Confronting the “Best Arguments”

Most people are pretty sure they’re right. Not necessarily about everything, but there are a few things they feel absolutely confident about. I know that I feel free damn confident about most of the stuff that goes up here, and when I’m not I will say so. However, there are two implications to this confidence: either I am really, truly amazing and right about everything I believe, or I am wrong about some things and haven’t heard the right argument yet.

It’s the latter that I find people banking more more and more. Let’s look at some examples:

What are marriage advocates to do? How can marriage—a thorough defense of which requires deep theological reflection or the complex natural law web of anthropological, historical, social, and scientific ideas contained in [Robert George’s] What is Marriage—compete with “all you need is love”? – Eric Teetsel, “On Winning the Marriage Debate

 

Not for Hitchens the rich cross-cultural fertilization of the Levant by Helenistic, Jewish, and Manichaean thought. Not for Hitchens the transformation of a Jewish heretic into a religion that Nietzsche called “Platonism for the masses.” Not for Hitchens the fascinating theological fissures in the New Testament between Jewish, Gnostic, and Pauline doctrines. – Curtis White, “Christopher Hitchens’ lies do atheism no favors

 

“Either this group is completely ignorant of arguments for and against God’s existence or they’re ignorant of the best theistic scholarship.” – Anugrah Kumar, quoting William Lane Craig, “Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig Calls Atheist Hotline a ‘Wrong Number’” (warning that the Christian Post is particularly annoying with its ads, with video ads that keep restarting if you pause or mute them)

We often see this regarding religious or theistic arguments, but it’s becoming quite popular among people who continue to put forward bad arguments: simply claim that the person who doesn’t buy into them hasn’t heard all the really good reasons why we should buy into what they’re saying. I think it’s a variation on The Courtier’s Reply.

I’ve encountered this before with theists and when I ask them to actually present those really good arguments, I will generally get a form of Pascal’s Wager. Occasionally I will get the Kalam Cosmological Argument and very rarely anything different. Unfortunately, both Pascal and Kalam are very easily debunked. In fact, I took a look at Craig’s ReasonableFaith.org (which is not as cool as a reasonable conversation, let me tell you) and it’s almost all Pascal and Kalam. You don’t have to believe me, go check it out yourself. I fact, if you check out his “The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God,” (for example) you can see that he brings up Kalam, but also the Thomstic Cosmological argument, the Moral Argument, the Teleological Argument (which is by far the most ridiculous and easy to argue against, as far as I’m concerned), and the ever absurd Ontological Argument, which is really just such a joke on the face of it that I’m going to assume it was developed by Dr. Frank-n-furter. Though I will point out that he forgot the Argument from Tigers.

I’ve looked at that site for a while now and see very little that isn’t a variation on these five, so I can’t help but ask Dr. Craig…where are you hiding these “best arguments”? Because the ones you presented are all childishly simple and only really convincing to people who want to agree with the premise.

Oh, and there’s the very popular “it’s a mystery“. That works for a lot of things.

Going to the Teetsel piece, we see basically the same argument being made for conservative principles. The problem is that people just don’t understand the wealth of thought and philosophy that goes into being a conservative, and are instead distracted by pop culture and celebrities. Liberalism, according to Teetsel, is the result of an abandonment of thought to shiny entertainment.

This is even more absurd than the Ontological argument. Teetsel is trying to tell us that the ideology that aligns itself with people who think somebody rose from the dead (several people, actually), the ideology that consistently denies the findings of science, the ideology that has never been right about a social issue since the founding of this country (and not too often before), is the thinking person’s option?

As David Sessions points out in this article for Patrol,

So Teetsel can’t pretend that the gay rights movement won simply by circumventing an intellectual debate. They had the intellectual debate when the religious right so took its own position for granted that it thought it didn’t need to argue; when the right finally started playing catch-up, even the most sophisticated versions of its ideas were too far outside the mainstream for a secular democracy. The right didn’t lose because of the “packaging” of its ideas, it lost because those ideas themselves were defeated in battle. (Similarly, Romney lost the election not because he didn’t get the conservative message across, but precisely because he did.)

This is also a lot like Penny Nance’s preposterous assertion on Mike Huckabee’s show that conservatives on college campuses are being “bullied” because they can’t explain their opposition to things like same-sex marriage. The sad truth is that they are able to articulate their positions just fine.

So, here’s the deal: we’ve heard your arguments, and they suck. I’m sorry, I don’t know if you’re just really invested in these things being true that you miss the obvious flaws in what you’re saying or what, but these arguments are truly awful. Fortunately, you don’t have to feel awful for having had them: you can change your mind. In fact, that would be great.

