Monday, January 10, 2011

Lecture Response - Howard 1

"The Dishonesty of Atheism"

Bill Howard, Associate Professor of Chemistry

Faculty Adviser for Bible Campus Ministries.

UAF, Reichardt. Monday, 11/15/10.

The lecture hall had been constructed recently, for universities, which lent to the impression that this was indeed a hall of intellectual pursuits. The auditorium seating was angled steeply, and the chair and desk spacing was designed to be comfortable and easy to use while allowing for an extremely efficient use of space. The lighting and technology that had gone into the hall was impressive, and of special note was the individual directed lighting over the chalk boards, even. Everything about the event location sat in sharp contrast to the topic of the evening, and as Bill Howard later demonstrated, this pristine facility of modern science and education would be sullied by the messy intellectual suicide from one of its own.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks club, Bible Campus Ministries, was hosting an aggressive lecture which was presented by the group's faculty adviser. Doctor Bill Howard, Associate Professor of Chemistry, had been planning and practicing his lecture many times over and seemed to hold a great deal of passion on the topic itself. As most of the audience had settled and were waiting for the lecture to start, Dr. Howard faced the wall clock and watched the seconds tick by until the appointed hour had arrived, precisely. One of the astute members of Dr. Cole's History class pointed out that Dr. Howard was indeed wearing red pants. The significance of this was amusing as an inside joke, but it became an ironic and very accurate representation of the utter failure to come.

After the brief overview, Dr. Howard starts into a very slow paced parable of his own design. In this story, a vacationer in an unfamiliar country stops to refuel his vehicle and asks the station attendant for the location of hotel so that he might rest for the night. The friendly attendant goes so far as to even draw a map for the vacationer and sends him on his way. In attempting to follow the directions, the vacationer takes a wrong turn and ends up somewhere completely different. It is important to note here that the vacationer does indeed actively try to find this hotel by following the directions on the map. He pulls over, gets out of his car, and looks all around the area for the missing hotel. Next, he is greeted by a farmer slowly passing by on a tractor, who asks if he could be of any assistance.

The vacationer complains to the farmer that the station attendant had lied to him, to which the farmer assures him that the hotel does indeed exist and the map is indeed correct. In attempting to tell the vacationer that he had simply taken a wrong turn, the audience is slapped in the face by the punch line of the parable: "I will never find this hotel because I am an A-Hotelist". At this point, the lecture fractures on its logical axis and completely derails the rest of the night. A simple yet unspoken question rises from the quick glances around the room: "A traveler would ask for something he would need yet simultaneously believe that it didn't actually exist?". This, however, is just the beginning.

Dr. Howard, speaking through the parable of course, assures the audience that "there is no such thing as blind faith. If faith is blind, then its not faith". One thing that continually exposes even the most devout religious followers as less than honest is when one simply compares what is spoken by the proselytizer and what is written in their books. In the Christian Bible, the book of John, chapter 20, verse 29, the character of Jesus Christ speaks to the Apostle Thomas: "because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." This is the story that has become the Doubting Thomas story that emphasizes belief without question, belief in the Word without doubt: blind faith. This alone stands in stark contradiction to the words of Dr. Howard and his assertions about his religion. As he mentions later on that night, when confronted with a question about a conflict between science and his religion, "my understanding is that I go with the science unless the bible says something specific". How can this apparent contradiction exist with a devout Christian follow who should most certainly know the words of his god by heart?

Continuing with the examination and definition of faith in the parable, the farmer tells the vacationer that "faith is the substance of a thing hoped for, the evidence of things not seen". Again the audience is presented with the contradiction between faith being a statement of something unseen-something a person is blind towards. Finishing with his own parable, Dr. Howard presents another example of faith and following directions. This example is one of his own travels with visiting his son for dinner at a restaurant. The audience is again presented with a laughable assertion: one wouldn't know if a restroom would exist at that particular dining establishment, therefore it took faith to follow the directions of the waiter in order to locate it. Analogies like these fail completely when realizing that there are such things as building codes and even organizations like the American Restroom Association that concerns itself with such issues and standards that relate to restrooms.

What is an honest skeptic, and what is a dishonest skeptic, according to Dr. Howard? An honest skeptic is defined as someone who can check the claim, ask for evidence, and follow a procedure. This is an admirable definition of a mentality that should be shared by any scientific mind. In Dr. Cole's History class, the Ferris article on science and liberalism mirrors this definition quite well. A dishonest skeptic is someone who has prejudices and doesn't want to check something that might prove those prejudices are false. Once more, right from the start, Dr. Howard seems to forget a basic trait of human psychology: every human has bias and prejudices in various degrees, and that is something that cannot be changed. Thankfully, Dr. Howard adds the qualifier of reluctance to check to this statement, otherwise it would be completely unconvincing at any level. Beyond that, the argument of "you just dont want to know the truth" does not have any logical strength as it requires many assumptions about this "truth" being asserted.

