Daily Mantra on Skepticism and Self Doubt

Ideas are great things, but make sure you treat them as tools. It is great to be open minded and to listen to all of them; but at the same time, maintaining independence and a critical mind in examining them. It’s good to be in control of the ideas, rather than to let the ideas control you, because that is when you lose perspective as well as your ability to think clearly and objectively. While some may inevitably trend toward some ideas, and away from others, it is good never to buy into someone else’s narrative hook, line, and sinker. Rather, seek to create your own narrative. This is what being a free thinker is all about.

The Power of Ockham’s Razor

Ockham’s Razor is a simple concept. Essentially, it says that when two explanations have equal amount of explaining power, it is best to take the simpler explanation over the more complex one. I have discussed it in passing within previous articles, but I really believe that this concept deserves a post of its own. This is because Ockham’s Razor is an extremely valuable concept in debating theists, who like to rationalize away the problems with their belief system, and really tip a debate with two seemingly viable explanations for an event in favor of the atheist. When used properly, this logical tool literally cuts through the bull that I often see Christian apologists and other theists try to peddle.

 

I recently had a conversation with someone over the problem of evil, and why bad things happen in our world. My explanation is simple: Bad things happen because God is not in control of the universe. There is no evidence this being exists, and the state of the universe seems incompatible with this being’s core characteristics. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being cannot exist because such a deity could have made the universe without evil; it would know that this universe would lead to evil, and an omnibenevolent being would seek to minimize evil. Since evil exists, this model of God cannot exist.

Continue reading “The Power of Ockham’s Razor”

Is there a Secular Reason to Be Against Gay Marriage?

Whether there are any legitimate arguments against gay marriage that do not ultimately come back to “it’s icky and God said so” is a question I see many atheists contemplating. Today, I am going to attempt to answer this question by looking at common criticisms I have seen people use against it. Of course if we really try hard enough, we could find reasons to be against gay marriage, the logical conclusions of such reasons would lead to a rather authoritarian society, which goes against many Western values such as freedom. As a result of these initial thoughts, gay marriage should probably be legalized.

 

I have looked through many sources, and most arguments against gay marriage ultimately come back to religion. Here, I will attempt to address only secular ones that do not seem to be based solely on religious beliefs. The website ProCon seems to do the best job at presenting arguments both for and against gay marriage, so I will focus my analysis by looking at this group of arguments.

 

  1. “The institution of marriage has traditionally been defined as between a man and a woman.“

 

So what? One of the great things about secular morality is that it is supposed to serve us, and we can change our social institutions however we like to meet our goals. Marriage does not have to be defined this way, definitions can change.

 

  1. “Allowing gay couples to wed will further weaken the institution of marriage.“

 

The rationale for this argument, based on Procon, seems to be that divorce rates already threaten the institution of marriage, and therefore redefining what marriage is weakens the institution even more. To this I say again: so what? Why would that be a bad thing? Marriage is an institution intended to serve us, and if it’s weakened by change, then so be it. Perhaps it is not such a strong and necessary social structure after all. It seems like proponents of this position seem once again motivated by the preservation of tradition, which is something I am completely unconcerned with. This article also mentions high divorce rates, which I do not see as particularly relevant, because let’s be honest, what does more to damage marriage: a gay couple that wants to spend the rest of their lives together, or Britney Spears’ 55 hour marriage?

 

  1. “Gay marriage could potentially lead down a “slippery slope” giving people in polygamous, incestuous, bestial, and other nontraditional relationships the right to marry.”

     

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This is just nonsensical. It is literally a fallacy, and the name of the fallacy is literally in the argument itself. Some of these forms of relationships, like bestiality, or pedophilia, which I hear people claim it would lead to at times, flat out would not happen. This is because gay marriage is about consent. Both parties consent to be married. The same cannot be said of an animal or a child. As long as we keep marriage among consenting adults, then that is fine. As for incestuous marriages, incest can actually be pretty damaging if children are involved, so I can see a compelling state interest in keeping it illegal. It does lead to a high level of birth defects after all.

 

Polyamorous marriages would either be sexist or too confusing to practically implement in my opinion. Traditional polyamorous marriages normally involve one man marrying multiple women; this generally involves the man being dominant over the women and the women not having the same rights. In an equal rights society, women would be able to marry other men, and men other women. This could lead to some pretty complex relationships going on. Person A and B would be married, but A would also be married to C and B to D. Those people could be married to more people, and so on and so forth.

