Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The principle of noncontradiction

The principle of non-contradiction is not a provisional postulate, it is a necessary truth based in reality. If it isn't, we are screwed. Our science is about cloud cuckoo land, not reality. Logic is ontologically prior to the material world. Reality is fundamentally intelligible, and at the foundation of everything is a rational, not a material explanation. Even the philosopher Thomas Nagel, who is careful to avoid any theistic implications for this line of reasoning, realizes this. 

If you say we agree to the convention, that implies we could have done otherwise. We can't. We bump up against reality, not our own rules, when we do so. When we agree to conventions, we could have done otherwise. When we are facing reality, we cannot do otherwise without, well, scraping ourselves against reality.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A schema for a good god of the gaps argument?

I was looking at this: 

Here is your version of a god of the gaps argument: 

(1) There is some puzzling phenomenon P which science cannot at present explain.
(2) Theism does explain P.
(3) Therefore, P is more likely on the assumption that God exists than on the assumption God does not exist.
The form makes it appear to be fallacious, on the assumption that future science is an open book, and who knows what it will come  up with.

But what if we produce and argument like this?

(1) There is some puzzling phenomenon P which science cannot at present explain.
(2) If naturalism is true, then we should have expected science to have explained this already. 
(3) Theism does explain P.
(4) Therefore, P is more likely on the assumption that God exists than on the assumption God does not exist.
God of the gaps arguments are often accused of being appeals to ignorance. But isn't it possible, somewhere along the way if not now, that our ignorance will prove to be itself naturalistically surprising?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Homophobia can be lots of things

Which of the following acts constitutes homophobia?
1. Believing that active homosexuality is morally less acceptable than homosexuality
2. As a gay person, choosing to live a celibate lifestyle.
3. Believing that your church ought not to ordain practicing homosexuals.
4. Believing that your church ought not to perform same-sex weddings.
5. Expressing opposition to same-sex marriage.
6. Contributing financially to a campaign to oppose same-sex marriage.  (This cost Brandon Eich his job as CEO of Mozilla, due to boycotts).
7. Preaching a sermon against homosexual activity in your church.
8. Preaching a sermon against homosexual activity on a street corner. (People in some countries have been arrested for hate speech for this).
9. As a baker, refusing to bake a gay-themed cake for a same-sex wedding.
10. Being asked for a marble cake with chocolate frosting for a gay wedding, and refusing to provide it.
11. Putting a sign in your hardware store that says “No gays.”
12. Blaming homosexuals for natural and medical disasters, or even 9/11.
13. Passing laws in Russia preventing gay pride parades.
14. Protesting funerals of AIDS victims with signs that say “God hates fags.”
15. Attempting to kill all homosexuals in Chechnya.

But some supporters of the gay community, anything less than absolute acceptance of homosexuality is homophobia. They strike me as the Grand Inquisitors of the 21st Century. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

How ancient eyewitness testimony became the gospel record

By J. Warner Wallace. 

Why the Is-Ought Problem Will Not Go Away: A Reply to Stardusty Psyche

Stardusty Psyche:
Carrier presents a well written summary of account for 9 aspects of reason on naturalism. The naturalistic account refutes the necessity of god to account for reason.

Reppert's response includes a claim to a supposed "is/ought" problem:
" I can show we are dealing with a conceptual chasm that cannot simply be overcome by straightforward problem-solving. An example would be the attempt to get an “ought” from an “is”."
Victor is wrong in thinking there is an is/ought problem. Our morality comes from our sense of ought, which is what Carrier calls a confidence level output by a brain virtual model, or what I call a correlation score output by a brain correlation matching processing network.

In computing our sense of ought we do not follow a formal logical argument. It doesn't matter to our emotions that stating an "ought" does not follow in formal logical notation from an "is".

Our sense of ought is an evolved mechanism to drive our behavior. We feel we ought to get a sandwich, or we ought to go to work, or we ought to help that child. This sense of ought is simply an animal behavior mechanism.

Theists operate by this same sense of ought that we atheists do, always doing what they want in the aggregate because it is the only thing each of us can do. 
In short, Reppert is wrong on morality and reason.
VR: There is a simple argument that is used to generate the is-ought problem. It is called the open question argument, going back to G. E. Moore.
Here it is explained in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Moore's main argument against their view was what has come to be known as the “open-question argument,” though he actually stated in a couple of slightly different ways. Consider a particular naturalist claim, such as that “x is good” is equivalent to “x is pleasure.” If this claim were true, Moore argued, the judgement “Pleasure is good” would be equivalent to “Pleasure is pleasure,” yet surely someone who asserts the former means to express more than that uninformative tautology. The same argument can be mounted against any other naturalist proposal: even if we have determined that something is what we desire to desire or is more evolved, the question whether it is good remains “open,” in the sense that it is not settled by the meaning of the word “good.” We can ask whether what we desire to desire is good, and likewise for what is more evolved, more unified, or whatever (Principia Ethica 62–69). Sidgwick had used one form of this argument against Bentham and Spencer, but only in passing; Moore spent much more time on it and made it central to his metaethics.

