Friday, February 29, 2008

Everybody Leap!

It's leap day again, the time when science has shown that we need to add an extra calendar day so that the Christians can worship Jesus on his "real birthday". Right? Wouldn't want to be late or anything...


But seriously, since today is all about jumping, I wanted to focus on the "leaps of faith" that a lot of believers make in order to justify the conclusions they reach. [Note: we'll get back to Fallacy Friday next week!]

ACA, Praise Be To Ye
Before I start, I need to plug the Atheist Community of Austin (TX) and the Atheist-Experience, the local TV show they sponsor. Even though the show is local, each episode gets a podcast and Google video, and they've heard from literally all over the world. I'm a huge fan of the show and can honestly say that I have the host, Matt Dillahunty, and the other co-hosts to thank for helping me to understand what atheism is. They helped me de-convert!

The reason I'm mentioning them is not just for the plug. One of the talks that co-host Don Baker gave in an episode last year is where I will draw the main meat of this post from. Don should be credited for the idea of this.

The Mathematics of Belief
When Christians and other theists talk about "faith", generally mean it as "believing something that you have no evidence for". It's basically an uneducated guess and therefore the likelihood of it being correct is extremely small. If you start stacking these guesses one atop the other, that chance of being right gets multiplied. The combined effect of all these assumptions is that you end up with an almost 0% chance of being 100% right.

Don counted around thirty of these "leaps of faith", jumping from one unfounded belief to another--from atheism (no god belief) to theism (the batshit crazy kind). That's like taking thirty wild guesses, each depending upon the previous, and arriving at a true conclusion. I won't go through them all; you can check out the video here.

Jump for Jesus
So believers, hopefully you'll understand why I don't believe the things you do, and why I think you're crazy for believing them.
  • Leap #1: A god exists.
    Woah, that's an enormous leap right outta the gate! You'd have to back up that big-ass claim with some serious evidence if you're gonna convince a skeptic. Because faith doesn't require evidence, this main leap is justified in the believer's mind.
  • Leap #2: There exists only one God.
    This narrowing of belief shuts out any belief other than the monotheistic sort. I've capitalized the word "God" to formalize it with the Abrahamic Big-Three. It can be argued that a polytheist pantheon of gods makes more sense from a practical standpoint than one god, but I'm not going to brabble about it right now. Again the non-believer asks, but how do you know that?
  • Leap #3: God is intelligent.
    This starts to define God, yet it starts open up a whole can of worms, so to speak. Intelligence implies a physical brain and the limitations inherent in the definition of a "being". As a skeptic, I'd ask what level of intelligence does this god have? How is it measured? I assume it's "more than us". Again, how do you know that? (Note: This will be a caveat that each "leap" must cross.)
  • Leap #4: God is all-powerful.
    Great...more logical problems. The issue of omnipotence also encompasses the free will problems as well (like if humans have free will, then they effectively have power that God doesn't have). Another issue is the "omnipotent paradox", something I hope to be covering in upcoming videos.
  • Leap #5: God is self-creating.
    This gets into First Cause arguments and an infinite regress problem, but it's needed for the sake of "theistic logic".
  • Leap #6: God decided to create the universe.
    A conscious decision to do something is completely at odds with the idea of God being perfect. If this god is complete, there is no need to create the universe. If you're perfect, you can't want anything.
  • Leap #7: God created the universe and everything in it
    This jump has the same problems with Leap #5. There's also the logical catch of an all-powerful God wanting to create a universe, but that the universe already existed.

At this point we're pretty much in the realm of Deism. The further leaps of faith narrow down into Judaism and then onto Christianity. There's probably different leaps, and more of them, depending on the specific belief that you hold.

I hope you can see how each of these statements (each being a shot in the dark with no proof for any of it) multiplied together leaves you almost dizzy. If not, consider an experiment: like in Office Space, make your own "jump to conclusions" pad, or "leaps of faith" pad. Mark out squares on the ground big enough to physically jump to. Space each square out, and name each one based on your own personal beliefs. Try to scale it to how hard you really feel each square should be to mentally leap to as best you can (I wouldn't be able to actually do this, as I don't think there's enough surface area on the planet for the space between Leap #1 and the starting square). Remember, the space represents the "faith" required to reach the next platform. If you had actual evidence, then you should just be able to walk across the squares.

I guess one could argue that if you accept Leap #1, making the jump to the rest is a breeze. Hell, if you're willing to accept that fuchsia space gnomes are holding the planet up by the strands of their pubic hair, I guess accepting that they're all named "Merry Sunshine" isn't that hard!


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