Is theism true?

And if so, which of the many brands is the true one?

Do the three Abrahamic religions make the same doctrinal claims or do they differ sufficiently to be contradictory?

Is Scientology a separate theism? Should we consider it as true? Or is Mormonism the true theism?

And how is one to know which of the competing denomination is the truth?

Can one be forgiven for not believing in any of them until such a time as their claims can be verified? That is, is it rational to not believe in any of the available theism-s?

Are deists a separate theism or do their claims suffer from the weaknesses of the other theism-s?

Confessions 3

If we believe the priests, we shall be persuaded, that the Christian religion, by the beauty of its morals, excels philosophy and all the other religious systems in the world.

Baron D’Holdbach

One of the most irrational of all the conventions of modern society is the one to the effect that religious opinions should be respected. …[This] convention protects them, and so they proceed with their blather unwhipped and almost unmolested, to the great damage of common sense and common decency. that they should have this immunity is an outrage. There is nothing in religious ideas, as a class, to lift them above other ideas. On the contrary, they are always dubious and often quite silly. Nor is there any visible intellectual dignity in theologians. Few of them know anything that is worth knowing, and not many of them are even honest.”

H. Mencken

My first confession was a story of how I became clever, saw the light and left the faith I had been brought up in. The second confession (very Catholic, if you ask me) was a short story of the past. Then there was reflections on Christianity and finally about atheist experience in Africa.

This posting is about what I have become.

A great amount of care was taken to make me a Catholic. It was taught in school as fact. I went to catechism school. Went through the rites, participated actively in church activities and generally without reflection. It didn’t occur to me to question the truth of this religion I was brought up in. Did I have doubts, yes, but not about the truth of the catholic doctrine. I worried a little about whether I would go to heaven or hell. And the book of revelation (the few times I read it) didn’t help matters in this front with its small number of the chosen ones.

When my faith began to wane or maybe I had lost, I read a lot on arguments for god and why they failed. I read on authorship of the bible, on the existence of Jesus and even on miracles. All this reading led to one conclusion only, revealed religions were a scam. I read a little here and there on Islam and even the Gita.

Does Christianity or any religion for that matter deserve the attention we give them? Is there any good in wasting years trying to demonstrate that religions are all false, that their claims are contradictory and many times impossible? Is there any truth in the claims of Christianity? Is there a way to verify any of it? Is it any more true than the religions my forefathers had believed in? If it had been true and was ordained by a god, why did it need violence, deception, evangelism to spread? Was it important that we, everyone, had a religion or believed in a god(s)?

I am at that point in my life where I can say theism is false. That the supernatural claims religions make are baseless. It is not important that one believes in a god(s) as long as one lives well with others. Be kind. Be useful. Life is simple.

Africa interests me. African religion and philosophy more so. How my forefathers lived, what they believed in and how this knowledge made life in society and community possible. How did they face calamity? Death? Disease? And in times of plenty and bountiful harvests or hunts, how did they celebrate? Now this is interesting stuff.

Talk of gods and miracles bore me.

Hell doesn’t interest me. Heaven is a scary proposition. Vicarious redemption is abhorrent. And the gods? They don’t exist. We make them all the time. The raw material needed is a sick imagination and a people gullible enough to believe.

Of God and other manenos

Most of us would agree that the objectivity of good was a thing we had settled and dismissed with the existence of God. Theology and absolute ethics are two famous subjects which we have realized have no real objects.

Ramsay 1925

If the prospect of integrating faith and contemporary experiences is to be ultimately successful it must be sufficiently radical. And to be sufficiently radical it must get to the root concept of God. And to be sufficiently radical respecting the concept of God it must radically depart from the philosophical world-view which has given the traditional faith in God a cultural form which no longer serves well that faith.

Leslie Dewart, Catholic theologian

It is possible that in their time the Five Ways (Aquinas Proofs) were an exciting expression of the whole movement from the actual world to the reality of God… But there can be no doubt that they no longer express anything of the sort.

Howard Root.

Dear theist

This is a response- kinda- to this letter directed to atheists. It’s a letter that from the very onset is full of fallacies. I will pick a few and leave the rest for you to name.

The pastor asks

How do you think we got here? Was it a colossal cosmic accident or is there some plan, design or purpose behind our existence? (false dilemma fallacy)

An an atheist or unbeliever, there is no contradiction in answering I don’t know to the question of how we got here. As we do not have any definite knowledge on how we got here, the question of purpose cannot be answered conclusively. We can say our purpose is to propagate more life. But if this is the case, are those, who for one reason or another, do not propagate living purposeless lives?

