Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Dear Christian...

Instead of a text entry today, I propose you an audio entry. It is the first episode of a new feature we made at Hellbound Alleee called "Dear Christian". Each episode will be centered around a question. The question in this first episode is : "Have you read the Bible ?".

Give it a listen, whether you are an atheist or a Christian, I think everyone should appreciate this.

(note : you need Flash to see the player)

If you do not have Flash, you can download the episode on the archives page, on the bottom right.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Our top 20 enemy organizations / Debunking Presuppositionalism

The Church Report has a list of the top 20 Christian organizations. Once again, know your enemy. The winner ? The "Family Research Council" (since when does reading the Bible count as "research", assholes ?) works to "affirm and defend Judeo-Christian values that this nation is founded upon". What are those values ? Whipping your slaves on time ? Other notables : the American Center for Law and Justice at #6 (dig that name), the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ at #8 (idem), the Traditional Values Coalition at #12, and Focus on the Family figures at a low #20.

The blog Debunking Christianity has a great article on the presuppositionalist "arguments" and why they are miserably wrong.

The presuppositionalist thinks that s/he can easily answer any of the difficulties of justifying basic beliefs. The word "God" is invoked like some kind of magical, cure-all elixir. As a team-member here similarly stated, Why is the sky blue? God. Why are bumble-bees yellow and black? God. Why do babies die? God. How can I prove there are other minds? God. How did the universe get here? God. How can a universal exist? God.

That word just fills every gap. You can squeeze it anywhere. The presuppositionalists have a ready answer for problems in philosophy. It's "God."

Friday, April 28, 2006

Coachella Music Festival, April 29-30, 2006

I just won a Sunday ticket to Coachella on EBay. For those who don't know, it is currently the #1 music festival in the world. I'm going see Tool and Paul Oakenfold, among others.

Anyone else going? Wanna meet up at the event and have a beer? Post a comment and let me know!

Moral Realism against Islam

MANIFESTO: Together facing the new totalitarianism

We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.


We reject « cultural relativism », which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Aaron Kinney Meets Brian Flemming at The Center For Inquiry West

Last night I went to see Brian Flemming speak at the Center For Inquiry West in Hollywood, CA. It was a great time all around. You can read all about it here.

I encourage anyone in the Los Angeles area to check out the CFI West facility, as well as their new monthly Cafe Inquiry discussion.

Question of the Day #40: 12 Steppers

Here's a good one about Alcoholics Anonymous. The eighth step in the program is to make a list of friends that have been harmed by the person's drinking, and then the nineth is to make amends. Considering that these are sandwiched between religious dogma about servatude and humility before God, steps 8 and 9 become rather loathsome and patronizing when put into their full context.

My Question: Let's say you know someone in AA. How do you respond to them when they come around to make amends?

QotD up in the air?

I'm thinking about handing over the reigns of Question of the Day. It seems to me like the well has slowly begun to run dry. Even though I have some good ones coming up (including a fantastic one today about AA), I find myself struggling not to ask different variations of the same question (i.e., "Why don't Christians understand science?").

So, to avert monotony, I think we need some fresh questions from a fresh mind. Anyone want to go at it for a while?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Explaining Spiritual Orientation

The Atheist Spy has responded to my criticism of his "spiritual orientation" thesis. From his blog:

So Zachary got it backwards: He says that someone is either born a theist, whose mind hungers for supernatural but unecessary and meaningful things, or an atheist, bound to reject all supernatural ideas by the use of reason. What I said is that, by the time you're an adult, either you need meaning and purpose in the world, or you don't. If you need it, then this need usually is fulfilled by supernatural things - and these things (or something like them) to you ARE necessary, because that's what this weird hunger is all bout.
I still think that I'm a counterexample to his thesis- as a Christian, the desire for meaning and purpose was a big part of my faith, but my apostasy gave me the intellectual tools needed to see that seeking answers in Christianity is irrational.

Morality in Action / Defeating Christians

Alleee has posted a little cartoon for children (and relativists) about the nature of morality : Sally and Cy.

How Brian Flemming defeated Tucker Carlson :

FLEMMING: God doesn't exist any more than the Easter Bunny, they're both--

CARLSON: --Hold on there! That's crazy. I can disprove the existence of the Easter Bunny. You can't disprove the existence of God.

FLEMMING: You can disprove the existence of the Easter Bunny?

CARLSON: Of course.


CARLSON: The Easter Bunny is said to do certain things. We can observe that these things are not happening. Therefore the Easter Bunny does not exist.

FLEMMING: Name one thing God does that I can observe.

The Boycott of Atheism

Gene Cook announced on his webcast last night that he is officially "boycotting atheism." I would think that this would be a given for someone who is an avowed Christian, but he means specifically that he will no longer be hosting the "Atheist Hour" show in conjuction with his existing show, "The Narrow Mind."

I was one of the early guests of both shows, actually (late July and August of '04 for TNM, and December of '05 for TAH), and though I find Gene's theology incredibly abhorrent, I think he's a nice enough guy who just happens to have fallen head-first into bad religion. If I had been a bit less curious in my studies, I could have easily remained in the same immoral worldview.

Strangely enough, though, the reason that Gene gave for his boycott was the fact that he's been unable to find any atheist who can answer the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (his personal favorite) to his liking. And I can vouch for this- nearly every episode of TAH has involved his use of the TAG on every atheist guest, and at the close of every show, Gene hasn't received what he would consider an answer. It's not my intention here to critique the TAG- better minds than mind have already done so exquisitely- but it seems odd to me that, if the TAG is indeed as devastating to atheism as Gene sincerely believes, why would he back off from using it as much as possible? If I were in his place, I would be seeking to write books, spawn new websites, hell, even printing T-shirts with the TAG featured prominently!

I realize that, as a Calvinist, Gene is under no theological directive to evangelize directly to atheists. Most of us are former Christians ourselves, or have at least familiarized ourselves with Christian doctrine and the Gospel message. But wouldn't it be a great evangelical tool to those who aren't familiar with Christianity to be able to say that the American Atheists, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and countless atheists blogs like GTA have had to close up shop because they couldn't handle the devastating weight of the TAG?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A real standard is hard to take

This entry is part of the War on Relativism.

The fact that morality is very real and has definite laws, is a simple truth that is very hard to accept. People don't want to have to measure up to any standard, and they hate people who do. The virtuous, the successful, the visionaries, are always villified. People with great flaws, on the other hand, are seen as "human". Is a mass murderer who reads to children every Friday the best representative of humanity ?

As for any other simple and obvious truth, the objections against moral standards are all very silly.

On the one hand, you have the Christians who claim that you can only be moral if you follow their edicts, and that there is no non-religious reason to act in a certain way. Yet Christians get hungry just like everyone else, so they know very well that there are at least good reasons to eat ! Obviously we have material needs fulfilled in everything we do - helping other people we care about, to work, to enter in relationships with other people, to try to make a better life for ourselves. So this rhetoric is all very silly.

On the other hand, you have atheists who are so-called "relativists", who claim that morality is a personal or social construct. This is equally nonsense. As the maxim says, "fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong". If something is factually a vice, then the fact that it is encouraged in a culture (such as say, human sacrifice and tribes in the Andes) does not make its wrongness dissapear. To say otherwise is to believe in magic.

Both religious dogma and atheistic "relativism" are just two sides of the same coin : conformity and the comfort you get in conforming to a religion or culture. It is hedonistic and irresponsible in the highest. It leads to the subversion of individual values to any political or religious power that comes along.

The term "relativism" itself is wrongly used. For one thing, all knowledge is "relative" because it depends on our context of knowledge. But this is not what the "relativists" claim. Rather their claim is that knowledge is manufactured by the power plays in a given society or their expression in a given mind - that there is nothing objective in reality to be known. The correct term for such lunacy is : nihilism. Nihilism in psychology is the term given to the belief that the world, or one's own body, does not exist. Likewise moral nihilists reject the existence of natural laws, and only believe that people's opinions exist, detached from all facts.

The moral nihilist and the religious complement each other. Both reject the obvious facts of reality, the obvious existence of human needs, for their own brand of submission. Both are equally dangerous to the individual. It does not matter to your head whether it is getting kicked by the boot of a theocracy or getting cracked by agents of an evil "culture".

All rhetoric that aims to make you reject the laws of reality, is an attempt to control you. Of this you can be absolutely sure.

The simple truth on morality is that humans are subject to causality, just like any other existent. Natural laws apply to human beings just as they apply to tables, electrons, galaxies or geckos - the laws of biology, the laws of psychology, the laws of economy. Human actions can be judged on the basis of their consequences, as determined by our study of these laws. If you eat, your metabolism will be fueled. If you stop eating, you will die, even if the entire population of the Earth wishes it otherwise.