But if there are arguments that you’re hiding from me, ones that suddenly make it plausible that a wizard who lives on a cloud is up there mucking about with our lives, or that magically makes welfare queens a reality, or that convinces me that I’m a bad person for a propensity to not only be attracted to men but also act on it, now’s the time to break them out. Seriously, I don’t know what you guys are waiting for. Isn’t it time, after all this joking around, to break out the real “best arguments”? These are the gag arguments, right?

Right?

GOP Candidates Support Killing Children, Slavery

No, that is not just a sensationalist title. They seriously do.

For example, Charlie Fuqua, who is running for the Arkansas House, wrote in a book published this year (that’s 2012, people):

The maintenance of civil order in society rests on the foundation of family discipline. Therefore, a child who disrespects his parents must be permanently removed from society in a way that gives an example to all other children of the importance of respect for parents. The death penalty for rebellious children is not something to be taken lightly. The guidelines for administering the death penalty to rebellious children are given in Deut 21:18-21

Now, the more charitable among you will point out that the very next sentence is, “This passage does not give parents blanket authority to kill their children” and he goes on to lay out the strenuous procedure involved in murdering your kids and how he’s sure his magic book doesn’t actually mention it happening ever, but if you think a parent has any authority, blanket or not, to kill their kid after any amount of bureaucratic wrangling, you’re a sick human being and should immediately seek professional help. And certain not seek public office.

The other person is Alabama state senator (running for US Congress) Charles Davidson who has argued that slavery was morally good, and slaves in America had it great.

The incidence of abuse, rape, broken homes and murder are 100 times greater, today, in the housing projects than they ever were on the slave plantations in the Old South. The truth is that nowhere on the face of the earth, in all of time, were servants better treated or better loved than they were in the Old South by white, black, Hispanic and Indian slave owners.

Of course, he is right in line with Arkansas state rep Loy Mauch who wrote in a letter to the editor of a local paper

Nowhere in the Holy Bible have I found a word of condemnation for the operation of slavery, Old or New Testament. [KN: he’s actually right about that] If slavery was so bad, why didn’t Jesus, Paul or the prophets say something?

This country already lionizes Wehrmacht leaders. They go by the names of Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Custer, etc. These Marxists not only destroyed the Constitution they were sworn to uphold, but apostatized the word of God. Either these depraved infidels or the Constitution and Scriptures are in error. I’m more persuaded by the word of God

There’s plenty more crazy where that came from.

Of course, that only came out because Arkansas state rep Jon Hubbard said that slavery “may have been a blessing“.

I keep forgetting, what’s the argument again for why the GOP isn’t full of racist theocrats?

Bigotry Can Be Really Expensive

So, the highest ranking of the Catholic clergy in Scotland, Keith Cardinal O’Brien, has put his foot down. He’s going to stand for marriage before it disappears off the face of the planet. And he’s going to do it the way the Catholic Church has traditionally fought: by asking for your money. He told the Sunday Times (emphasis mine):

“Marriage is under threat and politicians need to know the Catholic Church will bear any burden and meeting any cost in its defense. . . We will use this opportunity to remind Catholics of the importance of marriage as a union of a man and a woman and to urge them to be generous in contributing to a special collection which will be used to support initiatives in defense of marriage.

Apparently, this declaration was accompanied with threats of “unprecedented backlash” if his demands were not met. I presume he’s talking about a Crusade or something.

Seriously, what does Cardinal O’Brien think he’s going to do? Threaten to “disestablish” the church from the state like the Church of England did last month? Is the Church going to take its toys and go home? What, exactly, do they think they’re threatening?

Actually, no, I like this plan. Both the Church of England and the Catholic Church of Scotland can turn their back on government, stop meddling in the affairs of state, and leave the secular authorities to make policy that has nothing to do with myths or the desires of the invisible sky pixie.

Seriously, I don’t know how this can be seen as anything but a blatant plea for money at a time when the Church is trying to make up for the corruption and money laundering they just got caught at. I’m not suggesting that the Red Cap Mafia and the Pope aren’t actually, really, and truly squigged out by queers. They are. But if they can parlay that general sense of unease into financial gain through creative interpretations of reality, why pass up the chance?

It’s time that the Church gives up on this. I know I keep saying this about a lot of institutions that oppose gay marriage, but it remains true. They’re fighting a losing battle. While Cardinal O’Brien is calling for people to open their wallets to God, mock gay weddings are happening outside of the Scottish Parliament.

The thing is, they won’t give up on this. They think this is the perfect, unchangable (see how many opinions haven’t altered), and most of all loving word of the Lord. They’re convinced that in order to show any sort of love, they must by nature discriminate, because it’s the will of their probably-fictional ultimate patriarch.

