Saturday, 26 June 2010

What's Wrong With Faith?

Can you tell red from blue?

Suppose for a moment that you have been born with some rare defect which makes it impossible (not just difficult, but impossible) for you to tell red from blue.

You have been given a piece of coloured paper to hold which you know it’s either red or blue. Your task is to discover what colour it is.

To help you, you have two people:

• You know one person will try to help you and wants you to know the true colour of the piece of paper.
• You know the other person will try to mislead you and prevent you discovering the true colour of the paper.

You do not know which is which.

What questions can you ask either of these people so you can discover the true colour of the paper in your hand?

Remember, there is no point asking them what colour the paper is because, even if you ask the person who is trying to help, you can’t tell if he has or not because you can’t check the paper in your hand.

You can’t ask either of them about the other’s motives because the person trying to mislead you could do so by telling the truth. You have no way to know this in advance, so have no basis by which to assess the truth of the answer.

Take as long as you need, then continue with the rest of this blog.

In fact, there is absolutely no way you can discover the truth. You simply do not have a framework by which to judge any of the answers so none of them will help you, no matter how earnestly they may wish to.

Conclusion: Unless you can tell red from blue you cannot discover the colour of a piece of red or blue paper, and, more importantly, you cannot use that knowledge to judge the motives of someone wishing to help and someone wishing to mislead and so discover which is which.

If you’re a Christian, Moslem or Jew you’re probably beginning to feel a little uncomfortable by now. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re looking for a reason to stop reading....

You see, the problem you have, if you believe in God and Satan, and you believe you only get your morals (your knowledge of right and wrong) from God through your holy book, is that you believe you have no a priori knowledge of right and wrong, so you have no independent basis for judging whether the author of the book wishes to help you discover right and wrong, or wishes to mislead you.

In short, the logic of your belief is that you cannot know for certain whether God or Satan wrote your holy book. For all you know, they might be Satan’s greatest deceit. There is absolutely no way for you to discover that, if you believe what you were led to believe by the Bible or Koran. There is nothing in your book that you can look to without the thought that, if Satan wrote it, he might be misleading you. You MUST look outside them for proof – and you have ruled that out in advance when you claimed your morals come only from your book.

The central fallacy of any book-based morality is that you cannot know the morals of the author. You can never be sure you have not been misled by him or her.

One more thing you might wish to ponder on if you’re a Christian, Moslem or Jew, assuming you’ve not tiptoed quietly away, is the fact that the Bible or Koran  (or rather it’s author(s)) has mired you firmly in this moral morass with, apparently, no way out. You are told you have to believe it to be 'saved' and avoid eternal pain and suffering, and you are told you must tell others to believe it all too, or they too will suffer eternal pain, etc.  Yet you can not be sure this is right. You MAY be ensuring your own, and those you tell to follow your holy book, to the very eternal pain and suffering you wish to avoid. 

You COULD be walking blindly into the trap Satan has carefully prepared for you.

Is that the act of someone who wants to help you and guide you through life?

There is a way out of course, if you want to take it. All you need is belief in yourself. All you need do is accept that you DO know right from wrong without the help of a book. Try this little thought experiment for yourself. Imagine someone gave you a book telling stories about a man who taught his followers to hurt children, to steal, cheat and lie, and to be nasty to old ladies. If the person who gave you the book told you it was about a good man who’s teaching you should follow, would you believe them and start lying, cheating, hurting babies, etc, or would you judge the giver and the character in the book to be bad and not worthy of your following?

Isn’t the reverse of that exactly what you did when someone gave you a copy of the Bible? If you are a Christian didn’t you in fact judge Jesus to be good and worthy of your following?  If you are Jewish, didn't you judge God, Isaiah and Moses to be good?

And if you are Moslem, didn't you judge Mohamed to be good?

Indeed you did.

You see, man judges gods and prophets and finds them to be good or bad according to innate human standards; standards which have evolved within our culture as we have evolved as a species and diversified across the earth into various different cultures each with its traditional, culturally inherited detailed morality, but almost invariably including the golden rule – do as you would be done by.

Monday, 21 June 2010

On the Logical Fallacy of God's Inerrant Omniscience

As an atheist, of course, I don't believe in any gods so what I'm discussing here is the god of the Bible, whom Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe to exist and who is at the centre of their belief system.

This god is generally assumed by all believers to be inerrantly omniscient, i.e. it knows all things, including, in absolutely inerrant detail the entire future of the Universe and everything in it - every celestial body, every living thing, every atom and every particle. This god could, if it was so inclined, tell you with absolute accuracy, the position of any given electron at any point in time, past or future.

This god, so its followers claim, has also granted mankind free will, so that we may determine our own destiny and so we are fully accountable for our actions. God has not pre-ordained anything at all, so far as humans are concerned. He is a mere observer of our actions and we are only accountable to him for them at some later date.

Well, let’s explore the idea of omniscience and free-will. Let's assume that God knows (with inerrant certainty, remember) that you will have eggs for breakfast tomorrow. Can you then decide to have cereals, or anything at all other than eggs?

