Podcast: I try poetry

I was inspired to try poetry. Why? Well I did do a lot of it during my teen years, mostly prompted by angst. But this year I had a different motivation.

I heard the apologist Glen Scrivener (https://christthetruth.net/about-2/) deliver his own poem about a fictional conversation with an atheist. You can read it here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ex8GvfVysyZW4qde6WT83anCr9qQYSgwipUGJCe4jXo/edit

Though I do understand you can watch a delivery on YouTube if you ask google the right question.

My version is a fictional dialog with a Christian, written in a similar style to Glen’s. It is currently audio only, you can listen below.

https://anchor.fm/still-unbelievable/episodes/Episode-16-The-Still-Unbelievable–Poem-e4k9ic/a-air3ut

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Podcast: Rebekah, The Curious Atheist

I managed to grab a conversation with Rebekah, The Curious Atheist. I do know that some (most?) of those who follow this blog also follow Rebekah, who started out as the Closet Atheist and then re-branded, for obvious reasons, as the Curious Atheist. I enjoyed the conversation we had and I hope those who follow Rebekah’s blog will too.

You can find Rebekah’s blog here:

https://thecuriousatheist.blog/

Listen to the episode:

https://anchor.fm/reasonpress/episodes/Episode-21-Rebekah–The-Curious-Atheist-e4hsr5/a-aicf8f

Podcast: How should the church respond to Transgender

Recently I was a host on the Still Unbelievable! talking about transgender and the church. This episode is responding to an episode of the Unbelievable? podcast on the same subject.

The Transformed document that is referenced in the episode is found here: https://www.eauk.org/resources/what-we-offer/reports/transformed-understanding-transgender-in-a-changing-culture/transformed-the-resource

It’s a shocking document and I recommend reading this critique of it: http://mikehigton.org.uk/a-critique-of-transformed-1/

Ask An Atheist Day, April 18

Ask An Atheist Day is a thing, Apparently, and this year it falls on April 18th.

To support this, the podcast I co host, Ask An Atheist Anything, is going to do a questions episode. In this episode we’ll field a bunch of questions and give brief answers. This will be a change from most episodes where we have tended to focus on a single question.

So, what question would you like to ask an atheist?

Or, if you’re atheist, what question would you like to be asked?

Or, if you’ve seen an interesting question or set of questions elsewhere, paste in the link.

 

 

Can atheism explain Consciouness?

 

The latest episode of my Ask An Atheist Anything podcast went live over the weekend. Listen to it at the link below or wherever you get your podcasts.

https://anchor.fm/reasonpress/episodes/Episode-12—Can-atheism-explain-Consciousness-e3fr5q

The conversation that Andrew and I have with Ernest is delightful and there is a lot of genuine laughter. Ernest’s enthusiasm for life is infectious and the world does need more people like him.

The blog post that prompted the discussion and eventual recording of the episode is here: https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Unbelievable-blog/How-consciousness-demolished-my-atheism-and-saved-my-faith

Comments are no longer visible or possible on the blog post, which I think is a massive shame. It was only through the ability to comment that I was able to make contact with the author and to organise the live conversation. Shutting down comments kills the ability for dialogue to spread.

I am hopeful that there will be a follow up episode, so any thoughts, feedback, or follow up questions will be welcomed and appreciated.

I’m now Officially a Podcaster!

 

Was it really almost a year ago when I announced the collaborative book project I’d been working on? (more here: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2018/04/04/reasonpress-site-launch-and-a-book-that-im-very-excited-about/)

If you have read that book I would love to know your thoughts on it. In the year since more stuff has happened, I am now a podcaster, so if you wish to hear how this limey sounds then point your listening devices at these podcasts and listen for the grumpy old Brit 🙂

Ask An Atheist Anything (https://anchor.fm/reasonpress)
Still Unbeliveable! (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/still-unbelievable/id1448210557)

If you’re like me and enjoy podcasts on the interface between religion and atheism, then these others may interest you too. These include people who were also involved in the Still Unbelievable! book that launched last year.

