Thursday, December 30, 2010

Debunking the Moral Argument (Part 2 of 2): The Counter-Moral Argument

Thought Experiment
I have thus far justified that objective morality can exist without invoking a god.  Now I shall go on to prove that if a god does exist, that god cannot be the root of any objective morality.  I discovered this with a thought experiment, and I shall walk you through the same thought experiment to illustrate my point.    

First, let us define god as a being which is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and maximally good.  Again, I have granted the goodness of the Christian god only for the purpose of this argument—it is not my actual position that this god is a good god.  However, I shall be referring to the Christian god as maximally good for the rest of this post.  

The above definition is used by many of my religious friends, and I am sure no one will object to it.  Since omnipotence would be impossible without omnipresence and omniscience, we can simplify the definition to a being that is all-powerful and maximally good. 

Now, for this experiment I shall pose a question:  Would it be possible for a being to have omnipotence but not be maximally good?  I am not asking if it would be possible for the God of Abraham to be perceived as evil.  What I am asking is this:  Are the characteristics of omnipotence and maximum goodness as necessarily tied together as omnipotence is with omnipresence/omniscience?  Is god maximally good because he is all-powerful or is god maximally good and all powerful?  Essentially, could god be bad or is he bound to be good? 

One of two answers must be given to the first question (would it be possible for a being to have omnipotence but not be maximally good?).   Either yes, it would be possible for a being to be ultimately powerful and not ultimately good, or no, it a being that is ultimately powerful must be ultimately good.

Let us first examine what an answer no entails.  If it is true that any ultimately powerful being is also ultimately good, then the two qualities are inherently tied.  Although they have different definitions, we can proceed as if they were synonymous.  Ultimate power is ultimate goodness.  It is therefore logical to conclude that power is goodness by simply dropping the inoperative.  Essentially, any theist who would answer no to this question is accepting the principle of ‘might makes right’.  In any given situation, the person in power is also the person in the right. 

I would not expect anyone to argue the point that ‘might makes right’ is a tenable position.  It runs counter to what all Christian ethicists with whom I am familiar teach.  I may be proven wrong, but I do not believe it is the Christian position that goodness comes from power, so I will leave it as an assertion here that ‘might makes right’ is an unacceptable position for the theist.  However, if you would like me to justify this assertion, I would be happy to do so in the comments section, just ask.  

Since an answer of ‘no’ leads the theist to an untenable conclusion, he or she must answer yes to my question:   A being that is all powerful could also be malevolent.  However, the theist will hasten to add that the god of Christianity chooses to be benevolent.  It is not required of the Christian god to be good, but he is good nonetheless. 

This view would appear to only magnify the goodness of god (although a theologian may note that god is beyond any temptation to do evil.)  However, this position has the effect of negating the argument that moral objectivity is derived from god. 

If God chooses to be good and not evil, then that choice must be based upon an external, abstract concept of right and wrong.  We can imagine a ‘scale of goodness’ that god chooses to sit at the top of.  It is by this ‘scale of goodness’ that we can analyze god’s goodness or badness and discover that he is maximally good.  Because the behaviors that would be the most conducive to the well-being of other self-aware beings are all exhibited by god—behaviors like unconditional love, a respect for free will, a desire for us to be fulfilled by entering his kingdom—we can conclude that the Christian god is a maximally good god. 

However, this ‘scale of goodness’ (or however else you might like to imagine it—it is an abstract concept, not a physical entity.  Sam Harris uses a landscape with peaks and valleys to illustrate a similar point) must, by necessity, exist outside of god.   The scale must be applied to god so it cannot be part of god, otherwise the reasoning would be circular and we must answer no to the previously stated question instead of yes. 

Therefore, if God could be bad, and is not bad, morality cannot come from God.  An objective morality must exist independently of God in order for moral objectivity to be true and ‘might makes right’ to be false. 

The Counter-Moral Argument

The thought experiment I have outlined above can be reduced to a 2-premise argument, which I have written out below.  I am christening this the “Counter Moral Argument.”  Please, feel free to use this argument in any YouTube videos, blogs, or other media that you wish.  I have developed it to be shared and used by other polemic atheists.  However, if you do use it, I will just ask that you notify me and site my name (Ben Doublett) and this blog as your source.  The argument is constructed as follows: 

Premise 1:  An all-powerful being must be capable of malevolence, whether or not that being chooses to be malevolent.
Premise2:  An objective morality must exist outside of that being, by which it can be determined whether the being is a benevolent god or a malevolent god. 
Conclusion:  Objective moral values can exist in an atheistic or theistic world. 

