Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bad Creationist Arguments: A Response to Adoro Ergo Sum

It's been a while since I last wrote a post on the blog, so today I'm going to do something simplistic to hold you over while I work on something more substantial. Nathan Barontini from the blog Adoro Ergo Sum posted an article on the 11th of this month entitled "Does Lack of Evidence for God Justify Atheism?" I saw this on my Google+ feed, gave it a read, and decided the arguments were pretty bad and that the writer didn't satisfy the goal he was aiming for. Here I'll refute his claims with brevity for your entertainment.

Firstly, the answer to his question is an obvious "yes." Lack of evidence for X justifies a lack of belief in X. For example, there is no evidence that there is a corn cob inside my head; therefore, there I would be justified in saying I do not believe in said corn cob inside my head. Replace "there is a corn cob inside my head" with anything that has not been proven and you will get the idea. To suggest otherwise is a breach of basic logic.

To address the article itself, we'll start with the first two sentences, quote:
"Have you ever encountered the claim that there is "no evidence for God?" This is usually thrown out by undereducated, militant, atheistic, online "trolls" and is meant to be a conversation stopper - an irrefutable argument proving the rationality of the atheist position."
Immediately Nathan poisons the well by attempting to drag the intellect, behavior, personality and motives of his opposition through the mud. The fact is that someone who claims there is no evidence for God is simply observing the universe objectively. They can be an absolute idiot and still accept that there is no reason to believe in God. The only reason it's an "irrefutable" argument is because there really is no evidence for God. The only way to disprove that there is no evidence for something is by providing evidence for it, which theists cannot do, as will be shown.

Under "Is There A Lack of Evidence for God?" Nathan lists several things which he thinks prove God's existence beyond what he calls arguments of "the 'I feel God exists/ I want God to exist/ The Bible says God exists/ my parents said God exists' variety." Here I will list them and respond to them succinctly.

1: The universe has a beginning (and nothing can cause itself to begin to exist).

This is a typical god of the gaps argument. Yes we know the universe has a beginning, but it didn't just cause itself to begin. The question of "who or what caused the Big Bang" is a question that scientists are still trying to answer; however there is no reason to accept God as that answer, since there is no evidence for it. This may seem circular, but in actuality it's just a flawed argument on Nathan's part. Finding a situation where "because God" seems to plug into the right hole doesn't suffice as evidence for his existence.

2: The moral law.

For this argument, Nathan cites a video by William Lane Craig claiming to show that morality is objective, and that it proves God's existence. Of course, this invokes the Euthyphro dilemma, which is the conundrum of whether something is good because God wills it, or whether God wills it because it is good. Craig's answer to this question is "neither one, rather God wills something because he is good." To explain otherwise, something is considered good if it conforms to God's "moral nature." Whether Craig realizes it or not, this is exactly the same as saying "it's good because God wills it." The reason for this is that it still presupposes that what God does can be considered good, or that God's nature is good. That doesn't answer the question of "what is good," though, because if what God does is good simply because he is good, then what remains is the question of what determines that fact. In other words, what determines that God's nature is good? The answer would inevitably be God, thus creating a viciously circular argument which leads back to "it's good because God wills it."

3: The beauty and goodness in the universe.

Nathan makes no attempt to make a logical argument for this case. Rather, he accepts that there is no logical argument to be made, and that this is something you just understand based on intuition. For those people who don't, it's because they have been blinded from seeing the obvious truth. Of course, we can abandon any argument that does not rely on a logical premise, and so by Nathan's own admission, this argument doesn't work (even though he thinks it does, but has essentially admitted that it doesn't).

4: The intelligibility of the universe.

The argument from intelligibility is that all things in the universe at any level of existence can be known -- that is, they have a structure which allows us to comprehend them -- and therefore the only "satisfying" answer is that it was intelligently designed. This is similar to the argument from complexity in that it presupposes that because something can be understood, it has to be designed in the same way that the former presupposes that because something is complex, it has to be designed by something even more complex. Of course, we see why this is fallacious: there is no reason to believe in the premise. In fact, it's much easier for me to believe that the universe in all aspects can be understood because otherwise it would lose stability. Note how I said it's easier for me to believe that, though, not that it's any more logical of an argument.

5: The contingency of everything we see around us.