So, how does this work in the context of the discussion? We have an evolved mechanism to drive our behavior. Great. We have an evolved sense that we ought to help a child. You still have an is-ought gap, unless all statements like:

1) We have an evolved sense that we ought to help a child
2) We ought to help the child.

Why do we have moral dilemmas? Well, we have an evolved sense that we ought to protect small humans, and this includes those in the womb. We also have an evolved sense that we ought to allow women the right to make medical decisions that affect their own bodies without interference. This is called the abortion debate. Why would we disagree about this, if there were no is-ought gap?

In logic, our “evolved sense” permits humans to commit logical fallacies like affirming the consequent and denying the antecedent. My evolved sense of reasoning led me to conclude that I ought to accept the argument from reason. Richard Carrier’s same sense led him to reject it. SP said that I was wrong about reason and morality. How could that be? I evolved just the same way Richard Carrier did.

You can’t make the is-ought problem go away that easily.

Are all fetuses viable?

Technology enables us (or soon will) to take a fetus out of a womb and put in in an artificial environment where it can survive. So, are all fetuses viable? If so, what happens to viability as a criterion for abortion? 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Jeffrey Jordan on the difference between anti-gay and racial discrimination

The grounds of objection differ in the respective cases: one concerns racial identity; the other concerns behavior thought to be morally problematic. Racial identity is an immutable trait and a complaint about mixed-race marriages necessarily involves a complaint about immutable trait. Sexual behavior is not an immutable trait and it is possible to object to same-sex marriages based on the behavior which would be involved in such marriages. Objections to mixed-race marriages necessarily involve objections over status, while objections to same-sex marriages could involve objections over behavior. Therefore, the two cases are not analogues since there is a significant modal difference in the ground of the objection. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Saints and Skeptics on Trump


Some time ago, this site pointed out that Donald Trump ranks as one of the most virulently anti-Christian politicians of modern times. He does not even pay lip service to the Christian virtues of fidelity, humility and repentance. He glorifies in the self and he boasts of his worldly possessions. It is no caricature to say that he is a few blasphemies shy of embodying the spirit of an antichrist.-

Graham Veale

Richard Carrier: An Example of Atheism's Moral Problem?

Here.  But it could be a problem with Carrier's personality.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Faith-Heads and Silly-Billies

Jimmy S. M. wrote: Do you really take "faith-head" to be as insulting as "nigger"? It sounds more like calling someone a "silly-billy" to me..

Silly-billy? No, I don't think so. Dawkins, for one, is very clear about what he is trying to do:

I have from time to time expressed sympathy for the accommodationist tendency so ably criticized here by Jerry Coyne. I have occasionally worried that – just maybe – Eugenie Scott [of the NCSE] and the appeasers might have a point, a purely political point but one, nevertheless, that we should carefully consider. I have lately found myself moving away from that sympathy.

I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.

Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it. We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets. We can’t lose!

Richard Carrier put it this way, which John Loftus endorsed. 

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.

Message: Even though you we are ostensibly in a conversation with you, we are actually talking through you to some low information "fence-sitters" who, in fear of the social penalty they might pay if the went to your side of the fence, will head meekly over to ours. You think you are my discussion partner, and equal in the conversation, but you're not. You don't count, it's the stupid people who might consider following you. 

It's interesting that Tom Clark, of Naturalism.org, maintains that this whole attitude presupposes that religious people have made bad choices, which in turn presupposes a kind of contra-causal freedom neither he nor Dawkins think we possess. (Remember Basil's car?) Why be so mad at Christians for not following what you take to be the evidence? Does the evidence, as you see it, suggest that they can help doing so? 

That is why, for quite awhile now, I have broken the bad habit of posting in Debunking Christianity. In the final analysis, someone who takes this line isn't really talking to you, so what is the point of talking to them. 

What if someone behaved this way toward gay people? 

Legal Scholars Write and Amicus Brief for Arlene's Flowers

This is one of the cases in which a gay couple sued for the refusal of service. I heard one of the writers of the brief, Steven Smith, at a presentation on religious freedom at ASU West.

If Republicans had spent more time on religious freedom and stayed off the Trump train, they could have made my voting decision more difficult.

