…
I am not saying that this is a good or correct analysis of “God exists” , just that I think it is a good idea or strategy to analyze complex ideas this way, with levels of definition or analysis.  One advantage is that we might be able to arrive at agreement more easily at the lower levels (such as at Level 1 or Level 2) than at the higher levels (such as Level 3 or higher), and that would still be progress worth making.
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Atheism is Opposition to Theism

Etymology does NOT determine the meaning or use of a word.  However, in the case of the word “atheism”, etymology does reflect the basic logic of the word.  Atheism is in opposition to theism.  Roughly speaking, an atheist is someone who REJECTS or DENIES theism.  The concept of atheism is logically dependent on the concpet of theism.  One can know what “atheism” means only if one knows what “theism” means.
Just as theism is an intellectual position, so atheism is an intellectual position.  It is a common mistake to think that “atheism” refers to the lack or absence of theistic belief.  Newborn babies lack theistic belief, but that does not mean that newborn babies are atheists.  Newborn babies are neither thesits nor atheists nor agnostics.  Newborn babies do not have an intellectual position about the existence of “God” or about the existence of “gods”.
Cats and dogs lack theistic belief, but neither cats nor dogs are atheists.  Cats and dogs have no intellectual position on the question “Does God exist?” nor on the question “Do any gods exist?”   Cats and dogs are neither theists, nor atheists, nor agnostics.  Rocks and trees lack theistic belief, but rocks and trees are NOT atheists.  Rocks and trees do not have an intellectual position on the question of the existence of God, or gods.  Rocks and trees are neither theists, nor atheists, nor agnostics.
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The Ambiguity of the Word “Theism”

But the word “theism” is somewhat unclear and problematic, which in turn makes the word “atheism” somewhat unclear and problematic.   First of all, “theism” is an ambiguous word:

theism

n. Belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world.
(The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition)
Sometimes “theism” is used in a broader sense that refers to belief in any sort of god or gods.   Sometimes the word “theism” is used in a narrow sense that refers to traditional western theism (the dictionary speaks of belief in “a personal God as creator…”).  To be clear about which of these senses one intends, we can use adjectives to qualify the term “theism”.
traditional western theism – the belief that God exists (where this belief is understood in keeping with the  traditional concept of God found in the three major western religions).
general theism – the belief that one or more gods exist.
Because there are two differnent senses of the word “theism”, there are two different senses of the word “atheism” that correspond to those two senses of “theism”:
weak atheism – the rejection of traditional western theism.
strong atheism – the rejection of general theism.
If one rejects general theism, then this implies that one ought to also reject traditional western theism.  If one rejects the claim that “There is at least one god”, then one ought to also reject the claim “God exists”, because “God exists” logically implies that “There is at least one god.”  Therefore, if one accepts strong atheism, then one ought also to accept weak atheism, because strong atheism logically implies weak atheism.
But one can reject traditional western theism without rejecting general theism.  One could, for example, reject the claim “God exists” because one believes that the concept of “God” contains a contradiction (say, between the divine attribute of omniscience and the divine attribute of perfect goodness), but have no similar objection to the concept of a “god”, and thus not reject general theism.  Thus it is possible to accept weak atheism without accepting strong atheism.
Given the disambiguation of “theism” and the corresponding disambiguation of “atheism”, it follows that one can be both a theist and an atheist without self-contradiction.  One could accept weak atheism (and thus reject traditional western theism) while also accepting general theism, by believing in the existence of one or more (finite) gods.  For example, if a person believes that Zeus exists, then that person believes that “There is at least one god” (namely Zeus), but that person might also REJECT traditional western theism, and thus reject the claim that “God exists”.  Such a person would accept weak atheism and also accept general theism.  Therefore, such a person would be both an atheist (in accepting weak atheism) and also a theist (in accepting general theism).
Here are some general advantages to the above proposed terminology:
1. It  encompasses the insight that  atheism is an intellectual position, and avoids the common mistake of viewing atheism as being merely the lack or absence of a particular belief.
2. It recognizes the ambiguity of the word “theism” and avoids confusion and equivocation by the use of adjectives to clarify which of the two senses of the word is intended.
3. It recognizes the logical dependency of the concept of  “atheism” on the concept of “theism” by creating a set of two categories of “atheism” corresponding to the two categories of “theism”.
4. The use of the word “rejection” (as opposed to “denial” or “negation” or “false”) allows the term “atheism” to include skeptics who deny that the claim “God exists” makes a statement that could be true or false.  Some skeptical philosophers assert that the sentence “God exists” does not express a true statement, and also does not express a false statement.  But such a view can be understood as a “rejection” of traditional western theism.  This also allows for atheists who reject the claim “God exists” not because they are convinced that the claim is false, but because they are not convinced that it is true.  Many atheists assert that the evidence for the claim “God exists” is too weak to justify acceptance of this belief.  Such atheists admit that the claim “God exists” might turn out to be true, but that we ought to reject this claim unless and until someone provides solid evidence for the truth of the claim.
5. Distinguishing different forms of “atheism” would be useful for making the point that everyone, or nearly every sane adult, is an atheist, in the sense that nearly every sane adult rejects belief in one or more gods.  Christians, for example, generally reject belief in Zeus and in the other gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons.  These Greek and Roman gods lack the infinite and unlimited characteristics of the God of traditional western theism.  So, we could define a specific category of theism in which a person believes in one or more finite gods, gods who lack one of more of the following attributes:  (a) eternally omnipotent, (b) eternally omniscient, (c) eternally perfectly morally good, (d) the creator of the universe, (e) a source of moral obligations for human beings.  Let’s call this “finite theism”.  Christians reject finite theism, and thus Christians could be categorized as holding the position of “finite atheism” – the rejection of finite theism.
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Varieties of Unbelief

I have previously focused in on two varieties of unbelief:
1. Belief that “God exists” makes a false statement.
2. Belief that “God exists” does not make a true statement and does not make a false statement (because it does not make any statement at all).
But there are various sorts of unbelief/atheism.  Some atheists say that the belief that “God exists” should be rejected because…

  • it is certainly false
  • it is can be proven to be false
  • it can be proven that it does not make any sort of statement
  • it is probably false
  • it probably does not make any sort of statement
  • it has not been proven to be true
  • it is not provable
  • it is not a scientifically testable belief
  • it is not subject to empirical confirmation or disconfirmation
  • the evidence for it is too weak to justify belief 
  • the word “God” is too unclear and ambiguous to allow for a rational evaluation of this claim

There are a wide variety of reasons for rejecting the belief that “God exists”, but so long as one is aware of the view or belief that “God exists” and one chooses to not accept that view or belief, then that constitutes REJECTION of the belief and thus is a form of atheism.
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Levels of Analysis of Atheism

Level 0:  Person P holds the intellectual position of weak atheism.
Level 0: Person P holds the intellectual position of strong atheism.
 
