On God and the Philosopher (how philosophical thinking can lead to a life of godlessness)

This one is for all of my God-fearing friends who believe that God is all powerful, yet can’t make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it.

 

 

 
I’m out of the closet.

 

SPONGEBOB OUT

 

 

No, not that closet.

I’m out of the other closet. You know the one I’m talking about. I’m talking about that big, dark, sin-filled closet. The one no politician, professional moralizer, or conservative talk show host wants to be seen stepping out of. The closet that once you step inside you’re destined for fire and brimstone and eternal damnation.

The closet with the label written in great big shiny letters “non-believer”.

That closet.

I’m out of the atheist closet.

 

143-Atheists-are-coming-650x365

 

 

I will no longer tell people that I’m an agnostic or “spiritual”.
I will no longer say I am a “skeptic”.
I am an atheist.
I do not believe that God exists.
So far, I have not been struck by lightning.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LAST GUY I KNEW WHO SAID HE WAS AN ATHEIST

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LAST GUY I KNEW WHO SAID HE WAS AN ATHEIST

 

I haven’t always been an atheist. I used to believe in God. I went to church (some) Sundays. I believed that Jesus is the reason for the season, voted Republican, and listened to nothing but contemporary Christian music. When people sneezed, I said “God bless you” –
And I meant it.

For a couple of years, this was my favorite song:

 

 
I believed that Jesus Christ was my personal Lord and Savior. I believed that His Father so loved the world that he sent his only Son to die for my sins.

I don’t believe any of that now.

 

 

KEEP CALM AND BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

 

Every atheist has a reason for why he or she doesn’t believe in God. I guess if I had to name exactly what got me out of believing in God, I’d say the reason why I no longer believe in God has something to do with studying philosophy.

I’d tell you that studying philosophy caused me to develop the philosopher’s habit of overthinking.

I’d tell you that I literally thought myself out of believing in God.

My explanation would go something like this: as a philosopher, I was dedicated to a life according to the Socratic Method. That, therefore, invariably led to questioning everything. And in turn, asking questioning everything lead to doubt. And in doubting what you you’re thinking – I stopped believing in God.

Really, it went just like that.

 

atheist logic

 

I can only describe my atheist conversion as nothing short of mystical. I was sitting right there in the church pew when I was suddenly hit by a revelation: God does not exist.

Since that day I’ve had no doubt that I don’t think that God exists.

I know that this all might sound like I’m anti-God. I’m not. I’m not even anti-other people believing in God. But then, I also don’t have problem with anyone not believing in God. And, as I said before, I don’t. I just never saw any reason for believing that God exists. Believing in the existence of an Omnicompetent Creator may be a satisfying answer to all of life’s mysteries for some, but as far as my immortal soul goes, I’m more than quite content with the fact that I’ve chosen to live without daily prayers, knowing that Jesus is the reason for the season, and living without that feeling of paranoia and guilt whenever I’d pass along the offering tray without putting anything into it.

Even though I knew I had exactly 28 dollars in cash in my wallet.

Being an atheist means not being afraid to look a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ face and I tell her that I not only refuse to accept her copies of the Watchtower and/or Awake! (Lord knows I wasn’t going to read them anyway), but that I also find the whole believing-in-God-and-accepting-Jesus-as-my-personal-savior-thing quite unbelievable.

 

thank god it's an aligator

I’ll tell you the truth, though. It’s not easy to tell other people that I don’t believe in God. To come out as a non-believer in a self-proclaimed Christian nation can be a bit of scary thing. I’m not just talking about feeling the fear of falling into that old philosophical trap of confirming the existence of God by denying that God exists.*

It’s scary because once you’ve confessed that you don’t believe in God, your mom, your former alcoholic, born-again, on fire with the LORD uncle – even complete strangers are compelled to inform you that rejecting God means your immortal soul is lost and doomed to burn in hell – forever.

It’s hard sometimes to hear that Jehovah’s Witness say as I’m politely slamming the door in her middle-aged face, “God loves you even though you don’t believe in HIM.”
The funny thing about being an atheist is, is despite my own comfort with my current state of godlessness, sometimes it seems that everyone else out there has a problem with uncloseted nonbelievers like me.

I’m not imagining this.

 

OK, I DABBLED INTO SOCIALISM BUT IT HAD NOTHING TO TO WITH BEING AN ATHEIST

OK, I DABBLED INTO SOCIALISM BUT IT HAD NOTHING TO TO WITH BEING AN ATHEIST

 

Americans on whole don’t think very highly of the godless. In a survey conducted by the University of Minnesota, 47.6% of respondents said that they would not approve of their child marrying an atheist, and less than half of Americans (45%) say they would vote for a qualified presidential candidate who does not believe in God. In that same University of Minnesota study 39.5 % said that atheists are the group least likely to believe in the ideals of American society.

This means that according to a significant portion of the American public, more Americans believe that card-carrying communists, anarchists, and Al-Qaeda jihadists are more committed to American principles than people who don’t believe in God.

 

anti god and anti american

 

Although atheists, secularists, and nonbelievers are an estimated 1.1 billion of the world’s seven billion human inhabitants, most Americans surveyed say that they are less likely to vote for an atheist political candidate than to vote for a woman, a minority, a Jewish, Mormon, or even an openly gay political candidate. In a study conducted by the University of British Columbia, researchers found that there is only group the public despises more than atheists.

Care to guess who?

You guessed it: Rapists.

The public trusts people who sexually violate others more than they trust an atheist.

 

ATHEISTS AND SEX OFFENDERS

 

 

I guess if you don’t like God, people don’t like you.

For the record, I find it comforting to see that a majority of Americans are willing to vote for a woman, a minority, or an openly gay candidate.

 

Honestly, one doesn’t need to know the stats on American attitudes towards atheists to know that things are bad out there for the average John Q. Atheist. We know that in the minds of (some) God-fearing folks, not believing in an Omnicompetent deity is un-Americanly bad enough, but there is a worse kind of unbeliever – the COLLEGE EDUCATED ATHEIST.

 

college atheist

 

It seems that as much as people dislike run-of-the-mill atheists, they especially dislike non-believers with a post-secondary education.

 

freshman atheist

 

In my book, Mindless Philosopher: How Philosophy Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Popular Culture, I purposefully evaded the topic of religion and philosophy of religion. In that book wrote that if time travel were possible, I would go back in time and tell myself under no circumstances should I take a philosophy of religion class. I wanted to avoid religion not because I’m anti-religious. I think if you have a personal belief in something, that’s fine.

 

We all gotta serve somebody, as Dylan sang.

My reluctance was due, in part, to my belief that: 1) any serious discussion on the topic of religion and/or philosophy of religion would fill a book in itself, b) religion is a topic best discussed by priests, ministers, and theologians – not by academics and philosophers, and, more importantly, 3) I don‘t believe God exists.

 

atheist jesus

 

 

I once said that if I ever experience a spiritual crisis I would more likely turn to my local clergy rather than a philosopher.

Well, unless that philosopher was Cornell West. He’s got a degree in theology.

 

The reason why, I think, is because unlike the average non-believer, who may or may not carry his atheism with a sense of shame, pain, or personal failure, the college-educated atheist has one special ingredient that makes him immune from any sense of humility: a college-educated attitude.

I actually said this to a professor in a philosophy of religion class. He told me I was in no “epistemic position” to make that kind of judgment.

Riiiight.