Doubts Aloud (https://www.spreaker.com/user/heremcast)
Skeptics and Seekers (https://anchor.fm/skeptics-and-seekers)

If any readers have other podcasts that they enjoy and wish to recommend, then please feel free to give your recommendations in the comments, I and others may very well enjoy the content too.

In addition, if any reader (atheist or believer) wishes to review or comment on my podcast content, or better still join me on either podcast for a discussion, then I will gladly receive the feedback and engage in the chat. Now that I’ve gone public on the podcasting, I will attempt to create a new post for future episodes so followers here will get a notification.

This year, I intend to continue building on the podcast content and there are plans for further book content too, but I can’t divulge more than that right now.

Twenty Arguments for God – Twenty – Pascal’s Wager

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 20:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#20

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

20. Pascal’s Wager

Suppose you, the reader, still feel that all of these arguments are inconclusive. There is another, different kind of argument left. It has come to be known as Pascal’s Wager. We mention it here and adapt it for our purposes, not because it is a proof for the existence of God, but because it can help us in our search for God in the absence of such proof.
As originally proposed by Pascal, the Wager assumes that logical reasoning by itself cannot decide for or against the existence of God; there seem to be good reasons on both sides. Now since reason cannot decide for sure, and since the question is of such importance that we must decide somehow, then we must “wager” if we cannot prove. And so we are asked: Where are you going to place your bet?
If you place it with God, you lose nothing, even if it turns out that God does not exist. But if you place it against God, and you are wrong and God does exist, you lose everything: God, eternity, heaven, infinite gain. “Let us assess the two cases: if you win, you win everything, if you lose, you lose nothing.”
Consider the following diagram:
The diagram is in the shape of a square with the opposite corners connected by lines. Going clockwise from the top left the labels are ‘God Exists’ then ‘God does not exist’ then I believe in Him’ then ‘I do not believe in Him’
The vertical lines represent correct beliefs, the diagonals represent incorrect beliefs. Let us compare the diagonals. Suppose God does not exist and I believe in him. In that case, what awaits me after death is not eternal life but, most likely, eternal nonexistence. But now take the other diagonal: God, my Creator and the source of all good, does exist; but I do not believe in him. He offers me his love and his life, and I reject it. There are answers to my greatest questions, there is fulfilment of my deepest desires; but I decide to spurn it all. In that case, I lose (or at least seriously risk losing) everything.
The Wager can seem offensively venal and purely selfish. But it can be reformulated to appeal to a higher moral motive: If there is a God of infinite goodness, and he justly deserves my allegiance and faith, I risk doing the greatest injustice by not acknowledging him.
The Wager cannot—or should not—coerce belief. But it can be an incentive for us to search for God, to study and restudy the arguments that seek to show that there is Something—or Someone—who is the ultimate explanation of the universe and of my life. It could at lease motivate “The Prayer of the Skeptic”: “God, I don’t know whether you exist or not, but if you do, please show me who you are.”
Pascal says that there are three kinds of people: those who have sought God and found him, those who are seeking and have not yet found, and those who neither seek nor find. The first are reasonable and happy, the second are reasonable and unhappy, the third are both unreasonable and unhappy. If the Wager stimulates us at least to seek, then it will at least stimulate us to be reasonable. And if the promise Jesus makes is true, all who seek will find (Mt 7:7-8), and thus will be happy.

I first heard Pascal’s Wager when I heard the singer Cliff Richard summarise it in an answer to a question about why he believed. He didn’t identify it as Pascal’s Wager at the time, he just summarised the argument and that he was convinced by it. At the time I was too. It was some years later before I heard the term and looked into it more deeply.