This is almost exactly the same as argument 1, although it illustrates it differently. It states that because the universe cannot be conceived to not exist (making it contingent), and that its cause must not also be contingent, that its cause is what can be called "God." This ignores that God has many other attributes other than just being an original cause. It's also all-encompassing, because now anything that is the original cause of the universe can be called "God." Whether you call it God or not is not the issue at hand. What its attributes are is the issue. Whether the cause of the Big Bang is called "God" or "Bitimpusmaxilord" only matters at a visceral level.

6: The history surrounding Jesus Christ.

Nathan only cites a book for this, as he does for many of his claims, and thus it's difficult to judge the merits of the argument, or even what the argument is; however, I can only assume that it's the argument that because the Bible is historically accurate down to the possibility of Jesus Christ existing amongst the things that are mentioned therein, it is right about Jesus Christ being the Son of God. If this is the argument, it's terrible. I could research twentieth century America for years, write a book about a fictional character who existed during that time, and meet the same test. It does not follow that because X is correct about Y, then X is also correct about Z, unless Z is contingent upon Y. In this case, that would mean the existence of God is contingent upon the historical accuracy of the Bible, which means that any fictional character's existence can be proven by an argument of historical accuracy.

7: The universal testimony of mankind.

Universality does not prove the existence of God. This is a strange but convincing argument from popularity. It simply doesn't follow, though, that because history has rejected atheism that atheism isn't true. The same could be said for anything up until its acceptance. Here's an example: the Christian God. The Christian God did not exist as a concept until the creation of Christianity, after the alleged coming of Christ. Up until that point, however, history had rejected the idea of that particular interpretation of God because no evidence had been brought about for it. Up until that point, then, it could be argued that the universal testimony of mankind disproved the existence of the Christian God. The same can be said for evolution, the Big Bang, the planets orbiting the sun, etc. Also, it ignores that not all interpretations of God are the same, or even similar, or are even singular (hence polytheism).

8: Miracles.

Another book citation, but I can't even begin to make sense of this argument. God exists because of miracles? Miracles don't exist. We have not found anything in the universe that cannot have a conceivably rational explanation.

This is the end of his arguments for God, which took longer than expected to address. Responding to the sentences after that list, I guess I'm in the minority, because I addressed every single one as best as I could. In fact, there are plenty of resources available for anyone who wants to address these arguments. Let this be one of them. Again though, Nathan tries to impress himself and his arguments by claiming that few can respond to them.

The next section is "Is the Argument Logical?" Here, Nathan states as follows:
"Another, and worse, problem for the argument is the bad logic behind it. Even if we granted the atheist the truth of his statement, "there is no evidence for the existence of God," his conclusion, "there is no God," would still not be proven."
To anyone who actually says "there is no God," then you're screwed here; but to the vast majority of atheists who say "I don't believe there is a God," then you're in luck, because Nathan forgot to address you. The most common atheistic position isn't one of knowledge, but of lack of belief. There is no evidence for the existence of God; therefore, there is no reason to believe God exists. That doesn't mean he doesn't exist, it just means we shouldn't believe he does until something provides evidence for it. However, if you are like me, then you can look at different attributes of different gods and determine whether or not that god can possibly exist. Omnipotence is one, which is a paradox. Any god that is allegedly omnipotent cannot exist because their existence would be paradoxical.

After some hand wringing over what definition of agnosticism this strawman would fall under, Nathan concludes this:
"To conclude that we don't know if there is a God and then to live as if there wasn't one is to make a rather poor "wager," as even the honest atheist will admit."
He cites Pascal's Wager for this argument, which means he has completely misunderstood Pascal's Wager. Pascal's Wager states that if God doesn't exist, then there are no consequences to not following his will; however if he does exist, then there are consequences, therefore we should follow his will. You know, just in case? This is of course invalid for several reasons. It ignores the many numbers of moral codes that exist, such that adhering to one moral code would violate another, and thus if you were wrong about what code you follow, there would be consequences. It also presumes that belief is based on choice. It's not. I can't help not believing in God. It is something that I ultimately believe in based on evidence. If I chose to follow the moral codes, then I would merely be lying to myself and to God, and thus he would know of my true atheism and likely burn me in Hell for being a nonbeliever.

So there you have it. Nathan didn't provide any convincing arguments for the existence of God, and failed to provide any reason to believe that the atheistic position is illogical due to him not understanding what an atheist is. I hope everyone else took something from this fairly swift refutation.

Thank you very much for reading.



