Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I can't help myself - tearing apart a ridiculous argument

I'm no fan of the papacy (that is, after all, why I left Catholicism!). But today I read an absolutely absurd article by a guy named Zoltan Istvan, who is (hilariously) running for President as part of the Transhumanist Party...a party dedicated to perfecting the individual through science and technology. (Transhumanism is its own special brand of crazy that I may write about separately. You see it pop up sometimes in sci-fi books, and there are some serious issues with it.)

Anyway, the article is here, titled, "The Transhumanist Future Has No Pope." It is a wonderful example of the worst kind of polemical and thoughtless diatribe--filled with inaccuracy, outraged at someone else's position though they take no effort to understand it, and making bold statements that cannot be backed up by any kind of logic or philosophy. But no need to read it--I couldn't get it off of my mind, so I'm going to go through it to discuss what it says. (Also note: I am tagging this as a "book review" or "quote" rather than with the Science tag, because I don't want this nonsense distracting us from actual, thoughtful discussion.)

His quotes are in bold italics, my responses in plain text.

Everywhere I look, Pope Francis, the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, seems to be in the news--and he is being positively portrayed as a genuinely progressive leader. Frankly, this baffles me. Few major religions have as backward a philosophical and moral platform as Catholicism. Therefore, no leader of it could actually be genuinely progressive.

Several things here. First of all, when he says that Catholicism is backward philosophically and morally, he is immediately staking a philosophical claim. By saying this, he is saying that there is a moral ultimate "right", and Catholicism is behind it. Remember this as we will come back to it later.

That said, his last statement is simply false. To be a progressive leader, your entire organization must also be progressive? In that case, you aren't progressing at all, right? Isn't the very definition of being a progressive leader is that you are leading an organization from its current state into one which is "more right" in some way? Any leader who wants to change his organization into new areas is, by definition, a progressive leader. A conservative leader, by contrast, is one who wants to maintain the status quo. What Istvan means here is liberal, not progressive. You can be right-wing and still be progressive if you are progressing a more-right-wing group; just as you can be a liberal and be conservative as a leader, if you are wishing to conserve the status quo.

Yet no one seems to pay attention to this--

Because it is nonsense.

no one seems to be discussing that Catholicism remains highly oppressive.

Exaggerate much? North Korea is "highly oppressive." Radical Islamists are highly oppressive. Even mainstream Islam makes their women dress head-to-toe in religious garb. How exactly is Catholicism "highly oppressive"?

To even discuss the many archaic positions the Pope and Catholicism support would take volumes.

Ugh, again with the hyperbole. Really? "Many volumes?" Every belief of Catholicism fits in one volume, the Catechism.

Also note how he jumps back and forth--"archaic" = "old" = "highly oppressive" = "non-progressive." As CS Lewis once pointed out, if take a wrong turn driving down the road, the most progressive thing is to return to where you went wrong and take the other turn. Istvan seems to take it as a universal fact -- without proving it -- that NEW = BEST.

But the one that irks me the most is that Pope Francis and his church are still broadly against condoms and contraceptives. Putting aside that this view is terribly anti-environmental, with over 175 million Catholics in Africa, it's quite possible that this position may also create more AIDS deaths in Africa.

I do disagree with the Catholic stance on condoms, for theological reasons. The anti-environmental statement is the typical whack-job crazy you get from those who claim that we are somehow going to overpopulate the Earth. But I do agree that it likely creates more AIDS deaths in Africa and so on this one I do agree with him.

While former Pope Benedict XVI did say in late 2010 that condoms could be used in some cases to prevent disease, anything less than 100 percent endorsement of them seems malicious and criminal, which is something I've argued before. 

In the article he links to, he makes the argument that any action which does not actively extend the life of someone is pro-death and thereby should be criminalized. This is just amazing to me, because of the sheer lack of thinking about what he is saying.

First of all--the Catholic position is that every use of a condom does indeed prevent the extension of life--the life of the unborn (potential) children. Now I think that's ludicrous, but someone could actually hold both the Catholic position AND Istvan's position simultaneously. It is that obtuse and poorly thought out.

