Wednesday, January 3, 2007

I'll take "There is no God" for $500 please

It seems to me that one of the key arguments for the existence of God by Christians, Baptist and Calvinist in particular, involves a method of debate commonly referred to as double-speak. Not surprisingly this method is used incredibly well by the Bush administration. Basically how it works is that you create a statement which you assume to be true and then you argue from that vantage point. Then when anyone tries to argue against a point you are making you point back to your original made up statement and show how your argument is supported by it. When people see the two statements tied together in such a way, they tend to think of the statements as supporting each other. In the lay persons mind tying these ideas together in such a way makes them irrefutable.

Let me explain with a better example. I have an old friend Chris, with whom I used to play guitar for in his Christian rock band. Chris in incredibly intelligent and for many years I looked up to him as a hero, especially in my Christian years. What I have realized lately though is that his arguments for the existence of God all hinge on a made up premise, and it is quite a solid one. The premise is that without the existence of God or "a higher power" there can be no right or wrong. This sounds like a simple premise but it is deadly if accepted as true. Here is the reason.

If you buy into this premise you cannot argue the existence of God, or rather the lack of existence from an atheistic standpoint. As an atheist you would be arguing that God does not exist. Chris's argument say's that there can be no right or wrong, no good or evil without God. Therefore if you say God does not exist then you can't be right because there is no right or wrong. Therefore God must exist because that is the only way that either of you can possess the ability to be right or wrong. Therefore the only right answer is that god must exist!

This style of argumentation runs rampant in the Christian community and unfortunately it is incredibly effective. Another one that is very common is the betting man's call for salvation. This is a Christian argument for accepting Christ into your life, or what Christians like to refer to as "Being Saved." Basically you have two bets according to this argument. You can either accept Christ into you life or you can choose not to. Now, if you accept him and you are right you go to heaven, but if you accept him and your wrong you just die and go in the ground like everyone else. A positive and a neutral outcome is produced for acceptance. If you don't accept him and you are wrong you go to hell. If you don't accept him and you are right then you go in the ground. A negative and a neutral outcome are produced by not accepting him. Clearly the better bet is on acceptance. So on and on we go.

The notion that right and wrong cannot exist without the existence of God is one that needs to be put to rest. It is a statement that is entirely without justification. Right and wrong are inventions of man just as God is. The problem is that the way that we think about right and wrong were originally forged by religious institutions through the use of memes. A meme is an idea. These ideas can be thought of by one person and disappear or they can become more and more popular until they appear in mass consciousness and are accepted by entire generations. What causes the success of a meme is when it is successful for a society. For example lets take a meme that most human societies have adopted…..Not killing your own.

As men started to evolve, become less solitary and began living in groups they soon discovered that there where many advantages to living in these groups. One of these huge advantages is the fact that there is safety in numbers. One of the disadvantages to living in groups is that the competition for resources could become so heated that one could be killed in the dispute. It could be truly fatal for the group as a whole if the group started killing each other. So eventually it becomes a punishable offense to kill someone in your own group. When the success of the group was furthered as a result of this meme it becomes ingrained in the culture of the group as if it was always the way. Killing has now become wrong. In modern day societies these rules are handed down in a much similar way. The difference now is that religious organizations hand down these rules. They have enough followers that blindly believe that God is speaking through the religious organizations that when these ideas are delivered and are successful then they are perceived as being handed down directly from God.

Memes are a way of setting up standards of right and wrong in order for a society to be able to survive. Many people through the belief of a higher power accept these ideas as divine and are thus ruled by these ideas. In modern life most people accept these belief structures with the belief that they are passed down from God himself and they don't understand the direct societal implications and necessities of these ideas. Hinduism for example was effectively used in order to keep native peoples that were conquered by the Iranians (Aryans) in check in 1500 B.C. The system was a caste system. The Iranians were born with any privilege that they wanted to have over their native slaves. If a native so much as looked at an Iranian wrong in public he could be killed on the spot. Even though the native indigenous people out numbered and could have easily overthrown their Iranian oppressors, Hinduism taught them to accept their lot in life. They would never rise up because they were promised better things in the life to come. This set of beliefs allowed the Iranians to establish one of the most successful societies of their day.

In the time of Karl Marx we saw a back lash against such a belief. Marx who is famous for coining the phrase "religion is the opiate for the masses" saw that people where going through hell in this life because they believed that if they took it in stride that they would get a better life after they died. Marx led a social movement that strived to get people to rise up and live this life to the fullest and not to wait for the next life. He was the champion of making your situation better now. Karl Marx started a whole new meme rolling. It was taken into mass consciousness. Then a new set of right and wrong was created, not by God but by us, by what we deemed to be right or wrong and enforced as such.