If you would like me to clarify anything, please leave a comment below.  Hopefully, this piece has given you some ammunition to use against any theist or apologist who will attempt to argue for the existence of a god based upon the Moral Argument.  Any atheist engaged in debate with a theist should rejoice upon hearing the Moral Argument and respond with the simple question “could God be bad?”

Debunking the Moral Argument (Part 1 of 2)

In this blog, I will be posting rebuttals to the various arguments given for god’s existence by believers.  My intention here is to prove a single point:  There is no good reason to believe a god exists.  There are plenty of reasons, but there is not a single one that relies on premises that are true and/or logic that is not fallacious (see my previous post, “The Wrong Way to Argue” for details on logical fallacies.)   Today, I shall be addressing the Moral Argument for god’s existence.   

The Moral Argument relies upon the existence of objective moral values to prove that god exists.  Objective moral values are values that are consistent for all self-aware beings who live in the presence of other self-aware beings, regardless of whether or not those beings accept or are aware of those values.   The Moral Argument is constructed as follows:

Premise 1:  If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
Premise 2:  Objective moral values do exist.
Conclusion:  God exists.

This argument is best constructed by theologian and philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig.  The argument as articulated by Dr. Craig (whose beautiful clarity of argument is unsurpassed amongst the apologists I am aware of) can be viewed in the links below.  

The conclusion of this argument is invalid because its first premise is untrue.  I will demonstrate that if a god exists, objective moral values exist independently of that god and would therefore exist in both a universe with a god and without a god.  I will do this with a thought experiment in Part 2 of this post, but before we engage in that, I need to make two points:  1) that Christian morality is not a good moral system and 2) that objective moral values can be derived secularly. 

Christian Immorality

First, I believe it is important to establish the fact that the moral codes found in Christian scripture can be judged by any sensible person to be deeply misanthropic.   The code of Yahweh, god of the Old Testament, gives a guide on how to be a ‘moral’ slave owner, and informs the reader that the correct ‘moral’ response to homosexuality, adultery, or disrespect to ones parents is execution.  The moral code of Yahweh’s corporal incarnation and polar opposite, Jesus, includes the rejection of all thrift and investment, the casting away of all wealth, a Chamberlinian response to one’s enemies (we are, after all, meant to turn the other cheek to the likes of Osama Bin Laden), and the throwing of all those who do not swear fealty to gentle Jesus meek and mild into eternal damnation, regardless of their age, ignorance or moral character. 

Although it is important to mention that Christians have no legitimate authority to discuss morality as long as they tie themselves to the deeply misanthropic teachings of their scripture, I do not want this post inundated with comments trying to justify slavery (interestingly, a place where most theists become moral relativists—‘it was a different time when that was written, obviously slavery is wrong now for us’) or other biblical teachings.  There will be forthcoming posts that address those topics in detail.   From here on, my argument here is not predicated upon the immorality of the teachings of Jesus or the dictates of Yahweh.  It is predicated solely on debunking the argument given above. 

Secular Objective Moral Values

Before continuing, I must hasten to make known that I do accept the second premise of the Moral Argument—objective moral values do exist.  They exist, though, as naturally emergent phenomenon in any situation where self-aware beings capable of positive and negative experiences are in the presence of other self-aware beings also capable of positive and negative experiences.  If, however, self-aware beings did not exist, or only one existed (not in the presence of other self-aware beings) objective moral values would not exist.  It is not, though, a contradiction to say they are objective.  Naturally emergent phenomenon require certain elements in order to exist—evolution by natural selection requires the existence of self-replicating molecules, erosion requires the existence of flowing liquid.  These phenomenon are objective—they exist whether we acknowledge them or not.  Morality should be viewed in the same light—something that will naturally exist whenever certain elements are in place, no matter what our opinions or views on it are. 

Certain beliefs that we hold are considered to be properly basic; they do not need justification.  These might be the existence of the past or the validity of logic; it is not a legitimate way to argue to contend premises that are properly basic.  One test of whether or not a belief is properly basic is called incorrigibility—a belief is true simply by virtue of being believed.  The classic example of this is Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.”  For this argument, I will use the properly basic assumption that well-being is preferable to suffering for self-aware beings capable of both.  This meets the test of incorrigibility because if suffering were believed to be preferable, then suffering would be well-being and well-being would be suffering.  (This is not circular logic—look up the term “properly basic” in a philosophy book if you like.) 