An atheist blog corrects bad New Atheist history


Sunday, April 09, 2017

A Rabbi argues that governments should provide civil unions and leave marriage to "religious" institutions

Here.  I scarequoted "religious" because it could include atheist societies.

Political Correctness and Balance

Is political correctness slanted, though, toward certain groups? I hear things being said about religious believers which, if you said them about gay people, you would be branded a homophobe and a bigot. For example, Richard Dawkins calls religious people faith-heads, and gets away with it. Isn't that just a version of the n-word? 
Is there a reason his slur is acceptable, but a racial one is not? 

The Pope and the Death Penalty


So, in the end is the Pope changing Church teaching by arguing against capital punishment? Absolutely not! It fact, it would be contrary to Church teaching to say that  capital punishment is per se immoral, as some do. Rather, the Pope states that the conditions of modern society argue against it's use in all but rare cases. It is simply becoming harder and harder to argue that a particular act of capital punishment is circumstantially necessary (the third element of a good moral act). 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Appearing tough on crime, and being tough on crime. Problems for the death penalty

One problem with the death penalty is that if evidence ever arises that shows that an innocent person was punished, then you can let them out of prison. If on the other hand, you have already executed them, then all you can do is put flowers on the grave. Isn't it best to imprison rather than increase the risk of miscarriage of justice?

Also, for the exact reason I mentioned, death penalty defendants get a many more appeals than lifers. So the idea that executing a prisoner is cheaper than feeding them for life in jail is based on a misconception. There is a sense in which families get less closure in a death case, they have to relive their loved one's death again and again every time the killer is on trial. 

Sometimes what feels tough on crime really isn't. In my county in Arizona we just got rid of Joe Arpaio, a sheriff who was an expert at making himself appear tough on crime. But appearing tough on crime is different from being tough on crime. 

Homosexuality in the time of Paul

This is the famous passage from Romans against homosexuality: 

 “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (NRSV)

Sarah Ruden's fabulous book Paul Among the People explains homosexuality as practiced in the Roman world of his time. 

The concept did not change over the next six hundred years. Paul's Roman audience knew what justice was, if only through missing it. They would have been surprised to hear that justice applied to homosexuality, of all things. But many of them-slaves, freedmen, the poor, the young-would have understood in the next instant. Christ, the only Son of God, gave his body to save mankind. What greater contrast could there be to the tradition of using a weaker body for selfish pleasure or a power trip? Among Christians, there would have been no quibbling about what to do: no one could have imagined homosexuality's being different than it was; it would have to go. And tolerance for it did disappear from the church (71).

Bragging about sin

Some of you aren't going to like this.

My daughter  saw Trump's speech at the Republican convention and called him the Antichrist. Now, I don't believe in the kind of end-times scenario that this idea of the Antichrist involves, and she doesn't either (I think she saw some Left Behind movies when she was young and got the image that way), but Trump seems anti-Christ in another, more important sense, that he has spent his life bragging about things that Christianity identifies as sin.  He believes in pride, revenge, greed, and stealing other men's wives, and brags about it. His locker room talk wasn't just about "getting laid" (I heard plenty of that when I was younger) it was about using position, wealth, fame, and power for sexual advantage.  It's one thing to, like Bill Clinton,  give in to sexual urges in a position of power, and believe me that was bad enough.  (It was costly to both Al Gore and Hillary in their campaigns). But I am inclined to think he was repentant (though with a politician it is always possible to suspect motives). But boasting about evil is, to my mind, a deeper depravity.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Is hell eternal in duration?

C. S. Lewis thinks this is not clear. 

“I notice that Our Lord, while stressing the terror of hell with unsparing severity, usually emphasises the idea, not of duration, but of finality. Consignment to the destroying fire is usually treated as the end of the story—not as the beginning of a new story. That the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude we cannot doubt: but whether this eternal fixity implies endless duration—or duration at all—we cannot say” (PofP, chap. 8, par. 10). 

Four myths about the crusades


The natural consequences view of hell

When we speak of hell, we assume it is something God will do to us. But isn't it more like natural consequences?

"Look, if you live forever, the only things you are going to take with you is your character. Either that's going to get better, which  will enable you to live a heavenly life, or it will get worse, which will make you just hell to be around, or to be. You need God to help you correct your character if you are going to be able to live in heaven, and the natural consequences of refusing this is, well, hell."

Friday, March 31, 2017


This is a description of Islamophobia. As I see it, terms like this have a proper use, but people who like to use such terms this develop them into a blanket criticism (and even marginalization) of any critics of Islam or Muslims.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On keeping what you earn

Ilion: Is a free man free to keep the wealth he produces and to use it as he sees fit, rather than to have it confiscated by vote-buying politicians?