Keeping the definitions of honest and dishonest skeptics in mind, one should reflect back on the opening parable presented by Dr. Howard with the vacationer and the map. Should the audience be surprised that Dr. Howard seems to confuse his own story with poor logic as he tangles both of these definitions with the vacationer? At the start of the parable, the vacationer does indeed genuinely try to find the hotel by using the map. The vacationer only pulls over and looks around when he is frustrated by being unable to find the hotel. Ignoring the amusing holes in the parable that imply the vacationer not only knew what a hotel was, but actually desired to stay at one, consented in using the map given to him by the station attendant, and actually seems to know or have some idea of what he was looking for, how does this even remotely apply to the definition given for a dishonest skeptic?

The vacationer in his parable, after speaking to the farmer for a time, is proclaimed to be an A-Hotelist suddenly and inexplicably by stating he doesn't believe such things exist. This was utter nonsense, and demonstrated the continual abuse of demented logic throughout the presentation that can be easily found in most religious arguments. To exasperate the problems, Dr. Howard made sure to tie in a critical element of catastrophic failure into the map, which is obviously a representation for his particular version of one of the Christian Bibles, in having the farmer say to the vacationer; "you are interpreting this map literally, I think you should interpret it allegorically. The very definition of faith is belief in something that can't be proven". Single handedly, Dr. Howard had laid a fatal mistake in the parable meant to be the foundation of his presentation, while at the same time contradicting many of his points and assertions, such as what was said on blind faith.

The overall message of this lecture was one of following directions, and claiming that people who didn't do so were dishonest and liars. As these parables and definitions have been demonstrated as fallacious, so too has the message been framed with a self-defeating foundation. The element of catastrophic failure in this entire presentation was the assertion that examining the map/bible literally was not the correct way to interpret it because such reading must be done allegorically. If the vacationer, or any other kind of A-Hotelist, sees a straight line on a map drawn by a station attendant that should represent a road, apparently one is to interpret that straight line based on the alignment of the stars, the persons mood, or any number of external or internal influences that would change the meaning of a line into anything else besides a literal representation of a road. As Dr. Howard continued to demonstrate, this is utterly and completely absurd.

The Five Steps in Dr. Howard's Procedure to Find God were listed for the audience. The first step was to move the priority of finding his god as the number one focus on one's life. This comes before food, money, mates, housing, everything. Right from the start, the logical structure of Dr. Howard's map fails. Asserting that one must believe in this particular version of an Abrahamic god of the main monotheisms in the world is a logical fallacy called Begging the Question, Circular Logic, Fallacy of Redundancy: an argument that uses its conclusion as one of its premises. Stating that you must believe in a god in order to find a god is an amazing statement coming from a respected "scientific" individual.

The second step is to "hate sin", and to acknowledge that everyone "truly deserves eternal suffering in the Lake of Fire". Indeed, there are a number of disturbing implications in this step as well. Preaching hate is not normally considered a positive thing to do in any situation, especially in an educational environment. Sin, in this case, is anything that leads to disobedience to his god and that leads to unbelief. If a person is taught to hate someone or something that causes offense to their religious views, what are those people entitled to do in the practice and venting of that hatred? Aside from the issue of requiring hatred, Dr. Howard instructs the audience that everyone is a worthless individual that actually deserves the worst punishment he can imagine. Unless a person accepts that they are filthy liars and that even the smallest infraction during their moral life condemns them to an eternal punishment of torture, they will never find Dr. Howard's god. It is a good thing every snake oil salesman has exactly what one needs in order to avoid the problems they just finished describing.

The third step is another Circular Logic fallacy that requires belief in order to believe; to believe in Jesus Christ as the "only begotten son of God". Additionally, there is a qualifier specific to the death of this character in the Christian Bible that paints a picture reinforcing the hate and anger the believers seem to cherish (being followers of a religion focused on martyrdom) "that he died a horrible death on the cross in your place". The underlying assumption in this death is that Jesus Christ died for the sins of other people: substitution atonement and salvation through blood sacrifice. Ignoring the absurdity of an all knowing and all powerful being sacrificing itself to itself in order to create a means for atonement that is required as a result of the condition of "original sin" originating from the actions of the first creations of this perfect god, the obsession with the death of their god/part of their god/the son of their god, and the symbolic cannibalism of their god in specific events such as "the Lord's Super", further demonstrates a lack of critical thinking skills.

Finally, the fourth and fifth steps again abuse the same logical fallacies of requiring belief in order to find a way to believe in a god, this time through prayer and reading the Christian Bible as a "token of your belief in Jesus Christ". Every single one of these steps requires a violation in the rules of logic. How can this map of Dr. Howard's design possibly impress or convince any student or individual at a higher learning facility designed to educate students? As Dr. Howard implied before with his particular version of the Christian Bible, should his list of steps to find his god also be taken as allegory, leaving each individual to interpret these steps in their own way?