Now, with the statement that ‘a state of well-being is preferable to a state of suffering’ as our starting point, we can determine what moral values are correct by determining which actions are conducive to human and animal well-being and which actions are conducive to human and animal suffering. 

Here, there are clearly right and wrong answers.   Questions of what actions are beneficial or detrimental to human and animal well-being (and therefore moral or immoral) can be answered definitively just like questions of what is beneficial or detrimental to plant growth.  The answers to these questions are not found in ancient texts or the study of non-subjects like theology but in the study of human and animal responses to various stimuli. This is an argument made so well by Sam Harris in his latest book “The Moral Landscape” that I fear I have little to add other than to reiterate his point.  The study of morality, like the study of any other subject, is one informed by data.  There are patterns of behavior that positively impact human and animal welfare and patterns of behavior that negatively impact human and animal welfare.      

Regardless of whether or not some or any individual people or any societies are aware of the answers to moral questions, definitive answers—that can be discovered through the right method—exist.  For instance, if scientific research shows us that humans are most fulfilled when they live in societies that allow them opportunities to accumulate wealth and status, it does not matter that people who lived in 14th century Feudal England believed people were more satisfied when a strict caste system was enforced.  The data disagrees.  The science says differently.  The science says the more moral system is one where people can freely move up based on merit.   Moral relativists who would deny this fact are no better than creationists who deny the science of evolution.  

Notice how this is a matter for science to solve.  We will, in gradual degrees, uncover more information about how well-being is achieved and suffering prevented by studying the natural world.  The supernatural world plays absolutely no role in this endeavor.  Everything we uncover in these studies will be valid whether the universe was brought into existence by a god or by zero-point energy.  There is no room for god talk in the subject of morality.

Witty Quips and Retorts

Here I would like to share some witty retorts with my fellow atheists that can be used in day-to-day conversations with the faithful.  Religious people of all stripes will often have a few questions for the average nonbeliever.  It is often very surprising, particularly in America, for a believer to hear that one of their friends or family members does not believe in a god.  This is because, in their mind, belief in a god, or in anything supernatural, answers fundamental questions that could not be answered otherwise. 

On occasion, you might meet a thoughtful theist, who can articulate sophisticated—but still ultimately untenable—arguments for the existence of a god.  I will be progressively debunking these established arguments on this blog.  However, most of your day-to-day conversations will be with sincere but unsophisticated believers whose objections to your atheism will be equally unsophisticated.  It would be like taking a sledgehammer to a walnut to try to bring in the concepts of formal logical and scientific evidence to some of these exchanges.  Oftentimes, a little humor can be useful.  I have found that the following retorts and one-liners make great comebacks to the common, vapid questions about atheism.    

Some of these are based on quotations of famous skeptics, like Mark Twain, or J. B. S. Haldane, others from modern atheists like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, while others still are my own creation or the creations of my friends.  I hope you enjoy! 

Theist:  Atheism is a religion.  

Atheist:  Okay, by that logic, my religion is atheism and my hobby is not collecting stamps

Theist:  I just can’t imagine that something as complex as a human body, with a brain that has billions of neurons all working together, eyes with millions of parts, a heart that barely skips a beat in 80 years, could all have come from a single cell—even given billions of years to evolve.

Atheist:  Really?  Because you did it yourself and it only took you nine months. 

Theist:  Atheism is a religion, because you believe that God does not exist.

Atheist:   Okay, well, I guess you have thousands of religions then.  One for the god you do believe exists and one for each god you believe does not exist.  One religion for not believing in Shiva, one for not believing in Baal, one for not believing in Zeus, one for not believing in the Great Mother, etc.   

Theist:  If I hadn’t found religion, I would be in jail right now. 

Atheist:  Yeah, but if nineteen other guys hadn’t found religion, New York would have two extra buildings right now. 

Atheist:  What denomination are you?

Theist:  I’m a nondenominational Christian.
Atheist:  Okay, but are you a nondenominational Mainline Protestant Christian or a nondenominational Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian?

Theist:  If evolution is true and we evolved from monkeys, then there would be no more monkeys!

Atheist:  Does your dad have a sister?

Theist:  Yes.

