Where I Cram My Ideas

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


One advantage a person has in being a religious person and then becoming an atheist is that I have a very important set of memories. I understand what it feels like to be religious. For a while after rejecting my religious beliefs I was rather defensive and prickly about the matter. I was impatient with people who didn't see things the way I did. I was the one, after all, whose eyes had been opened.

Then I realized that any criticisms I leveled about the basic intelligence of the religious was a criticism I had to apply to myself. That's how I know you religious people are smart and all very handsome and well-mannered :)

It has been nearly a year, at the time that I'm writing this, since I have called myself a Christian. My memories of my faith-based life, thus, are still vivid. I was cleaning out a few possessions and came across an old page-binder in which were some folded-up pieces of paper with poems I had written.

I don't know the limits of copyright law on the internet and such, so if these poems reflected what I considered to be excellent pieces of work, I'd be more anxious in ensuring that I maintain the rights than I am. However, I have no qualms with using them to illustrate my thoughts.
"The winter came sudden, like the Norsemen of old,
With unstoppable force and unbearable cold.
It brought layers of snow that topped off the charts,
And it froze 'til the cars would not even start.

Is it true that the winter is dead?
Is it through?
Will the sun reascend?
Winter's fled, at its end?

The winter then stopped, it was brought to a halt,
But the snow was still thick and the roads needed salt.
The clouds of the storm swept out of the skies
So the comforting sun, unchallenged, could rise.

It is true that the winter is dead!
It has fled!
It is through!
Winter's fair end lets the sun reascend!

The sun reaches its zenith, not a cloud stands to fight,
And the warm, shining rays cast a life-giving light.
See the temperature rise as, to no one's surprise,
The snow starts to melt as the long winter dies.

Yet is it true that the winter's quite through?
Is it thoroughly dead?
In defeat has it fled?
Has it come to an end or will the sun now descend?

For the winter still lurks, it is not far away,
And the gathering clouds dissipate the sun's ray.
Until shadow and cold once again mist our breath
And the sun choked by clouds and by winter's cold death.

But the sun will have victory, though it seems he's not here
The winter months are waning and the spring's drawing near.
What had once been frozen, hopeless and bleak
Can be saved by the sun in less than a week.

Now winter and death have come to an end
And freeing the world, the Sun will ascend
The winter will flee and we'll all become free
The coldness is through, now at last that is true."
I wrote that when I was fifteen or sixteen years old - in my defense, I had only just started writing poetry. Yet the allegorical nature of this poem is blatant even without replacing the word 'sun' with 'Son.' This sort of imagery allowed me to place strong emotional contexts to my faith. I have never liked the winter (except for the opportunities it affords me to go snowboarding... wrapped up warmly). It may not be something that happens to all of the faithful, but I had personal emotional attachments to my religious beliefs, some of which were quite subconscious. Other people may equate their faith with the faith of a loved one, even someone who has died. To criticize that person's faith, then, is subconsciously like criticizing the faith of the loved one.

I think the second poem helps demonstrate the emotional aspects which controlled my outlook on my faith:
"Isn't it great to read a tale of epic struggle against the bad?
When good is threatened; about to fail, but summons strength few knew it had?
When the battle's lost and all have fled and evil's finally won,
A spark of good stands up to fight when all the rest have run.
Good faces evil, a David and Giant, small but grim and still defiant,
And evil sways in fear and doubt of this strange combat that's just begun,
And locked in battle this underdog knows that he can overcome.

It seems it's just in stories that these happy tales occur,
But far beyond our consciousness a spirit battle stirs.
For we have an evil tyrant, and we have a fallen race,
We have a hero who rose again from dying in our place.

The battle still is raging - we'll be drawn to it 'ere long,
So let's just put our armor on so God will make us strong.
And when the battle's lost and all have fled, and evil seems to win,
Our Lord will come, absolve our sins, and save our worthless skin."

