Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Best Arguments for Gods

Are these the best arguments for the existence of gods?  If so, then the case for gods and goddesses is looking pretty bleak, to be honest.  These are the best arguments, such as they are, that I encounter from time to time from those who are determined to rescue my soul, and I have to say I am rather underwhelmed by their quality and persuasiveness.  I am fairly disappointed at how evidently ambivalent people are about the welfare of my soul, if these arguments are any reflection.

Keep in mind that an Argument is not Evidence.  It is merely the line that connects evidence to a conclusion. The biggest problem with most arguments in support of the existence of gods and goddesses is that even if the arguments were not fallacious or disjointed they still do not actually link back to or produce any good evidence.  But we will be lenient today and allow the advocates of gods to give me their best shots.  Let 'er rip!

"The Bible says so."  Many people when asked why they think gods exist will immediately turn to scriptural authority.  Why I am unmoved by this argument stems from the fact that by this logic we should also believe in Spiderman.  And why stop there: we should all be worshiping Gandalf, Frodo, and Bellatrix LeStrange too, if we admit this line of reasoning.

Flippancy aside, we are compelled to examine biblical authority more closely to determine if there is any reason whatsoever to take it seriously.  The evidence we have for biblical origins and authorship, both from contemporaneous independent historical records, from textual analysis of source documents and related historical documents, and from artifacts and physical archaeology is that many of the individual "books" of the bible are straight-up forgeries which are not at all what they pretend to be.  A few books are genuine and sincere stand-alone religious texts, but such things are not unique in the world and certainly not unique to the abrahamic gods.  More than enough of the bible is outright fraud to compel us in all honesty to reject the content as a whole as having a supernatural origin.  There is every reason to regard the bible as fraudulent, and no reason to take it seriously or at face value. It should be read and studied as the historical fabrication that it is.

Genesis and Exodus for example are not at all contemporaneous to the supposed events they portray, but instead date to about 450 BC.  Archaeology and contemporaneous historical documents and artifacts positively prove that the events described therein never occurred and the main characters were very definitely not historical figures.  Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua etc. were all just stories someone made up, often by plagiarizing much older fictional tales from different contexts entirely.

The New Testament is even worse: while there likely was a real Paul who helped unite a cluster of mystery sects in about 50 AD, about half of the Pauline Epistles found in today's bible are widely acknowledged as later forgeries, likely composed in order to strengthen one particular sect's claim to hegemony.  The Gospels date from at least 70 AD, and are contradicted by contemporaneous accounts, borrow from and rewrite each other, and belong to a genre of acknowledged fictionalized pretend histories of purely mythical figures.  They are not recorded oral histories but carefully crafted allegories fashioned by anonymous writers familiar with Greek literary devices, tropes, and constructs, but strangely unfamiliar with the language, peoples, religions, and customs of Palestine. By examining the bible, I am persuaded that Jesus Christ was an entirely mythical construct based on the older Angel Joshua of Judaism, and never an actual living historical person.  So, in other words, no.  The bible is provably factually wrong in countless instances, is very clearly and obviously a man-made  and ever-evolving fiction, and does not authoritatively prove that there ever were any gods at all, any more than comic books prove there is a Spiderman.

"People don't know how to be Moral until God decrees what is and is not Moral."  They call this the argument from Objective Morality, but it is neither objective nor moral.  What the believers in gods have is an arbitrary morality that is fundamentally immoral, as I explain here and again here.  The idea that morality and ethical behaviour in humans and human societies is entirely attributable to the existence of gods is a bad argument for gods precisely because it is false.  Godless humans and human societies somehow find their way to ethical standards of behaviour that often exceed those of religious societies.  Hell, even packs of chimpanzees and dogs have a basic moral sense that guides their behaviour.  You can't tell me they got that by reading the bible.

So let's look at that bible one more time.  The various gods described in the bible beginning with a minor actor in the Caananite pantheon of gods and goddesses are savage, sadistic, primitive assholes whom no one today would describe as "moral."   The jealous, overly-sensitive volcano god Yahweh seems to have a real inferiority complex and keeps trying to convince everyone through his bloodthirsty rage that he's the greatest of all the many, many gods.  And we're supposed to learn morality from that?   Later gods (or possibly the same god slightly grown-up) seem to care a little too deeply about provincial politics and is more than happy to spend the death and suffering of his people for short-term political or territorial gains.  Look, no thinking person takes the bible seriously, and if you actually read the thing you wouldn't be spouting off about how "moral" the utterly barbaric bible is.

