Monday, August 12, 2013

A DISPLAY OF PRESUPPOSITIONAL APOLOGETICS- Jersey Flight


[This is a book review of Truth, Knowledge and the Reason for God: The Defense of Rational Assurance of Christianity by Mike A. Robinson.]

I intend to shatter this script; though one would be hard pressed to prove that this script is worthy of response? In most cases it's simply better to leave fanatics alone.

Proof of Robinson's fanaticism:
"It is impossible for the Christian world view to be wrong." Pg.70
"It is impossible for God not to exist." Ibid.
(And again, just to be sure we get his point)
"It is impossible for God not to exist." Pg.71

If we take these assertions seriously, then it doesn't matter what one can prove, Robinson has already made up his mind, long before any discourse, that "nothing" can refute what he believes, no matter how authentic, no matter how violent the contradiction Robinson will still assert that his position is true! That is to say, even if one legitimately refuted Robinson-- Robinson would still claim that the refutation was illegitimate, because of course, for his system, refutation is declared to be "impossible." Consider Robinson's response if the same claim was made by a Muslim or an Atheist? Would he validate the form of the argument?

Please note: Robinson's position is not a position of probability, but he actually claims infallible certainly:

"I agree with Van til's admission [which is no surprise seeing Robinson merely rehashes Van til's arguments]: The argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity is objectively valid. We should not tone down the validity of this argument to the probability level. The argument may be poorly stated, and may never adequately stated. But in itself the argument is absolutely sound." Introduction Pg.xiv

"...I know that God certainly exists..." Pg.70 [Which should read, "I know that my specific concept of God certainly exists."]

"There must be a certain, immutable, and infallible authority; that authority is God Almighty." [By which of course, Robinson means a specific concept of tri-personality.] Pg.86

I have a general rule, whenever a religious person says that there is no possible way their system could be false... well, this is my cue to leave the conversation. Nevertheless, because I tire of fanatics like Robinson, and because, for some strange reason, people actually believe what he says (authoritarianism), I will take a moment to smash Mr. Robinson and his assertions to pieces.

Mr. Robinson says his arguments were merely "influenced" by Lewis, Van til, Bahnsen, Craig and Polanyi (see Acknowledgments section), more like he "hijacked" these people and then called his emphasis originality (the same pattern can be seen in the writings of the fanatic Vincent Cheung). If Robinson's arguments were only "influenced" by the likes of Van til and Bahnsen, then how do his arguments actually differ from the likes of Van til and Bahnsen?

Analysis:

"Many spend the majority of their adult life carefully husbanding their thoughts, shielding their worldview and ultimate precommitments from critical analysis. Many atheists base their philosophy on wishful thinking as they seek to put away theism's moral absolutes." Introduction Pg.5

Never mind Robinson's authoritarian assertion: that his specific brand of theism (interpretation) automatically achieves the status of being absolute, the very essence of the identity of reality. Is it the case that Robinson is guilty of his own charge? Is he shielding the commitments of his worldview from "critical analysis"; is his worldview a form of "wishful thinking"?

Let us begin at the foundation; does Robinson start with a specific concept of scripture, or does he start with a specific concept of God? Indeed, is it even possible for Robinson to start with a specific concept of God without deducing that concept from scripture? ...does Robinson's concept of God inform Robinson's concept of scripture; or does Robinson's concept of scripture inform his concept of God?[1] I argue that he can't have it both ways-- however, this is his problem not mine!

Nevertheless his answer: "There are numerous SCRIPTURES that reveal to man that God is three persons in one God." Pg.90

*************

Please note: EVERY TIME Robinson uses the word "God," "Scripture," or "Christian theism/worldview," he means a very specific thing... Indeed, Mr. Robinson would like to use the terms generally, but the specific nature of his discourse will not permit it.

When Robinson says, "it is impossible for God not to exist," he actually means: 'it is impossible for a specific concept of Trinity-- for God as tri-personality, not to exist!'