Level 1:  Person P holds the intellectual position of weak atheism IF AND ONLY IF person P rejects traditional western theism.
Level 1: Person P holds the intelletual position of strong atheism IF AND ONLY IF person P rejects general theism.
 
Level 2: Person P rejects view V IF AND ONLY IF person P is aware of veiw V and P has chosen to not accept view V.
Level 2: Person P accepts traditional western theism IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that God exists, where this belief is understood in keeping with the traditional concept of God as found in the three major western religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
Level 2: Person P accepts general theism IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that one or more gods exist.
 
Level 3:  Person P believes that God exists, where this belief is understood in keeping with the traditional concept of God as found in the three major western religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that there is exactly one divine person.
 
Level 4:  Person P believes that there is exactly one divine person IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that there is exacly one spirit who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly morally good, the creator of the universe, and a source of moral obligations for human beings.
 
Level 5:  X is a spirit IF AND ONLY IF X is a bodiless person.
Level 5:  X is eternally Y IF AND ONLY IF  X has characteristic Y at every moment in the past, and X has characteristic Y now, and X has characteristic Y at every moment in the future.
We do not have to arrive at agreement at Level 4 or Level 5 in order to make intellectual progress on clarification and analysis of “atheism”.
If we can arrive at agreement at Level 2 or Level 3, that will still be some significant intellectual progress.
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Counterexamples to My Previously Proposed Definitions

My previous proposals have run into a couple of powerful counterexamples.  Here are the definitions that I originally proposed:

DEF4A

Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “God exists” does NOT express a true statement.

DEF4B

Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “One or more gods exist” does NOT express a true statement.

 One counterexample stems from the fact that I am pointing to sentences in the English language.  But there are atheists who do not speak or understand the English language.  Some atheists might only understand French or German or Spanish.  Such a person would presumably have no opinion about whether the sentence “God exists” expresses a true statement, or even whether it expresses any statement at all.
Another counterexample stems from the fact that people can have a mistaken understanding or interpretation of a particular sentence in English, even if that person has a general understanding of the English language.  Suppose that someone who understood English had very limited exposure to western religions and interpreted the sentence “God exists” to mean “there is life after death”.  If this person believed there was no such thing as life after death, then this person would believe that the sentence “God exists” does  NOT express a true statement.  Yet this person might well believe that God exists while denying that there is life after death.  In that case, this person would NOT be correctly categorized as a “weak atheist”.

bookmark_borderScientific Evidence Against God’s Existence: A Reply to Joe Hinman

In response to my recent blog post, “Six Findings from Experimental Science that Disconfirm Theism,” Joe Hinman (aka Metacrock) recently posted a rebuttal on his blog ‘AtheistWatch.’
1. His post begins with a graphic which shows two pie charts, one showing the distribution of different religious beliefs among the general public and one showing that same distribution among scientists. There are many things which could be said about that topic, but I’m going to pass over that since (1) Hinman doesn’t appeal to the graphic in the text of his post; and (2) the (un)popularity of religious belief among the general public (or among scientists) is not, by itself, of obvious relevance to God’s existence. The popularity of theism among the general public is no better evidence for God’s existence than is the widespread lack of theistic belief among scientists as evidence against God’s existence: neither fact provides any evidence at all for or against God’s existence.
2. Hinman next proceeds to make some preliminary comments about my abductive arguments (or, as I prefer to call them, “evidential” or “explanatory” arguments) against theism. As I read him, his first point is this:

But we must weigh the value of those concepts that are best explained by naturalism against the value of those best explained by theism.

If we are trying to arrive at a final estimate of the probability of naturalism or theism by considering all of the evidence, then I agree with Hinman. (I would replace “the value of those concepts” with “the evidential force of those facts” in that sentence of his.) This isn’t of obvious relevance to my blog post, however, since I wasn’t trying to do that. Rather, my claim was more modest: I simply claimed that six findings from experimental science are more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
3. Hinman’s next point seems to be that:

there is a difference in “disconfirm theism” and “best explained by naturalism.” The latter is not proof, it’s a form of inference used when proof is not forthcoming. The former implies actual disproof of theism. My argument will be that neither is the case, except maybe in some instances where we understand the naturalistic reasons better, but they don’t out weigh the instances where theism is the better explanation.

First, we can quickly dispatch Hinman’s point about “proof.” Whereas I have offered a detailed, explicit explanation of what I mean by evidence (see here), he doesn’t explicitly say what he means by “proof.” He seems (?) to have in mind something stronger than evidence, perhaps such as the kind of “proof” one reads in a mathematics textbook, where the conclusion is absolutely certain. I don’t claim to “disprove” God’s existence in that sense. I think a charitable reading of my post (and the other posts linked from it) is that by “disconfirm” I mean “provide evidence against.”
Second, I didn’t claim that naturalism is the “best” explanation for these six facts, although I suspect it is. Rather, I claimed that naturalism is a “better” explanation than theism for those six facts. I trust the importance of this distinction will be obvious to the reader.
Third, all of my explanatory arguments follow the same pattern or have the same logical form.