After years of post-secondary training, the college-educated atheist not only believes is there no God, but he’s delusional enough to believe that he’s right (and has the right) to say there isn’t.

 

philosoraptor atheist

 

I remember when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher told the class that the college campus is a place where a believing man is doomed to lose his religion. He proclaimed, “If you start college as a Christian, you’ll come out godless.” I think he was trying to be helpful. He told us that college will turn you into a skeptic and that losing ones belief in God, at least so far as college is concerned, is inevitable.

America’s universities were no more than full-blown God-hating atheist factories.

After having gone to college and doing the philosophy thing it’s no surprise then, how I’ve turned out. According to what some folks, including my old freshman English teacher, believe about college-educated people, my atheism is typical of both college grads and philosophers. Most philosophers (including most philosophy professors) don’t believe in God.

It’s estimated that 73% of philosophy professors are atheists or lean towards atheism.

 

PROBABLY AN ATHEIST

PROBABLY AN ATHEIST

 

Looking at my high school English teacher’s prophesy, I’m beginning to think he wasn’t being overly pessimistic about our ability to maintain a belief in God in the face of academia-based anti-religiosity as much as he just plain got it right – many people do stop believing in God on college campuses.

 

Really, it’s true.

If you’ve never stepped foot on a college campus, here are a few stats you should know:

Individuals with a post-graduate education are more likely to identify themselves as atheists (This group also included self-professed liberals, Democrats, Independents, and people who live on the East coast).
A Pew Center study estimated that 20% of adults 18-25 (aka college age kids) classify themselves as either atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious, and more than one-half of non-religious Millennials (those born after 1981) state that they no longer practice their childhood faith at all.
According to recent data, church membership has steadily declined among younger Americans, with a growing number of young Americans professing no faith or belief in God at all. One fourth of Millennials identify as religiously unaffiliated. However, the number of older Americans who believe in God has remained relatively unchanged.  And college campuses have seen noticeable increase in the number of atheist groups and secular organizations.

 

stats on belief in god

THIS IS A NICE CHART WITH STATISTICS. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT STATISTICS

 

Given the rise in the number of Americans getting college degrees and the popularly-held belief that atheists dwell in a godless moral vacuum, it’s no surprise that, in the minds of some believers, the prevalence of atheism among college-educated folks is a source of some concern. After all, how can America be “one nation under God” if we’re a nation of unbelievers? The college-atheism connection even led 2012 Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, to say:

It’s no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college. The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America … As you know, 62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it.

 

The accuracy of Rick Santorum’s comments and the public’s sentiments towards atheism aside, the belief that colleges are nothing more than atheist indoctrination factories is a real problem – and not just for believers.

 

atheism isn't a religion

 

 

It’s also a problem for philosophers.

Philosophers on whole are a bunch of non-believing people. God could point his finger directly into a philosopher’s face, announce his very existence, and he’d still be an ass about the existence of God. Anyone who has read the anti-theistic philosophy of Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche or Arthur Schopenhauer knows that it doesn‘t matter if God looks like this guy.

 

GOD

 

 

Or this guy:

 

smiling god

 

Or this guy:

 

sha ka ree

 

 

No matter what it looks like, most philosophers will never admit that HE exists.

73% of them as a matter of fact.

 

Unless you’re Alvin Plantinga.

 

THIS PHILOSOPHER BELIEVES IN GOD

THIS PHILOSOPHER BELIEVES IN GOD

 

 

Or this guy:

 

THIS PHILOSOPHER BELIEVES THAT GOD EXISTS, TOO

THIS PHILOSOPHER BELIEVES THAT GOD EXISTS, TOO

 

Of course this leads to the inevitable question: if the majority of philosophers and philosophy professors don’t believe in the existence of an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful being, and colleges are nothing more than atheist indoctrination camps, why would university-trained folks want to think about, much less conjure up philosophical theories about religion?

That, my friends, is the question, isn’t it? Why would someone – especially a philosopher who doesn’t believe in God – want to know about God?

 

FOR THIS GUY, THE THOUGHT OF ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD IS THE SAME AS ASKING “X7863HSFI#OF!HOIFC?HIOF**H777 OIC&NK” WITTGENSTEIN SAYS GOD TALK IS ALL GIBBERISH

FOR THIS GUY, THE THOUGHT OF ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD IS THE SAME AS ASKING “X7863HSFI#OF!HOIFC?HIOF**H777 OIC&NK” — WITTGENSTEIN SAYS GOD TALK IS ALL GIBBERISH

 

Philosophy is defined as the love of wisdom. Philosophers believe that we gain wisdom through rational thought, reason and logical arguments. Religion, on the other hand, relies on faith. For the believer, religious belief and indeed, the beauty of religious experience, is the mysterious, spirituality and the supernatural; the unexplained. Something that can’t be explained or justified through the use of reason. Faith, unlike reason, cannot be mediated by anyone other than by God. One does not need logical proof; one simply believes.

The Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard argues we cannot rest our belief in God solely on reason. Kierkegaard states, if we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. Kierkegaard doesn’t say reason is worthless, just that we can’t get to the truth of God’s existence through using reason alone. We require a leap of faith.

 

leap of faith 2

 

 

The problem with philosophy is that wisdom and reason are inextricably linked; one cannot claim to be wise if one’s wisdom is not based on reliable, rational evidence. As a consequence, faith and reason don’t necessarily go together. Religion and philosophy are like oil and water.

It’s often impossible to make them mix.

 

 

 ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES WHEN YOU MIX OIL AND WATER YOU MAKE A YUMMY VINAIGRETTE

ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES WHEN YOU MIX OIL AND WATER YOU MAKE A YUMMY VINAIGRETTE

 

 

Philosophical inquiry is understanding why people believe as they do. If we look at what people believe, what they think, how they act, we see that one of the sources of ethics and metaphysics is God. God influences us and our behavior; our metaphysics, what we believe is true. God’s word gives informs us the meaning of life. So does philosophy.
That means we can’t discuss philosophy without at least considering the role of religion.

No matter how any atheist, college educated or not, feels about religion or God, the majority of the Earth’s population, whether they bow to Jehovah or Allah; whether their God is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Jain, Hindu, Invisible Pink Unicorn or Pastafarian, believe in the existence of an all-powerful being.

 

IS IT A GOD OR ONE OF THE AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE?

IS IT A GOD OR ONE OF THE AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE?

 

 

So it’s probably not a good idea that philosophers should totally ignore the influence of religious belief on philosophical thought.

 

Wait a minute. I’m an atheist. I don’t want to say that.

I need to rethink this.

 

 

 

* The “old trap” , for those who haven’t stepped into it, goes a little like this: by naming an object (in this case God), I am asserting that there is some object in the real world to which the name “God” corresponds. If I say that “God” does not exist, I am saying that that named object to which an object in the real world corresponds (God) does not exist, thus I am contradicting myself. So to avoid such contradiction, I will not name an object but state that I lack a belief in the existence of a being that is described as an all-knowing, all-seeing, omnipotent, perfectly good being (I shall steal a word from a former professor and use the word “Omnicompetent”). If you want to know what I just did to avoid the trap, read up on Bertrand Russell and definite descriptions… or not.

