Monday, May 07, 2007

Stupidity, Thy Name is Frank Pastore

What is it with right-winged religious people and bad book reviews?

Frank Pastore over at has written a book review of four books critical of religion, that utterly fails to make any sense.

Why Atheism Fails: The Four Big Bangs

The books in question are The Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam by Michel Onfray, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, Letter to a Christian Nation: A Challenge to Faith by Sam Harris, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.
Of these, I've started on the last, but haven't gotten around to finish it yet.

Their titles sound so confident [...] Yet, like all atheists before them, they still can’t answer the fundamental questions of origins.

As I said, I haven't finished any of the books yet, and I don't even have three of the four he is reviewing. Yet, I am clearly of the impression that the books are not addressing the fundamental questions of origins - rather they are addressing the questions and problems that religion raises. In other words, his objection makes as much sense as objecting to the fact that Winnie the Pooh doesn't address what happened to the Sleeping Beauty after the Prince kissed her.

But let's see if we can address these great questions.

1) What is the origin of the universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? How do you get matter and energy from nothingness? How do you get a rock out of nothing?

To which I could ask, how do you get a deity out of nothing? Most religious people claim that there has always been a deity around, yet Pastore appears to have severe problems with the concept of matter always having been around. And we actually have evidence that matter exist (and can form different kinds of matter), while we seem to be lacking evidence for the existence of a deity, much less for the deity's ability to create matter out of nothing.

2) What is the origin of life? How do you get life from non-life? How do you go from a rock to a tree?

Abiogenisis is the study of the origin of life, and while there are no exact knowledge of how life started, there are some fairly good ideas of how it could have happened, some even backed up by proof-of-concept experiments. Wikipedia currently have a decent article about the subject of origins of life.

3) What is the origin of mind? How does a living thing become a self-conscious being? How do you go from a tree, to an animal, to a human?

How does a dog give birth to a cat? That question makes as much sense as the question "how do you go from a tree, to an animal?" The answer is of course, that you don't.
And the question, "how do you go from an animal, to an human?" makes as much sense as "how do you go from a flower, to a rose?". One is a subset of the other.

Pastore is inprecise in what he means by "mind", but I would suspect it would involve the evolution of a brain. Unless he of course is thinking of something entirely unrelated to brain activities, in which case, I would like to see his definition (and his evidence for it being unrelated to the brain).

4) What is the origin of good and evil? How does an amoral being become morally aware?

Good and evil are human constructs, as are moral. These concepts differ over time, so they cannot be said to be something precise that can be defined universally. For example, it was once considered morally just, and indeed a good deed, to burn people who were considered witches. Altruistic behaviour seems to be tied to certain brain activities, and while I haven't seen research on this subject yet, it might also explain altruistic behaviour in animals.

Atheists respond to all these types of questions with essentially the same style answer. “We know God doesn’t exist. Therefore, since we’re here, though, it had to have happened this way. Thus, like the universe itself, life, mind, and mo-rality all ‘just popped’ into existence out of nothingness.”

That would seem a rather silly answer, considering that the questions can be answered without any reference to the lack of a deity. Maybe Pastore is confused, and don't understand their answers? For example it would seem reasonable for an atheist to answer Pastore that all of his questions can be answered without any invocation of a deity, when Pastore indicates that they cannot.
And atheists rarely state "We know that God doesn't exist" - rather an atheist would say, "there is no evidence for any deity, so it's unlikely that a such exists".

I call them the Four Big Bangs:

Is it just me, or is the intentional misuse of scientific terms one of the major signs of stupidity ahead?

1’) the Cosmological (the universe “just popped” into existence out of nothingness).

Pastore should try to study up on the theories of the origin of the current universe. No one thinks it just popped into existence (love the quotemarks BTW - almost makes you believe he is quoting someone doesn't it?). What does Pastore think the "Big Bang" refers to? The loud "pop" when things just appeared?

2’) the Biological (life “just popped” into existence out of a dead thing).

There were some rather complicated chemical processes involved, but in essence I guess you can say that Pastore is right. Of course, Pastore doesn't seem to have a problem with the reverse process (dead things just popping into existence out of living things), or with similar religious claims (*cough* *jesus* *resurrection* *cough*).

3’) the Psychological (mind “just popped” into existence out of a brain).

Very long-drawn pop wasn't it? And a pretty vague one as well. Mind and brain is interconnected - what we might call mind is the specific type of use of a brain.

4’) and the Moral (morality “just popped” into existence out of amorality).

Is Pastore claiming that there is no amorality around any longer? Or that people are either moral or amoral? Moral is an entirely human construct, and few sane people would claim that it hasn't developed through the human ages. For an example that Pastore might understand, look at the differences in the moral messages of the Old and the New Testaments.

