In which I agree with Vox Day

I’ve been reading the comments over at Vox’s blog, and it’s pretty hilarious, not to mention providing double your recommended minimum daily dose of irony. For example, here’s Vox attacking the person who brought up my TIA series:

You’re absolutely wrong. Terrible example and you have apparently not read TIA nor understood that Duncan doesn’t even begin to rebut its arguments. He does not show that religion was involved as a pretext in more than 7 percent of the wars in recorded human history. Nor does he explain why no military tactician or strategist has EVER incorporated religion into their military tactics or strategy. His critique is totally invalid.

Now stop making groundless assertions and be specific. Precisely what about that his argument that religion causes war do you find persuasive?

Notice, the primary crime he accuses his critic of is a failure to read and understand the opposing point of view. He then insists that I failed to rebut his argument, and he demands to know what is so persuasive about my argument that religion causes war. Does he have a point? Does my argument—meaning the argument I actually made, not the one Vox attributes to me—fall apart when examined in the light of the evidence Vox cites?

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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Society, TIA. 12 Comments »

Hi Vox.

Well, it looks like Vox Day is once again sending me a bunch of new visitors. I’m afraid the poor fellow hasn’t quite forgiven me for my critique of his sad little book. He has become wise enough not to try any specific refutations of my rebuttals, at least. Stick to the vague, disparaging dismissals, that’s the safest thing.

Eh, Vox?

 
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Posted in Amusements, TIA. 5 Comments »

XFiles Weekend: The power of Evil

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, book II chapter 2, “The Invasion”)

C. S. Lewis continues his patricidal/fratricidal assault on classic dualism this week, and this time he’s got a really good argument. Not flawless, mind you, but clever and even a little surprising, at least for me. As before, his reasoning suffers significantly from his failure to consider any non-superstitious alternatives, but he proposes, or at least popularizes, a view of evil that many modern evangelicals still promote today, and so it’s worth taking a look at in the light of the real-world evidence.

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Posted in Unapologetics, XFiles. 12 Comments »

Reply to Col. Maxey

Via Ed Brayton’s blog comes this letter from Lt. Col. Stacy Maxey, as reported by guest blogger Chris Rodda.

Letters to the Editor, December 15, 2010So let me see if I understand this: The Defense Department is proposing to let people who choose to live a homosexual lifestyle serve “openly” in the armed forces (per the Dec. 2 article “DADT study group: Full integration is best”), but won’t allow Christians such as myself the freedom to “openly” share the good news of Christ with our co-workers — as the faith we’ve chosen requires?

DOD officials plan to tell servicemembers who have a problem with those living a homosexual lifestyle to “learn to deal with it,” but they are prepared to counsel and/or slap Christians with paperwork if someone feels “offended” by our witness? Wearing sexual lifestyle choices on your sleeve is OK, but not your faith?

Military chaplains who teach that homosexuality is antithetical to and incompatible with Christianity (which it is) can either muzzle their objections or “leave,” but gays will be permitted to parade their lifestyle choices in front of all?

Bottom line: So I’m free to express myself if I’m a homosexual, but not if I’m a Christian? What disgraceful hypocrisy.

Here’s the truth: I will continue to witness to who I want, when I want and where I want. My commitment to my God supersedes my commitment to the DOD and, if officials are upset about that, then I guess they can “learn to deal with it.”

Department of Defense? More like the Department of Double Standards.

Lt. Col. Stacy L. Maxey
Afghanistan

I feel like writing back to the good colonel and clarifying one or two matters about which there seems to be some confusion.