VR: Sure! So, let us say that you can afford to defend yourself against ISIS terrorists and dangerous foreign governments. You earned the money to do so, after all. But the bleeding-heart vote-buying politicians who run the government want to confiscate your money so that they can defend not only you, but all those welfare queens in the middle and lower classes, who, after all, only want to be defended against terrorism using other people's money. And why, in the name of Ayn Rand, should they be allowed to do such a thing? 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What makes America Great Again? Is America First Christian?

Yes, but not America Only, according to James Rogers. 

Perhaps President Trump's most appealing campaign plank, in which he takes a page more from Ross Perot than from the traditional Republican Party, is to argue that globalization and international trade agreements has put  American workers at a disadvantage. But how far can this be pushed?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chesterton on freedom

“The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.” Chesterton (1935). 

Does "Every Even Has a Cause" entail determinism?

Do all causes determine their effects? If determinism is true, then if the cause is present the effect is inevitable. But when we use the word "cause" is this what we invariably mean? Maybe not. Can't we say that smoking causes cancer without saying that if I smoke, I am guaranteed to get cancer. 

Is mainstream atheist academic riddled with confirmation bias?

Naah, they're just being objective. Here. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sam Harris sees our faculties as a "kind of miracle"

See the discussion here. 

Well, so do I. The kind of reliability our reason possesses is not what we should expect given naturalism, Reason does not emerge from irrational (or if you insist) nonrational causes.

There is just the fact that within the Darwinian conception of how we got here, there's no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties have evolved to put us in error free contact with reality. That's not how they evolved. We did not evolve to be perfect mathematcians, or perfect logical operators, or perfect conceivers of scientific reality at the very small subatomic level or the very large cosmic level or the very old cosmological level. We are designed, by the happenstance of evolution, to function within a very narrow band of light intensities and physical parameters. The things we are designed to do very well are to recognize the facial expressions of apes just like ourselves and to throw objects in parabolic arcs within 100 meters and all of that. The fact that we are able to succeed to the degree that we have been in creating a vision of scientific truth and structure of the cosmos at large, that radically exceeds those narrow parameters, that is a kind of miracle. It's an amazing fact about us that seems not to be true, remotely true, of any other species we know about.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What crucifixion was like


risky business

It does look like a historical fact that the disciples went very quickly from giving up on Jesus to saying he was resurrected. If we are skeptics about the resurrection, do we need an explanation for this? This is very risky behavior, telling people who just got someone crucified that they were wrong, and that God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Shoving your beliefs down someone's throat.

Is it wrong to force someone else to live their lives based on your own religious belief system? Many people were brought up to believe that that is what they ought to do.But maybe that's absolutely wrong.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Is Speciesism Wrong?

This is a presentation of the issues involved in the charge of speciesism. 

All I can tell you is if I see a scorpion in the house, my species comes first.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Faulty assumption

From Manuel Alfonseca's popular science blog

Faced with this situation, Françoise Baylis, an expert on bioethics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, believes that research on human-animal chimeras will eventually be banned because of the faulty assumption that human life is more valuable than that of non-human beings.is And he adds this:
The hope that one can ‘forever’ avoid the tough ethical questions by simply ensuring that the nonhuman animals are not ‘substantively humanized’ is flawed (short-sighted),”

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cui Bono?

What did the witnesses to the resurrection get from lying and proclaiming the resurrection? Did the get successful careers as television evangelists, with lots of Cadillacs to drive, and air conditioned dog houses for their animals?
They were proclaiming that a guy the powers that be were able to execute had risen from the dead. How do you think the powers that be are going to take that? 

From Is Theology Poetry by Lewis

"If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. And this is to me the final test. This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream. The dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world. I know that there are such things as dreams; I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner; I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons. But while in the nightmare I could not have fitted in my waking experience. The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." - C. S. Lewis, "Is Theology Poetry?"

The fourth L

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Lewis's argument is that since the reasons for believing that Jesus was a great moral teacher come from the same sources that say that Jesus claimed to be God, accepting the claim that Jesus was a great moral teacher without accepting that idea that he claimed to be God. Lewis then goes on to argue that claiming to be God if you are not God is psychologically incompatible with being a great moral teacher. 
Some people maintain that besides Liar, Lunatic, and Lord, Lewis overlooks Legend. But the legend theory wouldn't support that claim that Jesus was a great moral teacher but not God, it would instead, undermine both claims. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The minimal facts argument for the Resurrection


These are the minimal facts:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion
2. The disciples of Jesus were sincerely convinced that he rose from the dead and appeared to them
3. Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus), who was a persecutor of the Christians, suddenly changed his beliefs towards Christianity
4. James (brother of Jesus), who was a skeptic of the Christian faith, suddenly changed his beliefs towards Christianity
5. The Tomb of Jesus was found empty three days after the crucifixion of Jesus (Habermas and Licona 2004, 48-76)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The external world and the burden of proof

If both a proposition and its denial cannot be proved, what rules do we use to decide what to believe? If I say "Can you prove that the external world exists" and you can't prove it, should we then not believe that there is an external world?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two consistent propositions

The following two positions are consistent with one another. 

