When debate becomes meaningless Friday, Jun 4 2010 

I recently realised something.

Debating with religious people is really difficult.

Now, obviously I already knew this up to a point, but I’ve recently had something of a realisation regarding the extent of this. In a recent debate about the nature of demonic forces allowing and spreading evil within the world (already with the benefit of hindsight I can tell I was taking far too much for the sake of argument), and a reply came back which basically consisted of several assertions and Bible verses. I realised at this point that we were having a completely pointless conversation.

I don’t care if you say god is love, I don’t care if you tell me angels have the free will to rebel and become demons, I don’t care if you tell me Jesus is the way to battle demonic influence, and I don’t care if you quote me every passage from the Bible complete with it’s little name and number. I realised after reading this that he was just talking utter nonsense because it was all unproven assertions as far as I was concerned. For me to take the existence of angels and demons as true for the sake of argument is conceding far too much – it loses me in a world of fantasy that I cannot argue against because I don’t actually believe any of it.

When it comes down to it, the only real debate is this: can the existence of god(s) be proven? All the arguments from morality, all the demonstrations of religious excess and cruelty, these count for nothing because they don’t tell us anything about whether god(s) exist or not. The real debate needs to be about if god(s) exist or not – is the teleological argument convincing, for example, and if not why not?

I suppose my point is really to point out something I’m guilty of fairly often: don’t concede so much for the sake of argument that you end up talking about angels and demons and how the affect our morality, because then we may as well be talking about how pixies affect the productivity of cobblers.

Why a benevolent divine law-giver almost certainly does not exist. Monday, Apr 19 2010 

Those of a Christian bent generally have something along these lines to say to excuse the evils in the world: “god has to allow evil because he has to allow our free will”. Whilst this may satisfy some curious minds, it doesn’t really explain anything.

I recently came across an almost perfect analogy which completely destroys the reasoning of allowing evil to let free will reign. If a policeman stops a thief stealing something, we do not claim the fact that the thief’s free will has been curtailed is some kind of huge moral evil. The point is that we have laws and they are enforced – the problem with scriptural laws is that they are not enforced. The laws that various gods have allegedly passed down to their prophets have only ever been enforced when humans have taken it upon themselves to enforce them.

Now, the problem with this is that within the Christian paradigm is the doctrine of Original Sin. So here we have a situation where the divine law-giver has given us the laws, and instead of enforcing them himself, he palms off the responsibility on us: those who are suppossedly “fallen”. It’d be like the government creating laws and relying on ex-cons to uphold them rather than the police.

The whole idea is fundamentally flawed. To Christians who laud the free will defence of allowing god to let evils occur: I do not understand how you can rationalise living in a society which operates under the rule of law which neccessarily curtails the free will of those who would commit actions deemed illegal. If any gods exist, it is their responsibility to uphold any laws they create – to do any less would be irresonsible.

Into the Christian Union Monday, Mar 15 2010 

So a month or two ago I went to the Christian Union at my university to get a bit of an insight, and hopefully to interact with people via debate. The topic was “Why does God allow natural disasters?” which I thought they may have a hard time justifying.

The first thing I noticed was just how popular the Christian Union was. I don’t know how many were like me, only there for observation and disagreement, but there were far more people than chairs. This slightly unnerved me, as religion is routinely shown to be fairly unpopular in the UK. Perhaps we still have a way to go.

The speaker gets up to the stage and the first thing he does is disagree with the ‘Pat Robertson’ approach – in other words he says that these disasters are not punishment from god for sins or dealing with the devil. Interesting, I thought – at least this won’t be some kind of ultra-fundamentalist argument which will result in me being thrown out due to anger.

However, whilst his first argument was slightly less overtly immoral, is was nonetheless vacuous. He claimed that natural disasters are required as part of the workings of our world – they are merely part of the process of the natural world. He is of course correct – but let me tell you something about omnipotence. Omnipotence means you can do anything. His god isn’t just doing the best with the tools he had, he wasn’t forced to use the framework for a planet that included earthquakes in inconvenient areas. An omnipotent god could create a fully-functioning world without natural disasters.

His other argument essentially boiled down to “money is evil” – which as an aside I rather like as being much truer to Christianity than certain denominations which have become so entwined with the political right that they have become ‘Churches of the Free Market and Jesus Christ’ – but let me explain: his idea was that if you looked at (to use his example) the 2004 tsunami, you would see that places like Thailand you would see a heavy effect, whilst places like Burma did not – this was due to the mangrove swamps around the coast being removed in places like Thailand in order to provide beaches for tourists. This, he claimed was bad – the Thai people’s greed (and he then went on in a slightly humourous manner to say how they exhibited all the seven deadly sins – every one of which boiled down to greed for money, which rather defeats the purpose of having seven) meant that they had destroyed the natural barriers god provided simply in order to make money.

Leaving for a moment the ridiculous notion of claiming that Burma is better than it’s neighbours (a country run by a military dictatorship that does not encourage tourism in any appreciable way), this is unbelievable. His argument basically boils down to “don’t try and make a living”. The idea that one should be punished (even by proxy) simply for trying to make one’s country prosperous and less like Junta-led Burma appalls me, frankly.

Unfortunately, no questions were had as he’d overrun on the time. Of my fellow students, no-one was really prepared to fully agree with the speaker once I had put my concerns to them (I find that Christians – or at least liberal Christians – tend to attempt to excuse away immorality of religion rather than simply condemning it or accepting it), so I didn’t get a good answer.

Perhaps someone else can enlighten me as to why the world’s poor must be required to undergo hardship like no other?