The way the argument is presented is that the options are; the Christian god or no god. No other god is allowed for. It’s a false dichotomy. Why doesn’t the argument include the other gods? If you line up all the possible gods and then place no god in opposition, the choice becomes much clearer. Pick any god and you fall foul of those that remain, you may as well go for the home run and offend them all! If there is only one god and all the others are man made then how do you identify that god from the human descriptions? They all sound like human invented deities, so how do you pick the real one? You may as well say that none of the gods that humans believe in is real. It really is the most reasoned option.

As an aside, I do find it amusingly ironic that a religion that today teaches the evils of gambling, would posit this wager as a reasonable bet.

An unbiased (in my view anyway) description of Pascal’s Wager can be found here: http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/theistic-proofs/pascals-wager/

Twenty Arguments for God – Nineteen – The Common Consent Argument

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 19:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#19

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

19. The Common Consent Argument

This proof is in some ways like the argument from religious experience (18) and in other ways like the argument from desire (16). It argues that:
Belief in God—that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due—is common to almost all people of every era.
Either the vast majority of people have been wrong about this most profound element of their lives or they have not.
It is most plausible to believe that they have not.
Therefore it is most plausible to believe that God exists.
Everyone admits that religious belief is widespread throughout human history. But the question arises: Does this undisputed fact amount to evidence in favor of the truth of religious claims? Even a skeptic will admit that the testimony we have is deeply impressive: the vast majority of humans have believed in an ultimate Being to whom the proper response could only be reverence and worship. No one disputes the reality of our feelings of reverence, attitudes of worship, acts of adoration. But if God does not exist, then these things have never once—never once—had a real object. Is it really plausible to believe that?
The capacity for reverence and worship certainly seems to belong to us by nature. And it is hard to believe that this natural capacity can never, in the nature of things, be fulfilled, especially when so many testify that it has been. True enough, it is conceivable that this side of our nature is doomed to frustration; it is thinkable that those millions upon millions who claim to have found the Holy One who is worthy of reverence and worship were deluded. But is it likely?
It seems far more likely that those who refuse to believe are the ones suffering from deprivation and delusion—like the tone-deaf person who denies the existence of music, or the frightened tenant who tells herself she doesn’t hear cries of terror and distress coming from the street below and, when her children awaken to the sounds and ask her, “Why is that lady screaming, Mommy?” tells them, “Nobody’s screaming: it’s just the wind, that’s all. Go back to sleep.”
Question 1: But the majority is not infallible. Most people were wrong about the movements of the sun and earth. So why not about the existence of God?
Reply: If people were wrong about the theory of heliocentrism, they still experienced the sun and earth and motion. They were simply mistaken in thinking that the motion they perceived was the sun’s. But if God does not exist, what is it that believers have been experiencing? The level of illusion goes far beyond any other example of collective error. It really amounts to collective psychosis.
For believing in God is like having a relationship with a person. If God never existed, neither did this relationship. You were responding with reverence and love to no one; and no one was there to receive and answer your response. It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment.
Now we grant that such mass delusion is conceivable, but what is the likely story? If there were no other bits of experience which, taken together with our perceptions of the sun and earth, make it most likely that the earth goes round the sun, it would be foolish to interpret our experience that way. How much more so here, where what we experience is a relationship involving reverence and worship and, sometimes, love. It is most reasonable to believe that God really is there, given such widespread belief in him—unless atheists can come up with a very persuasive explanation for religious belief, one that takes full account of the experience of believers and shows that their experience is best explained as delusion and not insight. But atheists have never done so.
Question 2: But isn’t there a very plausible psychological account of religious belief? Many nonbelievers hold that belief in God is the result of childhood fears; that God is in fact a projection of our human fathers: someone “up there” who can protect us from natural forces we consider hostile.
Reply A: This is not really a naturalistic explanation of religious belief. It is no more than a statement, dressed in psychological jargon, that religious belief is false. You begin from the assumption that God does not exist. Then you figure that since the closest earthly symbol for the Creator is a father, God must be a cosmic projection of our human fathers. But apart from the assumption of atheism, there is no compelling evidence at all that God is a mere projection.
In fact, the argument begs the question. We seek psychological explanation only for ideas we already know (or presume) to be false, not those we think to be true. We ask, “Why do you think black dogs are out to kill you? Were you frightened by one when you were small?” But we never ask, “Why do you think black dogs aren’t out to kill you? Did you have a nice black puppy once?”
Reply B: Though there must be something of God that is reflected in human fathers (otherwise our symbolism for him would be inexplicable), Christians realize that the symbolism is ultimately inadequate. And if the Ultimate Being is mysterious in a way that transcends all symbolism, how can he be a mere projection of what the symbol represents? The truth seems to be—and if God exists, the truth is—the other way around: our earthly fathers are pale projections of the Heavenly Father. It should be noted that several writers (e.g., Paul Vitz) have analyzed atheism as itself a psychic pathology: an alienation from the human father that results in rejection of God.

