Posts Tagged “logic”

Michelangelo's "God", from "the Creation of Adam"Every time some hideous catastrophe takes place in the occidental world, inevitably, people start musing about “where God was” while it was going on. I’ve noticed this has been particularly common in regard to the Aurora massacre that happened just over a week ago. CNN’s Belief blog alone has hosted multiple postings which ask this one question … but that’s hardly the only place. The media and the blogosphere are literally choked with people asking that question. Last Sunday, preachers and pastors around the country were (trying to) answer it for their flocks during their sermons, and I assume are still trying to do so.

I tangentially mentioned that particular question myself, just a few days ago — so I have to confess, even I have stumbled into it. Given how frequently this question has come up, I’ve decided I must address it a little more directly.

The question, “Where God was during the Aurora massacre?” is a direct consequence of “the problem of evil” which lies at the philosophical heart of the Abrahamic faiths.

Elsewhere I’ve devoted an entire Web page to this particular dilemma. To keep it brief, the problem lies in the fact that the Abrahamic faiths believe in a creator deity which is simultaneously omnipotent (i.e. having the power to do anything s/he/it wants), omniscient (i.e. knowing everything that can be known: past, present, and future alike), and benevolent (i.e. wanting there to be no suffering on the part of anyone). In spite of this supposed combination of traits, though, we know that this deity’s creation contains suffering … a lot of it. Over the centuries many theodicies have been proposed to explain how this presumed creator deity can have all three of these traits yet still there is a lot of suffering. All of those theodicies, however, fail the test of logic, because they all fail to take into account the absolute nature of the three traits the Abrahamic deity is assumed to possess, as well as his role as the creator of the universe.

The one most apologists use is the “free will” theodicy, or the claim that the creator has given humanity “free will,” so that each of us can do whatevever s/he wishes at any time, and said deity refuses to do anything about it … hence there is suffering in the world that God cannot prevent. Unfortunately this fails for three reasons: First, not all suffering is even of human origin, so that someone’s presumed “free will” played no role in it and cannot have caused it. Second, that creator deity is believed to have intervened in human affairs many times in history and has gone so far as to order people around; clearly he is not some kind of remote spectator-being who’s philosophically opposed to getting involved in people’s decisions and unwilling to get in their way. Third, as the creator, he must have known how his creation would turn out; he must have known in advance what everyone would do; he must have known there would be widespread suffering for uncountable billions of people over many generations; yet — despite knowing all of this prior to the moment of creation — he created the universe anyway.

Ultimately, a truly omnipotent and omniscient being can never be absolved of any responsibility for what he creates; if he exists, and if he created this universe, he and he alone is responsible for everything that ever happens in it. Those who are part of that creation can, at best, only be secondary agents — since he created them as they are, and they did not create themselves. In the end, simply put, it is logically impossible for the creator of the universe we live in — which has suffering in it — to simultaneously be omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. It just doesn’t work.

The curious thing about the problem of evil is, as soon as you take the Abrahamic deity’s presumed benevolence out of the equation, the rest of it actually becomes logically tenable. Removing his omnipotence or omniscience tends not to work so well: If you assume the creator was less-than-omnipotent, you’re still left with a creator who made a universe he knew would get out of his control and have suffering in it that he couldn’t do anything about; and even if the deity was less-than-omniscient, he still must have had some idea that he was risking creating a universe that might have suffering in it. So even taking either or both of those out, you’re still left with a creator-being who must have behaved in a less-than-totally-benevolent manner.

While this is coolly logical, it unfortunately does not fit with prevailing notions about the Abrahamic faiths. Most Jews, Christians and Muslims are unnerved even to consider that the deity they worship might be something other than benevolent. Some are willing to dispense with his omnipotence or omniscience (e.g. Harold Kushner, author of the best-selling When Bad Things Happen to Good People), but for the most part they simply refuse even to entertain the idea that their creator deity could be anything less than loving and compassionate.

Thus, as far as I’m concerned, for followers of the Abrahamic faiths to have to ask themselves, “Where was God during the Aurora massacre?” just provides more evidence of the inherent, undeniable absurdity of their beliefs. They shouldn’t even be asking it! What they should be asking — instead — is, “Why do I believe in a creator-deity to whom tradition assigns a combination of traits that logic tells me he can’t possibly have?”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Glenn Beck's Christmas Road ShowNo surprise, here, folks. Glenn Beck is still as much of a raging ignoramus as he ever has been. He doesn’t believe in evolution (again, no surprise!) because it hasn’t been proven to him. Unfortunately his view of what constitutes “proof” of evolution, demonstrates his ignorance about it and his failure to comprehend what it really is. According to the Atlantic’s Wire blog, Beckie-boy recently babbled (WebCite cached article):

Fox News host Glenn Beck has denounced the theory of evolution, saying that he knows it is false because he has never seen “a half-monkey, half-person.” Beck coming out against evolution is hardly surprising, but his not-so-persuasive scientific analysis has drawn the usual round of mockery and revulsion. Scientists say that our closest living ancestors are not monkeys but apes, with which we share a common ancestor.