1. F is known to be true, i.e., Pr(F) is close to 1.

2. Theism is not intrinsically much more probable than naturalism, i.e., Pr(|T|) is not much more than Pr(|N|).

3. Pr(F | N & B) > Pr(F | T & B).

4. Other evidence held equal, theism is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | B & F) < 0.5.

So when I say that some finding from experimental science “disconfirms” theism, I mean that there is an argument, of the form listed above, where F represents that finding from experimental science.
In response to arguments of this form, it is irrelevant to make objections of the form, “But F is logically compatible with T!” Indeed, to make such an objection is to miss the point. The whole point of evidential or explanatory arguments is to grant, at least for the sake of argument if not in fact, that F is logically compatible with rival hypotheses but more probable on one than on the other. And yet Hinman makes this fundamental blunder in his reply to some of my arguments.
In reply to my first argument, he asks, “Why can’t God create the universe with time as opposed to in time?” But that argument doesn’t claim that God cannot create the universe with time. Rather, it simply claims that the universe’s beginning with time is more probable on naturalism than on theism.
Similarly, in response to the argument from biological evolution, he writes, “No reason why God could not use evolution as a mechanism.” Again, Hinman points out that a finding from experimental science is logically compatible with theism and, again, I reply that he’s missed the point of explanatory arguments in general and this argument in particular. Yes, God could have used evolution. God also could have used other methods to create life besides evolution, methods which are logically incompatible with naturalism. Prior to examining the scientific evidence for evolution, theists had good reason to predict that evolution is false. In contrast, if naturalism is true, evolution pretty much has to be true. (I’ll say a little bit more about this in a moment.)
4. Hinman seems to misunderstand what I mean by “theism.” He writes:

One other preliminary point. This is not an attack on Jeff. The assumptions he seems to makes behind each of these points is that theism us [sic] represented by fundamentalism of the YEC kind. I’, [sic] basic liberal or perhaps neo-Orthodox, so these things don’t pertain to what I think of as theism. I understand he was answering a creationist so of course he makes that assumption. Not a criticism. 

Contrary to what Hinman claims, however, I don’t think theism is “represented by fundamentalism of the YEC kind.” The idea that Hinman brings YEC into the discussion strikes me as odd, since nowhere in my post did I even mention the age of the universe. I think it’s charitable to assume that what Hinman really means is that I think theism is “represented by fundamentalism of the anti-evolution kind,” i.e., the kind of theist who denies what Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper calls the “genealogical” and “genetic” theses (see here for definitions and references). This interpretation would be more understandable since I do appeal to evolution against theism. He’s wrong to conclude, however, that my appeal to evolution presupposes that theism = fundamentalist, anti-evolution theism. (More on that in just a moment.)
In fact, following Draper (see references here), I define theism as follows:

supernatural person: a person that is not part of nature but can affect natureExamples of supernatural persons include God, angels, Satan, demons, ghosts, etc.
theism: the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person (God) who created the universe. 

Since my definition of theism is so generic, it is obviously logically compatible with a belief in theistic evolution. So why, then, do I argue that evolution is evidence against theism? Hinman needs to read the section, “Evaluating Auxiliary Hypotheses,” in my essay, “Basic Structure of My Evidential Arguments.” If both God and life exist, then God either directly created life (aka so-called “special creationism”) or He indirectly created life (through either guided evolution [“theistic evolution”] or unguided evolution [“Darwinism”]). These options are auxiliary hypotheses to theism. As Draper has shown, the auxiliary hypothesis of special creationism is antecedently much more probable on theism than either the auxiliary hypothesis of theistic evolution or the auxiliary hypothesis of Darwinism. (Skip down to the section “Draper’s Defense of A” in this post.)
5. I’m going to stop my reply to Hinman here, at least for now. I’ve left some of his objections unaddressed, but for now I’ll just say this. I think that if you follow the links in my original post to my other posts which defend these arguments in much greater length, you’ll find that I’ve already addressed most, if not all, of his remaining objections.

bookmark_borderSix Findings from Experimental Science Which Disconfirm Theism

This post is a sequel to my 2013 post, “Scientific Discoveries, Theism, and Atheism: Reply to Wintery Knight.” In that post, I showed:

  1. Wintery Knight misuses the word “compatible” when he he claims that “four basic pieces of scientific evidence” are “more compatible with theism than atheism.”
  2. The creation/design hypothesis is, at best, an incomplete explanation for his four putative lines of evidence. Or to put the point another way, in the words of Sean Carroll, the creation/design hypothesis “not well-defined.”
  3. Wintery Knight is uncharitable to atheists and atheism because he consistently interacts with weak objections to his arguments, while ignoring the stronger objections defended by atheist scholars, especially atheist philosophers of religion.
  4. Wintery Knight commits the fallacy of understated evidence.

Since Wintery Knight reposted his original 2013 post on experimental science and atheism–apparently with no edits whatsoever–I decided to post a follow-up reply. Here are six lines of experimental, scientific evidence which are better explained by naturalism than by theism.

  1. The universe began to exist with time, not in time.
  2. So much of the universe is hostile to life.
  3. Complex living things are the gradually modified descendants of simpler living things.
  4. All non-question-begging examples of minds are minds dependent upon a physical brain. (Similarly, excluding examples of so-called “complex specified information” allegedly related to intelligent design, all other examples of complex specified information involve a mind dependent on a physical brain.)
  5. Pain and pleasure appear to play a biological, not a moral, role in the lives of sentient organisms.
  6. Only a fraction of living things, including the majority of sentient beings, thrive. In other words, very few living things have an adequate supply of food and water, are able to reproduce, avoid predators, and remain healthy. An even smaller fraction of organisms thrive for most of their lives. Almost no organisms thrive for all of their lives.

Furthermore, in addition to these six lines of evidence, we have a seventh piece of evidence (really, meta-evidence): the history of science and the success of naturalistic explanations. Like the first six lines of evidence, this fact is also antecedently more probable on naturalism than on theism.
While I like Wintery Knight as a person, I’m sorry to say that his latest blog post–like many of his blog posts and like the writings of many apologists–is an example of what I have elsewhere called “obnoxious apologetics.” Let’s review.

