Apology for atheism

Hoyt wants to insist there is a standard definition of atheism, which he defines as

atheism entails a belief about the existence of deity

and any other definition incongruent wth his definition is incoherent or absurd. And one wishes he was right, but it does seem that is not the case. If one were to read Stephen Bullivant’s The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, they would discover, quoting Stephen, that

THE precise definition of ‘atheism’ is both a vexed and vexatious issue.

In fact, he (Stephen) goes so far as to give 5 definitions of atheism from scholarly works that show no consensus in the definition of the term.

Theists are interesting people. And Lyle Duell is no exception. In his recent post he is defending an absurd position that atheism involves three basic assumptions. But he doesn’t just stop there, no, he tells us atheism is a faith. How is it a faith?

it is a faith because it is an ideal that exists in the human mind and is supported by other human beliefs. The idea that it is a non-belief is nothing but atheistic sophistry. Call it a non-belief is like calling it a non-idea.

I have no idea what that means.

Over to the assumptions.

1. The first is that there is no God.

And he says this is absurd. To prove there is no god, one would have to be omniscient. In his words

No one can prove that there is no God for in order to do so they would have to be everywhere in the universe at the same time and also outside of the universe at the same time for the very place that they were not, might be the very place that the Uncreated one is present.

which if you ask me is such an absurd demand. The theist says god is everywhere. One need only to point one place where they don’t see god to show the argument of the theist is false or incompatible with reality. This argument against the first assumption, assuming there is such an assumption, is easily defeated.

2. The second assumption that I have found in most atheists is the belief that they are smarter than those that believe in God.

Against this 2nd assumption, he tells us William James had a higher IQ than Einstein and also

The most intelligent living person is Christopher Langan. He is considered by many to be the world’s smartest living person with an IQ of over 200 and he is a believer.

Assuming for a moment that the second assumption is held by many atheists is true, listing two individuals believed by the author to be intelligent is no evidence for god. In fact he admits as much. Anyone who believes donkeys can talk, snakes walk and zombies have roamed the earth can not claim honestly that he is smart when it comes to religious questions. This is not say the said individual cannot replace a flat tyre, far from it, it only means that in one area of their lives, they have opted to abandon their reason. I would think that is what is meant in that second assumption.

3. The third assumption is that science has proven that there is no God

I would ask for citation for this. From what I have read, it is argued science has reduced the sphere of operation for god[s]. No scientist has gone to the labs to prove the [non]existence of god. What would be the variables to be tested?

I know many of the atheists who land on this spot have been wondering whether or not they have faith. Worry no more. I finally have the answer to this question.

What is faith? Do you put your trust in someone? Something? Then you have faith. We are told

Faith is the result of placing our trust in something (e.g. an idea, a person, in God, etc), and that “something” reassuring us that our selection (or placement of trust) was correct.

He continues to say

For example, the atheist who places their trust in a scientific theory feels good about their decision, and many times will encourage others to feel the same way. In the end, I believe that that feeling of “reassurance” is, in essence, faith.

Then we come to the critical question of whether the faith of the atheist and theist are similar? The answer, dear friends, is a resounding no. It is only in appearance. ANd why is this so? The bible has answers

The reason these types of faith are not the same is because there are in fact different degrees of faith. The Bible speaks of “. . . a measure of faith,” that is given to all men (Romans 12:3). However, the Bible also speaks of great faith (Matthew 15:21-28), unwavering faith (Romans 4:20-21), and also faith without works (James 2:18). Although there are other types of faith, these are the main ones reference in the Bible, some on multiple places.

In conclusion, the atheist just has a measure of faith. You need to believe in god to have great faith. What are you waiting for?

A case of poor journalism

In the crazy Monday section of the Monday standard, Duya Owuor has a full page splash entitled Black Magic: Even urbane Kenyans now believe in witchcraft, a piece one would expect would be accompanied with a history of belief in witchcraft and at the bare minimum an indication as to the time period where Kenyans in specific and Africans in general abandoned their beliefs in witchcraft.

The article starts thus

There is perception that only the poor, the less educated, non believers and villagers consult witch doctors, or at least, believe in witchcraft. But as it turns out, educated, spiritual and urbane Kenyans now embrace too.

which if you ask me is such an outlandish claim. It is ridiculous to claim that a non believer embraces witchcraft unless of course ones non belief is not understood.  The other most outlandish claim with this opening salvo is the one claim about educated Kenyans now embracing witchcraft. And one must ask when did they not? I do understand newspapers must make sales but such an article should be in the gutter press.

