A Salmon of Doubt – Episode 4 – The Argument from Scripture

 The News:

Jerry Coyne talk presented by CFI Toronto, about his new book: Faith Versus Fact

The Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change

Apologetics Counter – The Argument from Scripture

William Lane Craig Debate with Christopher Hitchens

Some Bart Ehrman

Erhman on Reasonable Doubts

Secular Outpost series, the Logic of the Resurrection

Events!

The Non-Conference

The Atheist Community of Toronto

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The Argument from Evil.

I had planned to post some counter-apologetics here in advance of discussing them on the podcast. Four episodes late, but I am now getting started.

Pure Evil

Pure Evil

Among the most popular reasons cited for atheism is the “Problem of Evil”. Like most positive atheist arguments it is not a complete argument for believing there are no gods. Rather, it is an argument against the essential attributes of some definition of a god. The problem of evil argues that there are inherent contradictions between the attributes of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and the evil and or suffering we seem to observe. Christians typically believe God possesses these attributes, so if he could not, then the God they believe in could not exist. Another kind of god might, but it could not be all-good AND all-powerful.

In its basic, strong and logical form it goes like this:

1) if a god exists, it would be all-good, and would want to stop any unnecessary suffering or evil he could

2) if a god exists he would be powerful enough to stop all unnecessary evil and suffering

3) there is unnecessary evil and suffering

5) therefore no such God exists

There are only a few counters to this argument, the strongest being the skeptical theist response that all the suffering and evil observed is necessary in some way. In others words, god has perfectly good reasons for not stopping evil and suffering from occurring.

For example, a theist might argue that much evil and suffering are due to our own immoral and sinful conduct- wars, crimes, torture, and so on. That allowing humans the freedom to act this way and for the consequences to really manifest, is a greater good than preventing the evil, since it allows for a sensible moral creation with humans having to make meaningful moral choices. I don’t agree with this, but let us grant it for the sake of argument.

This is only a partial response , since not all human suffering is due to human actions. Disease and natural disaster are responsible for a great part, if not the majority of human suffering. Our free will is irrelevant to whether these events occur. So what reason could a god have for not intervening to prevent this suffering? Why do the prayers of most of the parents with children dying of disease go unheeded? I cannot imagine any legitimate reason.

"Mom, Dad, don't touch it, its Pure Evil!"

“Mom, Dad, don’t touch it, its Pure Evil!”

The best reason for theists to propose is “I don’t know, but that doesn’t mean the reasons aren’t there.” This may be true, but it seems out of keeping with the idea that we are born equipped, even partially equipped, to understand and apply objective morality. It would seem to mean that we are ignorant of many important moral facts about the cosmos, in fact we would be ignorant as to why or how some of the worst and seemingly gratuitous suffering is not stopped by one who can stop it, and does not want us to suffer. We should be able to speculate somehow as to why god might not intervene, if indeed there are perfectly good and intelligible reasons not to. This might even result in moral paralysis. Should we intervene to prevent or alleviate suffering? How could we know if doing so prevents this mysterious greater good?

After this analysis the argument survives quite well in its weaker form:

1) if god exists he would be powerful enough to eliminate all evil and suffering.

2) if god exists he would eliminate all evil and suffering unless there were moral reasons not to. Or, if god exists the would be no gratuitous suffering or evil.

3) much suffering and evil appears gratuitous. We can not imagine any reason why god would not intervene to eliminate it.

4) so much suffering and evil seems gratuitous because at least some of it is. If we are created by God with a divinely instituted moral sensibility, we should be able to come up with reasons why God would not intervene even if we can’t verify them.

5) therefore it is unlikely that god exists.

There are a few other, less persuasive counters, such as the speculation that all suffering, even disease and natural disasters, are caused by human sin. This seems to be an incredibly unfair and torturous cosmos, where young children are somehow responsible for their cancer, or worse, they suffer and die because of the wrongs of their ancestors.

Another weak response, in my view, is that the reason god doesn’t intervene is that he doesn’t want to deprive us of the opportunity to do good works of charity and healing in the face of disease and disaster. I don’t think the opportunity for good here outweighs the harm caused by natural disasters like the Haitian earthquake, or the Indonesian Tsunami. Even so, there are plenty of wars and human caused disasters for us to rally together and express these good intentions of relief and healing. We don’t need Altzheimer’s disease to have the opportunity to be good.