Like many (but not all) of those other books in the apologetics genre, the basic approach [of obnoxious apologetics] seems to be the following.

  1. Present and defend the author’s preferred view as favorably as possible.
  2. Represent opposing views as unfavorably as possible.
  3. Reach the remarkable conclusion that–surprise, surprise–the author’s view is true.
  4. Suggest that anyone who disagrees is ignorant, irrational, or has ulterior (non-rational) motives.

The problem with obnoxious apologetics, which seems to afflict as many atheist apologists as theist apologists, is that it’s a fatally flawed way to search for truth. If our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth–and it should be–then the above approach is what not to do. Rather, if our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth, then our basic approach should be to represent opposing views fairly, in the best possible light, and interact with the best arguments both for and against the different viewpoints.

 

bookmark_borderAn Example of Why Atheists Need to do Effective Counter-Apologetics and an Example of How Not to Do That

1. An Example of Why Atheists Need to do Effective Counter-Apologetics
You could call this post a sequel to my earlier post, “On Caring about Whether Other People Become Naturalists.”
Christian apologist Greg Koukl has released a video arguing that, yes, atheists suppress the truth in unrighteousness. For those of us who are familiar with the Christian apologetics literature, it will come as no surprise that Koukl states that Romans 1 teaches this position, a position which Randal Rauser has called the “Rebellion Thesis.” I am no Biblical scholar, but if I were to attempt to translate that meme from ‘Christianese’ into ordinary English, it is roughly the position that atheists intentionally suppress the truth of God’s existence because they are in rebellion against God and want to live a sinful lifestyle.
While I don’t care that much about whether other people become naturalists, I care much more about people who harbor the prejudice that the Rebellion Thesis are true, since that prejudice is harmful to naturalists and atheists. We are fortunate, therefore, that Randal Rauser has directly challenged Koukl online. (See also the combox on Koukl’s website for an exchange between Rauser and someone who appears to agree with Koukl.)
Of course, atheists cannot and should not rely upon a lone Christian scholar to combat this prejudice, as helpful and welcome as his efforts are. Atheists also need to provide examples of why the Rebellion Thesis is false through their own examples. Part of this is by striving to be as moral as possible and part of this is by doing (or supporting) effective counter-apologetics. This leads to my second example (and point).
2. An Example of How Not to Do Counter-Apologetics
Some atheists seem to be opposed to the very idea of counter-apologetics for the same reason they are opposed to the very idea of even using the label “atheist”: they think it gives theism credibility it does not deserve. They dismiss things such as counter-apologetics as ‘god-bothering’ and, as the pejorative term suggests, they argue that atheists (of all people) should stop ‘god-bothering.’ With all due respect to such atheists, I find such notions to be out of touch with reality. The scientific evidence suggests that humans have a widespread tendency to form beliefs about invisible agents, including gods. (And notice this is true even if–especially if–God does not exist.) I can think of no reason to think such tendencies will go away with a contemptuous sneer.
Not all atheists refuse to do counter-apologetics, however. In fact, one might argue that some of the atheists in the first group, when they let their guard down, will occasionally do counter-apologetics. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, that often the same atheists who are so dismissive of theism tend to use such awful arguments and objections against it. In a sense, this is understandable. If you’ve concluded that belief X is not only false but stupid or even irrational, then you’re unlikely to spend much if any time trying to understand the best arguments for X. Furthermore, you just might come across as rude or patronizing when talking or writing about X.
Jerry Coyne’s recent diatribe against Catholic philosopher Edward Feser is an example of this. Feser has replied to Coyne. If I were to sum up Feser’s reply in one word, it would be, “Ouch!” I think Feser’s reply is simply devastating to Coyne and I found myself in agreement with most of his points.
But rather than pursue that line of thought, instead I want to offer some positive advice. To provide an atheist twist on another Bible verse often quoted in the Christian apologetics literature (1 Peter 3:15), atheists need to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks to give the reason for why you are a naturalist or an atheist, but do this with gentleness and respect.” To this I would add (but not nearly as eloquently), “And if addressing the arguments or objections of someone who disagrees with you, be informed about their actual position, arguments, and objections.” (Cf. a related comment by Erik Wielenberg on the ‘Courtier’s Reply’ here.)