In the course of history, millions of people have believed in god and they can’t all be wrong can they? Well yes they can. Millions of people have believed in gods that are not the Christian god, does the author think they are all wrong? Of course he does.

The author would have us believe that because religious belief has been wholeheartedly accepted, promoted and foisted on others for as long as there is a history of humanity, then that must make it true. The author isn’t drawing a distinction between religions here, all religions are lumped into the same basket so as to weight the scales in favour of the Christian god. Should this methodology be taken seriously?

Even a skeptic will admit that the testimony we have is deeply impressive

This one doesn’t. Testimony means little to nothing when it’s that blatantly biased.

The question is asked if it’s really plausible to believe that if there is no god then all those acts of worship over the course of mankind’s religious history were never once directed to a real object. Well there are many idols that have been on the receiving end of that worship so it seems that the author has a rather skewed perception of what it was that all those religions have worshiped. The author, it appears, assumes that all those religions were really focused on the single god that he believes in.

The comparison with heliocentrism is puzzling. I assume the author means geocentrism, which isn’t a theory but an hypothesis. The origin for the belief was observation of the sun and moon, the correction of the false idea and the establishment of the fact of heliocentrism was further evidence that is measurable and repeatable today. God, in the meantime, is still only an idea, one which Christians will not allow to be tested, measured or otherwise detected.

Ditto the comparison with falsely believing yourself to be married. I can go home and experience conversations over a home cooked meal and then correctly load the dishwasher afterwards. In the meantime all prayers to god and other methods of communication are decidedly one-sided. The author is trying desperately to assert the existence of god using every day experiences while failing to address that his god can not be seen, touched, heard or tested for.

unless atheists can come up with a very persuasive explanation for religious belief, one that takes full account of the experience of believers and shows that their experience is best explained as delusion and not insight. But atheists have never done so.

Not accepting that religious belief can be explained naturally, is not the same as it not being possible, it just means that in the religious mind, religious belief overrides everything else.

Apparently,

Many nonbelievers hold that belief in God is the result of childhood fears

Can you hear the strawman claxon sounding? I have no recollection of ever having heard this argument, I am pretty sure this is the first time I have responded to any form of it. Kids form a belief in god because they are taught it. Either from parents or from other trusted adults. They don’t naturally gravitate to it because of fear. It’s not a coherent argument but it does make for a good set-up to plug the work of Paul Vitz who asserts

an alienation from the human father that results in rejection of God

More of that nonsense here (http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth12.html), if you can bare it.

Twenty Arguments for God – Seventeen – The Argument from Aesthetic Experience

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 17:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#17

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

17. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience

There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.
You either see this one or you don’t.

What do I do with this one? Question the sincerity of the author? Roll out an ad hominem by insulting the authors intelligence?

Do I call POE? Do I ask if the whole thing is an elaborate troll?

Do I counter by saying that there is also shit and vomit, therefore there is no god?