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A Salmon of Doubt – Episode 3 – Teleological Argument Part 1

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Raif Badawi, before he met Saudi justice…

 

Click me to listen

Get in touch! briangreenadams@gmail.com

Matthew Toobee’s Name

http://biblehub.com/matthew/6-6.htm

Brian’s Name

Brian Eno – https://ffrf.org/news/day/dayitems/item/14827-brian-eno

Robert Green Ingersoll- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTkVCccCA4w

Douglas Adams – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kK1YgR7J0g

Why We Are Doing This Podcast

(Well at least why Brian does this.) https://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/is-there-a-god-why-it-matters-to-atheists/

The News

Third Atheist Blogger Hacked to Death http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/12/third-atheist-blogger-killed-in-bangladesh-after-knife-attack

Loyola Supreme Court Case Revisited – Teaching from a Catholic perspective yes, but it is not as bad as we thought it might be. http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/14703/index.do

Apologetics Counter

Paley’s Version of the Argument http://philosophy.lander.edu/intro/paley.shtml#two

A Pro Fine Tuning Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpIiIaC4kRA

KnownNoMore’s Funny Response https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OD81sCoPOEw

Events!

The Non-Conference

The Atheist Community of Toronto

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A Salmon of Doubt – Episode 2 – Moral Argument 1(Links)

Click me for Episode 2

News:

Supreme Court rules Quebec infringed on Loyola High School’s religious freedom

The hour-long show that made Brian think the US Supreme Court will allow same sex marriag

  • The Strange Notions website – a place for civil discussions about Catholicism and Atheism

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act info.

Apologetics Counter

The Moral Argument on Apologetics Press

Known No More’s “The End of Theistic Morality

The theme to 3-2-1-Contact.

Battle at Kruger

Fallacy Fun Time!

Poisoning the Well

Michael Shermer on Long Now

Picks

Reasonable Doubts Podcast

Events!

The Non-Conference

The Atheist Community of Toronto

Erratum

The ACT meets the third Tuesday, not Thursday, every month.

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Podcast: A Salmon of Doubt

A Salmon of Doubt is my podcast with co-host Matthew Toobee. It is loosely associated with the Atheist Community of Toronto.

We discuss news we feel is relevant to atheists, counter-apologetics, and other issues of interest.

Download or listen on Soundcloud or iTunes.

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Human Rights and Freedom of Religion in Indonesia

On my bus ride Twitter perusal this morning I cam across this tweet from Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom.

ambB

I would love to visit Jakarta, Indonesia and especially its expansive religious buildings. But there was more news about Indonesia this morning:

Bali Nine executions: Tony Abbott to recall Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia

Yes, to the anger and outrage of much of the world yesterday, Indonesia killed 8 people because they were involved in drug smuggling. The death penalty is a violation of international human rights norms to begin with, but to do it for drug crimes is particularly abhorrent. A number of the prisoners executed were Australian which is why Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is recalling his ambassador.

Canada has two ambassadors in Indonesia at the moment, one is our diplomat, the other is our Ambassador for Religious Freedom. No indication they will be withdrawn in protest. I had no idea what he is doing in Indonesia, or what he expects to accomplish, until I found this on the interwebs:

In August of last year, Minister Baird announced the first three religious freedom projects. In Nigeria we are funding a two-year and roughly $553,000 project to promote interfaith dialogue and conflict mediation between different communities, specifically Christian and Muslim communities. With the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE, we are launching a three-year project worth just over $670,000 with the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, to promote international standards on freedom of religion, focusing on recognition of religious or belief communities in eastern Europe, central Asia, and the south Caucasus. In Indonesia we are launching a $260,000 project with the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace to produce annual reports on freedom of religion and belief, increase understanding by religious communities of their constitutional rights, provide advocacy and networking tools to religious communities, and provide training for teachers on religious tolerance and pluralism.