Dear Col. Maxey;

Regarding your letter of Dec. 15 to the Stars and Stripes, it seems you are offended by the double standard involved in repealing DADT. I’m sure you will be delighted to find out that a fair compromise is easily available that removes all of the issues of double standards between Christians and gays in the military. All we need to do is apply the same standard to both. With the repeal of DADT, the following will be possible:

  • If someone asks whether you are a Christian, you will not have to lie and say that you are not, just as gays will no longer have to lie when asked if they are gay.
  • If the military discovers that you are Christian, you will not automatically be discharged, just as gays will no longer face immediate discharge upon discovery that they are gay.
  • If you are seen openly participating in casual Christian activities, such as going to church or carrying a bible, you will not need to fear immediate exposure and discharge, just as gays who are seen associating with others of the same sex will not need to fear immediate exposure and discharge.
  • Any prayers, Bible studies, or other Christian activities which you engage in on your own time, in private, will not be any of the military’s business, just as it is none of the military’s business what homosexual soldiers do in private, on their own time.
  • If you have a fellow soldier or superior officer who is pressuring you to engage in homosexual activities against your will, you will have the same freedom to file a complaint as a gay soldier has to complain about a fellow soldier who is pressuring them to engage in Christian activities against their will.
  • If a superior officer unfairly penalizes you for failure to engage in homosexual activities, by giving you unfavorable performance reviews, withholding promotion, or giving you punitive work assignments, you will have the opportunity to apply for a redress of your grievances, just as gays will in the case of superior officers who penalize them similarly for failure to engage in Christian activities.
  • Military chaplains who advocate Christian conduct, as well as those who advocate homosexual conduct, will be free to speak as their conscience demands when conducting designated services where attendance is voluntary, but may face pressure, reprimands, or even discharge if they abuse their position to advocate Christianity or homosexuality among those who do not wish to participate in such exchanges.

Granted, you may be required by regulations (if not by ordinary courtesy and professionalism) to make certain concessions. For example, to promote team cohesion and unit effectiveness, you may not be allowed to single out certain members of your team for public humiliation and harassment just because they are gay. But even here, the same standard works the other way: your team members will be required not to single you out for public humiliation and harassment just because you are a bigot and/or have chosen a bigoted religion.

You are right: there have been some serious and injurious double standards in the military. I’m sure that with your interest in justice, fairness, and service, you will be delighted now that these double standards are being ended, and the samel rules applied equally to all service members.

Sincerely,

Deacon Duncan.

 
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XFiles Weekend: Dueling with dualism

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, book II chapter 2, “The Invasion”)

According to C. S. Lewis, we have a problem.

What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless.

In the real world, this is hardly a problem: meaning is inherent in the law of cause and effect, because it creates predictable (and therefore meaningful) connections between causes and effects. Likewise, meaning is inherent in the fact that truth is consistent with itself: the self-consistency creates relationships between truths, and these relationships are what we call “meaning”. Lewis’ problem is simply that he has a superstitious answer to sell, and therefore he needs to manufacture some sort of question he can respond to.

Predictably, he recognizes only two possible explanations for this “problem.” One is the Christian view that the world is a good creation gone bad, and the other is Dualism, “the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad,” each one believing itself to be the “good” god. No non-superstitious explanations need apply, apparently. Everything has to be “explained” in terms of magical, invisible beings. Oh well.

It might be interesting, given Christianity’s ancestry, to explore the conflict between Lewis’ beliefs and classical dualism. Unfortunately, Lewis makes a very serious strategic mistake: he attacks dualism from the perspective of asking what makes the good deity good and the bad deity bad. In a way, it’s a natural extension of his rhetoric in book 1, but it’s a fatal error nonetheless.

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XFiles Weekend: It’s all so simple!

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, book II chapter 2, “The Invasion”)

When I was young, I happened to encounter a layman’s version of Occam’s Razor, which told me that, other things being equal, the simpler explanation was more likely to be correct. I was skeptical at first. It seemed too good to be true, like some kind of magic was going on to make life easier for humans to understand. And how could the blind forces of nature know what a human would or would not find easier to understand?

The answer, of course, is that the forces of nature don’t know. Nevertheless, the Razor is right, because the difference between truth and falsehood is that truth is consistent with itself, whereas falsehood is not consistent with the truth. Any false explanation will therefore produce further inconsistencies that require additional explanation, thus making the false explanation inevitably more complicated than the true one. Q. E. D.

The catch is that the Razor is a tool for making comparisons between two competing explanations, not a tool for assessing the validity of one explanation taken in isolation. In this week’s installment of Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis takes two approaches to try and dull the edge of the Razor: he uses last week’s rationalization to arbitrarily dismiss atheism in toto so that we have no alternatives to choose from, and he then argues that it’s not wrong for a religion to be, in his words, “complicated.”