Religious societies are more likely to abuse the human rights of its citizens, especially of women, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, political minorities, and  sexual minorities (e.g. transgender people, homosexuals, etc).  How do they justify the objectively immoral inflicting of suffering and abuse on the powerless?  Religion and the ridiculous arbitrary behavioural code they have confused with and substituted for actual morality.

The comeback argument usually sounds something like "If people didn't think there would be an ultimate justice, they wouldn't be afraid of doing whatever they wanted all the time - steal, kill, rape, and be atheist."  Really?  What "people" is that you're talking about?  Normal people don't need to be threatened with hell in order to want to do the right thing and create through their own acts the sort of world they'd like to live in.  If the fear of eternal torture in hell and a watchful, vengeful god is all that is keeping you from doing horrible things to your fellow humans, then what you are is a psychopath and I hope you never stop believing in hell.

"The Universe had to start somehow, and it could only be Gods."  Couldn't it though?  That is a bold assertion to make without evidence.  Why could not the universe posses entirely natural causes, origins, and workings?  Everything we know about this universe so far, after just a few centuries of serious investigation, is that it is entirely naturalistic and requires no universal intelligent agency or supernatural finnanglings in order to function as it does.  We also understand (or should - see my earlier series of posts beginning with this one) that the universe is not fully deterministic.  This fact ruins the deistic fancy that some god or goddess magically poofed the universe into existence for some obtuse purpose and then stood back and allowed it to carry on naturally in the fulfillment of a divine master-plan.  That plan would only work if the universe and nature were indeed fully deterministic.  But it is not, and your gods and goddesses would be compelled to constantly tweak and nudge the universe in its random wanderings back onto the divinely specified trajectory. We explicitly see this exact thing not happening, as well as the positive absence of a mechanism by which this could happen from outside the universe.  The only agency observed to marginally influence the course of Nature is that of Man, and that of a few other animals on this planet.

If you see a symmetric web hanging with dew in the morning, only determined willful ignorance could license you to assume it was the act of some supernatural agency.  Even a rustic innocent understands that it was the work of a spider, an animal fully competent to carry out such modifications to the environment. Sometimes designs have a designer, and sometimes designs emerge without one.

But the most damning flaw of this bad argument for gods, that everything that exists could only exist if it had an intelligent agent as its prime instigator, is this very argument itself.  If we were to foolishly be persuaded by this baseless assertion, accept it as valid and apply it evenly, then we would be in the awkward position of having to respond to the objection that if Gods exist, someone or something must have created them.

"Logic and Reason can only exist as a result of the Gods inventing them."  Oh for fuck's sake, not this puddle of donkey cack.  Really?  Have you never even seen a logic or a reason, much less used one?  OK - I may have to break it down to toddler level for the fundamentalists out there who are fond of this nonsense garbage argument and who (by straining hard enough) somehow find it persuasive.  But first it seems necessary to seize the narrative and talk about one of my favorite subjects - Mathematics.  Math means Quantitative Reasoning and encompasses the fields of Logic and Geometry.  Math is essentially the taxonomy of the properties of quantities and functions (identifiable groups of quantities, e.g. the points on an idealized circle or sphere).  The claim is that these properties and their relationships could somehow only exist if an invisible wizard casts a magic spell or something.  Could they really not exist simply on their own?

But to be fair, let us allow the question and conjecture an entirely godless universe - I know, rather inconceivable, but bear with me.  Suppose this utterly god-free universe contained an asteroid.  And then suppose there was a second asteroid, one that was not merely the first one all over again.  Now if we, who are not present (because this is a godless universe, remember) and thus cannot see this, but instead merely speculate that these asteroids exist, proceed to count the number of separate asteroids in the universe, do we not arrive at the result, being one asteroid plus another asteroid?  Do we not empirically see what we shall designate as Two asteroids?    Even in a godless universe one plus one makes two, an empirical fact which requires no proof, nor derivation from a priori axioms, nor magic, nor divine imprimatur.  Now let us imagine as a thought-experiment that the two asteroids crash into one another and each breaks into two pieces.  Is it not an empirical fact that if this
were to happen, then the asteroids now number two times two, and also two plus two, namely four?  What this demonstrates is that it is entirely possible for math to exist of its own accord, waiting only to be discovered by an animal at least as competent at counting as a Labrador Retriever.

