22 God-Awful “Reasons”

I ran across a YouTube video called “22 Reasons to STOP BELIEVING in God” by The Atheist Voice.  Well, why not? It’s only 3 1/3 minutes long, and has nearly half a million views.  So let’s go through these 22 reasons and see if any of them comes close to a GOOD REASON to stop believing in God.

NOTE: It turns out that “22 Reasons to STOP BELIEVING in God” really means “22 Reasons to STOP BEING A CHRISTIAN.” Maybe not surprising, but I thought I’d warn you.

NOTE: Reason 1 is pretty bad. It’s the sort of thing a freshman in a philosophy or theology class would say. But they go steadily downhill from there. You have been warned.

NOTE: I apologize for how long this is going to be. I didn’t realize that, while it’s a short video, it’s also a Gish Gallop.  For those of you who don’t know what a Gish Gallop is, it’s the rhetorical technique of throwing out so many one-liners that your opponent is overwhelmed by them, since each one would take a lot more than one line to answer, and you get many—in this case 22—flung at you at high speed. This principle, noted by Charles Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi also applies here:

vincentbugliosionesentence

This imbalance between the ease of asserting something in one sentence and the need for a lengthy argument to refute the assertion, combined with the Gish Gallop, actually makes this little video rather time consuming to answer.  Not difficult, but still time consuming.

Reason 1: If God knows everything we are going to do in the future, then we don’t have free will. But we do have free will.

Answer: This objection is somewhat sensible. It’s the kind of thing a freshman might come up with in a philosophy or theology class.  The error here is the failure to grasp that God does not exist IN TIME.  What this means (to keep it simple) is that God knows what you “will do” in the  future because from God’s point of view YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT NOW AND HE IS SEEING YOU DO IT.  Now, it should be obvious that someone seeing you choose something doesn’t eliminate your free will. If I watch you order a Pepsi rather than a Coke, I don’t somehow control you. The error here is to mistakenly think of God as an entity in time, right now, but having knowledge, right now, of the future.  However God is not in time, but eternal. To be eternal does not mean (and has never meant) “to endure throughout all time” but “to be outside time entirely.”  If you want a philosophically rigorous account of this, I refer you to Boethius’ On The Consolation of Philosophy.

Reason 2: If God doesn’t know what we are going to do in the future, he isn’t omniscient.

Answer: God does know, so he is. Although I should note that, as with “omnipotent,” “omniscient” is a clearly defined term.  It means “knows everything possible to know.” One “limit” for example on God’s knowledge is false things. God cannot “know” something which is false.  If you do not have 33 brothers, God cannot “know” you have 33 brothers.  Because knowledge, by definition, is of true things only.  One rhetorical technique sometimes used by atheists is to redefine terms such as knowledge, and to pretend that it is possible to know false things, and then claim to impugn God’s omniscience if He fails to “know” false things.  This is much more common in the case of omnipotence, which like omniscience, is well-defined: the ability to do anything possible to do.  If a task is inherently contradictory, such as “give man free will while at the same time withholding free will from man”, one has NOT specified a task God is “unable” to do; one has merely said something self-contradictory, which is nonsense.  Logically, saying “God cannot do [self-contradictory thing X]” is a cogent as God cannot do [nonsense word W].”  And obviously, saying something like “God cannot farblefringersilize a vodvomormonort,” is hardly a strong proof that God is not omniscient—unless you are able to coherently define your terms.  The proper response to the old freshman question “Can God make a stone so heavy He can’t lift it?” is to ask “What do you mean by the property ‘cannot by lifted by something that can lift anything’?”  It’s really an appeal to an image concrete task (lifting a stone) which seems to make sense of the thing, but it’s logical form is “Can God do something He cannot do?” or “Can God do [meaningless because self-contradictory phrase]?” e.g. “Can God make a thing that is not what it is?” But God’s “inability” to do nonsense is not a limit to His power—because nonsense is not a something that it is possible to do.

Reason 3: God couldn’t stop a murder when there were only four people on earth.

Answer: Please tell me the freshman objection isn’t going to be the strongest one? God could have, didn’t, next. I will note that this is a very common atheist argument PATTERN: it assumes that God ‘would have done such and such’ or ‘if I were God I would have done such and such’—but of course no human being, not even atheists (even though they sometimes seem to think otherwise) are omniscient and infinitely wise. The theist, holding that God is all-knowing and all-good, holds that God always acts in the way that is best, even if the reasons for this are not apparent to us.

Reason 4: If we’re supposed to be God’s special creatures, then the universe is full of a lot of wasted space.

Answer: This argument from the “bigness” of the universe is one of the worst possible arguments “not to believe in God.” First, it’s a non sequitur, insofar as we don’t actually know that the rest of the universe is “wasted” as opposed to FOR SOMETHING UNKNOWN TO US.

What is truly ridiculous is that this ridiculous argument is FELT (not reasoned, obviously) to have some sort of point. And I think it does have a kind of resonance with a certain kind of emotional attitude towards life and existence, and not a healthy one.  I’m going to give this insipid argument far more reply than it deserves, because the replies are of much greater worth than the “objection”:

Here is G. K. Chesterton, from Orthodoxy:

Herbert Spencer would have been greatly annoyed if any one had called him an imperialist, and therefore it is highly regrettable that nobody did. But he was an imperialist of the lowest type. He popularized this contemptible notion that the size of the solar system ought to over-awe the spiritual dogma of man. Why should a man surrender his dignity to the solar system any more than to a whale? If mere size proves that man is not the image of God, then a whale may be the image of God; a somewhat formless image; what one might call an impressionist portrait. It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree. But Herbert Spencer, in his headlong imperialism, would insist that we had in some way been conquered and annexed by the astronomical universe. He spoke about men and their ideals exactly as the most insolent Unionist talks about the Irish and their ideals. He turned mankind into a small nationality. And his evil influence can be seen even in the most spirited and honourable of later scientific authors; notably in the early romances of Mr. H.G. Wells. Many moralists have in an exaggerated way represented the earth as wicked. But Mr. Wells and his school made the heavens wicked. We should lift up our eyes to the stars from whence would come our ruin.

But the expansion of which I speak was much more evil than all this. I have remarked that the materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought. These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large. The size of this scientific universe gave one no novelty, no relief. The cosmos went on for ever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance, such as forgiveness or free will. The grandeur or infinity of the secret of its cosmos added nothing to it. It was like telling a prisoner in Reading gaol that he would be glad to hear that the gaol now covered half the county. The warder would have nothing to show the man except more and more long corridors of stone lit by ghastly lights and empty of all that is human. So these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine.

In fairyland there had been a real law; a law that could be broken, for the definition of a law is something that can be broken. But the machinery of this cosmic prison was something that could not be broken; for we ourselves were only a part of its machinery. We were either unable to do things or we were destined to do them. The idea of the
mystical condition quite disappeared; one can neither have the firmness of keeping laws nor the fun of breaking them. The largeness of this universe had nothing of that freshness and airy outbreak which we have praised in the universe of the poet. This modern universe is literally an empire; that is, it is vast, but it is not free. One went into larger and larger windowless rooms, rooms big with Babylonian perspective; but one never found the smallest window or a whisper of outer air.

Their infernal parallels seemed to expand with distance; but for me all good things come to a point, swords for instance. So finding the boast of the big cosmos so unsatisfactory to my emotions I began to argue about it a little; and I soon found that the whole attitude was even shallower than could have been expected. According to these people the cosmos was one thing since it had one unbroken rule. Only (they would say) while it is one thing it is also the only thing there is. Why, then, should one worry particularly to call it large? There is nothing to compare it with. It would be just as sensible to call it small. A man may say, “I like this vast cosmos, with its throng of stars and its crowd of varied creatures.” But if it comes to that why should not a man say, “I like this cosy little cosmos, with its decent number of stars and as neat a provision of live stock as I wish to see”? One is as good as the other; they are both mere sentiments. It is mere sentiment to rejoice that the sun is larger than the earth; it is quite as sane a sentiment to rejoice that the sun is no larger than it is. A man chooses to have an emotion about the largeness of the world; why should he not choose to have an emotion about its smallness?