"God is a self-complete and self-contained unity. There is but one God. God is an absolute personality. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Within the being of God, diversity is no more fundamental that unity. God is a tri-unity. The persons of the one God are mutually eternal and exhaustive of one another. The Holy Spirit and the Son are ontologically equal with God the Father." Ibid. pg.92

Suppose Mr. Robinson would like to argue the rational nature of these assertions... we need only ask, did he deduce these statements from nature or did he deduce them from a specific construction and harmonization of scripture? Surely any novice can see that these are "theological statements" as opposed to statements conduced on the basis of reason? Hence, the criticism stands: In order for Robinson's worldview to be true, his specific interpretation and harmonization of scripture must be true. Indeed, there must actually be such a thing as written revelation; his specific idea of God must actually exist! Never mind the fact that he uses the terms "self-complete and self-contained unity," without any explication as to what these terms mean... surely these are not simple concepts? [I believe most readers will miss the force of this argument.][2]

Now we drop the thesis against the rocks: In order for scripture to occupy the place of authority, which Mr. Robinson would like to claim it has, it MUST NOT appeal to anything outside itself for justification, presuppose a commitment to something more primitive, i.e. inductive science or human reason. To quote Kant (from whom Van til extracted the theory of transcendental reasoning) "...Whatever be the content of our conception of an object, it is necessary to go beyond it, if we wish to predicate existence of the object..." [Great Books of the Western World, second edition Vol.1 pg.443]

And yet, how does Mr. Robinson account for the existence of a specific text, from a multitude of options, if not by the selection of human reason through the method of inductive science? [I have already refuted Dr. Frame on this point; I don't find it necessary to repeat myself to a plagiarizer like Robinson-- see my exchange with Dr. Frame, pay special attention to my emphasis on the last twelve versus of the Gospel of Mark: http://theskepticthinker.com/flight-frame-debate.html.

To recap, we said: Robinson's specific authority MUST NOT presuppose a commitment to something more primitive, or in Robinson's own words:

"All men have their own controlling presuppositions; no one is truly detached but is empowered by a priory biases and engrained assumptions." Introduction Pg.xxv

"All men approach the pursuit of truth or science with rational precommitments and personal biases. The wise man recognizes this and the honest man admits it. I have a rational precommitment to the Christian worldview..." Ibid.

Is Mr. Robinson a wise man by his own definition? Will he admit that his commitment to the authority of scripture presupposes an even more primitive commitment to the authority of science and human reason? Again, how can Robinson account for scripture without the aid of these two things? Did God (by which Robinson means the Trinity) provide a pre-deciphered text of scripture, or have men decided, on the basis of inductive science/human reason, what should and should not be placed in the text? When Robinson argues any point from the basis, of what he chooses to call scripture, is he not first assuming the authority of human reason? How can this not be the case if there is NO SUCH THING as scripture, but only a series of documents from which men have arbitrarily chosen to extract something they call scripture?

As if to say: "Yes, we have thousands of documents, but from this pile we have only extracted the truth! Never mind what we rejected, for we did so on expedient grounds, by the fact that they didn't correspond with our creed!" [Theology as the determining factor of authenticity].

The argument here is too great for Robinson's theism to overcome. Allow me to explain what I mean: It is Robinson's contention that the non-believer presupposes the Christian worldview (that is, Robinson's specific interpretation of the Christian worldview) simply because Robinson's concept of, Christian worldview, provides a narrative by which certain concepts might be explained. Now, I ask every intelligent reader: does the fact that the Muslim religion provides a narrative by which to interpret existence automatically make the Muslim narrative true? Well then, why should it be any different in the case of Robinson? Notice his special pleading:

"The false gods of other religions cannot lend an epistemic hand to anyone. They do not exist for they are made in the image of man. The only God who is both transcendent and immanent is the true and living God of the Bible. The Mormon Gods, the Hindu Gods, and the Islamic God do not have necessary existence." Pg. 67

And because Robinson claims that the trinity can provide an explanation by which to interpret reality, therefore the trinitarian God is necessary? Surely Mr. Robinson must be fooling us; this reason is too pathetic, too authoritarian to be anything other than a joke? And yet, by god the man is actually serious!

