God’s Blessings on March 1, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the first day of March in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

The popularity of videos is an interesting subject, especially for someone who runs a youtube channel. Here are my last few with their views, from most recent to oldest:

Christian Asceticism: 87
Thoughts about Bishop Barron prayer: 132
Believing the Incomprehensible: 248
Why I Don’t Debate Atheists: 948
Just for Fun: A Debate Challenge from Deconverted Man: 491
Channel Update & Thoughts on Disagreement: 171
The Value of Debate: 171
To Err is Human: 214
What the Burden of Proof is: 179
The Burden of Proof Isn’t a Logical Fallacy: 375
Good and Evil are Asymmetric: 249
Discussing Social Media w/ Russell Newquist: 142
Logic Lesson for Atheists: 528
Why Atheists Can’t Logic: Answering Deflated Atheism: 1,527
The Burden of Proof: A Few Quick Thoughts: 293
Sci-Fi Author Brian Niemeier, A Conversation: 139
Chesterton’s Post: 183
Occam’s Razor: 459

(I should note that the way that youtube works is that there is a big bump in views in the first day or two for a video as subscribers notice it and it goes through whatever recommendation process is used for recommending new videos, then things tend to settle down to a steady state of getting a few new views most days. Thus a video with the same number of views as one which came out before it is more popular.)

So as you can see, it’s all over the place. There are some definite themes; things which are explicitly about atheism tend to do better than things which aren’t. In particular I find it interesting that Why I Don’t Debate Atheists is about 5.5 times more popular than The Value of Debate, despite being more recent, and despite it being basically just an application of The Value of Debate. I actually suggest watching The Value of Debate instead for a more positive take on it in the description of Why I Don’t Debate Atheists.

Now, in fairness, there is a three minute section in the beginning of Why I Don’t Debate Atheists in which I sarcastically summarize it as:

  1. I’m too scared to. If I ever heard an atheist say, “where’s your evidence” or “that’s not evidence” my faith would shatter.
  2. I’m too arrogant to. I already know everything.
  3. This makes me a bad Christian because Christians should always treat public blasphemy with the utmost respect.

I think a lot of Christians have been accused of all this many times, so I suspect that my sarcastic “executive summary” in the beginning was cathartic for more than just myself. So it might have gotten shared or recommended more often. Still, it’s interesting to consider what relationship the subject matter and title have on viewership. And I hope it should be obvious that I don’t blame anybody for watching only what they think is likely to be of direct interest to them and their lives; we all have very limited time and a great deal of things clamoring for our attention. Anyhow, it’s interesting to observe and consider.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 16, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the seventeenth of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

Last night I did a hangout with Max of the Escaping Atheism project on YouTube, if you’re interested you can watch it here:

We spoke about the style of talking with Atheists (primarily what I call kakangelical atheists—atheists who want to spread the bad news), and how there are different styles and a place for Escaping Atheism’s blunt, combative style.

To give a brief summary of why, especially on the internet there are a lot of kakangelical atheists whose approach is to be very confident and very aggressive to believers, asserting in very forceful tones that they’re delusional idiots for believing in a magic sky fairy with no evidence! Etc. And I think that there is value to some people equally forcefully responding, “no, you’re the delusional idiot for thinking God is like a magic sky fairy, for asserting that there is no evidence in plain contradiction of simple fact, and for not having bothered to learn anything before spouting off about it.”

It’s not that this will convince anyone that they’re wrong, but curiously it will sometimes convince people to go do some studying, not because they are inspired to better themselves, but because having done no studying they have no reply, and so may go do some studying just to procure some better rhetorical weapons. Along the way, they may end up learning something. That said, the real important part of this is that it neutralizes what amounts to bullying. Powerfully presented confidence is intimidating; to see it on both sides reduces its effect, giving space for reason to operate. This is especially important for the young; as I mentioned in the video that forceful approach shook me a lot when I was a teenager. Now that I’m getting close to forty I tend to just reply with equal confidence and move on, occasionally amused at the names I get called for doing what the other guy just did (that is, asserting that I was right and the other guy wrong). I don’t think I’ll ever understand thin-skinned people who lead with insults. Thick-skinned people who open with insults make sense to me, but how have the thin-skinned ones not learned to moderate their approach in pure self-defense?