There's nothing more honest than my attitude about that story was when I wrote it. With all sincerity, that's how I viewed my faith - in a nutshell. An epic struggle against the bad. A hero who died and rose again. A noble God who takes our side, even when we don't deserve it.

It's impossible to overstate the importance of emotion in our mental persuasions. I urge everybody who reads this to consider how your outlook on life looks to someone who does not share your emotional attachment to it. Does it still look the same?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Proving God

If there's anything more impossible than living around the turn of the millennium and not having heard of Morgan Freeman, it's proving the existence of God.

Which God?

Atheism can have a few meanings, but in general that meaning depends on to what it's referring. "A" means "without," and "theos" is, of course, "God." Theos is seen so differently around the world, though. Sometimes god is known by a different name, and other times by different characteristics. Many Christians feel that their God is different from Allah because of certain traits - a triune nature, omni-benevolence, the trait of 'heavenly Father-ness.' So when asked if they believe in a god of Allah's characteristics, the proper response is to say 'No, there is no such god. The universe is without (A) such a being (theos).'

Nearly every Christian in America, likewise, does not believe that the God of the Westboro Baptist Church exists. Such a God exhibits the characteristic of hating people - most people, in fact. When asked about their belief in such a god's existence, most Christians' proper response is 'No, there is no such god. I am an atheist in that regard.'

More commonly, atheists describe themselves as people who simply do not believe in any gods because no compelling evidence can be provided in support of such a claim. This is probably best described as a materialist or secularist outlook. The premise that 'all is matter' is sufficient until proof is provided by those on whom the burden rests - those claiming that a 'super-natural' aspect to the universe is real. Along with the burden of proof, such people also strive against the principle of Occam's Razor, which suggests that when given two alternative explanations to a phenomenon or phenomena, the simpler is to be preferred. Clearly, when a natural explanation for the universe is plausible and well-evidenced, it makes no sense to propose the infinitely complicating factor of the supernatural.

All of this to lead to the idea that proving 'God' is very difficult. Einstein's idea of God was something akin to the mystery of the unknown in the universe. Hell, I believe in that God. Disproving that concept of God is impossible. Yet the more specific we get in terms of describing the traits/characteristics of this divine entity, the more realistic it becomes to disprove it.

I believe the universe is just matter. I see no reason to infer the supernatural - except to explain things which we don't have answers for yet. However, an argument from ignorance has never been my idea of a strong stance. When it comes to the Christian God of the Bible, though, I believe such a being can be disproven because of its characteristics: all-powerful, all-knowing; all-good.


I was directed to this website a few months ago, and I quickly came to the conclusion that it was ridiculous. I had forgotten about it until I had the good fortune of coming across an excellent blog called The Set of All Things Not Identical to Themselves.

I found a blog entry describing the author's experience at the website, and his critique of it. The author of the site then responded. Now I feel compelled to offer my own criticism of the website, as I feel it is misleading.

False Dilemmas

A false dilemma usually takes the form of an 'either-or' statement. "Either you believe in God, or all morality is subjective opinion." Well, that's not true. The typical way of dealing with this sort of argument is to 'go between the horns' and point out counterexamples where it doesn't have to be one or the other.*

Of course, in the case of contradictions, a dilemma is valid. You can't go between the horns of 'Either I am holding a pen or I am not holding a pen.' Logically, either one or the other must be true. It becomes a fallacy when there is an excluded middle... 'Either there are elephants on Mars, or it is raining in Seattle today' happens to be my current favorite example.

Back to the Website

When you enter the site, your first choice is to select whether you believe in absolute truth, don't believe it, don't know, or don't care. The author is not careful at first to point out what he means, but he seems to mean 'X is either true or false for all people at all times,' and that X is the sort of statement that exists in the real world. So far, so good. "It is cold out" is not an absolute sort of truth, but "I am cold" is. So I click that I agree.
"The Bible teaches that the existence of God is so obvious that we are without excuse for denying it."
Alright, let's see just how easy this is.

