Monday, June 25, 2012

Dawkins and evidence: Obama, Clinton, and Lincoln were probably atheists

Does anyone find it just a tiny bit ironic that Dawkins is trying to get everyone to hold beliefs based on evidence and only on evidence--and then makes assertion after assertion with no evidence for them whatsoever?

I suppose she wasn't a real atheist

Since she converted to Catholicism. There are no ex-atheists, right?

HT: Bob Prokop

Sunday, June 24, 2012

If there is intelligent design, science may be the last to know

It seems to me that if there were an intelligent agent guiding evolution, it would be one whose activity was less predictable and less tractable to science than the other kinds of forces that science is pretty good at predicting and explaining. So, it seems to me to be sensible for science to go as far as it can analyzing and predicting discoveries without taking design into consideration. Only when these sorts of explanations run into trouble should science look for something else. 

If I understand a particle, I know what the particle is going to do, always and everywhere. If I am dealing with an agent, there is some predictability, but such an agent is less predictable than a particle. It's not as if I can't make any predictions for form any expectations, I can. If I am playing chess with a world title contender, I have some idea of what they will do, but surely not a perfect idea, otherwise I would be as good as my opponent. So, if there is a God, I think we should expect science not to be able to bring it in until we had everything else understood. And, I suspect, that will be be awhile.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Confidence in the progress of science is not the same as confidence that gaps will be closed

It seems to me that you have to have faith that the gaps will be closed. That's different from having faith that science will progress. If science closes the gaps, that's progress, and if it discovers that the gaps can't be closed, that's progress, too. Future science is FUTURE. It's not here yet. Science has gone against its previous trajectory so many times that we shouldn't be making all sorts of predictions about what it will eventually say.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

NOMA and the realist interpretation of evolutionary biology

NOMA is an attractive idea. However, it seems to be an essential part of what evolutionary biologists are saying that there was no involvement in the process by God or any other supernatural beings. One could avoid this problem is to say that evolution is a model, and the best scientific model we've come up wtih so far. We can study the science without believing it to be literally true. In other sciences, scientists will present their views as theories without insisting that they are literally true. Rather, they say it's the best way to make sense of the data from a scientific standpoint. Physicists like Hawking say this sort of thing a lot. Evolutionary biologists, on the other hand, seem to expect people to be realists about their theory. I wonder why?

The guy in Holy Grail says, of Camelot, "It's only a model."

Witherington defends gun control on Christian grounds


For Ben Witherington, gun control is not aiming your gun at the right target. This was a post from 2007, after the Virginia Tech shooting.

After last year's shooting of Gabrielle Giffords at the Tucson Safeway, where several people were killed, some people suggested that the disaster could have been alleviated by an armed law-abiding citizen. Apparently there was someone like that at the Safeway, who took a gun out to shoot the shooter. However, that person was aiming at the wrong person, and would have fired if someone hadn't told them they were aiming at the wrong guy. So, the tragedy could have been worse, instead of better, if that citizen had fired.

The Moral Argument that Christians don't use, but atheists always rebut

Does William Lane Craig ever say that we need to be believers in God to lead moral lives?

Guess what. He does NOT.

This is from the opening speech to his 1996 debate with Doug Jesseph:

Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist of the last century who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life. I think that Friedrich Nietzsche was right. But we've got to be very careful here. The question here is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? I am not claiming that we must. Nor is the question: Can we recognize objective moral values without believing in God? I certainly think that we can. Rather the question is: If God does not exist, do objective moral values exist?

Yet, when I hear atheists talking about moral arguments, they always assume that the advocate of the moral argument is saying that we have to believe in God to lead moral lives, (and indignantly argue that we don't have to believe in God to lead moral lives) in spite of the fact that Christian advocates of moral arguments, at least the ones I am familiar with NEVER say that.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

J. D. Walters on the Morality of P Z Myers

Here is the link.

What really happens to morality if godlessness really takes hold? Maybe it is not the happy humanism that many would expect.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chesterton on proof

In Orthodoxy, his masterly defense of the Christian faith, G.K Chesterton writes: "It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it."

Trinitarian Theology and Scientific Theory

I actually think there are important parallels between the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and the development of scientific theories. People had what they took to be data, and concluded the only way to explain it was through trinitarian theology. It took quite a bit of conceptual analysis to develop such a complicated idea, and if there were really no data to respond to, their God-concept would have been far simpler and less paradoxical. In the face of reality scientists had to combine the wave and particle theories of light, which seem initially to us to be contradictory. In the same way, theologians developed trinitarian theology, making Christ God and man, even though, initially, this looks contradictory.

Understanding, Critique and Ridicule

I had made the claim that while you don't need to understand something in order to reject it, you do need to understand something in order to critique it.

From an exchange on Debunking Christianity.