The next question follows a wrong assumption.

 If we are here by cosmic accident, who is right and who is wrong, and what rules should we live by?

I don’t know how we got here or even why but that doesn’t stop us from working out a way to live that promotes peaceful coexistence.

If theists believed and acted like they believed their gods existed, some of the things we see around us would not happen. So to write

 If there is no ultimate arbitrator then I would assume that we are not accountable to anyone which means that the rules we make are based upon current opinion, force of autocratic power or democratic vote

is in my view to be blind to history and reality. We don’t need an ultimate arbitrator. We need just a few intolerant people to be adamant about something and it may become law.

I am certain there is a fallacy involved in this next question

You say that there are some things inherent in us that define what is right and wrong, but if we are cosmic accidents is anything really inherent or does each of us have to figure out life and sometimes we discover similarities in our experience and we conclude that our similarities mean something is inherent.

Our first parents (taking liberties here) can be cosmic accidents but we have what is called accumulated history and knowledge of the race that has contributed in promoting life. Over time, these habits, tendencies become part of the group psychology. It is not rocket science. And I don’t think there is any contradiction in finding a product of a cosmic accident having some inherent properties.

In the next question, the good pastor is being dishonest. He asks

If that’s the case why is it that all civilizations look for “God” without knowing each other or having a pre-existing cross reference?

And I argue that people do not look for gods per se, but are looking for answers. In this pursuit, humanity have invented gods, imbued them with powers ranging from omniscience to immortality, without ever being able to tell coherently what a god is or why one is even needed.

In asking

Religion is confusing and there are multiple religions and theories, but does that confirm that we are a cosmic accident, or does it mean that we just do not know definitively one way or another?

the pastor is mixing up issues.

How should we live? Many things answer this question. And we get answers from custom, from public opinion( a very potent guide, actually. The threat of public dishonour or shame is enough to keep many people in check). The good pastor however thinks he can corner us and asks

You insist you are certain there is no possibility of God, so who or what determines how we should live?

Is it nature?

Is it public opinion?

Is it science?

His question is loaded. He has introduced god in the premise as a determinant on how we should live.

Do our lives have meaning? In his book on the human condition, Benatar, identifies different levels at which our lives can have meaning; cosmic meaning. There are some people whose lives have meaning only so far as their families are concerned. Other people luckily, manage to transcend borders. Therefore, in asking

But can science help us with meaning? If we are cosmic accidents, is there a single meaning, or are there multiple meanings?

the pastor is pretending there is a universal meaning for all of us. Had this been the case, the many people who live miserable lives trying to find meaning for their lives shouldn’t be a common occurrence.

Atheism generally is understood as absence of belief in deities. It says nothing about the character of the atheist. The pastor in writing

If you subscribe to a belief system, do you have to be profane against the thing you don’t believe? Shouldn’t your atheism produce someone who is superior to the ignorant people who believe in God? Shouldn’t others be able to look at you and your character and conclude that atheism is good and produces better people?

is making an argument that has no leg or head to stand on. One could turn the question on its head and ask of the theist, why with the belief in god and the threats associated with it, do they steal, pillage and cuss? Do they not fear their god(s)?

In his final paragraph, Dave tries to be dishonest again. He writes

Since there is no scientific experiment that either proves or disproves God, why should I give up on something that works for me?

which contradicts what he wrote before, thus

No one is required to believe in God because we are all individuals who make our decision from our knowledge base.

Put differently, everyone believes as they are convicted. But there are good reasons to give up religion.

why are theists so foolish

I don’t like pastors. I really don’t like them. I think I agree with Diderot’s sentiments that men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

In this post, the author has chosen to show that atheists are foolish. He writes

In other words, if one cannot accommodate certain propositions to be scrutinized by means of the scientific method, then said propositions must not be de facto, true.

which isn’t true. That would only make something unscientific not necessarily untrue. And there is no demand that the observations be under a microscope.

It is a misrepresentation of facts to write

Since the scientific method is allegedly the only venue through which one can prove things to be true, then the feelings of a cow for her calf must not exist. In fact, one could say that based on the scientific method, one’s feelings and intellectual musings do not exist either.

He also contradicts himself. The only we have come to know that a cow has feelings, whatever their representation, for its calf is by observation. Without observation over time, we wouldn’t come to that conclusion. In fact, it is only with observation that we can arrive at the conclusion the author of such trope is foolish.