Math (and by extension Logic and Reason) is not an invention, but a discovery.  While mathematical notations and methodologies are certainly invented, the properties and relationships of quantities and functions themselves can only be discovered.  While whiny post-modernists hipsters in their bourgeois parlors playing middle-class word games reassure themselves that math is just a subjective eurocentric cis-male construct, in the real world math exists whether we know about it or not, or are capable of using it or not.   A circle's circumference of unit diameter was 3.14159... long before pi was known to humans, and long before an oblate spheroid planet following a precessing elliptical orbit around an unremarkable sun formed on which people would eventually understand any of this.  The surface of a sphere has ever increased as the square of the radius, and the volume as the cube, even before the first stars and galaxies formed and light shone in concordance with these facts, and would have done so whether gods existed or not. 

Attributing the existence of logic and reason solely to either the existence of magical invisible sky people or to human culture is equally willfully ignorant of the true nature of any of those things.  In small words: this argument is bad, silly, and dumb. It does not work.

"The orderly universe is finely tuned to support human life and this proves that some Gods probably did it."  Ah the Fine Tuning argument.  This one backfires on the godologists rather spectacularly, which is why I quite enjoy getting this one.  Consider first the orderliness of nature - the sun rising, the tides and seasons coming and going in regular succession as though rehearsed by a master-orchestrator, the exact conditions by which we experience life, and so on.  This is sometimes floated as a separate, standalone argument.  Setting aside the fact that at large timescales the universe is nowhere near as orderly and predictable as this argument requires, this was once a compelling reason to suspect there may be gods about.  It was certainly one possible explanation for things, once upon a time.  Which gods, though ...?  That was always an open question.  But the fact that things were a little too orderly and predictable, like clockwork, should have been a clue that perhaps this was not an agency at work, but the result of some mechanistic system, like a clockwork.

However that all changed the moment we learned how gravity works and that all of this orbiting stuff is exactly what can and would occur whether gods existed or not; whether they intervened or not.  Astronomy including the true nature of the earth, sun, planets, stars, and other bodies detectable in the heavens are all understood well enough now that the presumption of some supernatural agency keeping it all going is no longer justified on this basis, and is indeed laughably unfounded.  This universe works exactly the way a completely god-free universe would work, and not at all the way a god-controlled universe should work, according to all the things godologists certify about their gods.

OK so the universe is doing nothing other than following physical laws.  But how do we know some gods didn't decree those very laws? How is it not fine-tuned just for us?  Nope - sorry, you're indulging in a "begging the question" fallacy, so let's step back from some of those built-in assumptions.  This universe is not necessarily fine tuned just for us - it may be an accident that we are here discussing this universe at all.  It may seem perfect for us, but is there any other way we could possibly be having this discussion?  I know how difficult it can be to understand the logic this objection, having once been strongly motivated to see it as good evidence for gods.  But bear with me:  If we accept that Life in our present form requires some very fortuitous initial conditions and some lucky breaks along the way, then by even having this discussion we presume that those conditions are factual.  It may not actually be the case that we or something like us could only be here under these exact conditions, but we'll allow this for the present.  So, what are the odds?  One in ... five?  How many planets and solar systems are out there that are just right for life?  How many universes are there or have there been?  We do not actually know, and so we cannot assert that this one is too improbable to have happened by chance.  So we are left with this: it either happened by chance, or by some natural cause which somehow favors these conditions, or by the design of some powerful supernatural agency.    The mere fact that we are here wondering which one it is neither presupposes nor precludes any one of these three possibilities, because these are the only conditions under which we could be wondering this in the first place.