 

 

SOURCES:

1) http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=1786422&page=1
2) http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/11/30/religious-people-do-not-believe-in-atheists-study/
3) http://jezebel.com/5864303/people-think-atheists-are-just-as-bad-as-rapists-christ
4) http://cnsnews.com/news/article/gallup-liberals-democrats-grad-students-easterners-more-likely-be-atheists
5) Pew Center stat: Joanna Sharpless. “Faithlessness On the Rise?” 11/07/07. http://www.secularstudents.org/node/1848
6) The number of Americans with a four-year degree as of 2011, is 28%. http://chronicle.com/article/Census-Data-Reveal-Rise-in/126026/
7) Stats on Millennials: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/more-millennials-losing-their-religion_n_1571366.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009
8) http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/video/video-are-colleges-encouraging-atheism/13078/comment-page-1/
9) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion
10) http://dudeism.com
11) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/philosophy-religion/

 

What Does God Want With A Starship?

It’s generally accepted among Star Trek fans that Star Trek V is the worst of the film series.

It’s subtitled The Final Frontier.

 

I suppose it’s because it was supposed to close the franchise. But apparently it was so bad they had to make a Star Trek VI.


With lots of quotes from Shakespeare.

 

Really, there are Shakespeare quotes and references all over that movie.

 

I’m not excluding myself from the general consensus regarding the cinematic quality of Star Trek V, but I don’t think it’s really that bad of a film. It’s really not even the worst Star Trek film (I put my money on Star Trek: Insurrection).

The movie had a good idea, something happened in the execution.

Some people blame the movie’s badness on William Shatner’s direction. I don’t. There are worse actor-directed movies out there.

The Brown Bunny comes to mind.

 

Damn Vincent Gallo.

 

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

 

The movie’s subtitle, The Final Frontier, suggests a pretty deep idea. When you’ve explored everywhere where no man has gone before, what else is there? Is there anything else?

What is the final frontier?

 

THE ANSWER: GOD

 

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier isn’t the first film to ask the God question.

How God gives our lives meaning. How the power of God vanquishes Pazuzu. How God will switch places with an average guy to let him see what God’s life is like. How you shouldn’t open up boxes filled with the power of God especially if you’re a Nazi.

 

GOD HATES NAZIS

GOD HATES NAZIS

 

Sometimes God is sought out. Sometimes The Almighty kind of pops up.

Most of the time in the movies, people are just trying to figure out what God’s plan is for us and the universe. Sometimes the question is about God himself. And sometimes, somebody asks, “what does God want with a starship?

Ok. Now it’s time to explain the plot.

 

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

 

You see, the USS Enterprise’s first officer, Mr. Spock (that’s the pointy-eared, Vulcan dude with no emotions) has an older brother named Sybok.

Nobody knew of this guy until now.

The never-once-mentioned-before-even-in-episodes-that-take-place-on-Vulcan-like-“Amok Time” Sybok was banished from the planet Vulcan because he refused to get rid of his emotions (or something like that).

The movie was pretty bad. I didn’t pay exact attention to the never-existed-until-the-would-be-last-Star-Trek-film Sybok’s back story.

Come to think of it, I guess it worked out pretty good for Sybok to be banished since it probably saves his butt in the J.J. Abrams universe, too. Unless he was banished in time line Roddenberry after the time when Vulcan was destroyed in time line Abrams.

 

Ok. Now I’m off track.

 

Oh, yeah. Ok… so Sybok was banished from Vulcan because he refused to ditch his emotions and he had this crazy notion of this place called Sha Ka Ree.

According to whatever legend Sybok was in to, Sha Ka Ree is where God lives.

Could they rip off a word that sounds ANY closer to Shangri la?

Anyway…

 

Sybok, through some Vulcan mind trickery, manages to wrangle control of the Enterprise from Captain Kirk (of course!) and heads straight towards the edge of the universe.

Because of all the possible places in the universe where God could be, that’s where God would be.

Didn’t you know that?

So…. long story short (too late), when Kirk, Spock, Sybok, and Dr. McCoy arrive at Sha Ka Ree they find that the “God” Sybok has been amped up over enough to heist a Federation starship is a disembodied, big-headed, blue-faced dude, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sir Laurence Oliver in the original Clash of the Titans.

 

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

 
Sybok discovers that “God” isn’t terribly interested in Sybok, God’s own status as the Almighty, or answering any of life’s big questions. Instead, “God” presents Sybok, et al. with a strange, if not ungodly request:

God wants the Enterprise.

Naturally, this is a problem…  For God.

 

You see, apparently God has never met Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

 

Captain Kirk, unwilling to give up his ship to anyone including God demands to know why an all-powerful God would want a starship.

 

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

Captain Kirk’s failure to immediately acquiesce to God’s demands angers the Almighty. God not only refuses to tell Kirk’s why he wants a starship, He punishes Kirk for his insolence by  promptly striking Kirk in the chest with a lightning bolt.

Wait a minute. Maybe they’d found Emperor Palpatine.

 

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

 

Here’s the thing, though. Sybok might as well have found a Sith lord.

‘Cause he sure didn’t find God.

 

He would have had better luck finding God if he’d climbed Mt. Olympus.

 

Sybok didn’t find God at the edge of the universe, but Kirk’s question, “what does God want with a starship?” is a question that man has asked about God for centuries. Namely, if God is an all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, perfectly good being, why would God need anything from not-powerful people?

Why does God need our praise and worship? Why does He need blood sacrifices and monuments?

Why would God need $8 million from Oral Roberts under threat of taking Roberts “home” to Heaven if he failed to deliver the money?

We can’t do anything near what the power of God can do. Men cannot create planets or life from dust. We can’t will anything into existence. God can create anything.* God has the power to be in all places at one time.

Which is exactly why Captain Kirk asks the “God” of Sha Ka Ree why he needs a starship.

Of course, we know that Kirk isn’t looking from an answer from “God”. What Kirk is doing is challenging the claim that the blue-faced, Sith lightning bolt-throwing, creature of Sha Ka Ree is God at all. You see, Captain James Tiberius Kirk does not believe that God exists.

You don’t have to watch all five television incarnations and all 12 feature-length Star Trek films to figure out that Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train in space” is a godless universe. Captain Kirk’s universe operates more by the dictates of Darwin than by Deuteronomy.

Philosophically speaking, the Star Trek universe is grounded on the principles of humanism.

Humanism is the 14th-15th century philosophical movement that emphasized the capacity of human rationality and the inherent worth of individuals without reliance on Christian teachings.

Roddenberry’s vision of the future is a universe where testable science and reason is preferred to superstition and religious faith. Throughout the Star Trek franchise science triumphs over religion. In Roddenberry’s future, science answers all of life’s big questions. Hunger, war, sexism, racism, even the common cold, have been done away with through reason and science.

The Star Trek universe is a place where sectarian-driven conflicts have been replaced by a secular peace. Where star dates have replaced our traditional Christian-based B.C./A.D. calendar.

God is no longer necessary as either the cause of cure for human progress or suffering.

In the Star Trek (TOS) episode “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, the crew of the Enterprise dispatch with a “God” by refusing to believe in him. The god simply fades away. Just as God has faded away from Roddenberry’s vision of the future.
Check out what Enterprise-D captain, Jean-Luc Picard, has to say about religion:

 

 

 

The fight against irrational religious belief and superstition plays a part in more than a few episodes of Star Trek:  “The Apple”, “Catspaw”, “Plato’s Stepchildren”, “The Paradise Syndrome”, “Who Watches the Watchers?”, “The Chase”, and “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, to name a few.
The Star Trek preference of the secular over religion is best articulated by Bertrand Russell in his essay, “Why I Am Not A Christian”. Russell writes that religion:

… inflicts all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and of improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in he world… Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all of your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing fear of the mysteries, fear of defeat, fear of death.