It is an oxymoron, for deficiency in vocabulary, to say

Religion is also a scientific method. In fact…one could say that religion is the most ancient scientific method of human history…and as such, it should at least be respected

If anything, religion, properly defined, is the antithesis of method, scientific or otherwise.

This claim here

Like the scientific theories that inspire atheists to believe that there is no Creator, religions also evolve (and at times even supplanted by other religions) when new data (or new experiences) are observed. Like in the case of scientists, religionists hold on to their theories until other theories seem more plausible… A true religionist (as a true scientist) will keep an open mind and adjust his or her theories in accordance to experimentation and verifiable data.

is not only ridiculous but untrue. People didn’t change their religions because there was more data. A Katlick becoming a Muslim isn’t doing so because suddenly there is more data, they are changing from one delusion to the next. Data is the least of their concerns.

I contend there are no experiences that are religious. All our experiences are similar, profound joy, deep regret/ sorrow and whatever in between are human emotions. It is interpretation that makes some religious.

I don’t see how thinks this response

Thank you for sharing. Certainly there must be no God for you. You are an insignificant point of demarcation between eons of dark unconsciousness. In fact, from that perspective one could say you do not exist either. And yet, lo and behold, I am communicating with you even though you are nothing in comparison to the eons of space and time. In fact, since you are nothing, it is a total waste of time for you to argue against something that in your opinion does not exist…since in the grand scheme of things- you are absolutely nothing. You never mattered…you never will matter… So enjoy the little consciousness that you have accidentally been given- an illusory pseudo-consciousness since in the grand scheme of the universe, you still remain to be….NOTHING

to one who said they have no reason for devotion is profound. There is no relationship between my existence and that of a god. And logically there is no law of logic that is violated in saying there is no god. And why does someone have to matter in the grand scheme of things to be important?  As a pastor, one would expect he would attempt to show the interlocutor why they should pray instead of demeaning them. Maybe I am wrong and pastors are not taught to be ambassadors of their cults.

This statement

Atheists are fools because they discount as rubbish the existential experiences and scientific data that led millions (perhaps billions) of people before them to believe in the necessity of a Creator.

is not only blatantly false but a misrepresentation of a demographic that have rejected the received notions of god. Majority, if not all, who have believed in a god have done so because they were indoctrinated into believing there is one and have then interpreted events in their life as religious.

Finally, it is a case of irredeemable stupidity to claim that atheists are foolish because the bible says there is a god and they reject it. As others before me have opined, it would be unforgivable to deny superman since he appears in comic books.

 

How come some don’t believe there is a god

One would go mad if one took the Bible seriously; but to take it seriously one must be already mad

Aleister Crowley

Because they are educated.

The rev is telling us he believes there is a god because he was in the maternity ward and beheld a little baby. I must ask the reverend if while at the labour ward, did the cries of agony of the mothers trying to deliver their little babes into his loving arms remind him of god?

Next, he says we are atheists because of our inability to answer, satisfactorily, the problem of evil. I wonder if the good reverent has an answer.

The reverent also thinks some of us are atheists because we were hurt by the messengers of the good news of redemption.

The reverent has a question. He says

I’d love to ask any of them what they think of Jesus Christ. I’d furthermore like to invite their responses to the question, “What do you think of the comments made by historian after historian down through the generations that this man Jesus Christ is the most important man who ever lived?”

I will venture to answer him. Some anonymous persons wrote stories about Jesus. And this biographers had Jesus live such a short life. Had he got himself a wife, had children, suffered loss of seeing a child die before you or the death of a mother, maybe then we could start to have a conversation. But their Jesus is a man-god, pops into existence and out like a pulsar. He writes nothing, teaches nothing new and then gets himself killed for religious intolerance. Tell me about someone else. Your Jesus, reverent, is not the most important man that ever lived. We don’t know he lived. Your Jesus, I venture, has been raised from obscurity by the church and thanks to Constantine, it has taken long to bury this superstition with others.

In his conclusion, the rev writes

For let’s face it, if you forthrightly profess to be an atheist, deep down, at least according to you . . . there’s a substantial reason why!

And I venture to say, with Percy Shelley, that as ignorance gave birth to the gods, education will lead to their death. The substantial reason why I don’t believe is because I am educated.

How come some don’t believe

Giving back to society

In the past I have read posts written by theists who have said atheism is irrational because there are questions it can’t answer. I have been turning this question over in my head to get to how someone gets to such a point and it occurred to me you need the intelligence of unripe bananas to write that. And so in the spirit of comradeship, here is a list of questions, you can add yours, that atheism can’t answer and because of that, atheism is irrational and all you heathens should all become Muslim.