[At this point I don't blame the intelligent reader for bowing out with a laugh, if he or she hasn't already done so. Indeed, why even bother to expose such an insane position? For my part I have no other answer but that I care for my fellow man.]

"Some conveyers of error attempt to refute Christian theism by introducing a god that is said to be similar to the God of the Bible. Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the theoretical god of Fristianity. Fristianity as a mere theoretical notion, is projected to be indistinguishable from Christianity in every manner except its god is projected as a quandrinity rather than a Trinity. Nonetheless the Christian worldview affirms that the Trinity is necessary pre-essential for knowledge and intelligibility." Pg. 93-94

And Mr. Robinson's hijacked-argument for this so-called necessity is that it ALONE provides the foundation for knowledge! Perhaps he could tell us how it does this?

"The biblical God is the a priori truth necessity for self-knowledge and the intelligibility of the world. Without God, man is lost in the epistemic hole of finite subjective opinion. Only through Yahweh (One God in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), His revelation, and the worldview that extends from God's truth can a man have an objective basis for reality. God is the absolute and transcendental necessity for the intelligibility of all human apprehension. He is the pre-essential for the grounding and understanding of knowledge." Pg.2

Allow me to smash this logic to pieces:

Is it true that Mr. Robinsons interpreted Christianity, declared as truth, provides the ONLY explanation for knowledge-- or is it rather true that it provides the ONLY ACCEPTABLE explanation for Mr. Robinson? Is his construction, interpretation of reality, necessary to existence; if so in what way? How is it, specifically, that the trinity is necessary in order to establish the law of contradiction? Doesn't atheism, science, biology provide an explanation for logic, albeit natural and contingent? But aren't all things based on human predication conditioned by the universality of that predication?

Does the fact, that Mr. Robinson DOESN'T LIKE atheism's explanation of the universe, prove that atheism's explanation of the universe is false? Further, just because Robinson claims he can provide a narrative by which to account for logic-- does this make his narrative or explanation true; does this mean he is really making universal statements? Again, consider Islam, Mormonism or Judaism, consider any opposite authoritarian claim.

[Just because the Koran utilizes the law of contradiction does not mean that the law of contradiction is contingent upon the Koran.]

Why can't Judaism make the same argument in the opposite direction? Again, what is it specifically about the trinity (as so construed by Robinson) that is necessary to his interpretation of reality? Why MUST the law of contradiction be universal in the way Robinson demands it be universal? Even further, is the trinity necessary to explain a worldview Robinson already has, or does the trinity give Mr. Robinson his worldview?

As if to say: "The world must be orderly, I posit that, and only my specific concept of deity allows it to be orderly in the way I find acceptable."

Rubbish! I am most interested to see a Presuppositionalist remain true to his original thesis. The case is simple: either he starts with the trinity (or some concept of scripture), or his concept of trinity/ concept of scripture, is contingent on something else? Here is the damming transcendental position against all forms of theistic transcendentalism: Concepts of god, unless otherwise natural and thereby void of specifics, must be deduced from concepts of revelation; and it is these specific concepts of revelation which inform the position of theism. Hence, to collapse any form of transcendental theism is merely to expose the reality of its starting point or axiom. That is, to prove that it is actually based on naturalistic pre-commitments/antithetical presuppositions. Hence, when Mr. Robinson speaks of God he speaks of the authority of scripture, but when he speaks of scripture, he speaks of the authority of something else upon which scripture itself must be based. Without the process of SELF-SELECTION by autonomous human reason there is no such thing as scripture.[3] Indeed, scripture is that which has been selected and chosen by man-- its authority is merely an "attributed authority." Proof of this is simple: what happens if we decide to reject any decree of scripture? Absolutely nothing!!!! Why? because Robinson's God, as he was so quick to claim about others, is merely a "husbanded" form of wishful thinking, a mere projection/theoretical construct!

