Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dennett v. D'Souza - The Finnish Mafia

I listened to the debate between Dan Dennett and Dinesh D'Souza at work today (I have my own office, so I have the luxury of being able to listen to such things while working). has a link to all of the segments of the debate here.

I am not going to comment on the entire debate, but rather focus on a couple of things D'Souza said that cut to the heart of the problem that I have with religious faith. Conveniently enough, D'Souza's troubling comments appear at the beginning of both of the clips below, the first during D'Souza's formal debate with Dennett, and the second in response to a question from one of the audience during the Q&A segment.

D'Souza's argument is one that I have heard before. When disbelievers such as myself ask for concrete evidence of the existence of God, we are told that God is something that lies outside of the realm of our ability to comprehend. Our understanding of the cosmos is limited by our five senses. D'Souza basically is saying that we can't expect to see God, smell God, touch God, taste God, or hear God (at least in the sense that we hear sounds with our ears) because God is greater than the power of these senses to detect him.

But here is my problem with that. Fervent believers feel they can make claims on the rest of us based on their religious faith. A Bible thumping Christian or a Quran waving Muslim can tell me with 100% confidence that I will burn in hell in the afterlife if I do not submit to a belief in their particular religion, but when I ask for tangible evidence, I am told that God doesn't work that way. As the young man questioning D'Souza at the beginning of the second segment provided above says, that is just way too easy and convenient.

I am perfectly willing to admit that given my limited human powers of perception, it is possible that there might be some intelligence that created the universe. I don't think it is likely, but it would be arrogant of me to claim with 100% certainty that there is no greater power than us in the universe. I don't know if that makes me a weak atheist or even an agnostic. But just as it is arrogant to claim with 100% certainty that there is no possibility of a creator, it is equally arrogant in my opinion for a true religious believer to claim with 100% certainty that there not only is a creator, but that they know what this creator expects from us, and that there will be penalties for not complying, while simultaneously arguing that the existence of this creator is something "that is beyond the sphere of human experience."

I'm sorry, but if a religious believer expects me to accept on faith that the creator of the universe impregnated a virgin in the Middle East some 2,000 years ago and that I will suffer for an eternity in the afterlife for the crime of not believing it happened, then I can't take that seriously without some really strong evidence to back it up.

Let me put it this way. If you got into a scuffle with someone and then was told from a third party that the other person was in the Italian Mafia, you would be justified in being at least a little worried that either your life or the life of your family was in jeopardy. If you did some investigating, you might even find out the wiseguy's name, what family he works for, what crimes they have committed and so forth. But if instead you were told that the person you tussled with was a bigshot in the Finnish Mafia, would you take it seriously? You could do some searching for the Finnish Mafia and not find any records of any ethnic Finn mobsters or any articles or reports about any ethnic Finnish crime families operating in the United States. Granted, it wouldn't definitively prove that there was not a Finnish Mafia, but it would make its existence highly unlikely. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that the person who told you the information was either seriously mistaken or he was playing a joke on you.

As far as I am concerned at present, the God of the Bible and the Quran is about as real and scary to me as a Finnish mobster. However, if I wake up one morning and find a bloody horse's head in my bed with a Nokia phone shoved up one of its nostrils, I guarantee you I will be afraid of the Finnish mob!


Anonymous said...

Do you celebrate any holidays in December?

SouthLoopScot said...

The Finnish Mafia, I like it!

Anon: I can't speak for Tommy, But believe it or not, most atheist I know celebrate Christmas. After all, the Christians stole the whole thing (along with Easter) from the Pagans. We just don't focus on the christ nonsense.

Tommykey said...

Hi T&A!

To Anonymous, I don't celebrate any holidays in December. But we do have a tree and decorations because my wife likes it, and unlike God and the Finnish mafia, I know that my wife exists and must be made happy.

tina FCD said...

I put a tree up because old habits are hard to break, but it was never because I had religion. I celebrate good times with my family and friends in December. I love Pagan rituals...:)

Oh, D'Sousa is a....well, I just don't know what he is.

Andrea said...

I put up a tree too, because they're so damn pretty. And I decorate with candy canes and stockings and penguins wearing scarves and such. Sometimes things can just be cute without prescribing deep religious significance to every last thing.