I have already explained in previous entries the justification of the virtue of non-coercion and the virtue of honesty. These are not revolutionary concepts : most sane atheists, who are not "relativists", could explain why we shouldn't hurt other people and why we should be honest. It only appears revolutionary to say such things because the Big Lie of authoritarian morality has always had a stranglehold on moral issues. People don't like to have to evaluate their own actions, and the possibility of being wrong.

I haven't looked at what is perhaps the most common "relativist" argument, the humanist evolutionary argument. In the humanist perspective, what is moral is determined by other animals in nature. Other species evolve by reproducing, so, they deduce, the purpose of man must be to reproduce.

This, of course, is just as anti-individualist and evil as any other "relativist" position. Human beings are volitional beings who can establish their own values. To treat human beings as gene carriers is not much more useful than killing yourself. It is our minds, our volition, our capacity for the sublime, that carries human beings to the noblest heights. Reproduction is only a very tiny part of that. One could equally "deduce" that, because other animals kill each other for territory and food in order to survive, we should be in a constant state of warfare with each other. Human beings are animals, yes, but without volition there would be no need for morality at all. You cannot talk about morality at all without using this as a starting point.

My main thrust here is that studying morality requires a commitment to reality. Most people do not make such a commitment, and yet talk about good and evil as if they knew perfectly what they were talking about. We do not accept such behaviour in any other fields except sports and politics (the two main areas where everyone believes himself an expert). But unlike sports and politics, morality is a serious business. Promoting the truth can help other people turn their lives around. Promoting falsehood can enslave minds. So if you don't know what you're talking about, please stop talking about morality.


It's not a big deal, but I did notice that the pilot light has gone out on blog, "The Goose is Cooked," started by an erstwhile commenter here, "streetapologist." I'll just add it to the list of blogs that were founded to criticize this one and sputtered into nothingness.

Monday, April 24, 2006

NDEs explained... again / War not moral issue ?

Yet another explanation for Near-Death Experiences.

"I see it as an activation of certain brain regions that are also active during the dream state," said Prof Kevin Nelson, a neurologist and lead study author, from the University of Kentucky, Lexington.

"However, I hesitate to call it dreaming or dreaming while awake. This is the first testable hypothesis of a biological basis for these experiences."

According to a survey, about 60% of Americans think the War in Iraq is not a moral issue.

Wow. I really need someone to explain to me how organized murder is not a moral issue.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Relativism : taking a piss on morality part 2

This entry is part of the War on Relativism.

Cultural relativism breaks the principle of universality, as it states that morality changes depending on "country" or skin hue. What is right for an individual in one "country", becomes magically wrong for an individual in another "country", even though they both have the same needs. This is irrational. If (to take an extreme example) it is all right for people in one country to murder atheists and homosexuals, then it should be all right for people everywhere. After all, there are atheists and homosexuals everywhere. So supporting a culture which opposes atheism, means that you are against atheism - or you are a hypocrite (the latter being more likely).

Cultural relativism promotes the forcible enforcment of one value system against the individual's, and is often used to validate oppressive laws. It is therefore nothing but a variant of "might makes right". Unlike moral realism (where freedom, responsibility, benevolence and justice are important virtues), cultural relativism offers us no way to live peacefully in society between people holding different value systems - except for war and violent overthrow.

As a related point to this, cultural relativism, by making "the culture" the only acceptable standard, makes civil disobedience the ultimate evil - when in fact most of us consider civil disobedience in the name of freedom and rights the noblest and most admirable good. This is why cultural relativism is not only immoral but also disgusting. It turns Ghandi and Schindler from heroes into monsters.

I have discussed moral development many times in the past. My model, while perhaps not perfect, clearly illustrates that a lot of our moral development does not originate from "culture" but rather from genetics, brain development and common (i.e. trans-cultural) experiences. Furthermore, if "culture" was the only standard, then how do people come to disagree with their "culture" ? How do people become atheists ? Surely not by magic.

Finally, yet another fatal problem to cultural relativism is the impossibility of a causal origin of morality. There must have been a point where "culture" began, if only because societies began to form. If all morality is cultural, where did these first people find their own morality ? If they created it by rational discovery or blind belief, then morality does not require "culture" at all. But if morality requires "culture", then morality would not exist at all, and by consenquence society could not have formed (since such a formation would require directed action based on facts).

To get a bit off the topic here, but not too much, another related belief promoted by cultural relativists is that "morality applies only to our relations with other people". From the realist standpoint, this is patent nonsense. A person stuck on a desert island needs morality more than anyone else ! If he does not take decisions based on facts relevant to his survival, he will surely die. In fact, the whole point of progress is to weaken our need for morality through cooperation.

Furthermore, any relational scenario can be transformed into an individual one. Take the example of "buying a car" - a complex decisional process which involves many factual criteria. We can reduce this to an individual scenario by removing the seller from the equation and simply talk about "choosing one car amongst others". While this is, I admit, a rather artificial scenario, it still happens that people choose a car from many possibilities without necessarily having a dealership or private sellers in mind.

I think this belief is carried along with cultural relativism - they seem to usually go together. Why ? Well, remember that in cultural relativism, morality itself is defined on a certain relationship with other people (their conception of "culture"). Therefore it seems natural that such a concept would have nothing to do with individual actions. But even that is not a valid assumption even from the standpoint of cultural relativism, as "culture" often demonize individual actions, like "proper" clothes, drug use, masturbation, or demanding worship of this or that type.

My second salvo in the war will be posted in two days. Keep those foxholes busy ! And remember, there are no relativists in foxholes. EVERYONE in a foxhole values getting out of there alive. ;)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Relativism : taking a piss on morality part 1

This entry is part of the War on Relativism.

Recently, I had a frustrating discussion with David Eller, a respected and otherwise intelligent scientist who wrote many books about atheism, who believes firmly in cultural relativism. I know many atheists hold to such an irrational, anti-scientific and repugnant belief.

The first problem with cultural relativism is that there is no such thing as "culture", as people commonly use the concept. Culture in reality is a generalization on patterns of behaviour and thought that exist within loosely-defined groups. Following this definition, cultural relativism therefore means absolutely nothing, since the individeual creates his part of the culture.

What the relativists really mean is a monolithic block of behaviour and belief which can be attributed to a specific "country" or race, such as "the Greek culture" or "the black culture", that we can use to make moral judgments on the individual. That is to say, it is a collectivist construct which does not apply to any specific person's behaviour.

Only this premise can explain the tribalist cries for "protecting our culture" and "following the culture". If culture was composed of individual action, then any action performed by the individual would be "cultural", and "protecting the culture" would be considered an oxymoron. But obviously relativists think they are saying something meaningful when they utter this nonsense.

This monolithic view of culture is an exploitative construct promoted by religion and the state in order to justify their monopolizing morality. If one assumes that morality is the product of individual reasoning, then on what grounds can the Church and the State justify their imposition of a singular value system ? At best it can only be seen as personal belief gone awry.

A fatal problem with cultural relativism is that "culture", of either kind, is not a rational standard. While people's actions are automatically self-interested, they are not necessarily rationally so. People do extremely irrational things - given that the majority of the population of the world is religious and indoctrinated from birth, what do you expect ? Given this, how can "culture" indicate anything factual ?

Of course, the relativists don't want to talk about facts. They are not talking about rational knowledge, they are taking a piss on it (hence the title). They completely follow religious and political premises in stating that morality is completely arbitrary and subject to "might makes right". This, of course, is hypocrite since few people follow this idea in any other area of life, as I will discuss in future entries.

Another fatal problem is that cultural relativism is eliminated nicely by the Moral Razor, which is to say, the principle of universality. This principle states that a moral principle can only be valid if it applies universally - to all people, at all times, in all places - otherwise it implies moral contradictions, as people have the same needs everywhere. To give an obvious political example, if it is moral for policemen to wield guns because they need to defend themselves from criminals, then it must be also moral for other people to do the same, since they have the same need.

Go to part 2.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Religion as Conspiracy Theory / How we detect design

From a post on sci.physics.relativity :

Some people made up some ideas.
Then others who didn't quite like those ideas either modified them or
made up some of their own.
Everyone was more or less content having an intangible, unprovable
entity to answer all of the questions that their current knowledge
didn't extend to.