For those who think I have failed to engage the position, which has here been hijacked by Mr. Robinson, please see my exchange with Dr. Frame [http://theskepticthinker.com/flight-frame-debate.html]. It is also worth noting, for the sake of Mr. Robinson's mindless followers, that I challenged Mr. Robinson to a debate without response. My demands were that he had to provide free copies of the debate-- I would, of course, do the same. I feel perfectly reasonable calling him a bully and a coward.

I have only touched the surface of this authoritarian-counterfeits rhetoric... were he to exchange words with me in discourse he would find himself smitten, how did he say it... "before he could even get his argument off the ground." I am the hot knife he is the soft butter.

Final Note:

If Robinson's worldview, which he sifted from others, were true, it should at no point presuppose something more primitive, but should in fact, be the transcendental starting point of all other suppositions.[4] However, this is NOT the case! The specific brand of Presuppositionalism asserted by Robinson is contingent upon non-revelatory axioms, which MUST be utilized and relied on in order to account for his specific brand of theism. Hence, Robinson's worldview, so far from being the foundational of all knowledge, is actually contingent on the very reason he seeks to reject: inductive science and autonomous human reason.

As I have so often asked: who is really presupposing whose worldview?


By his example of insecure-authoritarianism, if Mr. Robinson teaches us anything, he teaches us that the identity of absolute truth is not as easy as self-assertion.



Notes-------------------------------------------

[1] Either way he is still guilty of his own declaration-- "shielding his worldview from critical analysis."

[2] Suppose Robinson were to provide an explanation, on the basis of scripture, as to the meaning of such terms, would this automatically make his explanation true? Further, would it not bind him to an epistemology of document? My dear friends, follow the logic of this reason, and note well the foundation of the document itself! To inform the concepts of "self-complete" and "self-contained" on the basis of natural reason is to betray Robinson's original line of reason; to inform the concepts of "self-complete" and "self-contained," in relation to a specific conception of god, on the basis of revelation, is to surrender the authority of that revelation to the authority upon which that revelation is based. That is, revelation does not look to revelation in the processes of becoming that which it is said to be, but is said to be revelation on the basis of something else: inductive science and human reason. Please note: this argument is the end of all presuppositional apologetics!

[3] "...all information we receive about God, through nature, Scripture, or whatever source, comes to us through our eyes, ears, minds, and brains- through ourselves. Sometimes we dream fondly of a "purely objective" knowledge of God- a knowledge of God freed from the limitations of our senses, minds, experiences, preparation, and so forth. But nothing of this sort is possible..."
John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God pg.65, P&R Publishing 1987

[4] To those who deny that this is actually the case, try asking yourselves this question: is my Christianity the starting point of all reason and logic? What would happen if my Christianity did presuppose something more primitive? What if my most vital assumptions presuppose the necessity of something else other than Christianity? Does the Bible, in fact, presuppose itself-- or must one utilize principles more primitive than the Bible in order to account for the Bible? People who believe authoritarians like Robinson are duped because they never challenge the authority of his premise.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

THE MAN WHO KILLED PLANTINGA-- Jersey Flight


Plantinga is considered the most relevant and authoritative theist of our time. But I tell you that such emphasis is misplaced; such confidence is unfounded!

Above all else Plantinga should be known for one thing: sophisticated language (and an over-zealous use of the symbol). It is entirely true that what he says could be said without all the symbolic-fanfare, but if he did this it would detract from the persuasion-edifice of his prose (the reader would no longer be overwhelmed into submission; the capitulation-effect would be nullified). In essence; to speak more plainly would be disserviceable to his theism.*
 
Does he, the mighty Plantinga, have a command of the issues (epistemologically speaking)? Most certainly! And to follow his equations can be rather interesting [seeing things the way an analytical theist sees them--- altogether too tedious.] 

