Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hard and Soft Determinism

Soft and hard determinism are the same kind of determinism. The difference is that hard determinists say that since determinism is true, we aren't responsible for our actions. Soft determinists say that even though determinism is true, we are still responsible for our actions. The ultimate causes of our actions are outside our control, but the immediate cause of our action is our desire to perform the action, and that makes us responsible.

Or does it? Shouldn't the ultimate cause be what counts?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An Easter service at the Cardinals' stadium, with a couple of live Cardinals

A local megachurch, Christ's Church of the Valley, had their Easter service at University of Phoenix Stadium. It featured a discussion with QBs Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. Palmer leads the NFL in QB rating. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

C. S. Lewis passed away today 52 years ago

On Nov. 22. 1963. So did a couple of other famous people.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What is NOT acceptable?

Let me make something clear. There are ways on the atheist side of keeping things civil. Before I ran into new atheists I had many, many, respectful discussions with nonbelievers, and that includes passionate nonbelievers. What I have noticed, and it's something I trace back to Dawkins, is a shift in the nature of the discussion. I remember being surprised by it in a couple of discussion groups I got into before I even opened this blog. There are people on the other side who see the disagreement between belief and unbelief to be not just a debate but a war, and who want to mobilize a people who use ridicule, not in a offhanded way, or a way that is aimed at entertainment, but aimed at providing people with a social, not an epistemic, motivation for abandoning belief based on fear of ridicule. This ridicule is not for the benefit of the believers they are debating. They are written off as hopeless. No, it is used as a tool to demotivate religious belief amongst the low-information believers in the flock, who might be influenced by "naked contempt." Your debating partner is a pawn in a game, the end justifies the means. 

Now, it is quite true that Christians have not always, historically, been willing to leave an open marketplace of ideas and have not always treated nonbelievers fairly. How Christians got to the place where there were willing to use the power of government to uphold their beliefs raises some difficult questions. I think the lessons of history have taught Christians, the hard way, that using force on behalf of one's beliefs is a self-defeating enterprise.

Violence on these matters is only possible when it looks to us as if our cause will benefit from it. Even if I decide that Dawkins is the worst influence on society possible, it would be silly to kill him, that will prove his point on a number of issues and benefit his cause. But even if that were not the case, it would violate the teachings of my religion to kill him. That was an important part of my point, that the failure to engage or not engage in violence is partly a function of what one sees as useful, and this is true of both theists and atheists. One response to the recommendation that the Pope be assassinated in the name of atheism would be that it doesn't work. But that better not be the only reason. 

I am willing to ask anyone who thinks whether one believes or not really matters, what means they are willing to use to get people to get the right answer. The charge I am responding to is the charge that RELIGION leads to violence. The road to violence, however, is open to everyone. I think, if anything, Christianity has some safeguards that limit the damage, which may be why, as Dinesh D'Souza points out, the death tolls are actually lower in the religious cases. For Christians, it is hard to argue that the end justifies the means, that the course of history is really in our hands. My claim is that you get ideological violence when you have the power to commit it, when you think the end justifies the means, and when you really think it will benefit your cause to commit it. 

When I hear that religion is a mind virus, when I hear that everything depends on curing that mind virus, then I have to wonder what means are NOT acceptable in achieving that goal, should the opportunity arise. That is the basis of what I said here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jennifer Roback Morse on the harms of same-sex marriage


Why not?

OK, suppose you think that religion really does harm, and we really have to do what we can to stamp it out. Most of us don't have the opportunity to help establish or eliminate religion by the use of violence. But suppose an opportunity arises. Through a violent act, we can, as we see it, greatly decrease the influence of religion on the world. Now what do you do? Do you say "No, violence is wrong, we have to let the God delusion die of other causes. The end does not justify the means." or do we say "OK, yeah, we're doing violence, but this is how we vastly decrease the influence of religion on the world. The end does justify the means."

The Grand Inquisitors, the prosecutors at the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusaders, etc. all thought that they were doing good and promoting the kingdom of God. 

In Tolkien's writings, the moral fate of many of the characters depends upon their willingness or unwillingness to use power (such as the power of the Ring) to do what they perceive to be good. What possible reason do we have for believing that atheists, especially of the Dawkins variety, would resist the use of power and even violence to promote atheism if the opportunity would arise? I can't think of a single one.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Religion leads to violence, or thinking ideas are important leads to violence?

When people find that certain ideas are really important, they may be tempted to kill people for them. These ideas can be religious, but they can also be economic, or racial, or even anti-religious. Whenever you think an idea is important, it is always tempting to think, under certain circumstances, that "the end justifies the means" and that you have a right to harm, or even kill, people who disagree. But it does seem to be true that ideas are important, so one cure for idea-based violence, rejecting the idea that ideas are important, has some bad side effects.