 

What if all parties do not agree to such marriage? Should all parties agree to allow more people to enter a “marriage”? What would be the implications of multiple people getting married in this way? What about the public health risks, since STDs spread through such polyamorous relationships like wildfire? There are a lot of potential hurdles polygamy would need to overcome to be legalized in the first place, and these are issues that should be dealt with as they arise. Until then, we are talking about a relationship between two consenting adults, and I fail to see how such relationships are harmful to society. It seems to me people just naturally resist change or innately distrust new definitions.

 

  1. “People should not have their tax dollars used to support something they believe is wrong.”

 

If you actually buy into this argument, my family would like all our money back spent on the Iraq War.

 

But seriously though, if people chose with their tax dollars what to support, some administrations would have too much money, and some would not have enough, and the government just would not work properly. This is an awful argument.

 

  1. “Gay marriage may lead to more children being raised in same-sex households, which are not an optimum environment because children need both a mother and father. “

 

Looking at the explanation for this argument, it seems to conflate parents not being there with needing parents of specific sex roles. It points out girls without a father are more likely to become pregnant earlier than ones with one, but could this not be due to single parent households, and not homosexual households? It also mentions studies that people are more likely to be homosexual if they have homosexual parents, but as we know in modern times, being gay is not a choice. It is also funny that the argument cites that zero percent of people with heterosexual parents have homosexual relationships, but that could be due to a number of things, like being in the closet, or a poor sample size, for instance. In short, it appears that this argument relies on cherry-picked evidence that goes against current thinking on the subject.

 

  1. “Gay marriage will accelerate the assimilation of gays into mainstream heterosexual culture to the detriment of the homosexual community.”

This argument is essentially that the “gay community” has a nice culture that will be assimilated and go away if we allow them to get married. My retort is,“So we should just discriminate against them instead?” Do we not want homosexuals to be integrated in our culture rather  than discriminated against? This seems to be a weak argument based more on fear than evidence.

 

  1. “The institution of marriage is sexist and oppressive; it should not be expanded but weakened.”

 

This, in my opinion, is not an argument that should justify the discrimination of homosexuals. If we want to get rid of marriage, by all means do it. I am not necessarily opposed to getting rid of marriage. I’m very neutral on the institution and could care less if it survives in the future or not.  However, I think allowing homosexuals to get married would make marriage a lot less sexist in the first place because because when pre-established oppressive practices are challenged it is usually for the better..

 

  1. “Same-sex marriage has undermined the institution of marriage in Scandinavia.”

 

This argument cites that fewer people got married in Scandinavia after gay marriage was legalized, and that there are more out of wedlock births. My counterargument is, once again, so what? What is so special about marriage if one is not religious? It is a social structure that is there for our benefit, and if we outgrow it, then so be it. There is also a possible case of correlation not equaling causation in this respect. Marriage may be weakening for other reasons, and it may simply be that the legalization of gay marriage is more indicative of society’s attitudes toward marriage to begin with, rather than gay marriage being a cause of marriage dying.

 

  1. “Marriage is a privilege, not a right.”

     

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Marriage is whatever we want it to be, as I have discussed above. Basically, this argument cites the fact that we established marriage to encourage procreation, but honestly, do we ever actually try to make people procreate? We do not discriminate against infertile or “childfree” couples and stop them from getting married, so why should we stop homosexuals? We value freedom in society over procreation, and it just seems silly to then turn around and discriminate against homosexuals.

 

  1. “Marriage should not be extended to same-sex couples because they cannot produce children together.”

 

It is strange ProCon included this one after essentially hinting at it in the comments of the last one. Once again, in our society, we value freedom over forced procreation. It should also be mentioned gay people can adopt kids and care for them that way.

 

  1. “Marriage is a religious rite between one man and one woman.”

 

Oh boy, here we go. I guess it was coming. Yes, marriage has a religious component to it, but we have a society based on separation of church and state too. Marriage is a civil matter if it involves the government, not a religious one, and while I would certainly allow people representing religious private institutions abstain from performing such marriage ceremonies as a token of enforcing separation of church and state and protecting religious rights, this is about making gay marriage legal, nothing more, nothing less. Homosexuals can always get married in their local courthouse.

 

  1. “Gay marriage is incompatible with the beliefs, sacred texts, and traditions of many religious groups.”

 

Then once again, they do not have to get gay married or perform gay marriage ceremonies. This is not about them. This is about gay people having the same legal rights as everyone else. Religions should butt out of the public sphere and not tell other people how to live based on their dogmas. This is about freedom and equality. This is about two people wanting to live their lives as they want, without hurting anyone else. People should stop trying to control people based on personal beliefs that are apparently not grounded in reality.

