If you were carefully paying attention to this televised tumult, I want to believe that like me, you would have found it difficult to believe that these sounding boards for their respective philosophical positions, could be so full of sound and fury signifying nothing. This is a clear example of when two wrongs don’t make a right.
Take Bill O’Reilly for example. In this exchange, he appears to be vastly ignorant of the subtleties and the complicated nature of the debates between theists and atheists. He also seemed to be more interested in extracting an apology from an unwilling interlocutor for a statement that he (O’Reilly) could just as easily have made were the circumstances different. If this was supposed to be a rational discussion, or an attempt to tame the verbal or rhetorical excesses of his guest by a dispassionate presentation of facts or logical argument, O’Reilly failed miserably to do so.
Nevertheless, to be fair to this guy and the rest of the O’Reilly Factor team, they seem by comparison to the rest of the talking heads on Fox News, to be more serious about the commitment to fairness and balance in their news reporting—even if O’Reilly’s personal views hew heavily to the right. At least there is the pretension [one can’t ask for any less] that different views are entertained or at least given an opportunity to be aired. Personally, I would prefer a non-confrontational and discussional ambience to O’Reilly’s interviews, but hey, how is he going to stay ahead of the curve in a 24-hour news cycle dominated by sound bites, twitter journalism, and the attention-seeking antics of the Glenn Beck-Rush Limbaugh-Sarah Palin trinity? It is no wonder that broadcast journalism has become like sport—one better find a way to quickly grab the short attention span of the average American or wither into insignificance. But I digress.
Then there is Dave Silverman, president of the American Atheists group. I am sure he must have been reliably informed of Bill O’Reilly’s notorious and annoying penchant for cutting people off as they are trying to make a point, and so he came prepared as it were, to out-O’Reilly his host on that particular segment. That came at a cost: he didn’t seem so much different from or even more informed than O’Reilly or the millions of Americans that his group would fain accuse of feckless God-worship.
Let us examine this noisy spectacle, shall we?
A) O’Reilly insistence that the billboards are an insult to theists is inconsequential. Freedom of Speech, mate. Atheists have every right to denounce whatever they want to denounce. This will be similar to the way that theists also have the right to believe and state their convictions; or to denounce whatever they are convinced to denounce. It will amount to nothing more than the tyranny of the majority for atheists, or other minorities to be required to recant their beliefs or identity to please or blend in with majority opinion.
B) Mr. Silverman’s assertion that “everybody knows that religion is a scam” is both logically incoherent and factually inaccurate. How can he defend this pointless assertion? If everyone knows that religion is a scam, then you would expect, by human actions and utterances, that every human being realizes this. It wouldn’t matter if anyone still chose to profess a faith; everybody’s words and deeds will show unmistakably that everyone knows religion to be a mere flight of fancy. This is highly incongruent with the real world for we find that in many cases, belief in God is seldom based on human knowledge or mentation but is deeply rooted in personal experiences, revelations, and a keen sense of affinity or oneness with the transcendental.
C) The so-called New Atheists of today are so intellectually inferior to the atheists of yesteryears that one just can’t help but feel nostalgic for the sort of robust but intellectually-stimulating challenges the former atheists offered to theism. In its place, we have a bunch of rather amateurish rabble-rousers who often do not take the time to fully understand the informed Christian positions on the issues they are so adamantly opposed to. For example, Mr. Silverman’s conception of the Christian God seems to be the oft-caricatured depiction of “an invisible man in the sky”. Is it any wonder that he runs around informing people that God-belief is a myth? How tiresome this atheist objection really is! If he genuinely believes that the theist conception of God is akin to some unseen human hovering somewhere in the stratosphere, he ought to be congratulated for his evangelical atheism. At this point in the interview, both men were consumed with upstaging the other that they really had no time to weigh the other’s comments carefully.
D) O’Reilly then oversteps his boundary as a mere journalist, in trying to establish a rational basis for a belief in a supernatural existence. His example? Tides—yes, sea tides! Of all the things begging for at least the mild suspicion that there may be a non-physical realm or a non-physical being, O’ Reilly chooses to talk about tides! O’Reilly needs to read a science book sometime; or at least do a little Google-based research into the subject of tides. He would have found out that tides are easy to understand and can be easily explained to a 3rd-grader: the rise and fall of sea-levels are simply caused by the combined forces of the gravitational forces exerted by the moon and the sun as well as the rotation of the earth. O’Reilly’s unfamiliarity with tides hardly rises to an existential question in my opinion, and thus wouldn’t qualify as food-for-thought to anyone seriously contemplating the larger questions in life.