1. Laws of Logic Exist: True. Regardless of what we call them, our system of describing why 2+2=4 refers to actual phenomena.

2. Laws of Mathematics Exist: True... if redundant.

3. Laws of Science Exist: True. Here, however, it becomes important to consider what 'exist' means. Many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore exists about unicorns. From that, we cannot infer that unicorns exist. A law of science does not mandate how the universe operates. A law of science is a human idea that makes predictions and seeks to explain what we can observe about the universe. A law's existence does not necessitate the existence of its subject. For instance, I can reference a law that peasants are to be afforded no mercy when they steal from the royalty - but that doesn't mean that peasants and royalty exist (at this time). It is a valid point, however, to say that the phenomena described by laws of logic, mathematics and science exist, though. In this case, I will go for it.
PS, remember that this same consideration should be taken into account in the previous questions - what people have codified is irrelevant; its congruence with reality is what matters.

4. Absolute Moral Laws Exist: This question has issues on so many levels.

First, there is some equivocation on the word 'law.' Equivocation means the word or phrase can mean two different things as it is used in the argument.** A law of science is an invariable and universal fact about the physical universe. If matter behaves in a way that contradicts such a law, it disproves the law. Likewise, if numbers behave in a way that contradicts or violates mathematical or logical law, then we are wrong about the laws.

Are moral laws the same? Would the author state that a set of principles of right behavior exist in the universe, and all interactions of matter must conform to those laws - and that if matter violates those laws, we must reject and/or rewrite the laws? Well, no. There is no universally agreed-upon set of laws for right and wrong behavior (although we see globally, cross-culturally exhibited aversions to some types of behavior in, perhaps, a majority of cultures).

So the author is using the word 'law' differently in this question. In fact, he seems to be using it more in the sense of government. A law, in this sense, governs how an individual or group is to behave in a community, and is established by some authority. Presumably, given the premise of the website, the author is referring to a law established by the authority of God to rule over the community of humankind.

Second, we're back to the idea of 'existence.' Can we observe this sort of moral law? That is, a code of right and wrong established in communities by forms of authority? Sure! But they're not absolute. The 'moral foundation' of the law for adults not to sexually trifle with 14 year olds in our nation is not something people in other places and cultures are expected to abide by.

On the surface, such a question doesn't usually demand much thought. That's why the questions about laws of logic, math and science were asked first - the reader becomes settled in the rut of thinking that somehow a moral law is the same as these other, more obvious, laws.

So what if you select the right answer? What if you click 'No?'

You're presented with a dilemma:
"Either molesting children for fun is absolutely morally wrong, or it could be right."

The problem here is introducing a motive. Motive plays a huge role in discerning moral culpability. If there's a difference between killing and murder, it lies in the motive of the person taking the life of the other. Essentially what this site is doing, though, is presenting you with a false dilemma. "Either molesting children for fun is potentially good behavior, or there's an absolute moral law." That is not a necessary conclusion to come to. It could be the case that molesting children for fun is terrible behavior to all people, at all times, AND that there is no absolute moral law. In fact, that is the conclusion that I hold at this website (if you read my second post, you may understand why).

So imagine I pose this question to the author:

"Either killing is ALWAYS a morally disgusting thing to do, or NO absolute moral laws exist."

I imagine he'd protest. He'd say, "No, sometimes killing is necessary - even God does it. That doesn't mean that no absolute moral laws exist."

Exactly. Motive is necessary to determine whether an action is right or wrong behavior. Had the question excluded the phrase 'for fun,' the answer would obviously be yes: it could be right to molest a child. If an alien race invades and says 'either you molest this child, or we molest everybody,' then the right thing to do is undoubtedly to molest the child. At the same time, the desire to molest children for fun is evil. These concepts are not contradictory, and thus, though cleverly concealed, the question poses a false dilemma.