However, what is the true substance of his position? Upon what axis does his thesis turn? 

{.....................................................................................................................................................}

Ladies and gentleman, I invite you to acknowledge the fragility and deception of his position. Frail in terms of ontology; deceptive in terms of his symbolic computation. [This is not the only way to do philosophy!] And even more so, it is relevant to note the fact that a valuable theism must be accessible (Plantinga is a theists theist). For this very reason it is logical to believe that analytical theism will not pass the pragmatic test of experiential relevance, and as such, will die the death of a thousand frivolous computations. [it will not find a place in culture outside the vestibules of academia.] 

So what is this frail ontology of which we speak; what constitutes the true weakness of Plantinga’s position?

[It is all too easy for the reader to observe the next point casually--- and this would be a vital mistake!]  
    
What is the Plantinian Theological Burden?

In a word------ the very concept and nature of God itself!!!
 
This should not be dismissed or ignored. Reduction here means defeat, in that one will always struggle against secondary issues; there will be refutation without resolution; the theistic monster will continue to proceed (though beat it will not be dead). For how often has Plantinga himself casually tried to dismiss the issue: “Can’t we just assume [what is meant by God] for the sake of the argument?” Nonsense! God is the issue and has always been the issue! And whether theism lives or dies it lives or dies with this issue. How shocking that this heralded-titan of analytical theism should actually seek to avoid the central issue!** 
  
What happens when Plantinga is forced to have a conversation about God?

“What are we to make of this distinction between essential and accidental properties [referring to the attributes of God]? This is a difficult and very large topic and what I shall say will be, I am afraid, both sketchy and merely suggestive.” God and Other Minds pg.176, Cornell 1990
  
Very well indeed; a difficult and large topic---- merely suggestive (not rational)! So what about the materiality of God? What about the non-materiality of God? What about the eternality of God? What about the morality of God? What about the nature of God, period? In what way are Plantinga’s arguments relevant to the specificity of God?
  
Before Plantinga starts his computation we want to know what he can actually know about the nature of God (or else how can he proceed toward a computation of rational belief in God)? For what is the nature of that which he is computing and how can he compute it if he knows not its nature?

In anticipation of a reply we might expect something to the effect of, the general nature of things in general thereby equalizes all natures so that all general natures are rational. Hence, we have no choice but to affirm Plantinga’s proclamations (suggestions) about God, because if we refused, “we will end up undermining our own necessary proclamations.” [We might call this adolescent-skepticism.]

But I don’t think this is where the argument actually leads. God is the controversial premise! (And for those theists who are having difficulty seeing the issue): Naturalism does not invoke the idea of God; the burden of proof lies with the one making the claim!

But we can be more clear: is the universe a controversial premise in the same sense that Allah is a controversial premise? [I have no doubt that Plantinga would like to say yes.] But this is simply not possible (for when we speak of the universe we are speaking of a corporeal thing)! Even if the nature of the universe is in dispute the existence of the universe is not! And this makes all the difference.

Theists are welcome to attempt to reconcile the equivocation; they are welcome to try to make the question of the universe synonymous with the question of God, but the deeper question is whether or not they can do this without negating the evident premise of the existence of the universe? Clearly the universe is not the same thing as God? [At least any self-respecting theist that desires to escape the consequences of Pantheism must attempt to put forth a distinction or else join the ranks of Naturalism.]

Vague theism has no value! How many times do we have to say it?
     
By way of conclusion: in order to make the argument, that ignorance, when it comes to the knowledge of God, is permissible [because we are ignorant about the universe]--- one must necessarily be able to demonstrate that God is synonymous with the universe, nay, what is more; one must be able to prove that God’s existence is as evident as the existence of the universe! But of course, in order to do this one has to know something about God.
                
So Mr. Plantinga, we have no choice but to ask (we are dying to ask under the weight of your arguments): what do you know about God?