Owuor writes in the same piece that there are vegetable sellers who use water from the morgue to wash their wares. This is something that would border on the criminal. Why would any morgue attendant sell water they have used to wash corpses to anyone? Is this not a public health issue that would warrant investigation? Our journalist presents it as a matter of course.

He doesn’t stop there. He tells us people use juju to protect their jobs and gives this as the reason why women will never allow you to peak into their handbags. All along I thought it was about privacy. Those handbags carry their private belongings which they don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry peeping into. I make it a point to leave women’s bags alone same way I don’t want peeping Toms in my wallet. But to Owuor, it is about witchcraft.

And what, if I may ask, are witchcraft paraphernalia? At what point do they differ from totems? Or even a rosary bead? Isn’t the expectation the same? That by wearing the rosary or having holy water (sic), one is protected from evil intentions. Is this not any different from keeping a totem in the hope that someone with intentions that are otherwise not good would not succeed?

In a country where politicians are among some of the highest paid workers, it is expected, if they visit witch doctors, they are likely to pay more. This, I think, should go without saying. Owuor however doesn’t give us any reasons to support his claim that witch doctors reap big from politicians. He tells us an MP who drowned was found with Ksh. 270,000 ($2,700) and witchcraft related paraphernalia. How does one conclude that this money was meant for a witch doctor? If this is not sloppy or sensationalist journalism, I don’t know what is.

Owuor referring to a case pitting former MP Musikari Kombo against IEBC and others where he had been accused and found guilty of administering traditional oaths to bind and instill fear in voters to elect him which while being a very interesting case lacks context. First on oathing (especially in this country both during and post colonial eras) and state formation.

It’s been said (too lazy to get the references) that the African christian has their feet on two sides; one side in Christianity and the other in tradition. In the event the Kenyan African is faced with a dilemma that the christian beliefs are not equipped to address, they turn immediately to tradition and this involves consulting traditional doctors/ witch doctors or diviners- whatever one wants to call them. It is therefore not strange that some urbane individual will consult a witch doctor.

Or maybe, crazy Monday is not meant to have any material of journalist rigor in which case I apologize to Owuor for being very critical of his piece.

For further reading, please look at the following links

Believe it or not: Witchcraft in Kenya

The Impact of Magic and Witchcraft in the Social, Economic, Political and Spiritual Life of African Communities (pdf)



The Witches of Baltimore

In the same Monday Standard, professor Munene in an article entitled Mbiti defended African religion, but was not feted wrote

religion and philosophy were Mbiti’s intellectual war fronts. He distinguished himself by asserting that Africans knew God(he must mean the Christian god) and were Christian before the Europeans. Being notoriously religious, Mbiti declared that Africans did everything religiously, whether in the past, present or future.

which I find rather disappointing. Mbiti, an Anglican priest, bastardized African religion. He made unfounded claims about Africans relationship with time among others things. In his magna opus, African Religion and Philosophy, there is little that is philosophical or tied to African religion. One however understands the context in which he was writing. Works by people like Levi Bruhl(?) had even questioned the humanity of the African. While the claim the Africans were Christians before the coming of the Europeans is true with respect to the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia and Coptics in Egypt, their influence was too narrow to be considered in any debate about the spread of Christianity in Africa.

The rich man is a thief

A while back I wrote this post in which I quoted a monk who argued the rich man is a thief. Reading The Panama Papers: Breaking the Story of How the Rich and Powerful Hide Their Money by the brothers Obermay/ier put this in focus. I know some of you read some of those files when they first came out, is it 3 years ago. If you haven’t, here is a good place to start.

Maybe us regular people should have our own version of shell companies where we can hide our salaries and small commissions from the tax man and only pay as much tax as we decide the state needs while accruing all the benefits from the state.

As long as tax havens exist for the uber rich, I will insist with Basil of Caesarea that the rich man is a thief.

individual African’s religious commitments

There has been a huge debate by others more lettered than yours truly on what constitutes African philosophy and going far as to ask whether such a description is even necessary, arguing for example, that there is no African math or chemistry or physics. You get the drift. I am not going to concern myself with that question here. Anyone interested in the discussions around it can look for works by Wiredi, Masolo, Odera Oruka, Oriare Nyarwath, Alexis Kagame, Lucius Outlaw and many others.

In his book, Sage Philosophy, Odera Oruka interviewed people he considered sages and transcribed their views on many subjects. In this post, I concern myself only with their views on death and god(s).

