Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Discover Your Ideal Presidential Candidate

This is the best Presidential Candidate Selector I’ve come across to date. It’s brief, yet detailed—giving one the chance to see which candidate truly reflects one's views. My results are below. Please take the quiz, and be sure to come back here and post your results!

1. Theoretical Ideal Candidate (100%)

2. Kent McManigal (81%)

3. Dennis Kucinich (70%)

4. Ron Paul (65%)

5. Barack Obama (60%)

6. Al Gore (53%)

7. Joseph Biden (53%)

8. Hillary Clinton (52%)

9. Christopher Dodd (52%)

10. Wesley Clark (51%)

11. Bill Richardson (46%)

12. John Edwards (45%)

13. Mike Gravel (44%)

14. John McCain (43%)

15. Rudolph Giuliani (41%)

16. Chuck Hagel (40%)

17. Mitt Romney (38%)

18. Newt Gingrich (34%)

19. Elaine Brown (31%)

20. Fred Thompson (29%)

21. Sam Brownback (28%)

22. Tom Tancredo (28%)

23. Mike Huckabee (25%)

24. Jim Gilmore (24%)

25. Duncan Hunter (22%)

26. Tommy Thompson (22%)

Friday, October 20, 2006

I, Too, Am Not Afraid

Over the past couple of weeks, this blog has had more Christian visitors than at any other point in its history. For most of its existence, this avowedly atheist blog has had an atheistic readership that is sympathetic to my views. While, of course, I welcome readers of all types—including devout Christians—I am uncomfortable with the idea of this blog being used for evangelism, especially when it’s directed at me.

Yes, I previously was a Catholic. However, a few years ago, I left that faith never to return. Catholicism in particular, and Christianity in general, simply is not compatible with a scientific worldview. The “soul” is a notion for which no scientific evidence exists. A closely connected concept, the afterlife, also is a notion for which no scientific evidence is present. In fact, the scientific evidence gained via brain study effectively has ruled out an immaterial, immortal soul. Memory and personality reside in the brain, and have perfectly natural scientific explanations. By explaining personality and memory in terms of science, the “ghost in the machine” has been exorcised. And, let’s not forget that Jesus’ resurrection is scientifically impossible, as well as the fact that there’s no more evidence for Yahweh’s actual existence than Zeus’ actual existence.

Shocking though it might be to many Christians, I am extremely confident that there is no God. Indeed, I propose that I am just as confident in the veracity of atheism as they are in the truth of Christianity—if not more so. This post is intended to serve as a testament to my confidence that the religion of Yahweh is, and always has been, false.

Let me quote two verses:

(10) And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
Luke 12:10 (New International Version)

(29) But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.
Mark 3:29 (New International Version)

To demonstrate my absolute confidence in a godless world, I say:

I deny the Holy Spirit.

I know that Brian Flemming, in his film The God Who Wasn’t There, did this before me but, nevertheless, I would argue it’s a profound and meaningful step for every atheist to take—even if the rest of us didn’t have the courage to do it first.

As Mr. Flemming said, “I am not afraid.”

I believe in the oceans, the continents, the air and the sun. I believe in friends, family, integrity, hard work and enjoying life. I believe in treating others as I wish to be treated, and letting them live their lives as they see fit, never passing judgment on things that aren’t my concern. I believe in wringing as much pleasure, fun, happiness and laughter from this earthly life—our only life—as I can. As a freethinker, I try to lead others to that same path.

But God? The supernatural? The paranormal? I have no room in my consciousness, nor time in my life, for such notions.

I am an atheist.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Unanswerable Question For Christians

If Christianity is the one true faith, and God wants everybody to go to Heaven by accepting it, then why did it take our species (which is about 195,000 years old) approximately 190,000 years to discover it (while, in the meantime, worshipping all manner of "false" gods and following scores of "fake" religions)?

Sunday, October 8, 2006

The Infinite Regress – The Poverty of the Design Inference

Inspired by Richard Dawkins

Theists adore presenting the argument from improbability to justify their belief in God. Generally, they argue, “The cosmos is far too complex to have arisen by pure chance, thus it must have been intelligently designed. We call this designer God.” The problem with this design inference is obvious: Any designer capable of crafting something as complex as the cosmos surely also is complex enough to require its own designer. Indeed any designer, by definition, would have to be complex; the very act of “designing” requires the presence of a mind. This is because design, by definition, is planning/executing something with a specific goal with respect to the end result. Mind, the only entity capable of design work, simply is too complex to arise by pure chance [Remember, this is the dichotomy with which creationists present us, pure chance versus design. Working from their own (I would argue false) dichotomy, mind requires design, and thus designers require design.] Note: Natural Selection does not constitute design because Natural Selection never works toward a specified end goal. It takes what it can get at stage one, without regard to what might happen at stage nine.

