TIA Tuesday: Government is the root of all evil

Vox Day has an interesting strategy for dealing with hostile facts. Step one: make a pretense of agreeing with the truth, so as to give what follows an air of impartiality. Step two: introduce some kind of fallacious or erroneous quibble, so as to make it sound like you’re presenting the other side of the argument. And step three: pile on a huge stack of well-documented but irrelevant facts so as to make it sound like you’re proving your point. There’s no step four, because all that really matters is creating the impression that you’ve refuted step one, and if steps two and three  don’t do that for you, you’re probably dealing with someone who is unreasonably biased in favor of objective truth, and you shouldn’t waste your time trying to convince them.

We’re in the last section of Chapter 12 of TIA, in which Vox tries to deny the charge that Aztec human sacrifices is an example of religion leading to a needless loss of human life. Here he is giving us Step One of the three-step tactic.

If one looks at the history of the world, there are two facts which no reasonable man can deny: first, that people do bad things, and second, that religion has been central to people’s lives for as long as history has been recorded. The centrality of religion in past societies means that it has been a mechanism for an amount of these bad things people have done, which occasionally makes it appear that religion is the source of the evil behavior.

Despite the weasel-words (“occasionally makes it appear that religion is the source…”), this is a fair concession that religion and violence do go hand-in-hand at times, and that, far from being an irrelevant fantasy that has nothing to do with how people behave, religion is actually central to many people’s lives and how they live them. Halfway through the second sentence of this section, however, we’re already easing our way into Step Two.

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How Sarah Palin can win the White House

I’ve read a lot of liberal/skeptical comments about Sarah Palin lately, and while I agree that she’s probably not suited for the vice presidency (let alone the presidency), I haven’t heard too much commentary on how this strengthens her political position.

Here’s the trick: you can’t embarrass people into admitting that they’re wrong. People who are embarrassed become defensive, and even irrational at times, in order to protect their self-esteem. That’s why the Bush-Quayle ticket did so well after Quayle’s famous “potato/potatoe” gaffe. The press and the media had so much fun mocking Quayle’s apparent ignorance and subsequent ineptitude that people actually started to feel sorry for him. Pity for Quayle became antipathy towards the liberals, who were perceived as being cruel, and Americans, who always tend to root for the underdog, voted their support for poor persecuted bumbler. People make mistakes, and are more sympathetic to others who also make mistakes (other things being equal).

There have been bloggers who have looked forward rather gleefully to the VP candidates debate coming up shortly, anticipating that Palin will babble and say dumb things. Paradoxically, however, she can only improve her party’s chances of victory by coming across as a complete moron, especially if the liberals follow up with prolonged mockery and ridicule. Many people will empathize with Palin, whether because she’s a woman, or because she’s a conservative, or because she’s a Christian, and will see the attacks on Palin as attacks by “them” against “us.” This could win Palin a sympathy vote as well as a defensive us-vs-them vote.

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XFiles Friday: Sweating blood

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 10.)

We’re continuing to look at Geisler and Turek’s argument that Luke and other New Testament writers ought to be believed uncritically because of such feats of historical accuracy as spelling the names of local cities and political leaders correctly. As we saw last week, God’s failure to show up in real life means that all of our faith must be based on trusting men, and Chapter 10 works hard to establish the claim that we shouldn’t entertain any doubts or suspicions about what Luke and other NT writers tell us, no matter what they tell us, because they are “eyewitnesses” (or at least have some sort of access to eyewitnesses), even if it’s not always clear what they’re supposed to be eyewitnesses of.

Geisler and Turek make the same argument with respect to Luke’s gospel as for the book of Acts: Luke correctly identified specific historical figures, and therefore we should accept, without any doubt or skepticism, all of his other claims as well. In a way, they are to be commended: they are basing their argument on the principle that the truth is consistent with itself, and that a witness, even an eyewitness, should be judged in terms of how consistent their testimony is with the real-world facts. That’s a good, reliable standard of evidence, but if we apply it equally to all of Luke’s testimony, we find that there are some problems.

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TIA Tuesday: Hitler, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition

After the breathless and and almost hypoxic hysteria of Chapter 11, Chapter 12 of TIA comes as a welcome respite, a breath of sanity in the book thus far. Vox has a tremendous enthusiasm for history, and even a commendable command of the subject, so long as he is not trying to use it to score some partisan point or other. He brings this enthusiasm to his consideration of three historical topics that, in some sense, are related to the writings of the New Atheists, though as Vox points out, the New Atheists haven’t had a lot to say about them. It’s purely Vox’s own interest, plus a bit of a nod to typical atheist/believer dialogs, that leads him to spend time on the subject.

This is Vox Day we’re talking about, of course, so even this relatively mild discussion has its own special character. He manages to avoid blaming Hitler on the atheists, but he spends far more time trying to convince us that Hitler was a non-Christian than he spends acknowledging that Hitler was, indeed, a theist, albeit a neopagan one. And yes, the Spanish Inquisition did torture and kill people, but not nearly as many as you might suppose, and in fact was such a model of restraint and objectivity (for the time) that it almost seems that Vox wouldn’t mind seeing it revived again. There is no doubt that he thinks we need to revive the Crusades, since he comes right out and says it’s the West’s only real hope of resisting the Muslim onslaught.