 

  1. “Same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue, and conflating the issue with interracial marriage is misleading“

 

This argument reads as if gay marriage should not be compared to interracial marriage because racial minorities have historically had it worse. Essentially the three characteristics used to meet this criteria are widespread discrimination, economic disadvantages, and characteristics that cannot be changed. To me, homosexuality does meet some of these characteristics. It is hard to discriminate against someone unless they’re open, but in the past, open homosexuals have had it bad. Some may have faced economic consequences due to their homosexuality for instance. I know this seems particularly prominent among the acting community, but it likely applies to other industries as well. Also, as argued above, being gay is not a choice, so the characteristics are indeed immutable.

 

Even if it were not a “civil rights” issue as defined so narrowly, does that justify the discrimination or make the cause to allow people to live their lives in peace any less noble? This is not a good argument against gay marriage; it is an argument intended to diminish the importance of the movement, and to essentially discredit it.

 

As we can see, the crop of arguments against gay marriage are pretty pathetic. Many seem based on religion, are appeals to traditional definitions of our institutions, or are based on slippery slope arguments. The attempts at more valid arguments, such as the idea that it is there to encourage the procreation of children, seem to have massive holes in it, and logically taking such points to their conclusion would lead to a massive loss of freedom. I really do not see any good arguments against gay marriage that are not based on cherry-picked information that can be easily refuted by a five second google search, do not make some logical fallacy, appeal to the status quo for the sake of appealing to the status quo. Quite frankly, this is an issue that should be pretty much resolved in this country, and it makes me sad that there is actually still an active discussion going on in the United States about it. It seems pretty clear that this debate should be settled, and that it should be legalized.

 

An Atheist’s Problem of Natural Rights

At the risk of sticking my neck out with a highly unpopular opinion within American politics, I would like to discuss the topic of rights, and how they seem incompatible with an atheistic worldview. This is because rights often seem to be seen as a sort of objective moral standard, while from an atheistic perspective, the world is rather nihilistic, and any morals that exist come from humans, not outside of it.

As we have discussed in my previous post on the argument from morality, objective morality is pretty problematic from an atheistic perspective. Most atheists I have talked to do not believe it exists at all, and while I attempt to argue that it does in the most basic of forms, at the very most all we can establish is an inclination towards certain behaviors and an avoidance of others. The actual morals themselves in practice are largely subjective, and there is a massive amount of latitude that exists in implementation. However, the idea of natural rights is normally seen as a form of objective or deontological morality, and can be justified in one of two ways, or even a combination of the two ways. Some people argue for natural rights by appealing to God, while others just claim they are self evident and can be derived from nature. Both of these justifications are flawed, as I will explain below.

Continue reading “An Atheist’s Problem of Natural Rights”

Mind Control: Comparing the Salvation Story to Brainwashing

When one really thinks about it, a lot of Christianity acts as mind control. While I may tackle different aspects of this in other posts, I want to start with the basics here and focus on the story of salvation, especially as taught to children in more fundamentalist sects of Christianity. As we know, children are particularly vulnerable to being taught nonsense, and are biologically predisposed to accept authority figures like their parents and teachers without much protest. At such a young age, their very conception of life is determined by parental guidance and other similar authority figures, potentially creating  long lasting consequences in their lives. As the Bible itself teaches, “start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). While this is obviously not a foolproof method, it is effective overall, and it can be difficult to extricate itself from such a mindset at a later age. Even more alarming details about the indoctrination of children, as we will see in this post, are some eerie parallels to literal brainwashing.

 

So, what are children often taught thoughout Christianity? Well, it can vary from one family to another, depending on the denomination and intensity of belief, but the salvation story among fundamentalists basically goes like this. First, children are taught about how everyone is a sinner. The most common Bible verse used to point out that we are all sinners is Romans 3:23, which states: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Moreover, people are taught, due to the concept of original sin from the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 2-3, that people are born sinful, even though they did nothing wrong; “it makes us objects in a cruel experiment whereby we are created sick and commanded to be well”. They are then taught that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Continue reading “Mind Control: Comparing the Salvation Story to Brainwashing”

What Would Convince Me to Believe in God

This blog post is going to be a little different than most of mine. This post in particular is aimed more at theists than the majority of my posts are. Theists often wonder how to convince atheists of their position, and seem to think it is impossible to convince us of God. This clearly is not the case; from our perspective, theists often fail miserably at presenting their case, and even act in ways that detract from their arguments. It is not that we are not able to be convinced; it is that we are looking for certain kinds of evidence, and theists often fail to present it. This article is about what would convince me, personally, to believe in God.

