Too Funny To Not Share

Yesterday evening, a YouTube atheist whose channel is named “TheSkepTick” (he’s British or from some commonwealth country so he means a check mark, not a blood sucking insect) made a video about one of mine. (Specifically, about the first in the Stupid Things Atheists Say series.) Since his videos get several thousand views, this has result in hundreds of comments from angry atheists telling me how stupid I am, how I understand nothing, that I’m projecting, etc. etc. etc.

I’ve no interest in watching the video, but I was mildly curious who TheSkepTick was since I’d never heard of the channel before, so I searched him up on YouTube. Then I looked at his About page. This is the part that’s too funny to not share.

A brand new channel, making Atheism & Skepticism more accessible to a wider audience. A lot of the atheist community, in my mind, sound REALLY smart, because of the huge words and fast paced rebuttals they use. It’s not all like that, you can be like me, not overly intelligent, and look at why people believe things, then question it, simply, yet effectively.

Pray for them, please.

Empathy Is Such a Stupid Basis For Morality

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes arguing with atheists on the internet, the subject of how they justify morality will have come up and they will have tried to justify it by saying that “they have empathy”. Usually, though not always, in very self-satisfied tones. It is curious that they are oblivious to how stupid this is. And not just in one way.

The first problem, of course, is that empathy doesn’t inevitably lead to treating people well. It’s very easy to lie to people because one doesn’t want them to suffer, to give too much candy to a child because you can’t bear to hear them cry, to give alcohol to an alcoholic because he feels miserable without it, etc. Empathy also provides no check against suffering that cannot be seen. It’s hard to shoot a man standing in front of you, and not so hard to shoot him when he’s 200 yards away, and not nearly as hard when he’s inside of a building that you’re bombing. It can be downright easy when it’s giving orders to people who don’t feel empathy to execute people in a camp hundreds of miles away.

For that matter, empathy can even lead to being cruel; if two people’s needs conflict and one feels more empathy for one person than another, that empathy can lead one to harm the other for the sake of the one more empathized with. Parents are notorious for being willing to go to great lengths for the sake of their children, even to the point of doing all sorts of immoral things to spare their children far less suffering than the harm they cause to spare it. I can testify to the temptation. If I were to consult only my feelings and not my principles, there’s no limit to the number of people I would kill for the sake of my children.

Which brings us to another problem: empathy is merely a feeling. To claim that the basis of morality is empathy is to claim that the basis of morality is a feeling. In other words, “morality is based on empathy” means “do what you feel like.” That’s not morality, that’s the absence of morality. Moreover, human beings demonstrably feel like doing bad things to each other quite often.

(Unless, of course, the atheist is trying to claim that one should privilege the feeling of empathy over feelings experienced more strongly at the time, in which case there would need to be some rational argument given, not based in empathy, for why it should be thus privileged. But if one were to try this, one would run into a sort of Euthyphro dilemma—if empathy is good because it conforms to the good, then it is not the source of goodness, and it is a distraction to talk about it; if good is good because it conforms to empathy, then to call empathy good is merely to say that it is empathy, and there is no rational basis for preferring it to other feelings.)

The fact that people feel like doing bad things to each other really gets to the heart of the problem for the atheist. It’s all very well for the atheist to say “I prefer to harm no one.” He can have no real answer to someone else replying, “but I do.” Indeed, he has no answer. If you ever suggest such a thing, the atheist merely shrieks and yells and tries to shout down the existence of such a thing. His ultimate recourse is to law, of course, which means to violence, for law is the codified application of violence by people specially charged with carrying that violence out.

(It’s hardly possible to arrest someone, try, convict, and imprison them all without at least the threat of force from the police; if you don’t think so try the following experiment: construct a medium sized steel box (with windows), walk up to some random person while manifestly carrying no weapons, and say “In my own name I arrest you and sentence you twenty years inside of my steel box. Now come along and get in. I will not force you, but I warn you that if you do not comply I shall tell you to get in again.” Do this twenty or thirty times and count how many of them the person comes along and gets in.)

Of course, when the atheist appeals to the laws which enforce his preferred morality, we may ask where his empathy for the transgressor is. Where is his empathy for all of the people in prison? It must be a terrible feeling to be arrested by the police; where is the atheist’s empathy for them?

If you go looking for it, you will find that the atheist’s empathy is often in short supply, though he credits himself in full.

I Debugged a Program in My Dreams

This morning (as of the time of writing) I had a very weird experience: I woke up while dreaming so I remembered it, and in that dream I successfully debugged a program in a way that actually works when I think about it while I’m awake.