1) Abortion is murder. 
2) The Constitution, properly interpreted, makes it unconstitutional to outlaw abortion. 

The arguments for 1 are never identical to the arguments against 2. Arguments supporting 1 do not prove that 2 is false. So 1 and 2 are compatible.

Of course, the Constitution is amendable. Arguments for 2 involve trying to show that the right to privacy is not absolute. The argument is never that the personhood of the fetus is provable. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Why Trump is not a credible defender of the unborn, or of traditional marriage

Trump isn't a credible defender of the unborn, or of traditional marriage. To oppose abortion and gay marriage you have to push back against the sexual revolution. To do that, he has to repudiate the Playboy mentality that runs through all of his comments about women up to now, and he hasn't even tried to do that. After all, the kind of sexual conduct he described in the Access Hollywood tape is exactly the kind of behavior that causes women to have unwanted pregnancies. The idea that I can have sex with anything that moves so long is it is of the opposite sex, but I can't marry someone of the same sex is hypocritical and leaves you wide open to the charge of being a bigot. A traditional Christian who opposes gay marriage can say, "No, I'm not prejudiced against gay people, it is just that same-sex sexual conduct is proscribed, but lots of heterosexual sexual conduct is also proscribed, and you may or may not get the chance to enter a marriage." Trump can't say that, without fully repenting of the attitudes he has expressed over and over again. No wonder he refuses to reverse Obama's pro-LGBT executive orders. 

Thoroughly worldly people never understand the world

From G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy

Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true. Once I remember walking with a prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of the modern world. Yet I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it. The publisher said of somebody, “That man will get on; he believes in himself.” And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written “Hanwell.” I said to him, “Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”

Is Trumpism a heresy?


Tuesday, February 07, 2017

I am an Obamacare beneficiary

Due to putting together part-time jobs over the past 25 years, and because of a pre-existing condition, I have been unable to get health insurance before the Affordable Care Act was put into effect. Since 2015 I have had plans from the Marketplace, and during that time I got one operation to prevent a life-threatening condition, and been informed by my doctor that I need one once again.

So, why I am so darn liberal? Could be because I am a lying hypocrite with no regard for the truth. Or, because I want to live.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Did T. H. Huxley Anthropomorphize Nature?

If so, he just relocated the skyhook.

Lennox writes:

However, it is apparent that even more was involved. A central element
in Huxley’s crusade is highlighted by Michael Poole.34 He writes, ‘In this
struggle, the concept of “Nature” was spelt with a capital N and reified.
Huxley vested “Dame Nature”, as he called her, with attributes hitherto
ascribed to God, a tactic eagerly copied by others since. The logical oddity
of crediting nature (every physical thing there is) with planning and
creating every physical thing there is, passed unnoticed. “Dame Nature”,
like some ancient fertility goddess, had taken up residence, her maternal
arms encompassing Victorian scientific naturalism.’ Thus a mythical
conflict was (and still often is) hyped up and shamelessly used as a weapon
in another battle, the real one this time, that is, that between naturalism
and theism.

What does the Galileo story prove

Finally, another lesson in a different direction, but one not often drawn,
is that it was Galileo, who believed in the Bible, who was advancing a better
scientific understanding of the universe, not only, as we have seen, against
the obscurantism of some churchmen, 28 but (and first of all) against the
resistance (and obscurantism) of the secular philosophers of his time who,
like the churchmen, were also convinced disciples of Aristotle. Philosophers
and scientists today also have need of humility in light of facts, even if those
facts are being pointed out to them by a believer in God. Lack of belief
in God is no more of a guarantee of scientific orthodoxy than is belief in
God. What is clear, in Galileo’s time and ours, is that criticism of a reigning
scientific paradigm is fraught with risk, no matter who is engaged in it. We
conclude that the ‘Galileo affair’ really does nothing to confirm a simplistic
conflict view of the relationship of science to religion.- John Lennox,  God's Undertaker. 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Three things we should insist on from Trump

