Can an eternal god have a nature?


When I refer to the nature of a thing, what do I mean? I basically mean to refer to its inherent features. The reason why some wild animals can be docile pets one minute and fiercely tear their human companions to pieces the next is because of their nature. The animal has inherent behaviours of self preservation that when triggered are life threatening to us. 

 The nature of anything is contingent on the environment it finds itself in and its constituent parts. Some animals are aggressive because it aided their survival in their evolutionary path. Some are friendly for the same reason. When you imagine something in a total vacuum with no limitations then it becomes impossible to define its nature because there is no reason or cause for such a thing to possess a nature in the first place. 

So what do we mean when we say that a god has a nature? A god does not have any preceding cause and has no environmental constraints. Some apologists claim that it is in god's nature to be morally good, but how could this be? How can the constraint of goodness be imposed by an environment external to god if a god is supposedly eternally existent and not at all contingent? The way I see it god cannot have a nature because it is not constrained by its environment. Furthermore, god could not determine its own nature because the whole concept relies on inherent and unchanging properties. 

This question is raised directly by two different apologetics. Namely the apologetic position that it is in god's nature to be good, and another that it is in god's nature to behave according to the laws of logic. Both of these apologetics seem to suggest something that god should be contingent on but at the same time these apologists claim that god is not a contingent being nor is there any cause for its nature. 

I wonder if someone can resolve this apparent contradiction or whether these apologists have it wrong. If it is the case that an apologist would agree that god could not have a nature god becomes totally arbitrary, not conforming to logic and not possessing of behavioural traits like we do. If the position is held that god has a nature then it seems to me that the simplest explanation of what god is dependent on for its nature is man's conception of god. An imaginary being of course is always dependent on how the imaginer imagines it. 

If someone persists by saying that god can both have a nature and be a necessary being I would love to know how these two contradictory positions can be reconciled logically. My best effort to do this so far has failed me, but I've learned not to underestimate the creativity of the apologist. 






Discourse: Ask Questions, Give Answers



In any debate the best goal you can strive for is for keeping your opponent on the defensive. There are quite a few ways to achieve this. You can attack many angles (Gish Dash Gallop[1]) that makes it hard for them to address all of them, or even address even a few meaningfully. Then when they don't respond to a single point you keep pointing it out. This is a common tactic of William Lane Craig, who likes to use five arguments for the existence god, ranked from strongest to weakest. He knows his opponent will challenge the strong arguments, but then leave the weak arguments unchallenged, or choose the other route and do a superficial refutation that is easily objected to in the next round. If you want to see an example of this strategy, here you go:



Another method of keeping your opponent on the back foot is to keep firing away questions. A sceptic can show that you can doubt just about anything, and when an opponent's position is constantly being defended, it seems weaker to anyone watching. As long as you keep your own positin from being challenged, you should be okay, because it doesn't matter who is right. It will seem like your opponent is suffering through a strong line of questioning, unable to defend their position. You could hold an utterly absurd position. It will seem better as long as you can keep the discussion away from your position and focused on the position of your opponent.

Here is an example of this strategy, executed against an atheist once again:



The goal of proper discourse should be opposite to this kind of tactic. We should be exchanging ideas, not attacking ideas in order to beat an opponent. Everyone in a discussion is a partner in trying to find out what the correct position is. A rough outline of the question answer process can be sketched as such.


  1. Find out what the other person thinks or believes.
  2. Carefully try to understand it.
  3. Ask questions where things are vague.
  4. Provide your counterpoints.
  5. Allow them to ask questions too.
  6. Give clear answers to illustrate your position.

In any kind of discussion your primary mode of operation should be to firstly try to understand the position of the other person as accurately and truly to how they hold the concepts in their minds, and secondly to express your position as truly and accurately as possible to them and to try to help them understand what you actually mean. 

Discussions that don't roughly follow this structure look like a series of disjoint position statements, followed by repeated accusations of straw men. Eventually the frustration boils over and the discussion ends in failure. The assumption that what someone wrote will translate perfectly into your own mind as what they actually mean is a damaging one that causes a great number of unproductive discussions. You must look very carefully and see if ambiguity is hiding in the words that the other person wrote, ask them to clarify or explain their understanding of the concepts and continue from there. 

As a rule, the best way to mount an objection to what someone says is to frame it as a question. "Aha I've got you now bitch!" objections can backfire hard, because the person in question may already have an answer ready. Rather try to unpack their position to understand it as best as possible by questioning problems with it rather than outright stating them. This is not a hard and fast rule I follow, but it works good for me in many discussions.