The program wasn’t real, of course, but it was very curious that the bug was perfectly possible. It was some sort of program like one of the ones I work on at my day job and the program tagged commands it sent to the server with a string. Each command also includes a tag for the next command, which the next command must include. Another developer overrode the current tag, and consequently the client program didn’t have the right command tag for the next command, so its commands wouldn’t be accepted. The overriding of the tag would in fact cause subsequent commands to not be accepted, and the fix would be to resynchronize the client with the server (whether by changing the next command tag on the server or the previous command tag on the client).

The normal experience of figuring out the solution to a problem in one’s dreams is to find out that the perception that the solution worked was just a feature of the dream, and it doesn’t really work, if one can even remember what the solution even was. I find it very interesting that it was possible to have a real solution in a dream where the problem was also a creation of the dream, and the sort of problem is entirely a human creation (computer programs).

I suspect that this is why programming and video games are so popular among atheists; since these things are creation of the human mind they feel safe in a way that things which exist apart from the human mind are not safe.

The Demand for Signs

A friend brought up the subject of people demanding signs from God, which reminded me of a thing that comes up sometimes among atheists where they say that if God wanted people to believe in Him, he should do [whatever]. It doesn’t take much experience of atheists to realize that it doesn’t matter what the thing is, it wouldn’t be enough. There could be mile-high letters in the sky made of unquenchable flames saying, “I made the world. –God” and atheists would say it’s an unexplained natural phenomenon that guided the development of language and its inexplicability was what drove the development of religion before the advent of modern science.

Vary the thing as much as you like, as long as it predates what the atheist sets as the condition, the result will be the same. It will only be believable if it happens in response to what the atheist asks for. That is, it will only be believable if God’s actions conform perfectly to the will of the atheist.

That’s the key to understanding the fundamental problem.

You can see the exact same phenomenon in romantic relationships where one partner is insecure. Let’s call them I and O, for brevity: I isn’t sure that O loves her, and asks him to do something reasonable to show it. But as soon as he does it, it occurs to her that maybe he did it for some other reason. Maybe he just thought it was a good idea, or thought that he was going to get something out of it. So I comes up with some other test for O’s love, this time more extreme; something he couldn’t think is reasonable. When he does it, she then wonders if he really loves her or is just trying to humor her because he wants sex. So she needs to push him away and demand something that he would have to hate. If O is sane, I will eventually succeed in driving him off, proving that he didn’t “really” love her. And if he isn’t sane and stays, it’s always possible that he’s doing that because the alternative is even worse, which isn’t really love, etc.

Ultimately, the problem in both cases is that the person will only believe in what is a complete extension of their own will. But if it a thing were a complete extension of one’s will, it would be a part of one (since we can’t create ex nihilo). Ultimately, the only thing that the atheist and the insecure person can believe in is… themselves.

It’s a solipsistic trap.

They will tend to be very angry that they are in this trap; they don’t want to be. They cry out to people to get them out of this trap. But no one can get them out. That’s the problem with mental prisons: the prisoner is the guard.

Actually, it’s worse.

The prisoner is the prison.

Contingency and Space

The natural theology argument for the existence of God from contingency and necessity rests on the existence of something contingent. This is remarkably easy to supply, since any telling of this argument is, itself, contingent, and supplies the necessary contingent thing. However, explaining why it is contingent sometimes confuses people, because the non-existence of the contingent thing at some point in time is most typically used.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but it can accidentally mislead people into thinking that the causal chain that must be finite (since there cannot be an actual infinity) is a temporal chain of causation. E.g. I’m here because of my parents, who are here because of their parents, and so on back to the Big Bang, which is here because of God. This can be helpful to illustrate the concept of a causal chain, but it’s not the kind that’s actually used in the argument, since it’s not the sort referenced by “actual infinity”. What’s discussed is why the contingent thing is here, now, as in, what is giving it the power to exist this moment. It cannot be something that doesn’t exist, because things which don’t exist have no power. So it must be something that also exists right now. That thing which exists right now can either be contingent or necessary, and if contingent, it too must be dependent for its existence on something else which also exists right now. And so on; this is what must terminate in something necessary because there cannot be an actual infinity.