NOTES-------------

*[I am not positing that Plantinga’s procedure is unintelligible; nor am I stating that he is unskilled in analytical computation (this is most certainly not the case!), but what I am stating is that his method tends [to preserve from criticism] the more vital elements of his thesis thereby producing the appearance of justification. I believe a good example of this can be seen in his handling of the Cosmological Argument in “God and Other Minds.” How hard is it to demonstrate that Aquinas’ argument is better suited to the existence of Nature than the existence of God? Analytical Philosophy can become a means of evading criticism, and this is nowhere exemplified better than in the work of Plantinga.]
   
**[In a panel discussion at Georgetown University, Jan 7, 2013, Standing Seminar: Theism, Naturalism, and Rationality, Mark Murphy and Michael Tooley, along with several others, asked Plantinga to clarify what he meant by God. Murphy: “what should we take to be the case [attributes of God] if theism is true; what must a person deny in order to be considered an atheist?” Plantinga: “I was thinking of theism as a view that there is an all-powerful (maybe you would say omnipotent, maybe not?) all-knowing, perfectly good, perfectly loving person, who has created the world and created human beings in his image. That’s how I was thinking of it.” In immediate succession, Tooley to Plantinga: “At one point you used the expression, something like God, how close would it have to be to qualify... would Zeus be something like God?” Plantinga: “Yes I think so, right, if you believe in Zeus you wouldn’t be a Naturalist... I admit that the term Naturalism as I understand it is vague, but I’m hoping for present purposes that vagueness won’t matter?”----- what we say to Plantinga: good luck proving that belief in an all-powerful, omnipotent, all-knowing, perfectly good, perfectly loving person, who has created the world and created human beings in his image, is rational. Good luck proving, that when it comes to God, specificity doesn’t matter.]
    
[In a very real sense Plantinga’s scheme is very close to that of the sophists. For in postulating, that belief in any generic God is rational, he has affirmed that contraries are rational--- but has he really escaped the Fourth Book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics? For what does he mean by God: “if you think about the theistic religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam it would be the conception of God one finds in those religions.” Ibid. This is merely ignorance disguised as rationality. A man who teaches that Allah and YAHWEH are equally the outcome of his thesis (contrary yet true) is largely confused. He has need to go back and learn the first principles of logic.]
    
[Plantinga’s entire scheme is based on conjecture regarding the rationality, not of the existence of God, but of the rationality of certain maneuvers in contrast with other maneuvers, or we could say, of arguing that something is rational because its so-called opposite cannot be proven. This is not arguing for the existence of God! Plantinga provides a critique, which he then uses, to evade the burden of proof in relation to his own beliefs! And hence we ask--- what can Plantinga tell us about God?]

Monday, August 5, 2013

WHY, O THEOLOGIANS! --Baron D'Holbach

When we examine the opinions of men, we find that nothing is more uncommon, than common sense; or, in other words, they lack judgment to discover plain truths, or to reject absurdities, and palpable contradictions. We have an example of this in Theology, a system revered in all countries by a great number of men; an object regarded by them as most important, and indispensable to happiness. An examination of the principles upon which this pretended system is founded, forces us to acknowledge, that these principles are only suppositions, imagined by ignorance, propagated by enthusiasm or knavery, adopted by timid credulity, preserved by custom which never reasons, and revered solely because not understood. 

In a word, whoever uses common sense upon religious opinions, and will bestow on this inquiry the attention that is commonly given to most subjects, will easily perceive that Religion is a mere castle in the air. Theology is ignorance of natural causes; a tissue of fallacies and contradictions. In every country, it presents romances void of probability, the hero of which is composed of impossible qualities. His name, exciting fear in all minds, is only a vague word, to which, men affix ideas or qualities, which are either contradicted by facts, or inconsistent. 