1) Insisting on complete financial transparency and accountability, including the release of at least the last 5 years of tax forms.
2) Demanding complete divestment form all Trump business enterprises, to avoid possible conflicts of interest.
3) Full and complete cooperation with the effort to investigate any Trump complicity with Russian crimes against the United States such as the hacking of the DNC e-mails, which represent an ongoing threat to our national security.
All three of these things should be done with the threat of impeachment if he does not cooperate. So there are intermediate steps before impeachment, but these have to be insisted upon using the threat of impeachment if there is non-cooperation.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science

What is more, the fact that there are scientists who appear to be at
war with God is not quite the same thing as science itself being at war
with God. For example, some musicians are militant atheists. But does
that mean music itself is at war with God? Hardly. The point here may
be expressed as follows: Statements by scientists are not necessarily
statements of science. Nor, we might add, are such statements necessarily
true; although the prestige of science is such that they are often taken to
be so. For example, the assertions by Atkins and Dawkins, with which we
began, fall into that category. They are not statements of science but rather
expressions of personal belief, indeed, of faith – fundamentally no different
from (though noticeably less tolerant than) much expression of the kind
of faith Dawkins expressly wishes to eradicate. Of course, the fact that
Dawkins’ and Atkins’ cited pronouncements are statements of faith does
not of itself mean that those statements are false; but it does mean that they
must not be treated as if they were authoritative science. What needs to be
investigated is the category into which they fit, and, most important of all,
whether or not they are true.

John Lennox, God's Undertaker, (p. 19)

Was Jesus a Myth? Carrier vs. Marshall


Sunday, January 22, 2017

In what sense is atheism a religion, and what are the atheistic options?

                                      Is Atheism a Religion?
          Penn Jillette is famous for saying, “If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Now there is an obvious difficulty involved here, in that this statement identifies religion with belief in God. Buddhists, for example, are, strictly speaking, atheists, but they are nevertheless part of a religion.
This gets down to the whole issue of what constitutes a religion.
On one account, religion indicates aspects of aspects of reality which are supernatural. But what does “supernatural” mean? The natural sciences operate and understand the world from the perspective of prediction and control. We are going to study the world from the standpoint of what will be helpful to us from the perspective of prediction and control.  Religions, we might argue, appeal to the existence of things we can’t predict and control, and if you don’t think anything like that exists, then you are without religion. So believing in a law of karma, which is impersonal but nevertheless won’t be discovered by science, is something religious, as is belief in a cycle of birth and rebirth, which looks like something science won’t find. Something might be called supernatural if it is something we won’t find if we restrict our investigation of the world to finding those aspects of it we can predict and control.
At the same time, it is probably the case that a Buddhist would not divide natural and supernatural in this way.
As one Buddhist source writes:

A Buddhist who is fully convinced of the law of Karma does not pray to another to be saved but confidently relies on him for his own emancipation. Instead of making any self-surrender, or calling on any supernatural agency, he relies on his own will power, and works incessantly for the well-being and happiness of all. This belief in Karma validates his effort and kindles his enthusiasm, because it teaches individual responsibility.
However, the sciences do not confirm the existence of a law of Karma, and the world as it appears to us suggests that there is no karma.

Another problem with the Jillette’s statement is that when we cease collecting stamps, there is no other occupant of that role that needs to replace it. In the case of religion, not so. Some answer to the fundamental questions that religions attempt to answer must be put in its place. If one becomes  vegetarian, we have ask what replaces meat in a person’s diet.
However, religion has another sense. In our society we have immunized religion from coercive operations of government. The idea behind this is that people are bound to differ about ultimate reality, and we need to allow people who differ about ultimate reality to operate freely, since society is not going to agree about these things. If this is the context in which we are asking this question, then all comprehensive perspectives on ultimate reality are religions.
Religions are there to ask three fundamental questions indicated by Immanuel Kant: What can I know? What must I do?  What can I hope?

          Let’s look at evangelical Christianity’s answer to these questions. What do I know? I know that God has a plan for my life, that I am a sinner, that Jesus rose from the dead, that Jesus died for my sins, that I must receive Christ in order to be saved.
          What must I do? I must receive Christ as my personal savior, I must obey his commandments, and engage in public worship, prayer, and Bible study.  
What can I hope? I can hope for everlasting communion with God through Christ.
Buddhism? I know that life is suffering, that suffering is caused by craving, that if craving is stopped the suffering is stopped, and that I can stop my craving by following the noble eightfold path. That tells us what I must do, but there are a number of other ethical requirements as well. I can hope enlightenment, and a cessation of the cycle of samsara, or the cycle of birth and rebirth.
What if I am a naturalistic atheist? What can I know? I might claim to know that God does not exist. But what else do I know? Atheists are bound to differ on the other stuff. Once God is denied, there are several ways to go not only with respect to what else is true, but also with respect to what we should do and what we can hope. But theists . Neither theism nor atheism are religions on this view, since both it answers only one of the ultimate questions. If we go theist, then there are some options: Judaism (several versions), Christianity (several versions) and Islam (several versions), Deism (different versions there), etc.
If we go atheist, then there are a bunch of options also.
Atheistic Buddhism
Buddhism is not about either believing or not believing in God or gods. Rather, the historical Buddha taught that believing in gods was not useful for those seeking to realize enlightenment. In other words, God is unnecessary in Buddhism. For this reason, Buddhism is more accurately called nontheistic than atheistic. But it is an alternative available to atheists.