Now I am no longer a Christian, but I would definitely not consider myself and Atheist. I think that both schools of thought are equally ridiculous. Both make assumptions about things that we cannot possibly know. Both require a leap of faith for their most basic tenants to be accepted. If one is right and the other is wrong, how could we know? But to answer that argument with doublespeak is to avoid the argument altogether. In my letters to Chris my arguments have either been ignored or answered with something along the lines of this "Well you could be right, you could be wrong, am I right or wrong to think that?" Well that is very clever but it answers nothing. I will answer you though. It is a matter of context. In one society under one set of memes, you may be right, in another you may be wrong. At your church with all of the people that agree with you, you are right. At the Hindi temple you are wrong. In some places some actions are considered wrong and in others the same actions can be considered right. I will not ever put anyone down for grasping a set of ideas that make them or their group better people as a result, but I will not stand idly by while outrageous Christian philosophies are pushed on our public education system in an effort to brainwash another generation into funding our religious infrastructure so that we can create more hateful exclusionist to haunt free thinking generations to come. So all of you Christians out there, just tell me one thing since you apparently have the only vantage point for deciding it. Am I right?


christopher said...


While all of this is very thoughtful and I appreciate your kindness...

First, you give absolutely zero historical, philosophical, or scientific justification for your memes or your interpretations. So your argument is basically just that you like to think this better than to think something else.

Second, if the societal relativism that you are applying, that truth exists as a mere claim within the context of a given culture, were true, nothing that you are saying is true in this culture, so you would be wrong by your own definitions, because this is the culture that you are in.

And third, nothing that you have said actually speaks to the issue of whether or not God exists or whether or not Christianity is true or false. You are making a claim as to how people come to think certain things are good or evil, but this says nothing about whether or not anything is actually good or evil.

So really you agree with what I wrote. If what you wrote can be taken as a representation of what the atheists claim ethics to be, then there is no right or wrong, there is only perception, which means that in my perception I am right when I think that you are wrong. For which I thank you.


(Also, don’t straw man me brotha’. My arguments aren’t quite as easy as the ones portrayed.) :)

angelsdepart said...

If you would like historical, philisophical or scientific evidence regarding the meme please take some time to read The Lucifer Principle, A Scientific Expedition Into The Forces of History
by Howard Bloom. But be careful unlike the christian bible, this book is filled with facts and insight! Unfortunately in this short blog I was not able to dive into the evidence. I was only able to give an introduction to the concept.

Second, I never attempted to apply "societal relativism." As is the same when most christians argue, you are making stuff up. The memes are solidified when they are placed into laws and enforced by the government. I know that you would like to apply a deeper meaning here, but to do that you need to just keep on making stuff up!

To respond to your third point is, well, pointless. To address whether or not a god exist would be something that I would do if I thought that the topic even deserved effort. You christians are more than welcome to believe in your "man in the sky," pray to him, do you incantations and rituals. I will step in when you start trying to influence politics, try to set agendas for the public as a whole or when people start dying because of your ideology.

So really I did not agree with what you wrote. If you twist someone's words enough though you can make them mean whatever you want. You are very good at it so I commend you for that.

By the way a straw man argument is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. Isn't it funny that you are accusing me of this! You should probably try to get your terminology straight. Not everyone is impressed with big words!

christopher said...

The claim from the first post is this…

“What causes the success of a meme is when it is successful for a society.”

This is your definition, not mine. I agree with you that this is your position. If you don’t know that it is called societal relativism and you think that I am just using “big words” and of course logic to confuse you, I’ll include the definition from a common and reputable source.

“Ethical relativism
Philosophical view that what is right or wrong and good or bad is not absolute but variable and relative, depending on the person, circumstances, or social situation. Rather than claiming that an action's rightness or wrongness can depend on the circumstances, or that people's beliefs about right and wrong are relative to their social conditioning, it claims (in one common form) that what is truly right depends solely on what the individual or the society thinks is right. Because what people think will vary with time and place, what is right will also vary. If, however, changing and even conflicting moral principles are equally valid, there is apparently no objective way of justifying any principle as valid for all people and all societies.”

And your second claim is this…

“Second, I never attempted to apply "societal relativism." As is the same when most christians argue, you are making stuff up. The memes are solidified when they are placed into laws and enforced by the government.”