Something that my attention was drawn to by a commentor asking me a question in one of my videos is that one can use the existence of a thing in one part of space but not another as a demonstration of contingency. If a thing were necessary and not contingent, it would exist at every point in space, since a particular location cannot cause a necessary thing to not exist. Thus anything which is someplace but not another must be contingent. The advantage to demonstrating contingency in this fashion is that space is simultaneous, and a temporal sequence will not be suggested. It is possible, then, that a person will not be accidentally led astray into thinking of a temporal sequence of events where the argument about how an actual infinity cannot exist is less clear, since the moments of time don’t exist side-by-side. (From our perspective; all moments are present to God in His eternity, of course.)

Thoughts on the Soul, While Hunting

A quick video I made while bow hunting while the deer weren’t coming. I share some thoughts on the soul, and how some people go wrong by thinking of the soul like a ghost in a machine, or like some sort of physical pure-energy matter that operates the body in a purely physical way, except not physical. I also talk about how everyone actually believes in the soul, because being a strict materialist would be absurd, and give examples.

Proofs for God’s Intelligence and Why Atheists Won’t Accept Them

Answering a question I’ve been asked, because there are a fair number of atheists who hear the argument from motion or the argument from contingency and necessity and then ask, “why would the uncaused cause or the unmoved mover need to be intelligent?” In this video I look into the answers to that, and why atheists won’t accept them.

My Least Favorite Kind of Internet Atheist

Of all of the various kinds of internet atheist (see Taxonomy of Atheists), my least favorite are the cult atheists who pretend to be polite and open minded. They’re very recognizable because they always introduce themselves with something like, “I haven’t seen any evidence for God, but if I did I would become a theist. Do you know of any evidence for God?” They’ll tend to start out polite, often saying things like, “perhaps I’m mistaken, can you show me where?” It sounds great.

Then when you give them what they’ve asked for, such as presenting them or directing them to one of the arguments which shows that literally all being is evidence for God (e.g. the argument from motion, or the argument from contingency and necessity), their true colors come out. They’re still gentle of speech, but they say things like, “this is an argument from ignorance,” (they love to pretend that logic is an argument from ignorance) or accuse it of some other error which it obviously doesn’t have. They’ll typically throw in some insults, at this point, though gently phrased insults. “I think you might be engaging in wishful thinking” is no less an insult for being said in tea-time language.

As you proceed, the veneer of politeness tends to drop, with accusations becoming much more direct, and everything you’ve explained to them—at their request—rejected out of hand. The more you talk to them, the clearer it becomes that they don’t believe any of their principles, and when you have finally cornered them on something, they just ignore it and tend to claim that they’ve shown something that they didn’t, a few steps back in the conversation. Sometimes they declare victory and accuse you of just not being willing to admit it, sometimes they just claim to have shown you’re irrational or whatnot. They’re an enormous waste of time, and I think that’s their goal.

I’ve dealt with more than a few of them, over the years, and I’ve learned that they all have a tell—their act like they’re new to the subject. They pretend to be fair-minded, but also completely ignorant of the subject. If pressed, they will admit that they’ve heard things about it before, but this gives the lie to their presentation of fair-mindedness. A reasonable person, on asking for evidence of something, will save the other person time by explaining what they’ve already encountered and what their problems with it are. They don’t do this because wasting someone else’s time is their goal.

The other part of this tell is that they are pretending to be the new to the subject. The only people who are completely new to the subject of whether God exists are young children and (possibly) people raised by wolves who have barely learned English. Well, that’s not quite true, since I left off the qualifier of “reasonable.” Reasonable people investigate important questions, they don’t merely ignore them until someone decides to spoon-feed them information about them. If for some strange reason a reasonable person has come across no convincing source of information on the subject of God in real life, he would not merely go onto social media and ask complete strangers for evidence that God exists. A reasonable person (in this odd circumstance) would do some online searching and find sources that seem to be high quality. Or he might even read a book or two on the subject. (And then, as I noted above, if he’s asking randos on social media, he’ll give them some idea of where he’s starting from and what he already knows.)

New Religions Don’t Look Like Christianity Either

To those familiar with religions throughout the world, new religions like environmentalism, veganism, wokism, marxism, etc. are pretty obviously religions and are causing a lot of damage because that’s what bad religions do. People who are not familiar with any world religions beside Christianity frequently miss this because they think that all (real) religions look like Christianity but with different names and vestments.

I suspect that the idea that all religions look like Christianity was partially due to the many protestant sects which superficially looked similar, since even the ones that did away with priests and sacraments still met in a building on Sundays for some reason. I suspect the other major part is that there is a tendency to describe other religions in (inaccurate) Christian terms in order to make them easier to understand. Thus, for example, Shaolin “monks”. There are enough similarities that if you don’t plan to learn about the thing, it works. It’s misleading, though.