Atheist:  Is she married?

Theist:  Yes.

Atheist:  What is her last name?

Theist:  Johnson. 

Atheist:  What is your last name?

Theist:  Smith.

Atheist:  There are still monkeys for the same reason there are still Smiths.  

Theist:  So what do you think happens after you die? 

Atheist:  Well, I imagine it will be an awful lot like the 13.7 billion years before I was born. 
Theist:  But don’t you want to believe there’s something more to life than just this? 

Atheist:  I want to believe that there is a woman around every corner who looks like Megan Fox and is desperate to get into bed with me, but me wanting that doesn’t make it true. 

Theist:  But don’t you think you should believe in God, just in case he does exist? 

Atheist:  No more than I think I should sacrifice a goat to Zeus every now and then, just in case he exists. 
Theist:  But there were eyewitnesses who saw Jesus rise from the dead! 

Atheist:  Yes, and there are eyewitnesses who have seen alien spacecraft land and abduct cows, and the only differences between the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection and the eyewitnesses to UFO abductions are that the eyewitnesses to UFO abductions are more numerous and more recent.

Theist:  God answers the prayers of true believers.

Atheist:  Then it should be against the rules to pray in school before a test because it would be cheating.
Theist:  If you’re an atheist, why do you celebrate Christmas?   

Atheist:  Acknowledging that Santa Claus is not real doesn't stop you from enjoying Christmas, I assume. Likewise, acknowledging that Mary was just a very convincing adultress who really committed to her story doesn't stop me from enjoying Christmas. 


Theist:  Why do you have so much faith in science?

Atheist:  Because science works.  Planes fly.  Magic carpets and broomsticks don’t. 

Theist:  God created man in his image

Atheist:  Then we should all be invisible and incorporeal

Theist:  But the Earth is so perfectly designed to support human life!

Atheist:  That's like saying the human face was designed perfectly to support a pair of sunglasses. 

Theist:  God forgives all sins.
Atheist:  Except being born in a time or place where you couldn’t hear about Jesus.  That’s a deal breaker for god—he’s very particular about where and when you’re born. 

Theist:  But you can't disprove god.

 Atheist:  Neither can I disprove that there is a china teapot orbiting a star in another galaxy, but I still don't believe either claim to be true. 

Theist:  I prayed for my friend to get better when she was sick and god healed her.

Atheist:  Try that on an amputee.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Wrong Way to Argue

In this blog, I will be referring frequently to several established “logical fallacies.”  Unfortunately, these are not covered in high school or even most college curricula, so I feel it is probably necessary to briefly go over what a fallacy is and discuss a few key types of fallacies before moving forward.  If you are going to be a regular reader, I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself with this information; otherwise you might get a little lost in some of my forthcoming posts!
The two places where I learned the most about formal logic and fallacies were the websites of the New England Skeptical Society in the article “How To Argue” and the Skeptics Guide’s article “Top 20 Logical Fallacies”.  I highly recommend giving both of these sites a visit.  They were also the two primary sources I used for this blog (or is it post?  Someone please clear this up for me.)  You can visit these sites in the links below.

For the purpose of the following post, I will be using several examples to illustrate fallacies.  Since these are for illustrative purposes, I have reduced certain arguments to simplistic terms.  I am not in any way infantilizing those who make these arguments—just boiling the arguments down in order to use them as easy-to-follow examples. 

What is a logical fallacy?

All arguments have the same basic structure: A therefore B. They begin with one or more premises (A), which is a fact or assumption upon which the argument is based. They then apply a logical principle (therefore) to arrive at a conclusion (B). An example of a logical principle is that of equivalence. For example, if you begin with the premises that A=B and B=C, you can apply the logical principle of equivalence to conclude that A=C. A logical fallacy is a false or incorrect logical principle. An argument that is based upon a logical fallacy is therefore not valid. It is important to note that if the logic of an argument is valid then the conclusion must also be valid, which means that if the premises are all true then the conclusion must also be true. Valid logic applied to one or more false premises, however, leads to an invalid argument. Also, if an argument is not valid the conclusion may, by chance, still be true.

