27 March 2012

Thought for food, part deux

It occurs to me that there's a list of unconvincing arguments that people of faith need to stop making. And I should probably be helpful and put them down.

1) Pascal's Wager. It doesn't follow automatically that the existence of a deity involves the existence of a permanent afterlife, nor that that afterlife is one of torment and agony. Further, it doesn't follow that the existence of a deity involves a series of ritualistic practices and beliefs only of the sort that you proscribe for people to do. South Park has a great episode on this with the point being that what you're arguing is something like "if you don't do things exactly in this way, you're going to hell", but why "exactly in this way" matters at all is left unexplained. South Park answered this fallacious logical claim with the bulk of humanity going straight to hell after an apocalyptic event and promptly being told "I'm sorry, the correct answer was Mormon". (hypothetically, suppose some other being other than your preferred manner of god governs the universe, your rejection of that god, and the implied jealous rage you have imposed on deities generally for said rejection, it would follow that you should probably believe in a lot of rejected deities to cover your bases. Most people don't bother to do this, suggesting some other basis for religious belief is involved than mere prudence indicated in the PW logical claim). Really there are a lot of logical problems with it; that non-theists are treated in the way you describe, that there is affirmatively a deity involved, etc.

Further, it can very well harm you to believe any of the premises involved in Pascal, so it is not a costless wager. For instance, I think of afterlife beliefs as among the most dangerous aspects of religious dogma for the impact they have on inducing terrorism and strife among the hopeless in societies all around the world.

2) The most common arguments in favor are social signals, community benefits/charitable works, financial rewards, or other related inferences. Things like if "everyone you know is doing it", it must be okay. These premises are not always accurate assessments when divorced from religion, but more over, they are not evidence in and of themselves of deistic existence so much as the impact on culture and society by religious institutions and organisations. They are also not always accurate assessments of the populations in question belief and faith level, which damages the credibility of the messenger.

3) Anything related to hell. Sorry. I'm not scared of things you (humans) made up and which changed throughout the centuries.

4) Anything related to heaven. Nor am I impressed by things you made up either, and which changed even more dramatically over time. I could begin offering people unicorn sandwiches and dragon pelts when people who follow me die. I don't think people should be taking this as evidence of anything.

5) "You cannot prove he doesn't exist". No. I can't. That's not the same as presenting evidence that you know something I don't. There are a lot of things I can't prove necessarily or to certainty, but there are at least suggestive empirical grounds for believing those things to be true. There are no empirical grounds for the basis of your beliefs in this case.

6) I really find it annoying that people have a omniscient, omnipotent deity, with amorphous qualities that avoid having to provide evidentiary claims, but then define this deity, and other related qualities to it by thoroughly human qualities like jealousy and spite. While this might make claims like "made in his image" accurate, to my amusement, they are not evidence of an objectively existing deity in order to make such a thing sensible. They are perhaps evidence that you can conceive of very little and are bereft of imagination. Mostly they are suggestive to an argument that man created god. And not the other way around.

7) Any personal benefits from meditation/prayer. Good for you. What makes you think that benefit comes from something other than your own material sensations and mental states? Much less certain about it to the point of belief and faith.

8) Inferring that I cannot be a good person, or be morally grounded without that I should have belief in X. If that's your belief, fine. I don't have to be friends with you if you don't think I can be a good person. That doesn't a) hurt my feelings or b) more importantly, suggest much about ethical practices. Again, there's a great deal of leaping going on to decide both what ethical practices are deemed good/bad, and what beliefs are necessary to practice them. That sounds ultimately more arbitrary than what I try to do to decide what is right or wrong. (and deciding right and wrong is generally pretty simple anyway, especially for a social animal like a human being. The troublesome part of ethics are found in dilemmas where right answers are harder to come by and for which you, like me, have little to no guidance).

9) 2LOT. Yeah. This one is bizarre. It mostly happens for the same reason intelligent design happens: people don't understand science. But they know enough about it to make extravagant claims based on much more limited scientific claims. (Also, the implication that evolution or the creation of life at all is about "order" and thus a violation of even the common folk misinterpretation of the second law of thermodynamics is just plain silly).
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