I’m stumped, not because the sentences are compelling, but because this is not an argument. To take it seriously or to give it serious thought is insulting.

Twenty Arguments for God – Sixteen – The Argument from Desire

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 16:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#16

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

16. The Argument from Desire

Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”
The first premise implies a distinction of desires into two kinds: innate and externally conditioned, or natural and artificial. We naturally desire things like food, drink, sex, sleep, knowledge, friendship and beauty; and we naturally shun things like starvation, loneliness, ignorance and ugliness. We also desire (but not innately or naturally) things like sports cars, political office, flying through the air like Superman, the land of Oz and a Red Sox world championship.
Now there are differences between these two kinds of desires. We do not, for example, for the most part, recognize corresponding states of deprivation for the second, the artificial, desires, as we do for the first. There is no word like “Ozlessness” parallel to “sleeplessness.” But more importantly, the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction. This second difference is the reason for a third difference: the natural desires are found in all of us, but the artificial ones vary from person to person.
The existence of the artificial desires does not necessarily mean that the desired objects exist. Some do; some don’t. Sports cars do; Oz does not. But the existence of natural desires does, in every discoverable case, mean that the objects desired exist. No one has ever found one case of an innate desire for a nonexistent object.
The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone denies it and says, “I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, or sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,” we can only ask, “Are you, really?” But we can only appeal, we cannot compel. And we can refer such a person to the nearly universal testimony of human history in all its great literature. Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?'”
The conclusion of the argument is not that everything the Bible tells us about God and life with God is really so. What it proves is an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more: more beauty, more desirability, more awesomeness, more joy. This X is to great beauty as, for example, great beauty is to small beauty or to a mixture of beauty and ugliness. And the same is true of other perfections.
But the “more” is infinitely more, for we are not satisfied with the finite and partial. Thus the analogy (X is to great beauty as great beauty is to small beauty) is not proportionate. Twenty is to ten as ten is to five, but infinite is not to twenty as twenty is to ten. The argument points down an infinite corridor in a definite direction. Its conclusion is not “God” as already conceived or defined, but a moving and mysterious X which pulls us to itself and pulls all our images and concepts out of themselves.
In other words, the only concept of God in this argument is the concept of that which transcends concepts, something “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9). In other words, this is the real God.
C. S. Lewis, who uses this argument in a number of places, summarizes it succinctly:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A dolphin wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)
Question 1: How can you know the major premise—that every natural desire has a real object—is universally true, without first knowing that this natural desire also has a real object? But that is the conclusion. Thus you beg the question. You must know the conclusion to be true before you can know the major premise.
Reply: This is really not an objection to the argument from desire only, but to every deductive argument whatsoever, every syllogism. It is the old saw of John Stuart Mill and the nominalists against the syllogism. It presupposes empiricism—that is, that the only way we can ever know anything is by sensing individual things and then generalizing, by induction. It excludes deduction because it excludes the knowledge of any universal truths (like our major premise). For nominalists do not believe in the existence of any universals—except one (that all universals are only names).
This is very easy to refute. We can and do come to a knowledge of universal truths, like “all humans are mortal,” not by sense experience alone (for we can never sense all humans) but through abstracting the common universal essence or nature of humanity from the few specimens we do experience by our senses. We know that all humans are mortal because humanity, as such, involves mortality, it is the nature of a human being to be mortal; mortality follows necessarily from its having an animal body. We can understand that. We have the power of understanding, or intellectual intuition, or insight, in addition to the mental powers of sensation and calculation, which are the only two the nominalist and empiricist give us. (We share sensation with animals and calculation with computers; where is the distinctively human way of knowing for the empiricist and nominalist?)
When there is no real connection between the nature of a proposition’s subject and the nature of the predicate, the only way we can know the truth of that proposition is by sense experience and induction. For instance, we can know that all the books on this shelf are red only by looking at each one and counting them. But when there is a real connection between the nature of the subject and the nature of the predicate, we can know the truth of that proposition by understanding and insight—for instance, “Whatever has color must have size,” or, “A Perfect Being would not be ignorant.”
Question 2: Suppose I simply deny the minor premise and say that I just don’t observe any hidden desire for God, or infinite joy, or some mysterious X that is more than earth can offer?
Reply: This denial may take two forms. First, one may say, “Although I am not perfectly happy now, I believe I would be if only I had ten million dollars, a Lear jet, and a new mistress every day.” The reply to this is, of course, “Try it. You won’t like it.” It’s been tried and has never satisfied. In fact, billions of people have performed and are even now performing trillions of such experiments, desperately seeking the ever-elusive satisfaction they crave. For even if they won the whole world, it would not be enough to fill one human heart.
Yet they keep trying, believing that “If only… Next time …” This is the stupidest gamble in the world, for it is the only one that consistently has never paid off. It is like the game of predicting the end of the world: every batter who has ever approached that plate has struck out. There is hardly reason to hope the present ones will fare any better. After trillions of failures and a one hundred percent failure rate, this is one experiment no one should keep trying.
A second form of denial of our premise is: “I am perfectly happy now.” This, we suggest, verges on idiocy or, worse, dishonesty. It requires something more like exorcism than refutation. This is Meursault in Camus’s The Stranger. This is subhuman, vegetation, pop psychology. Even the hedonist utilitarian John Stuart Mill, one of the shallowest (though cleverest) minds in the history of philosophy, said that “it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.”
Question 3: This argument is just another version of Anselm’s ontological argument (13), which is invalid. You argue to an objective God from a mere subjective idea or desire in you.
Reply: No, we do not argue from the idea alone, as Anselm does. Rather, our argument first derives a major premise from the real world of nature: that nature makes no desire in vain. Then it discovers something real in human nature-namely, human desire for something more than nature-which nature cannot explain, because nature cannot satisfy it. Thus, the argument is based on observed facts in nature, both outer and inner. It has data.