If this universe is exquisitely fine tuned to favor anything, it favors (as we physicists now know) the production of as many Black Holes as possible.  But, however, there may be natural, physical reasons for this which we may learn eventually, so we are not justified in assuming the existence of some Black Hole God who crafted this universe purely based on His Holeyness' preferences.  So don't go throwing out all your action figures of a guy being murdered to death on a big "t" and replacing them with photos of Stephen Hawking, which is what the Fine Tuning argument would require if you were to absolutely insist upon its validity.

"Human beings and human societies are self-evidently the result of divine creation."  Again, at one time in the past this might have been a compelling reason to suspect the existence of some invisible magic man with a plan.  Even if one accepts divine creation as the best explanation, there is still an awfully long way to go before any one particular god or religion can be awarded the credit for it. But even in the pre-scientific age there were reasons to doubt this claim.  A lot of outlandish and ad hoc explanations had to be invented over time in order to account for facts about humans and their societies that did not fit the "gods did it" hypothesis.

Of course today there are well-tested and compelling hypotheses that account for everything we see in humanity without invoking the supernatural.  I will not present or argue here the oceans of evidence that support the fact and theory of human evolution, the indisputable facts from molecular biology that place homo sapiens sapiens squarely in the animal kingdom right in among the chimpanzees, the fact that nothing about humans is qualitatively outside the range of animal behaviour or competence, but only quantitative extensions of animal behaviour. The God Squad claims that gods are the only explanation for the existence of us.  To address that claim, all that is needed is one viable alternative theory that withstands every determined attempt at falsification.  I do not have to positively prove that the alternative explanation is true; I only have to point out that it exists and is not contradicted by any evidence we have in order to dismiss the claim that only gods could have done it.  It is demonstrably false that only some gods could have done it.  While perhaps gods might have done it, this is definitely not the only explanation, nor even the best explanation.

There is clear and unequivocal evidence - vast quantities of myopically coherent evidence - that humans and all other living things were not created in their present forms, but have evolved.  Therefore any explanation about the origins of life must account for the proven fact of past and present evolution of life to be considered at all.  Could gods have utilized evolution to manufacture us?  If they did, we must assume they are comfortable - sanguine even - with the evolutionary imperfections, useless vestigial structures, and mental and physical weaknesses and vulnerabilities of our species, as well as patient with the millions of years of pre-human primates and at least a hundred thousand years of modern but pre-monotheistic human beings.  It is not at all self-evident that some gods did this for any coherent purpose, and the gods hypothesis is very far from the best explanation while lacking any explanatory or predictive power.  In terms of testability, the creationist hypothesis fails again and again - fails to find evidence of intentional design, and fails to account for very un-design-like phenomena in biology.

A once-compelling subset of this argument is the argument of the human Self and conscious self-awareness.  For a long time it could not be understood how the thing we all experience could possibly emerge naturally from a wet and springy 1300-g blob of 90 billion neurons. However this bastion of magic has fallen in the path of Science.  Consciousness is no longer an unassailable mystery but is even now being unraveled and explored as an entirely natural phenomenon.  I often did and still sometimes do boggle at the fact of finding myself existing as a conscious being.  How did this happen?  Why am I me?  However there are now some very plausible, testable, and continually improving hypotheses about how the brain as a machine produces conscious experience and the illusion of a Self that do not involve, invoke, or rely on theology or the supernatural in any way.

"There was this one guy who was sick, and then he wasn't sick anymore, and so ... Ta Da! Gods!"  The argument from miracles is difficult to deal with because the claims are slippery.  The evidence of the actual events diffuse conveniently into obscurity, or the tale spins out to ever more fanciful variants.  Unexplained occurrences or healings are simply that: unexplained.  To make a Deistic much less a Theistic claim on this basis requires that you first produce incontrovertible evidence that the event actually took place, and then show precisely how all alternative ordinary explanations fail.  Then you have to show evidence of the proffered explanation - that some particular god and no other did it.  In most cases this is merely assumed.

But most of the miracle stories out there have serious authenticity problems.  It is possible to show in some cases that the event could never have occurred, and that key facts are contradicted by independent evidence.  In other cases it is simply impossible to verify any of the details.  And in the small number of verified, documented occurrences, there are easily other less marvelous, sadly banal, and vastly more probable explanations.