So he is likely there in connection to the quarter million dollars Canadians are giving the Setara Institute to promote religious freedom. Not likely to demand Indonesia recognize the right to believe and not and ask them to get rid of their law that literally criminalizes atheist expression and resulted in the arrest and jailing of  Alexander Aan in 2012 for writing “God doesn’t exist” in social media.

This highlights the strange and, frankly, offensive fact that Canada has established an office in Foreign Affairs to support only one human right. There is no office for Human Rights, no ambassador. No millions of dollars funding promoting gender equality in Saudi Arabia, promoting gay rights in Russia. Meanwhile Baltimore burns because of racism.

And, on my dime, Ambassador Bennet gets to tour the world’s third largest mosque. I would love to see the Istiqlal Mosque one day, but I am now afraid to go to Indonesia, because it is illegal to promote atheism there. And Indonesia executes people, today drug trafficking, maybe tomorrow for blasphemy. I have little hope that my Ambassador is promoting my rights in that country, or anywhere else.

Impress us Ambassador Bennet. Be courageous. Make a statement in support of Alan Aan, or are you also afraid you will be imprisoned? (Hint: you have diplomatic immunity.)

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Supreme Court Upholds City Council Prayer Ban

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a bi-law setting out and regulating prayer at the outset of city council meetings in Saguenay Quebec violates guarantees of freedom of religion. Like in Big M Drug Mart, the Court saw through the weak protests that the purpose of the by-law was to “ensure decorum and highlight the importance of the work of the councillors”. The purpose of the by-law was to regulate a prayer. The prayer was monotheistic, and, arguably, Catholic. It excluded persons of inconsistent or no religious beliefs and literally had them wait outside.

Before I get into the legal details, I want to talk about what this case means and doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean people can no longer pray. People, even city Councillors, can still pray. They can pray for hours and days at a time. They can pray at work, at school, they can have whatever content they like in their prayers.

What this case prevents, is government bodies taking a side on religious issues. City Councillors and other government officials cannot pray in their official capacity. This case affirms that government in Canada is to be neutral on issues of religion. Not anti-religious, but neutral. It is not to get involved one way or another on religious issues. I think this is another way of saying that government in Canada is to be secular.

The Background

There were a number of factors that made this case ideal as a test case for secular activists. Firstly, because the city of Saguenay had amalgamated three cities in 2002, and the prayer was introduced to the new Council then, there was little hope of an argument that the prayer was a historic or traditional practice rather than a religious one.

There was no prayer by-law until 2008, following a complaint by atheist Alain Simoneau. At that time the Council. Before the complaint the prayer read:

O God, eternal and almighty, from Whom all power and wisdom flow, we are assembled here in Your presence to ensure the good of our city and its prosperity. We beseech You to grant us the enlightenment and energy necessary for our deliberations to promote the honour and glory of Your holy name and the spiritual and material [well-being] of our city.

Amen

Following his complaint, a by-law was introduced and the prayer was changed to:

Almighty God,

We thank You for the great blessings that You have given to Saguenay and its citizens, including freedom, opportunities for development and peace. Guide us in our deliberations as City Council members and help us to be aware of our duties and responsibilities. Grant us the wisdom, knowledge and understanding to allow us to preserve the benefits enjoyed by our City for all to enjoy and so that we may make wise decisions.

Amen

The by-law allows for time for people who do not want to participate in the prayer to leave.

The Case also featured a mayor who was not shy in characterizing this case a religious crusade.

The Case

The case was brought by Alain Simoneau and the “Movement laique quebecois” to the Quebec human rights commission who accepted that it merited a hearing before the human rights tribunal. There was a challenge to the by-law and the presence of some religious symbols. (There were jurisdictional issues with whether the presence of religious symbols could be litigated, ultimately, no.)

The Tribunal upheld the complaint and ordered compensatory and punitive damages to the complainants in the amount of $30,000. It heard expert testimony from a number of witnesses on issues of secularism and governance.

Cases of the Tribunal may be judicially reviewed by directly to the Quebec Court of Appeal, which quashed the Tribunal’s decision. Courts have limited rights interfere with the decisions of administrative tribunals such as human rights tribunals. Even if they disagree with the decision, they may defer to the decision as long as it is reasonable, but on some issues the reviewing court will require the tribunal to be correct. The standard of review will accordingly be very important. The Court of Appeal held the Tribunal in this case to a standard of correctness.

