We learn

In a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.

The Plague by Albert Camus

This was a good read. And it fits the times we live in. A small happy town has been struck by the plague. First, the authorities are not sure of what to make of it. When the deaths start piling up, measures are put in place to address the pandemic. And it is in the lives of those who find themselves within the city walls that we find we are in sympathy with their situation and wish that it goes away.

Tarrou who has been busy helping the doctor in his work succumbs at the very last moment. And it is such a sad take. The priest dies too. And Othon’s little boy. The old man who’s battling asthma survives the pandemic & such is life. Unpredictable. Cruel sometimes. But also provides room for greatness.

A book I would recommend to you all.

Racist police violence reconsidered

If you haven’t seen this article, I think it would make for very good reading on the issue of police and race. And even challenge some of the positions people hold.

And while you are here, this Guardian article about the hypocrisy of Europe in the BLM issue and particularly George Floyd is quite good.


A room of one’s own

By Virginia Woolf is a book(extended essay) I would recommend to anyone who wants something short and interesting to read.

The question she is answering is women and fiction and she argues that to write a woman needs her own room and 500ยฃ a year income(this was 1928).

She should have the freedom to say what she wants and at the same time have an opportunity to observe reality.

If you have no book to read during quarantine, here is a place to start.

Four Arguments for the elimination of Television

by Jerry Mander

is one of those books I would hardly recommend for anyone. I must admit I didn’t read it to the end but read two thirds of it which means I have earned some right to say something about it.

The argument that TV makes it possible to have the masses have almost the same thoughts or be exposed to the same story or image can be said of newspapers or any media that has a wide circulation. An argument can also be made that Jerry makes his people robots, that they can’t chose when to hit the off switch on their TVs or whatevers.

Jerry’s argument against TV is not limited to TV programming but includes the TV as a medium. And it does seem to me that he would not make allowance for using TV to watch youtube or any docuseries. TV is bad and that is the end of story. If he was writing the book today, would he make the same argument against smartphones and many social media apps that have the potential to be addictive. They may not be harmful.

Since I had not made an appearance on the world stage in 1978, I don’t know how ads were done then but as we speak, there is very important function that ads play in our lives. Without ads, I wouldn’t know whether HP has produced a better comp with much better graphics card and that I should replace my workhorse or maybe where I can bury myself in unhealthy meat burger with honey, cheese, onions and I don’t know what else they put in it. While on ads, an argument can be made that some ads cause harm. Should they be allowed to play on TV? I would say no. But that’s me.

TV is useful for education. And I think it can serve democratic ends though this can be difficult when the TVs and newspapers are owned by oligarchs who may not be interested in democracy or as we have seen with the American media engineering consent for war among the citizens.

Jerry talks of bias embedded in the TV medium but i think bias cannot be avoided in any medium. It can be reduced through objective reporting or allowing for the airing of dissent. And there is bias even in newspapers, books and internet articles.

The only thing going for the book is that it is easy to read though I don’t think it needed to have so many pages. His message could have still been argued in fewer pages.


Unbelievable? Chapter 9

Living the Christian story

In this final chapter, Justin argues that for one to understand Christianity, they should necessarily become Christian. Sought of the argument that you need to believe first then it will become clear, not I want it to be clear than I can believe.

He says he asked some atheists to pray for 40 days because they lose nothing anyway by trying. It should be noted that none of those who took part in the experiment saw the light. The two he claims came to god, he clarifies did so or were already on the way to religion even before the experiment began and as such don’t count.

He makes a case for divine hiddenness, arguing that maybe god really want us to search for him. He is not interested in making the search easy. God, who is all powerful and all, is interested in you loving and trusting in him. If he were to come again and smote the city of Paris with an earthquake like he did to Gomorrah, you will not believe him. This is poppycock!

Unbelievable? Chapter 8

A chat with Dawkins

This was to me the most boring chapter.

He writes he asked Dawkins, if we lived in a universe where rape was considered fine, would that mean rape is fine.

He says Dawkins response was that it is enough that we live in a universe where rape is not considered fine, a response which Justin finds inadequate. To turn this question on its head, if as Justin insists, we live in a world governed by god who is the lawgiver and it programmed such a law, what would we do? The argument that god is good by definition will not cut it. We have no way of knowing the nature of god, so the Christians have told us. They can’t have it both ways.

Justin takes issue with the following memes

  • Atheism as simply a lack of belief in god

He claims that atheism has been defined typically as the belief that there is no god. On the contrary I think many atheists have defined atheism as a lack of belief in the existence of god as contrasted to theism which is the belief that their is a god. This could be splitting hairs but they mean different things. Again contrary to his claim that this definition makes the atheist no different from an agnostic, many atheists would willingly admit they are agnostic with regards to belief in god, that is, we do not know whether or not a god(s) exists. It is no argument against atheism that there is disagreement on how it is defined.