Types of Fallacies


The term “non-sequitur” is Latin for “does not follow.”  If A=B and B=C it does not follow that A=F.  This is used when someone tries to imply a connection where there is none.  A basic example of this might be “the universe exists, therefore a god must exist that created it.”  It does not follow that a god must exist because the universe might have been brought into existence naturally through quantum fluctuation, as physicists like Lawrence Krauss have hypothesized, or the universe might be infinite, existing in an unending continuum of “Big Bang, inflation, expansion, contraction, Big Crunch, Big Bang, etc.” as other physicists have begun to claim, or it might be just one universe in an infinite sea of universes, all part of a larger “multiverse.” 

This is the simplest fallacy and is actually the basis for all or most other logical fallacies.

Ad Hominem

Ad hominem arguments are personal attacks on an individual making a particular argument.  These are designed to discredit the claimant rather than the claim.  An example might be “Stephen Hawking only claims there is no god because he is angry at god for making him disabled” (a real statement made by a Christian on a message board about Hawking’s recently professed atheism.)  This is fallacious because nothing prevents an incredible (incredible used as a negative) person from making a true claim. 

However, it is not always fallacious to use the ad hominem—it is sometimes legitimate based on the circumstances.  For instance, if a politician claims that he would be the best candidate for office because he is the most honest, it would not be fallacious to point out a financial scandal that he had been involved with. 

Ad Ignorantiam

Ad ignorantiam arguments, also called Arguments from Ignorance, are basically arguments that state “we do not understand X, therefore Y must be true.”  This is often used by proponents of so-called Intelligent Design, who argue that because scientists do not fully understand, for instance, the evolution of the bacterial flagella motor or a-biogenesis, those processes must have been manipulated by an intelligent designer of life (i.e. Yahweh.) 
This argument is fallacious because it lacks positive evidence for its own claims.  It relies on the absence of evidence for other claims (as opposed to contradictory evidence for other claims or positive evidence for its own) and then assumes that its own claim wins by default.  If we have no positive evidence for claim X and no positive evidence for claim Y, then we cannot pick one claim over the other.  We must wait until more evidence becomes available.  Also, the absence of evidence for claim X does not constitute evidence for claim Y.  The absence of another explanation only means that we do not know – it does not mean we get to make up a specific explanation.

This argument, particularly when used by creationists and Intelligent Design proponents, has been rechristened by Richard Dawkins (in a rather tongue-in-cheek way) as the Argument from Personal Incredulity. 

Argument from Authority

This argument usually goes as follows:  Professor A is very qualified, Professor A believes B.  Therefore B is true.  Often this argument is implied by emphasizing the many years of experience, or the formal degrees held by the individual making a specific claim. The converse of this argument is the ad-hominem logical fallacy (above.) 

In practice this can be a complex logical fallacy to deal with. It is legitimate to consider the training and experience of an individual when examining their assessment of a particular claim. Also, a consensus of scientific opinion does carry some legitimate authority.

But it is still possible for highly educated individuals, and/or a broad consensus to be wrong.  Speaking from authority does not make a claim true.  Therefore, we cannot say “Isaac Newton believed in alchemy, Isaac Newton was very intelligent, alchemy must work.” 

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

This fallacy can be summed up as “correlation does not equal causation.”  Basically, it assumes that because X followed Y, Y caused X.  However, this is not always true.  For instance, Z could have been happening at the same time as X and Z could have caused Y instead.  Or Y could have happened regardless of whether or not X happened. 

For instance, many liberals have claimed that the financial crisis and ensuing recession happened under President George W. Bush, therefore conservative economic policies lead to recession.  Obviously, this is Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc because we know that the financial crisis had much deeper and more systemic causes than Bush’s economic policies—causes rooted in the culture of the financial industry and in government policy going back several decades. 

False Continuum

False continuum's state that because there is no definitive demarcation line between two extremes the distinction between the extremes is not real or meaningful: There is a fuzzy line between cults and religion, therefore they are really the same thing.

False Dichotomy

A false dichotomy arbitrarily reduces a set of many possibilities to only two.  For instance, a politician tells you that we must convert to a single-payer healthcare system, otherwise the health insurance companies will run amok, overcharge you and under-insure you.  This assumes that the only two choices are complete industry self-regulation and complete government subsidization.  In fact, there is a vast middle-ground, including light regulation, strict regulation, pricing caps, antitrust legislation, public option insurers, individual mandates, healthcare subsidies, etc. 

Slippery Slope

This logical fallacy is the argument that a position is not tenable because the extreme of the position is undesirable. But holding a moderate position does not necessarily require one to hold the extreme progression of that position.  For instance, a libertarian might advocate for less government intervention into private industries like manufacturing, but still be opposed to the repeal of all minor labor laws. 