 

Fear is exactly what the “God” of Sha Ka Ree wants Kirk, Sybok, etc. to feel.

 

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP


And this is how Kirk knows that “God” is a complete fraud.

 

He knows this god, let alone any god, isn’t a real deity.

As a secular humanist, Kirk doesn’t (won’t) grant the “God” of Sha Ka Ree an ounce of legitimacy; especially legitimacy to any creature that issues senseless demands enforced with fear and lightning bolts. So Kirk refuses to believe “God” is God.

Any real God wouldn’t punishment someone for asking a simple question.

Science and reason don’t punish people for being curious.

Obsolete gods do.

So, the “God” of Sha Ka Ree loses his power.

That’s not really all that bad though. God isn’t really what the movie was about, anyway.

 

logical spock

 

 

What Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is about is what every Star Trek show, novel, comic book, cartoon or movie is about: us. It’s not God or even the universe that is the final frontier. The final frontier is people. It’s man himself that is the universe’s greatest mystery. Sha Ka Ree did not reveal God to Sybok.

However, what Sha Ka Ree did reveal was Sybok.

Sybok was arrogant, sinister, and dangerous. His intent wasn’t to find God but to accumulate more power for himself; more like Jim Jones than John the Baptist.

Sybok may have thought, or rather, fooled himself into thinking that he was going to solve the mystery of God. But as things in the Star Trek universe go, Sybok was nothing more than a standard sci-fi villain.

Unfortunately, even Gene Roddenberry couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I know this statement is quite controversial. It seems that it’s not entirely true that God can create or do “anything”. God is unable to create any universe that he does not exist, grossly violate the laws of nature, interfere with human free will, or manifest contradictions (such as a round square) or create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Bertrand Russell. “Why I’m Not A Christian”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Dennon. NY: Touchstone. p 596.

 

 

When Evil Strikes

On December 14th, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty-year old Adam Lanza, armed with several semi-automatic firearms, shot and killed 26 people (including 20 children) at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first mass shooting in America in 2012.

It wasn’t even the deadliest shooting in American history.

That was the April 16, 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

That guy killed 32 people.

Unfortunately we know that someone someday is going to kill more people than that.

It’s only a matter of time.

Most people were appalled by the senseless murder of so many young and innocent children. I admit I’m a jaded cynic, but like many people, I struggle to find any justification for murdering twenty defenseless children.

Or anyone else for that matter.

Unfortunately, there are some people who claim there is a justification for killing little kids.

… and they seem pretty contented about it.

Anyone who pays any attention to the news or hasn’t been hiding under a rock has certainly heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. This is them:

westboro baptist protest signs

 

While average folks like you and I might wonder why bad things happen to good people especially when bad things happen to little children according to the Westboro Baptist Church, God allows bad things to happen to good people because we deserve it. We’ve turned away from God and in return God has turned away from us.

See for yourself:

 

 

Naturally, when one contemplates the possibility that God has abandoned us one inevitably asks how could an all-powerful, loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?

That is, why does God permit evil?

If you don’t have an answer don’t worry. Epicurus didn’t have an answer, either.

Our dilemma with God and evil is the core question of what philosophers call THE PROBLEM OF EVIL.

holocaust

african famine

9-11

my_lai

We ask, if God is a loving and perfectly good, why does he allow evil and suffering to happen? We assume that if God is capable of preventing evil he would do so.

The theologian Richard Swinburne writes:

God is by definition omnipotent and perfectly good. Yet manifestly there is evil of many diverse kinds. It would appear that an omnipotent being can prevent evil if he tries to do so, and that a perfectly good being will try.

The implication of assuming that an all-powerful, perfectly good God will stop evil from happening is two-fold: if God is capable of preventing evil and he does not, he must be unwilling or incapable to prevent evil. Or, if God is both willing and able to prevent evil, but he does not, we have reason to: 1) believe that God actively participates in evil (God is malevolent), or 2) doubt the existence of God at all. Swinburne adds, “The existence of such evil appears, therefore, to be inconsistent with the existence of God, or at least to render it improbable.”

Even if we say that not every bad thing that happens is (necessarily) evil, we may have a difficult time arguing that every bad thing that happens needs to happen. The prevalence of “pointless” evil (e.g. a fawn that is burned in a forest fire and suffers before it dies a slow, painful death or the murder of children) poses a strong argument against the existence of God. God may have a plan for some evil, but how can an omnipotent, benevolent God allow evil that serves no purpose? One argument used to argue that God does not exist, the Evidential Argument from Evil, goes like this:

1. There are pointless evils

2. If God exists, there are no pointless evils

\ (therefore) God does not exist

Wait a minute. We can surely argue that the fact that evil exists doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to abandon any belief in God.* And it’s obvious that for some people the claim that evil proves that God does not exist won’t be too convincing (there are plenty of people out there who, despite the existence of evil, still believe in God). The argument from evil might convince a few agnostics that God does not exist (or at least that God occasionally likes to mess some people up)  but it’s unlikely that the argument from evil will convince true believers like the members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

*That is, unless you’re with a group of Christopher Hitchens fans. In that case, no one will argue this point.

In fact, if you want to use the problem of evil to fail miserably with a lame argument convince a believer that God doesn’t exist, you should know that there’s already at least one solution for the problem of evil: God not only exists but also allows evil to happen.

Evil, according to this view, is not only a necessary component of this world; it’s a part of God‘s plan. Leibniz suggests that some evil can happen if the purpose of the evil is to bring about a greater good. Leibniz says:

Thus one must understand that God loves virtue supremely and hates vice supremely, and that nevertheless some vice is to be permitted… he must by necessity love all the means without which he could not manifest his glory.

So, if you find yourself on the bad end of a bear attack while camping or your house is destroyed by a tornado, according to Leibniz you’re not the victim of random misfortune, but that your suffering is all a part of God’s plan.

You should feel blessed.

We may be wrong if we blame this guy for every bad thing that happens

We may be wrong if we blame this guy for every bad thing that happens

 

Now, some people may find comfort in the belief that  all things, even acts of evil, are manifestations of the will of God, not everyone agrees that it is God’s will that is always done.

Some people think the idea of attributing our misfortunes to the will of God is a bunch of B.S.

William Rowe writes:

It seems quite unlikely that all the instances of intense suffering occurring daily in our world are intimately related to the occurrence of greater goods or the prevention of evils… that an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have achieved at least some of these goods (or prevented some of those evils) without permitting the instances of intense suffering that are supposedly related to them.

and N.T. Wright writes:

Various writers have suggested, for instance, that God allows evil because it creates the special conditions in which virtue can flourish. But the thought that God decided to permit Auschwitz because some heroes would emerge is hardly a solution to the problem.

Don’t blame God for this. It was all you

Don’t blame God for this. It was all you

 

Ok. So we shouldn’t blame God for evil. Or at least we have no good reason to attribute the presence of evil to God’s grand plan. But if we can’t blame the Almighty for evil

why does evil exist?

Although the argument from evil does not put us totally off believing that God exists, still, the argument from evil is a pretty compelling argument. It would be foolish to dismiss it.

That said, we still haven’t answered the question why does evil exist?

