The Moral Arguments for Deity

‘Now we reach one stage further in what I shall call the intellectual descent that the Theists have made in their argumentations, and we come to what are called the moral arguments for the existence of God. You all know, of course, that there used to be in the old days three intellectual arguments for the existence of God, all of which were disposed of by Immanuel Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason; but no sooner had he disposed of those arguments than he invented a new one, a moral argument, and that quite convinced him. He was like many people: in intellectual matters he was skeptical, but in moral matters he believed implicitly in the maxims that he had imbibed at his mother’s knee. That illustrates what the psychoanalysts so much emphasize — the immensely stronger hold upon us that our very early associations have than those of later times.

Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say there would be no right or wrong unless God existed. I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God that made this world, or could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up — a line which I often thought was a very plausible one — that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.’

– Denonn. L.E., Egner. R.E. Ed. 1961. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin (1962) p. 589-590

Bertrand Russell delivered the lecture Why I am not a Christian (of which this is an excerpt) on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

‘To get to the other side’ is a bit too simplistic. So, to remedy that, here are a number of interesting and more original replies to this famous – and surprisingly old – anti-humour riddle joke:

‘There are ‘quips and quillets’ which seem actual conundrums, but yet are none. Of such is this: ‘Why does a chicken cross the street?’ – The Knickerbocker, or The New York Monthly, March 1847, p. 283

Douglas Adams: 42.

Aristotle: To actualize its potential. It is the nature of chickens to cross roads.

Buddha: If you ask this question, you deny your own chicken-nature.

Julius Caesar: To come, to see, to conquer.

Howard Cosell: It may very well have been one of the most astonishing events to grace the annals of history. An historic, unprecedented avian biped with the temerity to attempt such an Herculean achievement formerly relegated to Homo sapien pedestrians is truly a remarkable occurrence.

Salvador Dali: A melting fish.

Charles Darwin: It was the logical next step after coming down from the trees. After all, chickens, over great periods of time, have been naturally selected in such a way that they are now genetically disposed to cross roads.

Jacques Derrida: What is the difference? The chicken was merely deferring from one side of the road to other. And how do we get the idea of the chicken in the first place? Does it exist outside of language? Also, any number of contending discourses may be discovered within the act of the chicken crossing the road, and each interpretation is equally valid as the authorial intent can never be discerned, because structuralism is dead.

Rene Descartes: It had sufficient reason to believe it was dreaming anyway.

Bob Dylan: How many roads must one chicken cross?

Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: It didn’t cross the road; it transcended it.

Epicurus: For pleasure.

Michel Foucault: It did so because the discourse of crossing the road left it no choice – the police state was oppressing it.

Sigmund Freud: The chicken was obviously female and obviously interpreted the pole on which the crosswalk sign was mounted as a phallic symbol of which she was envious, selbstverständlich. However, the fact that you are at all concerned about why the chicken crossed the road reveals your underlying sexual insecurity.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: The eternal hen-principle made it do it.

Stephen Jay Gould: It is possible that there is a sociobiological explanation for it, but we have been deluged in recent years with sociobiological stories despite the fact that we have little direct evidence about the genetics of behaviour, and we do not know how to obtain it for the specific behaviours that figure most prominently in sociobiological speculation.

Ernest Hemingway: To die. In the rain.

Heraclitus: A chicken cannot cross the same road twice.

Adolf Hitler: It needed Lebensraum.

David Hume: Out of custom and habit.

Doug Hofstadter: To seek explication of the correspondence between appearance and essence through the mapping of the external road-object onto the internal road-concept.

James Joyce: To forge in the smithy of its soul the uncreated conscience of its race.

Carl Jung: The confluence of events in the cultural gestalt necessitated that individual chickens cross roads at this historical juncture, and therefore synchronicitously brought such occurrences into being.

Immanuel Kant: Because it would have this be a universal law.

Martin Luther King: It had a dream.

Gottfried von Leibniz: In this best possible world, the road was made for it to cross.

Machiavelli: So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for whom among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the princely chicken’s dominion maintained. In any case, the end of crossing the road justifies whatever motive there was.

Karl Marx: To escape the bourgeois middle-class struggle. It was a historical inevitability.

Sir Isaac Newton: Chickens at rest tend to stay at rest. Chickens in motion tend to cross the road.

Moses: And the LORD spake unto the chicken, “Thou shalt cross the road.” And the chicken crossed the road.

Pyrrho the Skeptic: What road?

Jean-Paul Sartre: In order to act in good faith and be true to itself, the chicken found it necessary to cross the road.