bookmark_borderWhat is Philosophy? – Part 1

The question “What is philosophy?” is an important question.  One reason this question is important is that we must answer this question FIRST, before we can answer any of the following questions:
Q1. Is philosophy a legitimate academic discipline?
Q2. Is philosophy useful?
Q3. Can investigation/inquiry/argumentation in philosophy produce answers to significant questions?
Q4. Can any significant claims be proven or shown to be more reasonable than their denial by use of the methods, tools, and/or principles of philosophy?
Q5. Is the philosophy of religion a legitimate academic discipline?
In other words, we have to have a clear idea of what we mean by the word “philosophy” before we can be confident in making any sort of general evaluation of the value or usefulness or academic legitimacy of philosophy.  I’m assuming the following intellectual principle:
P1: Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.
It seems to me, that we are IMMEDIATELY thrust into a bit of a logical bind here.  How can we determine an answer to the important and basic question “What is philosophy?” ?  This is itself a philosophical question.  In fact, it is a paradigm case of a philosophical question.  This question is analogous to a whole series of similar questions, all of which are paradigm cases of philosophical questions:
Q6. What is history?
Q7. What is science?
Q8. What is mathematics?
Q9. What is art?
Q10. What is literature?
Q11. What is biology?
Q12. What is psychology?
Question Q6 is NOT an historical question.  We can ask historical questions about the practice or development of “history” and “historical inquiry”,  but such questions require or presuppose some understanding of what we mean by the word “history”.  We cannot get started investigating the history of the discipline of history until we first have arrived at some level of clarity about what we mean by “history”.  This is a task for phillosophy.   Historians are welcome to investigate this philosophical issue, but when they do so, they are no longer doing history; they are doing philosophy.
Question Q7 is NOT a scientific question.  We can formulate scientific hypotheses and theories about the conduct or development of science, but such hypotheses and theories require or presuppose some understanding of what we mean by the word “science”.  We cannot get started on a scientific investigation into science until we first have arrived at some level of clarity about what we mean by “science”.  This is a task for philosophy.  Scientists are welcome to investigate this philosophical issue, but when they do so, they are no longer doing science; they are doing philosophy.
IMHO, the same reasoning applies to philosophy, except that we CAN do a philosophical investigation into the meaning of the word “philosophy”.  Although historical inquiry cannot, by itself, arrive at a clear understanding of the concept of “history”, and scientific investigation cannot, by itself, arrive at a clear understanding of the concept of “science”,  philosophical investigation CAN arrive at a clear understanding of the concept of “philosophy”.
But, suppose that I am mistaken.  Suppose that philosophy is useless and that no conclusions of philosophical investigation are ever proven or shown to be more reasonable than alternative views.
In that case, we are led to skepticism about not only the legitimacy of the discipline of philosophy, but to skepticism about the legitimacy of all other academic disciplines, including history, science, biology, mathematics, art, literature, and psychology.
If philosophy cannot help us to clarify basic concepts like “history”, “science”, “mathematics”, “biology”, and “art”, and “psychology”, then we literally don’t know what we are talking about when we assert claims like the following:
C1.  History is a legitimate academic discipline.
C2. Biology is a legitimate academic discipline.
C3. Mathematics is a legitimate academic discipline.
C4. Psychology is a legitimate academic discipline.
Even if historical investigation or scientific investigation could potentially help to prove one of these claims, or could show one of these claims to be more reasonable than the denial of that claim, we cannot make use of history or science without FIRST establishing what is meant by “history” or “biology” or “mathematics” or “psychology”.
One could, of course, simply stipulate a defintion for a word (like “psychology”) that refers to an alleged academic discipline, but that would be, apart from philosophical investigation and argumentation, a purely arbitrary and rationally unsupported starting point for scientific or historical investigation into that academic discipline.
Thus, it seems to me that unless we start out with the PRESUMPTION that philosophy can help us to clarify the meanings of words or basic concepts, there is no hope of ever establishing claims C1, C2, C3, or C4.  One must simply assume that philosophical investigation is possible, and make the effort to clarify the key concepts in these claims.  Only if one can acheive some significant degree of success in this task of conceptual analysis and clarification, will one be able to prove one of these claims, or be able to show that such a claim is more reasonable than its denial.
To be continued….

bookmark_borderThe Slaughter of the Canaanites – The Grand Inquisitor Jones

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

Carl Sandburg, in The People, Yes (1936)