  • Atheism can’t answer why I prefer vanilla to strawberry whenever am buying ice cream
  • Atheism can’t answer why I was born with a dark skin
  • Atheism can’t answer why politicians, police, prison warders and thieves compete for the same position- scum of the population
  • Atheism can’t explain why sex is such a great thing
  • Atheism can’t explain why some people do well in school and others dismally
  • Atheism can’t explain why I love classical music

If your measure of the truth of a proposition is dependent on the questions you think it can’t answer, many theories will be considered irrational. It is akin to calling a fish stupid because it can’t ride a bicycle. Dear theist, before you assert atheism is irrational because it can’t answer this or that, ask yourself what is atheism. You may save yourself lots of embarrassment. I am glad I could help 😛

Guest post: A response

Reader consoledreader sent the following response. I have chosen to post it here on its own so that those willing to contribute can do so here and he will be free to respond whenever he has the time to do so.

1. Why was eating a forbidden fruit such a great sin? Why and how does a human sacrifice make up for this sin?

Well, the Bible is a collection of myths. So Genesis 3 is just a story to answer certain questions about human experience rather than a literal event. If there is “a sin” it is that the characters disobey G-d and fail to trust that G-d’s commands are for the best. The reason suggested in Genesis 3 that G-d ddoesn’twant them to eat the fruit is that He doesn’t want them to become like divine beings (whose two essential qualities are defined by the two trees in the Garden: Knowledge and Immortality).

There are myths that explore similar ideas throughout the Ancient Near East, such as the story of Inanna stealing the me (the arts of civilization; pronounced May) from Enki, the Sumerian god of wisdom. There are also other myths with the concept of trees of life.

According to standard Christian Theology, the Original Sin brings death into the world and forever taints human beings in subsequent generations. In Ancient Israelite belief, they believed sacrificing animals could serve as absolution for their sins. Jesus, being the son of G-d, according to the view of Christians functions as a more powerful paschal lamb. So his death wipes away their sins.

2. If the bible/koran/ torah is the word of god as you claim, why so many interpretations as there are believers? Was it impossible for your god to be clear?

Well, I’m claiming the Bible/Koran/Torah are books of myths that reflect the values and beliefs of their respective cultures, so I’m probably atypical in this regard. Basically it is a literary work. I don’t think G-d wrote it.

One reason there are so many interpretations is that history and social situations change, thus applying and adopting old ideas to new problems. If you asked an Orthodox rabbi what they are doing when they address a modern problem, let’s say artificial insemination, they wouldn’t see their own actions as reinterpreting the old books to mean something new. Rather they would consult the Torah and Halakha law and apply the general ideas to a new situation, hence for them proving that the old eternal laws are eternal precisely because they can be applied to new situations.

Another reason many interpretations are inevitable is that the Bible has multiple writers who contradicted each other, reflecting historical and social changes in their own time period, and different theological viewpoints. Interpretation is necessary to reconcile these different viewpoints.

Likewise, from my experience it seems interpretation is inevitable with any text of a certain level of sophistication. This problem isn’t just something that applies to the bible or religious texts. People interpret and misinterpret blog posts, Plato, various other philosophers, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Einstein, etc.

3. If your god is spirit, incorporeal, was Jesus born with only his mother’s 23 chromosomes?

I imagine he was born with his full-set of 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs.

4. If there is a creator god that knows all, that he would have to kick Adam out of the garden, that he would have to destroy the Earth with flood, that he would have to sacrifice himself to himself to redeem anyone at all… why did he create the universe full of failures? Was he unable to stop himself?

Well, all of those events are just stories anyway. However, to answer the larger idea behind it, in theory freewill and evil are compatible with Omniscience. To remove evil completely from the world would require one to remove freewill (as a person couldn’t choose to do evil). So one could argue freewill is itself an ultimate good.

I saw a recent clever and impressive argument on a different atheist site, however, that attacked this idea by suggesting if G-d is good by his very nature, then given this standard argument it would follow that he lacks freewill since He cannot choose to do evil (even if G-d wanted to), and if one disagrees and G-d has both freewill and is completely good, then one is conceding that He could have made humans with freewill and completely good as well since one would be admitting the ideas are no longer incompatible. The first prong isn’t hard to get around if one argues that a being can be perfectly good by its very nature and possess freewill, but this brings trouble with the second prong, which is much harder to address.

5. if there is a creator god that knows all, and Adam & Eve screwed up, why not immediately send Jeebus to clear things up right then and not wait some thousands of years with many failed “covenants”, changing languages, “laws”, etc?