Which means that I didn’t make it up. I read it in your post. What you have written is nothing more than a proposed description of what you think happened in history, thus it historiographical. The thing to do now would be to prove it. To just say, this thing happened, and then tell someone to read someone else’s book in order to find out what the possible justification could be, is not cricket. But just so we tell, it is impossible to bring a scientific justification because history is an interpretive discipline. What you are proposing is an unjustifiable faith statement. A creation myth if you will. A religion.

As to who is building the straw men here…

“Chris's argument say's that there can be no right or wrong, no good or evil without God. Therefore if you say God does not exist then you can't be right because there is no right or wrong.”

The first line is a part of my argument, the second line is not a part of my argument. Therefore because you are refuting something that is not my argument while representing it as my argument, it is the informal logical fallacy called the straw man. Its easier to fight straws as they never write back.  As for the rest of it, it dodges in and out of things related to my views, but honestly, if you hadn’t but my name on I wouldn’t have known. I might not be smart but I’m smarter than Bush for goodness sake. The comparison seems strained. What you want to look up is objectivist vs. descriptivist ethics. You are presenting a description of what you think ethics look like. Not the same as saying that there is actually a good or an evil that is objectively good even apart from the community in which a supposed good develops.

My argument is closer to saying that if you believe in an actual real good, that transcends mere imaginations like “memes” as an escapist attempt to recapture meaning once a coherent basis for meaning has been rejected, you are being irrational. You cannot have a practical application without a sufficient theoretical basis. This is a very common form of argumentation. There is nothing specific to Christianity in its form. (Unless you think that rationality itself is specific to Christianity) It is simply a call to be coherent. This is not an argument against every atheism, only those that claim an ethics beyond mere preference. If someone wants to bite the bullet and claim that its all quantitative animal instinct run its course, then so be it. They are being more consistent now. But because most people see the inherent absurdity of claiming that life is such an inherent absurdity, we will win that argument every time.

But people can be as incoherent as they want to because it’s a free country. Of course if atheists ran the country they would have no coherent basis for any freedoms whatsoever but that is a different issue. There just isn’t anything in atheism that can justify such a thing without being irrational, which is why Marxism was such a destructive force to any personal freedoms whatsoever.

So, your position is ethical relativism whether you like the dainty two dollar title or not, second the existence of God is exactly the point whether He is in the sky or not, and third my argument is both sound and valid, you are simply saying that it is not persuasive. And whether or not it is persuasive depends upon who you are speaking with. To each his own.

Oh, and i've read Harold Bloom books, and I'm not impressed by big words either.

(Your other thing about Baptists and Calvinists seems like a real stretch to me. Baptist is a denomination and Calvinist is a theology, besides the fact that traditionally Baptists don’t to argumentation. You might be thinking of the Catholics.)

Christopher Neiswonger

angelsdepart said...

Chris you need to understand that my blogs are not geared towards the scientific community. They are meant to be enlightening as well as entertaining. To get into the scientific explanation of the lifespan of a meme would only put my readers to sleep. Your blogs are intuitive but very far out of reach to many people. So when I say “What causes the success of a meme is when it is successful for a society” I am giving the quick answer. There is obviously more to it. Feel free to ask specific questions and I will try my best to field them.

If you want to call this societal relativism then go ahead. The term doesn’t offend me, but by the definition you have given it is obvious that you have missed my point. Also your definition was for ethical relativism. Are they the same thing? I never claimed that good and bad were not absolute. I would think that good or bad being solidified in law and enforced by a government would make it absolute. It would also explain why there is a variation of what is good, bad, right, or wrong from culture to culture. So as you can see, there is justification, and there is meaning. These things are what we apply to it, not what “a god” applies.

You criticize me for making up the history of the meme but all of your arguments are based on a made up book. If you want to get into the proof game then start here “Intelligent design, not so intelligent”
This is a list of biblical contradictions for you to rectify before I will even consider accepting any biblical arguments as a “proof.” If my proposal is wrong for being a faith statement then what does this say about your claims which have no potential for being backed by any sort of scientific endeavors?

As far as this argument is concerned

“Chris's argument say's that there can be no right or wrong, no good or evil without God. Therefore if you say God does not exist then you can't be right because there is no right or wrong.”

The first line is part of your argument, we are agreed on that. The second line is not, we are agrees on that. I apologize if you thought that the way that this blog was structured led people to believe that this was your direct argument. The point of the blog that this was from was to argue against circular arguments. Circular arguments always include an assumption. The “Therefore if you say God does not exist then you can't be right because there is no right or wrong.” Is the part of the argument that is assumed. Hope this helps.