Special Pleading or Ad-Hoc reasoning

Ad-hoc reasoning or special pleading involves revising ones argument by setting a special premise to explain away contradictory evidence.  The special premise itself must not be justified in order for the argument to be considered ad-hoc. 
For instance, a six-day creationist may claim that the world is six thousand years old.  However, there are stars and galaxies in the night sky which we would not be able to see unless the universe were billions of years old.  Also, the Earth contains many features that only a planet billions of years old could contain.  The creationist would then resort to special pleading by claiming that God created the universe and the Earth “with age”—i.e. a 13.7 billion-year-old universe was brought into existence six-thousand years ago. 
Straw Man
A straw man argument is one wherein you superimpose a position which will be easy for you to argue against onto your opponent, regardless of whether or not your opponent actually holds that position.  For instance, it would be a straw man argument for me to argue against the prohibition of condoms by the Catholic Church if I were debating with a Catholic who happened to disagree with that particular church policy. 

Circular Reasoning

In circular reasoning, the conclusion of the argument is also its own premise. The structure of such arguments is A=B therefore A=B, although the premise and conclusion might be formulated differently so it is not immediately apparent as such. For example, saying that therapeutic touch works because it manipulates the life force is a circular, because the definition of therapeutic touch is the alleged manipulation (without touching) of the life force.

No True Scotsman Fallacy

This is a very particular fallacy—a type of special pleading—wherein a positive trait is assigned to an entire group (the group being defined by something other than the positive trait.)  If there are any individuals within the group who do not possess the positive trait, then those specific individuals are not considered ‘true’ group members.  This also becomes circular, because having the positive trait that is asserted to be possessed by the group becomes a requirement for inclusion as a ‘true’ group member. 

For instance, I might claim that “Scotsmen are great athletes,” then an objector might retort, “ah, but here are some Scotsmen who are terrible athletes.”  I would then respond, “Aye, but they are not true Scotsmen.  True Scotsmen are great athletes.” 

Shifted Burden of Proof

When one makes a positive claim that X exists, one takes on the burden of proving that claim.  When one makes a negative claim that X does not exist, then one takes on the burden of refuting the evidence and arguments used to support X but not the burden of proving that X positively does not exist. 

A shifted burden of proof argument relies on demanding that the individual making the negative claim actually proves the negative.  For instance, a UFO believer might say “you can’t definitively prove that all of the UFO sightings ever reported are not alien spacecraft, therefore I am going to believe that some are.” 


Hopefully, having this information will help you understand a little more about both the arguments I make on this blog as well as arguments in your own life.  If you ever see me making any of these fallacies, then feel free to point it out.  Knowing how to properly assess claims and determine if they are legitimate is a fundamental necessity to anyone in life—otherwise you will be taken for a ride.  

Monday, December 27, 2010

Inaugural Post

Congratulations, you have the immense honor and pleasure of reading my first ever blog post!  Ah, how I envy you. 

My later posts will surely avail you with wisdom and insight into a whole host of topics, ranging from business to world events, personal finance to personal relationships, politics to entertainment, but the focus of this blog shall be on religion, at least for the foreseeable future.

Why religion?  Well, this seems like a suitable topic for my first blog (is each post an individual blog or is the blog the collection of posts?) so I'll go ahead with it. 

I was raised in a household that was mostly secular.  My mother is an atheist and my father a (somewhat lapsed but still believing) Roman Catholic.  As a result, my parents approached the subject of religion with my brother and I in the same way that the military (up until recently) approached the subject of homosexuality in soldiers--don't ask, don't tell.  We were not to ask what to believe, they were not to tell us what to believe. "When you are old enough, Ben," I was told, "you can figure out for yourself if you want to believe in God or not."

I owe my parents a great debt for this almost unprecedented level of respect for my intellectual integrity.  Many parents, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof, will teach their children at a young age to think like they do.  In my town, it is not uncommon to see children as young as four-years-old traipsing dutifully behind their parents into churches on Sunday mornings!  How perverse is that?  A four-year-old has no way of assessing the validity of what a preacher claims.  She has no way of identifying fallacies in rhetoric.  She will believe anything she is told by an adult authority figure, as long as it is said with enough conviction.  And beliefs established at such a young age have a tendency to become properly basic as the child grows into an adult--leaving the adult with little chance of ever shaking them.