Furthermore, by his logic it should be criminal to avoid taking policy decisions which could extend someone's life. Okay, fine. Scientific studies show that homosexuals suffer from depression 50% more than heterosexuals, transgenders commit suicide at a higher rate, gay lifespans for men are 8-20 years shorter than heterosexual lifespans, and gay men are 86 times more likely than straight men to develop HIV. So then would Istvan say that to allow such behaviors is actually "malicious and criminal" since they lower the lifespan of the individuals?

The Transhumanist Bill of Rights I'll be delivering next month to the US Capitol

I'm sure they'll jump right on that.

on my Immortality Bus tour

listening to him only feels like forever!

will mandate that cultural and religious views should never trump life extension technologies--of which the condom is one of the greatest ones ever invented.

Okay, again--so will he also speak out against our cultural view of gay rights to keep their lives from being prematurely cut short?

Beyond contraceptives, just because Pope Francis is good at making general sweeping humanitarian claims in popular speeches around the world, we forget that he and his church are guilty of many basic human rights violations. For example, he is against gay marriage, he will only allow males to pursue the vocation of priesthood, and he is against women having control over their bodies when it comes to abortion.

Are these "basic human rights violations"?

Is gay marriage--which has never been legalized in the entire world history until the last few years--really a basic human right? If so, did everyone else in history just like, forget it? Including the progressives just a generation ago? It just got overlooked?

Is disallowing females in the priesthood a "basic human rights violation"? When pagan religions had priestesses, is that a basic human rights violation? Is the existence of the NFL a basic human rights violation since there are no women allowed to play? I can't be a nun, so is that my basic human rights being taken away?

Abortion--really? That's where you're going? I find it difficult to believe that Istvan actually thinks that this is about wanting to "oppress women" and not about "protecting the lives of living babies."

Furthermore, let's talk life extension, shall we? Since this is Istvan's big thing--how then can he support abortion? It ends the life of the child and not the mother. I guess what he really meant was, "mandate that cultural and religious views should never trump life extension...unless they are MY cultural and religious views."

He even believes in and accepts hell for nonbelievers. In case you're wondering, that means millions of America's children will eventually end up being endlessly tortured in some psychotic afterlife, since reports show nearly a third of America's youth are basically godless. Europe is in for a much worse time--the Brits and French are about half nonreligious.

I give Istvan credit for this--that is an amazing amount of misinformation, poisoning the well, and bad information for just two sentences. Where to begin?

Well first, Catholics don't believe children will go to hell. They believe that those who aren't baptized go to purgatory and any sins will be cleansed over time and those who want to go to heave will be allowed to. (Protestants go even less far, saying that if you are below the age of understanding you aren't even held to this standard at all.)

Second, to simply equate hell to "endlessly tortured in some psychotic afterlife" is a ridiculous oversimplification. The Christian interpretations of hell are quite varied--eternal conscious torment is one model, but so is annihilationism (where the soul of unbelievers is destroyed). Also, most scholars do not take the flames of hell to be literal flames, but rather describe the complete judgment of being separated from God eternally. Most theologians would in fact argue--as does Lewis--that no one is forced into hell, but rather that the gates are locked from the inside. People would rather be separated from goodness and joy forever than to bend the knee to God.

Third, the study he refers to is about the fact that 20% of Americans are religiously unaffiliated--which is not the same thing as being godless, though I do get his point and it's close enough for his purposes.
Fourth, whether or not many children are affected is irrelevant. It is either true or it's false--popularity has nothing to do with it. Reality isn't up for democratic vote. Even if millions of people come to believe that the moon doesn't exist, that doesn't make it so, and I would not be "backward" for believing it to be a real place.

While I too appreciate the new Pope is more progressive than his predecessors, why are we celebrating that instead of criticizing him for what he truly is: a leader trying to keep his flock from deserting him and joining the 21st century?

Because...that isn't true? Unless by "joining the 21st century" you mean, "agreeing with all of my philosophical and in-no-way-more-valid-than-your-faith beliefs"?

Simply put, Catholicism and the Papal institution are inevitably dying out. Despite population growth, Catholic numbers are withering in the West. This is because modern values, transhumanist technology, and the embrace of reason are making many Catholics rules and rituals absurd. 