The answer, according to some theologians, not only is evil a necessary component of the world, but if God intervenes every time in our lives something bad happens we are in danger of losing our free will.

Plantinga argues that a world with free creatures is more valuable than (therefore preferable to) a world where beings are not free. To be morally good, we must be able to choose freely, even if that means the choice to do evil. God cannot create a world where his creations are free and determined to do good at the same time. According to this view God  could have (and can) create a world with creatures that do exactly as he wants them to do but He didn’t (and doesn’t) because God thinks it is good that humans have free will (see: Plantinga “The Free Will Defense” in God and the Problem of Evil).

So you see, the world can’t be without evil.

God could have stopped you from drinking but he didn’t out of respect for your free will

God could have stopped you from drinking but he didn’t out of respect for your free will

 

You know, we can say that all the evil in the world is because of the devil, or God’s plan, or even that the world needs evil so we can be free. But you want to know the REAL reason why there is evil in the world?

The answer is, believe it or not, evil exists because our souls need it.

The Bible says:

A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say. (Luke 6:45)

Here’s the deal: The philosopher John Hick (1922-2012) says that evil is necessary to develop (good) souls. So whether we do evil (acts/thoughts, etc.) is a choice. Our choices are a reflection of the kind of person we are. The ability to do evil gives us the opportunity to choose to be better people. Hick writes:

If, then, God’s purpose was to create finite persons embodying the most valuable kind of moral goodness, he would have to create them, not as already perfect beings but rather as imperfect creatures who can the attain to the more valuable kind of goodness through their own free choices as in the course of their personal and social history new responses prompt new insights, opening up new moral possibilities, and providing a milieu in which the most valuable kind of moral nature can be developed.

We have thus far, then, the hypothesis that one is created at an epistemic distance from God in order to come freely to know and love the Maker; and that one is at the same time created as a morally immature and imperfect being in order to attain through freedom the most valuable quality of goodness. The end sought, according to this hypothesis, is the full realization of the human potentialities in a unitary spiritual and moral perfection in the divine kingdom.

 

So…

The Westboro Baptist Church may be wrong in thinking that bad things happen because God hates gays, but they are right in a way whether they truly realize it or not that evil things will happen because whether we like it or not, evil is a necessary part of our world.

It’s only a matter of time before evil strikes us.

NOTE:

Epicurus’ inquiry went something like this:

Is he willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent.

Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

We might want to differentiate between so-called “natural” evils (earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, floods, lightning strikes) and “moral” evils, which are acts performed deliberately by moral agents (humans). Some “pointless” evils may be natural evils.

The infamous atheist Richard Dawkins (oh yeah, he’s a legit scientist, too) says the argument from evil is an argument isn’t as much an argument against God as it is an argument against a good God. (The God Delusion, pg. 108)

SOURCES:

1. Richard Swinburne. “Some Major Strands of Theodicy”. The Evidential Argument From Evil. 1996. Ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 30.

2. Alvin Plantinga. “Epistemic Probability of Evil”. The Evidential Argument From Evil. 1996. Ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 71-2.

3. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. “Theodicy, sections 218-236”. God and the Problem of Evil. 2001.Ed. William Rowe. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 6, 9.

4. John Hick. “Soul-Making Theodicy”. God and the Problem of Evil. 2001.Ed. William Rowe. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 271-2.

5. J.T. Wright. Evil and the Justice of God. 2006. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books. 28.

What’s the Philosophically Correct Thing for A Philosopher to Say About Jesus On His Birthday?

 

byzantine jesus It’s Christmas Eve and approximately 2.1 billion of the inhabitants of the planet earth will be celebrating the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I am not one of them.

Still, I think I should probably say something about philosophy and Christmas.

A few years ago, President George W. Bush said that his favorite philosopher is Jesus. Some reporter asked who his favorite philosopher is and he answered the question. I’m not a fan of the former president but I appreciated that he answered the question honestly.

I remember there was some to-do about what the president said.

Stuff like he shouldn’t have named a religious figure

And that Jesus wasn’t a philosopher.

Sure Jesus was.

How is “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” not philosophical?

You see, even though I’m an atheist (actually I’m an apatheist, but who’s being technical?) I’m not one of those atheist types who gets all furious-faced and bent out of shape any time someone mentions Jesus Christ, Christianity, or Christmas. I’m not offended when someone tells me “Merry Christmas”. I’m not all that bothered by Nativity displays in public places. And I think it’s entirely appropriate to mention that Jesus is the “reason for the season”.

That’s because he is, you know.

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

It’s no secret that philosophers are notoriously atheistic. There are plenty of non-believing-in-the-existence-of-an-all-powerful-creator philosophers to choose from. A.J. Ayer, Colin McGinn, Julian Baginni, Rudolf Carnap, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Michael Martin, John Searle, Simone de Beauvoir, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Albert Camus, J.L. Mackie, Bernard Williams, David Chalmers, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Dennett, Baron d’Holbach, Bertrand Russell, Ayn Rand, Kai Nielsen, James Rachels, George Santayana – Just to name a few.

All philosophers. All atheists.

The belief about philosophers and God goes that philosophers are all about reason and logical arguments, and that most philosophers believe that believing in a great, big God up in the sky that no one actually sees or hears isn’t exactly reasonable or logical.

Even when we name philosophers who do believe in God no one really ever mentions
Jesus.

All Descartes wanted to do is prove that God exists. I don’t recall him saying anything about Jesus – at least not anything about his philosophy.

I actually think Jesus is a philosopher. And a pretty good one at that.

Need I remind you, I don’t believe in God and I’m willing to admit this.

I think this is actually a picture of Barry Gibb. Maybe Harrison Ford with a beard.

I think this is actually a picture of Barry Gibb. Maybe Harrison Ford with a beard.

I know that some believers out there might take the fact that I’ve considered Jesus a philosopher at all as a sign that my sensus divinitatis is working, which, of course, means that Plantinga is right.

That is exactly what I don’t want to admit during the holidays.

But I really do think that Jesus is a pretty good philosopher.

Now wait, my atheist friends – I’m not talking about Christianity. I’m not advocating following the word of Jesus as a religion or even that anyone should praise, worship, or follow the words of Jesus at all (although if you want to, the Bible makes it pretty easy to do, since everything he said is written in red).

So what makes Jesus a philosopher, you ask?

I know this may be weird for all of you atheist philosophers out there, but if we think of what philosophers do; that philosophers think, write, and, well, philosophize about matters concerning ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology, there’s no reason (other than personal bias) to exclude Jesus from the ranks of philosophers.

And don’t say Jesus isn’t a philosopher because he didn’t write anything down.

Neither did Socrates.

If you’re still not convinced, let me give you a sample of what I’m talking about:

Jesus the ethicist:

A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say (Luke 6:45)

Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. Pray for happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. (Luke 6:27-28)

Jesus the metaphysician:

With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)

God is a spirit… (John 4:24)

I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 16:6)

Jesus the epistemologist:

Your father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

It’s fairly obvious that Jesus was (or is it is?) a philosopher. But here’s the cool thing: if you follow Jesus, you will be rewarded with an eternity in Heaven.

Can Saul Kripke promise you that?

Jesus looks a little like Kris Kristopherson in this picture, don’t you think?

