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

The 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.

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.

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