To me, the nativity story is not without its charm. But it is just a story. Santa is a whimsical story too.

Sirkowski said...

Could D'Souza's voice be any more annoying?

Andrew said...

Wow, old post. I was searching for the phrase "Finnish Mafia" because someone mentioned that they have such a thing in their town...

Anyway, the claims of Christianity are silly and that's why the early believers were persecuted and some were ashamed to even admit they were Christians, because of the silliness of it all.

What I encourage you to do is read some of St. Paul's writings in the New Testament and see whether he's bullshitting his audience or if he's actually sincere. Then, if you conclude he's sincere, you can know he at least had some sort of "conversion experience" as recorded elsewhere. Maybe it was all in his head from killing so many Christians... it drove him crazy and he had a weird vision of Jesus... Maybe. Or, maybe he really did encounter Jesus who blinded him temporarily and left him with eye problems the rest of his life as a reminder of that encounter and a sign for others, kind of a heavy-duty Jesus, not the hippie kind most like to imagine... then again, Paul murdered a lot of Christians, so maybe it wasn't even close to what he really deserved. ANYWAY (I just had some coffee so I'm blathering) if you read Paul's writings and see he was sincere, the question is: Did Paul really meet the resurrected Jesus as he claimed? If so, that means Christianity is true. Or, if he was just some delusional Jew who persecuted Christians, but had a vision of Jesus because his conscience got to him (he went crazy) then maybe that explains everything. Anyway, it's really a personal thing and you can't really force belief on anyone. It's something you just "see" with your heart and you catch a glimpse of the beauty of it all, like a beautiful song. You can't just force someone to listen to music, they have to have a desire to listen to it. If you're looking for meaning, then you'll consider Jesus as an option. If you don't want meaning (well why not?) then you won't hear any music, so to speak. (I actually knew a girl once who didn't like music. wtf?)

Going to hell is basically going somewhere that has no meaning and no forgiveness for your wrongdoings... you judge yourself for the stupid crap you did in life and how you wasted your time not seeking Truth or how you made excuses to avoid seeking. Hell is "hot" because you get no relief and no Love there... you didn't believe in Love, which is God. But, your soul is extinguished after you suffer the guilt of each sin you committed in life. Hell is knowing that you have no future and you have to deal with regret until it finally crumbles and disintegrates your consciousness. It's not endless suffering as some say. Jesus said the soul is destroyed by God in hell...

Oh, and why get pissed at other people if there's no such thing as wrongdoing or sin? The fact is, sin exists and so does regret. Jesus is the answer to sin and regret. It's an offer, but it's totally your choice. God doesn't want robots, you know?

I think God keeps the Truth hidden behind a veil of silliness and foolishness because he doesn't want know-it-alls to enter heaven who think they know everything and can point to their head knowledge as a reason why they entered heaven. I think God wants child-like people who are simple-hearted and who love others and who try to do their best for Him without boasting about their goodness and without looking down on others for whatever reason... who know Love when they hear the song, so to speak, and follow that song to the feet of the Lord Jesus.

If you think about it, this whole world seems to be a strange fantasy with some odd plot...

OK, now back to figuring out this "Finnish Mafia" mystery... I was told it exists in MN, but that's why I'm investigating... cuz it sounds too silly to be real!

Anonymous said...

holy commas batman/ holy obvious batman. I was also doing a google search for finnish mafia after watching a movie called Rooperi.

All this post says is that religious people think its ok to believe in the existence of something completely intangible on the basis of faith. All the poster says in reply is that it is silly to believe in something based purely on faith.

good job you just outlined the two major competing trains of thought of the last 2000 years.

really whats the point, man? your only saying that because of what they believe, they will never see the truth and and they are saying because of what you believe, you will never see the truth.

any sensible person would say "hey im at an impass how can i argue this further in their terms?" because clearly they wont think in a broader sense.

however i sense this is nothing more than one of those net outlets for the host to say "man i hate (insert person place or thing)" so that the loyal commentators of the holy internet can say "yeah bro totaly right i hate christians".

essentially why hate on someone elses worldview when you could just expand your own?

-lapsed asatru