Now, it might be brought up that one catches far more flies with a tablespoon of honey than with a gallon of vinegar. It’s a great saying, and in certain situations very true. I’m not sure of the literal fact behind the metaphor, though; I’ve seen a lot of dead flies in a bowl of apple cider vinegar which was accidentally left open. That being said, if you want to find people who responded with mild language in the face of blasphemy, I suggest you read something other than the bible. As the meme goes:

what-would-jesus-do-having-actually-read-the-bible

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 14, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the fourteenth day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I’m not feeling much today in terms of a subject to write about, but here’s a video I did recently on the subject of to err is human:

I look at the side of to err is human which holds that making mistakes is part of being human, and why that can’t be true. (I don’t object to the idea that we should be realistic about how all men make mistakes, and should be understanding of them when they do, and I don’t address the sense of contrast in the original, “to err is human to forgive divine”.)

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 13, 2017

God’s blessings on this the thirteenth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I apologize for not posting yesterday. I don’t mean to let that become a habit.

So I discovered that the method I had been using to record video of me talking for my youtube channel fails after a few minutes. It’s actually an nondeterministic amount of time, but the problem is that if the camera skips any frames, guvcview doesn’t know about it and so the video and the audio go out of sync. I’m pretty sure that the video I have where this happened is just lost, because it’s not a gradual problem which can be cured by speeding up the audio; it’s that just something the time between the two permanently changes. On the plus side, I can always record it again.

But not with guvcview. And cheese is out too. (I use ubuntu, and these are all Linux software.) A friend recommended using ffmpeg, which is a command line utility. I’ve been a linux user for about 20 years now, so that’s not scary, but it does mean a ton of command line options to get ffmpeg to do what I want (because it’s an incredibly flexible piece of software). On the plus side, I’ve downloaded the source and compiled it, so I’ve got it working with nvenc which lets it do video encoding on my video card. So after a bunch of playing around, I got it to work. If anyone got to this blog post because they’re searching for a decent way to reliably capture a webcam in Linux, this is the command line I ended up using:

ffmpeg -f v4l2 -input_format mjpeg -video_size 1280×720 -framerate 30 -i /dev/video0 \
-f pulse -sample_rate 48000 -channels 1 -i default \
-c:v h264_nvenc -preset slow -profile:v high -rc vbr -cq 18 \
-c:a flac \
-copytb 1 \
$OUTPUT

I put it in a shell script (so I wouldn’t have to type that out all the time), so $OUTPUT is the name of the file to store the video in (whatever.mkv). This is for capturing video from my Logitech C920 and audio from whatever I’ve configured as the input source in pulse audio (which is to say, in the default sound configuration utility). Normally I use a shotgun mic, but of course one can also use the microphone built into the webcam. Using mjpeg (motion jpeg) from the webcam seems to produce higher quality output then getting h264 from it, and since I’m recompressing it anyway, I might as well use mjpeg as the source. Btw, you’ll need to use the apeture priority mode for the automatic exposure control in order to achieve 30 frames per second, otherwise there’s a good chance the camera won’t have enough light to achieve that framerate and it will go to a lower framerate, which looks awful.

Video is a surprisingly tricky thing. Video codecs are kind of amazing, when you get down to it. Using inter-frame compression, they’re able achieve huge levels of compression. But the tradeoff is that they’re very complex things, and complexity and reliability are usually enemies. And so it is with video standards; they are very complex things, which enables them to be implemented widely in both expensive and inexpensive devices, but the downside is that implementations vary and not all implementations work with each other. And what I’m finding is a common thing: it’s often best to go with the most popular solution because it will be best debugged. That’s not strictly true, though, because I still use guvcview to manipulate the camera’s settings. For example, I’ve turned off automatic focus because I stay in one place and this way the camera doesn’t try to re-focus if I lift my hands up.

Anyway, I’m also considering investing in a decent camcorder, like this. The solution I have works, but a camcorder produces much better video because it has a much larger lens and sensor. That means far less noise in the pixels. And it’s got thoroughly tested software on board to make sure that it never drops frames and that the audio and video are perfectly synced up. It also has a zoom mode which means I could set the camera up further away from me, which would make my face look more normal. Cameras close to their subjects distort faces because they exaggerate roundness. That’s why portrait artists often use 100mm lenses from 10-12 feet away. (100mm is about a 2x magnification, if you’re comparing it to binocular magnification.) It makes the face look more natural to have some distance between you and the face. The magnification is irrelevant except to get quality because in portraiture you want the face, not the background. It’s all about the change in angle between the surface and the camera sensor; the further away one is, the smaller the change in angularity.

