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…”


[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.”


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



On Tolerance

by Brian 16. June 2013 03:48

I find my tolerance waning over the misuse of the very word itself in contemporary discourse. Tolerance used to be a virtuous quality. Yet to be associated with the modern attribute is not particularly impressive. In this post I will attempt to to restore tolerance to its good and proper meaning. As long as the distortion continues, productive dialog will have to deal with this unnecessary barrier.

From etymology we find the word tolerance has its origin in the Latin tolerantia for endurance and forbearance. In the context of discourse where there are conflicting views, endurance and forbearance are often essential to a productive outcome. One does not need to forbear if they are simply going to hate and ridicule their opposition. In the original and virtuous sense of the word, tolerance was about how one behaved and held up under confrontation. One was tolerant if he or she was able to engage someone with a conflicting position, even one contrary to their deeply held belief, and do so with gentleness and patience. Likewise, intolerance was the complete lack of endurance or forbearance when confronted with any creed, belief, or opinion that differed from their own.

Given the traditional meaning, tolerance is a quality we ought to have.  Unfortunately today the word often means something very different. Merriam-Webster says tolerance is: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own. In addition to being sympathetic or indulgent today: One is tolerant if he or she is accepting of opposing views, where accepting implies holding your view in such a way that you permit without restriction the practices associated with any contrary view. Someone is intolerant in a moral disagreement if their position in any way restricts the practices of the one holding the opposing view.[i] 

Of course the restriction-caveat is silly. Take Valerie the vegan. She has a strong moral conviction concerning the slaughter of cattle. To her, it is morally wrong to kill animals for food. She is doing what she can to prevent it. She is using every social and political means at her disposal to prohibit the consumption of beef in the US. Then there is Marty the meat eater. He has a contrary view to Valerie and feels strongly he should have the right to eat beef. Yet Valerie is telling Marty his actions are morally wrong. She votes yes on Prop-7: The Protection of Cattle Act. This law would prohibit Marty from doing what he wants to do – that is, eat beef. The law is restrictive. Valerie’s view, according to Marty, is restrictive. So here’s the question: Is Valerie being an intolerant bigot here? Of course not! Merely because one’s view is more restrictive of social practices than the opposition, it does not follow the holder of said view is intolerant. You and I might disagree with Valerie; we might find her animal-rights presuppositions false, that they are based on bad information or ignorance. But Valerie sincerely believes her presuppositions and the views that logically follow from them. How can we charge her with some kind of hate-based character flaw merely on these grounds? Honestly and rationally we cannot.

So how do we demarcate tolerance from intolerance? When you present your view thoughtfully and carefully and opponents respond with hate and name calling; their response is intolerance. When you persevere with gentleness and respect against opposing views, then you are showing tolerance. When you hold up under intolerant opposition, you are displaying something even greater than tolerance - meekness. When you blindly accept, celebrate or indulge all views and behaviors, you are not tolerant using any virtuous meaning of the word. How ironic it is to find those who carelessly throw the word intolerance around are often the same ones who lack the endurance and forbearance to consider the beliefs and opinions of others.


[i] I am ignoring the epistemological relativists out there as they are far too unreachable on this topic anyway. If everyone has a private-truth on every issue, then even the charge of intolerance is just an opinion without any objective substance. This post is meant to reach the majority of sensible folks who hold some notion of a correspondence theory of truth. I am also leaving out the unfortunate fact mere restraint from restricting behavior is often not enough to prevent being labeled intolerant. There are those who expect you to celebrate the diversity of views and the practices that follow – or keep quiet.  


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.”

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, a partner and lead architect of EasyTerritory, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, avid kiteboarder and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs)

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