One response to my sixty objections against Clay Jones’s attempt to defend Jehovah’s command to the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), is that my my objections “argue the law” thus betraying a reluctance to “argue the facts”, perhaps because the facts tend to support Jones’s view of the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) rather than my view of this matter.
There is some truth to this point.  I have indeed focused primarily on “arguing the law”.  That is because the laws of Jehovah are Male-Cattle CRAP (indicating that Jehovah was either stupid or unjust or both).
Jehovah’s laws are, in general, VAGUE and would be tossed out in modern courts on the basis of the legal principle of “Void for Vagueness”.  Jehovah’s laws, in general, fail to clearly specify the conduct that is prohibited and to clearly specify the punishment that is appropriate for specific violations.  Furthermore, although Jehovah’s laws are somewhat clear in specifying the scope of people to whom those laws apply, the scope is, in general, implied to be: the men of Israel, and thus applying these laws to Canaanites (men, women, and children) would be an injustice, and since the punishment in question is SEVERE (i.e. the death penalty), applying these laws to Canaanites (men, women, and children) would be a GREAT injustice.
Clay Jones does not “argue the law” because the law is against him.  It is against him, because the laws of Jehovah are sexist, cruel, harsh, and vague.  That is why Jones does not bother to “argue the law” and why I have chosen to focus in on the injustice inherent in the laws of Jehovah.
However, the FACTS are not especially on Jones’s side either.  Jones actually makes very little effort to “argue the facts”.  Jones fails to heed the sound advice of William Lane Craig on this matter:
 Far from being easy, historical apologetics, if done right, is every bit as difficult as philosophical apologetics.  The only reason most people think historical apologetics to be easier is because they do it superficially.  …if we are to do a credible job in our apologetics, we need to do the hard thinking and the hard work required… (Apologetics: An Introduction, p.166, Moody Press, 1984)
In failing to make a serious effort to argue the facts, Jones follows the wide path of INTELLECTUAL SLOTH layed out by numerous Christian apologists for the past several centuries. He and most of his fellow Christian apologists fail to take seriously the need for careful, objective, scholarship when it comes to historical claims.  Perhaps this is the consequence of too much “preaching to the choir” by Christian apologists.
Although “arguing the law” was easy for me on the issue of the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children), Clay Jones has done such a poor and pathetic job of “arguing the facts” that I’m more than happy to shift gears for a bit and to show that Jones’s attempt to justify Jehovah’s command to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) fails even when the focus is placed on “arguing the facts”.
In response  to the potential complaint that I have previously placed too much focus on “arguing the law”, in this post I plan to focus more on factual issues, and put less emphasis on “arguing the law”.
In order to help readers to resist the temptation to think in an overly abstract and cold-hearted manner, I’m going to personalize the discussion here.  I will imagine that it is my own daughters (at ages 8 and 18) who are being charged with a sin or crime that Jones believes to be worthy of the death penalty.  I will imagine Clay Jones to present the case for convition and for the punishment of death (based on his comments in his article “Killing the Canaanites”), and I will imagine that it is my job to vigorously defend my daughters against the charges and the case made by Jones, to ensure that they are given a fair trial.
To emphasize the human fallibility of Christian religious leaders and authorities, I will refer to the character representing Clay Jones’s views as: GRAND INQUISITOR JONES (or GI Jones).  I will refer to myself as:  BRADLEY FOR THE DEFENSE (or BFD).  The original, historical Grand Inquisitors tortured innocent men, women, and children to get them to confess to various sins or heretical beliefs.  In giving the Jones character the title “Grand Inquisitor” I am NOT implying that Clay Jones is so morally corrupt and depraved as to willingly engage in the torture of men, women, or children to extract confessions of sin or heresy from them.  I assume that Jones would view such an idea as morally repugnant.
Thus Grand Inquisitor Jones will be a “kinder and gentler” sort of Grand Inquisitor.  GI Jones will, in a fair public trial, attempt to present a strong case based on objective empirical/historical evidence and good reasoning that is sufficient to convict my two daughters of the alleged sin or crime in question, like a prosecuting attorney in a criminal trial.
My primary point in giving the prosecutor the title “Grand Inquisitor Jones” is to remind Jones and readers of this post that in the past Christians have practiced systematic terror and torture and murder of innocent men, women, and children for MANY centuries, and that such  horrible crimes against humanity were authorized and justified by Christian leaders and Christian theologians for MANY centuries, thus firmly establishing beyond all reasonable doubt that Christian leaders and Christian theologians are fully capable of being morally blind leaders of morally blind Christian followers.
Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of an important phase in the history of the Christian religion…
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Let us imagine a traveler in the city of Rome when the Renaissance was in full flower, a pilgrim or a merchant or a diplomat.  He seeks out the chapel near St. Peter’s Basilica where the Pieta of Michelangelo is now on display, and he spends a few moments admiring the sublime depiction of the body of the slain Jesus in the lap of his grieving mother.  Pieta means “pity,” and the scene is rendered with exquisite tenderness and profound compassion. …
At the very same moment, however, and not far away, hooded men in dungeons lit only by torches–henchmen of what would come to be called the Roman and Universal Inquisition–are applying instruments of torture to the naked bodies of men and women whose only crime is to have entertained some thought that the Church regarded as heretical.  The victims’ cries, faint and distant, reach the ears of the traveler who gazes in prayerful silence at the Pieta… . Yet the torturers are wholly without pity, and they work in the sure conviction  that the odor of the charred flesh of heretics is “delectable to the Holy Trinity and the Virgin.”   (The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God, by Jonathan Kirsch, p.1-2, HarperCollins, 2008)
The long history of the Inquisition can be conveniently divided into three phases.  The medieval Inquisition, which functioned across western Europe for a couple of hundred years starting in the early thirteenth century, finished off the Cathars and then expanded its scope of operations to include a miscellaneous assortment of accused heretics, ranging from radical Franciscan priests to women accused of witchcraft.  The Spanish Inquisition was franchised by the pope in 1478 to detect and punish Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity (known as conversos) who were suspected of secretly clinging to their former faiths, and remained in formal existence through 1834.  And the Roman Inquisition, which aspired to universal jurisdiction but operated mostly in Italy, was created in 1542 as the papal weapon of choice in the crusade against the Protestant Reformation as well as the freshening winds of secularism and scientific inquiry that accompanied the Renaissance.    (The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual, p.5)
The reach and sweep of the Inquisition have discouraged historians from treating it as a single institution. …The fact remains, however, that the inquisitors of every nationality and in every age were deputized under the same body of canon law, inflicted the same tortures and punishments on their victims, and devoted themselves to the same terrible mission–the arrest, torture, and execution of any man, woman, or child whom they regarded as a heretic, a term sufficiently elastic to reach any victim who happened to excite their anxieties or greed.  Thus, for example, the manuals and handbooks composed in the Middle Ages to instruct the first inquisitors in their day-to-day work were still being consulted by the last inquisitors six centuries later.  (The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual, p.6)
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Whenever anyone listens to a Christian scholar or theologian defend what appears on the surface to be horrible crimes against humanity, it is quite reasonable, based on historical experience, to approach such arguments with great caution and skepticism.