But then you go on to say

“My argument is closer to saying that if you believe in an actual real good, that transcends mere imaginations like “memes” as an escapist attempt to recapture meaning once a coherent basis for meaning has been rejected, you are being irrational. You cannot have a practical application without a sufficient theoretical basis. ”

How is this not agreeing with the inferred assumption in my previous statement? If I have misunderstood your intentions then please explain it!

To say that atheist would have no coherent basis for any freedoms if they ran the country is an assertion made from your frivolous claim. Do you have proof of this? Since we are only using empirical evidence now! (Kind of shot yourself in the foot on that one huh?)

I do have to say that it is nice that you are actually joining into the conversations though. You left a comment on myspace when I originally posted this blog, but failed at that time to realize that you were mentioned in it. Please don’t comment unless you have actually read the material and I will extend the same courtesy to you. I always love it when you present you points. Generally they are well thought out. The majority of Christians are just flat out ignorant about their belief systems. It’s nice to see you actually attempting to back your statements instead of saying something cute like “I may be right, I may be wrong, am I right or wrong for thinking that?”

Also, I am sorry that you find Howard Bloom boring. To each their own, right? His theories are sound though. I found the bible boring and I still read it. To only have one side of an argument does not give you much of a vantage point to argue from. I would suggest opening your mind and reading materials that you disagree with in addition to those that affirm your faith. Good luck!

christopher said...

I enjoy reading your blogs because they are all heart and soul. If I were only going to read things I agreed with I'd rarely have anything to read. And you need to remeber that I was the atheist once and still the hardened skeptic for years after. As a late convert, I got there honest. Anything that you can say about your christianity I can say about atheism. I consider the atheist to be the unthinking and under educated. They just don't live in the real world. Just a world of fashion and molecules where the beauty and value of the human experience is demoted to the level of accident and a case of mistaken identity. A little familiarity with philosophy might make someone an atheist, but a great deal of philosophy doesn't seem to leave that an open option. There is something more than just the void and the contrary seems incoherent.

I don't think I missed that I was in it. I usually don't respond directly to blogs that include me. But usually they are not by my bro's. I tend to expect better.

Responding to an attack is a tricky thing because it can seem simply self serving and self defensive and its best to avoid that because it clouds the issues. I would only want to deal with a substantial claim. Claims given to perspective or issues apart from factual claims can be argued but not usually to any good end. Its all apples and oranges. And if you want me to respond to something you could always just ask.

It is imporatant to me that you understand exactly what the two world views entail. Notice that I am careful to tell you exactly what my positions are. In a debate this is something you are never supposed to do because each position has its strengths and weaknesses and giving them away is not tactical.

But my method has always been promoting a real and deeper understanding of the issues involved and then trying to draw reasonable conclusions as to the meaning of all this. If a view ends in the meaning that there is no meaning, it is nonsense. There is no atheist that I have ever read, that when all of their rhetoric is done, what they say can possibly mean anything or explain the peculiarities of human experience. That leaves the possibility of something, but not nothing. The options are not infinite.

All the best,

Christopher Neiswonger

Larro said...

To the both of you.

How about this: I could give a rat's ass about stupid ass arguments of whether a god exists or not. I have learned this argument is invariably moot.

You can't convince somebody of faith of the contradiction of their beliefs. The only thing that would move somebody that way is through life experience. Belief systems are intangible and beyond reproach. As most atheist already know the leap of faith is indeed quite a leap, but for people who have been indoctrinated by religious ideologues including and especially their parents; the "leap" is more or less a just a small step. Those who buck this indoctrination have obviously looked outside of the meme or bubble they have lived in all their lives and saw something else that is more comfortable to live with. Is that so unacceptable?

It's quite obvious that Christians look down on atheists. I've seen plenty of examples of this. And if they don't actually view atheists as abhorrent then in most cases I would say (as recent polls point out) they are viewed as untrustworthy.

Is this merited? I don't think so. Is this a healthy meme?

Chris, I'd like to see your take on the rationale behind this attitude.

To be honest I don't care whether a god exists or not or whether people choose to believe that. My concern and the bigger concern I think most atheists should be primed to deal with is secularism and the erosion of it.

Ok, I'm running out of steam. Very, very, very good post! I enjoyed the read. I'll be back.

Take care.

Larro said...

Oh, one last thing.

If people need to be told what is right and wrong then they definitely have a problem bigger than they know.