B.F. Skinner: Because the external influences which had pervaded its sensorium from birth had caused it to develop in such a fashion that it would tend to cross roads, even while believing these actions to be of its own free will.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The chicken, sunlight coruscating off its radiant yellow- white coat of feathers, approached the dark, sullen asphalt road and scrutinized it intently with its obsidian-black eyes. Every detail of the thoroughfare leapt into blinding focus: the rough texture of the surface, over which countless tires had worked their relentless tread through the ages; the innumerable fragments of stone embedded within the lugubrious mass, perhaps quarried from the great pits where the Sons of Man laboured not far from here; the dull black asphalt itself, exuding those waves of heat which distort the sight and bring weakness to the body; the other attributes of the great highway too numerous to give name. And then it crossed it.

Mark Twain: The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated.

Kurt Vonnegut: There is no “why”, there only “is”. So it goes.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The possibility of “crossing” was encoded into the objects “chicken” and “road”, and circumstances came into being which caused the actualization of this potential occurrence.

Zeno of Elea: To prove it could never reach the other side.

What If Christianity Had Defeated Reason?

What if the Christian organised religion had successfully blocked all scientific progress and philosophical development of reason for the past 2000 years?

  • We would probably still think the earth was located at the centre of the solar system (this school of thought is known as geocentrism, as opposed to heliocentrism), despite what brilliant astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo have argued.
  • We would still think that the sun revolved around the earth. (Having said that, in 2012, 18% of Americans still believed the sun revolves around the earth.)
  • Mankind would probably not have tolerated any kind of modern democracy, since theocratic politics do not tolerate opposing views, let alone critical or secular ones. After all, there is a strong argument to be made that organised religion does not tolerate dissent.
  • Secularists, radical and experimental scientists, thinkers and philosophers – dissenters of any kind for that matter – would still be silenced. That is, regularly burned at the stake.
  • Homosexuals, bisexuals and people with multiple casual sexual partners would probably be in the same amount of danger as people of a similar nature are nowadays in central Africa – perhaps even more danger.
  • Women would still be banned from most of public life; in the same way history has shown us for the past centuries.
  • We would still think human beings are a special divinely created exception in biology. Facts about evolution and genetics would be unknown.
  • And since mankind would be considered to be above nature, animals would probably be exploited even more than today.
  • Since evidence based sciences would have a tough time, evidence based medicine would probably not exist in the form we know today, we would still use quacks, faith healers and prayer to combat diseases instead of vaccinations and other medications.
  • Nations that would identify themselves as devoutly Christian would probably still be fighting religious wars against the other faithful.
  • Many of the works of noteworthy intellectual figures would never have been published (perhaps because they were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum or similar black list). Notable thinkers on this list include: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, André Gide, Emanuel Swedenborg, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, Thomas Browne, John Milton, John Locke, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal and Hugo Grotius. (Interestingly, Charles Darwin’s works were never included.)

‘Yes. To you, Baldrick, the Renaissance was just something that happened to other people, wasn’t it? […] No that’s what I think, that’s what I think, what do you think? Try to have a thought of your own, Baldrick. Thinking is so important. What do you think?’

– Joseph M. 1998. Blackadder The Whole Damn Dynasty London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (1999) p. 137-138

Incongruity Theory

‘The incongruity theory was described rather badly by Immanuel Kant in 1790 when he said that laughter ‘is an affectation arising from the sudden transformation of strained expectation into nothing’. His grouchy compatriot Schopenhauer later elaborated on this, defining humour as ‘the incongruity between a concept and the real object to which it was to relate’. And what hilarious gag did Arthur Schopenhauer put forward to support his theory? ‘… for example, the amusing look of the angle formed by the meeting of the tangent and the curve of the circle’. Yes, Frankfurt positively rocked with laughter in the 1840s – the golden age of German comedy.

“Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
– George Burns

The set-up of a joke creates a scenario with an assumed conclusion; the punchline provides quite a different conclusion, which subverts your previously held assumptions about the joke scenario. […] For example:

How do you make a dog drink?
Put him in a blender.

[…] It’s not just the words that make the joke work. The best jokes use language with skill and economy to conjure up mental pictures which are hilarious by virtue of their incongruity, shock value, or just sheer silliness. Here’s a lovely one:

Two monkeys are having a bath. One of them turns to the other and says, ‘Oo oo ah ah!’ The other replies, ‘Well, put the cold tap on, then.’

It’s clear that even the shortest one-liner can be prodded and poked and analysed until an inch of its life […].’

– Carr J., Greeves L. 2006. The Naked Jape – Uncovering The Hidden World Of Jokes London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (2007) p. 92-93