Inevitably dying out? I wouldn't bet so much on that. They've been around for a lot longer than the transhumanist movement. They took kind of a big hit in the Reformation 500 years ago and managed to survive it. Their numbers have grown 57% since 1980 around the world, and 84% of the world believes in a religion.

I think it is a bit ridiculous to call that "withering." I'm sure that the transhumanist movement would love to have similar 'withering'.

It is also hilarious that this alleged withering is attributed to transhumanist technology (a term foreign to most people), and "the embrace of reason" because yeah, no one who is religious has ever cared about reason. (Note: please don't research most scientists in history, most philosophers in history, or 60% of all Nobel prize winners in science in the past 100 years.)

To survive, the church knows it must interject amended ideas to keep its tight hold over its billion-plus believers.

Wait, I thought he wasn't progressive and interjecting amended ideas?

As "hip and cool" as the leadership of the new Pope is,

Are people saying this? I seriously doubt people are saying this.

don't for a moment believe he can go against the literal interpretation of the Bible

Catholics don't interpret the Bible literally. Do like, two minutes of research.

and undo all its contradictions and hypocrisies.

People love to throw this out, but get them into a discussion on them. Their "contradictions" really come down to "not reading carefully."

Catholics--along with Christians and Muslims--

Catholics aren't Christians? Why did they read the Bible then?

have locked themselves and their religious rules into their sacred texts and its meanings.

This is barely even a sentence or thought. Ignoring the fact that it should be "texts and their meanings", and ignoring the basic lack of subject-object thinking (he means we are bound up by our religious texts and meanings, not that we are locked into our texts), I'm not clear what his complaint is.

Does he think that you shouldn't be committed to the things that you consider sacred? Wouldn't he call that hypocrisy? Or does he think you should call something sacred and then ignore its meaning? I'm not sure what this means.

And that will be their downfall

Working so far.

since no rational person can justify backwards biblical rules or perspectives,

I don't think he knows what "rational" means. Also, again--talk to the 60% of Nobel Prize winning scientists for the past 100 years. I don't think he will like the way that ends.

If your definition for "rational" leaves out guys like the discoverer of the Big Bang and the father of quantum mechanics, maybe you should use a dictionary to make sure you know what the words mean.

such as that evolution is a hoax.

Actually, the Papacy has repeatedly said that evolution works just fine with their faith. And very few Christians at all think evolution is a hoax. Indeed, most Christians accept much of evolutionary theory--they just deny the idea that we are here by random chance, which is a statement of faith and not of science.

In the 21st century--in the age of cochlear implants for the deaf, exoskeleton suits for the wheelchair-bound, and mind-controlled artificial limbs for wounded war veterans

I have never heard one Catholic (or Christian or Muslim) argue against any of these as somehow bad. So I don't know who he thinks he is arguing against here.

--it's becoming increasingly difficult to fake reality anymore.

I don't know. The author seems to be doing a great job of ignoring reality so far.

Science and technology are becoming too obvious and powerful. And honestly, why should we fake reality and believe in concocted fairy tales anymore with irrational, unproven faith-inspired beliefs?

You shouldn't. We don't. are saying Christianity is a fairy tale and irrational. Go ahead and prove that using your three examples from before--cochlear implants, exoskeleton suits, and artificial limbs show that the book Isaac Newton believed in is a fairy tale why?

Make the argument, I'll wait.

Nothing? Okay, thought so.

Is it really necessary to be so fundamental anymore--so close-minded?

Again, this is a statement that seems to be saying that Catholics are close-minded against cochlear implants that they believe in disproven fairy tales due to close-mindedness. I don't know how to respond. As John Lennox once said, I can't even call this wrong because it is not rising to the level of intelligibility. 

Must we really be baptized to make it to heaven?

No, as described earlier there are purgatorial ways in the Catholic system to make it to heaven. If you are a Protestant then you do not.

That said, you're missing the point (as many do). The idea is that you are separated from God because you desire to be in charge of your own life. If you are willing to submit yourself to Him, He is willing to heal you from your own problems and give you eternal life. That is what He desires--to heal you.