Jesus looks a little like Kris Kristopherson in this picture, don’t you think? …Or Alan Rickman…

Getting into Heaven is awesome enough to persuade anyone (unless you’re Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett) to give a philosophical read of Jesus a try. But when you read the philosophy of Jesus it’s really no wonder that Jesus’ philosophy, even 2500 years after his birth, is more popular than any other philosopher.

That’s probably because unlike most professional philosophers, when you read Jesus’ philosophy you can actually understand it. And it’s a cinch to follow.

That’s two things no one will never say about Immanuel Kant.

It’s no surprise that this philosopher…
sunday school jesus

is more popular than this philosopher

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

And that’s the way it should be, isn’t it?

 

I think only me and President Bush would agree to that.

So, from this hell-bound atheist to my fellow philosophers and citizens of planet earth, I wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS!

ENJOY A LITTLE CHRISTMAS MUSIC

 

NOTE:
My list of atheist philosophers may include an agnostic or two. As I recall Sir Bertrand Russell was an agnostic, not an atheist.

Same-sex Chickens

If you ask me, I think people are entirely too focused on sex.

Philosophers are no exception. There’s an entire field of philosophy devoted to the study of human sexuality: it’s called philosophy of sexuality.  Philosophers of sexuality explore topics such as contraception, celibacy, marriage, adultery, casual sex, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation, rape, sexual harassment, sadomasochism, pornography, bestiality, and pedophilia.

That’s quite a list.

Studying sexuality, philosophically or otherwise, wouldn’t be such a bad idea if not for the fact that people seem to be obsessed not with their own sex lives, but with what other people do behind closed doors.

… especially if the people those people are having sex with are the same sex.

Culturally speaking, we’re kind of hung up on homosexuals and homosexuality.

That could be because when some people think about gay people, they think of people like this:


Instead of this:


Just watch an episode of the 700 Club. You’d be smashed if you took a shot of tequila every time someone says the words “gay agenda”.

Pat Robertson wants you to buy a shitty chicken sandwich and waffle fries to prove you aren’t a part of the gay agenda

Although the term ‘homosexuality’ is fairly new (it was coined in the 19th century German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert), philosophers have written about the subject of sexuality and homosexuality since the ancient Greek philosophers, in works such as Plato’s Symposium and Plutarch’s Erotikos. In Plutarch’s work, “the noble lover of beauty engages in love” without regard for the gender of the lover of and the object of beauty. Contemporary philosophers have also participated in the discussion, adding to theories on human sexuality, including queer theory.

Every philosophy student knows that Plato was gay. But Plato wasn’t (or isn’t) the only well-known gay (or lesbian) philosopher. Sir Francis Bacon, Alan Turing, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Claudia Card, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler, are well-known gay (or lesbian) philosophers (Aristotle, Socrates, Erasmus, Zeno of Elea, Niccolo Machiavelli, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Voltaire, Arthur Schopenhauer, George Santayana, Simone de Beauvoir, and Henry David Thoreau are all suspected of being  gay or lesbian). It’s strange, given that gay and lesbian philosophers have been a part of philosophical thought, that philosophy hasn’t always been so gay friendly.

….Not that this is shocking, considering how the rest of the world and all of history has thought of homosexuality.

Historically, individuals accused of being gay or lesbian were regarded as socially dangerous and disruptive to the natural order. Religious and civil leaders thought homosexuality was so dangerous that sexual contact between individuals of the same gender was a crime punishable by death (or at the very least arrest and/or public humiliation).

I know I am using the word “was”. But I am well aware that in many parts of the world homosexuality (or even suspected homosexuality) is a crime punishable by torture, imprisonment, or death. Of course, when we make the claim that homosexuality is dangerous, we are assigning a moral judgment on a particular or general (set of) sexual act(s).

The judgment is that the act is either immoral, unnatural, or both.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and the biblical view on sex, sexual acts other than acts done for the purpose of procreation were not only immoral, but also unnatural, for any sexual act that did not result in procreation was an act done against the will of God.  Sex, according to Aquinas (and religion in general) is strictly male/female done only for the purpose of reproduction. One need only to look to the natural world for confirmation of naturalness of heterosexuality and the unnaturalness of homosexuality.

And since God made nature, obviously God intended to make all reproductive sex between male and female.

Aquinas says you can have all the gay sex you want… if this is how you want to spend eternity

This is totally off the topic, but the “look at what other animals do” was also used to justify treating women like inferior beings, owning slaves, and dominating other people in general.

Although Aquinas, St. Augustine (and theologians in general) argue that homosexual relations are immoral and every homosexual is doomed to an eternity of hellfire, ancient philosophers held a different point of view. In ancient Greece, homosexual acts between individuals were not only common but same-sex relations were immoral, only if the sex was between individuals of equal social stature. Citizens of ancient Greece were allowed to engage in homosexual activity, but only if one of the participants was in no danger of losing respect.

You see, the Greeks believed that in a sexual act, one person is dominant while the other is passive. To be passive would be to equate one’s self with the status of a woman, child, or slave.

The funny thing is, after the ancient Greeks, philosophers are pretty mum on the matter.

Well, not all of them.

Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand not only considered homosexuality immoral, but also wrote in her book The New Left  (1971), that homosexuals “hideous” and wanted “special privileges” from the government (a charge Rand made against the poor as well), but that  homosexuality, which Rand regarded as contradictory to natural sex roles, was

…so repulsive a set of premises from so loathsome a sense of life that an accurate commentary would require the kind of language I do not like to see in print.

BTW:  The prevailing philosophical view on sex tends to focus on the morality of sexuality and sex acts in general rather than specific views on heterosexuality or homosexuality. For instance, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant states that sexual desire is immoral in that sexual lust inevitably leads individuals to engage in all sorts of moral naughtiness. Moral naughtiness, including consensual sex between adults, Kant argues, is disruptive to civilization. According to Kant, sex is okay only if we do not violate the Categorical Imperative. Kant writes:

The sole condition on which we are free to make use of our sexual desires depends upon the right to dispose over the person as a whole – over the welfare and happiness and generally over all the circumstances of that person…each of them undertaking to surrender the whole of their person to the other with a complete right to disposal over it.

One can only suspect that Kant would find homosexual sex extremely dangerous.

Of course the argument that homosexuality is morally (or even physically) harmful to society was made before modern science demonstrated that homosexual behavior is common not only among humans, but in many animal species as well.

Evolutionary biologists theorize that homosexuality in humans is the result of mutually beneficial behavior; that engaging in non-procreative sexual behavior contributes to the overall stability, cohesion, and well-being of society (homosexual sex, like heterosexual sex, may serve to enforce social bonds between individuals). Likewise, contemporary philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Michel Foucault (whose theory of postsexualism aimed to go beyond the assigned sexual boundaries in our culture), argued that our moral apprehensions with any sexuality were due to fear rather than an actual societal threat. Bertrand Russell writes:

Certain forms of sex which do not lead to children are at present punished by the criminal law: this is purely superstitious, since the matter is one which affects no one except the parties directly concerned…  Moral rules ought not to be such as to make instinctive happiness impossible.

Still… as a philosopher, I’d like to think that Bertrand Russell has the power to convince each of us that there’s absolutely nothing to fear when a couple of guys (or ladies) choose to have sex. But, I know no matter how well argued any philosopher puts his argument, we won’t be getting over our obsession with the gay agenda anytime soon.


You may now take a shot.

I don’t think Alex Comfort ever mentioned an epistemic position…?