But, while that’s not very expensive, it’s not cheap either, so I’m going to see if I can get decent results using my current setup, at least for a while.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 11, 2017

God’s blessing to you on this the eleventh day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

Yesterday I put up a quick video I did about Occam’s Razor:

So far it got 105 views in the less than 24 hours it’s been up compared to 85 views for my quick review of Groucho Marx’s autobiography which has been up for almost four days.

This is something of a testament to the effect of making videos on subjects which people are interested in. I’ve heard that described by some popular youtubers as the viewers won’t let you make videos off of your main subject, which seems unfair to me. People have limited time and watch what they find interesting. I’m certainly no exception to that and I doubt that more popular youtubers are either. Not everyone finds everything interesting, and while certainly some people grow to trust a youtuber and watch whatever they make because that trust has been rewarded in the past, most subscribers subscribe because they like something that a youtuber does and want to see if he does more of that. Which strikes me as entirely reasonable.

But it also brings up the interesting and complicated question which Russell Newquist and I talked about as the chief one of the age in which distribution is nearly free: discoverability. If a youtuber makes videos about swords—a fairly popular subject—and one of his videos gets widely shared, that will result in him getting discovered by a fairly large number of people. This has compound effects because youtube makes recommendations for watching videos on the basis of how many people have watched a video before, so more watched videos tend to get more recommendations, and hence even more views. Good for server caching for fast playback, bad for unknown youtubers. Be that as it may, it does mean that a great deal of discovery for youtubers tends to be relatively narrow. It also poses a big problem for people just starting out: with no views on your videos, youtube (effectively) won’t recommend them, including ranking in search results.

What eventually got my videos views and hence my channel subscribers was when I met some people on Twitter with similar interests and more twitter followers, and who told their followers about my videos. Technically this can be called promotion, but it’s actually far more organic than that. I made friends based on shared interests, then made something which I thought my friends would find interesting and so I showed it to them, and because of the shared interests they told their twitter followers about it. That got me enough views to start getting youtube recommendations, and my channel has been growing since. As of this writing it has 217 subscribers, which is up by 54 subscribers over the last 30 days. (In the last few months I also did a few hangouts with other youtubers, which helped to gain me subscribers because there was enough overlap in what we did that some of their viewers checked it out and found my stuff interesting too.)

So this does illustrate the importance of sticking with things; every video, or every blog post, or every novel, or every whatever is a lottery ticket, and most win at least very small; but small adds up over time and a few big ones can really be significant since viewers and readers (etc) tend to stay. It also illustrates the benefit of making friends. And contrary to sleazy salesmen depicted in movies, the best thing about this is that friends helping each other is mostly in mutual interest. At least these days in the age of cheap distribution. Back when having a book printed required an investment of thousands of dollars in a book run then access to a distribution network that was very expensive to maintain, it was possible for someone to do you a big favor where they gave you a lot and didn’t get much in return commensurate with what they gave you. But for someone on twitter, telling their followers about something their followers will probably find interesting reinforces why the followers are following. After all, they’re following in order to come across interesting things. And there’s no point in them promoting something which their followers won’t find interesting, because their followers won’t click through and won’t stick around if they do; the result being that everyone’s interests line up.This sort of promotion is not asking for something like a free commercial from a TV network, it’s much closer to telling a friend about a book they’ll enjoy reading. Only you happen to be the author.

This requires honesty, of course, but the good news is that the incentives are lined up such that it only requires ordinary amounts of honesty and not heroic honesty. Compulsive liars will have problems, but by and large ordinary people with ordinary amounts of honesty and patience will only tell their friends about things their friends are likely to find interesting, and their friends are only likely to tell their followers/readers/whatever about things they will find interesting, and things will work out to everyone’s benefit. The only downside is that this requires time, but that’s not all that big a downside, when you think about it, because the alternative where stardom can happen in an instant is that it doesn’t last. Today’s hot model is replaced by next year’s hot model and forgotten about. And to some degree that works whether you’re talking about cars or people.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 6, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the sixth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation, 2017.

There’s a fair amount of unhappiness in youtube-land for reasons relating to people not seeing videos from channels to which they are subscribed. There seem to be two main causes, the first being that youtube doesn’t actually notify you about new videos from channels unless you go to the channel page and click a button to specifically indicate you want to be notified of all of the channel’s videos. As Skallagrim said, I’d have thought that’s what subscribing does, but what do I know. The other issue is that from time to time people discover that they’ve been unsubscribed from channels and have to re-subscribe.