It happened that I had that emotion. When one is fond of anything one addresses it by diminutives, even if it is an elephant or a lifeguardsman. The reason is, that anything, however huge, that can be conceived of as complete, can be conceived of as small. If military moustaches did not suggest a sword or tusks a tail, then the object would be vast because it would be immeasurable. But the moment you can imagine a guardsman you can imagine a small guardsman. The moment you really see an elephant you can call it “Tiny.” If you can make a statue of a thing you can make a statuette of it. These people professed that the universe was one coherent thing; but they were not fond of the universe. But I was frightfully fond of the universe and wanted to address it by a diminutive. I often did so; and it never seemed to mind. Actually and in truth I did feel that these dim dogmas of vitality were better expressed by calling the world small than by calling it large. For about infinity there was a sort of carelessness which was the reverse of the fierce and pious care which I felt touching the pricelessness and the peril of life. They showed only a dreary waste; but I felt a sort of sacred thrift. For economy is far more romantic than extravagance. To them stars were an unending income of halfpence; but I felt about the golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has one sovereign and one shilling.

And if Chesterton isn’t enough, I also refer the reader to John C. Wright’s blog post “Earth Looked so Small as to Make me Ashamed of Our Empire” and “Size Does Matter.”  Enjoy!

Reason 5: The myth of a great flood and a virgin birth were around long before Jesus came around. Maybe those are just elements of an interesting story.

Answer: Christians have always known this.

A more interesting question is WHY certain stories and themes repeat themselves throughout the world’s mythology.  To take things in order, the flood was not said to have happened at the time of Jesus, so it isn’t clear what why stories of a great flood pre-dating Jesus would be evidence against … what? Universal stories of a great flood may not be conclusive evidence FOR a great flood, but they sure as hell aren’t evidence AGAINST one.  “Everyone, everywhere speaks of a certain event; therefore, this event did not happen.” This is a strange argument, at the least.

But the Christian account suggests that the myths and the mythological in general served as a kind of divine foreshadowing. Remember, Jesus is not in any way a “mythological” person, but a living, concrete, historical person. In Christ, myth becomes reality.  Another way the virgin brith was foreshadowed was prophesy.  That certain cosmically important events were foreseen or foreshadowed is not an argument that they didn’t happen.

The fundamental distinction that needs to be held on to is that Jesus is a historical person, not a myth.

I won’t, here, get into all the ways in which the “mythological stories that pre-date Jesus” are far less common that is often suggested.  To take a simple example: it is almost certain that the parallels between Jesus and Krishna are a result of Hindu priests taking their tales from the Christians, and not the other way around (Krishna tales first appear around 600-800 AD).

And isn’t this supposed to be “22 Reasons to STOP BELIEVING in God”?  It seems it is, in reality, “22 Reasons to STOP BEING A CHRISTIAN.”

Reason 6: Virgins can’t get pregnant.

Answer: Really? THIS is a “reason” to stop believing in God? Really?

God is all powerful. God can cause a virgin to become pregnant.

Oh, God. That freshman level objection you started with really is going to be the strongest one, isn’t it?

Reason 7: Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin: Christian. Barney Frank: Not a Christian.

Answer: So? St. Francis of Assisi: Christian. Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler: Not Christian. Also: Barney Frank? Not an atheist.

Reason 8: Christians disagree among themselves about some things, so Christianity is false.

Answer: Disagreement doesn’t prove no one is right. Scientists disagree with each other. Flat-earthers disagree that the earth is spherical: does that “prove” that all theories about the shape of the earth are false? Atheists disagree with other atheists; therefore atheism is false. See how convincing that is?

Reason 9: The Bible is full of contradictions.

Answer: No it isn’t. Learn how to read it properly.  You didn’t give any examples, so I won’t attempt to refute any.

Reason 10: If God made us in His image, why do we have vestigial organs and body parts that often fail?

Answer: The Christian teaching is not and never has been that “made in the image of God” means God has a human body. He doesn’t. This question is just stupid.

Reason 11: 99.9% of all species are extinct. How many “do-overs” does God need?

Answer: So above re: the “wasted space” argument, since this is basically a “wasted species” argument. Lacking omniscience, why do you think this is not according to the divine plan? What percentage of species SHOULD BE extinct, according to you? “If God existed, no species would be extinct.” Is that the premise here? Why would you think that?

Reason 12: “God doesn’t exist because I said so.”

Answer: There’s just no bottom to this, is there?

Reason 13: The Holocaust.

Answer: Yes, we know God permits evil. Your point? Can you refute this claim, for example? It always seems to me like the argument from evil rests an inability to imagine something so good and perfect that would make any finite amount of evil worth it. But of course, that is precisely WHAT GOD IS.

motherteresa

Reason 14: The proof people give that God exists is often based on their personal experiences. “It’s the sort of proof we would NEVER take seriously if it were applied anywhere else.”

Answer: There are no impersonal experiences. ALL experience is personal experience. What else would it BE? What’s your point?

And about the “we’d never take it seriously,” that’s false. We have NO EVIDENCE WHATEVER that anyone besides ourself is CONSCIOUS—other than THEIR own personal experience that they are, and them telling us.  It is no more UNREASONABLE to believe reports about experiences of God than it is to believe in other minds. And if you don’t believe in other minds, you are a manifestly irrational person who has ridiculous standards of belief, probably due to some sort of ideology.

In fact, the ONLY people I have ever heard DENY that other minds exist are atheists who have realized that our evidence for other minds is very similar to our evidence for God, and who (therefore) want to close that possible door. I really don’t believe them when they deny believing in other minds, not least because they are bothering to TELL ME, a presumably mindless automaton, all about it.

Reason 15: Too many of God’s followers, using Bible verses to support their beliefs, have made life worse for other people.

Answer: Many have. But how does that impugn the truth of Christianity? Christianity doesn’t teach that Christians will be good people. It teaches (1) they should be, and (2) most won’t be.  Also, many Christians have lived lives of charity and service to their fellow man, due to their Christian faith.  Do you really think the world would be a BETTER PLACE if Christianity with its commandments to love one’s neighbor and practice charity, did not exist?

Reason 16: “No matter what Ray Comfort says, God didn’t create bananas to look like this. They evolved this way without God’s help.”

Answer: Setting aside the fact that you correct YOURSELF, and note that bananas WERE INDEED engineered to be as they are, albeit by human beings, you offer no evidence that any case of evolution was “without God’s help.”  How do you propose to prove that evolution is UNGUIDED?  Seems like you are just question-beggingly assuming it. Most Christians don’t see a contradiction between evolution and Christianity—that’s only some loony Protestant fundamentalists.  And yes, thinking all Christians are loony Protestant fundamentalists must be very comforting, because they are living straw men.  But, sorry to tell you, eventually you’ll have to address serious and educated Christians, if you want to discredit Christianity, and not merely its lunatic fringe.

Reason 17: Every time science and religion go head to head, science wins.

Answer: When has this happened?

Reason 18: You don’t need God to be a good person.

Answer: Well, you do need God to have a good reason to be a good person, or a rationally coherent ground for your ethics.  Also, atheism renders at least two virtues impossible: piety and faith. So, without God, you can’t be a fully good person. And even more, our ability to be good is limited, and at the end of the day, we are incapable of being good in an exemplary way, without God’s assistance, viz. divine grace.  So, this is a half-truth. An atheist can be, for a given value of “good”, a relatively good person as far as natural human effort can accomplish, except for the virtues which his atheism actually prevents him from having.  But no atheist can be holy, that is, a saint. So atheism does put a definite ceiling on how good you can be.

Reason 19: People have been saying that Jesus is coming back in their lifetime for many, many, many lifetimes.

Answer: Yes, they have. But Christian teaching is very clear that we do not know when Jesus will return.  Again, human beings are highly fallible, which includes Christians, and are prone to overreach in their claims to know things—much like your claim to know, e.g. that evolution is unguided by God.

Reason 20: God works in mysterious ways is typically a euphemism for “stop asking hard questions.”

Answer: No, it isn’t. It’s a convenient expression for the rather obvious point that we are not in a position to evaluate, know, comprehend, or judge the actions of an infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing being.  As I Christian I’m perfectly content to say “I don’t know” about many things. “I don’t know” seems to be the sane answer to “Why did God do X or not do Y?” So it’s more like “stop asking unanswerable questions, and expecting an answer.” Unanswerable questions are neither “hard” nor “easy.” They simply cannot be answered.

Reason 21: Natural disasters.