It's the same logic as conspiracy theory...most people just get
_really_ freaked out at the suggestion that there is no plan, there is
no 'higher order,' and that there is not something or someone behind
the scenes controlling it all. So in the absence of such a plan etc.,
they are more comfortable inventing one than confronting the truth. The
more manipulative (whether naturally or made manipulative through
gullibility) people in this chunk will use these insecurities to
convert others into their 'belief system.' And organized religion was

Another great article - "An Account of How We Detect Design", by Mark Frank. The examples are kinda long, so I won't paste them here, but this should be obligatory reading for any Creationist.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Question of the Day #39

Is it possible to overreact to religion? If so, where do we draw the line?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Metal Rules" board

"Vic" at the "Metal Rules" board has been generous to us, giving us nice linkage, such as here. But when I try to register there, they won't authorize my submission. Maybe they listened to our live show and know that I only like outsider music, thus making me singularly unsuited for a "metal" board. Oh well. Props to the "metal" ! ;)

Why is the War on Relativism important ?

This entry is part of the War on Relativism.

Why a war ? This is not a violent physical war, but a war of persuasion. The War on Relativism is an ideological war. An ideological war is a strong expression of value - a desire to propagate a basic rational position against general ignorance or delusion. Waging an ideological war is a way for the individual to make society better by introducing this basic position into a corrupted debate. It is, therefore, the perfect expression of objective value, and the perfect medium to combat relativism.

Why should atheists reject relativism ? If modern atheism as a movement is to succeed at all, it must argue from morality. Morality rules the world. People still accept religion as justified, even if it is hopelessly outdated and anti-scientific, because they believe that religion is the only source of morality and only religious people are moral. Part of the purpose of this blog is to refute the various facets of this belief and demonstrate that only atheistic worldviews are conductive to morality.

Atheists have the moral high ground. But relativism completely defeats any moral high ground we have, as it posits that any morality constructed within certain parameters is equally valid. Furthermore, relativism makes atheism immoral in most cases. After all, atheism is not part of any constructed historical or cultural morality, at least certainly not in North America or Europe. Therefore a relativist atheist is a self-defeatign hypocrite.

How does relativism promote religion and immorality ? Relativism is the last and most successful bastion of religion and immoral traditions, especially "cultural" relativism. Even after a religion is disproven by a mountain of scientific and moral facts, it still gain legitimacy from being a cultural icon ("Christianity is part of who we are") or a personal belief ("I just have faith and you can't argue against that"). People still accept religiously-oriented laws as long as they are a support of a "religious culture". By embracing relativism, atheists are closing their eyes to religious immorality in ou society.

The same thing is true for immoral traditions, which are often defended by relativists on "cultural" grounds ("it's their culture !"). Some relativists seriously argue that even ritual murder can be moral on "cultural" grounds. One well-known atheist has even told me that slaughtering atheists may be moral on "cultural" grounds. If that's not deranged I don't know what is.

Relativism is the mode of operation of any oppressive belief system. Any degree of oppression can be justified on relativist grounds, in the name of a relative higher ideal (the "culture", the "common good", the "country", your "feelings", your "race" or "class") - anything but facts. Individual discovery of facts is a belief-killer.

How widespread is relativism ? Relativism is a sacred belief from all sides of the collectivist spectrum - left-wing culture isolationists and right-wing cultural supremacists equally. Left-wing relativists preach for the "preservation of culture" and the belief that all "cultures" are equally moral, and want to stop globalization in order to keep people enslaved in a "culture". Right-wing relativists reify their "country", their religion and their "culture" as supreme without any evidence, and justify war by the "spreading of culture". Both of these forms of relativism are horrible evils.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Question of the Day #38: Arrogance

Let's face it. Christians just don't like being called ignorant. They don't even like it when its implied. If you so much as insinuate that they somehow misunderstood something published a scientific journal, they get all angry with you and accuse you of being arrogant.

*sigh!* I have to confess that I'm totally thrown by that sort of reaction. Are there ways to get through to Christians without immediately triggering their snotty intellectual defense system?

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Morality Disconnect part 2

This entry is part of the War on Relativism.

Look at our "buying a car" example again. Is it a moral issue ? Yes, definitely ! To be a moral issue, it needs to be about an individual taking a decision. So while the concept of "buying a car" itself is not moral, an individual deciding how to buy a car is in a moral context.

And this is intuitively obvious, in this specific example. We distinguish between good and bad ways to buy a car (thus passing moral judgment). We agree that, say, "refusing to buy a red car because it does the Devil's work" is a very bad reason to not buy a car, and that a decision taken on its basis alone would be very irrational.

A reasonable person, buying a car, would choose his criteria based on what his values are in buying that car. Obviously, a collector of old cars is not going to use the same criteria as someone buying a car to go to work. Therefore the same moral process applies here as in any other moral decision : identification of one's values, sifting between rational and irrational values, and implementation of these values (or in cases where we have no time to make such evaluations - the rapid identification and application of relevant virtues).

I was involved in a very frustrating discussion with noted atheist author David Eller, who holds to the firm belief that all morality is cultural. This of course is complete nonsense - even he himself admits that he considers nothing else to be cultural. And yet he holds fast to the belief that morality is somehow a completely different study from any other study in existence. Even when I pressed him on a specific example, he would not say that the wholesale murder of atheists is immoral. Now that's dedication to a belief.

What can you say to such a person ? This is the kind of fanaticism that only religious or political beliefs usually invoke. And yet there is no concentrated effort on anyone's part to brainwash people into cultural relativism. Rather, this particular belief is carried on the shoulders of both religion and politics.

This reminds me of another debate I had, this time against Bible inerrancy nut Jason Gastrich. When confronted by the different moral principles presented in different parts of the Bible, Gastrich's answer was that these rules were meant for a specific people at a specific time, and that this was demonstrated by their specific nature. Of course, when I pointed out that these rules were in fact NON-specific, as they applied to things such as retaliation against evil, which apply to all people at all times.

Therefore we see that cultural relativism is not at all exclusive to atheists. I assume that most Christians hold to some form of this view as well, at least to justify their blatant disobedience of Biblical orders. And they then justify their obedience to a specific "culture" or "duty" with "might (of God, of the religion, of the state, of the majority) makes right". Cultural relativism and "might makes right" are plagues of both the religious right and the post-modernist liberals.

Against both these enemies we must make clear that morality, like any other field of study, is and must be based on empirical fact. That actions performed on the basis of culture, religion or beliefs are immoral because they go against the principle of reason. And finally, that being an atheist is wholly incompatible with any such irrational method - and that therefore any atheist who holds to them is irrational.

By the way, if you're a relativist and want to comment about this post, there's no point - since nothing you say is based on fact, I really don't care. Simply answer this : do you base your decisions on facts ? If you answer yes you are a hypocrite (since relativism by definition is not based on facts), if you answer no you are a liar (since you do base most of your decisions on facts).

For another entry on this topic with excellent points, see "Morality: Is it Different from Everything Else? Many Atheists Think So", by Alleee.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

WOE: GTA mission

Derek Sansone and I carried out a successful operation. Pictures can be seen here.

Why is Mary Crying? The Inaccuracy of the Easter Account

Today in the Christian tradition is celebrated as the anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus, and is called "Easter" in English-speaking countries after the spring goddess "Eostre." Embarrassingly close pagan origins aside, the Christian narrative which recounts the events of this day is recorded in all four Gospels- one of the only narrative elements which the Synoptics and John share in common.

Ex-Evangelical Christian and co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation Dan Barker has issued a perennial challenge to Christians, requesting that they "tell [him] what happened on Easter. [He's] am not asking for proof. [His] straightforward request is merely that Christians tell [him] exactly what happened on the day that their most important doctrine was born." The terms of this challenge are to harmonize the gospel accounts from Easter morning until the end of each gospel, without omitting a single detail.

I've decided to take up this challenge, simply to familiarize myself with the issues involved with this challenge, so that I may be better informed when discussing the gospel accounts with others. I intend to take as liberal a position as possible, including all non-redundant events under the assumption that differing details are omissions between the accounts. For convenience, when an event is recorded in two or more gospels, I will include the text from the older source (assuming that Mark is the oldest account, followed by Matthew, Luke and John).

I will not be including text from Mark 9-20, since it is not found in the original manuscripts, and most of its narrative content is a paraphrase of other gospels. I also will not be including Acts 1:3-12, since the account in Luke ends with an ascension, and I will not be including Paul's formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, since it does not contribute any narrative details in a context which promotes harmonization.

My source text translation is the New American Standard Version.

You can read the separate accounts over each Gospel here: Mark, Matthew, Luke, John.

You can read my harmonization here. The harmonization is color-coded to show from which Gospel account the text originated.