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XFiles Weekend: When God fails

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 6, “The Rival Conceptions of God”)

Last week, Prof. Lewis was informing us that Christianity is “a fighting religion.”

It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

Isn’t that just like Christianity? God screws up, and it’s up to Man to fix things. God’s the one in charge, the sovereign almighty ruler, under whose infinitely wise and powerful leadership the world goes to Hell in an almost literal fashion, and yet somehow it’s our job to straighten things out again. Because God is making such a fuss about it. In my book, that’s not a fighting religion, that’s a perverse religion.

And, of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong?

A very good question indeed, which is probably why Lewis spends the rest of Chapter 6 completely and utterly failing to address it.

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Getting religion

Every now and then the atheist/skeptical community sees a flare-up in the debate over “framing.” On the one hand, people like PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens favor forthright, unapologetic denunciation of religious falsehoods. On the other, people like Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet protest that the “New Atheists” are being too aggressive, and are turning people off.

My comments in the past have been along the lines of “they’re both partly right and partly wrong,” but I’ve been frustrated by my inability to express something that felt deeper and more important than that. It took me a while to put it together, but now I think I’m ready to go into more detail, and spell it out.

The basic problem is that neither the New Atheists nor the “framers” really get religion. Yes, I’m being deliberately provocative in hopes of stirring discussion—religion is a subject both groups are intensely interested in and familiar with, so neither side is exactly ignorant about it. But there’s a very important aspect to religion that they still don’t “get,” and without this understanding, neither side will never have anything more than rare and coincidental successes, at least in the public arena.

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XFiles Weekend: Big divisions

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 6, “The Rival Conceptions of God”)

Did you ever notice how some people can take a perfectly innocent and neutral fact, and make it sound incriminating, just by how they phrase it? For example, here’s C. S. Lewis observing that, when we consider all religions throughout history, both Christians and atheists can find things they think are right and things they think are wrong:

If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.

Clever, isn’t it? Notice how you can reverse the nouns and say pretty much the same thing: atheists don’t have to believe that all religions are wrong all through, and Christians do think that the main point in all other religions is simply one huge mistake (with the possible exception of Judaism, but that’s Christianity’s ancestor, so naturally they can’t call that wrong).

Here’s another way of looking at it. He could have looked at Greek mythology and Norse mythology and all the many, many gods of the past, and said, “Of all the people who have ever agreed with me about gods existing, at least the vast majority have been wrong about their gods, whereas of all the times atheists have said that someone’s god was a myth, they’ve been right the vast majority of the time. In fact, by Christian standards, there’s only one case where there’s even a possibility that the atheists might have been wrong. So from a historical perspective, theism has been wrong most of the time, and atheism has been right most of the time.”

Of course, that would also be a biased discussion of the facts. Put this version next to Lewis’ version, though, and I think you get a fair and balanced view: you get to see how liberal Christians become when they believe in gods, and you get to see the true value of being liberal minded about gods in a world where such beliefs have historically been found to be wrong at least most of the time.

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XFiles Weekend: Not with a bang

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

At the beginning of Chapter 5, Prof. Lewis started to address those of us who might have “felt a certain annoyance” at his wild leap to the conclusion that there must be some supernatural What or Who behind morality. “You may even have thought that I had played a trick on you—that I had been carefully wrapping up to look like philosophy what turns out to be one more ‘religious jaw’.” In response, he said he had three things to say, the first two of which we’ve already seen.

The third point is, in some ways, a bit surprising. The real surprise, though, is that this third point isn’t just a brief aside on the way to a well-reasoned conclusion. It is the conclusion! He just got done telling us that his argument thus far hasn’t brought us “within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology,” and yet now, apparently, he’s ready to conclude that the Someone “behind” the so-called Moral Law is the Christian God. And he sees nothing wrong with arriving at that conclusion via sloppy, subjective, and unfinished reasoning! Simply astonishing.

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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Unapologetics, XFiles. 6 Comments »