So now we conclude that our complex—by virtue of its mind—intelligent designer also must have been designed (since it is too statistically improbable that mind would arise by pure chance). In reaching this conclusion, all I am doing is applying the design inference uniformly and accepting the creationists’ own dichotomy of pure chance versus design. Continuing logically then, the Super designer of the original intelligent designer also must have been designed. That work must have been done by a Supreme intelligent designer, who again, by virtue of the presence of its mind, must too be the product of design [Remember, design work only can be done by a mind, and a mind—given our accepted creationist dichotomy—must be the product of design, since it statistically could not arise by pure chance.] This reasoning dooms us to an infinite regress wherein every designer, each of whom possesses a mind, would need its own designer in turn.

In case the above is too convoluted (alas, creationist reasoning), I'll put the whole thing into argument form. For the sake of clarity, I also will define "mind" as follows: "An entity capable of devising plans and seeing those plans through – step by step – to a predetermined goal."

P1. Design work requires the presence of "mind" (although not necessarily a brain, per se).

P2. Designers, by definition, do design work.

C1. Designers must possess mind.

P3. Mind statistically is too complex to arise by pure chance.

P4. According to creationists' own dichotomy, the alternative to pure chance is design.

C2. Mind must be designed.

P5. Designers must possess mind.

P6. Mind must be designed.

C3. A designer (or, at least, a designer's mind) must be designed. [Ad infinitum]

Theists may presume to argue that their original intelligent designer always has existed, designed itself or some other such pseudo-philosophical proposition. In that case, I ask for hard, scientific evidence to support such an assertion. How could we, the mere creations of an intelligent designer, presume to know about that designer’s origin? The only way I can imagine would be through revelation, such as the revealed Truth of Scripture. But no serious scientist will be convinced by knowledge via revelation, if only because the Bible is full of gross inconsistencies, scientific impossibilities and historical improbabilities [Not to mention the fact that the Bible was composed by many writers, with their own agendas, which then was filtered through rewriters and powers of the day.] Saying “God always has existed” or “God designed himself” explains nothing, but instead offers a permanently inaccessible black box. Positing God simply replaces one mystery (the origin of the cosmos) with an even more baffling mystery (the origin of the designer, the origin of the designer’s designer, ad infinitum). Citing God does not explain anything. The design hypothesis is a path to infinite regress, wherein every designer would demand its own. Creationists’ dichotomy is false. Their reasoning? And the road leads to nowhere…

Friday, October 6, 2006

The Burden of Proof (aka: Should We Presume A God's Existence?)

I always am confounded when theists assert that the burden of proof is on atheists, rather than theists themselves. That is, theists often claim that a god’s existence should be presumed, rather than a god’s non-existence. This, of course, despite the fact that there is absolutely no hard, scientific evidence to support the contention that any gods exist. Belief in gods is based upon faith, rather than hard, scientific evidence. Yet, in the opinions of many theists, the burden of proof remains on the non-believer. This is very curious.

I frequently use the following analogy, to which I've never received an adequate response.

Should a woman have a double mastectomy because she presumes the existence of cancer cells, sans hard evidence? Of course not. She assumes the non-existence of cancer cells, until presented with substantial evidence that cancer cells are present. In my view, presuming the existence of a god and acting accordingly would be exactly the same as presuming the existence of cancer cells and having surgery accordingly. When presented with something questionable, one always should assume non-existence, until presented with hard, scientific evidence supporting the contention of existence. Even then, one must decide whether that hard evidence is compelling enough to warrant belief.

This especially is true for an extraordinary claim, such as the existence of a god. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, as the brilliant Carl Sagan reflected. An omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity certainly would be extraordinary, in that such an entity never has been observed in nature. Therefore, in fact, it would be much more rational to presume—sans evidence—one has cancer (and act accordingly) than to presume—sans evidence—a god exists (and act accordingly).

An evidence-deficient god claim actually is more comparable to an evidence-deficient claim for unicorns, leprechauns, banshees or zombies. Much like in the case of a god, testable nature never has laid its eyes upon any of those colorful creatures.

Extraordinary claims necessitate extraordinary evidence. By believers’ own accounts, gods are accepted by faith rather than by scientific evidence. Faith does not meet the high standard of extraordinary evidence; on the contrary, faith is what one uses to prop up beliefs for which no evidence exists.

The burden of proof is on you, theists. Present extraordinary evidence for a god – hard evidence that is testable in the scientific sense. Presuming a god, in all seriousness, absolutely is no different from presuming invisible goblins creeping through my backyard.

Forget about “Where’s the beef?” Where’s the evidence?

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Why Only Nihilism is Consonant with Reason

Ever since I jumped back into the debate about whether “morality” is objective or simply a matter of opinion, I’ve been asked to clarify my nihilistic view that morality—as a natural, objective concept—does not exist. I am happy to do so.

The problem with morality is this: It is a term without a concept. Or, at least, it lacks a single one capable of being proved correct. An individual could define morality, quite literally, in countless ways; and, each one of those definitions would be equally correct, since there is no evidence available to support one morality conception’s veracity or another’s falsehood. Sam Harris, for example, defines moral actions as those that increase human happiness. On the other hand, in his mind, immoral actions increase human suffering. While that conception of morality seems sensible, it is totally unburdened by evidence. In his book The End of Faith, Harris simply declares that human happiness and suffering are the relevant factors with regard to morality. I could make an entirely different declaration, and be equally correct (as well as equally lacking in actual supporting evidence).