Answer: Again, God permits evil, including natural evils, such as natural disasters. We never said he didn’t. If your claim is “God as Christians understand God would not permit natural disasters” what’s your argument that He wouldn’t? How do you know? Where did you get the yardstick to measure the actions of an infinite being? This seem to be yet another variant on “I, atheist X, am in a position no know what God, an omniscient and all-wise being, would or would not do in situation S, and to make judgments on the basis of my knowledge.”  But this premise is either false or you are, yourself, omniscient and all-wise.

Reason 22: You were made in God’s image—except for your foreskin, apparently; you need to cut that off.

Answer: Well, you managed to save the worst for last. Frankly, I didn’t think you could go lower than “God doesn’t exist because I said so” but this may have done.

I’m done, and I am now a dumber person for having gone through this. I hope you, readers, enjoyed it more than I did. My pain is over now, at least—for now.

The Earth Does Not Go Around The Sun

I made this meme some time ago, and I’m rather fond of it, so I’m putting it here to start with, because it makes the point that this post is about.

astronomers

Since the time of the Greeks, it was commonly believed that the earth was stationary at the center of the cosmos, with the sun and other planets orbiting the stationary earth. This belief was not insane. There are actually very many good reasons to think it is true, based on experience and phenomenological evidence.

Incidentally, the fact that the earth was “at the center” DID NOT mean that the ancients thought that this made the earth SUPER-IMPORTANT, and that, somehow, Copernicanism wrecked this idea that the earth and humanity was SUPER-IMPORTANT.  Did you ever read Dante’s Divine Comedy? Or at least the Inferno? Do you remember where Satan was? That’s right, the bottom of Hell, the lowest, meanest, place in the cosmos was … the center.

Back on point. Copernicus proposed a theory or a model that the earth went around the sun instead of the sun going around the earth. It wasn’t a very good model, since it had at least as many ad hoc adjustments as Ptolemy’s model, and was actually less predictively accurate. Nonetheless, although most astronomers regarded it as a mere curiosity, a small number of persons, most notably Galileo Galilei (whose Latin name was thus Galileus Galileus—which Kepler found endlessly amusing) decided, for reasons that are not clear, that Copernicanism was ABSOLUTE TRUTH, and started insisting it was, even when, like Galileo, they couldn’t come up with any compelling evidence.

But largely thanks to the work of scientists like Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler (Galileo actually contributed pretty much NOTHING to the debate, other than to get some people so angry and upset that research was probably retarded in some quarters), the astronomical models were improved.  Ironically, by the time of Galileo’s famous trial in 1633, when he was still choosing to die on the hill of an utterly dogmatic Copernicanism, science had already passed him by: serious astronomers were debating between the Tychonic system and the Keplerian system by them. Copernicus was as dead and done as Ptolemy.

Kepler’s elliptical orbits and laws of planetary motion more or less edged out the Tychonic model between 1630 and 1650.  If we are really generous and pick the 1630 date, then we can rightly say that people believed that the earth orbited the sun between 1630 and 1687, or 57 years.  Not quite as long as the 2000 years of believing the sun went around the earth, nor the 1400 or so years of the Ptolemaic system.

What happened it 1687, you ask? Isaac Newton, natural philosopher, published his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principe Mathematica (the Principia for short), in which he conclusively demonstrated that the earth and the sun orbit ONE ANOTHER, or more specifically, they both orbit their common center of gravity, which is a point actually located inside the sun, given its much greater mass than the earth.

Of course the planetary motions are much more complicated than this, since the other planets also have mass and therefore affect both the sun and the earth, and for that matter, EVERY SINGLE BODY IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE WITH MASS affects both the earth and the sun.  Nevertheless, THE POINT HERE is that NEITHER “the sun orbits the earth” NOR “the earth orbits the sun” is an entirely accurate statement.

STOP SAYING THIS AS IF IT WERE TRUE.  WE’VE KNOWN IT ISN’T SINCE 1687!

You might say, well, Eve, fair enough, it’s not STRICTLY TRUE that the earth orbits the sun, but it’s kind of true, because the effects of the other planets aren’t that great, and the effects of all the other massive bodies are so slight they can be discounted, and the common center of mass of the sun and the earth is inside the sun, which means that the combined effects of everything means that the earth goes around a moving point that is usually or always inside the sun, so isn’t it at least KIND OF TRUE that the earth orbits the sun?

Actually, no.

Newtonian motion, complex as it is, requires there be ABSOLUTE MOTION against the background of ABSOLUTE SPACE and ABSOLUTE TIME.  This was already being highly questioned in the 19th century, but it wasn’t until Einstein’s theories of special and then general relativity were produced that the notion was throughly killed to death.

Motion always occurs RELATIVE TO a given frame of reference.  That is what RELATIVITY means.  And there JUST IS NO ABSOLUTE, ONE TRUE FRAME OF REFERENCE.  You can use any point you like. The choice of an inertial frame of reference really depends on what you are trying to do, and it will be a choice made, by and large, to make your math easier.

If you want to, you can pick the center of mass of the earth as your frame of reference. In which case, within this frame of reference, all motion in the universe DOES, in fact, move around or is relative to the center of the earth, which is stationary.

If you want to you can pick the center of mass of the sun as your frame of reference. In which case, within that frame of reference, all motion in the universe DOES, in fact, move around or is relative to the center of the sun, which is stationary.

Or you can pick the Omphalos at Delphi, thought to be the center of the world by the ancient Greeks.

Or your belly button.

Or my cat.

Or Alpha Centauri.

Or literally ANYWHERE. ANY POINT IN SPACE ANYWHERE.

So, just to put a fricking stake in the heart of the vampire meme: THE EARTH DOES NOT GO AROUND THE SUN IN ANY ABSOLUTE SENSE.  YOU CAN SAY IT DOES, BUT ONLY BY PICKING AN ARBITRARY FRAME OF REFERENCE AND ANYONE ELSE CAN PICK A DIFFERENT FRAME OF REFERENCE AND SAY IT DOESN’T GO AROUND THE SUN AND YOU’LL BOTH BE EQUALLY RIGHT AND WRONG, RELATIVISTICALLY.

Goddamnit.

To end, here’s a meme, which explains why atheists shouldn’t even be talking about this:

gaiahelios

Nietzsche Contra Buddhism

Nietzsche despised Christianity, because he believed—falsely—that it was essentially hostile to life, that it substituted a fictitious afterlife for life in this world and taught a hatred and despising of the body.  I believe this is a false understanding of true Christian teaching although this kind of thing is certainly something heretical Christians have fallen into from time to time.

The despair and world-weariness that Nietzsche reproaches Christianity with he called nihilism, and it is something he found to be the essence of Buddhism as well.  He referred to Buddhism as a “passive nihilism” and found it far less dangerous than Christianity, which was “active nihilism” insofar as Christian love, in contrast to Buddhist resignation, actively engages in the world to help the weak and suffering (the contradiction between Christian activity in the world and Christianity’s supposed hatred for the world seems not to have occurred to him).

Anyhow, I was reading some Buddhist texts, and I find that Buddhism suffers from (1) bad metaphysics—the Buddha present arguments that Aristotle would tear to shreds in seconds, and (2) exactly the kind of nihilism that Nietzsche charges it with. As far as I can tell, Buddhism really does despise life and the body.

I am going to juxtapose the Buddha’s words with those of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

The Buddha says

The learned noble disciple feels loathing for the body, for feeling, for perception, for the aggregates, for consciousness.  Feeling disgust, he becomes free from passion, through freedom from passion he is emancipated, and in the emancipated one arises the knowledge of his emancipation.  He understands that rebirth is destroyed, the religious life has been led, done is what was to be done, there is nothing beyond this world.

The Buddha teaching “loathing for the body” put me in mind of Zarathustra’s speech “On the Despisers of the Body,” but the nearby speech “On the Preachers of Death” is even more appropriate.

Here is Zarathustra:

ON THE PREACHERS OF DEATH

There are preachers of death; and the earth is full of those to whom one must preach renunciation of life. The earth is full of the superfluous; life is spoiled by the all-too-many. May they be lured from this life with the “eternal life”! Yellow the preachers of death wear, or black. But I want to show them to you in still other colors.

“Yellow and black,” i.e. Buddhist monks and Christian priests.

There are the terrible ones who carry around within themselves the beast of prey and have no choice but lust or self-laceration. And even their lust is still self-laceration. They have not even become human beings yet, these terrible ones: let them preach renunciation of life and pass away themselves!