One saw death as a good because through natural attrition, space is created for others and thus avoiding overpopulation (I wish he read population data- there are more births than deaths p.a, at least in Kenya). He also believed that we are all part of one universal soul that is called god. Further, he says god is one except each people have their own name for god. This sage also said we all speak different languages because if we had one tongue, we would see ourselves superior to god- tower of Babel anyone?

There is, I think, Christian influence in the ideas of this next sage. For example he says about death being good because it is the work of god and further he believes in an afterlife arguing that to die is to be called by god.

Death is the end of man, says our next sage. And it is an evil. He goes so far as to say had we the power to evade death, we would. We try to put off our death through use of medicine and all. God exists as thought and does not have forms (Christians, Judaists and Muslims you have your work set out for you to explain how we are made in the image of god). There is a contradiction however because the same sage argues that god created the sun.

God belongs to the whole world and should not be worshiped everyday or every Friday/Saturday or Sunday as Muslims, Jews and Christians do but should be worshiped occasionally and for special reasons.

God exists because people talk about it. God is one and belongs to all people otherwise we would see discrimination in the distribution of such natural gifts as rain and sunshine (and earthquakes and tsunamis). This mzee’s idea of death is what I loved the most. I will quote

Many people argue that life is good and the better of the two. It is in living that mankind multiplies itself. And as we said earlier on, it is in life that man realizes himself as man. But I think that death is of greater gain. Death is eternal and everlasting in its nature. While life is a short-term process with an inevitable deadline and doomsday, death is a permanent state. In death, there is a completeness of being.

God is one for all people but should be worshiped occasionally when there is need. Peris adds that we each experience and interpret god in our own ways.

Simiyu Chaungo argued that death is neither good not bad. You have no choice on the matter, whether you want it or not, you die. He believed in the existence of a god and further that god could be the sun given that the sun shines its light everywhere. On religions, he said there is just some little truth in them but not much.

Mzee Oruka Rang’inya argued it is quite wrong to personalize god. It is an idea, a useful idea. To him, god represents the idea of goodness itself and to this end, it is useful as a concept. He believed that secularists were not right thinking people for religion had practical utility. Death is like how a farmer thins his maize farm. It gives the younger generation more scope and opportunity to develop themselves. The idea of heaven is fictitious. Upon death, life of man ceases.

To Mzee Kithanje believed there is one god for everyone and that the idea of many religions doesn’t make sense. God is like warmth and cold that brings life. He believed that the sperm of a man was hot and the ovum cold and the fusion of the two brings forth life, so is god.

Ker Mbuya Akoko said the Luo regarded Nyasaye as omnipresent and it is the white people who brought fragmentation into religion by bringing different denominations. He further says the Luo were wrong in thinking their Nyasaye was different from the god of the white people. He argues that their is one god because if there were many gods, there would be chaos resulting from each god pulling in different directions (I think he was not acquainted with Greek mythology).

And lastly Chaungo Barasa on the other hand argued that without man, there would be no god. He sees god as a filler for our ignorance. He says, and I quote

We do not have a particular entity, an external being called god. God then is a substitute for what is beyond mind (ignorance if you like. My emphasis). That is, if man were to pursue and realize the state of intellectual perfection, the mystery of god would be revealed.

I don’t know about you, but I did find the ideas of these men and women quite interesting to say the least. That some of them seem to question the existence of god as a physical being or entirely makes the argument put forth by the Late Canon Mbiti in African Religions and Philosophy that the African is deeply religious and where he is there is religion not entirely true. It would be of great intellectual interest if such interviews were conducted in the rest of Africa though I think we are time barred.

Happy Saturday everyone, free of the gods and fear of death,

A further comment on the problem of evil

First, the freewill argument as made here

I was stating that God allows us to have free will and for the most part, the world that we live in is what we make of it. This is a very clear fact when we talk about murder, theft, assault, etc.

is insufficient to dispense of the problem of evil. One can always ask what happens to the free will of those assaulted as it is obvious it is annihilated in the process. And the bigger question is what stops god from redirecting our will to more acceptable goals unless of course our interlocutor is willing to accept that war, theft murder in some unknown way serves the purposes of god, that is, they are god’s will.

This next quote seems to be making the argument of the world/ earth as a place for learning or preparation. He writes

Perhaps the suffering caused by diseases is necessary to draw us together, and we simply make it worse by utilizing our ability to choose not to cooperate with one another, then we blame God because things seem to be too bad.

which one is forced to ask why did god not stop disease carrying organisms from boarding the ark?

And here we come to the Leibniz argument of the this is the best of all possible worlds

The secret is that things could be much, much worse.

an argument which is easily refuted by postulating a world where there is no measles.