If yes, doesn't that mean God's 'knowledge' of your future was wrong? How can that be if God is inerrantly omniscient? If no, then in what sense of the word do you have free will?

"Ah!" You might say, "God knows what my choices are, not what I will choose". In that case, does God simply know the range of all possible futures, but not the actual detail? If so, this is some way off inerrant omniscience, isn't it? In fact, it would probably not be beyond the wit of anyone who knows you and your culture to make a reasonably accurate forecast of the range of possible choices you will have for breakfast tomorrow. Nothing really special in that skill at all when you think about it.

No. There is absolutely no way to square this circle. Either you have free will or God is inerrantly omniscient, not both. Free will and an omniscient god cannot logically exist in the same Universe.

If you can see a way round this, feel free to post it here. Remember though that mere opinion isn't a valid argument. Please confine yourself to the logic of the problem.

Now, let's explore the proposition of God's inerrant omniscience a little further to see where it leads. We've already dealt with your free-will (or rather the lack of it) in choosing breakfast tomorrow in the presence of an inerrantly omniscient god, but what of other choices, not only for you but for everything else? And what of God's OWN freedom to choose?

If God knows and has always known every minute detail of the future, how can he change his mind and still be inerrant? Of course, he can't otherwise he will render himself errant. In fact there would be no logical way that this god can even decide to make a decision since he would have known of that event, and its outcome for all time. An inerrantly omniscient god cannot even decide to decide something, let alone influence anything. Everything in the universe in which an inerrantly omniscient god resides would be absolutely and unchangeably pre-ordained.

Such a god in such a universe would have absolutely no purpose. For all practical purposes it would not exist. There would be no difference between that universe and one in which there is no god.

By now, if you believe in God, you're probably thinking you see a logical fallacy here. You're probably thinking that this god, by its inerrantly omniscient knowledge of the future, brought the Universe into existence and it could not have existed without it.

But think on. How could this inerrantly omniscient god have even decided to bring the Universe into existence? How could it have decided to plot the future of all things? The fact of its inerrant omniscience renders it completely paralysed, unable to move, unable to decide anything, unable even to think, since all its own actions, even the actions of its own thought processes are also fully and unchangeably pre-ordained. Nothing in the universe occupied by an inerrantly omniscient god can be changed, not even the thoughts of that god itself. In fact, such a god might as well be an unthinking rock on some remote planet orbiting a sun in some distant galaxy, functionally indistinguishable from any other rock on any other planet in any other galaxy.

And, paradoxically, since this god could not have created the universe in the first place, a universe occupied by an inerrantly omniscient god could not have been created by it.

The logic of an inerrantly omniscient god not only means you cannot have free will, it also means that such a god, for all practical purposes, does not exist and could not have created the universe.

Conversely, any creator god cannot be omniscient and inerrant like the one described in the Bible the Torah and the Qur'an.


Please feel free to point out the logical errors in the above reasoning.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Agnostic Hypothesis

The Agnostic view of gods is that, while there may be no evidence for them, this does not prove their non-existence; absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You cannot prove a negative therefore you cannot prove non-existence.

Taking this to its logical conclusion, the same case can be made for any possible notional idea. The universe of all possible 'truths' is bounded only by the limitations of human imagination. For example, you may imagine your loft to be full of scientifically undetectable hippos. The Agnostic purist would argue that the hypothesis that this proposition is not true cannot be proven and so we must allow for the possibility that your loft is indeed full of invisible, weightless, odourless hippopotami. Indeed, it would be dishonest, even bigoted, to argue that the idea is nonsense; that there are absolutely no undetectable hippos, in your loft.

Despite the absurdity of the conclusions to which this this argument can lead, it seems, on the face of it, a logical, irrefutable and intellectually honest position to adopt. Certainly you can't prove a negative, so is the Agnostic right to believe that there may indeed be lofts full of undetectable hippos, and there may be gods, even the Abrahamic god of the Jews, Moslems and Christians, and their various offspring sects? Is it right to take the view that those who DO believe those things MAY be right and that their beliefs can't be challenged with science?

But hold on a minute; are we really seeking here to do the impossible and prove a negative? Isn't there an assumption underlying the Agnostic argument that any notional idea MAY have a physical reality? Aren't Agnostics assuming something positive which they must prove, and which IS falsifiable in a scientific manner?

Are they not assuming that there is some mechanism by which anything which can be imagined by the human brain can leave that virtual world of human imagination and gain physical reality?

If so, their claim becomes a positive, testable hypothesis which can be falsified by science.

If not, then what exactly is the basis of the assumption that any proposition which can be dreamt up MAY have a physical reality, the possibility of which should be acknowledged?

So, a challenge for Agnostics: establish by science that this transfer mechanism exists and the human mind can create physical reality by thought alone, and you have proven the underlying assumption behind agnosticism. The test will require you to demonstrate repeatable instances of a physical reality brought into existence by thought alone, which did not pre-exist your imagining it.

I await the result with interest.

ShareThis

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Web Analytics