And I find that a little sad. That says quite a bit about the speaker that they see no difference between “love” and “tough love”, that they cannot see the ultimate being as being capable of not discriminating. As per usual, Fred Clark puts it better. He’s speaking to evangelicals, but it applies here to cardinals and the CoE as well:

“Conservative evangelicals reading this are now convinced that what I’m saying here is that we need to reinvent God according to our own preferences. They think I’m saying we need tochange what God is really like and who God really is in order to make the idea of God more popular — more palatable and more acceptable…

What they’re really saying — what they’re really confessing — is that they believe that the actual truth about God is, in fact, unpalatable and unacceptable. They believe that God’s actual character is, in fact, distasteful — that God is exclusive, condemning and oppressive. And that any attempt to portray God as otherwise is a liberal lie.”

The thing is, it’s very easy to believe that. I consider the god he’s referring to here to be a genocidal megalomaniac with all of the maturity of the Squire of Gothos and all the loving kindness of Anthony Freemont. But I also don’t worship such a creature. For a thing to be worthy of worship, it needs to demonstrate that through actions, not just the endless Biblical refrain reminding us of god’s goodness.

Clark, John Shore, a number of my friends, and a whole lot of other people have decided that if love and goodness are essential characteristics of god, then anything that contradicts that must, by its nature, be false. That one cannot be both loving and discriminatory, cannot claim to respect people while pleading for money to prevent their equality, cannot simultaneously obey a doctrine that calls for treating people well and publicly call their relationships “grotesque.” Cardinal O’Brien wants to have it both ways, express his love and disgust at once, and is pathetically pleading that you give money to his organization so that he can impose that sort of twisted logic on others.

Pat Robertson recently said that we can ignore certain things in the Bible. No, really, he did. He was referring to slavery, but it puts him in the awkward position of having to now explain why we can ignore the slavery stuff and not the much more spurious gay stuff. The Catholic Church and the Church of England are not going to put themselves in that position by claiming that you can ignore parts of the Bible, but they are now left in the even more awkward position of having to explain how their loving god demands oppression and inequality.

The best and easiest solution is to stop pretending to know what a creature that is highly unlikely to actually exist wants, but baring that, applying our minds to the task of alleviating human suffering rather than perpetuating it is the only moral option. And for the FSM’s sake (pasta be upon him) stop with these sad, sad calls for money and empty threats. You’re not fooling anyone.

Hitch

Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it. – Christopher Hitchens

That’s the quote I was thinking about when I started this blog. I almost named it “Human Decency,” but thought that may have been needlessly optimistic. Not that I’m not an optimist, but rather that my blog would contribute in a way that anybody can’t simply do for themselves. While I admit that the final catalyst to impel me to write here, after already exhausting my friends with invective and ire, was JT Eberhard seeking me out on Twitter after enjoying a comment I made on one of his blog posts, but thoughts of Hitch animated many of my ideas and always impel me to try just to be a touch wittier.

While I could contribute to the growing and unsurprisingly mixed things being said about Chris Hitchens, there seems little point in adding to a pile that I am, despite enjoying his work, woefully unqualified to add to. This is not false modesty, as I believe myself to be quite allergic to the stuff, but rather a recognition that when I attempt to discuss who the man was from nothing but reading his books and watching lectures, I can do little more than summarize his work, which seems like a lousy way to commemorate anybody.

Rather, this being my blog and I being a remarkably self-indulgent individual, I will discuss why this caustic, angry, tactless man has left an impression on me.

To begin with, as much as I would cringe inwardly when he would say something insulting that could just as easily be said in a way I felt to be more constructive, I could never fault him his point. Even when I disagreed, I could at least say that I respected the process by which he reached his conclusions. One such insulting conversation comes to mind. I agree with his point, but damned if it doesn’t make me uncomfortable the way he put it.

“…I’m perfectly happy for people to have these toys and to play with them at home and hug them to themselves and share them with other people who come around to play with their toys. So that’s absolutely fine. They are not to make me play with these toys. I will not play with the toys. Don’t bring the toys to my house, don’t say my children must play with these toys, don’t say my toys…are not allowed by their toys.”

That’s my current opinion on religion, said in possibly one of the best and worst ways possible. Perhaps it’s that he was unafraid to put things that way that I wish I could do so, not because I would, but rather because I want the ability.

He also shares my opinion on deathbed proselytizing. I covered it in my first post, meaning that at this point a full two thirds of my blog is dedicated to Hitch. Need to change that…

I also cannot help but admire some of the things he said about life in general, my favorite being…

“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

Hitch was a fierce advocate for LGBT rights, often more on behalf of his friend, Stephen Fry, than on his own behalf. He didn’t talk often about his bisexuality, and I admit it surprised me and possibly engendered a disproportionate affection as I saw myself in him in that respect. This is not to say that his sexuality was a vital part of his life or that that’s a reason to like somebody’s work which was more than sufficient on its own. It’s rather like finding that a brand new friend has also read your favorite obscure book. The friendship doesn’t hinge on it, but isn’t it so cool that this novel that you thought nobody had even heard of had somehow made it to both of you? I thought of myself in a future old age considering his words, “My looks by then had in any case declined to the point where only women would go to bed with me.” A distinct possibility.

