Sunday, 28 October 2012

Welcome to the Morbid Reich

Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. What am I talking about? It is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in the very room that you are in. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, and when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. The truth that you are a slave. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind. This lengthy paraphrase from the Matrix roughly describe the current political climate in the West. When I say 'the West,' I am largely referring to America, Britain, the European Union, and its member states. A few notable exceptions are Iceland, who overthrew their government relatively recently, Switzerland, who aren't part of the EU or EEA, Australia, and New Zealand, albeit these two are more economically free than socially free.

Whether people are cognisant of this reality or not, the sad fact is that the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union, and the individual member states of the European Union are inherently corrupt. We increasingly find governmental control over not just our economic lives, which is leading to the destruction of economies and market forces around the world, but our social lives also, which is leading to our civil liberties and human rights being violated, massively so, and on a daily basis. To quote Rod Serling, this is a not a new world, but merely an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. Like every one of the super states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: that logic is an enemy, and truth is a menace.

However, even more alarmingly, is that there are people unaware of the violent intrusion of authoritarianism into our daily economic and social lives. Even worse, there are people who ARE aware, but claim these things are actually a preferable state of affairs, or are even a good state of affairs! Either these people are wilfully deluded, ignorant, or morally complicit in the evils committed by western governments. It is hard for me to know where to begin, as there are just so many crimes against humanity that have been committed by western governments, not just against their own people, but against the citizens of other nations. Invasions of the Middle East, drone strikes against other nations, intervention that creates terrorists, foreign aid that funds dictators, arms and war around the world. Closer to home, we have the US Patriot Act and its equivalents in the UK and EU. Indefinite detentions of suspects without warrants, torture, secret grand juries who have imprisoned people literally for being anarchists (people who believe that government is wrong) and owning anarchist literature.

As bad as this is, this is only the tip of the iceberg. We have governments funding and bailing out corrupts corporations and banks, creating monopolies, and destroying small businesses. We have government regulation of and intervention in trade, creating price bubbles, driving inflation, and causing unemployment. Taxes making people and businesses poorer, only for the government to continuously squander other people's money. Increased police power and military spending, increased police corruption, government funding and control over media, silencing those who whistle-blow on their many palpable, and egregious errors (which are considerable.) Banning and controlling certain substances, saying what we can and cannot eat, what we can and cannot own, and what we can and can not say. Imposing absurd and ridiculous standards for immigration that are either too lax, or too strict. Absurd levels of airport security that have literally done nothing to prevent terrorism in any way whatsoever.

Even after all of this, there is still more. Forced television licenses, and a variety of absurd charges and fees, paying for things the government has no right to force us to fund. Western governments are driven by party politics and career politicians. Millionaires with no real world experience automatically acquiring high places in government the moment they leave university, and corrupt politicians voting in line with their party interests, and not what the people actually want. MPs and MEPs in Britain and Europe enjoying high salaries, whilst simultaneously committing tax fraud and evasion, and claiming false expenses paid for by the general public. Even still I have not possibly covered everything that is wrong with the current government in the west. The fact remains that western government is absolutely and at every level corrupt, and must be opposed, repudiated, resisted, and fought against at every level, at every possibility, and at any cost. We must overthrow these corrupt institutes lest they destroy us all, and return us to the days of the morbid reich.

Some may complain that there is nothing that we can do, but this is a lie that we have been brainwashed with by government sponsored media propaganda. Iceland overthrew its corrupt government relatively recently, a fact that western media outlets deliberately neglected to mention. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, nor the European Economic Area. It is the fifth most economically free nation in the world, and the first most economically free nation in Europe. The average salary is the equivalent of $100,000 per year, taxes are low, their levels of crime much lower, and their standards of living much higher. Australia and New Zealand are also the third and fourth most economically free nations in the world respectively, albeit they are less freer socially. Hong Hong is the most economically free nation in the world, however, again is not as socially free as it is economically free. These facts should encourage and motivate those who long for true freedom and democracy and believe as I do that the current form of government in the west is an anathema, and a chimera. A force of evil that seeks only to leech from those it claims to protect, whilst ever destroying their freedoms, and taking away their human rights and civil liberties.