Robert Corfield: If someone took seriously the flying spaghetti monster and claimed it existed, do you think you would need to study The Gospel of the FSM and make a thorough study of pastafarian theology to make sure you understand the position in order to critique it?

VR: The FSM was invented as a concept that could not be taken seriously by people attacking, in this case, intelligent design (though it does make for a good reply to fideism). Understanding is needed for critique because we need to get inside the intellectual tempation to believe something in order to provide a response that shows that this apparent justification is illusory. No one I know claims to be rationally justified in believing that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. If someone did, we would have to understand why someone thought that--otherwise our critical response is not going to get at what is supporting the belief.
Let's take an example from theistic arguments: various forms of the cosmological argument. People like Dawkins, and Russell before him, presume that you can refute all forms of the cosmological argument by presuming that you can just answer it by asking "Who made God." In other words, they presume that the argument is based on a principle that everything has a cause. The "naive" cosmological argument was attributed to Aquinas as late as 1998, as going as follows, by Theodore Schick.

1. Everything is caused by something other than itself2. Therefore the universe was caused by something other than itself.3. The string of causes cannot be infinitely long.4. If the string of causes cannot be infinitely long, there must be a first cause.5. Therefore, there must be a first cause, namely god.
The most telling criticism of this argument is that it is self-refuting. If everything has a cause other than itself, then god must have a cause other than himself. But if god has a cause other than himself, he cannot be the first cause. So if the first premise is true, the conclusion must be false.

But Aquinas never said that, he said that whatever exists contingently needs a cause of its existence. God, by definition, isn't a contingent being, and therefore needs no cause. Now, there could be all sorts of things wrong with this argument, but that isn't it, and making this mistake signals to readers who do know something about this argument that the critic doesn't know what he's talking about. This is particularly of interest because Russell, for example goes on to say that this reply should be so obvious that the fact that people are persuaded by this kind of an argument requires a psychological explanation. Perhaps we need a psychological explanation for why Russell didn't do his homework.

Remember what I pointed out earlier, that it is easy to ridicule evolution. The evolutionist can rightly respond by saying that such ridicule is based on a lack fo understanding. But Christians and defenders of natural theology will say the same thing about misguided attacks.
Creationists, whatever else you might want to say about them, are armed to respond to the tactics of the New Atheists.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are the Gnus spreading creationism

According to this article, they are. HT: Bob Prokop.

I remember a friend of mine complaining about people who called you an evolutionist if you, for example, didn't accept YEC. Is this the flip side of that, from those who believe in the Religion of Evolution?

John DePoe's version of the AFR

John DePoe is a former student of Tim McGrew at Western Michigan, who teaches at Marywood College.

Craig's Holy Spirit Epistemology

I'm not a defender of Craig's epistemology. I'm against using Craig's Holy Spirit Epistemology against him when he's presenting an unrelated argument. But, if if he had a sufficiently direct experience of God at some time t1, he can't guarantee that he will have that same experience if he were to come to think his theistic arguments have been refuted at time t2. So I don't see how he can say how he would react if he were to discover that his arguments were bad.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The downside of ridicule

This is a quote from Carrier that Loftus sometimes quotes.

By and large the minds of the ridiculous can't be changed. It's their flock we're talking to. But even the ridiculous change under ridicule some respond by getting more ridiculous (and those are the ones who could never be swayed even by the politest methods), but others accumulate shame until they see the error of their ways (I've met many ex-evangelicals who have told me exactly that). Thus, ridicule converts the convertible and marginalizes the untouchable. There is no more effective strategy in a culture war

Even if you accept Carrier's arguments for ridicule, it has the downside that the presence of ridicule is inductive evidence that the person doing the ridiculing isn't going to work very hard to get anything right about what his opponents have said. If you found someone who ridiculed their opponents while at the same time tried very hard to understand those same opponents, that would be remarkable.

Where there is a lot of intellectual distance between parties, it's hard work just to clear away the misinterpretations and get down to figuring out just what the real disagreements are. The temptation is to throw out a clever put-down when you should be trying to get the opponents position right. The defense of the ridiculed against the ridiculer is typically, 'You don't understand what you're ridiculing." So long as I have that defense, ridicule is not going to be very effective.
What ridicule is effective at is rallying the already converted. Listen to Rush Limbaugh for an hour and see if it doesn't help you get the point. (Or, find some less torturous way of doing it, if you find that painful).
or Cancel

Not just wrong, but historically wrong

This is a list of wrong predictions.

"Guitar groups are on the way out…the Beatles have no future in show business."
—Dick Rowe, head of Decca Records, 1962

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our characteristic blindness

“We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century - the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?" - lies where we have never suspected it... None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”
C.S. Lewis, On the Incarnation

How could they have thought that back then?