My full conclusions are found here. Briefly, though I tried to be as liberal as possible, there are two irreconcilable contradictions within the harmonization. The first is the emotional state of the women as they left the tomb- in Mark, they are afraid and speak to no one; in Matthew, they are joyful and report immediately to the disciples. The second is the emotional state of Mary after seeing the risen Jesus. Because the order of the narrative is different in the Synoptics and John, a harmonization of the four shows Mary crying and upset because she thinks the body of Jesus has been stolen- just hours after seeing him resurrected.

Clearly, the accurate historicity of this event is contradicted by the only documents which record it. If an historical Jesus existed, the Gospel writers are the least trustworthy sources of information.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Morality Disconnect part 1

This entry is part of the War on Relativism.

There is a basic, flagrant and irrational disconnect in the way that even most rational atheists treat morality compared to everything else.

If you buy a house, you will consider various factors, such as location, proximity to malls and schools, taxes, value, size, etc. If you are a rational person, you will NOT consider your traditions, culture, religion, or belief system as criteria in choosing the house.

If you choose a line of work or career, you probably consider your own education, potential salaries, requirements of travel, and that sort of thing. If you are a rational person, you will NOT consider your traditions, culture, religion, or belief system as criteria.

I think these two examples are very intuitive. I think you'll agree with me on this, especially if you're an atheist.

If you look at social institutions, you likewise desire or expect them to be based on facts. Scientific research, for example, is based on observations and tests which are precisely designed to eliminate such non-factual bias. And so is engineering. The last thing you want when you're in a car, is to have a car built on religious or cultural principles.

Two other examples. You expect a rational court system (not the one we have now, obviously) to judge people based on the facts, not on their culture or religion. Religion is something that atheists have no problem critically examining on the basis of facts. They argue that this or that religious principle, or this or that belief, does not correspond to reality. As it should be !

In fact, I have no doubt that many people reading this would agree with me that we would all be much better off if social organization in general was regulated by facts, and not by culture, religion or beliefs.

And now we come to the rub : MORALITY.

In this area, even the most reasonable atheist will do a total backflip and argue persistently and arduously that morality is NOT based on facts. He will argue that morality is based on culture, religion or beliefs - anything BUT facts.

Why do reasonable people have this complete disconnect between morality and everything else ?

I think there are many reasons for this, including :

1. Religious education, which states that "morality" is duty to God, and that anything else is immoral. This means that everyone believes that is what morality is, even though it has no causal basis and has nothing to do with morality.

2. Democratic education, which holds as premise that anyone's opinion is equally valid and can only be singled out by what basically amounts to popularity contests.

3. Multiculturalist education, which opens people to the world, is a good thing - but without the ability to determine what good and evil are, it is a bad thing.

My best hypothesis right now is that this disconnect exists because it piggy-banks on religious and political indoctrination, because relativism is inherent to religious and political indoctrination. If you go around and say that values can be based on facts instead of beliefs and that you, as an individual, can find it out, then you are kinda going against the whole purpose of these belief systems.

Continue to part 2.

Official Declaration of War

Hellbound Alleee (my wife) and I have declared a War on Relativism, on this day of April the 14th 2006. See the opening post with the blogroll (which will expand as more people submit their posts).

We would like to invite all moral realist bloggers to join the good fight by using the icons on their blog, and make posts for moral realism/against cultural relativism. I am going to post my first attack in two days. Remember to shoot at them before, during and after you see the white of their eyes.

Aaron Kinney in the War on Easter

I completed my mission in the War on Easter. Check it out at Kill The Afterlife.

Friday, April 14, 2006

BlackSun Journal on Pope Benedict

BlackSun offers an excellent analysis of Pope Benedict and the evil of the Catholic Church. Here is a snip:

The way I see it, Pope Benedict and his church are evil incarnate. They, along with radical Islam, have become the very definition of evil in the modern world.

It gets even better than that. Go read the whole thing.

The Incoherency of Divine Sacrifice

To continue a theme I began last year at this time, I'd like to look at the sacrifice of Jesus on "Good Friday."

It seems to me that, even if one were to accept the basic tenets of Christianity (original sin, salvation, etc), there is no case that can be made to show that the death of Jesus could be in any way compensatory.

According to Christian doctrine, Jesus was both god and man, existing in a so-called "hypostatic union." Interestingly, there's really nothing conclusive in the Bible to back this up- plenty of references to Jesus as the human "Son of God" in the Gospels, and plenty of references by Paul about "Christ Jesus" as a divine entity, but no verses that establish this union explicitly. This presented a problem for early Christians, since it seemed to be logically inconsistent to teach that the sacrifice of God was necessary for salvation, and yet their scriptures only had the sacrifice of a man, however special and priveleged he might have been. The only solution, of course, when you're presented with two contradictory ideas which must both be accepted, is to abandon yourself to incoherency.

This doctrine is also known as the "mystical union," and I think this phrase is more appropriate, because as I've mentioned before, any time the word "mystical" is used in theology, it's an obvious clue that rationality has flown out the door. The very definition of "mystical" includes the meaning of "unintelligible." Therefore, any appeal to this teaching dissolves into incoherence; it is a simple assertion.

To say that Jesus had both a "divine" and a "human" nature is totally incoherent, especially in the Christian worldview. God is infinite, and man is finite- there is no way to resolve these two concepts in one entity. Thus, to argue for the compensatory sacrifice of Jesus is to argue something which cannot logically exist. Even if you were to somehow accept the assertion of the hypostatic union, the crucifixion of an infinite entity is no sacrifice at all. Even if it wasn't completely incoherent, the three-day sojourn of Jesus in Hell is but an infinitesimal inconvenience, compared to all of eternity.

Ironically, even if the sacrifice of Good Friday wasn't incoherent, it's insignificant.

When your neighbour is a terrorist...

Whether we like it or not, tolerence is part of those modern values that come about with the globalization of thought and ideas... but whether we like it or not, tolerence is being tested to the fullest by the infiltration of extreme religiosity and pre-modernism into societies where modern values dominate.

Admittedly, I am probably wildly diverging from the "liberal atheists" on this issue, as I am an elitist through and through, and see tolerence as, at best, mindless liberal conformity. However, I don't subscribe to the equally mindless claims of superiority of religious extremists. Being part of one religion as opposed to another is no merit at all - it is an accident of birth. Religious structures turn natural aristocracies into arbitrary spectacles.

So while I am against tolerence, I absolutely despise religious structures and religion-based intolerence. Because I am so much more on the side of tolerence (and because I'm sure most of my readers are), I want to look at tolerence in this entry from a more positive standpoint and why it is superior to religious intolerence.

Firstly, what is tolerence about ? Well, if we are to take part in a society, we must refrain from violence against each other, and we have to accept the existence of their values, ideas and beliefs and view them all benevolently, even if we disagree with them, at least according to the value of tolerence. And to a certain extent this is true. Civilization, after all, is based on the premise that cooperation is better than isolation, that trade and specialization are better than self-sufficiency, and that progress is better than stagnation.

On the other end of the scale, you have religious extremism, which holds that the believer should only interact with people who share his cult, sect or religion - marry within their sect, trade within their sect, have friends within their sect, keep knowledge of crimes within the sect. Religious extremists love to isolate themselves from the rest of society - which they consider corrupt - and promote intolerent ideals. In extreme cases, like the Amish or the Mennonites, profound isolation is promoted, unless the unbeliever wants to buy wood furniture.

In this process of isolation, they exclude themselves from the larger society on which they depend. Complete isolation is extremely destructive, in that it drastically restricts the available resources in any field, and thus may limit the individual's value expression in unacceptable ways. So most sects seek to co-exist with the larger society but suppress its elements which are most dangerous to the sect. And that is when we get into the problem of religious intolerence.

Now you've got two basic organizational scenarios. Either you have an exploitative ruling class in place, or you don't. Now most modern societies have a ruling class, and we can't imagine living any other way, although this was not always the case. Nowadays we think the ruling class is great because we get to choose who we want to exploit us on little pieces of paper, but once again this apparent legitimacy is a relatively recent invention. Either way, these are your two basic alternatives.

Most countries have a democratic ruling class. In such a case, religious intolerence is a natural extension of the social warfare that is inherent to any democratic system, and sects become one of the many groups vying for government favours and government power.

They are, however, different in a few respects : unlike most other interest groups in a democracy, they seek nothing more but the complete reform of society, their whole lives are consumed by this quest, and they are also consumed with the desire to persuade or intimidate others to join their group. This is why we fear Islam might attempt power grabs in Europe but not, say, feminists, or farmers, or construction workers. For one thing, these groups, however irrational, are inherently limited in scope and fanaticism. Religious activists are not.