When I want to be honest about what I do; when someone asks me exactly what doing philosophy is all about, I tell that person that I’m in the business of opinions. Well reasoned opinions, mind you, but opinions nonetheless.

However, one opinion you’ll rarely, if ever see is my opinion on religion.

On the subject of god worship, I tend to think to each his own. A person is free to worship whatever or whoever (whomever?) they choose. I say, you can worship Allah, Jehovah, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, invisible pink unicorns, the devil, a head of lettuce, or the cat next door, so long as your god of choice doesn’t want to interfere with my business, I could care less what you believe in.

I know that some people disagree with me on this.

I know that as laid back as my attitude is about religion, there are folks out there who take the business of worshipping a deity as seriously as I am apathetic towards the topic. I’m talking about the kind of people who are willing to blow up you, your mom, your neighbor’s dog, or anyone within several square blocks if you say you don’t believe exactly as they do.

With this in mind, I often fail to understand why philosophers would want to get involved with religion.

But they do.

CAUTION: FLASHBACK AHEAD

I remember I once told a professor of mine that I thought that philosophers shouldn’t get involved with religion. You see, I argued that the average Joe or Jane wouldn’t be inclined to visit their local philosopher of religion if they were stuck in a crisis of faith. A person who is struggling with the question whether to believe or not believe in God isn’t likely to be swayed by logically correct arguments or a theodicy that claims to solve the problem of evil. What the average Joe wants, I said, is to have a reassurance of faith — and faith, a belief or trust without logical proof,  is exactly what philosophers claim philosophy is not about. I said that philosophers should abandon philosophy of religion and leave the God debate to the pastors, priests, and theologians.

My professor told me I was in no epistemic position to make that kind of judgment.

I guess he was right.

Robert Audi, William Lane Craig, John Hick, Anthony Kenny, William Alston, Paul Draper, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, J.P. Moreland, and Peter van Inwagen are a just a few philosophers who have decided to throw their hats into the ring they call philosophy of religion. Wait, you say. You say that you heard somewhere that philosophers are all godless reason worshippers who cram their Randian rational self-interest down the throats of defenseless college students and claim that we should be reading atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris instead of studying the blessed eternally true Word of Jesus Christ.

Actually that’s a fairly true statement about philosophers.

Epistemologists, anyway (rimshot).

Really, there are many philosophers that not only worship a supreme deity, but argue that believing in the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, perfectly good being makes philosophical sense. Believe it or not, there are philosophers out there, right now, that argue that God exists. There are other philosophers who argue that even if we can’t prove that God does (or does not) exist, we are perfectly rational for believing that God is as real as you and me.

If you think I’m lying to you watch this:

You know something? Even though I’ve seen and read a few philosophers of religion, I think that philosopher are missing something. Sure, philosophy brought the world Warranted Christian Belief, the Kalaam Cosmological Argument and divine command theory (that’s an ethical theory, in case you didn’t know), but I’m still convinced that philosophers are missing the point. There’s a reason why more people read Rick Warren than William Lane Craig — and it’s not because Rick Warren is sexier.

The reason why we turn to the church when we want to contemplate God is because churches, unlike the hard, logical arguments of philosophers, offer believers emotional comfort. Philosophy isn’t about comforting people and it certainly isn’t about emotions. Philosophers don’t really like it when you tell them that you believe on faith or that you feel that your belief in God is right. Be honest, if you wanted to feel God’s presence, would you rather watch this:

or this?

 

Plantinga seems like a swell enough fellow, but you don’t have to be in any epistemic position to know which one you’d choose.

Am I right?

By the way, what the frak is an “epistemic position” anyway?

 

 

On the Question of So-Called Superchimps, Their Place in our Moral Universe, and What Their Inclusion Means For the Average Idiot

I have a dog. I care about my dog. I care about my dog’s well being. I want him to be safe from moving cars or tainted dog food. I want others to be nice to my dog and respect my dog’s “right” to live a full, fun-filled dog life. My sentiment is not uncommon or even discouraged among pet owners. If asked, most pet owners would say that they care for their pets. They care about whether their pets have enough food to eat, or whether they are kept warm at night or safe from harm. But why is this so? Why do we value our pets so dearly?

The answer is because we include our pets in our moral sphere, that is, our pets are morally considerable. But, if we say that our pets are morally considerable, what do we mean when we say that something counts morally? What criteria do we use to determine who is in and who is out of our moral universe?

We say that something has “moral status” if that thing ( or being ) counts for us morally. That is, we owe certain moral obligations to certain, other beings. Status is most often defined in terms of  moral agents and moral patients. Individuals who possess rational autonomy and are self-legislating are moral agents. Moral patients are those individuals who lack, either by age, physical or mental condition, etc, the ability to self-legislate or rational autonomy are moral patients. For example, a year-old child lacks the ability to engage in rational, self-legislating behavior. The child is a moral patient. The child’s parent, if the parent is autonomous and self-legislating, is the moral agent who must act to the benefit of the child. An individual is in our moral sphere only if we grant the individual moral consider ability.

But, the act of considering an individual’s moral status relies on an important supposition: The act of considering the effects of our actions upon others indicates that those individuals that we take into account are already included  in our moral sphere. So, if moral considerability indicates that others are in our moral sphere, then we must ask, how do we include others in our sphere? That is, what are the criteria for the inclusion of other beings?

The West’s traditional view of moral status is grounded in the biblical texts of the Old Testament and Aristotle‘s hierarchy concerning nature and the natural order. The book of Genesis clearly states the relationship between man and animals:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and

let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the

air , and over the cattle, and all over the earth, and over every creeping

thing that creeps upon the earth”. (Genesis 1:26. Emphasis added).

The traditional biblical view holds that man, as a being created in God’s image, is given the earth to rule as he sees fit. The fact that animals are not made in God’s image  discharges any human from any moral obligation to the welfare of animals. According to the biblical view, the lack of any ability to morally wrong any animal means that animals are not morally considerable.  Aristotle brought the hierarchy to nature (and the natural order of things) which placed humans, more specifically free human males, at the top of the “natural” hierarchy. Aristotle wrote that man’s power of reasoning endowed him with natural superiority (and a soul). The way of nature, in Aristotle’s view, naturally places superior beings in positions of authority over inferior beings. In other words, if a rational soul is a superior trait, then it is the way of nature for animals who possess this trait to rule over animals that do not possess the same superior trait. Aristotle stated that animals, by contrast, are governed by their passions or instincts. Aristotle wrote that man’s rational soul ruled over his passions, and that this trait indicates that man’s natural place is to rule over animals. Aristotle reflects the traditional view in that inferior animals are “natural slaves” that are benefited by serving the interests of superior animals. Aristotle writes,

“…the other animals exist for the sake of man, and tame for use and food, the wild, if not all, at least the greater part of them for food…”

Descartes continued the traditional view of moral status. Descartes wrote that animals are mere “machines” meant to serve the need of their human masters. Although Descartes maintains the traditional view that man’s intellect confers superior status, Descartes gives an additional criteria for man’s moral superiority to animals. For Descartes, the capacity for speech is indicative of an individual’s intellectual capacity. The fact that animals possess no capacity for speech (at least no speech that humans can understand), animals cannot “… use speech… as we do when placing our thoughts on record for the benefit of others.”