We MUST NOT BE FOOLED AGAIN by wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Mr. Jones might indeed be a sheep, but given the darker pages in the  history of the Christian religion, it is reasonable and appropriate, for the purposes at hand, to put  wolves’ clothing (i.e. the title “Grand Inquisitor”) on the character representing Jones, to remind one and all that he might actually be a wolf.
Judge:  The Grand Inquisitor Jones will now present his case against the accused, and then Bradley For the Defense will present objections and arguments defending the accused.
GI Jones:  Thank you, your honor.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: today I will present to you my case for the charge that Lisa (age 8) is guilty of the horrible crime or sin of IDOLATRY, and for the charge that her older sister Kathy (age 18) is also guilty of this terrible crime or sin, and that because of this horrible sin or crime, they both deserve the penalty of DEATH; they both deserve to have their heads chopped off by a sword-wielding, Jehovah-worshiping soldier of the army of Israel.*
Lisa and Kathy have committed the crime or sin of IDOLATRY.  I assure you that both of these wicked girls have in fact worshiped other gods besides Jehovah, the God of Israel.  So, you must, on the basis of this fact, deliver a verdict of “Guilty” and condemn these evil and perverse girls to death by beheading.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury for your attention to my case for the guilt of Lisa and Kathy.
BFD:  What the hell!  Is this a joke?  I was expecting hours of testimony from multiple eyewitnesses, or at least a lengthy presentation of dozens of facts to make a circumstantial case for the guilt of the accused girls.  But instead we are offered a ten-second, completely fact-free argument.  Grand Inquisitor Jones, have you no shame, sir?
The Grand Inquisitor has failed to cite the law that the defendants have violated, and the Grand Inquisitor has not even hinted at what he means by “the crime or sin of IDOLATRY”, so we have no clear idea of what the defendants are being accused of doing, or whether the law even applies to these beautiful, charming, and intelligent girls.  Since the laws of Jehovah were directed to the men of Israel, the presumption is that any such laws do NOT apply to young girls who are Canaanites, not Israelites.
Though GI Jones has utterly failed to make a rational case against the defendants in terms of the alleged law against IDOLATRY, let’s ignore that for the moment, and simply assume the common sense notion that one commits IDOLATRY when one “worships a god by means of an idol representing that god”.  Since GI Jones has presented ZERO facts to show that either Lisa or Kathy have ever worshiped a god by means of an idol representing that god, there is no case here to consider.  All we have is GI Jones’ personal assertion that Lisa and Kathy have “worshiped other gods besides Jehovah”.  But GI Jones does not know Lisa, nor does he know Kathy.  He has never met either girl until this very hour when he saw them here in this courtroom.  GI Jones has no experiences of these girls to base his claim upon.  So, no actual evidence has been presented for the guilt of either Lisa or Kathy.
Suppose, however, we grant the baseless claim made by the Grand Inquisitor.  Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that both girls have indeed “worshiped other gods besides Jehovah”.  Even if this were true, this tells us NOTHING about whether they have ever used an idol to worship a god, and so it tells us NOTHING about whether they are guilty of the sin or crime of IDOLATRY, given the common sense understanding of the meaning of that word.
Have not many Israelites worshiped Jehovah without the use of an idol?  If so, then it follows necessarily that it is POSSIBLE to worship a god WITHOUT use of an idol, without use of a statue or image representing a god.  If the Israelites can worship their god without using idols, then certainly Canaanites, such as these two lovely girls at my side, can worship their god or gods without using idols.  Therefore, even if we grant the baseless claim of the Grand Inquisitor that these two girls have “worshiped other gods besides Jehovah” this tells us NOTHING about whether they are guilty of the sin or crime of IDOLATRY.
Finally, you may think poorly of these two young Canaanites if you believe that they have engaged in worship of other gods besides Jehovah, the god of Israel.  You may think that they ought to instead worship Jehovah, “the one true God.”  But even if they are guilty of worshiping some other god or gods, can you seriously consider the imposition of the death penalty on these two beautiful, charming, intelligent girls, girls that love their father and mother, girls that are loved and cherished by their father and mother?
Lisa is only eight years old.  She can barely understand the concepts of “religion” and “worship” and “god”.  She has never been to a Jewish temple or synagogue. Lisa has never set foot in a Christian church.  The only religion she has any real experience of is the religion of her Canaanite parents, which involves the worship of gods other than Jehovah.
When Lisa grows up, she might well get to meet some Israelites who worship Jehovah, or some Christian believers who worship Jehovah.  She might go to a Jewish religious service or a Christian religious service, and she might even decide to leave the religion of her parents in favor of a religion in which Jehovah is worshiped.  But if you chop off her pretty young head now, there is no chance that she will ever worship Jehovah.   She will die without ever having the opportunity to learn about other religions besides the religion she learned from her own Canaanite parents.
Kathy, of course, is older than Lisa.  Kathy is a young adult, and she has had a bit more experience of religion than Lisa.  She has a better understanding of the concepts of “religion” and “worship” and “god”.  But Kathy is still a teenager.  She is just now finishing high school.  Her mind has been focused on learning math, history, chemistry, French, and other subjects, as well as on friendships and her boyfriend, and cheerleading practice, and applications for college.  She has not had much time to study world religions and to contemplate all of her options concerning religion, philosophy, and spirituality.
So, like her younger sister Lisa, Kathy does not have a good grasp of the alternatives to the religion of her Canaanite parents.  Kathy may know that there are religions that encourage the worship of Jehovah.  Kathy may have been to a Jewish synagogue once, or to a Jewish religious ceremony once, and she has attended Christian church services on a couple of occasions, but she is hardly in a position to have a solid grasp of Jewish faith and practice or of Christian theology and Christian religious practices.  Kathy might over the course of the next decade go to college and learn about other religions and philosophies, and it is possible that Kathy might take a serious interest in either Judaism or Christianity and decide that she wants to become a worshiper of Jehovah.
But if you have a big strong soldier of Israel chop off Kathy’s head today, then she will NEVER have the opportunity to gain significant exposure to any religion or philosophy besides what she learned from her Canaanite father and mother.  Although Kathy is an adult, it would be EXTREMELY UNFAIR to judge her choice of religion/philosophy at this point in her young life, when she has had very little exposure to and experience of alternative religions and philosophies.
Finally, if we are to impose the death penalty on any person who worships a god besides Jehovah, then we must kill every man, woman, and child in the Greek Civilization, and we must kill every man, woman, and child in the Roman Civilization, and every man, woman, and child in the Phonecian Civilization, and every man, woman, and child in the Egyptian Civilization, and…
In the end, you will have to kill nearly every human being outside of the nation of Israel, because Jehovah was the god of Israel, not the god of the Egyptians, not the god of  the Greeks, not the god of the Romans, not the god of the Phonecians, not the god of the… .  Surely, such massive worldwide slaughter is unjust and unwarranted.  Stop the madness of the Grand Inquisitor now!
Please return a verdict of NOT GUILTY for the two beautiful, charming, intelligent, and loving girls whom you see standing at my side today.  There have been no facts or evidence presented showing that they have worshiped a god besides Jehovah, and even assuming that they have worshiped a god besides Jehovah, we cannot draw any logical conclusion as to whether they are guilty of IDOLATRY.  Let there be no chopping off heads today; declare Lisa and Kathy NOT GUILTY.
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* I do have children, but the names and ages given here are not the actual names and ages of my children.
 