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Is ad hominem a fallacy?

John Wilkins has another great post for our Recommended Reading category. As everybody knows, the ad hominem fallacy is an invalid argument. But what do you do when your opponent really is an ignorant fool? And when is an argument from authority not a case of the “argument from authority” fallacy? Dr. Wilkins explains all.

 
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Colson on Wall Street blues

Chuck Colson has an, um, “interesting” perspective on the recent financial turmoil. He begins by conceding that there may be legitimate cause for concern.

Most of us have been badly shaken by the tumultuous events of the last 48 hours in Wall Street. If you have an IRA or some kind of retirement plan, no doubt you’re licking your wounds. You may even be fearful. I understand. I’ve experienced those apprehensions myself.

As an influential Christian leader, however, Colson has to remain focused on the really important issues, like “How can I use this crisis to persuade even more people to trust Christianity?”…

But as I told a worried young man on our team today, we need to remember that fear is always the enemy of faith. A few months ago, in the midst of fervent prayer during my devotions, I had an especially strong realization that my life was completely in God’s hands. To live is Christ, to die is gain. I’ve known that intellectually, but for the first time in my life, it is now engraved in my soul. Now, when things go wrong, I turn to God, pray, trust Him, and feel an amazing peace. I’m His.

Don’t think of it as a major economic crisis brought about through greed, gullibility, and failure of government oversight. Think of it as a clever technique God uses to help us grow more trusting and to be less concerned with real-world consequences. After all, if we worried too much about preventing such crises, we might deprive God of valuable opportunities to lead us into disasters that will force us to cry, “God help us all, because sure as hell nobody else can!”

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XFiles Friday: Believing men

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 10.)

God’s consistent and universal failure to show up in real life is an undeniable fact with an inescapable consequence: we have no choice but to rely upon men to tell us about God, in His absence. For this reason, Christian apologists like Geisler and Turek have to put a lot of effort into making sure we’re willing to believe what men tell us. Chapter 10 gives us the full treatment.

Do the New Testament documents contain eyewitness testimony? Let’s begin by taking a look at the eyewitness claims of the New Testament writers.

If you accept the plain reading of the text, the New Testament certainly contains eyewitness testimony. Notice how many times various apostles claim to be eyewitnesses:

G&T follow this with a list of NT verses where the speaker or writer claims to be a witness or to have seen and heard something. But notice how this particular argument begins: “If you accept the plain reading of the text…” As I’ve mentioned before, the field of apologetics is not intended to convince unbelievers, it’s intended primarily to convince believers. The conservative, evangelical Christian, upon reading these words, will be encouraged to embrace the conclusion because conservative evangelical Christians are committed to what they see as the “plain reading” of the text. In a way, it’s a sort of rallying cry, a way of saying, “Everybody on our side, get over here.” Given what follows, it’s not surprising that G&T would want to make sure their target audience is rooting for the right side from the very beginning.

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Should atheists build churches for atheism?

There’s an interesting discussion over at the NoGodBlog on the topic of “Nontheistic Churches.” Basically, the poster raises the question of whether or not atheists ought to build “churches” and hold weekly meetings, like the believers do. The goal would be to grant unbelievers the same social and legal benefits (e.g. tax exemptions) as theistic churches enjoy. Is this a compromise of atheistic principles, though?

The discussion in the comments is particularly interesting as different people weigh in with their perspectives.

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TIA Tuesday: why they invented bibs

We’re up to Chapter 11 of TIA, which is going to go fairly quickly. If we limit ourselves to the essential substance of what Vox is saying in this chapter, we learn that

  • Vox Day does not like Michel Onfray.
  • Vox also does not like the French.
  • He does like the Jews, and thinks that in general they are superior to virtually any other race or ethnic group, at least intellectually.
  • He does not, however, like Michel Onfray.
  • Hitler was an atheist no matter what he said about God, because he killed people and real theists don’t kill people.
  • It’s not the Catholic’s fault that they didn’t do more to save the Jews, who after all were non-Catholics, and why should any Catholic care about the Holocaust?
  • Vox is only too glad, however, to insinuate that guilt for various “atheist atrocities” ought to be associated with atheists in general and Michel Onfray in particular (whom Vox apparently doesn’t like).
  • The Enlightenment was evil, and did only bad things, and is in some way Michel Onfray’s fault.
  • Vox would like to blame the Enlightenment for sexual slavery, and thinks that Michel Onfray would enjoy forcing a woman to have sex with several men at the same time
  • Michel Onfray wants to burn Western civilization to the ground and worship Satan.
  • And oh yes, I almost forgot—Vox does not like Michel Onfray.

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Sunday Toons: A world of books

This week I thought we might pay a visit to the Tektonics forum over at theologyweb.com, home of the monthly “Screwball Thread” wherein JP Holding and company defend The Faith by hurling animated smilies at people whose words displease them. If you’ve been following the September SCrewballs [sic] thread, you’ll know that Holding has recently started following the XFiles Friday posts here, and they’re apparently putting a bit of a burr under his saddle. This week’s installment has him so worked up that he breaks from his usual pattern of simply posting excerpts, and tries to fisk them (or at least the bits that he quotes). In doing so, he gives us a bit more insight into his own personal world, and his techniques for insulating himself from those aspects of the real world that might prove troublesome.

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