Don't answer questions with questions unless those questions require clarification, and when someone asks a question do answer it, unless they are avoiding an outstanding question you asked. Keep track of your questions mentally. Go back and see if what someone says answers your questions, and point out unanswered questions politely. Some people willingly or unwittingly avoid answering tough questions and just start firing off their own questions. By answering you are allowing them to avoid your question. Mutual respect in discussion dictates that both sides have an equal right to have their questions answered. 

If someone violates these general guidelines and you find your discussion getting unproductive it is sometimes best to let it go. I usually announce my departure from the discussion and why I am leaving it, and then resist strongly the temptation to get the last word, because a then disgruntled person will almost always reply and challenge you, especially if the discussion has turned into a fight for them. You are not a coward because you are leaving the discussion. There is no winning in an honest discussion, so if it ends this way everyone loses. This is not the wild west and you don't have to answer every challenge.

Good hunting friends!

[1] Thanks for the correction +Alain Van Hout , and a link for anyone interested in learning more:
http://ncse.com/rncse/24/6/confronting-creationism

6 Questions For Christians


I want you to ask yourself this question: "Why do I believe in god?"

That's it. I don't want to tell you that there is no god or twist your arm into accepting my position on the matter, I want you to look at your own beliefs and think about it. I have some more questions to get you started, and please don't feel obliged to answer them here to me. Answer them in your own mind for yourself.

1/ How did you come to believe in god?
Think about it. How is it that you came to this belief. Compare it to some other beliefs. How do they square up? How reliable would you say your method of coming to this belief is compared to using a similar method to form beliefs about other things?

2/ Are there things in the Bible that make you feel uncomfortable?
I don't want to go and cherry pick verses that seem bad, but are there things that you feel don't sound like things consistent with something a loving being would do? Why is that?

3/ When you pray, do you get what you prayed for?
If prayer is about asking god to do things, how does it square off with god's divine plan? If you had to write down all your prayers where you asked for something in a journal and followed up whether those things were granted or not, what proportion of the prayers do you feel would be answered? Are you enterprising enough to engage in this activity?

4/ Can you tell a child dying a long painful death from a disease with no cure that god loves them and has a plan in which it is necessary for them to suffer?

5/ When you receive answers from god, how do you know that those answers are actually from god and not just your interpretations of scripture or hunches, feelings or dreams concocted by your mind to serve your own views and desires?

6/ Why are there so many different sects of christianity? Why can't god just write a letter that unequivocally answers the questions that have divided christians for centuries and have resulted in drawn out conflict?

The Feminist Debate


Feminism is a topic that deserves avoidance. I've made the mistake of wading into the quagmire, and now I feel the need to expose my position and hopefully I won't have to post about it again. 

I think it is firstly important to say that feminism, or the promotion of the equal rights and privileges of women in society is a worthy goal. If defined as such, I think it is hard to disagree that it is, because it has the right spirit to it. Sure people can twist the meaning into something negative, but let's take a positive approach and see it this way. 

I think that everyone would agree with the above term, and we shouldn't use other terms to confuse the issue (such as equal rights activism or some such thing), if only to emphasise that we all want the same thing. What people disagree on is not this goal, but rather where the problems lie, what equality and privilege means and what actions we should take to fix these kinds of problems. I think there are some serious problems in the discussion over all, so let me highlight them:

Freedom From Facts

One of the largest problems with the discussions relating to feminism has been fact free arguments. People intuitively extend their own experience of being men or women to all men and all women, and their society becomes a reflection of society as a whole. There is a surprisingly small number of facts being passed back and forth and this is problematic. People will ask for facts or data, but commonly only when they are put on the defensive. If a comic book cover harms women, we need to see supporting facts. If you think that women are not uncomfortable with cat calling and most appreciate it, come along and bring some facts. One of my favourite moments in the debate is reflected in the image below.


If we plan to move beyond square one in an open forum, it might be a good idea to start with the facts. Maybe there are higher quality discussions where facts feature prominently, but if so I have managed to miss them entirely in this topic. 


Reactionary Responses

No discussion is in a good state when you can predict the behaviour of both sides. Most of all, this is the least interesting kind of discussion. This is even true when there are some thoughtful people involved. Getting through the reactionary noise to actual substantive stuff is difficult. I initially took this lack of substance as a total failure of feminism to produce anything of substance, but I have been shown to be wrong by some good content that highlights the plight of women in society.

Nobody Seems To Know What They Want

If a particular social movement is having allergic reactions to T shirts on the one hand and trying to campaign against harassment on the other it becomes hard to know what the hell is going on. Feminists who blow the small issues out of proportion sabotage their own causes by not choosing their battles. As an example, if adverts for fishing equipment primarily target men, and the market grows in such a way that most fishermen are women, you will see the adverts change to represent the dominant market. Advertisers are not ideological in any sense except a capitalistic one. By fighting the wrong battles precious time is wasted, and a fight to change the status quo by force of changing symptomatic behaviour presented by following it is almost completely futile. There needs to be a realisation that changing some things will cause other things to follow as effects. 