For their many obfuscating words, the authors still don’t improve much beyond the “just popped” thesis, if at all.

Has the man read the books? I haven't, but even I know that their purpose is not to address the moronic objections raised by Pastore.

I was an atheist for 27 years. I used to play on that team. I used to pick on religious people too. I knew the arguments to press and those to avoid.

Sadly he seems to have lost that last ability.

Attack with how unscientific theism is, how religious people aren’t very smart because they don’t chair any departments in the hard sciences at the right schools (it’s really called censorship).

Use a dictionary. Understand the definitions. Censorship has nothing to do with this.

Raise the problem of evil: How could an omnipo-tent, loving God allow evil? Either God is not all powerful and can’t destroy it, or He doesn’t want to. Either way there can’t be a God because evil exists (don’t bring up the existence of good though, it’s too problematic).

I personally don't find this argument particularly good, except when addressing the idea of an all-loving deity.

And, finally, go for the jugular with the hypocrisy of religious believers (You know, mention “all the wars in the name of religion,” and “all the fallen pastors” and especially, “the founders owned slaves” stuff, it’s really a good distraction.)

Wars in the name of religion is relevant in so much that addresses the idea of religious people being inherently more moral than atheists. Otherwise it's not really relevant to wether there is a deity or not.
I wonder where the founders come into it - they were not particularly aligned with Christianity.

Avoid the pesky problem of freewill. If atheism is true, if all that exists is mere matter and energy, then I don’t have a brain, I am my brain. But if the brain is exhaustively physical, then it is just as incapable of acting freely as a computer or any other machine. Which is why the idea of Artificial Intelligence makes for such fun science fiction – the more peo-ple believe that a computer can become a person, the less likely they will have need to believe they were created in God’s image. Thus, more AI, less theism – that’s the game plan. Same with the search for ET. Find life elsewhere so we can dismiss Genesis.

We can dismiss a literate reading of Genesis by looking at the evidence that shows us that it cannot have been true. Or rather, that neither versions of the creation myth could have been true.

The problem of free will is only a problem for some people. Personally I don't have a need for a "free will" as Pastore defines it.
We are the sum of our experiences, environment, knowledge and numerous other things. Basede on all these factors, we make our choices. Given the complexity of the basis for our choices, it's pretty much impossible to figure out in advance what a given person will choose.

But, above all, avoid being cornered and forced to answer the questions of origins. Throw out lots of words that people can’t understand. Talk over them. Blind them with science. Talk about the details of the leaves on the trees but don’t allow them to bring it back to “Why the forest at all?” Assert the fact/value distinction. Claim that only science deals with knowledge. Drop in some postmodern gobbledygook. Distract them with how science deals with the “what, where, how and when” and not the “who and the why.” Especially avoid people who have had training in the philosophy of science – they’re dangerous because they see through us and know who we are – they don’t see the shimmering lab coats that everyone else sees. They don’t see any clothes at all.

Given the fact that most people who had training in the philosophy of science are scientists, that scientists work hard to solve the questions related to origins (of either of the four types he mentioned), that several branches of science actually deals with "who and why", and many other such pesky things, I think I can safely say that Pastore doesn't make any kind of sense at all.

Since the pre-Socratics, atheists have been intellectual parasites living off the host of Western Civilization. Able to con-struct so very little of their own that is either true, good, or beautiful, they live on the borrowed capital of their believing intellectual parents. Atheists have been asserting the same basic mechanistic worldview, and with roughly the same suc-cess, for centuries. They sell books and win converts from time to time, sure, especially among those gullible enough to buy the “just popped” thesis. Don’t be gullible.

Project much?

But, for me, the real value of atheism lies in bolstering belief in God. When I doubt, I can begin to doubt my doubts by returning to the Four Big Bangs. And, I eventually fall to my knees and worship, “In the beginning, God.”

Interesting. Many of the rest of us would require some kind of evidence of a deity before believing in it, yet Pastore just need to think of four rather easily answered questions.

Did people notice something about this bookreview? It didn't actually contain anything about the books themselves. It was entirely about Pastore's poorly thought out anti-atheist ideas, and his vile attacks on atheists.

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Blogger ERV said...

1) What is the origin of the universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? How do you get matter and energy from nothingness? How do you get a rock out of nothing?
I hate this question. Its not even the right question. What is it, 96% of the universe is 'nothing'? Why is there so much 'nothing'? If something is what there is supposed to be, created by a creator, what happened to all the 'something'? Or is the creator just excessively lazy? Terrible waste of space. Not feng shui at all :P

I was an atheist for 27 years. I used to play on that team.
*bored* Yes, theyre always reformed atheists. Or reformed homosexuals. Or Wiccans. Or drinkers. Or whatever. You gotta have a gimmick!

May 08, 2007 12:16 AM  

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