We are currently a captive culture, controlled by pleasure in addition to pain. Distracted by meaningless soap operas, talk shows, gossip and celebrity magazines, tabloids, and a whole host of shiny objects we are suposed to value instead of human company, companionship, liberty, and democracy. As long as we have what we think we want, we think that we are happy, and cease to care about others less fortunate than ourselves. Ignoring the fact that western governments are literally killing people, either directly or indirectly. To quote Fight Club, we work jobs we hate, to buy shit we don't need. If we do not comply, then we are bullied into submission by an ever oppressive state. In short, we are amusing ourselves to death. We are currently living in a world reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. When we eventually wake up, I fear we will find ourselves to be in George Orwell's 1984. If we hold true to our ideas, then we will succeed against the authoritarian regimes who have us imprisoned. To quote V for Vendetta, ideas are bulletproof, and to reference Rod Serling once more, I am a human being, and if I speak one thought aloud it lives, and will continue to do so long after I am shovelled into my grave. People should not fear their governments, governments should fear their people.

Certainty, Knowledge, and God

What do we know? What can we know? Can we even know? These are interesting, and curious questions that human beings have asked themselves for millennia. Unsurprisingly, these are questions that are notoriously difficult to answer. As such, there are people who have proffered some rather peculiar, and, in some cases, downright ludicrous philosophies. French philosopher Rene Descartes tried starting from something we can be absolutely sure of, namely, our own existence, which led to the famous phrase: "I think, therefore I am." Descartes considered the possibility that the real world did not exist and that he was being deceived by a malicious demon. However, he concluded that even if such an outlandish proposition were true, he would still exist. Because if he did not exist, what would the demon be manipulating? What would exist to do the doubting? Contemporary philosopher and theologian Williams Lane Craig offers a humorous anecdote about a bleary eyed student asking his professor whether or not he existed. The professor casually replies, "who wants to know?" The denial of one's own existence is surely absurd, because it simply is not possible to doubt one's own existence.

We can likewise be certain that logical truths entail. For instance, consider the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, and law of the excluded middle. These state respectively: that contradictory statements cannot both be true simultaneously, an object is the same as itself, and, for any proposition, it can only be true or false. If the statement "I am holding an apple" is true, then it is impossible that the statement "I am not holding an apple is true." There is no possible state of affairs where both statements can be true at the same time. This points us to the law of the excluded middle, either I am holding an apple, or I am not holding an apple. Someone could counter that there is a third alternative, such as I am holding an orange. Yet my holding something that is not an apple does nothing to falsify the statement: "I am not holding an apple." Even if I were holding an object that was not an apple, it would still be true that I were not holding an apple... as I would not be holding an apple!

These are evidently true statements that it simply is not possible to deny, yet there are actually people today who deny them. It is even possible to find scientists who make outlandish statements contradicting these very laws. This only serves to highlight the important of philosophical training, and is also a sad reminder that thinking rationally is something that is still largely neglected. Most of the people nowadays who declare the laws of logic to be false are adherents of a philosophy known colloquially as 'scientism,' which is simply a hangover of verificationism (a defunct philosophy the died off around the 1940s.) These are people who believe that the only way to know something is to verify it scientifically. However, this position suffers from the easy and obvious contradiction, if the statement "something must be proven scientifically for it to be true" is true, then it would have to be scientifically verifiable. Thus, an advocate of scientism must be able to scientifically verify the statement: "something must be proven scientifically for it to be true," which is quite obviously impossible.

When we think of other things we can know, we can know with some degree of certainty that there are minds other than our own. If I am the only person that exists, and other people are just figments of my imagination, then why am I the only person exists? I have only existed for a finite amount of time, and am myself a finite being. I am also a contingent being, and so, as such, there must be at least one thing other than myself. Namely, a necessary being. This was Descartes' rebuttal to the notion that the external world was illusory, the ontological argument. There must exist a necessary being, and since neither Descartes, nor any one of us, are a necessary being, we can be confident that is at least one being that exists apart from ourselves. Whether you call this being 'God' or not matters little, what matters is that there simply IS a being that exists necessarily. The other details can be worked out separately.