Now let's look at the case of a society without a ruling class. Without government to impose a singular value system, people are free to trade with anyone in the manner they desire. In such a case, tolerence will tend to be selected for, since there is more profit in trading with anyone, than in limiting your pool of customers. When in freedom there is a strong incentive to keep one's beliefs to oneself.

But religion defeats this incentive, because religious fanatics believe that material values are unimportant compared to (and even hostile to) their eternal salvation. Therefore a religious fanatic living in a free society would still have a strong incentive to discriminate, denounce and murder. In this breadth of scope, once again, religion is a rare specimen.

People who are religiously intolerent and yet persist in living in society are like "Christian pharmacists" who refuse to fill out prescriptions - they are barking up the wrong branch. If you disagree with the fundamental reasons for something to exist, then the most sensible thing to do is to not participate in it. Thus, complete isolation seems to me the most reasonable religious alternative.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Is Atheism a Spiritual Orientation?

The Atheist Spy has taken on an interesting task- he's decided to inflitrate a church in the guise of a Christian to try to understand the Christian mindset. From his initial post:
If you "suspend disbelief" for just one second and suppose that the world was deliberately created by an intelligent entity, and that 2000 years ago a man lived who was morally perfect... How much of Christian theology and mythology can be derived from just these two simple propositions? In other words, if a skeptical, logical, scientific-minded, reasonable person grants that these two axioms are true, how much of Christianity are they enough to justify, if you believe the world runs in a scientific, natural, deterministic way (no miracles or "tweaking" by God after the very start), and WITHOUT believing that Jesus had supernatural powers? The answer is; A surprising amount of Christianity follows from just that. Figuring this out is like playing with non-Euclidean geometry: Just change two basic axioms but leave the other ones the same, and explore the crazy new world you get.
It's an interesting proposition, perhaps. One could presuppose any number of weird axioms and conclude a myriad of trippy worldviews. But upon accepting the Christian axioms, the Atheist Spy has come up with a new theory to explain the reason why reasonable people can be either Christian or Atheist:
...we can basically divide people into two camps:

People who think asking "Why?" about the way the universe and life and intelligence came into existence and developed, and about accidental events, is meaningful. These people believe that the universe was created and/or is guided by a higher entity with a plan, with purpose. They will not be satisfied with a model of the universe that does not answer "Why?" - for them such a model would be incomplete.


People who think asking "Why?" is not meaningful, useful, or likely to lead to any relevant (or true) ideas. Rather, asking "How?" should expose the mechanisms which automatically (with no guidance or purpose) led to things being as they are.
In other words, some people just need to believe in purpose-driven natural phenomena, and others don't. The Atheist Spy goes on to explain that this fundamental distinction explains how people can be religious and scientific simultaneously, because they exist as non-overlapping magisteria.

The implication is that some people are just born religious, and others are not- the obvious analogy is that of sexual orientation, and which the Atheist Spy refers to as a "spiritual orientation." This solution he feels will promote greater understanding between theists and atheists, since it removes the decision to accept a deity from rationality. But how accurate is this? I would submit as a counter-example, evidence A: myself. I was born into a Christian home, accepted Christian theism without complaint or question for two decades, and only began to question Christian doctrine upon closer examination of the source text. My path out of Christianity was facilitated exclusively by academic means and rational appraisal of arguments. So I would argue strongly that the choice of atheism was definitely rational- but according to the Atheist Spy, I'm an atheist because I had to be- because of my "spiritual orientation." If the analogy to sexual orientation is accurate, I would think that one's orientation is something inborn or intrinsic. So that means that for two decades, I was a closeted atheist- so closeted, in fact, that I didn't even know it.

If this phenomenon of "spiritual orientation" is true, then what causes it? The Atheist Spy doesn't offer any explanation of its origin. Is it genetic, like sexual orientation? There are some possibilities, but at best they predispose individuals to hallucinogenic or spatial orientation experiences that would suggest some kind of supernatural realm, but nothing which assigns purpose.

I think that going back to the Atheist Spy's original post provides a better explanation for the difference between theists and atheists. "If a skeptical, logical, scientific-minded, reasonable person grants that these two axioms are true, how much of Christianity are they enough to justify?" The problem is in granting those two axioms. Are the Christian axioms coherent, and are they necessary to understand the world? Obviously, they're neither. So I think that there is, in fact, a difference in rationality between theists and atheists- theists add a couple incoherent, unnecessary axioms to their worldview. That they do so because they want to believe in an intelligent purpose to the Universe may be relevant from a psychological perspective, but it doesn't set theism equal to atheism as a rational belief.

Franc's Challenge - Zach wins !

Due to the dearth of challengers from the Christian side for Franc's Challenge, Zach has proposed Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.

For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Yea, I guess you got me there. I don't see any substantial moral objection to these verses, and they answer the causal criteria. Zachary wins.

I would like to note, by the way, that it took an atheist to find it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Question of the Day #37: "Turn The Other Cheek"

Whoops... Sorry about that, Franc. Absent minded of late. Alrighty then! Here's one that struck me recently.

Jesus is constantly portrayed by Christian as the ultimate figure of peace and love. Wow, he loved us so much. What a great guy. He teaches us to love our neighbors, judge not let ye be judged, and to turn the other cheek.

Now, that last one is rather intriguiging. While I think most of you guys could easily find contradictions to "turn the other cheek" all over the Bible, I was kind of wondering about the virtue of the principle in itself. Jesus says to "love your enemies" and "do good to them which hate you". (Hmm, maybe the US President should be reading this stuff.)

But is this actually virtuous? If we are attacked, should we not defend ourselves? It seems ludicrous to me. If some guy went to strike me in the face, I wouldn't turn either cheek. I would simply step out of the way!

Oh darn, there I go answering my own question again!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The War on Easter

Report from the frontlines...

Brian Flemming, director of the documentary "The God Who Wasn't There," in conjunction with the Rational Response Squad, has launched the first assault against Christianity in the War on Easter.

From the press release:
Hollywood -- April 11, 2006. Declaring War on Easter, Beyond Belief Media has launched a preemptive attack on the Christian holiday, the company announced today. "Operation Easter Sanity" has already begun.

Using its documentary THE GOD WHO WASN'T THERE as the chief weapon, Beyond Belief Media is covertly planting DVDs of the film in churches throughout the United States. The popular movie, currently ranked #1 on's independent documentaries list, is critical of the irrational beliefs of Christians and asserts that Jesus Christ did not exist.

A total of 666 DVDs will be hidden like "Easter eggs" in sanctuaries, church yards and other holy areas by Beyond Belief Media's national team of volunteers. The DVDs will be slipped into hymnals and other locations where they are likely to be discovered by unsuspecting worshippers.

Flyers explaining the will be planted by undercover operatives among actual Easter eggs at churches holding egg hunts on Easter Sunday.

"People go to churches to hide from the truth," explained Beyond Belief Media president Brian Flemming, a former Christian fundamentalist. "At no time is this more apparent than Easter, when Christians get together to convince each other that a man died, stayed dead three days, rose from the dead and then flew into the air above the clouds.

"Our nonviolent campaign sends the message that nowhere in the country is safe from the truth. Wherever Christian leaders are indoctrinating children with 2000-year-old fairy tales, the truth may just find its way there.

"Our 'War on Easter' is of course completely without violence of any kind. Christians believe that beating a man to a pulp and nailing him to a cross somehow solves all the world's problems. Beyond Belief Media does not."

More details as well as "battle reports" from field operatives are available at:
Onward Atheist Soldiers!

Franc's Challenge - first challenger down

On the comments thread for the original Franc's Challenge, menachem submitted Exodus 23:5. First, let's look at the verse in question in KJV (rememeber, any other VERSION is a PERVERSION) :

"If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him."

The greater context of the verse is a list of things one should do, so this verse stands alone very well. But just so no one accuses me of skipping over some justification, here is the verse in context :

"If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him. Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause."

Okay, first of all, the obvious issue here is, who the fuck still has donkeys carrying burdens ? Most people now live in places where we don't exactly need to use domestic animals to carry things. I guess the almighty YHVH didn't want to blow people's minds back then by telling them about "trucks". Way to go, jackass !

Let's be really generous here and imagine trucks instead of donkeys. Now suppose that you own a trucking company and you see the truck of one of your competitors broke down on the road. Should you go and help him ? Well first of all, there's not much you can do about it, so I guess the example is really pointless. If other human beings were in danger, then surely compassion would compel us to at least call for help. But in this principle, we're supposed to be looking at a mode of transport, a mere donkey, not another human being.

Which of course brings the criterion that ALL Bible verses fail - the criteria of justification. Nowhere is it explained exactly why one should help the donkey of one's enemy. Maybe we should, but how are we to know, without any justification whatsoever ? Blank.