But He also respects your decision. If you choose not to, then that's fine. Your call. But don't then blame Him for it.

Is the sacrament of taking the so-called body of Jesus really going to save us from eternal punishment?

That isn't what Catholics believe.

Is it really a sin to have same-sex relations 


(But so are many other things. Sin is in all of us, not just one type. It isn't sin that is the problem, it is the refusal to let someone fix it.)

and enjoy ourselves?

My kids make the same argument when they want to eat a box of Oreos instead of dinner. Mean horrible parent that I am, I still say no! Why? Because I know better than them what is healthy.

Enjoyment does not equal health. I really enjoy Snickers ice cream bars, doesn't mean I am healthy for eating them.

You'd think someone supposedly focused on increasing lifespans would see how ridiculous it is to argue that "enjoying ourselves" is always a good thing.

I went to Catholic school in my childhood, 

Didn't pay attention it seems.

and know firsthand what scarring it can do to a young mind searching for guidance. Instead of the scientific method, I was taught to be guilty of sin.

What Catholic school did you go to that didn't teach the scientific method? I've never even heard of this. I find it a bit hard to believe.

"Now folks, open your chemistry books, and we will start as we always do with the guilt of sin..."

Also...really? REALLY? Have you not thought this through at ALL before writing it? The scientific method is a means of discovering things about the world around you...having guilt for sin is about understanding the consequences of your actions. They are not mutually exclusive. It isn't one or the other. You can love the scientific method (I do) and still feel guilty when you sin (I do.)

It is literally non-sense, as in, there is no sense in this.

Instead of logic, I was told to hold faith over knowledge.

I doubt it, but it could be. Some people are this way. They are stupid and wrong and not indicative of most believers in history. People like Copernicus, Mendel, Newton, and Lemaitre managed to balance their Catholic faiths just fine with logic.

Instead of trying to overcome all hardship with science and technology, I was told to get on my knees and believe suffering was my God-given lot in life.

Again...false dichotomy: you don't have to choose between overcoming hardships and accepting that suffering is real and you should pray about it. In fact, I find it hard to believe that you were asked to pray only for acceptance of suffering as your lot in life, I've never heard of that, ever. Catholics routinely pray during Mass for the sick in their congregation.

How asinine.

Yes, this column sure is.

Of course, that's hardly more crazy than being taught that the Pope is infallible, another classic Catholic teaching.

Catholics do not teach that the Pope is infallible. They teach that when the Pope releases a doctrinal statement and stamps it as ex cathedra--which they rarely do--then that teaching is infallible. This is unbelievably rare--in fact I believe it only happened twice, once about the immaculate conception of Mary and once about her assumption.

Remember that infallibility of the pope was not even a teaching until the late 1800s. Far from a "classic" teaching.

Oh, and I -- as do all Protestants -- deny papal infallibility. I don't think it makes sense. But let's not pretend as though this is the same as saying "the Pope is infallible" which is a far different thing than saying he can once every 50 years or so pronounce a belief to be infallible.

I'm running for the United States presidency in 2016

Good luck with that.

as an atheist.


Is that a party now?

One of the core ideas of my candidacy is that I know that those who are godless can also be morally good--that they can be deeply humanitarian and democratic.

I absolutely, positively, love that one of his core ideas is fundamentally flawed.  I full agree with the statement that "those who are godless...can be deeply humanitarian and democratic." I fully 100% agree. Nothing about humanitarianism or democracy requires belief.

The flaw is the idea of moral good.  What do you mean by that? As Rachels et al state in The Elements of Moral Philosophy, the grounding of morality in a religious viewpoint is "almost an automatic assumption."

Morality is the belief that some things are universally right and other things are universally wrong. While I'm sure Istvan believes this (with enough questioning I've never met anyone who doesn't), and while his statements in this entire article presuppose there is a moral "good" that we should be progressing toward (specifically, transhumanism), morality must be grounded in some form of belief system.

Why is something good or bad? He equates goodness with being humanitarian and democratic. Why are these things good? What is the moral grounding? Christians have argued these things are good based on Christian philosophy, but Istvan denies those philosophies and presupposes these things to be good without defining why.