The first one makes a certain amount of sense as being consonant with YouTube’s interests. It is certainly the case that for many of the people I subscribe to I only watch some of their videos; this is especially true of people who put out several videos a week. I imagine it’s generally true; certainly for people with more than tiny subscription rates the number of views on an average video seems to be somewhere between a tenth and a quarter of their subscriber number. (For videos that are a few days old, which is what notifications are for. Obviously the view numbers keep going up, but in the main not by subscribers being notified.) This wouldn’t be a problem except that the normal human reaction to being notified of things we’re not interested in is that we rapidly stop paying attention. This is why advertising has so little (direct) effect. I can understand why YouTube, who wants people to watch as many YouTube videos as possible, would want to adjust how often they show people notifications of new videos, ideally keeping it only to the new videos they think the subscriber will actually watch. I suspect the optimal hit rate for notifications is somewhere between 60% and 80%. High enough that the notifications are always worth checking out, but taking enough chances that not everything works. So while this is certainly counter-intuitive from a subscriber’s point of view, it does make a certain amount of sense from YouTube’s.

The other issue, though, is very strange. I’ve heard it explained that YouTube wants to get rid of a subscription model and move to a pure recommendation-based system. I haven’t seen the evidence for this, though, and there’s at least some counter-evidence. For one thing, they really encourage content creators (I loathe that term, but it’s the one that’s used) to try to get subscribers. They outright tell you in the first lessons that subscribers are very valuable because they tend to watch to the end, and that the best way to get more subscribers is to couple an on-screen request to subscribe with a verbal request to subscribe. Furthermore, they make resources available to content creators in several tiers, with the bottom tier (which is just a web interface) being available to everyone, and the higher tiers—which include perks like the ability to book studio time at YouTube studios—being available on the basis of the number of subscribers to the channel. Now, in big companies sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what he right hand is doing, and the foot may not even know that there is a right hand, etc. But still, this is certainly counter-evidence to the idea that YouTube wants to get rid of subscriptions entirely. They could just as easily have based the perk-tiers on the number of views last month or the number of minute watched last month. So while I have heard this idea from sources I’m not inclined to dismiss—and as a programmer I have no idea how one would have a bug that unsubscribes people from channels unless the code is very bad—I’m still skeptical and would like to see better evidence that it’s true. Like many things, it will be very interesting to see, a few months from now, what happened over the last few months. News is inherently unreliable, but once dust has had a chance to settle things are usually clearer.

Glory to God in the highest.

The Probability of Theology

This is the script to my video, The Probability of Theology:

As always, it was written (by me) for me to read aloud, but it should be pretty readable.

Today I’m going to be answering a question I got from the nephew of a friend of mine from the local Chesterton society. He’s a bright young man who was (I believe) raised without any religion, and has been introduced by his aunt to some real, adult, theology, and has the intellectual integrity to seriously consider it until he can see how it’s either true or definitely wrong. Here’s his question:

I am an atheist, mostly due to a few primary objections I have with religion in general, the most prominent of which is that since there are infinite possible theologies, all with the same likelihood of being true, the probability of one single man-made theology such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam being true is approximately zero. My aunt … is quite convinced that you can prove this idea false [and] we are both hoping that you could make a … video about this on your channel, if possible. We will be eagerly awaiting your response.

This is an excellent example of how it’s possible to ask in a few words a question which takes many pages to answer. I will attempt to be brief, but there’s a lot to unpack here, so buckle up, because it’s going to be quite a ride.

The first thing I think we need to look at is the idea of a man-made theology. And in fact there are two very distinct ideas in this, which we need to address separately. First is the concept of knowledge, which as I’ve alluded to in previous videos was hacked into an almost unrecognizable form in the Enlightenment. Originally, knowledge meant the conformity of the mind to reality, and though in no small part mediated by the senses, none the less, knowledge was understood to be a relatively direct thing. In knowledge, the mind genuinely came in contact with the world. All this changed in the aftermath of Modern Philosophy. It would take too long to give a history of it so the short version is: blame Descartes and Kant. But the upshot is that the modern conception of knowledge is at best indirect and at worst nothing at all; knowledge—to the degree it’s even thought possible—is supposed to consist of creating mental models with one’s imagination and trying to find out whether they correlate with reality and if so, to what degree. Thus there is, in the modern concept of “knowledge”—the scare quotes are essential—a complete disconnect between the mind and the world. The mind is trapped inside of the skull and cannot get out; it can only look through some dirty windows and make guesses.