In addition to failing to understand what the science of evolution is and what it really says, Beckie-boy also falls headlong into the trap of a common fallacy:

[Beck said,] “How many people believe in evolution in this country? I’d like to see. I mean, I don’t know why it’s unreasonable to say this.”

For the record, Glenn, it is, in fact, very “unreasonable” — not to mention illogical and irrational — to use popular belief to bolster a claim. This is a fallacy that’s known by many names: appeal to the many, appeal to consensus, the bandwagon fallacy, appeal to the masses, the democratic fallacy, appeal to popularity, the fallacy of the many, or — more formally — argumentum ad populum.

The fallacy here lies in equating popular belief and perception, with veracity. They are, however, not the same, and this is demonstrable. Consider, for example, that at one time, the vast majority of humanity, if not all of humanity, believed the Earth was at the center of a universe only a few thousand miles in diameter, inside of which the sun and everything else revolved around it. We have, however, discovered this is not the case: The Earth is not the center of the universe; instead, the Earth revolves primarily around the sun, however, the sun itself is part of a galaxy and revolves within it; that galaxy is part of a galactic cluster, which in turn is part of a supercluster; and the universe in which we live is vastly larger than just a few thousand miles.

In case anyone needs an even better understanding of the illogic and failure of argumentum ad populum, look here, here, and here, and here.

Put as simply as possible, veracity is not up for a popular vote, as Beck seems to think it is. The truth doesn’t care what anyone thinks of it, not even what millions or billions of people think of it. The truth is what it is. It’s there for us to discover … if we only will look for it.

But Beckie-boy doesn’t want us to look for the truth! He just wants us to settle for what “seems to be” and what satisfies the most people emotionally. Sorry, Glenn, but since humanity is collectively stupid, the last thing I’m going to do is use popular polling data to decide whether something is true or not.

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith blog & Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: The Rocketeer.

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Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler review SS troops during a Reichsparteitag (Reich Party Day) parade in Nuremberg.The tactic of using a reductio ad Hitlerum — or an appeal to Hitler or the Nazis — to condemn one’s opponents and ostensibly “prove” they’re bad or wrong, is decades old. It’s not logical, of course, since comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis are rarely based on facts. I’ve caught people at this particular fallacious game before. I assumed back then, that I would again.

And I did.

This time the perpetrator was none other than Pope Benedict XVI, on a state visit in the UK. As the BBC reports, he attempted to link atheism and secularism with Nazism (WebCite cached article):

A speech in which the Pope appeared to associate atheism with the Nazis has prompted criticism from humanist organizations.

However, the Catholic Church has moved to play down the controversy, saying the Pope knew “rather well what the Nazi ideology is about”. …

In his address, the Pope spoke of “a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society”.

He went on to urge the UK to guard against “aggressive forms of secularism”. …

He said: “Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.

“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.”

First, let’s get this right out of the way, up front: The Nazis were not atheists; their movement was not an atheist one; and they did nothing whatever to abolish religion. The religion of members of the Nazi party was, as far as can be told, similar to, if not the same as, that of the population of Germany as a whole; the majority of them were Christians (with Lutherans and other Protestant churches dominating, and a large minority of Catholics). Whatever the individual religious beliefs of Hitler and Goebbels and Göring and Himmler and the rest of that crew may have been, the majority of the Germans who (initially at least) obeyed and supported them, were Christians.

Far from trying to eradicate religion from the lives of Germans, the Nazis actually got themselves involved in Christianity at its most basic level. They welded Germany’s Protestant churches into a federated entity under their own control, the Reichskirche. Hitler’s party also negotiated a formal accord with the Roman Catholic Church (i.e. the Reichskonkordat). There is no logical way that either of these acts could possibly be viewed as the product of an inherently anti-religious or anti-theistic regime.

Next, the Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, grew up in Germany during the Third Reich. He knows what Nazism was, and who the Nazis were, at least as well as anyone on the planet. Thus, he knows full well what I just said — that the Nazi regime was not an atheistic one — and therefore has zero excuse for having made this comparison.