  • god didn’t create humans, humans created god

As far as memes go, this is interesting. Maybe Nietzsche had a point, was god man’s first mistake.

Justin goes after the argument, unsuccessfully I must add, that our belief in the supernatural began in an ignorant age arguing that the source of a belief should is not sufficient to prove that its contents are also false. We however have occasion to believe that humans make wrong inferences all the time, and so it is with religious belief.

  • out of the thousands of religions only Christianity is true

Justin says this argument undercuts the grounds of atheism as well. I don’t see how. It is either one religion is true, all are true or all false. But atheism isn’t a religion. He continues to say Christians hold some common beliefs with other religions such as a creator god and that historical evidence supports the existence of Jesus. The Jesus question we already dispensed with in a previous chapter.

  • Hell

He says god is not sending anyone to hell. That you are consciously choosing with your own freewill to go to hell by rejecting god. Why did god create hell if she didn’t want anyone there anyway? And why not nudge us away from disbelief?

  • Religion is to blame for all the conflict in the world

is first of all a strawman. No one makes this claim ( I don’t know if the claim by Hitch that religions poison everything could apply?) but what I have heard is at least that religion is responsible for some of the conflicts in the world. And this is undisputed. To claim a body account between atheism and theism doesn’t advance the argument for theism. It only tells us human systems have their flaws.


Unbelievable? Chapter 7

On suffering

Justin wants you to know that god is present in your suffering and sees the future even if you can’t. So stop complaining.

An argument has been made by theists and Justin repeats it, that why do atheists complain about suffering if we live in an indifferent world. This question does seem to me to miss the point. The atheist is telling the theist, you have made such and such claims about the universe and were that the case, the following should be expected as matter of course. In an indifferent universe, suffering is embedded in the nature of the universe. In a world with an omnibenevolent being, suffering is allowed to exist. And if that is the case, then either god is not willing or not able to eradicate suffering.

Justin says because there are many arguments for god, god must exist. No argument would be necessary for god were the existence of god obvious.

He quotes this statement of CS Lewis

My argument against god was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust. A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust.

Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, my argument against god collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancy. Thus in the very act in trying to prove god did not exist, in other words that whole reality was senseless, I found was forced to assume that one part of reality- namely, my idea of justice- was full of sense.

First, was he a theist or atheist? Leaving that aside, do we really need transcendence to say this is not fair? Is a toothache the order of things so that one can’t complain if they have a toothache? Must a god be posited to claim that a toothache is pointless? My idea of justice as a reasonable person leads me to the conclusion that we live in an indifferent universe where unless humanity works together to alleviate the suffering of others, their pain and burden becomes unbearable.

Jeff’s favorite argument. Freewill. Justin wants us to believe that it would be a greater evil for god to intervene, which we are told he has done before, than to allow freewill. Basically, we are told to accept that god is inadequate in coming up with scenarios where we maintain our idea of freewill without causing harm to others or ourselves. Where is omnipotence and omniscience when you need it? To Justin it was better in the eyes of god for the African holocaust to happen because of freewill than to intervene to stop it. How many of you find this argument convincing?

Justin says we live in a spiritual war zone and also that suffering draws people to god. I don’t know about you. But for me, there is no logical contradiction in a world where there is a god and there is no suffering. There is nothing that would come in the way of an omnipotent god who wanted to draw people to himself. No human connivance would prevent this from happening.

Unbelievable? Chapter 6

Facts that only fit the resurrection.

If you have been reading apologetics, you have heard of the minimal facts argument for the resurrection advanced by Licona and Habermas. These facts are

  1. that jesus died by crucifixion
  2. there was an empty tomb
  3. people reported meeting the risen Jesus (Paul has 500 of them. And I just want to know the names of two of these people)
  4. conversion of skeptics
  5. the growth of the christian church

It’s interesting to note here that this was a tactical change in approach by the Christian apologists. When it was no longer tenable to demonstrate the existence of Jesus, they felt if an argument can be made for the death and resurrection, then it follows that for a person to die, he must have lived.

We know that before the edicts making Christianity the religion of the empire, it existed as an underground cult. And two, growth of a religion does not attest to the truth of its claims. The skeptics referred to here are Paul and James the brother of Jesus. Paul tells us he was a persecutor of the Jesus sect. Paul tells us he is the foremost evangelist. I have seen many of this type. May the real Paul stand up!

It is curious that Jesus after resurrecting, chose to appear to 500 anonymous people who only Paul knows but never once do we hear he was seen by the skeptics in the town or even paying a courtesy call to Pilate just for laughs. All who saw him were his followers. I could concede that he didn’t want to be crucified a second time, but this just doesn’t sell.

Here, and here are interesting reads on the resurrection. Thomas Pain also said something about the resurrection.