Notions of this being, or rather, the word by which he is designated, would be a matter of indifference, if it did not cause innumerable ravages in the world. But men, prepossessed with the opinion that this phantom is a reality of the greatest interest, instead of concluding wisely from its incomprehensibility, that they are not bound to regard it, infer on the contrary, that they must contemplate it, without ceasing, and never lose sight of it. Their invincible ignorance, upon this subject, irritates their curiosity; instead of putting them upon guard against their imagination, this ignorance renders them decisive, dogmatic, imperious, and even exasperates them against all, who oppose doubts to the reveries which they have begotten. 

What perplexity arises, when it is required to solve an insolvable problem; unceasing meditation upon an object, impossible to understand, but in which however he thinks himself much concerned, cannot but excite man, and produce a fever in his brain. Let interest, vanity, and ambition, co-operate ever so little with this unfortunate turn of mind, and society must necessarily be disturbed. This is the reason that so many nations have often been the scene of extravagances of senseless visionaries, who, believing their empty speculations to be eternal truths, and publishing them as such, have kindled the zeal of princes and their subjects, and made them take up arms for opinions, represented to them as essential to the glory of the Deity. In all parts of our globe, fanatics have cut each other's throats, publicly burnt each other, committed without a scruple and even as a duty, the greatest crimes, and shed torrents of blood. For what? To strengthen, support, or propagate the impertinent conjectures of some enthusiasts, or to give validity to the cheats of impostors, in the name of a being, who exists only in their imagination, and who has made himself known only by the ravages, disputes, and follies, he has caused. 

Savage and furious nations, perpetually at war, adore, under divers names, some God, conformable to their ideas, that is to say, cruel, carnivorous, selfish, blood-thirsty. We find, in all the religions, "a God of armies," a "jealous God," an "avenging God," a "destroying God," a "God," who is pleased with carnage, and whom his worshippers consider it a duty to serve. Lambs, bulls, children, men, and women, are sacrificed to him. Zealous servants of this barbarous God think themselves obliged even to offer up themselves as a sacrifice to him. Madmen may everywhere be seen, who, after meditating upon their terrible God, imagine that to please him they must inflict on themselves, the most exquisite torments. The gloomy ideas formed of the deity, far from consoling them, have every where disquieted their minds, and prejudiced follies destructive to happiness. 

How could the human mind progress, while tormented with frightful phantoms, and guided by men, interested in perpetuating its ignorance and fears? Man has been forced to vegetate in his primitive stupidity: he has been taught stories about invisible powers upon whom his happiness was supposed to depend. Occupied solely by his fears, and by unintelligible reveries, he has always been at the mercy of priests, who have reserved to themselves the right of thinking for him, and of directing his actions. 

Thus, man has remained a slave without courage, fearing to reason, and unable to extricate himself from the labyrinth, in which he has been wandering. He believes himself forced under the yoke of his gods, known to him only by the fabulous accounts given by his ministers, who, after binding each unhappy mortal in the chains of prejudice, remain his masters, or else abandon him defenceless to the absolute power of tyrants, no less terrible than the gods, of whom they are the representatives. 

Oppressed by the double yoke of spiritual and temporal power, it has been impossible for the people to be happy. Religion became sacred, and men have had no other Morality, than what their legislators and priests brought from the unknown regions of heaven. The human mind, confused by theological opinions, ceased to know its own powers, mistrusted experience, feared truth and disdained reason, in order to follow authority. Man has been a mere machine in the hands of tyrants and priests. Always treated as a slave, man has contracted the vices of slavery. 

Such are the true causes of the corruption of morals. Ignorance and servitude are calculated to make men wicked and unhappy. Knowledge, Reason, and Liberty, can alone reform and make men happier. But every thing conspires to blind them, and to confirm their errors. Priests cheat them, tyrants corrupt and enslave them. Tyranny ever was, and ever will be, the true cause of man's depravity, and also of his calamities. Almost always fascinated by religious fiction, poor mortals turn not their eyes to the natural and obvious causes of their misery; but attribute their vices to the imperfection of their natures, and their unhappiness to the anger of the gods. They offer to heaven vows, sacrifices, and presents, to obtain the end of sufferings, which in reality, are attributable only to the negligence, ignorance, and perversity of their guides, to the folly of their customs, and above all, to the general want of knowledge. Let men's minds be filled with true ideas; let their reason be cultivated; and there will be no need of opposing to the passions, such a feeble barrier, as the fear of gods. Men will be good, when they are well instructed; and when they are despised for evil, or justly rewarded for good, which they do to their fellow citizens. 