Finally, this part of the website is very obviously, and self-admittedly, an appeal to emotion. While an important aspect of persuasion in many cases, and not necessarily a logical fallacy, there are still responsible and irresponsible ways to appeal to emotion.
"I feel that the best test to determine whether or not you really believe that absolute moral laws exist, is not whether you feel that atrocities like rape and child molestation could be right somewhere in the universe, but whether they could ever be right if perpetrated against you or someone you love."
I find this sort of thinking strange coming from someone who feels that morality is not dependent on individual feeling - yet he feels inclined to appeal to individual feeling to make his point. If what he is arguing is true, then an appeal to emotion and subjective feeling would be pointless - unless he were to make a further argument, such as that these absolute laws are ingrained in members of the human community just as societal laws become ingrained in members of a society. Yet, we find that this phenomena is not the case. It's a prediction of the Bible that all people have 'the law' written on their hearts, but this prediction is not substantiated in tests. Testing seems to confirm, as a matter of fact, that value judgments and emotional responses to situations depends largely on factors in people's upbringing.

I'm tempted at this point to simply exit the site. However, I will tell an untruth just to keep moving.

5. Laws of Logic, Mathematics, Science and Absolute Morality are Immaterial: True. In the sense that the website author presents the case, something material is able to be touched, seen, smelled, heard and/or tasted. I should add that most of the spectrum of light does not fall into this category. Atoms, likewise, are not seen so much as the effects they make are observed. Gravity, likewise, is 'immaterial.'

Apparently, it is a futile attempt to "find an abstract entity in nature." Since I can't find the physical number 3, it is immaterial. Ok, I can agree to this (but I thought I should elaborate before continuing).

6. Laws of Logic, Mathematics, Science and Absolute Morality are Universal: True. As far as we know (and this seems to be a safe belief), our understanding of logic, mathematics, and science are universal. Likewise, standards of right and wrong behavior that are universal can be argued (as I maintain in this blog).

7. Laws of Logic, Mathematics, Science and Absolute Morality are Unchanging: True. Our understanding of them (the actual laws, which are a codification) changes, but the phenomena we seek to describe using them does not.

Ooh, the quick jab from the right, the hard hit from the left!
"Universal, immaterial, unchanging laws cannot be accounted for if the universe was random or only material in nature."
This is downright wrong. For one thing, nobody claims that the universe is random. For another thing, nobody claims that the universe is material in the way the author used the term material. This is yet another instance of equivocation. As the website puts it, material = corporeal. However, materialists don't (obviously) disbelieve in things like light, atoms and gravity just because they do not take a physical form. Of course, I'm probably straying far too close to the realm of quantum reality than I'm qualified to tread here, but these very real aspects of reality in no way rule out the claim that all that exists is the natural.
"Only in a universe governed by God can universal, immaterial, unchanging laws exist."
Big question coming up: Why? Nah, let's be like the website author - let's leave that unexplained. We'll just state it and then not support it.

8. The Proof that God Exists: Without Him, you couldn't prove anything.

Yep, it's just stated like that. The bulk of the questions simply reaffirm that there is a uniformity to the universe. Great. What I'd be interested in hearing is how exactly this isn't circular reasoning.

Begging the question, for those unfamiliar with the concept, involves assuming your premise to prove your conclusion. In this case, check it out:

1. If there's no God, nothing can be proved.
2. We just proved something
3. Therefore, God exists.

Funny thing... mustn't the conclusion necessarily be true in order for (2) to be true? The answer is yes. If we assume premise 1, then we cannot state premise 2 until we've established conclusion 3. We're free to believe premise 2 is false until we're convinced of conclusion 3, so we can't use premise 2 to argue that conclusion, because the logic is circular and begs the question in point.


The sort of thinking behind this website is saddening. If the author makes an appearance here to respond, that would certainly be interesting, as I'd like to understand just how far he grasps the 'laws of logic' he referred to, ever so ironically, early in the website experience.