Atheistic existentialism
Existentialism is generally an atheistic philosophy though some theists have attempted to adopt it into their individual theistic paradigms. “Although many, if not most, existentialists were atheists, [Søren] Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers and Gabriel Marcel pursued more theological versions of existentialism. The one-time Marxist Nikolai Berdyaev developed a philosophy of Christian existentialism in his native Russia and later France during the decades preceding World War II.

Existentialism, for most of its adherents, can be understood as atheistic. In order to see this, it helps to look at the philosophy of existentialism as it contrasts with that of theism. Theists generally believe in an ultimate transcendent reality. Existentialists believe each person’s experience is unique and truly known only by that person. In other words, theists point to an objective reality, while existentialists see only a subjective one. 

There is no truth about what we ought to do, and no purpose for human existence. We must find meaning wherever we can, and there are no right answers.

Albert Camus, a existentialist novelist, offers three responses to the absurdity of human life. First, one can commit suicide. As he puts it, “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide” (MS, 3). The second option, reflected by his character Rieux in The Plague, is to fight for humanity as best one can even though there is no conviction that ultimate success is even attainable. The third, adopted by the title character of his play Caligula, is to take whatever benefits are available for oneself, since the absurdity of life will triumph in the end.
Woody Allen’s movie Crimes and Misdemeanors reflects an existentialist form of atheism. In that movie, and ophthalmologist is involved in an extramarital affair and wants to end it, but his mistress threatens him with exposure if he tries to end the affair. Son he contacts his mobster brother and has her murdered. He is at first stricken with shame and talks to his rabbi about confessing, but in the end he concludes that God is a luxury he can’t afford and stops feeling guilty. From an atheistic perspective there is no advantage to doing the right thing and confessing, and leaving the crime under the rug.

Marxist atheism
Religious beliefs are false, and these beliefs are used by defenders of counter-revolutionary ideologies as a basis for keeping people away from serious efforts to improve their condition. The inevitable dialectic of history is headed toward a classless and stateless society, but religion stands in the way.
In a way, this reconstitutes religion-like doctrines of a glorious future, although the individual will cease to exist before it is ushered in.

Atheist communist regimes have been guilty of mass murder, of religious suppression, and unjustly creating an oligarch of members of the Party. What began as a combination of secularism with a strong motive to help the oppressed workers ended up creating one of the movements in history that has done the most damage. Its death toll dwarfs the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem Witch Trials by an enormous margin.

Secular humanism

The belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God.

Secular humanism is comprehensive, touching every aspect of life including issues of values, meaning, and identity. Thus it is broader than atheism, which concerns only the nonexistence of god or the supernatural. Important as that may be, there’s a lot more to life … and secular humanism addresses it.
Secular humanism is nonreligious, espousing no belief in a realm or beings imagined to transcend ordinary experience.
Secular humanism is a lifestance, or what Council for Secular Humanism founder Paul Kurtz has termed a eupraxsophy: a body of principles suitable for orienting a complete human life. As a secular lifestance, secular humanism incorporates the Enlightenment principle of individualism, which celebrates emancipating the individual from traditional controls by family, church, and state, increasingly empowering each of us to set the terms of his or her own life.
Atheistic objectivism
Objectivism holds that there is no greater moral goal than achieving happiness. But one cannot achieve happiness by wish or whim. Fundamentally, it requires rational respect for the facts of reality, including the facts about our human nature and needs. Happiness requires that one live by objective principles, including moral integrity and respect for the rights of others. Politically, Objectivists advocate laissez-faire capitalism. Under capitalism, a strictly limited government protects each person's rights to life, liberty, and property and forbids that anyone initiate force against anyone else. The heroes of Objectivism are achievers who build businesses, invent technologies, and create art and ideas, depending on their own talents and on trade with other independent people to reach their goals.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tom Gilson analyzes the fourth L in the LLL argument

LLL, is, of course, Liar, Lunatic, or Lord. It is based on C. S. Lewis's argument in Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

It is sometimes thought you can refute it just by adding a logically possible fourth option, such as Legend. However, in a Presidential election, adding a third party does not make it less likely that either the Republican or the Democratic candidate will win the election. The additional alternative has to be plausible, and Gilson here argues that the Legend option is not. This is his blog treatment of it.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Old Earth Ministries on the Intelligent Design Movement


8. What Do You Think About the Intelligent Design (ID) movement?
   Any Christian who believes God created the world, in either the young or old earth system, believes in an intelligent designer. We support the ID movement in concept, but not necessarily its tactics.