Another thing is that there are many different scenarios that could arise even within these parameters. I could be in need of urgent medical help and thus not in a position to help the donkey at all, in which case it would be downright immoral. That is why secular morality, with its emphasis on values and principles instead of children's books scenarios, is infinitely more flexible and realistic than this religious pap.

Okay, it's your turn again. Go ahead and post your own "good Bible verse" in the comments so I can demolish it in a future edition.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Pianka : the final word

The wonderful libertarian blog Hit and Run has written the final word on the Pianka fiasco. Here is my general message : whacko right-wing IDers and whacko left-wing Greenies, kindly shut the fuck up and read this blog entry.

The conflict between Pianka and his persecutors, most of whom are ID supporters, has been (mis)cast as a war between science and reason on one side, and religious zealotry and superstition on the other. But as I have said before, I think it is in fact a conflict between two different brands of religious zealotry. Commenters at Kos and other left-of-center blogs have gleefully pointed out that the same religious conservatives who voice outrage at Pianka's vision of an agonizing death for 80 to 90% of humanity often embrace the idea of a God who will visit horrific destruction upon the world and punish the disobedient with eternal agony. They are correct, but they miss the point that the irony goes in the other direction, too: the radical environmentalists are as enamored of Armageddon as the more conventional religious extremists. The eco-doomsayers are driven at least as much by their fervent belief that humanity needs to be punished for its sins of greed and luxury as they are by scientifically based concerns.
The enviro-zealots and the religious zealots are united in their hatred of the human mind, of human freedom and pride; and both long to see humanity crushed under the weight of a superior power, be it God or Nature.


The virtue of honesty

Should one lie for a greater good ? Intelligent Design "scientists" sure do. Televangelists make it their job of lying. Christianity is founded on a Big Lie - the human existence of Jesus. Pious lying was widespread throughout the Dark Ages. In the Bible, Jesus outrageously lies by telling the fib that he would bring about the end of the world within a generation - a standard lie still told by cult leaders to make the fearful flock to them.

So obviously there is no strict adherence to the truth within Christianity. But everyone acknowledges that, while these examples are clear instances of immorality, there are instances of lying that are not immoral. It is generally accepted that lying to save a life from a criminal, for example, is good.

This is not a problem for the virtue of honesty. Contrary to common conception, honesty is not quite the same as "not lying". Honesty is a commitment to grasp the truth and act accordingly. This fits with our exception : to value the other person's life above telling the truth in that instance, and to refuse to act accordingly, would be dishonest. As David Kelley puts it, to be rational is to be aware, but to be honest is to reject falsehoods once we gain awareness :

Falsehood is not the absence of information, but the presence of misinformation. Human beings are especially capable of creating this peculiar kind of lack of knowledge. Because conceptual thought is volitional and creative, we can form propositions, claims, stories, and ideas that do not correspond to reality. It is this basic fact that lies behind our need for honesty.
Logical Structure of Objectivism, chapter 5

Telling a lie is not dishonest in itself (although it can be immoral for other reasons), but it exposes our dishonesty - our refusal to reject falsehoods. If I try to convince you that vaccination doesn't work, when I have plenty of contrary information available and should be aware of the falsehood, I am being dishonest. On the other hand, if I tell you that I have a degree when I do not in order to gain credibility, I am being deceitful but not dishonest (unless it was a bizarre delusion on my part).

Honesty, like rationality, is difficult to define in terms of consequences because it is such a fundamental issue. So unlike the first examination of a virtue I did, the virtue of non-coercion, I cannot give specific statements of the type "I need honesty for...", because we need honesty for everything. Honesty is an essential need. Without the desire to grasp truth, we can't even talk of the needs of the individual or living in society. As religion and politics beautifully illustrate, general dishonesty can only lead to the total substitution of human needs for subservience to beliefs and ideals.

Like all other theistic religions, Christianity is fundamentally based on dishonesty and Big Lies. It is adopted on the basis of pure hedonism, because it makes people feel better and comforts them in their own specialness, not because of any search for truth. Its moral consequences have been enumerated on this blog again and again, and don't need to be repeated. Christianity has all the tell-tale earmarks of fantasy : talking animals, people possessed by evil creatures, magical giants copulating with humans, a flying superhero, and so on. Like all dishonest, inhuman ideologies, Christianity must resort to FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) in order to be swallowed :

The Christian appeal to fear, to cowardice, is an admission that the evidence supporting Christian beliefs is far from compelling. If the evidence were such that Christianity’s truth was immediately apparent to anyone who considered it, Christians—including those who wrote the Gospels—would feel no need to resort to the cheap tactic of using fear-inducing threats to inspire "belief." ("Lip service" is a more accurate term.) That the Christian clergy have been more than willing to accept such lip service (plus the dollars and obedience that go with it) in place of genuine belief, is an additional indictment of the basic dishonesty of Christianity.

How deep dishonesty runs in Christianity can be gauged by one of the most popular Christian arguments for belief in God: Pascal’s wager. This "wager" holds that it’s safer to "believe" in God (as if belief were volitional!) than not to believe, because God might exist, and if it does, it will save "believers" and condemn nonbelievers to hell after death. This is an appeal to pure cowardice. It has absolutely nothing to do with the search for truth. Instead, it’s an appeal to abandon honesty and intellectual integrity, and to pretend that lip service is the same thing as actual belief.

From "20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity"

Honesty is not easy, especially when we are confronted with one of those simple truths (such as "God does not exist") that demand that we restructure our worldview. Nevertheless, the only alternative is delusion. History has plenty to tell us about the evils of mass delusion, and the news show us the results of delusion in one's personal life. Let it never be said that it pays to be dishonest !

Friday, April 07, 2006

Question of the Day # 36

Image hosting by PhotobucketHow many men and women do you know who carry around pictures of their FOO (family of origin) and/or their spouse in their wallet? How many Christians wear crosses and t-shirts with "John 3:16" on them? How many Americans wear the flag on their shirt?

How many individualists publicly display their values? What possible effects could public displays of individualist values have on "public" perceptions of those values?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hellbound Alleee on Freethought Media

Hellbound Alleee is part of the Freethought Media family. You can buy individual shows at very low prices in the FTM store (if you don't want to buy whole CDs), and get some free downloads of our latest shows from the Hellbound Alleee profile page.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pride and Humility part 2

Somewhat discordantly, 2 Corinthians sees pride as a good thing, but only insofar as it is applied to the "things of the heart" and as long as the pride is not borne out of comparison with others. In essence, one can only be proud of one's own humility. This is merely to repeat that what Kelley calls self-esteem is evil, and that mental and moral submission is good.

"The sin of pride is the sin of sins.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) wrote, "'Pride is the commencement of all sin' because it was this which overthrew the devil, from whom arose the origin of sin;
The sin of pride is a preoccupation with self. It is thus very fitting that the middle letter in the word is "i." Pride is all about "me, myself, and I." So even as the word "pride" is centered upon an "i," the sin itself is also centered upon "I.""

"Deep within the heart of every man exists a darkness, a demon, a foul disease. It is an evil that lodges in each and every one of us and distinguishes not between men, whether rich or poor, free or slave. (...) It is a universal cancer; it is ungodly pride.
Beware of this consuming cancer; check its spread before it overruns your whole person. Never entertain the thought that perchance you are immune from such a dread disease. Pride is at first a shadow that seeks to elude our notice; it feeds upon ignorance and draws strength from blindness."

"God cannot connect with those who live to please themselves, to make themselves first. Those who do this will in the end be last of all. The sin that is most nearly hopeless and incurable is pride of opinion, self-conceit. This stands in the way of all growth.
Those who have had the deepest experience in the things of God are the farthest removed from pride or self-exaltation. They have the humblest thoughts of self and the most exalted conceptions of the glory and excellence of Christ. They feel that the lowest place in His service is too honorable for them."

What a horrible morality ! To be a human being, to stand for what's true and right, is the worst sin for a Christian. Not only a sin, but the sin of sins, not murder, sacrifice, slavery, willfull ignorance, intolerence, intellectual and physical submission, injustice, dishonesty, or irrationality, all of which are in fact promoted by Christianity and the Bible to varied extents. Rather, they choose pride.

Why ?

Well, the obvious general answer is that, like any other collectivist belief, Christianity relies on the abdication of the self to higher ideals and moral principles. Therefore, to be proud is to rely on one's own values and knowledge, which is fatal to the propagation of any such belief system. Freethinkers and responsible people don't make good Christians. Religions and cults do not thrive in times where people have strong moral compasses and lack the mental vulnerability necessary to convert.

