Does reason exist among religious people?
August 3rd 2010

The title should read "theist", not "religious", people, but I sacrificed correctness for impact. I didn't want the reader to spend time wondering what a theist is (if you wonder it now, a theist is someone who is almost, but not 100%, an atheist: one that disbelieves in all gods, except one).

I recently stumbled across an essay by David Anderson (a very religious fellow, or at least theist), where he asks: "Does Richard Dawkins exist?". He makes a parallelism between Richard Dawkins's arguments supporting doubts about (some) god's existence (in his book The God Delusion), and similar arguments against the existence of Dawkins himself.

Apparently, the argument of Anderson's essay (I'll sumarize here, for those readers with severe fallacyfobia, who could suffer a seizure if they read the original), goes as follows: Dawkins, in his book, offers some arguments against the assumption that god exists. These arguments are based mainly on skepticism. Anderson (thinks he) applies the same reasoning to Dawkins himself, and concludes that Richard Dawkins must not exist. Since this is apparently ridiculous, Anderson has cleverly shown how stupid we were for believing Dawkins, and how "Hyper-scepticism" is bad. What he fails to tell us is, then, what alternative mindset he recommends... "hyper-gullibility", perhaps?

I will debunk this theist zealot's points with three both alternative and additive propositions. The first one is that Dawkins's existence does not need to be proven to reasonable people (god's does). However, if it needed to be proven, it could be (god's can't). Thirdly, if Dawkins's existence could not be proven, the validity of the arguments in his (alleged, maybe he doesn't exist) book would hold just the same (the Bible has no validity if there is no god to back it up).

If you're not into never-ending dissertations (unlikely, if you read so far), you can skip the first two sections, and head directly to "The existence of Richard Dawkins is irrelevant".

Dawkins's existence does not need to be proven

The very essence of skepticism is not to doubt about everything, but about anything that defies our logic, experience or widely accepted principle. We (should) build our ideas by piling up our experiences, such as "things fall towards the ground" or "banks have no scruples". It is only fair that we should apply skepticism to concepts that defy those ideas, not to the ones perfectly fitting. If my sister told me "I hurled the ball through the window, and it fell on a car", I would tend to believe her. If she told me the ball suddenly turned upwards and headed for the Moon instead, I would tend not to believe her. Of course, the first claim could also be false: maybe she didn't hurl the ball at all, or she did, but it landed on the road, not on a car. But it is the second claim (the ball heading for the Moon) that deserves skepticism.

Similarly, it might well be that Richard Dawkins does not exist, but the simplest explanation is that he does. One could have seen him on TV, or read one book allegedly by him. One could have a friend who went to a talk by Dawkins, or an uncle who studied in the same highschool as he did. Yes, the guy on TV could be fake, the book could have been forged, your friend can lie to you about the talk, and your uncle might just have Alzheimer's. But the simplest explanation is that there is some guy by the name Richard Dawkins. Skepticism would make us place the burden of proof on anyone claiming the opposite. At the very least, we would need some evidence that the notion of his existence is not reasonable. For example: the existence of Clark Kent could be accepted as reasonable (shy men with glasses working for newspapers are known to exist), whereas that of Superman would grant some skepticism (flying aliens with X-ray eyes and unlimited strength are scarce in my neighborhood).

On the other hand, god is our Superman here. It does fall (far, far away) beyond what is reasonable, so skepticism is required. Many, if not all, what we experience every single day of our lives would be mistaken if god existed. Obviously, it could well be the case, but it stands to reason that we should doubt it.

The existence of Richard Dawkins can be reasonably proven

I don't mean so much that Dawkins actually exists, as that there are ways to find out if he does. For example, David Anderson could offer all his money to anyone coming to him and convincing him that they are Richard Dawkins. If I were Dawkins, I would go! I seriously doubt Anderson is such a die-hard skeptic that he'd risk making that claim. On the other hand, I have no problem in imagining Dawkins taking the same vow towards god, and never ever losing the money, of course.

One could find "Dawkins" in the telephone guide of Oxford, England, and visit them all, until one meets the guy in this Wikipedia article. With god, we have no picture. This should be no problem, as god is everywhere. However, apparently there is no way of meeting him, having a conversation with him (other than a monologue), or even devising any course of action that would result in an outcome if god existed, and in a different one if it didn't exist. Please re-read this last sentence until you are fully aware of its meaning: it is impossible to even imagine any test that would have one of two results (lets say, "positive" and "negative") depending of god existing or not. With Dawkins, let's say it is possible.

The existence of Richard Dawkins is irrelevant

OK, you got me. I confess: Dawkins does not exist. It was all a hoax.