Walter Cassels again

[..]The actual occurrence of the Resurrection and ascension, however, is certainly a matter of evidence and, to retort, it is scarcely decent that any man should be required to believe what is so opposed to human experience, upon more imperfect evidence than is required for the transfer of land or the right to a title, simply because ecclesiastical dogmas are founded upon them, and it is represented that unless they be true our hope is vain.

[..] Proportionately, it should be as unparalleled in its force as those events are in fact.

Unbelievable? Chapter 5

also titled will the real Jesus stand up.

Justin tells us those who are Jesus skeptics are in the extremist camp of the non-religious. I think this makes me an extremist. I am going ahead of myself.

When I read this quote below, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Laugh. Cry. Bang my head against a wall. Then I remembered what Nietzsche wrote in Thus spake Zarathustra about other gods laughing to their death when one of the gods said there is no god but god. Justin writes

From its inception, Christianity has been a public religion making claims that could be held to historical scrutiny in the place it was birthed. That’s not true of other religions. The precepts of Buddhism originated in the mind of Buddha alone. The ancient writings of Hinduism derive from mystical teachings that are not located in a historical framework. Islam is constituted by the teaching and stories of the Quran as related to Muhammad in a private angelic visitation.

I think irony is lost to Justin on the similarities that exist between what he says of other religions and his religion. How for example can the claim of a virgin birth be scrutinized? Do we have any other extant material apart from the claims of the bible about this birth? In fact, how can miracles be proved historically? Say for example the story of Jonah eating a fish or is it riding a fish? The claims of Paul- the foremost Christian evangelist if he existed- came from his mind alone. The stories such as those of the OT where we have giants having intercourse with the daughters of men are mystical teachings, but to Justin, only other religions have these. Christianity is all evidence based.

Justin then tells us that the death of Jesus has a greater attestation that Caesar crossing the Rubicon. First, even if that were the case, no one is going to hell for doubting the crossing the Rubicon. If Christianity were true, its claims would require more stringent attestations because people’s future eternal lives depend on it. The argument that other historical figures are not doubted as much as Jesus is not an argument in favour of Christianity. Any reasonable person would demand that god, if it were real, would present a much better case for us to believe.

Justin tells us the gospels are evidence for the life of Jesus. Some scholars having looked at the stories in the gospels have concluded the Jesus of the gospels did not exist and have created their own Jesus. We have Jesus the Zealot, the guru, the husband and many more. Is the bible and the gospels specifically a work of history or a miraculous work brought into being by the actions of deity? Did the biographers write what they saw, or what were they inspired to write?

Justin writes we should read the bible differently that we do other historical documents.

In his book, the quest for historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer writes

The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.

but Bruno Bauer said it best when he wrote

The formation of the church and the arising of the idea that the Jesus of the Gospels is the messiah are not two different things, they are one and the same thing, they coincide and synchronize; but the idea was only the imaginative conception of the church, the first movement of its life, the religious expression of its experience.

The question which has so much exercised the minds of men-whether Jesus was the historic Christ- is answered in the sense that everything that the historical Christ is, everything that is said of him, everything that is known of him, belongs to the world of imagination, that is, of the imagination of the Christian community, and therefore has nothing to do with any man who belongs to the real world.

Maybe Justin should read Renan’s life of Jesus or Spencer’s but most of all, I recommend as a good place to being, Walter R Cassels’ Supernatural religion.

Unbelievable? Chapter 3

On human value.

Justin argues we cannot value human life unless we imagine a god to have gave us life. To this he says the fact that Jesus died for us means our lives are really valuable. There are other several claims on objective morals. Or that atheists have no grounding for their morals or that we are moral because of the Judeo-Christian god or some similar argument. His response to the objection raised in the Euthyphro Dilemma is that god is good, so all its commands are good.

My objections to this chapter.

One, there are societies and have been societies where people have lived moral lives without the Judeo-Christian god. In fact, as I have pointed out in other posts, in most of African societies, morality or right conduct had nothing to do with the gods but how to live together. It is an insult to humanity to claim that a god who showed up somewhere in the middle East not so long ago is the supreme lawgiver.

I am a Jesus skeptic. And vivacious redemption is abhorrent.

Are there universal objective morals? Can they explained by positing our evolutionary past and communal living or do we need to posit an agent elsewhere as the source of our laws?

His objection to the Euthyphro Dilemma is premature. The being of a god is in question. It’s nature is another matter.

Do other species matter? Should they count?

Let us reflect on the thoughts of d’Holdbach when he writes

it is unnecessary to tell me that we degrade man when we compare him with the beasts, deprived of souls and intelligence; this is no leveling doctrine, but one which places him exactly where nature places him, but from which his puerile vanity has unfortunately driven him. All beings are equal; under various and different forms they act differently; they are governed in their appetites and passions by laws which are invariably the same for all of the same species; everything which is composed of parts will be dissolved; every thing which has life must part with it at death; all men are equally compelled to submit to this fate; they are equal at death, although during life their power, their talents and especially their virtues, established a marked difference, ย which, though real, is only momentary.