I found that the author has a blog website. I think I'll write him and leave this blog with the prominent quote on proofthatgodexists.org: "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid." Let's see how the truth of this statement bears out.


Friday, July 20, 2007

A Delicate Issue

Criticizing the Religious
We live in a time in which people very similar to me criticize organized religion for the evils it causes. I ran into an article that challenged that claim. The rejoinder it provides, though, is not to dispel the claim, but to instead point the finger at secularist regimes.

I've been known to say that some secularist ideologies provide excuses to justify murder, while religion provides actual motivation. For instance, this essay pointed out that
"The fact is that more than 100 million human beings were killed by secularist regimes and ideologies in the last century."
This is accurate. At the same time, does such a secularist ideologist say 'Oh my goodness, there is no God! That makes me want to kill innocents!' Not exactly. Does a religious fanatic say 'Oh my goodness, I get dozens of virgins of my own if I destroy evil westerners! That makes me want to kill evil westerners!' Actually, yes.

However, it is not the religion or even the fact that this person is religious that deserves condemnation. The individual who wants to kill others in the name of his religion is simply operating on evil desires. He was not raised responsibly - he was told that killing others for the greater good of God was a good thing to do. When a religion teaches such things, we can criticize such a teaching, and the religion for teaching such a thing.

Bigotry is morally impermissible. Classifying all religious people in one bunch and calling them nutcases is inadvisable and, more importantly, false. Blaming them for all atrocities in the past (the strawman that the essayist raised in his introduction) is very inaccurate as well.

Just One More Motivating Factor
There are enough motivating factors for evil. Religious and secular people alike experience drives for power, money, fame... these things are not just excuses that 'allow' people to justify their evil actions - these are reasons for action. Religious beliefs can provide similar reasons for action.

Remember, though, that desires are what drive people to action. Beliefs shape what people do to accomplish those desires.

My parents are both religious people, but their convictions do not cause them to do evil. In fact, they're both basically saints. The reason for that is that their desires drive them to do good things: to provide for their children, to help others, to promote cooperation in the community, to responsibly educate, to exhibit honesty and integrity. Their beliefs influence how they go about this. My mom told me the other day that she originally wanted to enter the ministry because she 'wanted to help people.' She didn't - she's an educator - but this goes to show that she was raised with the desire to help people, and the belief that religion was necessary to fulfill that desire.

That right there is another reason to criticize religious teaching - the indoctrination that only religion provides a path to helping others and/or behaving ethically. Some teachings are good, admittedly - the poor and the helpless are to be helped, peace is an ideal, self-control and honesty... so criticize the teaching, rather than the religion or the religious.

To the author of the essay: The title of your essay was 'Religion is not to Blame,' yet you did nothing to demonstrate this. You simply pointed a finger and said 'Well, secularist ideologies killed more people!' If this was your point, then yes, religion is still to blame. Just because something else killed more does not make the other more blameworthy. Cancer and AIDS have killed more; does that excuse the actions of religious and secular persecutors?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Value-Laden Terms in Everyday Language

I don't usually listen to Nickelback where I can avoid it, but the lyrics of the song "Animals" caught my attention. The song is about sneaking out with a sexy girl and gettin' down without the parents being any the wiser. Chorus goes
No, we're never gonna quit
Ain't nothing wrong with it
Just acting like we're animals
Nobody reads this blog yet, but for those who might, you'll have noticed that I'm very concerned with how language is used. Consider the use of "it's just______." We hear that sort of phrase all of the time.

Concerning abortion, we hear "It's just a bunch of cells."
I hear Christians say "well, if evolution is true, then your mind is just a bunch of neurons firing."
In this song, the phrase is "Ain't nuthin' wrong with it, we're just a couple animals."

These phrases are all the sort that describes a phenomenon with the intention of devaluing it. I don't care if the result of sperm+egg is 'just a bunch of cells.' Every living thing is 'just a bunch of cells.' However, the way our minds work, using this sort of phrase devalues the object of the conversation in the mind of the listener.