The question is: so what? Dawkins is just a guy presenting some arguments that stand on their own. We do not concur with Dawkins because he exists, but because the arguments themselves convince us. Dawkins's works, his books, interviews, talks and arguments in general, would have the same validity if they had been produced by a monkey on crack, just as 2+2=4 holds regardless of it being said by Einstein or Hitler.

On the other hand, the Bible (or Qur'an, or whatever "sacred" text) has only meaning as long as one believes there is a god authoring it. Most, if not all, of its content coud be called unreasonable, unfair, outrageous, insane, false or simply wrong, except for the little detail that it's the word of god. Well, if god wrote it, it must be right. After all, the guy is all-knowing. Religions, and all that is sacred, stand solely on the argument of authority: god said it, so it's the pure, unadulterated, Truth. Period. Anyone with an IQ over absolute zero can find a circular argument here: god exists because the sacred text says so, the text is sacred because it's god's work.

The arguments in The God Delusion would have the same validity (or lack of it), even if it were written by a schizophrenic kid. His talks would mean no less (and no more) if given by a gorilla in disguise. His appearances on video would convey the same message (or misinformation) if they were all computer-generated by a 10-line Python script written by rabid rabbits randomly biting a keyboard.

I suggest the reader think about the effect of knowing that the Bible was actually written by a schizophrenic kid (which, by the way, some of its contents seem to suggest), that all alleged apparitions of the virgin Mary were gorillas in disguise, and that the 10 commandments are actually a 10-line Python script, written by rabid rabbits randomly biting a keyboard.

See the problem with the Dawkins/god, Bible/The God Delusion parallelism?

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Ágora y lo que se perdió en Alejandría
October 16th 2009

Este fin de semana he visto la película Ágora, de Alejandro Amenábar, y me ha gustado mucho. No voy a comentar aquí sobre los interesantes temas que trata la película, como son el fundamentalismo religioso, las luchas de poder, el declive del Imperio Romano, la astronomía y la ciencia opuestas a la fe y la ignorancia... Todo esto seguro que es tratado en otros sitios mejor de lo que yo lo haría.

Lo que yo quiero comentar es una simple reflexión que me sobrevino mientras veía la película. Para entrar en antecedentes, explicaré brevemente el contexto de la película. Esta está ambientada en Alejandría, en el año 391 y posteriores. El hecho histórico concreto que quiero reseñar es la destrucción en 391 del Serapeum de la Biblioteca por Teófilo de Alejandría, el (¿cómo no?) Patriarca de la Iglesia Cristiana en Alejandría, bajo decreto del (¿cómo no?) Emperador cristiano Teodosio I. Esta es una de las cuatro destrucciones parciales o totales que dicha Biblioteca ha sufrido en la historia, todas ellas consideradas enormes pérdidas culturales (a mano del fanatismo y la ignorancia, y a veces de los accidentes, como el incendio de Julio César).

Mi reflexión es púramente pragmática, y se resume en una pregunta: ¿por qué se perdió una gran cantidad de obras culturales de valor incalculable en ese y los otros ataques la Biblioteca? La respuesta podría ser que los culpables son los cristianos, o la ignorancia, el fanatismo, el odio... Hay muchas posibles respuestas, pero no son la que busco. La respuesta que busco es tan sencilla como la pregunta: se perdió una cantidad de cultura de valor incalculable porque no se habían hecho copias. Es indudable que los manuscritos originales de grandes autores tienen un gran valor, y son irreemplazables. Pero al menos el contenido de dichas obras puede perdurar si es multiplicado y repartido. Está claro a donde voy: que es la concentración y racionamiento de la cultura lo que la mata, el intentar controlar y limitar su distribución, no compartirla libremente. Si miro al panorama actual, no son los usuarios de p2p los que identifico con los cristianos que asaltaron el serapeum de la Biblioteca. Más bien estos serían los ministerios de "cultura" y SGAEs del mundo. Aquellos (los usuarios de p2p) los identificaría, en todo caso, con los paganos que intentaron salvar la mayor cantidad de libros del fuego "purificador" de los doctores de lo "correcto" personificado por Teófilo y sus fanáticas huestes.

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Don't we love religion?
March 25th 2009

Religion ain't bad. At least, it isn't bad if the believer doesn't try to impose her views upon others. My faith is harmless if I keep it to myself. Because, when did, for example, a good old praying hurt anyone?

Apparently, the answer is August 6, 2005, when the pilots of the Tuninter Flight 1153 decided to pray instead of following the security protocol in the event of fuel starvation. Sixteen people died.

Obviously it would be unfair to say that they died because of the praying. But it would be safe to assume that following the protocol instead of dumping the controls and praying could have made for a smoother landing, probably reducing the death toll.

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