We have thus far established that at least ourselves and one other being exists, and that the laws of logic obtain. What other things can we know? The belief that we exist, and that the laws of logic obtain are what philosophers call properly basic beliefs. These are beliefs that we just form intuitively, without inferring them from other beliefs. Whereas, the belief that at least one being other than ourselves exists IS an inferred belief. What other beliefs can we be justified in believing in a properly basic fashion. Perhaps the most obvious one after the examples already given is the reality of temporal becoming. This is the belief that the passage of time is real, and that things really do begin to exist, and cease to exist. This can be contrasted with the belief that everything exists tenselessly, and that the passage of time is an illusion. The latter is obviously incoherent as that, in order for their to be an illusion of temporal becoming, there needs to be temporal becoming.

We can also be sure of the inability of something being able to come into being from non-being, uncaused in any way. It is a properly basic, and intuitively obvious fact that, from nothing, nothing comes. Some might say that it is impossible for nothing, the total and complete absence of being is impossible, yet this reinforces the point that there must exist at least one necessary being. Such, a necessary being, however, must be eternal, yet if time is real then we run into the problem of the impossibility of a beginningless series of events. This has prompted some philosophers to say that God is timeless, which is a perfectly plausible alternative to a God that begins to exist (an obviously incoherent notion.) However, this too has its problems. If God is timeless, how did other things come into being? Given that God is the only being from which more being can arise (being arising from non-being being an incoherent notion), from whence did other beings come? There is a solution to this dilemma, and that is the fact that God was originally timeless, but came into time simultaneously along with the creation of the universe.

Remember that it is only a beginningless series of events that is problematic. A series that begins, but never ends, is perfectly coherent. Some might posit, however, an alternative to God, such as a multiverse, or by positing that the universe is all that exists. The problem with this is that, given that the necessary cause of the universe must have been timeless causally prior to the creation of the universe (and, thus, space and time.) If the necessary cause of existence is non-personal, such as a multiverse, then the universe would have to be co-eternal along with the non-personal cause. Whereas, if the necessary cause is personal, it is freely able to enter into time. Given that there is considerable evidence that the universe began to exist, even if there is a multiverse, it cannot be the necessary cause of everything else in existence, purely for these reasons alone.

What else can we reasonable know or be relatively sure, or certain of? Obviously, there are many arguments for the existence of God apart from the ones I have already mentioned, which establish further properties that the necessary cause of the rest of existence must possess. The purpose of this blog, however, is not to argue in favour of any specific deity, but simply draw attention to the fact that it is an undeniable fact that there is a necessary cause of everything apart from it. People have certainly denied this reality, and the blatantly obvious facts used to support this conclusion, even self-existence, the reality of time, and the validity of logical inference. Yet, these people are clearly and obviously recognised as being irrational, and perhaps even wilfully deluded. For the denial of any one of these truths is absurd, and requires one to believe things worse than magic, such things being able to appear uncaused from non-being, and things that are blatantly contradictory. I do not expect to change anybody's minds, however, but that people would simply make up their own minds, even if they would rather remain intoxicated in their myths.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Bart Ehrman vs. Dan Wallace

Whilst the focus on Ehrman recently has been on his spat with hack writer, history revisionist, and pathological liar extraordinaire, Richard Carrier, and whilst I did intend to write a review of Richard Dawkins' excellent book, The Greatest Show on Earth, I thought I would write this quick blog post on another issue, and that is Bart Ehrman's approach to the textual reliability of the New Testament. Despite the concerted attack on Ehrman by the rabid pack of the unlearned horde of Christ-Mythers, following their latest self-appointed spokesperson into battle, Ehrman is a critic of Christianity. As a textual scholar, Ehrman has published several sensationalist popular books attacking the credibility and reliability of the New Testament. New Testament textual scholars, of course, haven't taken this lying down and have issued several responses and challenges to Ehrman's, often highly misleading, presentations in his popular level works. One such textual scholar, Daniel Wallace, has recently debated Bart Ehrman a number of times. Whilst several reflections have been produced, including a book which I am anxious to read, Ehrman has recently made a blog post on their most recent debate. In this blog post, Ehrman addressed one particular argument employed by Wallace, and one that I and other apologists have also used. The problem is not only does Ehrman severely misrepresent Wallace, he gets some basic facts wrong too.