It’s just a story, but I imagine a Christian would argue that Adam and Eve and subsequent generations needed to have experienced some punishment (living in the real world outside the Garden of Eden) as a consequence to their actions.

6. When we see today a man walking down the street with a long beard, saying we have to repent because God is watching/coming to Earth/will punish us if we don’t, etc, we call them loonies. Some 2,000 ago they called them prophets (or Jesus). If these guys were indeed prophets – as they claim – who is to say the ones standing outside the metro today aren’t prophets too? What’s the difference between them? And if a guy called Jesus appeared today and said the exact same things he said back then, would anyone believe him?

Well, given the existence of cults, actually it is possible that someone would believe them! I don’t really consider the Prophets to be loonies; I see them more as the political radicals of their time.

7. If you are Muslim, do you believe the heavenly language is Arabic?

I took one semester of Arabic in college. It was a neat and difficult language, but I didn’t find it particularly heavenly.

8. Each of you claim your religious text is the right one, does it occur to you that not all of you can be right, so how do we tell who is right?

By flipping a coin!

Honestly, this is a personal choice, regulated by cultural factors. Everyone has to weigh the evidence or various factors for themselves and decide what makes the most sense to them.

9. Why aren’t Catholics born to Muslim parents if we are born religious?

I imagine people claiming that we are born religious are suggesting we have an inborn tendency, similar to innate ideas or essentialist arguments for human nature. Basically, what such people are arguing is that our religious impulses are part of our very nature at birth. Really then this means all they are arguing is we are born with the innate idea or need for religion. What religion one then adopts is a matter of culture and one’s parents.

I might be misunderstanding your question, though. You might have meant something more along the lines of what roughseainthemed wrote: “There was never a moment when I didn’t feel God’s love and guiding hand. I didn’t ‘become’ a Christian, I was born one.” In which case, they aren’t just arguing for a religious impulse, but being born with a specific religion and how do they explain a Muslim would argue that they, too, were born Muslim from the womb by the will of G-d.

10. If your god is self sufficient, immutable and unchanging, what happened at the point it decided to create the universe or it became unchanging after that?

If I go and make a grilled cheese, it wouldn’t follow that my core characteristics (personality, thoughts, essence, nature) changed. So performing an action doesn’t entail a change in essential characteristics. I imagine when people talk about an immutable and unchanging G-d, they generally mean a being whose basic essence doesn’t change, not one incapable of performing a temporal action. But I could be wrong about how some theologians and philosophers understand this concept!

11. If free will is cherished by your god, that it created us with it so we can love him, wasn’t the free will of pharaoh important? Why harden his heart?

It is a story. So I think pharaoh is just a character and the events fictional to serve a dramatic purpose. The purpose of hardening pharaoh’s heart is for dramatic effect to demonstrate G-d’s power in saving the Israelites from slavery. He hardens pharaoh’s heart so He can perform more miracles.

12. What god kills the children of slave girls to free his ‘chosen’ people?

The one as depicted in the story. From the standpoint of the fiction, it is a structural parallel to the beginning of Exodus when pharaoh orders the execution of the Israelite children.  Obviously this is nasty stuff from our point-of-view, but it makes for some powerful fiction. Whoever said fictional stories need to be all flowers and roses?

And a bonus question.
Classical theists define god as possessing omni-capabilities, is there a thing that god could will and not actualize? How do you know this? Could your god have willed there to be no evil on earth but it didn’t materialize.

I’m going to treat this as a variant of John Zande’s omnipotence problem. Can G-d create a boulder even he couldn’t lift? Or could G-d create a square-triangle?

The problem with such arguments is that it is asking G-d to perform actions on empty signifiers (square-triangle). It doesn’t MEAN anything. You could just as easily ask could G-d create a nippity-nappety-boop-bop. It’s meaningless until someone gives some sort of definition that makes logical sense (or at least imaginary sense) and if the word’s signification is capable of being imagined in a non-contradictory literal way (not just as words on a screen, not just as a mere signifier), then it is capable of being created.

The rock-lifting problem can’t be objected to on those same grounds. After all, humans are able to create things that we can’t lift. G-d, however, is generally presented as an incorporeal being, so a physical challenge doesn’t really make sense. The more fundamental idea behind this question is can an omnipotent being make itself non-omnipotent? I think this would be fundamentally contradictory. Instead of an empty signifier, like the previous paragraph, we have an empty scenario. It would be logically impossible for an omnipotent being to make itself non-omnipotent. So the scenario itself is meaningless rather than just the word.