In vain should we attempt to cure men of their vices, unless we begin by curing them of their prejudices. It is only by showing them the truth, that they will perceive their true interests, and the real motives that ought to incline them to do good. Instructors have long enough fixed men's eyes upon heaven; let them now turn them upon earth. An incomprehensible theology, ridiculous fables, impenetrable mysteries, puerile ceremonies, are to be no longer endured. Let the human mind apply itself to what is natural, to intelligible objects, truth, and useful knowledge. 

Does it not suffice to annihilate religious prejudice, to shew, that what is inconceivable to man, cannot be good for him? Does it require any thing, but plain common sense, to perceive, that a being, incompatible with the most evident notions -- that a cause continually opposed to the effects which we attribute to it -- that a being, of whom we can say nothing, without falling into contradiction -- that a being, who, far from explaining the enigmas of the universe, only makes them more inexplicable -- that a being, whom for so many ages men have vainly addressed to obtain their happiness, and the end of sufferings -- does it require, I say, any thing but plain, common sense, to perceive -- that the idea of such a being is an idea without model, and that he himself is merely a phantom of the imagination? Is any thing necessary but common sense to perceive, at least, that it is folly and madness for men to hate and damn one another about unintelligible opinions concerning a being of this kind? In short, does not every thing prove, that Morality and Virtue are totally incompatible with the notions of a God, whom his ministers and interpreters have described, in every country, as the most capricious, unjust, and cruel of tyrants, whose pretended will, however, must serve as law and rule the inhabitants of the earth? 

To discover the true principles of Morality, men have no need of theology, of revelation, or of gods: They have need only of common sense. They have only to commune with themselves, to reflect upon their own nature, to consider the objects of society, and of the individuals, who compose it; and they will easily perceive, that virtue is advantageous, and vice disadvantageous to themselves. Let us persuade men to be just, beneficent, moderate, sociable; not because such conduct is demanded by the gods, but, because it is pleasant to men. Let us advise them to abstain from vice and crime; not because they will be punished in another world, but because they will suffer for it in this. -- These are, says Montesquieu, means to prevent crimes -- these are punishments; these reform manners -- these are good examples.
 
The way of truth is straight; that of imposture is crooked and dark. Truth, ever necessary to man, must necessarily be felt by all upright minds; the lessons of reason are to be followed by all honest men. Men are unhappy, only because they are ignorant; they are ignorant, only because every thing conspires to prevent their being enlightened; they are wicked only because their reason is not sufficiently developed. 

By what fatality then, have the first founders of all sects given to their gods ferocious characters, at which nature revolts? Can we imagine a conduct more abominable, than that which Moses tells us his God showed towards the Egyptians, where that assassin proceeds boldly to declare, in the name and by the order of his God, that Egypt shall be afflicted with the greatest calamities, that can happen to man? Of all the different ideas, which they give us of a supreme being, of a God, creator and preserver of mankind, there are none more horrible, than those of the impostors, who represented themselves as inspired by a divine spirit, and "Thus saith the Lord." 

Why, O theologians! do you presume to inquire into the impenetrable mysteries of a being, whom you consider inconceivable to the human mind? You are the blasphemers, when you imagine that a being, perfect according to you, could be guilty of such cruelty towards creatures whom he has made out of nothing. Confess, your ignorance of a creating God; and cease meddling with mysteries, which are repugnant to Common Sense.

[text extracted from the Preface of "Good Sense, or Freethoughts Opposed to Supernatural Ideas" by Baron D'Holbach]