It is important to stop at this point to clear up an immediate objection to Descartes’ speech criteria.  If Descartes means to state that any being that lacks the capacity to express their thoughts in speech also lacks the capacity to think, one might put forth that Descartes is excluding humans who are mentally or physically challenged from the moral sphere. Humans who cannot speak due to physical or mental impairments, if Descartes’ criteria is used to define moral status, may be reduced to the status of “brutes” or animals.  Descartes, however, explains that his speech criteria does not exclude the mentally or physically disabled, on the grounds that individuals who lack verbal speech often find other ways to communicate their thoughts to others. For instance,  person who is born mute may learn to communicate through sign language. A person who is mentally handicapped may learn to express themselves, despite the fact that they lack the ability to communicate verbally. Descartes states that a disabled individual may have a diminished intellectual capacity, but is not excluded from the moral sphere due to the fact that humans who are intellectually “inferior“  possess some capacity for self expression. An animal, on the other hand, not only lacks a minimal capacity for rational thought, but lacks any capacity for rationality at all.
Although Descartes explains that his speech criteria will not exclude humans (including the mentally and physically disabled) from the moral sphere, Descartes’ explanation fails to recognize the fact the speech criteria may indeed reduce some humans to the status of mere “brutes”. Some humans do lack any capacity for speech, such as profoundly retarded individuals or the comatose. In addition, some animals have acquired the capacity to express their thoughts through non-verbal human languages such as American sign language. And, if the traditional hierarchical view places a rational soul at the top of the natural order, the fact that some animals possess a capacity for rational thought leads us to question whether an animal that possesses the capacity for rational thought may assume a higher position in the natural hierarchy. An animal that possesses a rational soul may disrupt man’s assumed position at the top of the natural hierarchy. A human who lacks the capacity for rational thought, such as the mentally challenged or the comatose, may be relegated to the status of animals and excluded from the moral sphere.

As humans, we feel reluctant (intuitively) to exclude people who we feel not only merit moral consideration, but also fit into the moral sphere. We feel that it is wrong to exclude any human from moral consideration on the basis that a person lacks the capacity to articulate their thoughts. We feel that despite their physical or mental handicap, a human mentally or physically disabled human is still a human, and that their humanness demands moral considerability and inclusion in the moral sphere. But, what about an animal who, despite a mere physical or mental difference from other rational beings, possesses human-like qualities, such as rationality and the ability to articulate its thoughts through language?  Is there a criteria for moral status that will allow us to include both rational animals and marginal cases? I believe that the answer is yes. I hold that Kant’s criteria for moral status allows us to include rational animals, but more importantly, Kant’s moral status criteria allows us to preserve marginal cases for moral consideration in the moral sphere.

It is  possible that nature may produce a chimpanzee with cognitive abilities that exceed the capacities of the average human. The fact that this “super chimp” ( let’s call him “Arthur Crackpot”), surpasses the intellectual capacity of the average human cannot be ignored, nor can it be dismissed as a mere aberration. It would not be difficult to imagine that Arthur Crackpot or any chimpanzee that possesses a high capacity for rational thought would not hesitate to articulate its thoughts or express what it considered to be its own interests. We can be most certain that Arthur Crackpot and any other “super chimp” would demand immediate inclusion into our moral sphere. The fact that the animal can do so forces us to deal with it in a manner that does not conform to the traditional biblical, natural hierarchy, nor can we treat the animal as a mere machine that is fit to serve man’s needs. So, if the difference between man and animals — primates in particular — is trivial, and a naturally occurring “super chimp’ is not outside the realm of possibility, then the mere fact that man and animal are different species is not a morally relevant difference to account for the exclusion of animals from the moral consideration or the moral sphere.

If we grant moral consideration of smarter animals, and we include Arthur Crackpot and other “super chimps” in our moral sphere because they rank higher on the hierarchical scale, then, if we are to be consistent, we must exclude certain marginal case humans who possess intellectual capacities far below the capacities of other animals. But, as I said before, this sounds intuitively wrong. We should not exclude humans simply because they lack the ability to articulate their thoughts or the capacity for rational thought. So, what perspective allows us to include both “super chimps” and marginal cases? I believe that the Kantian approach to moral agency allows us to  not only extend moral consideration  and inclusion of animals such as Arthur Crackpot, but the Kantian approach also allows us to keep marginal case humans in the moral sphere.

Kant states that rational beings must be treated as ends in themselves. That is, beings that possess the ability for rational thought cannot be used as a mere means to another person’s ends. Rational beings, according to Kant, are self-legislating and autonomous. The fact that rational beings possess an autonomous and self-legislating will grants them moral agency. Moral agents are not only morally accountable for their own actions, but are also morally obligated to moral patients. For Kant, rationality is not a matter of degree, but a characteristic that is all-or-nothing. Beings are either rational or they are not rational. Although Kant’s criteria seems to push us once again towards the hierarchy, the concept of moral patients pushes us away from excluding rational animals and irrational people.

Kant states that man’s duty to animals is indirect, in that our duties to animals are limited to treating them in a non-abusive manner, but Kant also states that our treatment of animals reflects how we are likely to treat other humans. Although we consider our treatment of animals from the Kantian perspective, we only consider their welfare from our own perspective — we do not want to cultivate abusive personalities in people who might harm their fellow man. This approach gets us away from the hierarchy it seems, but perhaps not very far. But, let us remember, Kant states that his criteria for our moral obligation is rationality.  More importantly, Kant does not specify a degree of rationality that qualifies a being for admission in our moral sphere. For Kant, rationality is all or nothing. So, from this perspective, an animal that possesses a minimal degree of rationality is included in the moral sphere. So, one might say this criteria requires that a “super chimp” like Arthur Crackpot, who possesses a level of rationality rival to that of a human must also be regarded as a human moral agent.

If Arthur commit’s a moral transgression, he must be held accountable for his actions. So, for instance, if Arthur kills a human, he could be held accountable for his actions not only morally but legally as well. But this is not correct. For Kant, having moral agency does not necessarily follow from having rationality. There are minimally rational people who cannot be moral agents. These individuals are moral patients. Moral patients are included in the moral sphere insofar as their interests are the subject of moral consideration, but are excluded, in a sense, from a moral obligation to other moral agents. On the other hand, moral agents are morally obligated to moral patients.  It is clear that the concept of holding a trial for a chimpanzee is ridiculous (not to mention next to impossible to find a jury of Arthur’s peers). A chimpanzee, no matter how rational it may be, should not be held accountable for his actions in the same way that a human is held accountable for her actions. Like a child, an animal that possesses a minimal degree of rationality may  be incapable of comprehending the moral ramifications of his actions. If an animal is like a child or an other moral patient, we are obligated to consider the welfare of that being. Likewise, if a human possesses a minimal degree of rationality, we are obligated to consider the welfare of that person. And, the fact that we have taken these individuals into our moral consideration signifies that both some animals and marginal case humans possess moral status in our moral universe.

The traditional, biblical, and Cartesian perspectives on moral status and moral considerability fail to enable to include animals who should be granted moral status. Even more detrimental to these perspectives is the fact that adherence to these perspectives forces us to remove humans as well.  Kant’s rationality criteria allows us to include rational animals like “Arthur Crackpot” in the moral sphere without excluding human marginal cases. The concept of moral patients and moral agency allows us to include individuals that may not be fully rational in the sense that they are capable of moral responsibility, but rational to the degree that they count in the moral sphere. Kant’s approach — though it is not perfect — is the best perspective we have to determine moral considerability, moral status and the inclusion of human marginal cases in the moral sphere.