In the 19th Century most people believed in white supremacy, including most of those who opposed slavery. Today believing in white supremacy is considered a major sign of ignorance. But we in our time are not smarter, or better, than our forbears, so why do we find it so easy to accept racial equality?

Which leads us to as, what practices that we approve of today will make our descendants scratch their heads and say "How could they have thought that way back then."

Two Toms on Naturalism

I just ran across this exchange, between Tom Gilson and Tom Clark. See, there can be civilized dialogue!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Bob Prokop's New Book on Observing the Nearest Stars

This, from a longtime friend and frequent commenter here, looks like a good introduction for anyone who wants to do some astronomy.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Dialogue with Keith Parsons on loving bad people

Parsons: A further issue I have always had with Christianity is the one you express as follows:

"Christians are enjoined by their faith to love others, and I take it that means that regardless of how badly a person has gone wrong, we think that, by the grace of God, that they could someday be brought to disconnect themselves from their sin by repentance."

Taken literally, this means that Christians are enjoined to love, say, people who throw acid into the faces of little girls to keep them from going to school. Indeed, Christians are enjoined to love tyrants, serial killers, traffickers in sexual slavery, drug cartel thugs, terrorists, fanatics, con men who cheat the elderly out of their life savings, etc.

This is one of the many cases where Christianity, by setting up an impossible (and undesirable) ideal creates conditions that guarantee self-deception and hypocrisy. CAN you love someone like, say, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad? SHOULD you even if you could? I think the answer to both questions is "no."

I submit that a person with any sense of decency who is well informed about the actions of Assad--shelling towns, sending death squads to massacre unarmed civilians, etc.--cannot love such an individual, not even "by the grace of God." If such a person claims to do so, I think that he is fooling himself or attempting to fool the rest of us.

Should you love Assad, even if you can? Why? Because of the off chance that he might someday repent? Get real. I submit that the proper, the MORAL attitude to take towards Assad and his vile ilk is one of outraged contempt.

VR: Sometimes this issue gets cast when Christians ask whether they ought to love Satan. For non-universalists, Satan is a spiritual hopeless case; there is no good for Satan that anyone can possibly hope for. Again, with some persons who do great evil, you it's hard to find anything in that person that could give you a basis for a movement back toward good.

For me, loving people like that is, as Obama would say, "above my pay grade." It's tough enough for me to maintain an appropriate loving attitude toward people who behave rudely on Dangerous Idea (of all persuasions). So, your question is better addressed to sa better candidate for canonization than yours truly. And to pretend that you have actually succeeded in loving people when you really haven't is worse than just hating their guts. Falwell makes a fool of himself, of course, when he pretends that he loves gay people.

There are remarkable transformations of evildoers, and it is a major theme in Christianity and literature. John Newton, the slave ship owner who wrote Amazing Grace comes to mind, and even from Star Wars there is the (fictional) transformation of Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.
I wonder if Bonhoeffer ever addressed this sort of thing. Did he think it was possible to love Hitler, and what could he mean by that given his involvement in efforts to kill him.

Monday, June 04, 2012

On civility and the charge of abuse

I note that some people who have defended Dawkins on child abuse have complained that the Christian respondents here have been less than civil.

I am as great a champion of civility, so I am told, as there is who is engaged in religious debate on the Internet. Of course I'm not perfect that way, but I do try.

On the other hand, of all the points made on the atheist side, this is the one that infuriates me the most. My wife and I raised our stepdaughters as Christians, and they are now both indeed dedicated Christians. They were never told not to question their beliefs. That would be a hypocritical thing to ask of them, since I questioned mine a whole heck of a lot all through college and beyond. Before I met my wife, I dated a Jewish woman, and we ended that relationship when it became evident that, if we have children, we would not be able to agree on their religious upbringing. Since Christians are enjoined to raise their children in the fear of the Lord (and please don't misinterpret that expression), if the state says we can't do that, they are effectively taking away my freedom to practice my religion. You are telling me that I harmed my children more grievously than if I had molested them, and then you expect me to be civil in response? THAT deserves mockery, if anything does.

So, if you follow Dawkins here, you declare war on religion. If we are at all nice in response, it is supererogatory.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

C. S. Lewis's atheism

You ask me about my religious views: you know, I think, that I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention – Christ as much as Loki. Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn’t understand – thunder, pestilence, snakes etc: what more natural than to suppose that these were animated by evil spirits trying to torture him. These he kept off by cringing to them, singing songs and making sacrifices etc. Gradually from being mere nature-spirits these supposed being[s] were elevated into more elaborate ideas, such as the old gods: and when man became more refined he pretended that these spirits were good as well as powerful.

[i] C.S. Lewis, letter to Arthur Greeves, 12 October 1916, Letters (London: Fount, 1988), p. 52.