This passage is odd, since Nietzsche and Zarathustra both usually praise “beasts of prey” as an ideal to be aspired to.

There are those with consumption of the soul: hardly are they born when they begin to die and to long for doctrines of weariness and renunciation. They would like to be dead, and we should welcome their wish. Let us beware of waking the dead and disturbing these living coffins!

They encounter a sick man or an old man or a corpse, and immediately they say, “Life is refuted.” But only they themselves are refuted, and their eyes, which see only this one face of existence. Shrouded in thick melancholy and eager for the little accidents that bring death, thus they wait with clenched teeth. Or they reach for sweets while mocking their own childishness; they clutch the straw of their life and mock that they still clutch a straw. Their wisdom says, “A fool who stays alive—but such fools are we. And this is surely the most foolish thing about life.”

“Old man, sick man, corpse.” These are three of the Four Sights beheld by Prince Siddhārtha Gautama that set him on his journey to becoming the Buddha.  Zarathustra does not mention the “fourth sight,” which was a monk who had renounced the world—but of course that is what this speech is about.

“Life is only suffering,” others say, and do not lie: see to it, then, that you cease! See to it, then, that the life which is only suffering ceases!

The first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths is “Life is Suffering [duḥkha]. Everything else in Buddhism follows from this rejection of life.

And let this be the doctrine of your virtue: “Thou shalt kill thyself! Thou shalt steal away!”

I can honestly see no reason that suicide would not be the immediate course of every Buddhist if it were not for the additional belief in rebirth.  If the Buddhist believed, like the modern Western atheist, that the end of mortal life ended existence, this seems to be a direct and immediate good.

“Lust is sin,” says one group that preaches death; “let us step aside and beget no children.”

Upon the birth of his son, Rāhula, the Buddha pronounced “A son is born to me, a fetter has been forged for me.” [Rāhu jāto, bandhanam jātam.] In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says

The wise do not call that a strong fetter which is made of iron, wood, or hemp; far stronger is the care for precious stones and rings, for sons and a wife.  That fetter the wise call strong which drags down, seems soft, but is difficult to undo; after having cut this at last, people leave the world, free from cares, and leaving desires and pleasures behind.

The Buddha does not teach a doctrine of sin as Christians understand that concept, but he does teach that lust is a fetter, and that one ought not to desire a family or children.  Back to Zarathustra:

“Giving birth is troublesome,” says another group; “why go on giving birth? One bears only unfortunates!”

I do hear this often said today, but not by Christians.

And they too are preachers of death.

“Pity is needed,” says the third group. “Take from me what I have! Take from me what I am! Life will bind me that much less!”

This too seems to be a fairly direct expression of the Buddha’s teaching, although it is much more passive.

If they were full of pity through and through, they would make life insufferable for their neighbors. To be evil, that would be their real goodness. But they want to get out of life: what do they care that with their chains and presents they bind others still more tightly?

And you, too, for whom life is furious work and unrest—are you not very weary of life? Are you not very ripe for the preaching of death? All of you to whom furious work is dear, and whatever is fast, new, and strange—you find it hard to bear yourselves; your industry is escape and the will to forget yourselves. If you believed more in life you would fling yourselves less to the moment. But you do not have contents enough in yourselves for waiting—and not even for idleness.

This restlessness and relentless drive for distraction is an important modern phenomenon. We moderns are busy, but rarely happy. Here is Pascal on this point:

pascalvanity

Back to Zarathustra:

Everywhere the voice of those who preach death is heard; and the earth is full of those to whom one must preach death. Or “eternal life”—that is the same to me, if only they pass away quickly.

This spoke Zarathustra

What I find interesting is that throughout his denunciation of the “preachers of death,” Zarathustra alternates between the teachings of Buddhism and various moderns, but nowhere actually directly cites a Christian teaching—instead he relies on his usual hermeneutic of finding in the Christian teaching of eternal life a concealed preaching of death.

Why does he do this? The answer is obvious. If one takes Christian teaching at face value, Christianity preaches not death, but life. It teaches, in fact, the total and complete victory of life over death.  Consider the following:

christwaytruthlife

christwaylifemoreabundantly

stpauldeathvictory

As we Orthodox (and also Byzantine Rite Catholics) sing in our Paschal Troparion:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,
θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι,
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

For the Christian, these words, Χριστὸς ἀνέστηChrist is risen—signify the ultimate defeat of and repudiation of death.

For Buddhism, the only possible goal is detachment and renunciation, by means of liberation from selfish craving [taṇhā], to a state of nonbeing [nirvāṇa; literally “blowing out” as of a candle, or “quenching” as of a fire; “extinguishing”; “extinction”].

Life is suffering, says the Buddha, and so he preaches nirvāṇa, extinction—death.

The Buddha’s understanding of the human condition was not false, but he was unaware that this condition was that only of fallen humanity, suffering the twin sicknesses of sin and death.  Nor can the Buddha’s path, noble though his effort was, attain its aim.  His [selfish?] desire for detachment from selfish passion led the Buddha to mistakenly attempt the annihilation of the self.  The Buddha, alas, became a preacher of death.

I close with one final contrast between Nietzsche’s teaching and that of the Buddha. I like to think of this as Nietzsche’s One Sentence Refutation of Buddhism (he has several of those):

buddhalaughter

nietzschelaughter

Nietzsche has the right of it. Any doctrine that stands against laughter is eo ipso false!

[NOTE: Nietzsche has a good deal more to say about Buddhism and the Buddha. Perhaps I will return to this topic later.]

Eve Thug Life

It’s my blog, so I’ll do what I wanna! Besides, this was fun to make.

As Ben Shapiro says “I don’t choose the thug life. The thug life chose me.”

evethuglife

Footnotes, for any who care that much:

  1. “Deal with it” digital shades. De rigueur for the thug life.
  2. A fat blunt. Also de rigueur.
  3. An Orthodox cross earring, because I’m an Orthodox Christian.
  4. A pro-Brexit badge, because I was and am very pro-Brexit, even though I’m a Yank.
  5. A puppies badge, because the PC corruption of the Hugo Awards disgusts me, and I totally support Larry Correia’s efforts to reform it and/or Vox Day’s efforts to BURN THE WHOLE CORRUPT HOUSE DOWN TO THE GROUND. I don’t care which puppies win, so long as it’s some puppies.
  6. A GamerGate dualshock controller. Because I’m a gamer and a GamerGater. Remember: “#GamerGate: the hashtag that destroyed feminism.” In all seriousness, I was and am very proud to have taken part in GamerGate, and I honestly think GamerGate may very well have been the point where the historical tide turned against the authoritarian left. I really believe that GamerGate made such things as Brexit and President Trump possible.
  7. A copy of Plato’s Republic.  This may be the best book. Period.  Just the best. Plato set out to overthrow the Greek reliance on Homer as their basic teacher by writing a book that would OUTDO both the Iliad and the Odyssey put together.  AND HE WON! The madman did it! Holy shit, how could you not love this book? I don’t think Christianity would have been possible if Plato hadn’t turned the entire Greek understanding of the world upside down.  Even Nietzsche says as much: “Christianity is Platonism for the People.” [NOTE: I don’t count the Bible as “a book”; it’s actual name is τὰ βιβλία τὰ ἅγια, “the holy books.”  Books, plural. The Bible is a library, not a book.]
  8. A bunch of red pills spilling out all over the place. ‘Cause I’ve had a bunch and, like Morpheus, I’m a red pill pusher.
  9. A can of Tactical Bacon. Because bacon makes everything better, including bacon. Why wouldn’t we weaponize it?
  10. Doritos and Coke, because they are my bread and wine.
  11. The golden apple of Ἔρις:  καλλίστῃeris_by_istarwyn
  12. The golden scroll stands for philosophy.  The two big letters are from Boethius, using an image from Aristotle, which divides philosophy into theoretical philosophy, θεωρία, represented by the Θ, which is placed high, and practical philosophy, πρᾶξις, which is more down to earth, and represented by the π.  The ΦΔ is literally Ph.D., so this is my basically showing you my Ph.D. diploma without doxxing myself.
  13. Icons of Christ and Mary Magdalene. One very traditional and one somewhat untraditional.  Like me. And again, because I’m Orthodox, and I can’t imagine life without icons at this point.
  14. The Fallout symbol with Vault Girl giving a thumbs up.  Because I’m a Fallout girl. The amount of hours I’ve put into Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and now Fallout 4 is sick.