The last segment of Dr. Howard's presentation described his own journey into his specific branch of theism. As he had stated previously, prayer was key. Lots of prayer. When he was a child and had finished a long session of praying on his porch, he went inside to the living room of his house where the television was tuned in to a local lottery game. As Dr. Howard described it, his god placed an image of the winning numbers in his head moments before the numbers were revealed, and since he had just finished his prayer sessions he chose to view this as nothing other than a sign from his god. The alleged winning lottery number itself held significance for him. Being the number 613, he later found out that his was the number of commandments in the Jewish Torah, which is the foundation of Christianity. At that point, he counted himself among the religious.

Prayer is another common theme running all throughout the presentation. However, Dr. Howard asserts that "God often does not answer prayer until a person has prayed exhaustively". Again, the audience is left with a nonsense statement that completely stands against the very scriptures in the Christian Bible. In the book of Matthew, chapter 21, verse 21, " And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen."" Obviously, there are some blatant contradictions and fallacious statements that have completely crippled Dr. Howard's presentation.

The final segment of the presentation concluded and the Question and Answer session began. Among the questions, one of the better questions asked seemed to define exactly why Dr. Howard cannot be taken seriously as an intellectual elite. When asked about other religions, he replies: "I havn't tested any others. If there is a god different from the god in the bible, I have no knowledge of that god and I have no desire to know that god". Using his own definition, Dr. Howard is a dishonest skeptic, a liar, a hypocrite. Regarding the specific claim that non-believers are dishonest liars, Dr. Howard tried to emphasize this with a simple idea: "If a man is given directions to find something, but doesn't follow the directions, he has no legitimate right to claim it doesn't exist". At face value, such a statement certainly is true. However, as demonstrated, Dr. Howard is anything but honest when it comes to outlining any aspect of his religious views with what he believes of his gods as well as what he demands of others. With final statements such as "I will go to heaven because of the righteousness of Jesus, not because of anything I have done", he has undermined everything he could have possibly hoped to achieve, given the event topic, and especially the audience.

In relation to examining this presentation in terms of the Ferris article from Dr. Cole's History class on science and liberalism, it should be incredibly obvious where Dr. Howard stands. Ferris asserts that science can only flourish in a liberal democracy for a number of reasons. What is science? Simply put, it is the methodology used to observe and participate in our environment towards the goal of attaining knowledge about that environment. It is a structured practice that demands specific procedures.

Science is anti-authoritarian, which is to say it asks impertinent questions. Dr. Howard's views strictly forbid such questions when it comes to his religious views and the steps prescribed to find his specific version of an Abrahamic monotheism. Without being able to ask questions, and by demanding blind faith, the power resides in the self-proclaimed leaders of the religion. This is very authoritarian theocratic. That aspect also destroys, or at least severely limits another aspect needed for science to flourish: promoting growth. Little or no growth or change can occur in a stagnant system written in unchanging words and ideals.

As demonstrated by Dr. Howard, his religious views are anything but self-correcting, which is another point Ferris brings up as a boon to real science. Even when religious texts are written, sometimes even in stone, supposedly, they are still not literal-since they must be taken as allegory, according to Dr. Howard. There can be no self-correction when opinions change from person to person. There can be no self-correction with the "perfect and unchanging" word of a god. And to that end, very few are chosen to be the spokesmen for this "Word of God", which necessarily excludes another requirement of good science: unrestricted inclusions, no discrimination.

In conclusion, it is clear that Dr. Howard lacks a great many critical thinking skills when it comes to dealing with and promoting his religion. As the early French uniforms of World War I included red pants out of pride in a sense of tradition and of "fighting the [previous] war", so too did the irony of Dr. Howard's red pants relate to his methods of threats, hellfire and brimstone, personal experience, and failed logic, to the concept of "fighting the [previous] war" of street preaching by ignoring the intellect of modern non-believers. In this age of instant and global communication and advanced science, personal stories and threats from on high have exceedingly little effect on the educated. Dr. Howard made a strategic error in believing that he could use centuries old arguments in waging this new cultural war. By ignoring the logical and scientific advancements of the current age, he has ensured defeat at his own negligence and pride.

The question now becomes one of Dr. Howard's sanity and credibility as a person instructing young college students. Without even attending the event, every non-believer in his particular version of an Abrahamic monotheism passing by the fliers for the lecture were greeted by an accusation of being dishonest, of being a liar. This is incredibly poor taste, especially given that these fliers are being placed in an academic setting where honesty and hard work is a key aspect to success. As demonstrated in great detail, Dr. Howard continuously butchers the rules of logic during his lecture. Almost every aspect of the presentations promotes a mentality and ideal that is utterly contrary to a strong scientific and free thought environment geared towards an expansion of knowledge and understanding of our surroundings. Dr. Howard tried to present a passionate and moving demonstration of his faith to those who chose to listen, but instead he committed intellectual suicide in front of a shocked audience. This display was shocking, not for the content of what was said, but for who was saying it. For some students, they will never respect Dr. Howard as an intellectual for the poor performance at the Reichardt lecture hall.