Like several of the other arguments before it, this one opens with statements that are assumed to be true and are framed in such a way that the read is guided towards the already predetermined god answer. There is no attempt made to establish the accuracy of the opening statements first.

The explanatory section that follows makes a distinction between natural desires like sleep and hunger, I’ll call them needs since without them the body will function less efficiently, and desires that I’ll call wants, which are things that align to our preferences but are not requisites for body survival. Needs are things that we find hard or impossible to control and would include addiction. You can’t control your body’s need for food or sleep but your want to drive the latest supercar is entirely optional.

The description of needs and wants seems reasonable enough and I have no specific issue there. However, for reasons which are unclear and unexplained, the concept of infinity and proportionality is introduced and then the subject (predictably) turns to god. It’s almost as though the argument, as pasted above, is an incomplete edit.

What’s going on here is pretty obvious, the author is making the case that there is an innate desire to worship a deity, that deity is of course the Christian god. There is an attempt to justify this by suggesting that this desire is observed in nature. “It has data” apparently, yet no link to the study which supplies it!

Reference is made to John Stuart Mill, read more about him here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/milljs/

The three posed questions are odd, they are not phrased how I would put, it’s as though they are worded peculiarly on purpose so as to create some easy to bat away. The second part of the response to question two is especially disingenuous, it foregoes all subtlety and basically says that if you deny that you have an innate desire for god you are a liar. The author isn’t alone in abandoning all integrity when arguing for god; I have seen variations of that claim multiple times since I started engaging Christians from the atheist perspective.

Skipping to question three and the answer given, I like that it gives a clue as to how to dismantle the argument for no 13. The answer draws on the observation that “nature makes no desire in vain”, that part I’ll accept, it goes wrong when it assumes god applies to that and that everyone desires god. That assumption is by no means established and is certainly a subjective interpretation, despite the objections.