Coming Out

by Brian 22. October 2013 21:29


I wonder if we are reaching the end of the divine saga where the Lord extinguishes the firestorm of complete nonsense sweeping his creation. Let me see if I have things straight: Many atheists are adamant their position is simply one of rejecting belief in God or gods.[i] Yet mere rejection of a belief (that P) is not equivalent to believing that not-P.[ii] These people are not by definition atheist (asserting God’s nonexistence) but agnostic. So even though they really don’t know, many act as if they do. This is shown by their rallying, suing, writing, speaking, arguing, complaining, and devoting countless hours of energy against those of faith. Now a famous swimmer comes along and says she can be an atheist and believe in a postmortem soul. But Oprah says Ms. Nyad is not really an atheist because by valuing awe and mystery she believes in God[iii] (someone please direct a C-130 to OWN immediately and douse that hot-spot!) Then the Friendly Atheist says the talk show host ought to apologize for mislabeling who atheists are. The apology is demanded even though on his view we live in a materialist universe where everything is absurd including talk show hosts [iv]. But through all of the noise and confusion, one thing is clear. Atheists are slowly admitting their religiosity and their need for denominational boundaries.[v]

I did find something positive in this recent string of events. As a result of Oprah’s comments, the Friendly Atheist has created some “highly-sharable images” which include the following text:

“Atheists feel awe and wonder just like ordinary people do…because we ARE ordinary people. We’re parents, teachers, first responders, engineers; we’re part of every community. And we feel hurt, too, like anybody else, when media figures use their influential platforms to spread misunderstanding and bias about our way of looking at the world.” [emphasis added]

Thank you Friendly Atheist for your candor and confirmation of what I’ve been saying for a while now. Despite receiving numerous comments and emails to the contrary, atheism (practically speaking) is a worldview[vi]. Here we have a notable atheist and his collaborators openly admitting this in a marketing piece. So now that this baby step has been taken, it’s time to come the rest of the way out of the closet. It’s time to accept the fact that for many: Living out the atheistic worldview looks a lot like a religious life. After all, you even have churches popping up from East London to Los Angeles to prove it[vii]. Quite frankly, these new steps are appreciated by some of us. At last atheists might receive the same religious tolerance as Christians and the same legal treatment under our convoluted view of church and state. I’m all for fairness here.

 



[i] Nielsen, Kai 2011: "Instead of saying that an atheist is someone who believes that it is false or probably false that there is a God, a more adequate characterization of atheism consists in the more complex claim that to be an atheist is to be someone who rejects belief in God…”

[ii] http://www.apologetics.net/post/New-Atheism-Epistemology.aspx

[iii] Oprah: “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery that that is what God is … God is not the bearded guy in the sky.” This after Diana Nyad says “So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.”

[iv] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/10/16/boston-atheists-tell-oprah-to-stop-relabeling-atheists/

[v] Which atheist church do you belong to? The new, friendly, or ah-theist sect?

[vi] http://www.apologetics.net/post/Atheism-is-a-worldview-(II).aspx

[vii] http://theweek.com/article/index/250032/why-atheists-are-starting-their-own-global-church

Lincoln on Euclid

by Brian 13. May 2013 21:50


I recently saw Lincoln share his philosophy on equality. In the latest movie bearing his name, I watched Daniel Day-Lewis make the argument men are equal because a two-thousand-year-old Euclidian law reveals the truth of our equality. My jaw dropped at this point in the film. Lincoln may have had high regard for Euclid, enough to keep a copy of his work in his saddlebag, but I am fairly certain nothing like the account in the movie was ever a basis for Lincoln’s view on equality. If Lincoln had operated within a worldview of mere mathematics, mechanics and physical laws, he might have reached a very different position – and most likely not the one presented in his Gettysburg Address. (1)

So what was the argument Lincoln presented in the movie? Well, it is difficult to state clearly because the line of reasoning was disjointed. If there was a reasonable argument to parse from the script, I could not find one. The following lines are Lincoln’s (verbatim) from the movie:

Euclid's first common notion is this: "Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." 

That's a rule of mathematical reasoning. It's true because it works; has done and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is "self-evident."

You see? There it is, even in that two-thousand year old book of mechanical [sic](2) law: it is a self- evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. We begin with equality. That's the origin, isn't it? That’s balance, that's fairness, that's justice.

Starting from the top: Lincoln, by way of Euclid, tells how we may determine if things are equal. For example: If each element of the set {P1, P2,…,Pn} is equal to Q (such that P1=Q, P2=Q,…,Pn = Q) then one can infer each element in the set is equal to the other elements in the set. This much is obvious. But if people, men and women of all creeds and races, are members of the set {P1, P2,…,Pn}, then what is Q? Here Lincoln has nothing to say about Q. He simply moves straight to the conclusion “We begin with equality. That’s the origin isn’t it?” Yet without addressing Q, he has proven nothing by way of Euclid. I challenge the reader to come up with a suitable Q – some entity all men are equal to other than themselves. In the absence of a suitable Q, on Euclid alone, we are left agnostic on the matter of our equality.

Then there were the two references to “self-evident,” both irrelevant at best and misleading at worst. Upon hearing the lines in the movie you are likely taken back a few score, as I was, to: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I can’t help but think the authors of the movie were trying to conjoin in the minds of the viewers the self-evident quality of Euclid’s principle with the use of “self-evident” in the Declaration of Independence. Ironically, the modern secular mind may agree with Euclid’s principle being self-evident, but I seriously doubt it would find certain unalienable Rights, endowed by the Creator, to be self-evident.