Name Calling

Labels as a means of subduing an opponent doesn't work very well. If  the #MRAbrigade and #feminazis would just realise this, the world would be a better place. In this entire discussion labels come up again and again, and the unfortunate thing to me is that clever people who know better love to indulge too. The label and dismiss pattern of discourse is so common in this issue that even pointing it out seems banal. It's important to try and understand what people hold to and reasoning it out with them. *As a beta feminist mra rape apologist, I should know this all too well. 

Confirmation Bias

There is so much evidence that feminism is evil, that it is difficult to doubt that patriarchy is the one and only real problem in society. I have thus constructed a sentence that both sides of this discussion could agree with. All you need to do is read fast enough, and ignore moderation in attitude when evaluating it. Patriarchy is everywhere from cereal boxes to video games, and every known instance of feminism is seen as deplorable. If you look for problems everywhere, you will find them everywhere. The challenge to developing a nuanced and hopefully more accurate view of the world is to put the anger monkeys back in their cage and try to search for the good in what others say. Although there will still be assholes, I think you will find that there are more well meaning people than you think, sometimes misguided, or sometimes trying to show you that you are in fact misguided.

I have to say in conclusion that if Pat Robertson has a problem with feminism, there must be something positive in it. With all the screaming, fist shaking coupled with the problems above however, I choose to avoid it. 


* At some point or another, I have been called each one of those names. 

The Story Of Apologetics


Everyone who has read my blog is probably aware of my scathing views toward christian apologetics. The fact is that christian apologetics is not the only kind. I will attempt to outline the framework followed by general apologetics methods in this post without appealing to christian apologetics in particular to show how the basic concept is flawed and misleading.

It is probably true that many of us grow into beliefs more than we actually go out and engage with evidence and argument to form them. What we find ourselves with as humans when we reach adulthood is a fully formed belief structure that largely lacks justification. Most people in most of the world most of history go through their lives without ever realising that the belief framework from which they evaluate the world is without proper support.

The village sceptic is the poor bastard who comes to the ugly realisation that the belief framework we live by can be questioned and doubted. Depending on the belief it was usually easy to keep them silent. The fear of the pyre was good enough to shut people up. Sceptics win their battles in generations, and eventually everyone agreed that it's okay and we should have freedom of expression. There was no longer a way to ignore challenges to common beliefs.

Having no more way to force sceptics to keep quiet under draconian laws, people now faced the unpleasant reality that others could challenge their beliefs freely. It's extremely easy to just pick up the cultural narrative that surrounds you and believe it and become comfortable in those beliefs. No research required! Sceptics however, having to basically face off with everyone else, and needing good reasons to be parade day storm clouds are armed with information. Being the average believer of whatever is the common belief means you must then arm yourself in return so that you can prove the sceptic wrong or take the sceptic seriously and try and deal with the negative emotions of cognitive dissonance. Both of those options require the believer to make some real effort. Fear not however, because apologetics will come to their rescue.

Apologists do all the work for you. You basically come around with your belief and complain that you don't want it to be challenged. They offer books, videos, debates and seminars that are designed to make you feel like even though you have no inkling of the actual issues, you can feel secure that the apologists have answered the sceptics and you don't have to worry about your beliefs being wrong. You can have all kinds of arguments without ever even really thinking about it!

The apologetics product is simple. It's one and only goal is to insulate a belief from criticism by defending it at all costs. The difference between defending something like vaccines and defending something like global warming denialism is that the former is factually adequate enough that defense is mainly about education. In the latter case all kinds of Brobdingnagian bubble gum and sticky tape defenses must be constructed in order to keep the whole thing from imploding. Apologetics starts with a belief, and it never intends to change it. An apologist for a position is not an honest intellectual willing to suffer the blow of being proven wrong, they are selling their philosophical wares to people who want to retain the belief they entered with.

It is literally a kind of butthurt cream. It is a method to relieve cognitive dissonance not by considering the contradictory positions and picking the one that seems most likely to be correct, but doggedly defending the belief you started with. People are eager to buy into apologetics when they feel that a belief has been rendered vulnerable. It is important to fight this urge.The pain is temporary. The pay off for letting go of bad beliefs is well worth it. When we feel vulnerable about our beliefs we have an excellent opportunity to shift to better beliefs.