Retortion

Philosophers test things. We test arguments for logical validity and soundness. We test propositions for coherence and truth-value. We test concepts and definitions. Testing things is built in to the activity of philosophy.  This is the meaning of the famous Socratic ἔλεγχος (elenchos), which is translated as “refutation” or “cross-examination,” but really just means “a careful scrutiny or examination of something.”  If that something is a claim, and that claim doesn’t withstand testing, then refutation will be the result, as it typically was with Socrates, since most of his interlocutors’ claims didn’t hold up under testing.

Philosophers have many means of testing claims.  One of the best techniques for testing very broad or universal claims or principles is the technique of retortion.  It is one of the most useful and one of my personal favorites. ‘Retortion‘ is Latin for ‘turning something back on itself’ (this is what we do when we ‘retort’ to someone—we turn words back on them).  In the case of philosophy, retortion means applying a universal principle to itself to test whether it passes its own test or meets its own standard.

Many claims are such that they are self-stultifying, that is, in some critical way or another, they undermine themselves.  A self-destructive or self-refuting claim is a claim that, if it is true, must be false, for example “There is no truth”—if this claim were true, it would be false.  A self-undermining claim is one that, while it doesn’t itself entail its own falsity, does entail that the claim is unwarranted, and so cannot be known to be true or asserted as true, for example “No human being knows anything to be true”—if this claim were true, we could not know it to be true.

Retortion can also be fruitfully employed in regard to ethical principles and other practical principles or imperatives.  As my readers who follow me on Twitter know, I regularly encounter a claim to the effect of “The person who makes a claim has the burden of proof to prove that the claim they are making is true.”  Now, this is not a claim I accept at face value, but I always assume the person making the claim actually accepts it (otherwise they are trying to bind me with a rule of argument that they are exempt from, which is clearly unfair, and which I am therefore right to refuse).  But if the person making this claim does accept it, it follows—by way of retortion—that he has the burden of proof to prove that the burden of proof does lie with the one who claims, since he is claiming this.  And if you follow me on Twitter, you also know that there are all manner of reactions to this—to me, perfectly reasonable—request to obey their own principle, but so far, actually attempting to prove the claim to be true has not been among the reactions. (Of course, it cannot be proven to be true, because it isn’t. They’d do much better if they said “This is a procedural rule I’d like to adopt for this discussion. Would you agree to this?” I wouldn’t agree to it, and would propose an alternative, but this would be the way to go about it.)

Roger Scruton has a rather well-known quote which makes use of retortion to good effect:

scrutontruth

There are innumerable principles which at first glance seem to be profound or important insights that go down like wheat before the scythe of retortion:

“No one can know any metaphysical truths, only scientific ones.”  How do you know this metaphysical truth?

“Only scientific statements are valid.” That isn’t a scientific statement, so it isn’t valid.

“Everyone’s opinion is equally valid.” Is my opinion that opinions are not equally valid valid?

“We can never be certain of anything.” Are you certain of that?

“No one can have knowledge about God.” How do you know this about God?

“Truth is determined through empirical observation.” What empirical observation determines this to be true?

“What is true for me may not be true for you.” It is true for me that anything true is true for everyone.

“No truth is immutable.” So that truth is mutable, and may have changed.

“No belief can be ultimately justified.” Is that belief ultimately justified?

“It’s always wrong to make moral judgments.” Overheard by philosopher Mary Midgley at a party.

Examples could be multiplied indefinitely, from the lowest banalities of “there is no truth” up to clever and interesting logical paradoxes such as “The set of all sets that do not contain themselves does not contain itself” or “This statement is only false and not true.”

Remember: a very good cognitive habit is to always apply the retortion test to any principle presented to you as absolute or universal. 99 times out of 100, this will burn said principle to the ground. Your interlocutor may get annoyed with you, but that isn’t your fault or your problem. If he is reasonable, he must understand the force of the objection, and seek to reformulate his principle in a rationally cogent manner.

Noel Plum Doesn’t Understand ‘Escaping Atheism’

This is a response to Noel Plum’s YouTube video “Dean Esmay’s “Escaping Atheism” Project”.

Dear Noel,

Hi. I’m Eve Keneinan. I’m a philosopher by profession and an Orthodox Christian by way of adult conversion.  I’m also part of the Escaping Atheism project.  I know Dean Esmay, via the internet, but Escaping Atheism is more a volunteer confederation than a monarchy (we gave Dean the title “Patriarch”—I’m sure you can see why that’s funny), so this is just my thoughts on what you have to say.  Dean was one of the folks who proofread it, and had a couple corrections to the parts where I mention him, but this isn’t in any way from him.  It’s basically all me.  Sorry I couldn’t answer you on YouTube, but I don’t really make YouTube videos (unless occasional screen captures count), so my blog will have to do.  I’m afraid I didn’t work out whether this was going to be a commentary on what you had to say or a reply where I spoke directly to you, so it ended up a bit of both. I’m going to offer some critiques of some of your points, agree with you sometimes, and sometimes when you particularly address Dean, just not say anything at all.

[ADDENDUM: Dean says that he “will get back to you and the rest of the atheist community on his alleged hypocrisy, but not to worry, it isn’t personal, and may god bless you.”]

So let’s go.

The first thing to note is that Noel is the sort of atheist that argues in same way that anarchists do: he seems to think there is some one thing called “religion,” and that it is bad in a general way, in exactly the same way anarchists condemn “government,” with an amazing inability to distinguish between, say, a totalitarian dictatorship such as North Korea and democratic federation such as Switzerland.

So you need to keep it constantly in mind when Noel says something about “religion,” it will be true only if an implicit “some, but not all” is added.

I’m going to take Noel’s major points one at a time, with the heading of N1, N2, etc.

N1: Noel’s first point is that “escaping atheism is easy to do.” He points out that, in Islam, the penalty for apostasy (leaving Islam) is death, and that this is endorsed by large number of Muslims—even in Britain. He also notes that that leaving one’s religion can result in estrangement from one’s family. He describes the case of a man who had effectively been cut off by his family upon becoming an atheist, who was only allowed to see one of his children, and this because he was able to legally enforce the matter. “What a terrible situation to find yourself in,” Noel adds.

“Find yourself in”? Noel speaks here as if the man in question had no agency or responsibility in the matter. He chose to renounce his religion, and his family in turn chose to distance themselves from an atheist. One might think this was an unwise or unfair or uncompassionate decision on the part of his family, but without knowing the circumstances, I don’t think we can one way or the other. Distancing one’s family from an atheist, it seems to me, can in some cases be an entirely rational decision; it seems to send a strong message to the children especially that “this is not okay.” And while it does sound like a terrible situation for the man himself, how is it not his own responsibility, based on his own decisions?

Noel’s point here is that while leaving one’s religion might have severe consequences indeed, escaping atheism has no such consequences, so it is rather silly to regard atheism as something that needs to be escaped from.

First let’s note that there are positive consequences to “escaping” something as well as negative ones. Noel just told us about a man in a “terrible situation,” the direct cause of which was his atheism. Were this man to escape atheism, it seems very likely he could be reconciled with his family. His atheism is the thing that is preventing that from happening.  Very obviously, escaping atheism means escaping the bad consequences atheism brings.

Second, let’s note that Noel is simply wrong. One tends to gather a peer group of like-minded people, and so, if one is an atheist, renouncing atheism could very well cost one some or all of one’s friends. And in the milieu of the twentieth century, when atheism had become fashionable among the educated classes, particularly among the academic, artistic, and political classes, renouncing atheism can have a significant impact on how one is regarded by others, and thus a direct impact on one’s career and career prospects.  This is perhaps more true than ever today, given that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by far the most common religions in the Western world, are at one in condemnation of same-sex sexual acts as inherently sinful—a position that can very easily get one labeled as a “bigot” on par with the vilest sorts of racist in many places.

Noel significantly underestimates the degree to which secular people regard religious people through the lens of bias and stereotypes, as “one of those people.”  Nor is this particularly new in the West.  Consider Virgina Woolf’s reaction to T. S. Eliot’s conversion to Christianity:

virginiawoolftseliot

Note the language she uses (about a man considerable more intelligent than her, and a far greater literary genius): “shameful,” “distressing,” “dead to us all,” “shocked,” and “obscene.”