Some people believe atheists have no moral compass. That's ridiculous.

Don't just tell me this, tell me what you base your morality on. What is the compass, if not religion? I'm not saying there can't be others, just interested to what yours is.

Atheists are guided by reason

Could've fooled me from this article.

Reason is the application of logic and establishment of facts and avoidance of logical fallacies. It is not a basis for moral good or bad.

I can't believe I have to explain this, but let me try via analogy. Take the purest form of reason--logic and mathematics. In a mathematical or logical proof, you begin with a supposition or "first principle." Then you apply proven steps to them ("reason" or "logic"). Therefore you reach a conclusion. If the logic is properly applied, then we can say "IF" the assumption is true, "THEREFORE" the conclusion is also valid.

But you still have to start with the assumption.

Reason is the machine, and rationality is the use of the machine. But the machine still needs a raw material to form. It still needs first principles, basic worldview assumptions.

Reason cannot be the raw material of your moral choices, it is the mechanism by which the facts are compared to that raw material.

and reason leads us to build robotic eyes for the blind, vaccines against disease for homeless children, and new forms of cheap power so the poor can have light and electricity.

Oh, I was under the assumption that when you used the word "reason" you knew what it meant.

Reason does none of those things. Humanitarianism does those things. And I'm all for humanitarianism. It is the output of proper Christian theology. It is not an input to the moral reasoning process.

You're not even making a moral argument here. Why is it good to help the blind? Why is it good to help homeless children and the poor? You are talking about the how, but morality is about the why. For example, Neitzsche would tell you to let them starve and die, be selfish. That's better for your genes to propogate and your evolutionary duty.

Reason is precisely what the world needs more of to build a better future,

I agree. It would be a great thing to start with atheists.

not archaic ideas by a dogmatic religion

Are there non-dogmatic religions?

known for the Inquisition and child molestation.

Finally, something we can agree on. Those things are wrong.

Oh, and also, let me mention that the atheist regimes of Stalin and Mao killed more people in the twentieth century alone than all religions killed in all of history added together. So maybe what we need is to avoid pseudo-progressive ideas by a dogmatic group of atheists known for secret police forces and eugenics.

Some are claiming that the Pope is the new global spiritual leader.

They're called "Catholics."

I caution against believing this or supporting him. He is just the newest tool in a religion that has caused irreparable damage to the human race, and continues to do so with oppressive ideologies.

Irreparable damage? Well then I guess you should give up trying to progress us, if the damage is irreparable. Earlier weren't you arguing that Catholicism was falling apart, irrelevant, and soon to be gone forever? Did something change since you started this rant?

Pope Francis knows that the world is changing into a secular sphere,

83% of people are religious around the world.

prompted by transhumanist science

Stop trying to make "fetch" happen.

that aims to empower us into a far more powerful species--in fact, to become godlike.

Gee, where have I heard promises like this before? Oh yeah:  "your eyes will be open and you will be like God" (Gen 3:5). That didn't work out so well the last time.

The good news is the Pope and other religious leaders will not remain popular leaders long--certainly not into the next century.

"Certainly", huh? Tell you what, let's place a friendly wager on that. I'll bet you that Catholicism has a heckuva lot more followers in the next century than the Transhuman Party does.

And if this demise is so certain why the angst?

With nearly a billion non-religious people around the world expanding their numbers,

Nope. According to actual, you know, studies (instead of small surveys like he links to and then extrapolates), if you add together all agnostics, atheists, secular humanists, and "nones" you do get close to a billion, but half of these refer to themselves as "theistic but non-religious". In other words, they don't go to church but they do believe in God. Not at all the same thing as implying there are a billion people who are atheist. Estimates of atheism come in around 200 million, mostly from China and Russia--not exactly bastions of free thought, there.

the end of worldwide domination of our species via religion is now in sight. 

Again, let's make a bet.

If I didn't know better I'd think this was satire. It is amazing.


  1. Here's a good book for you:

  2. Here's a good book for you:

    1. Because you avoided the all too common Internet strategy of a comment flame war, I will indeed buy and read and review the book here. Thanks for that.

      It won't be immediate as I have five others in line before it but I will read and review soon.