But the criticism of religious indoctrination as child abuse is another matter, for another post (or blog--I'll have to look into this terminology.)  My point is, I was not indoctrinated--neither as an atheist nor as a Christian.  This is not to say I did not form opinions on religion, perhaps before being well-informed on the subject; I did as early as the 7th grade.  These opinions were based not on evidence and argument, though, and I would not accept them as legitimate criticisms of religion today.  However, an immature mind works differently from a mature mind and thus my early reasons for disbelief were different from my current reasons.  In those days, I simply noticed that the worst people I knew--the most intolerant, the most arrogant, the most narrow-minded, the most conceited, the most xenophobic--were also the most religious.  It was clear to me that religion made people behave worse and I wanted no part in it. 

Fair enough, I suppose, for a thirteen-year-old (I think you're thirteen in seventh grade, but I'm not sure.  Close enough, anyway.)  However, as I got older, this reasoning wasn't enough for me.  I realized my reasons for disbelief were simply ad hominem--not legitimate grounds for dismissing a claim.  I decided a deeper investigation was needed and, following the lead of my good friend, Marco Otero, I sat down and began reading the Holy Bible.

It took me months, and there is still much I have not read and even more I have not understood, but one thing appeared clear to me after reading it.  This was not divine revelation.  There was no useful information in it.  No unknowable facts about the universe.  No profound moral teachings.  Nothing that could not have been written by Bronze Age peasants.  I will go on to justify these claims in later posts, but I will leave them as simple assertions here, since I risk exhausting your patience should I go into further detail. 

I also analyzed the arguments made by Christian apologists, to see how convincing they were.  Some, like Lewis' Trilemma or the Ontological Argument, were openly laughable and unconvincing.  Others, like the Argument from Fine-Tuning, seemed superficially plausible, but fell apart on further scrutiny.  Ultimately, every argument I heard relied at some point upon a logical fallacy, a claim that was demonstrably false, a claim that was unfalsifiable, or was an argument that could be used to support the truth of a falsehood.  (Again, I will go on to justify these statements in later posts.) 

So the conclusion I came to was as follows:  No evidence or logical argument has been presented to me to support the existence of a god or gods.  However, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence therefore I cannot claim knowledge or certainty of the nonexistence of a god; I cannot call myself a gnostic atheist.  But without any positive reason to believe that a god exists, I cannot assume or believe or even entertain the possibility that one does exist--therefore I cannot call myself a gnostic theist or an agnostic theist.  The only logical position for me to hold is that of an agnostic atheist. 

Once I had assumed this position, I realized that, given the information available to me, there was no way anyone else could objectively assess that information and come to any different conclusion.  I realized that anyone who does have religious belief must be in one of the following circumstances:
  1. They have access to less information than me, or they have inaccurate information.
  2. They are unaware of the proper ways in which to analyze arguments and therefore are persuaded by fallacious reasoning.
  3. They have access to more information than me--there are persuasive arguments for the existence of a god, but I have simply not been exposed to them yet.  
I can imagine no other reasons except for these three for the dissonance between my nonbelief and the belief of many of my fellow Americans. 

Here is where I (finally) come to my point: You will notice, that if any one of these three options is true, I have a burden of encouraging dialogue amongst my peers on the topic of religion. 

If #1 is true, then I must do my best to stimulate conversations in which I can correct the inaccurate information which my believing brothers and sisters hold to be true as well as impart the new information to them. 

If #2 is true, then I must do my best to stimulate conversations in which I illicit the fallacious arguments from my faithful friends and point out to them where their logic is faulted. 

If #3 is true, then I must do my best to stimulate conversations in which I illicit the persuasive arguments from my (and here is where I stretch to continue my alliteration motif) gnostic neighbors, because if a god does exist and does demand my fealty, then I surely would like to know about it!

So, since brevity is the sole of wit, I shall try to keep the conclusion to this (unintentionally) long-winded inaugural post rather brief:  I have demonstrated here why it is necessary for me to stir conversation about religion.  I would like to hear absolutely no criticisms of my criticisms of faith on the basis that criticisms of faith should not be voiced; it is critical that they are.  If you would like to criticize my criticisms, please have a comprehensive list of your criticisms of my criticism so that I may critique your criticisms of my criticism of faith.  :)

Thank you for your time in reading this blog--hopefully you will return in the future!