So what if the mind is 'just a bunch of neurons firing?' It's a fact, whether or not you believe in God, and that fact in no way diminishes the trustworthiness of our minds. When put in those terms, though, the speaker is trying to devalue the object.

Similarly, in the Nickelback song, the singer is trying to justify his actions by saying 'we're just a couple animals.' That's fine - in fact, it's completely true. We're all animals, though, and that fact has no bearing on right and wrong. However, the assumption in many human minds is that animals are of a lesser moral quality than humans, so if we're animals, then any action that an animal would perform is permissible. However, that is not the case. While it's true that many animals are much more civil towards members of their own species than humans are to our own, some animals eat their mates after copulating. Hopefully this is not a permissible thing for human beings to do.

It's false to say 'X is just ____, according to you, therefore your perspective is false.' That's obvious. Using that sort of unspoken line of reasoning, though, has a strong impact on the average listener, who may be of the sort of mindset where if a statement is unappealing, it is disregarded. It's best saved for another post, but people have to deal with reality - it is possible, if not common, for people to think 'I want there to be an afterlife. I didn't get a fair life, so there must be one,' and they'll believe it as if their belief makes any difference to reality. I may revisit this thought later.

A Further Example
One other example bears mentioning. On a Facebook discussion board this morning, I responded to an interesting claim. A young man made the perfectly valid claim that scientific claims can't exactly be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. He then provided Webster's definition of faith (firm belief in something for which there is no proof). Since there is no proof for scientific claims, he said "There is evidence for evolution. There is no proof however. Thus, evolution (among some other things), like religion, must be taken on faith."

This is a pretty simple syllogism:
1. There is no proof for scientific theories
2. A belief without proof is faith.
3. Therefore, science, like religion, is based on faith.

Unfortunately, there is a little bit of a problem here. He presented 'proof' as certainty beyond a shadow of doubt. He pointed out that experiments exist that could disprove the Second Law of Thermodynamics, for instance. What he may not have realized is that experiments exist that could disprove nearly everything. For instance, nobody can prove 'beyond a shadow of doubt' that reality has existed for more than 5 minutes. In the sort of capacity he uses 'proof,' every single belief a person has is faith.

But that's not how faith is normally used, and it's not the impression that his words conveyed. Had he used the dictionary to understand the word, he would have found that 'proof' is defined thus: "evidence sufficient to establish a thing as true." For example, in our justice system, people are 'proven' guilty or innocent - beyond a reasonable doubt (scientific conclusions, likewise, are beyond a reasonable doubt).

So, is there a word to distinguish between the 'faith' that plants photosynthesize, and the 'faith' that there is an afterlife? Well, I'd like to think so. In fact, I'll call a propositional attitude regarding a statement a "belief," such an attitude based on solid evidence "sound belief" and such an attitude based on no such evidence (or in spite of evidence to the contrary) faith.

Using the word faith as this fellow did is a bad idea. I'm not sure he recognizes it yet, but when 'faith' is used to describe scientific theories, the automatic assumption is not the correct one - that 'faith' has been expanded to mean every single belief a human being has - the assumption is that scientific theories are not built on solid evidential foundations. This leads to similar devaluation by the average listener.

Many people think of 'rhetoric' to mean 'saying something without saying anything.' That's exactly what this person did - whether or not he recognized that, I'm not sure though, so I won't jump to that conclusion and condemn his actions.

The point to take away from all of this is that often a phenomenon is described in a way that casts it negatively, just to try to devalue a certain perspective. Don't fall for it. Question the motives of the speaker. If he is trying to deceive or confuse, he is worthy of moral condemnation.