E) If O’Reilly’s ignorance of basic science was disappointing, it was even more disappointing to notice that Mr. Silverman didn’t know this either. For one saddled with the task of badgering the supposedly intellectually-complacent body of willful God-believers to drop their “tiresome God-belief”, Silverman displays an astonishing lack of depth. How effective an advocate for his world-view is he going to be if he cannot even attempt to answer simple posers like this? Perhaps, this is because he did not have enough time with a combative talk-show host to attempt a halfway decent reply. But his insistence that he does not need to know the legitimate answer to O’Reilly’s quandary or his satirical reference to “Thor on top of Mount Olympus making the tides go in and out” negates or belies this suspicion. Pray tell, who would want to take this guy’s atheist preachments seriously when he does not even seem to know that the Norse god Thor does not belong with the Greek Olympian pantheon?
In the end, this is just another made-for-television charade pitting two fulminating blowhards. What they lack in sophistication or carefully thought out answers, they make up excellently in sound and needless histrionics. Atheists can put up as many billboards as they choose denouncing whatever theist belief they deem constipatory; they have the constitutionally-protected right to such actions. There should have been no reason for O’Reilly to haul in a specimen of this atheist worldview for an afternoon of half-witted hounding.
As I was going through the religion section of Huffington Post, I came across a piece written by a former attorney, and host of Hollywood CLOUT, Mr. Richard Greene. It is not readily apparent if Mr. Greene would call himself an atheist or an agnostic. However, the piece echoes some of the same unimpressive sophomoric rhetoric directed against theism. That’s the rub, isn’t it? In many cases, when I examine atheist or secularist diatribes against God, I usually come away disappointed at the embarrassing display of crass ignorance. It is even more disappointing when you have that deadly mixture of assumed intellectual heft, arrogance, fanatical obsession with the axioms of science, crippling naturalistic assumptions, and a very poor grasp of philosophy and logic.
Greene starts out by asking whether God exists. Then he immediately tries to convey the radical idea that Albert Einstein, contrary to any proper understanding of science, had already given a scientific proof of God.
A) First of all, it is necessary to point out to him that God (at least the Christian conception of God) is not synonymous with “energy” or perhaps ‘force”. God is an incorporeal, eternal and personal being, and properly should not be addressed as though he were some reactionary and naturalistically reducible component of the universe like energy or force. Greene displays an all-too-familiar ignorance in supposing that God could be quantified or that he is composed of finite or tangible particulars. If this were not the case, he would not think that theist conceptions of God amount to some difficult-to-ascertain quantity of energy in the universe.
B) It is also useful to remind him that energy is not the same as force, in scientific terms. At best, his initial comments are scientifically imprecise. In talking about the formula E=Mc2, he betrays a fundamental misunderstanding in thinking that the formula speaks about some grand and possibly mysterious force out there. It is understandable for Mr. Greene to be awestruck by the grand majesty of the universe, or to marvel at the quirky counter-intuitive extravagance of the universe, but he does himself a disservice when he begins to imagine that being awestruck at the grandeur of the universe is a valid or rational substitute for the theist conception of God. No dice, Mr. Greene. God is not empirically reducible or scientifically verifiable. An equation establishing the similarity of matter to energy is a great scientific tool but it doesn’t explain God.
C) He goes on to make the wildly misguided and profoundly unscientific claim that the equation E=Mc2 is causally potent. It is an equation he says that “causes all of G_d’s earthly creation to be seconds away from complete annihilation at any moment in time, as it was the source of the secret of the power of the atom and the development of the atomic bomb” [emphasis mine]. Apart from the fact that Mr. Greene demonstrates that he understands precious little about what material sources went into the development of the atomic bomb, one also calls into question his understanding of the terms he so cavalierly throws around. The equation he bandies about is simply an equation; it is simply a symbolic representation in algebraic terms of the relationship between Matter and Energy. This equation has no creative or destructive capacity. It is simply a mathematical expression of a physical proposition; indeed on its own, it is very much like the mathematical expression of other physics terms like Energy, Force, Momentum, Torque, Speed—and thus are causally inert. Mathematical or even scientific propositions or equations do not spontaneously create or cause things in the universe. Rather they are convenient ways of expressing our understanding of the intricate interrelationships between different physical phenomena. Contrary to Mr. Greene’s claim, we are not in any peril of some equation causing or bringing about the annihilation of all creation. This represents a gross over-indulgence in fanciful unscientific language. The attempt to replace this mere scientific equation with God or to imbue the equation with divine attributes smacks of a scientistic desperation for objects of veneration; it is simply an expression of the stirrings of Mr. Greene’s numinous impulses.