The Court of Appeal found that the Tribunal had improperly accepted the evidence of an expert who was a founding member of the Mouvement laïque québécois. It found this person to be biased and preferred the City’s experts.

The Supreme Court of Canada found the Court of Appeal to be wrong on just about everything. It held the proper standard of review was one of reasonableness, though I think it is clear from the reasons of Justice Gascon, that the majority thinks the Tribunal got it mostly correct. The decision was unanimous, with Justice Abella giving separate reasons on the standard of review.

What the Supreme Court Held – Canada’s Government is to be Neutral on Religious Issues

For me the most important issue was: what does it meant for a Government to be “neutral” on religion. This is where the expert testimony came in. Evidence was given with respect to various forms of secularism in government.

The City argued that secular government is not neutral since it bans and excludes religious speech, thus favouring the atheist perspective.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court disagreed:

Contrary to the respondents’ argument, abstaining does not amount to taking a stand in favour of atheism or agnosticism. The difference, which, although subtle,   is   important,   can   be   illustrated   easily.   A   practice   according   to   which a municipality’s officials, rather than reciting a prayer, solemnly declared that the council’s deliberations were based on a denial of God would be just as unacceptable. The state’s duty of neutrality would preclude such a position, the effect of which would be to exclude all those who believe in the existence of a deity.

In short, there is a distinction between unbelief and true neutrality. True neutrality presupposes abstention, but it does not amount to a stand favouring one view over another. No such inference can be drawn from the state’s silence. In this regard, I will say that the benevolent neutrality to which the Court of Appeal referred is not really compatible with the concept of true neutrality. As understood by that court, neutrality would in the instant case require tolerance for the state’s profession of a clearly identified religious belief on the basis of tolerance for its history and culture. I do not believe that is the sense of true state neutrality with respect to freedom of conscience and religion.

This is quite important as, recently, there seems to be a push to eliminate any limits on religious practice by government officials acting in an official capacity. (This view was recently advanced by Iain Benson in a debate with Leslie Rosenblood who provided an excellent rejoinder, in line with Justice Gagnon’s reasons.)

Separation of Church and State

I was a little confused by Justice Gagnon’s statements that,

True neutrality is concerned not with a strict separation of church and state on questions related to religious thought.

And,

The purpose of neutrality is instead to ensure that the state is, and appears to be, open to all points of view regardless of their spiritual basis. Far from requiring separation, true neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any religion, and that it abstain from taking any position on this subject.

I suppose he wants to say that Canada’s government is truly neutral, though it may not have strict separation of church and state. I just do not see how you can have one Christian denomination having publicly funded schools and say this is not favouring one religion.

Gagnon tries to distinguish the Renfrew decision which upheld a prayer as non-denominational. He doesn’t really succeed, he says the prayer in Renfrew was found to be non-religious, but it was almost exactly the same, as the Saguenay prayer, which was modeled after it,

Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity, and peace that we enjoy. Guide us in our deliberations as [County Councillors], and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen.

Basically, the Ontario Court of Justice found this prayer to be non-religious, the Quebec Tribunal found the opposite, and the Supreme Court is saying the Tribunal was reasonable. We do not know whether the Supreme Court thinks it really is religious, but from the full context of the decision, it would seem that Gascon thinks the Tribunal got it right. (The fact that punitive damages were upheld screams this.)

I think the larger context played a significant role here. The mayor’s description of this case as essentially his jihad, likely influenced the Court’s view that this kind of thing should be stopped:

 I’m in this battle because I worship Christ.
When I get to the hereafter, I’m going to be able to be a little proud. I’ll be able to say to Him: “I fought for You; I even went to trial for You”. There’s no better argument. It’s extraordinary.
I’m in this fight because I worship Christ. I want to go to heaven and it is the most noble fight of my entire life.

If you are going to write that this prayer is to “to ensure decorum and highlight the importance of the work of the councillors”, don’t go around calling it a fight for Christ.

A great and overdue ruling!

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