 
 
 
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Atheism?

I know this is a well-worn topic, but I think it is worth hashing over this old question one more time.
First, some obvious points that many ignorant, bible-thumping, knuckle-dragging bigots are unable to grasp:
1. ATHEISM is not the same as MATERIALISM (not all atheists are materialists).
2. ATHEISM is not the same as MARXISM (not all atheists are Marxists).
3. ATHEISM is not the same as HUMANISM (not all atheists are Humanists).
4. ATHEISM is not the same as AGNOSTICISM (not all atheists are agnostics).
5. ATHEISM is not the same as SKEPTICISM (not all atheists are skeptics).
6. ATHEISM is not the same as NATURALISM (not all atheists are naturalists).
7. ATHEISM is not the same as EXISTENTIALISM (not all atheists are Existentialists).
If you don’t understand these basic and obvious points, then please stop reading this post now, and go back to your cave or to your church’s para-military compound in Arkansas or Alabama.
Now for something a bit more sophisticated.   Consider the following initial, rough definition of “atheism”:
DEF1
Person P accepts ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There is no God.”
There are a couple of problems with this definition.  First of all, (DEF1) is compatible with someone being a polytheist.  One can both believe that “There is no God” and at the same time (without any contradiction) believe that “There are many gods”.  To believe that “There is no God” is to believe that there is no god who is the one-and-only all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal creator of the universe.
But denying that there is a god who has infinite power, infinite knowledge, and infinite duration is NOT the same as denying that there is any god whatsoever.  One could deny the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal god and yet believe that there are many gods who have finite power, and finite knowledge, and/or who are of finite duration.  In other words, one can reject traditional western theism (the belief in God found in the western religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and yet be a polytheist and believe in the existence of many finite gods.
A second problem with (DEF1) is that it does not make room for atheists who claim that the concept of “God” is incoherent.  A.J. Ayer, Antony Flew, and Kai Nielsen were all atheist philosophers, but they all believe that the sentence “God exists” is incoherent.  They believe that the sentence “God exists” is neither true nor false.  So, they also believe that the negation or denial of this sentence is also incoherent.  Thus, none of these atheist philosophers believed that the sentence “There is no God” makes a true statement.  On the basis of (DEF1) none of these atheist philosophers would be categorized as being an “atheist”.
The best solution to the first problem, is to draw a distinction between strong and weak atheism.  Weak atheism is the denial of traditional western theism.  Strong atheism is the denial of the existence of any and all gods.
DEF2A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There is no God.”
DEF2B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There are no gods.”
On these definitions, strong atheism implies weak atheism, but weak atheism does not imply strong atheism.  Someone who believes that “There are no gods” must also believe (to be logically consistent) that “There is no God”.  But some one who believes “There is no God” could believe that “There are some gods” (i.e. gods who are finite in power, knowledge, or duration).
These definitions, however, do not get around the second objection, concening atheists who believe that the sentence “God exists” fails to make a coherent statement.  One way to get around the second objection would be to characterize atheism not as a belief, but as the absence of a belief:
DEF3A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P does NOT believe that “God exists.”
DEF3B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P does NOT believe that “One or more gods exist.”
But while these definitions might get around both the first and second objections, they are still problematic, because we think of atheism as being an intellectual position or stance.  The lack of a belief, however, is not an intellectual position.  Presumably, ALL BABIES lack the belief that “God exists”, but it is absurd and counterintuitive to say that ALL BABIES are atheists.  Babies simply don’t have any position on the question of the existence of God, and they certainly do not have a position on whether the sentence “God exists” expresses a coherent statement.
I propose an alternative way to deal with the second objection, a way that preserves the view that atheism is an intellectual position or stance, and that avoids the counterintuitive implication that ALL BABIES are atheists:
DEF4A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “God exists” does NOT express a true statement.
DEF4B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “One or more gods exist” does NOT express a true statement.
As far as I can see, these defintions get around the two main objections that we have been considering, and they do so while preserving the intuition that atheism is an intellectual position or stance, a belief that we cannot ascribe to ALL BABIES.
Some who accept weak atheism believe the sentence “God exists” expresses a statement that is false, while others who accept weak atheism believe the sentence “God exists” does not express a coherent statement at all.  Both sorts of atheists are encompased by (DEF4A).
Some who accept strong atheism believe the sentence “One or more gods exist” expresses a coherent statement that is false, while others who accept strong atheism believe the sentence “One or more gods exist” does not express a coherent statement at all.
One final point, which is probably the most controversial point I have to make on this topic.  Although atheism is an intellectual position or stance, it is NOT a point of view.  At least, it is NOT a worldview, and it is NOT an ideology, and it is NOT a philosophy, and it is NOT a religion.  In short, atheism is the rejection of a specific religious belief or a religious “assertion”.  Weak atheism is basically the rejection of traditional western theism.  Strong atheism is basically the rejection of any sort of theism, including belief in one or more finite gods.
That is why the first seven statements at the beginning of this article are true.  Atheism is the rejection of a particular religious belief or religious “assertion”.  Atheism is NOT the assertion of a general point of view or philosophy or worldview.  Furthermore, atheists do not necessarily agree on WHY we ought to reject a particular religious belief or assertion.
Some atheists reject the assertion that “God exists” because they think it is FALSE.  Other atheists reject the assertion “God exists” because they think it is INCOHERENT.  The atheists who think “God exists” makes a FALSE statement have different reasons and arguments for thinking this statement is false.  So, atheists do not necessarily agree with each other about WHY we ought to reject the assertion that “God exists” or that “One or more gods exist”.
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Update (10/5/15):
Angra Mainyu suggested a counterexample to my proposed definition 4A:
c. What if Alice is silent on whether God exists on your definition, but she believes that “there is an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being” is not true …? 
The classification you propose does not cover a case like that.
I also came up with a similar objection to 4A.  What about a person who does not understand English?  A person who speaks French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, or Japanese but does not understand English will in most cases NOT have an opinion about the truth or the coherence of the sentence “God exists.”  because he/she will not understand the meaning of this sentence.
I can get around my objection and perhaps Angra Mainyu’s objection as well by revising the proposed definition a bit:
5A. Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that a sentence S does NOT express a true statement, and sentence S has the same meaning as the English sentence “God exists.”

There is a difficulty with this defintion, however. It appears to imply that the sentence “God exists” is a meaningful sentence, which begs an important question.

However, it does NOT assume that the sentence “God exists” expresses a coherent statement.  The sentence, “This is a four-sided triangle.” is a meaningful sentence, and it can be translated into other languages, but it is an incoherent sentence in that it contains a logical contradiction.  So, 5A leaves open the question as to whether the sentence “God exists” contains a logical contradiction, but does assume that this sentence has a meaning, at least enough meaning for it to be possible to translate the sentence into another language.

Personally, I don’t mind begging the question as to whether “God exists” is a meaningful sentence.  It seems obvious to me that it is a meaningful sentence, and one reason for thinking this is that it is obvious that this sentence can be translated into other languages.  How could a meaningless sentence be translated correctly into another language?  So, I’m OK with begging this particular question.