However, when he spoke on issues of sexuality, it never seemed to be about him, such as this quote from a dinner honoring Stephen Fry with at least one Cardinal in the audience.

“He’s not being condemned for what he does, he’s being condemned for what he is…This is disgraceful! It’s inhuman, it’s obscene. It comes from a clutch of hysterical, sinister virgins who have already betrayed their charge in the children of their own church.”

Let it never be said that he didn’t stand up for his friends.

Nor that he didn’t stand up to his enemies, the nature of whom he made quite clear.

“There’s another immoral injunction. Go love your own enemies, don’t go loving mine. My enemies are the theocratic fascists. I don’t love them, I want to destroy them.”

I can think of nobody I know who wouldn’t consider “theocratic fascists” to be bad people, but Hitchens took it one step further. He was open about his disdain, free and pointed in his ridicule, and made no compromises regarding what he considered to be abject evil. Again, I am unable to disagree. I do hate theocratic fascists. I hate people who arbitrarily choose what makes them comfortable out of their holy books and then tell me I have to live by their capricious whims. I hate those who use God as a universal excuse for the most retched, abhorrent, vile behavior and the masses of uneducated vipers that lick the scent from the trail of those leaders, hissing at and biting everybody they pass. I have no room or time to love those people who love no others, and my tolerance isn’t inexhaustible either. I have no need to ever be in a room with the Liar Tony Perkins, Maggie Gallagher, Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck, Tom Coburn, or any number of despicable human beings who try to enslave people to their idiot philosophies and very specific yet entirely self-configured ideas of what their religion says. I have no reason to love these people, or forgive them while they continue to lie to people for the sake of their own comfort, or to ignore their often inhuman behavior, so I choose not to. It was by reading Hitchens that I learned how to do that and not feel guilty about it.

There are plenty of other reasons to respect Hitchens. I stress again, he was not a perfect man. He was deeply flawed, unwilling to engage in social politeness, and refused to soften his rhetoric regardless of circumstance. We can debate whether these are positive or negative qualities all, but I can’t say that I could engage in the indiscriminate way in which he applied them. That being said, it takes courage to live in such a manner, and I am sure beyond doubt that that is a positive quality.

As many others have noted, saying “rest in peace” is not quite appropriate. He is not resting and peace is a meaningless thing to the inert molecules that compose what was once an active and brilliant brain. Rather, I should leave this off with words that will remain with me now that he is no longer able to utter or write them.

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

 

“You’re expelled from your mother’s uterus as if shot from a canon toward a barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks. It’s a matter of how you use up the intervening time in an intelligent and ironic way. And try not to do anything as ghastly as your fellow creatures.”

 

“We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and — since there is no other metaphor — also the soul.”

 

“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.”

And finally, since I can think of no songs that discuss death without also talking about an afterlife that Hitchens didn’t believe in, and “rest in peace” is so inappropriate, I will instead leave it with the words of another critic of religion, done in song form.

“Let God Be the Judge”?

Excuse me?

This is still a developing story, so I’ll try to avoid commentary on the facts of the case, but today a 34-year-old woman accused the chief of Guyana’s National Police force of rape. His response, “Let God be the judge.”

I’m sure he would absolutely love that, too. You’ll notice there are no denials, no attempt to claim that that wasn’t the case, only a vague call to let a being who, if it exists at all, has a pretty spotty record on human rights and justice when it can be bothered to intervene at all, weigh in on his actions.

Please. Mr. Greene may or may not be a rapist, but he certainly is a coward for responding by hiding behind God’s skirts. This isn’t much different than when Joe Paterno, after hiding child rape, called on people to “pray for the victims,” as if that somehow absolves him of his feckless response.

There is a chance that a guy who was barred from the US for drug trafficking (those allegations he denies at least) isn’t also a rapist. Maybe that pushes one too many moral boundaries for him. However, if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on rapist.

I have an even better idea than letting God be the judge. How about we let people be the judge and if there’s compelling evidence they can decide what to do with you? It’s a shame that the odds aren’t in favor of that happening since you’re rich and powerful and this woman doesn’t seem to be, which is an even more pronounced hurdle to overcome in the third world than it is here, but this nonsense obfuscation about letting “God” judge you is pathetic; a meaningless dodge that does little to inspire confidence either in you or in a system in which that seems like a good response to you.