At the risk of being repetitious, I will list three possible conceptions of morality. Note, these are only three among innumerable others.

(1). Morality relates to human-to-human interaction. Moral actions increase happiness, while immoral actions increase suffering.

(2). Morality relates to human-to-environment interaction. Moral actions benefit the environment, while immoral actions harm the environment. Human happiness/suffering is not relevant.

(3). Morality relates to human-to-frog interaction. Moral actions benefit frogs, while immoral actions harm frogs. Human happiness/suffering is not relevant.

Sam Harris would argue neither (2) nor (3) is the correct notion of morality (as neither one places human happiness/suffering at the core of the issue). But, given the absolute dearth of evidence on the matter, (1), (2) and (3) all are equally plausible conceptions of morality. Indeed, the precise opposite of (1)—that morality relates to human-to-human interaction, and that moral actions increase suffering, while immoral actions increase happiness—also is equally as plausible a definition as any other is.

At the risk of being forced to eat my words, I challenge any of my readers to argue—with actual evidence—that one morality conception is more correct than another morality conception. If, collectively, we choose to define morality in some particular way simply out of speciocentric self-interest, that means that, while morality exists, it has no relationship with the natural universe or the true order of things. That is, genocide only would be immoral because—if speciocentric self-interest is the Key Factor—genocide manifestly runs counter to that self-interest. But to allege that Homo sapiens sapiens’ self-interest inherently is relevant to “morality” would be to make an assertion without the benefit of evidence. Human self-interest easily could be replaced by another Key Factor, such as the primacy of the environment or the supremacy of frogs.

The other perplexing thing about morality is the inconsistency with which it is applied. If two lions are fighting over a gazelle carcass, and one lion kills the other, has that lion committed an “immoral” act? If not, then why, in a similar case, would a human be guilty of immorality? Nobody ever talks about duck-billed platypuses behaving immorally, or geese being the picture of moral perfection. Why are Homo sapiens sapiens subject to moral strictures? We are, after all, just another animal species roaming around this planet. We live on the same evolutionary Tree of Life as lions, platypuses and geese. And yet, when it comes to morality, we pretend that we’re not animals like all the rest of our brethren. The truth is—we are. On this planet, we, like all animals, eat, sleep and reproduce.

From whence did morality come?

Why was its noose tied around the neck of our species?

And where is the elusive evidence to justify its existence as a scientific, natural concept?

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Morality: It's All In Your Head...

With respect to today’s subject, I am in the minority even among atheists. Few non-believers—no matter how strongly they reject traditional Christian morality—are willing to call moral issues strictly matters of opinion. However, I remain a steadfast nihilist despite the rarity of my breed. Morality is, at its heart, a subject about which no hard facts exist. Murder is bad…Altruism is good…Theft is bad – These are nothing more than statements of opinion and expressions of personal taste. Although this bold assertion might seem shocking and offensive to some, I hope to explicate my position by way of two pertinent analogies: weather and movies.

Weather conditions can be classified as “good” or “bad” (or somewhere in between those). Personally, I enjoy the heat. My ideal weather would be 90 degrees and blazingly sunny. If I awoke tomorrow and those were the conditions, I would classify the weather as “good.” However, nothing intrinsically is good about those conditions. Given alternate preferences (for example, preference for snow and wind), the aforementioned conditions would be considered “bad” weather. To me, 90 degrees is “good.” To hypothetical individual A, 90 degrees is “bad.” There is no method by which to discern the intrinsic “goodness” of weather—no existing scientific instrumentation is up to the task. And so, we must conclude that no weather intrinsically is either good or bad. Those concepts are coherent only in the eyes of the beholder, and one opinion is just as good as any other, since none could be considered objectively correct.

Movies can be classified as “good” or “bad” (or somewhere in between those). Personally, I enjoy slasher movies. My ideal flick would be a gory slasher story on the order of Friday the 13th or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If I went to the multiplex on Saturday night and saw a movie similar to the one I just described, I would classify that film as “good.” However, nothing intrinsically is good about that hypothetical film. Given alternate preferences (for example, love stories or historical dramas), the aforementioned flick might well be considered “bad.” To me, slasher movies are “good.” To hypothetical individual A, slasher movies are “bad.” There is no method by which to discern the intrinsic “goodness” of films—no existing scientific instrumentation is up to the task. And so, we must conclude that no movie is either good or bad. Those concepts are coherent only in the eyes of the beholder, and one opinion is just as good as any other, since none could be considered objectively correct.

Morality (the study of “good” versus “bad”) is precisely the same as my two examples. Morality cannot be gauged, measured, quantified or tested in the scientific sense. There are no measurable units of morality comparable to inches, ounces, volts or calories. Unless, and until, a reliable “morality meter” is invented by an enterprising scientist, moral claims must be recognized for what they truly are: statements of unsubstantiated opinion masquerading as universal standards to which we should submit.