Third, as I pointed out in my earlier post on this matter, details matter. You can’t call people Nazis — or imply somehow that they’re Nazis — unless you can point to some details of their actions or policies that match those of the Nazis. I’m not aware of any atheist militias (similar to the Sturmabteilung or “brownshirts”); I’m not aware that atheists are locking people away in concentration camps (emulating the Nazis’ policy of rounding up “enemies” and keeping them out of the way). I’m not aware that atheists have outlawed labor unions or rival political parties (both of which the Nazis did). I’m not aware that atheists have ever done anything even remotely close to what the Nazis did.

Fourth, in addition to being honest about the Nazis’ religious motivations, we also need to be honest about the anti-Semitism that drove them: If not for centuries of Christian hatred for and vilification of Jews, the Nazis would never even have dreamed up the Holocaust, much less carried it out. While Christianity may view Judaism as a “rival contender” religion, and the mere existence of Jews as an insult to its teaching that Jesus was the “Messiah,” atheism has no particular motive to despise Jews so especially. None.

I get that the Pope dislikes atheists. It’s OK, this is a free world and he’s entitled to hate anyone he wants, for any reason he wants. He is not, however, entitled to lie about those he hates … especially when he, personally, knows his claims about them to be untrue.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

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Two Wrongs Are Inequal To A RightIn my experience, one of the most common fallacies that people fall into, themselves, or hear and accept from others without noticing it, is two wrongs make a right. This is in spite of the fact that most of us were taught by our mothers that two wrongs do not, in fact, make a right; however, this simple teaching that most or all of us received in childhood, can’t seem to contravene the overpowering emotional effect of seeing someone else do something wrong, thus triggering a sense of an entitlement for oneself to do the same. The frequency with which grown adults — who by definition should all know better — plumb the depths of this fallacy hit home over just the past couple of days, in two ways.

First, CBS News reports on how extreme Religious Rightist and radio host “Dr Laura” Schlessinger used the “N word” on the air, in a barrage aimed at an African-American caller (WebCite cached article):

Talk radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger has issued an apology for saying the N-word several times in an on-air conversation with a caller that she said was “hypersensitive” to racism. …

During the exchange on Tuesday’s show, Schlessinger said the woman who called herself Jade was too sensitive for complaining that her husband’s friends made racist comments about her in their home.

Dr Laura’s reasoning for why this woman was being “too sensitive”? It was the old “two wrongs make a right”:

When the woman asked if the N-word was offensive, Dr. Laura said “black guys say it all the time,” then went on to repeat it several times.

Schlessinger did not direct the epithet at the woman, but said she used it to suggest how often she hears it, and that it should not automatically be cause for offense.

When the caller objected, Schlessinger replied: “Oh, then I guess you don’t watch HBO or listen to any black comedians.”

For Dr Laura, then, the “N word” becomes acceptable to use, because some African-American comedians use it, and because it can be heard on HBO … therefore there’s nothing wrong with the word, and her caller should not be insulted by it.

A second use of this fallacy was one I encountered while reading about the childish Religious Right caterwauling about the Cordoba Center proposal in lower Manhattan (about which I’ve blogged already). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — who apparently is trying to reintegrate himself into Rightist politics after having shamed himself out of office years ago — has come up with this rationale for opposing it, which you can see him spew in this Youtube video:

Here’s a transcription of his key remarks, courtesy of Reason.Com:

I find it very offensive to get lectured about religious liberty at a time when there are no churches and no synagogues in Saudi Arabia and when no Christian and no Jew can walk into Mecca…. I’d love to have these folks say, “Let’s build a church and a synagogue in Mecca, or rather Saudi Arabia, and that would balance off our having an interfaith mosque [in lower Manhattan].” They’re not saying that. It is entirely one-sided. It is entirely, I think, a kind of triumphalism that we should not tolerate.

For Newt, Saudi Arabia’s religious intolerance means it’s OK for us to prevent American Muslims from building cultural centers where they want. In other words, he thinks it’s a good idea to get into a pissing contest with Saudi Arabia to find out which country can be more religiously intolerant. What he fails to understand is that Americans should do what Americans should do, and not emulate others, just because they feel entitled to do so.

These are but two examples of how “two wrongs make a right” thinking sneaks into common rhetoric. It happens much more often than this. Be on guard against it, and don’t be swindled into thinking or doing the wrong thing just because someone can point to someone else who thinks or does it.

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