 

If theists want to convince me to believe in God, the most important key is to cater to their audience, which in this case, is me. This means they need to understand how I think. The primary reason I do not believe in God is because I have not found any of the evidence convincing. As you have seen in my article on presuppositionalism, I adopt an epistemology based on accepting the existence universe and myself as axioms, and this means that we must derive the existence of God from myself or the physical universe. I do not require absolute evidence because I do not accept that one can be absolutely certain about much of anything, but the evidence for the existence of God should be very firm and undeniable on a reasonable level. I adopt the agnostic atheist position; I do not believe in God, but I do not necessarily deny the possibility of his existence either. I believe the burden of proof is on the person who is making the claim, and that would be the theist. From here on, I am going to provide a list of dos and don’ts for arguing with me on the subject for the existence of God.

  Continue reading “What Would Convince Me to Believe in God”

Christianity as Abuse: A Case Study of the Quiverfull Movement

I recently came across an article written by former Quiverfull member Vyckie Garrison regarding her experiences with the movement and how it made her relationship with her husband toxic. She found, after years of risking her life having children and submitting to her husband unquestioningly, that many aspects of her life were abusive, and that she wanted out of the movement as well as the relationship. However, she did not really find her husband at fault for the abuse itself, but seemed to blame it on the movement and Christianity in general. She really showed how when taken to extremes, religion poisons everything.

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Before going into the article itself, I would like to give some background as to what the Quiverfull movement is. It is basically an extreme sect of Christianity based on Psalm 127:3-5, which states the following:

“Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the Fruit of the Womb is his reward. Happy is the man that hath a quiver full of them…”

Continue reading “Christianity as Abuse: A Case Study of the Quiverfull Movement”

Not Safe For Life (NSFL): What Happens When Religion Influences Medicine

As I have hinted at in previous articles, particularly my article on why atheists are sometimes angry, when religion mixes with reality, bad things can happen. This is very much true in the realm of medicine. Whether it be faith healing or denying blood transfusions, religion can often have a very negative effect on one’s health when its narrative is accepted over one based on science and evidence.This can be no more clear in a recent case of women seeking compensation from the Irish government for harm caused by an alternative to the caesarian section known as the symphysiotomy.

A symphysiotomy is essentially an alternative of the more common caesarian section for pregnancies in which women cannot give birth in a safe manner. Basically, it involves breaking or sawing a woman’s pelvis in half, so that the baby has more room to come out for women giving birth. It is reported to be a very painful, and can have long lasting negative consequences for both the woman and the fetus involved. It was developed in the late eighteenth century, but quickly fell out of favor due to dismal results. However, Ireland continued to use the procedure well into the 1980s.
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Debunking the Ontological Argument

The ontological argument is yet another common argument for the existence of God that theists often seem to think is a potential “checkmate” against atheists in debate. However, as many atheists are aware, the ontological argument is gibberish. It is essentially trying to define a being into existence, or in some forms, like Plantinga’s modal form of the argument, begs the question. This article will both cover the original ontological argument made by Anselm, and the modal ontological argument used by Plantinga, which seems to be a favorite among theists.

Anselm’s ontological argument (quoted from website) goes as follows:

  1. “It is a conceptual truth (or, so to speak, true by definition) that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined (that is, the greatest possible being that can be imagined).

  2. God exists as an idea in the mind.

  3. A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is, other things being equal, greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.

  4. Thus, if God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God (that is, a greatest possible being that does exist).

  5. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God (for it is a contradiction to suppose that we can imagine a being greater than the greatest possible being that can be imagined.)

  6. Therefore, God exists.”

Continue reading “Debunking the Ontological Argument”

Why is Philosophy of Religion Not Taken Seriously in Academic Circles?

I recently came across an article on Reddit that discussed how philosophy of religion is not taken as seriously as other sub-disciplines of philosophy in academic circles. Even in religious institutions like Notre Dame, such a discipline is not taken as seriously as other disciplines, and students are reportedly told to avoid doing their dissertations on the subject. While it was not mentioned in the article why exactly this was the case, I think that I can offer a speculative theory on the basis of my experiences with debating such topics with religious people.

The core problem with the philosophy of religion, in my experience, and more specifically philosophical arguments for the existence of God, is that there seems to be a certain level of dishonesty inherent in them. This is not to say that believers themselves are dishonest; it is wrong to attack the character of individual believers here. I am merely commenting on the methods used to reach the conclusion that God exists. While most academic endeavors, including those of a philosophical nature, try to remain open minded, to build perspectives based on evidence or reason, and to allow facts or the logical validity of arguments guide one’s views, arguments for the existence of God are often designed to defend one’s preconceived worldviews. Even the use of the word “apologetics”, which is often associated with these kinds of arguments, implies that their purpose is to defend something, rather than build up knowledge. There is no reason in any of the arguments I have seen for the existence of God to place God above other theories, even when the God hypothesis is a valid alternative on the surface.

Continue reading “Why is Philosophy of Religion Not Taken Seriously in Academic Circles?”