There will always be the unexplained in this world, however.  Just keep in mind that unexplained is merely unexplained - it no more justifies belief in gods than it justifies belief in Harry Potter.

"Life does not have any meaning without gods; so therefore the obvious fact that life must have meaning proves that gods exist."  Hey! great begging-the-question fallacy.  Well done.  But I have to ask, why must life have meaning?  How do you know that is an incontrovertible fact?  Or do you merely need it to be so?  Let's look at this another way.  You need life to have meaning.  You make up gods and you invent fancy stories that you tell yourself that puts human life in a cosmic context that makes it seem bigger and more important and lasting.  You make up a story in which this short existence is an epic critically important quest or test with infinitely bigly consequences.  And it feels really good.  But guess what - you did that.  You gave your life meaning.  You did it even though gods don't really exist and the stories aren't actually true, but there you are.  You have a meaningful life.  So why couldn't the story be something else closer to actual reality?  Your religion's very existence proves that it is possible for us to give our own lives meaning by ourselves.  That power is ours and does not require gods to be real.

"No! No good - if it isn't actually true then it's meaningless.  God gives my life meaning only because he actually exists for real!"  Ah - but gods do not exist and this fact does not stop people from feeling that their lives are meaningful.  However I take your meaning, and acknowledge that this route to meaning would not work if people knew it was fake.  What then do you do when you find out that it is?  Give up on life because that was the only possible meaning it could have had?  No.  It is possible to give your life a meaning that is more based on fact and reality.  But no one can do that for you.  Step One is to learn more facts.  A lot more facts. 

"I personally felt a feeling, saw a thing, &/or heard a voice, and gods are the only possible way this could ever happen."  OK - this is probably the only argument I take seriously because this was my own ultimate fallback once upon a time.  So, I get it.  "I know what I know, I saw what I saw, I felt what I felt."  As a believer my only concern about the argument from testimony was that other people who believed the wrong stuff about the wrong gods kept getting the wrong answers using this exact same methodology.  If God was sending these telepathic messages to my brain, then why were other people getting similar but factually incorrect or even directly contradictory messages?  Why was God gas-lighting me so hard in this really mean way?

There are field dressings and apologetics for this problem, but I found no real satisfactory answer until I learned that the brain basically works by hallucinating everything all the time.  Mostly the hallucinations should closely reflect what is going on in the real world around you, but this isn't strictly necessary.  It is not just possible, but quite common for a brain to produce hallucinations of sight, sound, voices, or feelings as required and at a moment's notice.  And the nature of hallucination as the normal mode of braining is that you cannot readily tell when the hallucination is tracking reality or when it has gone off the rails. You have to be constantly vigilant and always testing your experience to verify that it is tracking reality; and even then the brain can fool you for lengthy periods of time.

Personal "spiritual" experiences are not evidence of actual gods, but are evidence of belief in gods.  You can condition a human to believe in practically any absurd thing, and the person will have internal experiences that confirm the belief to him.  Some people talk to or even see ghosts, which are entirely an imaginary thing.  Some people see aliens, bigfoot, mermaids, fairies, or an endless array of phantasms limited only by imagination but strongly influenced by the memes to which the person had previous exposure.  If your proof of a particular god is by telepathy only, then you essentially have no proof.  And your hallucinations are inadmissible evidence that I too should infer anything from your claims. I've had hallucinations, too.  I know all about them. And people who were raised with entirely different beliefs have entirely different hallucinations.

The godophiles invent a lot of excuses for why the gods only communicate cryptically, through numerology or astrology, through obtuse word games, in ways that are completely identical to hallucinations, or through specific people with whom he/she/they/it insist on dealing exclusively.  But why must that be the case?  If there were real gods about, they would certainly be capable of revealing themselves in indisputable ways, and have no real need to be so evasive.  It turns out the only way we know anything at all about these gods is through humans making the claims without proof, evidence, or valid argument.

I reject the existence of gods and goddesses, and denounce their expounders as dishonest frauds.  There is no good reason to assume that such things are real or are anything other than bedtime stories for children.  If I am wrong, show me evidence that is concordant with no other explanation.  Better yet, produce specimens of your gods for examination.

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