D) After pontificating on the supposed potency of a mere equation [please remember that one is not contesting the veridicality of nuclear fission], it is pertinent to note that Mr. Greene fails to tell us exactly how the energy in the universe is supposed to be synonymous with God. Indeed he doesn’t even seem to notice that Einstein was not the first to propose a mass-energy relationship. All Mr. Greene seems to be able to do is to relate the fact that when you multiply the mass of matter found in the observable universe with the squared speed of light, you would have an astonishingly large figure for the energy contained in that mass. But why, you may ask, is this realization sufficient for Mr. Greene to claim a scientific proof of God? Why, you may ask, is this equation enough for Mr. Greene to dismiss or deny theist postulations about God? There is no evidence to show that the God concept is amenable to scientific adjudication at all; certainly not from this equation. It is even likely that if Albert Einstein was alive today and he read Mr. Greene’s piece purporting to replace God with E=Mc2, he would pull his already frazzled hair in consternation! Personally, I have to confess that this equation does not inspire the lavish worship that attorney Greene feels compelled to share.
E) But even if you can forgive his constant unscientific mistreatment of Energy and Force as though they are synonymous, you cannot help but feel underwhelmed at his ignorance of the fact that all matter in the observable universe is estimated to be only about 4.5% of the mass-energy density of the universe. Dark Matter accounts for 23% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe; Dark Energy accounts for the rest. Dark Matter and Dark Energy are pretty much nebulous, difficult-to-explain concepts. It is rather amusing that with just 5% of the observable universe, Mr. Greene is already tipsy with astonishment to the point that he feels he has to substitute God for Energy. How much shock is he in for when he realizes that scientists cannot yet explain the remaining 95% of this observable universe?
F) Perhaps, Mr Greene should be informed that the universe alone is grander than he had previously imagined. It is understandable that he thinks so highly of Einstein’s equation but to extrapolate this rudimentary understanding of mass-energy equivalence to the entire universe or use it to caricature a theist’s understanding of God is to provoke rip-roaring laughter. Pray tell, what will Mr Greene do when he begins to learn about even grander physical phenomena like Time, Strong Nuclear Force, Weak Nuclear Force, Electromagnetic Force, Gravity, Dark Matter or Dark Energy? Like many naturalists (if indeed he is one), he has merely demonstrated his misapprehension of the God concept. One can only conclude that gaining such knowledge would more than likely continue to augment his fastidious devotion to a naturalistic framework.
Trite, superfluous and mundane as internet chat room discussions usually are, there are occasionally flashes of real serious and interesting debate or dialogue. It is usually at times like that that I would start paying very close attention to what different people often say when they start waxing philosophical. It is usually at times like this that you would be truly impressed or disappointed at the astonishing depth or shallowness of arguments or viewpoints that one may not have bothered to contemplate closely.
One of such discussions was taking place recently, when a usually infrequent but popularly known regular of the chat room started a much-needed and thematic deconstruction of Christian Theism. If you asked him, he would deny that he was launching any personal attacks – as a matter of fact he simply maintained that he was just philosophically analyzing popular belief and pointing out the fatal flaws and inconsistencies of the positions advocated by Christians. This sort of critical analysis of faith-based or religious claims are usually seen by the majority Christian theists in the room as a premeditated attack on their faith, but I beg to differ. I welcome such philosophical ruminations, because it helps to strengthen and bolster theistic belief when it is properly understood and seen to be free of some self-referential incoherence.
At any rate, the young man – I’ll just call him Kendoll – made a statement to this effect:
God’s Omniscience negates Free will. They cannot both exist. It is either human beings have free will or God is not omniscient for both cannot exist at the same time.
That statement was very confusing to many people at the time, as I noticed. Indeed, it was of a sufficiently complex nature to many people that he actually had to stop typing his viewpoints in order to get on the room’s audio feature to speak on it. When he did, he seemed to be quite passionate about the topic that he set out to discuss.
Before he got up to speak though, I had been partially engaging him on the subject to get a feel for how he would actually explicate the position. I have to say, in retrospect, that his answers to me were unusually brief and curt, and lacked the enthusiasm which I had expected of one who had decided on a philosophical interjection in a room dominated by theological banter.
But if we examine the claim critically, is it really the case that God’s Omniscience negates human free will? Is it really true that if God knows everything in the past, present and future then it is not possible for human beings to exercise their choice as free moral agents? Read the rest of this entry