The argument in question is the appeal to the genuine paucity of textual manuscript evidence for classical works. The New Testament has a vastly greater number of manuscripts, the earliest of which are closer to the originals than the manuscripts of classical works are, and are of substantially better quality. Yet, classical authors do not run about like headless chickens lamenting that we cannot know what they originally wrote. Ehrman, however, mischaracterises this argument. First of all, Ehrman implies that this is Wallace's ONLY argument, when it isn't. Secondly, Ehrman explicitly and outrightly focuses on the original words.
"First, it is not true that scholars are confident that they know exactly what Plato, Euripides, or Homer wrote, based on the surviving manuscripts. In fact, as any trained classicist will tell you, there are and long have been enormous arguments about all these writings. Most people don’t know about these arguments for the simple reason that they are not trained classicists. Figuring out what Homer wrote – assuming there was a Homer (there are huge debates about that; as my brother, a classicist, sometimes says: “The Iliad was not written by Homer, but by someone else named Homer” ) – has been a source of scholarly inquiry and debate for over 2000 years!"
Fortunately, this has not escaped Wallace's attention, who notes in his response to Ehrman's blog post the following:
"It is significant that Bart subtly shifts the ground of our discussion. I have never said in our debates that we are absolutely certain of the wording of the text of the New Testament. So, I would agree with him that “we really don’t have any way to know for sure.” But that’s a far cry from saying that we don’t have probability on our side. And for him not to divulge how scholars go about raising their level of confidence regarding the original wording, while simultaneously speaking in generalities about what we can’t know for sure, is disingenuous."
I'm not aware of any serious Christian scholar or apologist who argues we can know the precise wording. For the simple reason that we don't need to:
"…to apply the concept of original and copy to ancient documents is anachronistic… we must abandon the modern concept of authenticity and the modern requirement of exact verbatim correspondence down to the very punctuation.” - Rosalind Thomas, Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens, Cambridge University Press, (1989), p47-48
Here is a personal example that should be pertinent. I am currently at university studying History and Music. As such, I have had a few exams, including one I am currently revising for. In preparation, I am expected to revise on one or two key subjects (or on a specific question if it is an exam where we are told the question beforehand.) The current exam I am revising for is on the Classical music period, where I am doing the same thing. I have been going over class notes and reading Charles Rosen's The Classical Style. Even though I can't take these notes in, I still make them. Why? Well, for the simple reason that I can structure what I plan to say, memorise it, and then when it comes to the exam, I will have a general outline of what to say.

First, I shall note the problems of defining the Classical style, then discuss symmetry, and so on. For my US history exam last semester, I revised on the issue of slavery and civil rights. I memorised general outlines, which allowed me to recall specific points. I would not be able to recall the exact the words I used, but I can still remember what I wrote. And the ancients had much better memories than we did, since they were primarily an oral society. Ehrman's argument about not knowing what was originally said simply collapses like a deck of cards once this naive obsession with exact words is abandoned.

The supreme and monumental irony is that Ehrman implies Wallace doesn't know much about classical textual criticism. Yet, Wallace notes that Ehrman makes some particularly egregious mistakes regarding the manuscripts evidence for classical works. Ehrman claims that in some lucky cases, such as Homer, we have hundreds of manuscripts, but never a thousand. Wallace notes that such ponderings are 65-80 years out of date.
"He seems to be basing his opinion about Homeric mauscripts on works from the 1930s and 1950s, whose authority on this matter is cited in all four editions of The Text of the New Testament (the first three by Bruce Metzger and the fourth co-authored with Ehrman). But these cited works are now fifty to eighty years out of date! The reality is that we now have more than 2000 manuscripts of Homer..."
This is ironic, and by no means a trivial point, as Ehrman is implicitly trying to label Daniel Wallace as not being up to date with classical scholarship. This is Ehrman's main failing as a scholar, he is highly misleading, and tends to make a number of errors. However, Ehrman is infinitely more respectable than slimeball, Richard Carrier. If reading Bart Ehrman is like having a stream of sewage come unbidden into one's home, then reading Richard Carrier is like having someone construct a sluice to let the sewage in.