This final paragraph does not help the case of our interlocutor

The middle class tend to compare themselves exclusively to the wealthy and ignore the poor while doing so. In this way, they focus on how things could be so much better than they are, rather than appreciating how far from homeless they are.

especially if he holds it as true that god is a benevolent provider. Then we don’t need destitution. In fact, it is possible to imagine a world arranged such that there is no destitution. The christians and muslims already imagine it and name it heaven where they have constant supply of milk and honey.

In summary, the argument that this is the best of all possible worlds is weak as an argument against the problem of evil or in trying to establish the being of a god.

I think there has been progress

In how society views women but maybe not. I am reading this book and I came across this statement

The economic value of a girl to society is gauged by the extent to which a man maybe excused his debts on the ground that after his daughter’s marriage he will be able to pay them.

Whenever I have argued, like Solon before me and others, that bride price is an exchange between males, I have gotten push back that it is tradition or that the groom is showing his appreciation to the parents of the girl for bringing her up. I think in actual fact, it creates a power imbalance.

Is age just a number

I have recently heard of people who want their birth notification changed from the dates appearing on them because they feel much younger. Now I don’t know about you, but imagine the contrary situation where your kid is telling they feel like they are 60 years old and you should treat them as such. That time you are 35!

I also saw people discussing whether they would date people younger than them- say 10 years younger or older- whatever the case might be.

What are your thoughts? Is age just a number?

Extreme sports

IS driving at night from Nairobi to Kisumu or from Kisii through Narok and Mai Mahiu to Nairobi. One drives through roads that are unmarked, unlit and with bumps that appear out of nowhere. It wouldn’t be such a nightmare if these bumps were of the same design and construction everywhere but they are not. It appears that to the engineers at Kenya National Highways Authority and Kenya Urban Roads Authority, a speed bump is a speed bump even if it is half the height of Mt. Everest.

Point to self. Buy a big car.

End of rant.

Books i recently read

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Why does Estragon have such bad memory? And where the fuck was God(ot)? The two main characters wait for Godot whom they don’t know and wouldn’t recognize if he showed up. Just like the way Christians are waiting for the second coming of their messiah.

I found this conversation intriguing (I will check to verify or one of you can do us the honors).

VLADIMIR: Do you remember the Gospels?
ESTRAGON: I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Coloured they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say, that’s where we’ll go for our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy.
VLADIMIR: You should have been a poet.
ESTRAGON: I was. ( Gesture towards his rags. ) Isn’t that obvious?
VLADIMIR: Where was I . . . How’s your foot?

ESTRAGON: Swelling visibly.
VLADIMIR: Ah yes, the two thieves. Do you remember the story?
VLADIMIR: Shall I tell it to you?
VLADIMIR: It’ll pass the time. ( Pause. ) Two thieves, crucified at the same time as our Saviour. One—
ESTRAGON: Our what?
VLADIMIR: Our Saviour. Two thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other . . . ( he searches for the contrary of saved) . . . damned.
ESTRAGON: Saved from what?
ESTRAGON: I’m going.
He does not move.
VLADIMIR: And yet . . . ( pause) . . . how is it –this is not boring you I hope– how is it that of the four Evangelists only one speaks of a thief being saved. The four of them were there –or thereabouts– and only one speaks of a thief being saved. ( Pause. ) Come on, Gogo, return the ball, can’t you, once in a way?
ESTRAGON: ( with exaggerated enthusiasm) . I find this really most extraordinarily interesting.

VLADIMIR: One out of four. Of the other three, two don’t mention any thieves at all and the third says that both of them abused him.
ESTRAGON: What’s all this about? Abused who?
VLADIMIR: The Saviour.
VLADIMIR: Because he wouldn’t save them.
ESTRAGON: From hell?
VLADIMIR: Imbecile! From death.
ESTRAGON: I thought you said hell.
VLADIMIR: From death, from death.
ESTRAGON: Well what of it?
VLADIMIR: Then the two of them must have been damned.
ESTRAGON: And why not?

VLADIMIR:But one of the four says that one of the two was saved.
ESTRAGON: Well? They don’t agree and that’s all there is to it.
VLADIMIR: But all four were there. And only one speaks of a thief being saved. Why believe him rather than the others?
ESTRAGON: Who believes him?
VLADIMIR: Everybody. It’s the only version they know

Imperfect birds by Anne Lamott

Is Elizabeth just bad at parenting or is Rosie a difficult teenager? What should a parent do with a teenager doing drugs, sex and small time deviancy? Should the parents be strict or look the other way when there are other children either O’ding to death, or getting killed in road accidents? This is the question that we have to deal with all through in the book.