Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Body-Count Proof of God

One of the dilemmas the religious face, is accounting for the horrific atrocities of their religion whilst simultaneously holding on to the belief their faith is the product of a loving, moral creator.  I can't say that I'm persuaded for instance, that a religion that spawned the crusades, inquisition, witch-trials and pogrom demonstrates any divine origin.

There is a type of theist who responds to this by arguing that atheism has killed more. This is done by cherry-picking some of the 20th C totalitarian states and the death toll these perpetuated. In effect, they are trying to justify the body count of their religion with the body count of other regimes.
  • The argument is on one hand, simply offensive. The emergence of totalitarian regimes in the early and mid-twentieth century were a product of many factors. These factors were myriad- political economic, military etc.  Most importantly, such states ranged from true Christian regimes (Mussolini, Franco) to Christian-influenced theism (Hitler)
    German Wehrmacht belt-buckle with slogan "God with Us".
    to communist regimes in E Europe (Stalin). The mass-slaughter of people in the mid-20th C by totalitarian governments, is just an argument against totalitarianism. That’s the only fair conclusion we can draw from this slaughter. 
  • The comparison also fails because the Communist regimes did not kill in the name of atheism. They killed because they identified some groups as being enemies of the state and targeted them. Atheism isn’t a political philosophy. It is not a synonym with Marxism.
  • On the other hand, religions have killed in the name of their religion. Christians tortured and executed their neighbours for witchcraft because that’s exactly what their religion said to do. Torture was attendant to this to force a confession- so that the person’s soul could still be saved. It was a strange concern- Christian love- for the soul that made torture acceptable.
  • The history of Islam since the days of the 4th Caliph Ali is one driven by sectarian violence. The normally moderate 12th C Damascene historian ibn al-Qalanisi describes the attacks on the Batinis in Damascus- adding with relish how their slain bodies were just left in the streets for the dogs to devour.The current stories of horrific
    Two Bombs Kill 66 in Baquba, Iraq
    bombings from the Middle East show little has changed.
  • The third problem is the changes in technology are ignored. If the Crusaders had spandau machine-guns instead of swords and spears, the whole body-count comparison would look a lot different. It’s not even a fair comparison.
Lastly, the whole line of argument is a big ‘so what’. If your case for god is that your religion has killed a few million people less than some other doctrine, it’s still a pretty odious religion. And it offers absolutely no evidence for the existence of god. Maybe atheism does make some people evil. So what? It doesn’t make your god real. Only valid evidence can do that.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The - "I was a former atheist" - ploy

Every so often, you run into a religious person who employs this line on you. They claim "they were an atheist but then, they saw the light" (or whatever). There’s a moment of awkwardness that follows this clumsy attempt to build a rapport.

Here’s why it does not work.
  • First, there are not any commonly-held doctrines to atheism. You can’t presume your former reasons not to have Jesus in your life are the same as mine. Jumping straight in and assuming I was in a similar state to you is, well, inane. At least ask me why I’m an atheist.
  • Second, there’s a difference between being an atheist and non-religious.  Being an atheist is an actual position taken towards the evidence for gods. Many “former atheists” I’ve encountered were simply non-religious for a time. They were indifferent to the claims by religion- they didn’t take an atheist position. It was far too apathetic. But they’re still primed for belief- they are exposed often and regularly to religious influences.
These conversion stories are pretty basic fare for Christians. And I appreciate that from such a perspective, anyone who hasn’t adopted a formal religious stance is clumped into the big atheist set. It must sound kind of exciting, hearing these tales of conversion of atheists. But it doesn’t work like this. Real atheists don’t get converted to Christianity by listening to your faith and convictions.  Witnessing goes down like a cup of cold-sick.

If you want to convert atheist, then the only thing that will work is valid evidence that your beliefs can be substantiated. We’ve all heard the Jesus speech before. We’ve all been witnessed to, we’ve all been prayed for. You need to stump-up with actual evidence rather than assertions describing your faith.

Sigh, a house is not a universe

The return of the Faulty Analogy Fallacy

Sometimes I get this argument popping up. It’s an argument from analogy. Kind of, because we know houses were designed and built, and a house is like the universe, it must be that the universe was designed and built by a creator.

Like most arguments from analogy, it is a weak argument*. It is not an appeal to evidence. It is an appeal to all sorts of hidden assumptions and presumptions that get attached to it. It fails simply because those assumptions aren’t shared by others.

We can test the claim that houses are designed objects. This is based on the following traits:
  • Observations: We actually see houses getting built by human agents. So far, nobody has observed a universe being built by an external agent.
  • Objective: A house has a specific objective. It provides shelter for the occupants. It is this use- to which it is purposely built- that tells us its designed. Nobody has proved that the universe has a like-objective. The universe appears entirely indifferent to our existence. It was around about 14bn years before we turned up, and will continue long after our solar-system dies.
  • Efficiency: This relatives to objective. Objects that are designed try to meet their objectives in efficient ways- needless redundancy, wastage of materials, inflated risks- all invalidate the idea of design. A vast universe that hurtles deadly space rocks at us, and bathes us in deadly UV radiation, could do with some tweaks.
  • Economy: designed artifacts are constrained by the resources available for their use. The decision to use one input over another, is driven by a conscious and deliberate observable decision. We don’t observe these substitutions occurring in the universe.
* Indeed, if you have to make an argument based on an analogy that cannot be supported by evidence, chances are it’s fatally flawed. Please stop.