This approach of making guesses and attempting (where practical) to verify them has worked well in the physical sciences, though both the degree to which it has worked and the degree to which this is even how physical science is typically carried on, is somewhat exaggerated. But outside of the physical sciences it has largely proved a failure. One need only look at the “soft sciences” to see that this is often just story-telling that borrows authority by dressing up like physicists. It is an unmitigated disaster if it’s ever applied to ordinary life; to friends and family, to listening to music and telling jokes.

There have been a few theologies which have been man-made in this modern sense; that is, created out of someone’s imagination then compared against reality—the deism that conceives of God as winding a clock and letting it go comes to mind—but this is quite atypical, and really only exists as a degeneration of a previous theology. Most theologies describe reality in the older sense; descriptively, not creatively. It is true that many of them use stories which are not literally true in order to convey important but difficult truths narratively. This is because anyone who wants to be understood—by more than a few gifted philosophers—communicates important truths as narratives. Comparatively speaking, it doesn’t matter at all whether George Washington admitted to cutting down a cherry tree because he could not tell a lie; the story conveys the idea that telling the truth is a better thing than avoiding the consequences of one’s actions, and that lesson is very true. It may well be that there was never a boy who cried “wolf!” for fun until people didn’t believe him; it’s quite possible no one was ever eaten by a wolf because he had sounded too many false alarms to be believed when he sounded a real one. But none of that matters, because it is very true that it is a terrible idea to sound false alarms, and that sounding false alarms makes true alarms less likely to be believed. None of these are theories someone made up then tested; they are knowledge of real life which is communicated through stories which are made up for the sake of clarity. And so it is with the mythology of religions. Even where they are not literally true, they are describing something true which people have encountered. I am not, of course, saying that this is what all religion is, but all religions do have this as an element, because all religions attempt to make deep truths known to simple people. So when considering anything from any religion, the first and most important question to ask about it is: what do the adherents mean by it. This is where fundamentalists of all stripes—theistic and atheistic alike—go wrong. They only ever ask what they themselves mean by what the adherents of a religion say.

So this is the first thing we must get clear: theologies are not man-made in the sense of having been created out of a man’s imagination. They are not all equally correct, of course; some theologies have far more truth in them than others, but all have some truth, and the real question about any religion is: what are the truths that it is trying to describe? Christianity describes far more truth than buddhism does, but buddhism is popular precisely because it does describe some truths: the world is not simply what it appears at first glance; the more we try to live according the world the more entangled in it we get and the worse off we are; and by learning to be detached from the world we can improve our lot. It is not the case—as many buddhisms hold—that we must reject the world outright; we need a proper relationship to it, which Saint Francis captured in his Canticle of the Sun. The world is our sibling, neither our master nor our slave. And so it goes with all religions: they are all right about at least something, because the only reason any of them existed at all was because somebody discovered something profoundly true about the world. (Pastafarianism being the exception which proves the rule; the flying spaghetti monster is a joke precisely because it was simply made up and does not embody anything true about the world. Even the Invisible Pink Unicorn falls short of this; it embodies the truth that some people don’t understand what mysteries actually are.)

The second thing we must address in the man-made part of “man-made theologies” is that—at least according to them—not all theologies are made by man, even in the more ancient sense of originating in human knowledge. The theology of Christianity originated with God, not with man. Christian theology is primarily the self-revelation of God to man. And we have every reason to believe that God would be entirely correct about Himself.

Now of course I can hear a throng of atheists screaming as one, “but how do you know that’s true?!? You didn’t hear God say it, all you’ve heard is people repeating what they say God said.” Actually, these days, they’re more likely to say, “where’s your evidence”, or accuse me of committing logical fallacies that I can’t be committing, and that they can’t even correctly define, but for the sake of time let’s pretend that only top-tier atheists watch my videos.

Oh what a nice world that would be.