You can see the same sort of thing in working out a Greek pantheon where each god had specific roles and relationships and presenting this to children in school. It’s easy to learn, because it’s somewhat familiar, but it’s not very accurate to how paganism actually worked.

All of this occurred to me when I was talking with a friend who said that the primary feature of a religion, it seemed to him, was belief in the supernatural. The thing is, the nature/supernature distinction was a Christian distinction, largely worked out as we understand it today in the middle ages. Pagans didn’t have a nature/grace distinction, and if you asked them if Poseidon was supernatural they wouldn’t have known what you meant.

Would the ancient pagans have said that there things that operated beyond human power and understanding? Absolutely, they would. Were they concerned about whether a physics textbook entirely described these things? No, not at all. For one thing, they didn’t have a physics textbook. For another, they didn’t care.

The modern obsession that atheists have with whether all of reality is described in a physics textbook is not really about physics, per se, but about one of two things:

  1. whether everything is (at least potentially) under human control
  2. whether final causality is real, i.e. do things have purposes, or can we fritter our lives away on entertainment without being a failure in life?

The first one is basically an enlightenment-era myth. Anyone with a quarter of a brain knows that human life is not even potentially under human control. That it is, is believable, basically, by rich people while they’re in good health and when they’re distracted by entertainment from considering things like plagues, asteroids, war, etc. Anyone who isn’t all of these things will reject number 1.

Regarding the second: ancient pagans didn’t tend to be strict Aristotelians, so they wouldn’t have been able to describe things in terms of final causality, but they considered people to be under all sorts of burdens, both to the family, to the city, and possibly beyond that.

If you look at the modern religions, you will find the same thing. Admittedly, they don’t tend to talk about gods as much as the ancient pagans did, though even that language is on the rise these days. In what sense the Greeks believed in Poseidon as an actual human-like being vs. Poseidon was the sea is… not well defined. Other than philosophers, who were noted for being unlike common people, I doubt you could have pinned ancient pagans down on what they meant by their gods even if you could first establish the right terminology to ask them.

As for other things, environmentalism doesn’t have a church, but pagans didn’t have churches, either. Buddhists don’t have churches, and Hindus don’t have churches, and Muslims don’t have churches. Heck, even Jews don’t have churches. Churches are a specifically Christian invention. Now, many of these religions had temples. Moderns have a preference for museums. Also, being young religions, their rites and festivals aren’t well established yet. Earth day and pride month and so on are all fairly recent; people haven’t had time to build buildings in order to be able to celebrate them well. (Actually, as a side note, it also takes time to commercialize these things. People under-estimate the degree to which ancient pagan temples were businesses.)

Another stumbling block is that modern environmentalists, vegans, progressives, etc. don’t identify these things as religions—but to some degree this is for the same reason that my atheist friend doesn’t. They, too, think of religions as basically Christianity but maybe with different doctrines and holy symbols. They don’t stop to consider that most pagans in the ancient world were not in official cults. There were cults devoted to individual gods, and they often had to do with the running of temples. Normal people were not in these cults. Normal people worshiped various gods as convenient and as seemed appropriate.

There is a related passage in G.K. Chesterton’s book The Dumb Ox which is related:

The ordinary modern critic, seeing this ascetic ideal in an authoritative Church, and not seeing it in most other inhabitants of Brixton or Brighton, is apt to say, “This is the result of Authority; it would be better to have Religion without Authority.” But in truth, a wider experience outside Brixton or Brighton would reveal the mistake. It is rare to find a fasting alderman or a Trappist politician, but it is still more rare to see nuns suspended in the air on hooks or spikes; it is unusual for a Catholic Evidence Guild orator in Hyde Park to begin his speech by gashing himself all over with knives; a stranger calling at an ordinary presbytery will seldom find the parish priest lying on the floor with a fire lighted on his chest and scorching him while he utters spiritual ejaculations. Yet all these things are done all over Asia, for instance, by voluntary enthusiasts acting solely on the great impulse of Religion; of Religion, in their case, not commonly imposed by any immediate Authority; and certainly not imposed by this particular Authority. In short, a real knowledge of mankind will tell anybody that Religion is a very terrible thing; that it is truly a raging fire, and that Authority is often quite as much needed to restrain it as to impose it. Asceticism, or the war with the appetites, is itself an appetite. It can never be eliminated from among the strange ambitions of Man. But it can be kept in some reasonable control; and it is indulged in much saner proportion under Catholic Authority than in Pagan or Puritan anarchy.