“Dead to us all.” That sounds familiar.  It is almost like a group of people cut someone off entirely from their circle.  Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, in the story Noel just told, when he was trying to say this is something only religious people do, but atheists don’t do.  The most certainly do, Noel. “There’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.” If you can find “tolerance” anywhere in those words, it has escaped my notice.  And this was LITERALLY decades ago, in 1927!  If renouncing atheism could get you ostracized in 1927, do you seriously think it cannot do so TODAY, in many social and intellectual circles?

Finally—and this is probably the most important point of all—escaping atheism is not primarily about any kind of external social consequences (although those are very real).  Atheism is a kind of prison of the mind.  Escaping atheism is more like escaping a cult, or an ideology, or delusion (and atheism has some aspects of all those). Atheism is, first and foremost, a total worldview.  However much atheists claim that it is something insignificant, that it is simply not believing in some item or entity in the world, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or fairies at the bottom of the garden, it is not so.  Either God exists or God does not exist. And this fact is a total fact, which affects everything: a Godless reality is not the same as a reality grounded in God.  To disbelieve in God is, in this respect, comparable to disbelieving in truth.  If someone, in all seriousness, claims not to believe in truth, then it becomes very hard to know what to do with such a person. There is nothing in his thoughts or actions that would not be affected by this failure to regard truth (and his not believing in it is a sufficient ground for us to think he would not regard truth).

Assume for a moment that God does exist. If this is the case, then atheism is not simply a mistaken opinion, but an actual state of being cut off from God—one cannot have a healthy relationship with what one does not regard as existing.  Atheism is, necessarily, a non-relationship with God. And given that God exists, a non-relationship with God is a failed relationship with God, a being cut off from and apart from God.  And again, since God is the ultimate source of all goodness, happiness, and fulfillment, and since God is also that goodness, happiness, and fulfillment to which human beings are directed by their nature, an atheist is a person who is significantly damaged with regards to his own ultimate good, ultimate happiness, and ultimate fulfillment.  And this damaged relationship with God will, in time, become irreparably damaged, resulting in a permanent cutting off of the atheist from God—which means a permanent cutting off of the atheist from goodness and happiness.  The traditional Christian term for this state is Hell.

When estrangement from God becomes irreparable, one is rightly said to be damned. But if one’s estrangement from God is not yet totally irreparable, then one is not fully in Hell: one can still escape. There is still time.

This is the real meaning of escaping atheism:

Escaping Hell while there is still time.

I know this line of argument will not much move a convinced atheist, sure as he is that neither God nor Hell truly exist.  Nevertheless, a non-dogmatic atheist should be at least able to entertain the possibility that his beliefs are mistaken, and if they are, atheism cannot fail to be one of the worst possible states of the human psychē.  Father Josiah Trenham puts it this way:

FatherJosiahTrenhamAtheism

Bishop Robert Barron puts it this way:

robertbarronatheismthreat

“Nothing more grotesque for a human person to do than to embrace atheism”? “Atheism represents a supreme threat to humanity”?

YES! As Bishop Barron says, this is not a parlor game. If atheism is a false belief, it is not a harmless false belief—it is a ruinous false belief, ruinous to the one who embraces it, ruinous to anyone else he infects with it, ruinous to his community if it comes to predominate within it, and ultimately ruinous to all humanity.  The atheist, intentionally or not, is an advocate for and agent of damnation; his own, and everyone else’s.

THIS is why there is a need for ESCAPING ATHEISM.  Atheism is not merely a harmless choice among “belief alternatives”; it is the choice between happiness and ruin, or if I may put it in even more appropriate language, between salvation and damnation—for each of us and for all of us. Christians have every reason to see atheists acting just like the dog in the famous “This is fine” internet meme:

thisisfine

Noel Plum’s easy assumption that atheism amounts to no more than yet another lifestyle choice in a democratic consumer society shows he doesn’t have a real understanding of the issue or the stakes—or at least that he doesn’t appreciate that the issue looks quite different from the Christian side.

While it is understandable that an atheist would much rather remain complacent in his belief that his nonbelief is not a big deal, this is part of the very issue. “Atheism is no big deal” is an implicit belief held by atheists because it follows from “There is no God”—and there are many beliefs of this sort held by atheists, many of which they are unaware of. And if the atheist is wrong about the primary belief, then he is also wrong about the others.

And the atheist is wrong.

N2: Noel’s second point is that Dean Esmay, who is the point man on the Escaping Atheism project, used to be very much involved in the Men’s Rights Movement. There really doesn’t seem to be anything worthwhile here—unless Noel is trying to poison the well with a guilt by association fallacy. Dean thought, and still thinks, that there are systemic injustices against men in the modern West; and he has been savagely attacked for a period of years for speaking out and trying to bring attention to these issues. For my part, I consider myself also a supporter of the Men’s Rights Movement, although not a Men’s Rights Activist (MRA), simply because I’m not an activist. I wish the MRAs success however, because they are fighting for what seems to me a good cause, that all persons who uphold the ideal of gender equality can and should be in agreement with.

Dean, for his part, is a former (that is, not active) Men’s Rights Activist. He still passionately believes in justice and decent treatment for men and boys, but as he has gotten older, his priorities have shifted.  He converted to Roman Catholicism back in 2008, and while his conversion was both due to and caused a significant shift in his way of viewing the world, it was, as all Christians but not all atheists understand, only the beginning of his journey in the faith.  During his time as a (Christian) MRA, he experienced firsthand the ways in which MRAs are attacked, mocked, and ridiculed by their enemies, and presented in a false light to many people who really knew nothing about the issues; many of the ideological opponents of the Men’s Rights Movement, just “knew” that Men’s Rights was an absurd and/or reactionary and/or misogynist cause.  Over time, he couldn’t help but notice an identical pattern in the attitude of many secular people, particularly in the internet ‘atheist community’ (so-called, you guys aren’t a hive-mind)—namely, a simple dismissal of any kind of theistic ideas, just on the grounds that they were theistic and (therefore) presumptively absurd. He discovered through experience that it was much easier to get his fellow Christians to listen to issues touching on men’s rights, and that self-identified atheists were among the most closed-minded people—he found that trying to change an atheist’s mind was like trying to change the mind of a person with a deep ideological antipathy to Men’s Rights: it is nigh impossible to do.  This is one reason that he came to regard atheism as an ideology, something I know you are keen to deny—and my own experience with both atheists and anti-MRAs confirms this.

There are many ideologues who will assert that their goal to be one thing, when it is clears from their actions that their goal is something very different; similarly, atheists tend to  assert that they are open to evidence and changing their minds, but again and again, this fails to be true in practice, even touching upon things that have nothing to do with atheism. “Atheists are open-minded and willing to listen to evidence” looks, from the outside, exactly like an ideological talking point that is ritually repeated, despite it being obviously false.  You have to admit there’s something unusual going on here: people dogmatically asserting they are not dogmatic, or closed-mindedly holding on to the belief they are open-minded.  Most people can’t seem to get past “people are what they say they are” (which is why con-men are so successful, I suppose), but I assume you are a thoughtful enough observer to see the humor and irony in (for example) a thousand identically-dressed Objectivists kneeling before an icon of Ayn Rand and chanting in unison “I am an individual. I will never live my life for another.” If you are interested, philosopher Ed Feser has a very insightful blog post about this phenomenon, which he terms Walter Mitty Atheism.

As Dean’s understanding of his faith deepened, he began to see the root causes of the problems he was fighting were deeper than his secular friends realized, and in fact he began to see how much his secular friends’ secularism was getting in their way. At the same time, the more his faith matured, the more he saw the virulently anti-religious many atheists were, casually equating religion with stupidity and evil.  Since he is an activist by temperament, he has therefore chosen (or has been called) to put his energy into helping people free themselves from the mental prison of atheism.  This too seems a worthwhile goal to me.  Dean’s personality is very confrontational, which is a double-edged sword. It makes him very active and aggressive for the causes he fights for, but also leads him sometimes into being a bit of an asshole (as he himself freely admits).

Noel, your YouTube channel is called noelplum99.  It’s your channel.  It’s all about what you say and do. Now, if you look on YouTube, you’ll find a channel called Dean Esmay. That’s Dean’s channel. It’s all about what Dean says and does.  Now, a third look at YouTube reveals the channel Escaping Atheism. Note that the name “Dean Esmay” appears nowhere on this channel. Dean is the point man and organizer, but he’s not in it by himself.