There is also the association of pride with all kinds of other negative attitudes. This echoes the way Christians associate other religions with criminality, delinquancy and immorality. Also, in cult think, the group is the only way to be moral, therefore anyone who opposes the group's goals is by definition immoral.

But most importantly, I like the quote describing pride as a demon deep within our hearts. In a way, this is very true - regardless of how indoctrinated or brainwashed anyone is, there is still a core of human qualities that remains a danger to the belief system. "Deep within their hearts", Christians have the understanding that what they believe and do is wrong, because their true personal values remain there. Even though they preach faith and submission, they cannot follow these to their fullest extent, and neither is it possible to do so even logically. To follow faith requires a rational understanding of what is being followed, and submission requires the independence necessary to decide to submit.

And thus we come back to the necessity of acknowledging the existence of the individual, and thus the virtue of pride. No one really admires the symbol of pallid incompetence hanging on a tree, although they very much like to mentally masturbate to its failure as a culture of victimhood. To be a pitiful writhing worm, to stop thinking, to abandon life itself, is not actually desired by anyone.

About symmetry

I think some of the confusion around Aaron's examples arise from the fact that they are really two different kinds of scenarios :

1. We are looking at a single causal link, and looking at relationships at a specific moment in time. (examples 2 and 4)
2. We are looking at the existence of a causal link in time (photon traveling) and positing the possibility of reciprocity. (examples 1 and 3)

Symmetry of the first type always exists, but not of the second type - simply because the hypothetical causal agent does not have the capacity to effect what is needed. For example, if I reflect photons and can see, I can confirm 1, but being a man I can never reciprocate 4 - I cannot give birth to my father. Symmetry of the second type requires universal properties.

Here is my badly drawn attempt to explain the difference between Aaron's two principles :

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Raving Atheist : " a slave must serve its master"

Since Raving Atheist and Aaron are having this little tiff here, I thought I might remind everyone that RA has publically stated that having a toddler was the equivalent of slavery, as an argument against abortion.

Stefan Molyneux : "Well yes, but the toddler is unable to provide for itself, right ?"
Raving Atheist : "Yes and it has, and it has very serious claims on her body as far as, she has to serve it in the same way as a slave must serve its master."

Listen to this extract :

(note : you need Flash to see the player)

The Raving Atheist Critiques Aaron Kinney's Asymmetry Argument

The Raving Atheist posted a few critiques of my "The Asymmetry of Immaterialism" post. Right off the bat, I want to thank RA for his consideration of my argument, and for the critique he provided. I hope to be able to answer his critique, as well as clarify a few ambiguities that he pointed out.

RA starts off with listing my four "asymmetrical" statements. I will repost them here for the convenience of my readers:

(1) For you to be in my line of sight, I need not be in your line of sight.
(2) To hold up this 10 pound object, I need not exert any force.

(3) It is wrong for me to murder you, but it is not wrong for you to murder me.

(4) I am your Son, but you are not my Father.

RA then begins his critique of each of my four statements:

I think this analysis is flawed for a number of reasons. Some of the statements may be false because they involve contradictions, but this has nothing to do with their symmetry or asymmetry.

First, the "asymmetry" of a proposition does not prove its falsity. AK seems to be asserting that the converse of every true statement must also be true, but that's not simply not the case. It may sometimes be the case, but that can only be determined by examining the nature of the proposition.

It may seem to be that I am asserting that the converse of every true statement must also be true, but that is not what I am asserting. What I am asserting is that when you make a statement involving two entities and their interaction between each other, both entities must conform to the preconditions that the interaction requires. In other words, both entities involved in the interaction must have symmetry in regards to the preconditions that each entity meets. A good example for this "symmetry" demand is in my first asymmetrical example.

Speaking of my first asymmetrical example, RA has this to say:

Example (1) is false simply because we know, empirically, that light travels in a straight line (mostly) and that two objects on the same line must thus be in the same line of sight. But if we preserve the "asymmetry" and change the statement just a little, we can form a true statement such as "for you to be looking at me, I need not be looking at you."

The straightness or curviness of the path of light is irrelevant to my statement (1), but it doesn't look like RA is challenging it on those grounds. In fact, RA is challenging it by tweaking my statement from having line of sight, to choosing to observe said line of sight. At this point, I am not sure if RA understands what I mean when I talk of "asymmetry".

It is logically impossible for entity A to be in the "line of sight" of entity B without entity B also being in the line of sight of entity A. Whether or not either of these entities chooses to observe or look through said line of sight is irrelevant. And as I said earlier, the straightness or curviness of the path of light is also irrelevant. Note that my argument from the line of sight is only making a claim of symmetry; of both entities being "symmetrical" by meeting the same preconditions required by the interaction in question.

To elaborate: For entity A to be capable of seeing (interaction) entity B, entity B must meet the preconditions of said interaction. In other words, entity B must be in the line of sight of entity A. However, entity B cannot be in the line of sight of entity A without entity A also being in the line of sight of entity B, because the interaction (seeing) has a precondition that both entities must meet (line of sight) before any interaction can begin. Whether or not both entities "choose" to "see" each other is irrelevant, and after all, without a line of sight available between the two, the "choice" of whether or not to "see" each other would not even be available.

RA continues to statement (2):

Example (2) is false because we know, empirically, in a gravitational field, force must be applied to keep an object from falling. But again, a slight modification -- changing the weight term to one of mass -- could convert it into an asymmetrical but nonetheless true statement: "To hold up this 10 kilogram object, I need not exert any force." Astronauts do that all the time in zero-gravity situations.

Actually, in a zero gravity environment, force must still be applied to contain or control objects, and that force must be equal to (or greater than) the object's force that one is trying to change. Just because a ten kilogram object is in outer space, doesn't mean that it needs no force applied to it in order to be contained, controlled, or otherwise interacted with. Even in zero gravity, fuel must still be burnt to change the velocity of rocket ships, for example.

Consider also the comment from Axel_621 in regards to force being applied to objects:

I'd like to point out that if an immaterial entity exerts force on a material object, then the material object is also applying force to the immaterial entity by default. If this were not so, then no force could be applied to the material object by the immaterial entity.

So true, so true.

Now we continue to RA's critique of my statement (3):

Example (3) is false (to the extent moral statements have a truth value) only because "murder" implies a wrong, or at least a legal wrong. But the symmetry of the "who kills who" aspect of it is irrelevant. There are plenty of situations in which it would be right for one person to kill another, but not vice versa -- a police officer would be justified in killing a sniper or suicide bomber. And statements of the "it is wrong for me to X you, but it is not wrong for you to X me" are true in countless situations despite the asymmetry. It's fine for a small child to sit on its parent's lap, but the adult doesn't have the same privilege.

I think RA got confused here between the words "kill" and "murder". RA is right that "murder" implies a wrong. In fact, it implies coercion, and I chose to use the word "murder" very deliberately. RA is also right that "[t]here are plenty of situations in which it would be right for one person to kill another, but not vice versa," because the word "kill" is not morally contextual; it is not as specific as "murder" is, for "murder" is a specific kind of killing - a wrongful one.

For a moral statement to be true, it must adhere to The Moral Razor. According to Francois Tremblay:

The Moral Razor is this :
A moral principle or system, or a political principle or system, is invalid if it is asymmetrical in application (to locations, times or persons).

Which means that if it is immoral for person A to initiate coercion (like murder, theft, or whatever), against person B, then it is also wrong for person B to initiate coercion against person A. What it means, is that all conscious entities must operate by the same moral rules in the same way that all material entities must operate under the same laws of physics.

In response to RA's charge that "a police officer would be justified in killing a sniper or suicide bomber," I again will quote from Francois Tremblay's Moral Razor argument:

There is one exception, and that is when we are looking at scenarios where a valid rule was already broken. Arresting someone when no crime was committed is asymmetrical, but arresting someone who initiated force is a different scenario. In this case we are looking not at a political principle - which is what the Razor is about - but rather at the consequence of breaking such a principle. In that case I would argue that, as long as no other asymmetry is present, singling out initiators of force should not be seen as breaking the Razor a priori.

In RA's critique, he mentions snipers and bombers. I am assuming that he means an immoral, coercive sniper like Lee Harvey Oswald, or an immoral, coercive bomber like the Unabomber. In this case, since these snipers and bombers already broke the rules of morality, then a coercive response from security forces is justified.

So what is my point about RA's critique of my statement (3)? That RA has failed to show that a moral rule can apply to person A but not person B, and that RA has failed to show a valid example of moral asymmetry. RA's use of the word "kill" was not contextual, his argument involving the police stopping a sniper or bomber is actually compatible with my moral argument (as well as Francois' Moral Razor), and my claim that symmetry is necessary is still valid: that for any interaction between two entities, both entities must adhere to the demands set forth by the interaction for said interaction to take place.

