An Apologist's Job


So I have speculated that the purpose of apologetics is to ease the cognitive dissonance of believers.

+Melissa Cain Travis is kind enough to confirm that in her blog post What an Apologist’s Job is NOT . When I say things like that, I always wish that I am wrong about it, but I am not it seems, not in this case anyway.

So what isn't an apologist's job?
"You are not a spoon-feeder. I have found that many folks, abrasive atheists/agnostics in particular, aren’t willing to undertake serious research on their own. They’re armed with a hundred pop-atheism talking points that have long been answered, which goes to show they haven’t investigated the opposing viewpoint at all."  (my emphasis)
What does she recommend?
"Pay attention to verbal cues and the attitude of the individual to determine whether or not they are sincerely interested in your answers"
I certainly agree with that.
"give them a sentence or two to chew on and then direct them to a book, article, or lecture by a reputable scholar. If they come back at a later date, having studied the sources, further dialogue is warranted, so long as they maintain a respectful tone. "
I don't usually swear on my blog, so you will have to excuse me this time. Holy shit! If I want to engage with apologists like her I would have to read entire books or watch entire lectures! I suspect though that what is really going on here is a version of the courtiers reply[1]. What's so wrong about teaching people about things? Aren't discussions a way to learn things after all?

When you engage with people online, you are going to get a wide variety of people with a wide range of knowledge. To engage with them you need to realise that they might have some piss poor points. This is usually no fault of their own. 
"If they simply dismiss your words and suggestions with poor logic, make snide comments about the scholars you recommend, or change the subject, cut off the conversation and stop wasting your time."
Poor logic is once again not usually the fault of the person who is trying it. If everyone had to dismiss everyone who used poor logic we would be limited to a small subset of people to talk to. Even experts make amateur mistakes sometimes. Logic is hard!
"Such a person is a distraction from ministry, not a legitimate beneficiary."
Such a shame not to receive the gift of apologetics. 
"Apologetics is about disseminating truth. The apologist is called to demonstrate the quality of the evidence for Christianity and provide substantial answers for objections. "
Scepticism is a search for truth. So should we presuppose a truth and then try to disseminate it or keep looking? You decide.
"As the atheist scholar, Dr. Thomas Nagel has so bluntly put it, “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” (The Last Word, 1997)"
Not many people like Nagel. At least we can agree on something right! It's odd that many christians espouse exactly the same thing in negated form, and apologetics is the butthurt cream to soothe any doubts:
" Apologetics ministry is not about “winning souls,” as the old-time evangelists would put it. Rather, our work is about removing true intellectual obstacles. For some believers, this removal brings great relief from doubt, for some seekers, it paves the way for a more serious investigation of Christianity. " (my emphasis)
People may wonder why I moan so much about apologetics, and Melissa is kind enough to spread apologetics to children. See her about page:
"She is the author of How Do We Know God is Really There? (Apologia Press, 2013) and How Do We Know God Created Life? (Apologia Press, 2014), the first two books in the Young Defenders series, illustrated storybooks that teach the fundamentals of Christian apologetics to young children (Spanish versions soon available). Her third book, How Do We Know Jesus is Alive? will debut in the spring of 2015."
I always try to read things with a maximum amount of charity, but the idea of presupposing truth and indoctrinating children is sickening. I'm not going to get all worked up about it but that is basically how I feel about it. Children should be free to pursue their own journey to truth and not be lead into accepting the conclusions of their parents. 

I totally think we should be nice to each other and try to be understanding and not reject peoples's sources without justification, but I do think that we need to take pains to teach people who are teachable and not just shove them away with a book title. I think that bringing removal from doubt for believers is doing them a disservice. If theism is so true and people are honestly looking for the truth, then surely there is nothing to panic about. Why is it that religion is taught to children? Why not do philosophy, history and theology lessons in church for adults? I mean I probably know why, not that it matters.

[1] http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Courtier%27s_Reply


All Hail The Economy


Economics seems to have been something that was born from the idea that the human species should prosper. Somewhere along the way economic growth seemed like the way to achieve that. Much further along and some people seem to have never gotten the initial point at all and the economy is supposed to exist as an end in itself. We must grow the economy with seemingly no purpose. Somehow, growth in the economy must have some necessary connection with prosperity. 

This is where objectivism comes in. Objectivists seem to despise the state as a religious institution while simultaneously exulting and deifying the economy on ethical terms that are completely removed from any real human goals. 

As an example, there is some psychology showing that people who earn more than $70k per annum don't get appreciably more happiness out of the extra money they earn. Yet people who earn below the breadline or are destitute get infinitely more suffering for being under the poverty line. The thinking then goes that we shouldn't deprive those that don't get a whole lot more out of their 70k because they create jobs which grow the economy. So instead of giving hungry people food, cold people shelter and ignorant people education, we should follow this roundabout way that hypothetically enlarges the economy, and by hypothetically enlarging the economy we hypothetically increase the number of jobs, which hypothetically makes people less cold, hungry and ignorant. 

So modern economics is some sort of crazy Rube Goldberg device that is supposed to increase prosperity but doesn't, because the machine has become more important than its output. Right wing objectivists hand us raw eggs and burnt toast and tell us it's breakfast. Yeah technically it is breakfast, and they are willing to settle for that, but why should we? They only do because they are maintaining the machine and using the money from that to get their breakfast elsewhere. And the objectivist attitude is not something that only infects objectivists. It is a common thread among an older generation that saw a strong correlation between economic growth and prosperity. 