PS I should mention that I'll use 'he' in most of my examples. Our language is regrettably lacking in the sort of terminology that would allow me to be gender-neutral in that sort of case (without being ponderous, anyway). I may switch and use 'she' every now and then just to throw the reader off :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Colorado - Threats, and how to Respond

I found a link in a post on Pharyngula today to an article in the Denver Post. The article described a situation today where

"University of Colorado police are investigating a series of threatening messages and documents e-mailed to and slipped under the door of evolutionary biology labs on the Boulder campus."
A religious-affiliated group (undisclosed by the police) identified itself in the messages. Police Commander Brad Wiesley summarized the notes as basically saying "Anybody who doesn't believe in our religious belief is wrong and should be taken care of."

"What's written on paper is what's written on paper," Wiesley said, voicing a belief I share with and attribute to Alonzo Fyfe that the proper response to words is words; to legislation is legislation; to action is action. In this situation, what has been exchanged is not only words, but threats. The phrase 'taken care of,' in this context, cannot be mistaken for anything but a threat - especially when the content of the messages was apparently strong enough to prompt a police investigation.

A threat is a suggestion of action. I believe a police investigation and, hopefully, punishment, is the proper response to these events.

This sort of action is deserving of a great deal of condemnation from both the religious and the secular community. It is unacceptable to threaten educators for teaching a widely accepted theory that does not cause any harm. It is the University of Colorado staff's right to teach in peace - and, I'd argue, responsibility to teach the theory of evolution.

In true rhetorical fashion, don't expect the organizations that decry, for instance, perceived bias against ID advocates in higher education, or that claim Christianity is persecuted in America, to make any mention of this event. The more responsible Christian groups that hear about this article will take the time to at least wag a finger at the group making the threats. I'll be interested to see what develops.

In other news, the Denver Post entertained me with a story of a 2-acre fire ignited by a flaming bird.

Friday, July 6, 2007


You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Spiritual Atheist


Militant Atheist






Apathetic Atheist


Angry Atheist


What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

This sure is an interesting quiz. I have a few issues with it... first of all, 'militant atheist' should not be a category. I need to make a post describing why 'militant' and 'fundamentalist' can not and do not properly/responsibly describe any atheists I've ever heard of.

I think I scored higher in that category because I answered 'true' to the statement 'I will debate a theist anywhere.' The second issue I have is that I scored rather highly as a theist because I answered 'true' to the statement 'There is an objective moral element to actions,' or something along those lines. It's inaccurate to equate such a belief with theism.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Trusting Others

I just enjoyed an essay on Eyewitness Testimony and Memory, thanks to Austin Cline over at About.com. It ended with this quote by Elizabeth Loftus in Memory: Surprising New Insights into How We Remember and Why We Forget:
    “Memory is imperfect. This is because we often do not see things accurately in the first place. But even if we take in a reasonably accurate picture of some experience, it does not necessarily stay perfectly intact in memory. Another force is at work. The memory traces can actually undergo distortion. With the passage of time, with proper motivation, with the introduction of special kinds of interfering facts, the memory traces seem sometimes to change or become transformed. These distortions can be quite frightening, for they can cause us to have memories of things that never happened. Even in the most intelligent among us is memory thus malleable.”
It made me want to mention two important thoughts.

First is the idea that if God exists, It would make the faith so dependent on witness and testimony. See, that makes very little sense to me. One would imagine that God would be more concerned with people trusting It, rather than other people.

The second is about the importance of testimony. Aristotle noted in his Rhetoric that, whatever its reliability may be, testimony plays a large role in persuasion - and this is a sentiment that has resurfaced to lead a few modern rhetoricians to delve deeper into the role of ethos in persuasion. As Aristotle pointed out,
"It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses." - Rhetoric, Book I, Part 2, 350 BCE
All things considered, it's not surprising that people immediately trust the eyewitness accounts of those they trust, admire, or see no reason not to trust. Unless a listener has a strong reason to doubt a story, he/she will almost certainly believe it. What reason did the superstitious Mediterranean world have to doubt that the leader of one messianic cult had ascended from the dead into Heaven? What reason does the modern layperson have to doubt what their trusted preacher has to say about the theory of evolution, especially when packaged so convincingly?