Making Science Political Again


Saturday, January 07, 2017

Exchange with David Brightly

David Brightly: Science, science, science! Why is it such a bugbear? Does science have to be diminished in order to make room for faith? 

VR: Not if you make a distinction, as you and I both do, between science and scientism. The actual doing of science goes on with no problem without scientism, and the founding fathers of modern science, and some of the best practicioners today, are religious believers.

Suppose we take methodological naturalism to be a voluntary constraint on inquiry that rules out explanation and understanding in terms of persons. Science is then that body of understanding that eschews personhood as an explanatory factor. So there can be no science of world war one, say, and hence scientism is ruled out. Metaphysical naturalism becomes the doctrine that there are no persons other than the likes of us. Science then neither requires nor implies metaphysical naturalism, and there is plenty of space within naturalism for lines of inquiry that lie outside science.

VR: The only thing is that scientific enterprises get funded in ways that others do not.  But we have to ask what the scientific community is trying to accomplish. The scientific community can draw the limits of their own inquiry any way they choose. However, if they put something outside the realm of scientific inquiry, and then make heavy weather out of the fact that science hasn’t produced evidence for it, then we have a problem.  It’s no insult to a metal detector that it can’t find a $100 bill you might have left on the beach.

With this understanding of naturalism isn't it just a bit odd to speak of religious faith and 'faith in naturalism' in the same breath, as Lennox does? I would have thought that if someone's faith in Christ were on a par with my faith in naturalism it would amount to such a meagre, milksop kind of thing as to be not worth having. 

VR: But there are people out there with far more zeal and dedication to atheistic naturalism than a lot of Christians I know have with respect to their faith.  Atheism matters to these people, they want others to embrace it, and they are willing to deny access to positions of scientific or philosophical authority to those who disagree with their naturalism.

Surely the essence of much religion and certainly Christianity is the conviction that personhood lies at the very heart of things. Faith in Christ involves a relation with a person with all the emotional and moral implications that has. Atheists just don't feel this way.

I would agree in the sense that a Christian’s faith is a different kind of thing from faith in naturalism. On the other hand, I think it is epistemologically similar. On the other hand there are epistemological similarities. One considers the reasons for and against, and one commits to naturalism, or some religious view. Because a large part of a person’s life is structured around the decision one makes, it is understandable that people will be slow to reconsider their positions once taken. I do not see any less obstinacy of belief on either side of the issue. 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Humanist Manifesto II on sexual conduct

SIXTH: In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized. While we do not approve of exploitive, denigrating forms of sexual expression, neither do we wish to prohibit, by law or social sanction, sexual behavior between consenting adults. The many varieties of sexual exploration should not in themselves be considered “evil.” Without countenancing mindless permissiveness or unbridled promiscuity, a civilized society should be a tolerant one. Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire. We wish to cultivate the development of a responsible attitude toward sexuality, in which humans are not exploited as sexual objects, and in which intimacy, sensitivity, respect, and honesty in interpersonal relations are encouraged. Moral education for children and adults is an important way of developing awareness and sexual maturity.

Interestingly enough, Humanist Manifesto III didn't include anything like this. 

Are there limits on scientific inquiry

But here is the problem. People speaking for science, or as Ilion likes to say, Science!, don't accept the idea that science is subjected to a constraint. 

What you get is a shell game. "Why should we be naturalists?" Because there is no scientific evidence for anything other than the physical world. "But what about the bacterial flagellum? Isn't that evidence that there is something outside the natural world?" No, you IDiot, to infer from the bacterial flagellum, or the fine tuning of the universe, to a being beyond nature is to violate the canons of scientific inquiry." It is the science defenders who seem to think that belief in anything beyond the natural is somehow a threat to their enterprise, but in fact such heresy hunting, if effective, would deprive the scientific community of some of its best practicioners, such as Francis Collins and Donald Page. 

Further, for many atheists, commitment to atheism is something really important to them. I know many atheists who have ten times the zeal most Christians have for their belief. For them it isn't heaven or hell, it's progress or regression. 

The scientific community has the right to define the limits of its own inquiry any way it sees fit. To then say that their domain is the complete realm of rational inquiry is to make not a scientific claim, but a philosophical one. And to reject that claim is not to be what they insist one should not be, a science denier.