The system seemed to work, but in actual fact there was an undercurrent of problems that would manifest later. In the programming world we call this technical debt. You offset costs in the present by cutting corners, building up a technical debt that someone else would have to deal with later. From your brief window everything seems to go extremely well, with everything being delivered on time and at the right cost. Everyone is high-fiving each other and adding "baby" after they say each other's names. Eventually though those bad decisions in the past catch up with the future. So it has been with the economy. By exploiting cheap fossil fuels we got a lot of energy at a good cost. Cheap foreign labour lowered the prices of goods and accelerated the consumer market. 

Sustainability is a buzzword now, but really think about it for a few seconds. Let this sink in: Sustainability is a buzzword because before it was it wasn't even a consideration. No I'm serious though. Stop reading now and allow yourself about half a minute to just let that really settle in your mind. 

So how do objectivists respond to sustainability? Well they just can't. It takes a collective (this little word is important) effort to solve the problems we are faced with. As an example there is something called the tragedy of the commons. If you are unaware of what this is, I'll try and explain briefly. If there is an abundant supply of something it will be overused, because each user is rationally justified in exploiting it to their own maximal benefit. This is a problem that objectivists can't solve, because of their basic denial of society and self-centered approach. Economics, before the sustainability buzz, reflects perfectly the rapacious objectivist attitude, because this naive myopic view that got us in the current shit-creek we're in is probably the same one that causes the objectivist view to form. The only real difference is that it isn't even rational to be an objectivist now, because sustainability and working together is now directly responsible for the flourishing of a current generation objectivist. The concept of mutual exploitation no longer has a place in a viable future economy. 

But sustainability doesn't seem to tell the whole story. Economics should be a measure of the continued welfare of the human species as a whole. Continued because having an ice cream today and no food tomorrow is hardly a rational goal, and the species as a whole because parasitic nations can be very happy while ruining the happiness of those around them. This approach will encourage more positive sum economic exchanges, it will make people feel good about themselves and it will ensure that there will not be debts accrued that future generations need to suffer to pay off. 

An Apologist On Earth Day


I came across this blog post by Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist. I am not a huge fan of low hanging fruit but this one really takes the cake. The post is fairly short. As always, I'd recommend reading it first before you come back here. 
"Has anyone else but me noticed an inherent contradiction in the underlying convictions that drive annual “Earth Day” celebrations? The vast majority of those who attend such fetes are Darwinists who believe humans have a moral obligation to protect the environment. My question is: Why?"
No. Nobody else has noticed, because there is no contradiction. This is really simple, but I will try and explain it with an analogy. You and I are room mates and we live together in an apartment. The apartment is our environment. Koukl is the kind of room mate that asks "Why flush the toilet? Why clean the floors after you spilled?". In an apartment, it is simply common courtesy, but unlike an apartment, we don't have a backup earth.

So it becomes a moral obligation to protect the environment that we share. If Koukl had thought more than five minutes about this, he would have probably realised his mistake, because besides being a moral obligation, protecting the environment has direct consequences for him and his family. This should be so blatantly obvious to anyone who puts even a modicum of thought into the topic, but not for Koukl.
"Species have passed into extinction at a steady rate from the beginning of time, the strong supplanting the weak. Why shouldn’t they? Each is in a struggle-to-the-death for survival. It is a dance of destruction that fuels the evolutionary process as every creature exploits every other creature for its own benefit. Survival of the fittest - that’s evolution."
If we were small fish that had an abundance of food in our little pond, and we bred like crazy due to the wealth of food, that would increase our numbers rapidly. Good. If our waste gathered at the bottom of the pond and some sort of chemical byproduct saturated the water and killed all of us that would be bad. If we had the foresight that this would happen, and protected our environment (the pond) by not laying too many eggs, we would be directly responsible for our continued survival. 

Humans can take a surprisingly big picture long view of the environment. We can realise the complex causal chains in the environment that can hinder our success as a species, so we don't just live like so many organisms who lack the capacity of foresight and ability to maintain their environments. 
"The logic of naturalism and the rules of evolution dictate human beings rape our environment, just as everything else does, not protect it."
Having just demonstrated the logic of naturalism with regards to protecting the environment I hardly see Koukl as mounting anything more than a holler into his own echo chamber. Congratulations Mr. Koukl for writing meaningless tripe when you really should know better. It is blatantly obvious that you didn't bother to ask anyone, and just assumed your conclusion, constructed a strawman and preached to the choir. Thankfully your tactics of trying to scare away people from atheism will not work forever, because you no longer own the singular channel into peoples' minds through a pulpit. 

A final thing I think bares mentioning is that besides the fact that it makes logical sense to protect the environment, there is a totally different dimension to it. The natural world, and especially the living world, is a thing of immense beauty. By destroying it, we deprive ourselves of the joy that the beauty of nature can give us. I really hope that people will see beyond $2 apologetics, and that we can all stand together to protect the environment we find ourselves in. In the broader view of it, we all share the apartment, and our "world views" have got diddly squat to do with picking our socks up off the floor and not showering so long as to leave everyone else without hot water.