Anyway, this gets to a mistake I’ve seen a lot of atheists make: evaluating religious claims on the assumption that they’re false. There’s a related example which is a bit clearer, so I’m going to give that example, then come back and show how the same thing applies here. There are people who question the validity of scripture on the basis of copying errors. “In two thousand years the texts were copied and recopied so many times we have no way of knowing what the originals said,” sums it up enough for the moment. This objection assumes that the rate of copying errors in the gospels is the same as for all other ancient documents. Actually, it also exaggerates the rate of copying errors on ancient documents, but that’s beside the point. It is reasonable enough to assume that the rate of copying errors in Christian scriptures does not greatly differ from that of other documents, if Christianity is false. Well, actually, even that is iffy since a document people hold in special reverence may get special care even if that reverence is mistaken, but forget about that for now. If Christianity is true, the gospels are not an ordinary document. They are an important part of God’s plan of salvation for us, which he entrusted to a church he personally founded and has carefully looked over throughout time, guarding it from error. In that circumstance, it would be absurd to suppose that copying errors would distort the meaning of the text despite the power of God preventing that from happening. Thus it is clear that the rate of copying errors is not a question which is independent of the truth of Christianity, and therefore a presumed rate of copying errors cannot be used as an argument against the truth of Christianity precisely because whatever rate is presumed will contain in it an assumption of the truth or falsehood of Christianity. (I should point out that what we would expect—and what the Church claims—is that God would safeguard the meaningful truth of revelation, not the insignificant details. That is, we would expect that if Christianity was true God would keep significant errors from predominating, not that he would turn scribes into photocopying machines—within Christianity God places a great deal of emphasis on free will and human cooperation. And as it happens, we have some very old copies of the gospels and while there have been the occasional copying errors, none of them have amounted to a doctrinally significant difference. Make of that what you will.)

So bringing this example back to the original point, whether Christian theology is man-made is not a question which is independent of the question of whether Christianity is true. If Christianity is false, then its theology is man-made. But if Christianity is true, then its theology is not man-made, but revealed. And as I said, while men often make mistakes, we can trust God to accurately describe himself.

So, to recap: theology is descriptive, not constructive, and in historically-based religions like Christianity, theology is revealed, not man-made. So now we can move onto the question of probabilities.

First, there is the issue that probability says nothing about one-offs. I covered this in my video The Problem with Probability, so I won’t go into that here, but since I’ve heard the objection that I only discussed the frequentist interpretation of probability, I will mention that if you want to go with a bayesian interpretation of probability, all you’re saying by assigning a probability of zero to an event is that it’s not part of your model. Now in the question we’re addressing, it’s not a probability of zero that’s being assigned but rather “approximately zero”. But the thing about the Bayesian interpretation is that probability is at least as much a description of the statistician as it is of the real world. It is, essentially, a way to quantify how little you know. Now, sometimes you have to make decisions and take actions with whatever knowledge you have at the moment, but often the correct thing to do is: learn. There is no interpretation of statistics which turns ignorance into knowledge, or in bayesian terms, the way to get better priors is outside of the scope of bayesian statistics.

But more importantly, this atomization of theologies is very misleading. Among all of the possible theologies, many of them have a great deal in common. They do not have everything important in common, obviously. There are some very substantial differences between, say, Greek Orthodoxy and say, Theravada Buddhism. But for all their differences, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Baha’i, Sikhism, and several others have quite a lot in common. They all worship the uncreated creator of all that is. That’s actually a pretty big thing, which is to say that it’s very important. An uncreated creator who transcends time and space has all sorts of implications on the coherency of contingent beings within time (such as ourselves), the existence of a transcendent meaning to life, and lots of other things. This is in contrast to things that don’t matter much, like whether there is an Angel who has a scroll with all of the names of the blessed written on it. Whether there is one or isn’t doesn’t really matter very much. Grouping those two distinctions together as if they were of equal importance is highly misleading. Now, granted, there are all too many people who take a tribalistic, all-or-nothing approach to religion where the key thing is to pick the right group to formally pledge allegiance to. But one of the things which follows from belief in an uncreated creator is that this primitive, tribalistic approach is a human invention which is not an accurate description of reality. An uncreated creator cannot need us nor benefit from us, so he must have created us for our own sake, and so our salvation must be primarily not about something superficial like a formal pledge of allegiance, but about truth and goodness. And by goodness I mean conformity of action to the fullness of truth. For more on this, I’ll link my video debunking Believe-or-Burn, but for the moment, suffice it to say that being fairly correct, theologically, must be of some greater-than-zero value under any coherent theology with an uncreated creator behind all that exists. The correct approach is not to give up if you can’t be be completely correct. It’s to try to be as correct as possible.