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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Mailbag: More About The Authors of HtPYP

Lex: It's been a while since we've done a mailbag post: in fact, the last time I answered your questions, there was no "we." I was the only author on this blog at the time. Now there are three! Seeing as how Octavian is more recent, there haven't been any questions submitted to me for him. A few of you have asked about Nick, though, so we'll both be answering your questions for this mailbag post.

Nick: Don't know why any of you give a shit about me, but okay. Let's get the questions rolling.

Lex: As always, the questions will be slightly reorganized to exclude any irrelevant comments. These messages are thus not in their original form. (Standard disclosure.)

"How did you guys come up with the name How to Paint Your Panda for your website? I ask because I'm thinking about starting my own blog soon, and so I need some help on how to come up with a name. Was that the only idea you considered? If not, what else? Thanks in advance!"

Lex: I was the one to come up with the name "How to Paint Your Panda" (since I was the only one writing for this blog at the time). I used to have details about this on the about page, but have since removed it in order to make room for the other authors' voices. I'll probably add it again once I redesign the website, make a banner, add pictures to the about page, etc.

So the shortened explanation is this: the panda is meant to represent black-and-white thinking -- a type of thinking which cannot explain or observe most of this world. There is always nuance, exceptions to rules, and so on. The goal of this blog was to help change people's views, or at least show them that not everything is so clear and obvious as they might think. There is complexity to everything, and so they should examine even the little things with a bit more scrutiny. In doing so, the black-and-white thinking will become more colourful, thus you will be "painting your panda."

Who will win? I'll give you a hint...
As a matter of fact, however, this was a very spontaneous idea for the blog name that I came up with over the course of maybe 2 minutes. I had spent days on another idea which was originally going to be the name of this blog: "When Tesla Met the Storm." The rationale behind this was that there are certain things about the world that we either don't comprehend, can't explain, or simply cannot control. There are evident truths about the world that do not go away even when we choose to ignore them, or try to overcome them. In that sense, we (as the general people of Earth) are Tesla -- we are creative, constructive, and we have great power and capabilities, esp. dealing with power and energy. However, Tesla is humbled when he meets nature's generator of electricity, the storm. It's something that is still fairly unpredictable, powerful, and causes destruction even against our best attempts to protect ourselves from it. The storm, then, represents the inescapable truth.

Why I didn't stick with that idea, I don't really know. Maybe I thought it wasn't inclusive enough, or sounded too technical or bland. I wanted to attract a diversity of readers, and the moment I say "Tesla," many of them will cringe and walk away. Painting pandas, however, is much more fun, and sounds more creative.

Nick: I remember seeing that as your first title when you started your blog, and honestly I liked it better. I think the takeaway for the reader is that the title should speak to the contents of your blog, but not in a straightforward no-nonsense manner. It should leave you asking questions and wanting to find out more, especially what the title actually means. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that it's your blog. The title will come from you, either by planning or by a spontaneous thought.

"As far as I know, there isn't a lot of information available about Nick on the blog. Would he be willing to talk more about himself? Where is he from? What are his interests? He seems like an interesting person, no doubt, so I bet a lot of people would like to know more about him."

Nick: I can deliver on that. Most of the information I would share with people is on the about page, but I'll let you all in on a little more.

First and foremost, my passion is in video games, specifically the Legend of Zelda. I'm a nerd when it comes to that series, and if you've seen my dorm, you know exactly what I mean. I collect as much Zelda-related shit as I can with my limited income, and I learn as much as I can find on the lore. Lex and I have that in common, but I just choose not to write about it. It's something I like to keep as a part of me, not something that I argue with people about. Games are supposed to be fun and enjoyable, not part of life's bigger problems.

This was her first clutch. Gave her Mother of the Year 2014.
Back at home, I own a pet diamond dove. It's this small little thing on the right: it shits tiny cinnamon rolls and doesn't shut up. Her name is Sydney, paying homage to Australia, where they're native to. When I first got her, I didn't really know what to think. She was fidgety, she didn't like me much, and at night she would violently flap her wings against the bars of her cage, waking me up incessantly. This actually didn't end for several months, but now she's calmed down and rarely does that at all. Occasionally she'll perch on my finger, but she mostly flies away from me. But I like that about a pet: while I'd like her to feel comfortable with me, I like her independence. She has a personality of her own, and isn't just there for my own self-gratification. She's no dog.

I also didn't know she was a girl until I went home for Christmas, finding that she laid two eggs for me only hours before I arrived. "Merry fucking Christmas dad," she cooed at me in her choo-choo voice.