It is no surprise as a Christian theist I find common ground with Lincoln on the issue of equality. We agree with Scripture that God created man in his own image. Our intrinsic value, whatever it is, is established by the Creator and we, the created, have not been given a means to discern the difference. And that of course is assuming there is any. So when Lincoln in the movie said “we begin with equality,” he at least got that right. You just don’t get there from Euclid.

I suppose there is little doubt as to why Lincoln believed all men are equal. The movie’s portrayal of his philosophy was an irrational fabrication. If we take Lincoln out of his theistic worldview and drop him into one appealing solely to mathematics, mechanics and physical law, he might have sided with the Confederates. Given the philosophical influence of natural selection a few decades later, I think such a man would have fit in nicely with the Eugenicists. Survival of the fittest hardly supports equality. The only thing we can draw from nature and Euclid is inequality. I did not see the real Lincoln of history the other night, at least not in this segment. The movie simply got it wrong.

 

[1]Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

[2] Yes, he said “mechanical” and not “mathematical.”

Atheism a worldview?

by Brian 31. December 2009 19:13

I just finished watching the April 4th, 2009 debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens at Biola University. I must say Craig gave Hitchens such a serious beatdown it was truly embarrassing by the end of the DVD (the photo hints at the juxtaposition.) In fact Hitchens ran out things to say and forfeited his time during the concluding remarks. Even though this was not a fair matchup, (Craig is a top-notch philosopher and Hitchens simply isn’t) the debate generated excellent material for discussion. I hope to cover some of it in the coming days. For now I want to focus on the statement: Atheism is a worldview. Craig alluded to this in his rebuttal by stating one should not judge a worldview, Christianity or atheism, by its social impact. Rather one should judge a worldview by whether or not it is true. Hitchens agreed. Yet in the exchange portion of the debate when Craig pressed Hitchens to clarify his position as an atheist, you saw an angered opponent trying to backpedal. Hitchens was clearly trying to have his cake and eat it too and show atheism as a positive assertion (i.e. "there is no god") without the use of sound argumentation. When arguments are lacking, the best one can do is retreat into atheism as a default position (i.e. "you have not convinced me there is a god, therefore we should assume there isn't.") Unfortunately the later leaves a lot to be desired for such a debate.

So which form of nontheism does Hitchens fall under?

1.       A-theist - one who positively asserts the nonexistence of God (i.e. one who claims to know there is no god)

2.       Agnostic – one who has no net belief in the existence or nonexistence of God, in other words, no decisive knowledge on the matter due to balanced-belief or ignorance

3.       Skeptic (new atheist) – one who has no belief or insufficient belief in the existence of God to justify the extraordinary and momentous implications resulting from affirming said belief

Now clearly #1 is a worldview as much as theism is. It makes foundational claims about ultimate reality - such as the material universe being the initial brute fact by which all existence is based. There is no objective morality. There is no ultimate justice. Life ends at the grave, etc. As for #2 and #3, their relation to worldview is unclear. But, I have yet to meet an honest agnostic. Those who claim to be one usually live their lives as #1-atheists and reveal the doubt of #3 far more than honestly required to null out any positive belief. So apart from the truly ignorant, most nontheists are honestly in camp #1 or #3. However, based on my once self-proclaimed skepticism and my experience with others; under the cover of #3 is usually a closet #1-atheist. For the most part, nontheism is a worldview or foundational to one's worldview.

During the debate Hitchens claimed to be in camp #3 – which was not really fitting. After all, the title of the debate was “Does God exist?” Craig's opponent really needed to present a valid argument for the nonexistence of God and rebut the arguments for the existence of God. Craig prepared himself for this approach to only be disappointed. Since Hitchens did not rebut Craig or offer anything resembling an argument (apart from several assumptive ones with appeals to emotion), he showed he was not prepared to answer the question. By using the cover of #3 he exempted himself from having to take on Craig substantively and deal with the real debate - Does God Exist?

If Hitchens claims to be a #3-skeptic, why does he vehemently fight theists? Why did he debate Craig? He said during the debate that he didn't want a bunch of fellow primates telling him what to do in the name of God and basically he is on a mission to free us all from the shackles of religion. Fair enough, I do believe this is his real motivation. But it sure seems to me a genuine worldview clash between Hitchens and theist is key to that motivation, and such a clash only seems reasonable if Hitchens were a #1 atheist with a good degree of certainty about the nonexistence of God. But if he has that sort of certainty, he sure didn't substantiate it at the debate. Interestingly, he said to the audience multiple times during the discourse, “you are perfectly free to believe” as a backhanded way of saying “if you are an idiot, I cannot stop you.” Hitchens would like for you to think he cannot stop the believer because of their dogmatic ignorance, but the truth is; Hitchens is ill-equipped to defend atheism and it is a lot easier to simply bash the believer.

Finally, Hitchens commented on how he does not like to argue with liberal protestants because, in effect, their worldview is so watered down there is not much left to clash with his. I completely relate, but would point out it cuts both ways. Hitchens ought to come out of the closet as a rip-roaring #1 atheist and boldly proclaim what he already believes and not hide behind default #3 atheism. But if he does so, and decides to debate Craig again, he should come prepared. 

 

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

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