N3: Noel’s third point is that it is a “North American” perspective to approach atheism as if the majority of atheists were once religious, had a religious upbringing, and at some point abandoned their religion and embraced atheism.  Many atheists, he points out, particularly in Northern and Western Europe, were simply raised without any kind of religious belief at all, and so didn’t really go through any process of changing their beliefs.

I’m not really sure what Noel’s point here is meant to establish, given that Placeholder Films, the atheist that Dean is having a discussion with, does have a religious background, so he does fall into the “North American” category.

Considered generally, one who was raised in non-religious way would seem to be at an intellectual disadvantage in the matter of religion: he or she would (1) never have had to think about his or her reasons for nonbelief, or struggled with the issue, and (2) he or she would largely lack the conceptual and linguistic framework even to think seriously about the issue.

Unless Noel is arguing “It is common to be raised in some parts of the world without religious beliefs, therefore religious beliefs are false,”—which is an obviously invalid argument—it’s not clear what his point is.

If it is only that many atheists find atheism to be no big deal, because their atheism has never been a big deal to them, because it has always been normal to them—so what?  One could note that many of the French Aristocracy in the 1770s could easily have considered aristocratic privilege and want among the common people to be “no big deal,” since they were simply used to their privileged aristocratic life. They didn’t think much about the common people, because it didn’t have any effect on their lives. The common people really didn’t matter to them, nor the condition of the common people. “They’re hungry? Let them eat cake.” But while it may have been both easy and common for a member of the French aristocracy at that time not to consider the situation of the common people or to think the state of affairs in France was “no big deal” because they didn’t want or need to think about it—well, they didn’t “need to” think about it … until they did.  The fact that a pampered, privileged noble had perhaps little or no idea of the plight of the common people (maybe because they didn’t want to know anything about it) didn’t stop the revolution nor spare them the trip to the guillotine.

Some atheists are so because they were simply raised not to regard belief in God or atheism as a big deal. This fact does not in any way show that belief in God or atheism is in reality not a big deal.

Noel’s argument seems to be “Many or most atheists regard their atheism as not a big deal; therefore, it isn’t a big deal.”  But this is either directly invalid, or circular, since if atheism is false, it is not “no big deal,” but as I said above, one of the greatest evils that can happen to a human being—worse than any disease, any mental illness, any amount of suffering, worse than death itself.

The short version is: Noel is preaching to the choir. Of course many atheists are going to find the notion that atheism is something it would be a very great good for them to escape to be unpersuasive. Even the use of the term “escape” is bound to sound ridiculous to them. But such a dismissive attitude is warranted only if atheism is, in fact, true—if it isn’t true, then this attitude isn’t warranted.  Whether atheism is a big deal or not is itself part of what’s in question here. In assuming, as he does, that atheism isn’t a big deal, or is harmless, or benign, or is certainly not something that needs to be escaped from, Noel is just assuming that atheism is the correct position, or at least a rationally warranted one.

N4: Noel’s next point, which is a continuation of the previous, is that atheists who are not raised in a religious context do not face the problem of a “void” left behind by belief in God.  He finds discussions of this “void” to be odd. He tells us he has seen

just how difficult it is for some people to leave a religion, because it leaves a void within them, that’s not full. How do you feel that void that religion once occupied? What tends to happen is that people who do do that seem to impute that on atheism generally: all atheists must have this same kind of void. And of course for me that sounds really rather silly …. [the experience of religion] is not really something I’ve ever experienced, so that void doesn’t actually exist.

This isn’t a bad observation, but the conclusion is a non sequitur.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment. We philosophers like those.  Suppose we perform a surgery on a child in utero in such a way as to inhibit his ability to see.  That is, we render him blind. Suppose in fact we do this with a group of, say, 100 children, and as part of our experiment we simply don’t tell these children that there is such a thing as sight. We have them raised exclusively by blind caretakers, etc.  (We aren’t very ethical, apparently).

Now, all else being equal, there’s nothing to say that these children couldn’t have relatively happy and healthy lives, and none of them would be consciously aware that they were missing anything—their sight—since they would have neither direct experience of being sighted, nor indirect experience of knowing about sight.

Have we done them any harm or wrong in depriving them of their sight?

I would say that we have, because they are, objectively, missing something which is a good, and which they should have by nature, and this is true whether they know it or not.

To take an even simpler example, if I, as executor of your parents’ will, cheat you out of your inheritance—but in such a way you don’t know you’ve been cheated out of anything—it seems again very clear I have both harmed you and wronged you, again whether you know it or not.

Here’s the logical error: Noel infers from a lack of awareness of missing anything to the objective truth of nothing being missing, “that void doesn’t actually exist.” But it doesn’t follow from one’s being unaware of a void, that there is no such void.  The sighted person knows very well that the blind children are lacking sight—even if they do not.

I’m not going to make the case, because it would JUST BE the case for theism against atheism, but if atheism is false, then once again Noel’s assumption of there being “no void” is an objectively false assumption.

Consider these two rather famous sayings:

augustineourheartsarerestless

BlaisePascalGodShapedVacuum.png

[NOTE: the saying attributed to Pascal is most likely not something he said, but a summation of his view.  In this respect it is entirely accurate, and so reasonably associated with his name, just as Evelyn Hall’s characterization of Voltaire’s philosophy, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is rightly associated with Voltaire, although it is not a literal quote of his.]

From a theistic point of view, Noel’s point only shows how much worse the plight of the atheist is. An atheist who is aware or becoming aware of the extent to which atheism is a prison has a much better chance of escaping this prison than one who remains totally unaware of his situation.  And again, if theism is true, the state of the atheist is a very bad one indeed. In fact, let’s go ahead and use Pascal’s actual quote:

blaisepascalgodfilling

If Augustine and Pascal are correct, an atheist is necessarily condemned to a life of futility, forever trying to fill a void which, whether he is consciously aware of it or not, is ruinous for his true good and true happiness. His ignorance only makes his situation worse.

I’m fairly sure Noel isn’t seriously arguing “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” which would imply things like “so long as your are unaware you have cancer, you are healthy,” but this does seem to be what his “unaware of a void” argument comes down to. He doesn’t seem to have thought it through; or to the extent he has, has done so question-beggingly, once again presupposing the thing at issue: that atheism is something benign, and so “missing” God would be no big deal.

N5: Atheism vs Antitheism: Next, Noel distinguishes between atheism and antitheism.  He identifies himself as an antitheist, and notes that the meaning of such a term is contentious:

He [Dean] regards an antitheist as someone who wants to, I don’t know, gun down theists, destroy them, wipe them out, forcibly make everyone an atheist, or something like that.

I’ll just pause here to note that there have been and are such people.  Here’s one of the more famous:

josephstalinreligion

Here’s an expression of his policy:

militant-atheism

And here’s the man he put in charge of executing it:

yaroslavskyatheism

Now, I’m neither accusing Noel Plum of having anything to do with this sort of thing, nor trying to tar him with guilt by association, but I do want to make it very clear that this kind of antitheism, the kind that wants eradicate religion—and often religious persons—from the face of the earth is a real thing. And there are more than a few contemporary atheists—Sam Harris leaps to mind—who have said things not unlike this.  So while this may not be Noel’s position—and it definitely isn’t—it isn’t a position that can be simply dismissed, because it has happened elsewhere, and “it could never happen here” is a rather naïve belief.  If religion is on the wane, as Noel thinks it is (mistakenly, I would argue) then why should Christians not reasonably fear becoming a persecuted minority?

Noel’s stance is much more reasonable, and I have no reason at all to think he’s being disingenuous here:

I regard myself as an antitheist, and that is the last thing I would do. In fact in many cases I wouldn’t even want to disavow [sic; he means “disabuse”] people of their religious belief, who already have a religious belief …. I’m not going to go looking for you and try to destroy your faith, because that might make you a more unhappy person. And however much part of my antitheism is that I … kind of object to the fact that people are basing their lives around things that I regard as a load of bullshit effectively, that I don’t regard as being true. So it’s kind of like astrology, right? There’s a part of me, even if I think it’s probably not doing a lot of harm, that wants to talk people away from it. But if I know that somebody’s getting a lot out of that, I’m going to leave that.  I’m not even going to try to disavow [sic] them of it under those circumstances.