And in any event there is no default position. Atheism is as much a philosophical position as any theology is. Well, that’s not strictly true. There is a default position, which is that there is Nothing. But that’s clearly wrong, there is something, so the default position is out. And while in a dictionary sense atheism is nothing but the disbelief in God—or for the moment it doesn’t even matter if you’re too intellectually weak for that and want to define atheism as the mere lack of a belief in God—western atheists tend to believe in the existence of matter, at least, as well as immaterial things like forces and laws of nature. So each atheist has a belief system, even if some refuse to admit it. The only way to not have a belief system is to give yourself a lobotomy. But until you do, since you have a belief system, it is as capable of being wrong as any theology is. And does it seem plausible that, if Christianity is true, if the version of Christianity you’ve encountered is a little inaccurate, you’ll be better off as an atheist?

I think that nearly answers the question, but there is a final topic which I think may answer an implicit part of the question: while there are infinitely many theologies which are theoretically possible, in practice there haven’t actually been all that many. This is something I’m going to cover more in my upcoming video series which surveys the world’s religions, but while there certainly are more than just one religion in the world, there aren’t nearly as many as many modern western people seem to think that there are. Usually large numbers are arrived at by counting every pagan pantheon as being a different religion, but this is not in fact how the pagans themselves thought of things. I don’t have the time to go into it—I addressed this somewhat in my video on fundamentalists, and will address it more in the future—but actual pagans thought of themselves as sharing a religion; just having some different gods and some different names for the same gods, just like French and American zoos don’t have all the same animals, and don’t use the same names for the animals they do have in common. But they will certainly recognize the other as zoos. American zookeepers do not disbelieve in French “python réticulé”.

And so it goes with other differences; those who worship nature worship the same nature. All sun worshippers worship the same sun. Those who believe in an uncreated creator recognize that others who believe in an uncreated creator are talking about the same thing, and generally hold that he can be known to some degree through examination of his creation, so they will tend to understand others who believe in an uncreated creator as having stumbled into the same basic knowledge.

And this explains why minor religions tend to die out as small groups make contact with larger groups. Those religions which are more thoroughly developed—which present more truth in an intelligible way—will appeal to those who on their own only developed a very rudimentary recognition and expression of those truths. There has been conversion by the sword in history, though it is actually most associated with Islam and often exaggerated in other faiths, but it is not generally necessary. When people come into contact with a religion which has a fuller expression of truth than the one they grew up with, they usually want to convert, because people naturally want the truth, and are attracted to intelligible expressions of it. And the key point is that the expressions of truth in better developed religions are intelligible precisely because they are fuller expressions of truths already found in one’s native religion. And this is so because religions are founded for a reason. I know there’s a myth common that religion was invented as bad science, usually something to the effect that people invented gods of nature in order to make nature seem intelligible. The fact that this is exactly backwards from what personifying inanimate objects does should be a sufficient clue that this is not the origin of religion. Think about the objects in your own life that people personify: “the printer is touchy”, “the traffic light hates me”, “don’t let the plant hear that I said it’s doing well because it will die on me out of spite”. Mostly this is just giving voice to our bewilderment at how these things work, but if this affects how mysterious the things are in any way, it makes them more mysterious, not less. If you think the printer is picky about what it prints, you’ll wonder at great length what it is about your documents it disapproves of. If you think of it as a mere machine, you turn it off, take it apart, put it back together again, and turn it on. Or you call a repairman. But if you personify it, you’ll wrap your life up in the mystery of its preferences. And anyone with any great experience of human beings has seen this. Especially if you’ve ever been the repairman to whom the printer is just a machine.

It’s also, incidentally, why many atheists have developed a shadowy, mysterious thing called “religion” which desires to subjugate humanity.

People personify what they don’t understand to communicate that it is mysterious, not to make it less mysterious. And they do this because people—having free will—are inherently and irreducibly mysterious.

So if you look past the mere surface differences, you will find that religions have generally originated for very similar reasons. So much so that more than a few people who haven’t studied the world’s religions enough are tempted to claim that there is only one universal religion to all of mankind with all differences being mere surface appearance. That’s not true either, but that this mistake is possible at all, is significant. Religions are founded for a reason, and that’s why there aren’t infinitely many of them.

Until next time, may you hit everything you aim at.