At some level it may seem legitimate to remain unconvinced by sceptics and to defend your beliefs as strongly as possible. The trouble is that taking this approach results in our minds taking routes that consistently lead to the same conclusions, that we were right all along. This is the reason why people engaging in apologetics will cherry pick, create false dichotomies, ignore contrary evidence, engage in sophistry and showboating, prematurely declare victory, fail to understand their opponents positions, fail to generously present their opponents positions, engage in ad hoc justifications, fail to be consistent, fail to abandon bad lines of argument or evidence, badmouth opponents, make constant appeals to consequences etc...

Karl Popper understood the problem well. He realised that when you only search for confirming evidence for something that is all you will find. If you start trying to disconfirm your own beliefs you are much more likely to get rid of beliefs that don't make any sense to keep. If you find that your beliefs can't be disconfirmed because you merely fit new information into your belief structure, you must ask yourself why you are form fitting your worldview to a single belief only to keep it insulated from being shown to be false.

Bad Atheist Arguments? Pt 4. There Is No Evidence For God



A common retort made by atheists is that there is no evidence for the existence of god. This is false.

Some evidence for the existence of god:
  1. The fine tuning of the universe
  2. The Bible
  3. The inner witness of the holy spirit
  4. Faith healing
  5. Miracles
  6. Answered prayer
  7. Visions
  8. Feeling the presence of god
  9. The existence of morality
  10. Testimony

Wow look evidence for god!!!

Verdict:
INVALID
Just a second though...

Every single one of those ten lines of evidence are bad. That's the point! Theist evidence is not non-existent, it is just extremely bad. If we, as atheists assert that believers have no evidence we are making a mistake. They do have evidence. The disagreement between atheists and believers mostly revolves around what they consider to be admissible evidence and what we do.

We should explore what they consider to be evidence and unpack the outcome of what their concept of evidence would mean. There only needs to be one agreed upon principle: it doesn't matter how you evaluate evidence, only that you are consistent about it. The trouble is that the forms of evidence they find to be valid can be used to substantiate a number of things they don't believe in, such as bigfoot, little green men and homeopathy.

Just as an example: do christians keep a systematic journal of prayers that are answered and not answered? Does this data inform us that there is something going on?

I try to make sure to say that there is no good evidence for the existence of god, because that immediately opens up avenues for discussion. Dismissing their concept of evidence without letting them present it is unfair, and frankly I think something that hampers their possible path to reason. 

Bad Atheist Arguments? Pt 3. Who Created god?

This is a fairly common argument and it comes from the theist quip "if god doesn't exist who created us?". When pointed at atheists the question is loaded, because it presupposes a who if that is not a fact that is agreed on, but is it valid to ask this question of Christians?

ChristianAnswers gives the following answer to the question:
Since God, by definition, is the creator of the whole universe, he is the creator of time. Therefore He is not limited by the time dimension He created, so has no beginning in time God is the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity (Isaiah 57:15). Therefore He doesn't have a cause.
The important thing to note here is the definition bit. God is defined as being uncaused, and the Bible asserts this much. The argument then takes a new turn, where the question becomes:

"Well, if you can say that god is uncaused, why can't I just say that the universe is uncaused?"

The bit about god being uncaused is pretty much a bare assertion, and there is no evidence or argument to support the assertion that god is uncaused. Therefore an assertion of an infinite universe seems to have at least an equal amount of support to it than an infinite god.

Of course, some theists claim that the universe is not infinite because the big bang was the beginning of the universe. Apart from other problems, that is a definition of the universe where anything beyond the big bang is not part of the universe, which is a dubious and self serving definition. If we don't know whether that which is beyond the big bang is natural or not, how can we say that the big bang is the border of the natural universe?

There are other problems too. How does god know that he does not have a god? The standard answer is that he is omniscient. Okay, but how does god know that it is omniscient? Isn't it logically impossible to know that you are omniscient, and since god can only do that which is logically possible, doesn't that entail a contradiction? Doesn't Descarte's malevolent spirit present the same problems to god that it does to us? If god cannot know that he has not been created then the Bible cannot claim that god is uncaused.

If theists respond with ignorance for instance by saying that we don't know how god solves these problems but he does, doesn't that cast a bright light of doubt on the assertions in the first place? How can you assert something if you don't know if it is logically possible to know it in the first place, or in fact if it is seemingly logically impossible? verdict?

SOMEWHAT VALID
Why?

Once again we are kicking the can down the road. Although the first question can appear to be a strawman it is worth pursuing, because deeper problems emerge with the justifications of the assertion of an infinite god. We don't simply get to define things and then people just accept the definition as a true reflection of reality. 

There is a video that opens the can of worms with an interesting story. Enjoy!

WHY ONLY SOMEWHAT VALID?

The question by itself does not count as an objection. If it is all you've got, then you are up shit creek without a paddle.