These seem to be laudable sentiments to me. Noel has a regard for truth, and it bothers him that people are basing their lives around something he regards as false.  At the same time, he recognizes that the false belief in question is frequently a harmless belief, and in fact, in many cases a good thing, insofar as the false belief contributes materially to the one who lives by it’s happiness.  Again, commendably, Noel does not think it would be a good thing to try to eradicate someone’s religious beliefs, especially if it is clear that these beliefs make a substantial contribution to their happiness.

I agree with Noel on two key points: (1) I agree that truth is a good thing in itself, so I am bothered when I see people believing what I regard to be false things, especially obviously false things, but (2) I don’t see this as morally authorizing or obligating me to try to destroy every false belief I see, and especially not ones which are clearly contributing to the happiness of those who hold them, so long as these beliefs are in other respects, relatively harmless.

I am never bothered by people having true beliefs. I am somewhat bothered by people having false but harmless beliefs, but my annoyance is not a sufficient justification for me to try to disabuse them of their beliefs, if I have reason to think the belief benefits them in some way.

Now the hard question: What do we do about people whose beliefs are both false and harmful? e.g. a man who persists in the belief that he does not have cancer because he doesn’t want to face this?

Some antitheists (like Noel) regard (many) religious beliefs as FALSE but HARMLESS.

Some antitheists (like Yaroslavski or Sam Harris) regard ALL religious beliefs as FALSE and HARMFUL.

And theists (like Dean and I) regard atheism as both FALSE and HARMFUL.

All theists, at least all Christians, are anti-atheists.

Christians, however, unlike the anti-theism of a Yaroslavski, do not wish to eradicate atheists, as persons, but atheism, the belief-system or worldview.

We want, in fact, to help atheists.  We are acting as best we can, as we see it, for the good of atheists.  Hence the name “escaping atheism.”  If we are right, then atheism is one of the worst states a human being can be in, and those who are in this state deserve compassion and help.  Again, I know this will sound like nonsense to a convinced atheist, but we are driven to at least try to get him to see his own state.  Many of us (as it happens in this case, both Dean and I) are ourselves ex-atheists.  And as those who have, by God’s grace, escaped from that mental prison, naturally we want to help others to do so as well.

No one has a right to attempt to change another person’s beliefs by force.  But from our point of view, we also cannot simply have a policy of “live and let live,” as if atheism were a harmless belief.  If we are right, it is far from harmless, not only for the atheist himself but to those around him as well. It would not be a kind or loving thing to allow a fellow human being to ruin their own good and happiness because we couldn’t be bothered to warn them.

So, back to Noel, he says that, for him, antitheism means that he hopes for a future in which religion will have vanished entirely, not because it was forcefully eradicated, but because it simply dies off naturally.

I understand the position as a hope, but frankly, this scenario sounds as realistic as the Marxist’s dream that the state under the communist dictatorship will “wither away” into  a classless society or the anarchist’s similar hope that “government” will somehow simply vanish due to a natural death. I hope that disease will just magically vanish from the world tomorrow, but I’m not going to base anything on this wildly unrealistic hope.

To disappoint the anarchists: government isn’t going anywhere, because we are, by nature, social and political animals, and not, as you think, little autonomous semi-demi-gods.

And to disappoint Noel, religion also isn’t going anywhere, since human beings are, again by nature, religious animals.  Realistically, your only two options are to put up with religion, or to attempt the same forceful eradication of religion that we theists worry about.  Realistically, when faced with these two options, my guess is that Noel would choose to coexist with religious people , but it is clear that not every antitheist would chose that option.

N6: Not all atheists are antitheists.  Antitheists are, in fact, uncommon.

Yes, we know this. There are various types of atheist, for example, here’s the typology that researchers at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga have formulated:

atheist-types

I believe Noel is putting out a bit of a straw man here. We are perfectly well aware that there are many different types of atheist.  Again, both Dean and I were previously atheists ourselves, and also know or have known, as Noel says, literally hundreds of atheists.

I can’t speak for everyone, but in my (North American) circles, I know plenty of people who simply haven’t had any sort of religious upbringing, or a nominal religious upbringing  so weak as to be essentially meaningless. I’m an academic, and the majority of my fellow academics, of whom the majority are atheists, have intellectual backgrounds, and thus, given the intellectual character of the 20th and early 21st centuries, have been raised in an entirely secular way.  This is probably less common in the US than in the UK, but it’s not uncommon.

I think Noel is probably overstating the difference between the US and the UK here, and as a result overstating the importance of said difference. I myself had a nominally religious upbringing, but I found it an entirely painless matter to give up my faith (such as it was), and encountered no resistance whatever to this, internally or externally.  And this was in the US, in the South, and 3 decades ago.

Trust me, many of those who have a “religious” upbringing don’t find much loss there.

N7: Concerning Dean’s personal spiritual journey.  Well, I’ll have to let Dean speak to this part, mostly.

I think, though, Noel, you are giving a bit of a straw man of Dean’s point.  What he is distinguishing is between what is a LIVE OPTION and NOT A LIVE OPTION. I’ll let William James explain the distinction:

williamjamesliveoption

I think two points are worth making here before I move on, since only Dean can speak to Dean’s spiritual journey:

  1. My path was completely unlike Dean’s. I’m a professional philosopher, and have never had the slightest amount of interest in the occult or anything like that. However, my experience with the history of Western thought led me to be able to “think outside” the local box of recent Western intellectual history (by “recent” I mean the past 500 years).
  2. You seem to be treating atheism as if it weren’t itself an “option” with respect to beliefs about God, when it most certainly is.  You compare Dean’s approach to furniture shopping—and yet you don’t seem to recognize that if you decided “You know what? I don’t need any more furniture, so I’ll buy nothing” that this wouldn’t also be a choice.

All this is to say that you are no more or less guilty of “shopping” than Dean is, since you went “shopping” for belief in God too, and (so to speak) elected not to buy anything.  That’s still a choice among possible options, one which is, as you know, a very live option for an Englishman in this day and age. This would very likely not have been a live option for you had you lived in England in 1370.

I would argue, as per above, that Dean was being driven by the restlessness that St. Augustine mentions and the felt experience of the existential lack of which Pascal speaks—and on this basis, he sought a live option that could answer his need.

This is not irrational, no more than a Western person who has contracted a rare disease to consider various treatment options.  Very likely, for a person in the UK, voodoo is not going to be among the live options for treatment—even though it is at least logically possible that voodoo is, in fact, the best or only treatment for said disease.

If you have never read James’ very famous essay “The Will to Believe,” Noel, I highly recommend it. I believe it could show you some assumptions you are making, and why they are erroneous.  I find James’ argument entirely compelling, although I will say again that this was not the path that I followed to conversion.

N8: Atheism is not linked to other positions.

This seems clearly false. BELIEFS HAVE ENTAILMENTS. If you do not believe that there is a God, it follows that you do believe that the world is Godless, from which numerous other things follow. It is EXTRAORDINARILY rare to find an atheist who believes in angels, demons, or supernatural powers—although this is technically logically possible. I have never met such an “atheist.”

N9: Dean is brusque and rude. Yeah, he is, sometimes. I can’t argue that. Especially since he says so himself, in one of the clips you played.

There is nothing inconsistent in thinking that there are worldviews which are toxic and harmful, although they may have relatively benign forms.

Atheism is one. Islam, I would say, is another.

Whether or not Dean’s rhetoric makes him a hypocrite, I can’t say. I wouldn’t present the case in the same way, but Dean is who he is and I am who I am.

I think, Noel, you are not right (or not mostly right) to say that Dean is going wrong based on his own experience.  Perhaps he is, to some extent, but don’t we all speak primarily from our own experience?—even though we can be aware of the fact that others’ experiences may be quite different.  Dean and I share very many conclusions, and yet we got to our respective views by very different paths.

Is it at least possible, Noel, that you are particularizing too much, and ascribing to Dean Esmay the man, what are in fact more general and substantive points about atheism, its nature and current historical configuration?

I suppose this is a good place to bring this to a close, since your video is done.

I don’t know if you’ll take the time to read this.  Maybe someone can help this humble blogger make this into a YouTube video so it can be a proper response.

In any case, I wish you well, and will mention you in my prayers.

Yours,

_Eve Keneinan