RA then continues to statement (4):

Example (4), as a commentor pointed out, may be true as it stands because the "you" may be the son's mother (I thought everyone knew this riddle). Furthermore, the effect of the symmetry in relationships between people is very fact-sensitive. "I am your sibling, but you are not my sibling" is always false, whereas "I am your brother, but you are not my brother" is only sometimes true (where there's a sister). And returning to the actual example given, we can see that "I am your son, and you are my father" is less symmetric than "I am your son, and you are my son," but experience teaches us that the first is true and the second is not.

RA really did get me here. He pointed out a problem with my statement that I overlooked. I mistakenly said "son" and "father" when I should have said "child" and "parent". Allow me to correct it right now:


(4) I am your child, and you are my parent.


(4) I am your child, but you are not my parent.

Is it now more clear how the "symmetrical" statement is logically true, while the "asymmetrical" statement is not?

RA then addresses my claim that for material and immaterial entities to interact, both entities must be symmetrical in that they both meet the same preconditions required by said interaction:

Which bring us to the question of whether, as AK insists, there is a necessary symmetry between the ability of material and immaterial things to observe and test one another. I don't see why this would be so. This supposed rule doesn't even hold between material entities. I can observe and test a rock, but that doesn't mean the rock can observe and test me.

RA's statement regarding a rock is factually incorrect. For a human to test a rock, the human can touch it or see it (via light waves reflecting off of the rock), or something else. But does the same hold true for the rock testing a human? Of course it does! If a rock touches a human, isn't it true that the rock applies force to the human? And isn't it true that when a rock is within the line of sight of a human, that the human is also within the line of sight of the rock? Isn't it true that when light waves are reflecting off a rock and hitting a human, at the same time there are light waves reflecting off the human and hitting the rock? One may protest, "but the rock has no eyes!" But this is irrelevant, for the light waves are indeed reflecting off both the human and the rock and hitting each other nonetheless. The rock has visual observation of the human available to it whenever the human has visual observation of the rock available to him. And just as Axel_621 noted, whenever a force is applied, an opposite force is applied back. So if I were to touch a rock (apply force), the rock is touching me also (also applying force).

Again, we come back to the principle of symmetry. Between two entities (human and rock), both entities must meet the same preconditions (line of sight, application of force), set forth by the claimed interaction for said interaction to actually occur.

RA then critiques my claims regarding interaction itself:

AK also talks more broadly about interaction between material and immaterial things, again reasoning that if somethingness can't affect nothingness, nothingness shouldn't be able to affect somethingness. If I can't pick up a ghost, a ghost can't pick up me. The problem with this logic, is logic itself. Logic is immaterial, and yet AK insists that it governs the possibility of interaction between all things in all situations. And all of science is premised upon the existence of invisible "laws" which somehow infallibly direct the workings of all matter. Numbers, too, are immaterial, but play a large role in our interactions with the universe. I can't interact with the number 2, change the laws of gravity or violate laws of logic, but they still affect me quite profoundly (even if they're not omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent or even conscious).

We now come to a fundamental difference between RA and myself that runs deeper than I initially expected. RA believes that logic is immaterial. I could not disagree more. Logic is material in the same way that all meta-data is material. Properties of material entities are material as well, and that includes logic.

RA is also factually wrong about interacting with the number "2". RA interacts with the number "2" every time he imagines it. Concepts are just as material as software on your hard drive. It is meta-data, or data that describes data. Meta-data is just as material as the material that it is composed of. Are the songs on a Compact Disc immaterial? No, they are the meta-data of all the little bumps and valleys found on the surface of the disc.

Gravity is material, and the law of gravity is the concept that humans create in order to help understand gravity itself. The law of gravity is a material concept comprised of meta-data that is used to explain and understand a particular property of material matter/energy (that property is gravity). Just as the property of gravity is as material as the matter that produces it, concepts are just as material as the matter and energy that imagines them (the human brain).

I believe that my symmetry argument remains intact through RA's critique, in part because he didn't seem to fully understand it, also due in part to a bit of ambiguity and incorrect assumptions of entity descriptors (son instead of child, father instead of parent), on my part. I hope that I have cleared all that up. Note that my argument of symmetry does not mean that I claim that the converse of the given statement must be true. It only means that when two entities want to play together (interact), they must obey the same rules.

For clarification, my asymmetry argument against immaterialism's undetectability goes like this:

For two entities to interact, both entities must by symmetrical in that they both meet the same preconditions set forth by said interaction for the interaction to occur.

I would like to thank The Raving Atheist for critiquing my argument. I hope my response serves as good food for thought, and I invite more critiques from RA as well as anyone else who wants to take a shot at it. I am more than happy to listen to, and respond to, any critique of my arguments, so bring 'em on!

Crossposted at Kill The Afterlife.

Pride and Humility part 1

In general, pride and humility do oppose each other, but only when applied in the same respect. One can be proud of his success while humble when looking at the path left to travel. Likewise, it seems rational to be proud of one's strengths while being humble about one's weaknesses, but perhaps this should be better called "to be realistic".

Objectivist philosophers, for example, know the virtue of pride and never hesitate to write about it. In his seminal Logical Structure of Objectivism (which, as you probably know, is my morality bible), Kelley has a lot to say on the topic, and on the Christian ethos as well :

The antithesis of self-esteem is guilt: guilt for one’s actions and guilt in oneself as their author. Historically, even as many ethical codes have condemned pride as a “deadly sin,” they have engendered guilt in their adherents by demanding compliance with moral ideals that are incompatible with life and happiness. To sustain a moral ideal that runs contrary to real human needs, these ethics make a virtue of humility, the moral antithesis of pride. Humility is the deprecation, on principle, of one’s own actions, ability and character. In Christian ethics, for example, humility is the principle that encourages the faithful to despise reality and their own lives, and to sacrifice themselves to duty, others, and the Church.

Advocates of humility often characterize pride in terms of vanity and boasting. But objective pride is based in a rational recognition of facts in their proper context, and involves neither vanity nor boasting. Pride does not consist in unmerited admiration for oneself, or for some particular trait — such as physical beauty— out of its proper context. Nor does pride entail the false inflation of one’s worth; that is merely self-deception, which, as we have just seen, is harmful to the self, not a source of self-esteem. In essence, when pride’s critics treat it as vanity or boasting, they characterize a healthy trait in terms of an unhealthy distortion of it. This is rather like attacking those who choose to eat a healthy diet, because some people distort diet control into anorexia.

While I have to differ on the importance of self-esteem - a concept which has been pushed as an educational belief and recently shown invalid by studies on the performance of school children - the meat of the argument remains the same. To be proud is partly to insist on the validity of one's moral compass, and to be humble is to deny it and substitute it for religious absolutism. To be proud is a commitment to protect oneself against mental aggressors, and to rejoice in one's own accomplishments, one's very individuality.

Now, look at Christianity. The concepts here are reversed, right becomes wrong, and true becomes false. This is a constant trait of Christianity, that it must project all that is wrong and false to its opponents while adopting it wholesale. Christian dogma tells us that we must relish our flaws and weaknesses - our ignorance, our servility, our faith - and we must hate our strengths - our critical faculties, our values and desires, our successes.

But this relish must not be seen as pride, as man is fundamentally sinful, corrupt, worthless without salvation, and cannot be proud of anything per se. Indeed, when faced with yet another study about the immorality of religion, believers are fond of saying that they are "not perfect, just saved". No worth can be achieved without salvation, man alone only gropes at truth and can never attain it, in this worldview. Here is what the Bible has to say about pride :

"'If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit." (Leviticus 26:18-20)
"the joy of the godless lasts but a moment. Though his pride reaches to the heavens and his head touches the clouds, he will perish forever, like his own dung;" (Job 20:5-7)
"He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous;" (Psalm 10:3-5)
"he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword." (Job 33:16-18)
"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." (Proverbs 11:1-3)
"Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice." (Proverbs 13:10)
"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).
"The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride." (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
And so on, and so forth.

So what is the nature of pride in the Bible ? Pride is inherently atheistic or rebellious, and must be rejected as a horrible sin before God judges the prideful man. In this view, to take heed in oneself is to reject the divine authority, and therefore pride is defined as the desire to quarrel, to disgrace oneself, to boast and revile, to be stubborn, to be impatient. Interestingly, in Psalm 10 and Psalm 73 the prideful as described as being healthy, prosperous, having an easy life, and that these positive attributes are the source of their evils. Once again, to be strong is to be wicked.

Go to part 2.