Godwin con Variazione

We’re all familiar with Godwin’s Law, that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Allow me to propose a few variations:

As a discussion goes on, the probability of a theist bringing up Pascal’s wager approaches 1.

and

As a discussion on gay rights goes on, the arguments against gay marriage will be pared down to “buttsecks is nasty”.

I think it’s safe to say that the corollary to Godwin’s Law applies in both of these cases as well: if you believe in God because you’re afraid of being punished for not believing, or if you think that your distaste overrides people’s civil rights, then you’ve lost the argument.

Some Meta-Arguments Against God, Part 2

Lack of good apologetics

As with direct evidence, theists have had thousands of years to figure out what their gods are like, what they want, how they operate, and so forth. And yet, there are no good apologetics or arguments for any god’s existence. Most of them rely on false dichotomies, or faulty reasoning, or faulty assumptions, or are otherwise flawed.

In fact, one of the most popular apologetic arguments, Pascal’s wager explicitly begins with the premise that the existence or nonexistence of God cannot be known. This is not an argument that you pull out if there’s direct evidence of the truth of your claim. And yet, it comes up all the time.

In fact, many bad arguments keep coming back over and over. There appears to be no mechanism (selective pressure, if you will) for getting rid of bad arguments.

One running theme that I’ve noticed is that a lot of apologetic claims are not arguments for a god, but rather excuses for the lack of evidence, or excuses to reinforce someone’s failing belief. “You need to have faith” is just “trust me” in fancy clothes. “God doesn’t want to show himself for fear of undermining our free will” isn’t an argument, it’s an excuse for the absence of evidence. In fact, so is the whole “faith is a good thing” constellation of memes (which people don’t believe anyway, but we’ll address that later).

The world of apologetics is littered with arguments that, in any other context, would be relegated to the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps the most famous of these is Tertullian’s “Credo quia absurdum” — “I believe it because it is absurd”. Whether you take that as “I believe weird things” or as “The apostles wouldn’t have tried so hard to convince us of something that wasn’t true”, it still doesn’t belong on anyone’s top 10 list.

“I can feel Jesus in my heart” is just “dude, I’m telling you, I saw it!”. It’s something you resort to when you don’t have anything better.

“God works through people” just means that people do remarkable things. It’s not an argument for the existence of a god, it’s another excuse for the absence of evidence.

Now, people will say that esteemed theologians don’t use bad arguments like “well, just look at the trees and the birds and stuff”, and that’s mostly true. However, their arguments tend to be flawed in other ways. C.S. Lewis’s famous trilemma, Liar, Lunatic or Lord ignores possibilities like “Legend” (which also fits the alliteration). This is an elementary logical flaw that Lewis himself, if not one of his early reviewers, should have spotted.

Alvin Plantinga has come up with a version of the ontological argument for the existence of God, which relies on certain properties of modal logic. I don’t claim to understand it. On the other hand, presumably a lot of philosophers do, and I’m not hearing a lot of conversion stories about philosophers converting to Plantinga’s brand of theism.

In fact, that’s a running theme: there are simple arguments that people cite when asked why they believe in gods, all of which are wrong. And then there are the sophisticated complex arguments, but no one is convinced by those. It’s almost as if the complex arguments are just excuses to believe; if they sound complicated enough, you can pretend that they’re sound, and rest assured that somewhere out there, someone has a good justification for your faith.

Indian Stupid Burns Like a Hyderabadi Biryani

First, the Telegraph has a
story
about an Indian nun’s book about sex in the church:

The book by the former nun reveals how as a young novice she was propositioned in the confession box by a priest who cited biblical references to “divine kisses”. Later she was cornered by a lesbian nun at a college where they were teaching. “She would come to my bed in the night and do lewd acts and I could not stop her,” she claims.

When she was sent to Bangalore to stay with a priest known for his piety, he lectured her about the need for “physical love” and later assaulted her.

To steal a line from
Monty Python,
“may I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no sex in the Catholic Church. Absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount, more than we are prepared to admit”.

The article concludes with a spokesman who dismisses the nun’s claims:

“How far what she says is well-founded I
can’t say, but the issues are not very serious. We’re living with
human beings in a community and she should realise this is part of
human life
,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

(emphasis added.)

Oh, the irony! If the Catholic church would only realize that yes, sex
is part of human life, and would allow its priests and nuns to get
laid every once in a while, maybe there’d be less of this sort of
thing, to say nothing of child abuse.

(Cue BillDo in 3… 2… 1…)


The second item concerns an
op-ed piece
that appeared in
The Statesman in India.

The piece by Johann Hari argues that while people deserve respect,
ideas don’t. And that a recent UN resolution to avoid criticizing
religion has the effect of shielding human-rights abusers.

He and his editor have since been
arrested
for “hurting the religious feelings” of Muslims. You can’t make this
stuff up.

The Statesman’s
letters page
includes a letter entitled “Denigrating Islam”. Among other things, it
replies to Hari’s original contention that

I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a
“Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and
ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t
follow him.

with

Hari has made some vulgar remarks about the marriage of the Prophet with young Aisha, which incensed and hurt many readers of The Statesman. Muslims regard the pious wives of the Prophet as their mothers and hold them in high esteem.

Aisha, was not 9 but 10 years of age when she was married to the
Prophet, but came to live with the Prophet much later. It was after
attaining puberty when she was more than 15 years of age. Following
the Arab custom at that time, her father Abu Bakr, the first caliph of
Islam, proposed this marriage to cement his close relationship with
the Prophet.

Oh, so instead of a 53-year-old man fucking a 9-year-old, it was
actually a 58-year-old fucking a 15-year-old. I guess that’s supposed
to make it all right.

I’ve heard Christian apologists make similar excuses for the Old
Testament atrocities (e.g., by saying that Leviticus sets rules on
what you can and can’t do to a slave; which presumably makes it okay
to own human beings as chattel). I’m sure the fact that their Muslim
counterparts use similar arguments says something profound about the
ecumenical brotherhood of man or something. I can’t help imagining a
crowd of Christian and Muslim fanatics hand in hand with torches and
rakes, singing Kumbaya while marching to punish the heretics who would
disrespect their imaginary BFFs.

Figuring out the Trilemma of Evil

I’d never been quite satisfied with the problem of evil (if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, how can there be evil?) because it looked like a false trilemma, like C.S. Lewis’s liar, lunatic, or lord.

Lewis’s trilemma fails because it doesn’t account for all possibilities (e.g., a fourth possibility is “legend”). So how do we know that omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence cover all possibilities in the problem of evil? Granted, the fact that a lot of very smart people have looked at it for millennia, so it’s probably solid, but it always bothered me that I hadn’t seen a good demonstration that it wasn’t a false trilemma.

But then I reasoned thusly:

  1. If there is evil in the world, and God is omniscient, then God knows about it.
  2. If God knows about evil, and is omnibenevolent, then God wants to fix it.
  3. If God wants to fix evil, and is omnipotent, then God can fix it.

I like this formulation because the three parts of the argument flow from each other.

Apologetics Is A Joke

A patient wakes up in a hospital and says, “Doctor! I can’t feel my legs!” The doctor replies, “Yes, we had to amputate both of your arms.” (Paraphrased from The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, by Douglas Adams.)

The reason this joke works is that when we read the first sentence, we build a certain mental image of the situation. But the second one, the punchline, causes us to rethink this image to make it fit not the facts that we imagined, but the facts that we are given.

What does this have to do with apologetics?
Continue reading “Apologetics Is A Joke”