Why Moderns Abhor Violence

One of the most noticeable characteristics of thoroughly modern people is that they have an absolute abhorrence of violence (when they can see it). One of the other most notable characteristics of thoroughly modern people is that their philosophy utterly undermines any moral restraint on violence and also eliminates all possibility of rational reconciliation, leaving power the only relationship between people. This may not be a coincidence.

In particular, it may be that people will only indulge in being modern (Modern philosophy, post-Modern philosophy, etc) when they feel protected from the violence which is its natural consequence. An analogy may be the various stupid ideas children will engage in as long as they’re not the ones paying for things. (Things like payment should be based on the amount of time someone puts into a job rather than the quality of their work.)

In like manner to how being vegan is a luxury good only made possible (to the degree that it even is long-term possible) by advanced technology and massive trade infrastructure, believing that morality is just an evolved set of preferences where none are any better than any others may be a luxury good for people who have an effective security force that does not believe this ready to ensure one’s safety. Or like how having a philosophy that only works for non-reproductive people is a luxury good for people with a steady supply of converts from reproductive people.

Why Talk About Atheism’s Problems

When it comes to things like defending the faith, the aphorism that one catches more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar is very much on people’s minds, especially in America. Puritans were so dour and miserable that they drove people away from Christianity, etc. So, given that, why be such a downer and talk about the problems of atheism, such as meaning, irrationality, etc? Won’t that just turn people off?

One brief word before I dive into it: it should go without saying that one should not be purely negative, that one should spend most of one’s time on the positives. This post is about why talk about the negatives at all?

One very practical thing to get out of the way before we get to the real reason is that “nice” Christianity has already been played out. That sort of positivity is really an attempt to manipulate people and probably does more harm than good. Patience is a virtue, but imprudent patience is not. Nothing but patience just looks like weakness.

OK, that stuff out of the way, the big reason to talk about the problems with atheism is that a lot of people make what might be described as an inverse Pascal’s wager. Call it the Cheese Pizza Wager. If everyone agrees on cheese pizza but people do not agree on toppings, even if the toppings may be better, just go with plain cheese because it’s safer.

Given how many people will do that, it’s important to point out that we’re not in a pizza situation; the options aren’t cheese pizza vs. barbecue chicken pizza, it’s barbecue chicken pizza vs. poison pizza.

Atheism is not like Christianity but with sleeping in on Sundays. Atheism has real and serious problems such as reason not working, life having no meaning, morality being completely arbitrary, concepts such as a human being not being philosophically tenable on any level (the you-can’t-dip-your-toe-in-the-same-river-twice problem), to say nothing of the more practical issues it has with the breakdown of culture and the tendency to produce totalitarian dictatorships as people’s need for God is replaced by the state. And there’s plenty more. (Atheists will, of course, repudiate all of these things, which isn’t a problem for them since they don’t hold rationality to work and therefore don’t object in the slightest to contradicting themselves left and right while the incoherently scream that they’re being completely rational and calm.)

It’s good for people to realize that there is no consensus and that they can’t safely leave off the difficult task of understanding the world that they live in.

Daniel Dennett On Determinism

If you are not familiar with Daniel Dennett, one of the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism, he is a good friend of Richard Dawkins and an atheist “philosopher”. (I use the scare quotes advisedly.) As an atheist he is, almost as a matter of course, a determinist. However, he’s also a proponent of “compatibalism,” the “idea” that free will and determinism are compatible. (The trick is to redefine “free will” to mean, not something freely chosen, but something deterministically done without outside force being applied at the time.) There is a wonderful video that Dennett made in which he chides neuroscientsts who tell people that they don’t have free will for being irresponsible in doing so, because if people don’t believe that they are responsible for their actions they make less morally responsible choices:

You read that correctly. A determinist is telling other determinists that if they tell people who have no free will that they don’t have free will, the people without free will will then make morally worse choices because they now know the truth that they’re not making any choices and are thus not culpable for the choices that they’re not making.

He even cites a scientific study showing that people more frequently choose to cheat if they’ve recently read an article telling them that neuroscience proves that people don’t have free will and thus are not culpable for their actions.

Of course, Dennett is a determinist, so therefore doesn’t believe that the neuroscientists can choose to be more responsible and lie to people that they have free will in order to get them to make better choices in their lives. But determinism means never having to say you’re sorry (unless you have to): Dennett himself believes that he has no free will and so he had no choice but to make this video. So it’s all OK. He’s not actually an idiot.

He’s just a puppet being made to look like an idiot by the forces pulling his strings.