Here's something that I think I should talk about since it caused me issues with my more recent posts: I'm not actually that much of an asshole. If you meet me in person, I think you'll be unwittingly shocked at how far I'll go out of my way to not say anything offensive, controversial, or rude, as well as how shy I really am. I care about the way other people feel, but I am very defensive, both of myself and of the people I care about. The vibe I give in my writing is a persona, a gimmick, to make things more interesting and enjoyable for the readers. If you know me well, you'll hear that kind of talk in person (since I can joke around without having to worry about offending). If you don't know me, I'll be more courteous. That in itself has caused problems for me and given people the wrong impression, but if there's one thing I can say about my behavior, it's that it's not ostensible. My approaches are genuine.

That's really all I can come up with. If I think of any other stuff, I'll edit this post and add it in.

"Are you two dating?"

Lex & Nick: No.

Lex: We're best friends. We've known each other for quite a few years now, and shared many of the better years of our childhood/adolescence together. Now we live in separate parts of the world, so something of the sort would be unlikely to begin with.

Nick: And besides that, I thought the answer was already obvious, considering I mention my girlfriend in my posts a lot (but don't mention her name) while I refer to Lex in others. That distinction is there for a reason. I have a girlfriend, and it's not Lex. We've been together for over 3 years now.

Lex: Although, Nick's girlfriend and I are very close.

"How come neither of you do video/show your faces a lot online? Lex's profile used to have a picture of her but now it's gone, and all of Nick's photos on G+ leave him out of the shot."

Lex: I do it for three reasons: (1) privacy, (2) lack of vanity; and, (3) inconvenience. For the first, it should be self-explanatory: I don't like putting my picture online. As I explained to someone else, more people recognize my face than my name on account of the fact that I'm very shy and not good at introductions. I'm not vain, so I don't take a lot of pictures of myself, which creates a shortage to put online. Lastly, it's inconvenient for me, since I don't own a phone or a camera, my laptop doesn't have one built in, and the place where I live frowns upon photos or videos being taken.

It's much easier to accept an argument from this.
I should also mention, I suppose, that I was getting tired of a lot of people (both on my side of an argument or the opposing side) commenting on my appearance. Sure, it's nice to receive compliments, but that was taking up a substantial portion of comments directed at me, even going so far as "how can someone so pretty be so smart?" As if having good looks means you can't be educated. I want my arguments to be judged by their validity, not by the person articulating them.

Nick: I do it for mostly privacy reasons, but there's no reason to believe I'll always keep my identity hidden. I was originally going to take a photo of myself for the about page, but never got around to it. If I do a Zelda cosplay that doesn't require a mask you can expect for sure that I'll be posting a picture of it on Google+, thus showing my face (that'll be around summer time for TooManyGames 2015).

I also agree with Lex that it forces people to judge the merits of my arguments instead of paying attention to who is making them.

Lex: Last question.

"How do you two know so much? Both of you talk about a wide range of topics and write so eloquently about them, but you're not much older than I am, and I could never do the same. Do you do a lot of research beforehand?"

Lex: Yes, yes, yes.

Nick: It's not often that I'll write about a scholarly subject without doing copious amounts of research. It's very rare that all, or even most of it will be off the top of my head. I read into things first.

Lex: It takes about 10 minutes for me to read through most of the posts I write (the ones of substantial length), and yet it takes me hours, most of the time days to actually write them. I do a lot of research and fact check everything. It should be noted that that's where Nick and I usually get our stances on issues to begin with: we do the research so we know what stance to take. It's rarely ever predetermined.

Nick: I'm not going to sell myself short though, and neither should Lex. We're both smart; very smart. Why we turned out this way is probably for different reasons. I grew up in an environment where all the information was fed to me, and it wasn't until I started noticing that a lot of people were getting things wrong that I decided to do my own research.

Lex: Pretty much everyone knows my story, so it's well known that my inquiry started when I started questioning my faith; however, I've been a regular visitor of the library since I was very little. That's very important: reading is important.

Nick: I'd suggest reading, yeah, and also broadening your perspectives. Go outside your comfort zone, challenge your ideas. I usually visit a lot of science reporting websites every day just to see what's going on. That'll familiarize you with the latest, most popular research, at the very least. The most important thing to remember, though, is that we're not special. Anyone can do this. We're just the ones who do.

"Just do it."
Lex: Thanks for your questions everyone. I hope this was interesting enough for all of you

Nick: Thanks guys, later!