Saturday, July 27, 2019

Nothing to see here, just fact of geography

So says Bertrand Russell. This would be a deterministic universe, to be sure.

Physical science is thus approaching the stage when it will be complete, and therefore uninteresting. Given the laws governing the motions of electrons and protons, the rest is merely geography—a collection of particular facts telling their distribution throughout some portion of the world’s history. The total number of facts of geography required to determine the world’s history is probably finite; theoretically they could all be written down in a big book to be kept at Somerset House with a calculating machine attached which, by turning a handle, would enable the inquirer to find out the facts at other times than those recorded. It is difficult to imagine anything less interesting or more different from the passionate delights of incomplete discovery. Bertrand Russell, What I Believe, 1925,

Friday, July 26, 2019

Should Russian interference have been investigated? Why in the the world not?

Worries about the origin of the investigation seem to imply that somehow we shouldn't have investigated the Russian interference in our election and whether anyone whose candidate benefited from the interference had conspired with them. There was interference by the Russians, it was designed to help Trump, it did help Trump, Trump kept denying that it was happening and welcomed, and welcomed, and welcomed the fruits of that illegal interference.

 It's not an awful thing for there to be a "cloud" over a President's administration, it's called oversight. What Trump has endured is nothing compared to what Nixon had to deal with, or Bill Clinton, who faced an investigation that started with looking into land deals in Arkansas and ended up, well, you know where it ended up.

 I think the most important questions arising from Mueller have to do with the interference itself, and what we need to do about it. Republicans are implying by their actions that the interference was not disturbing, and even the continuation of that interference is not disturbing. (One has to wonder what they would say if the Russians helped put Hillary in, instead). I have seen people say that it's not such a bad thing so long as it digs up dirt on Hillary and the Democrats. That seems to be the view of Trump himself, and seems to be widespread in the Republican party, although they don't normally put it so bluntly. (Maybe it would be a good idea to force them to put it so bluntly). Or does this kind of interference endanger our very system of government? 

They hacked into voter rolls in all 50 states, for crying out loud. What if, next time they did it, they "unregistered" a bunch of people so they couldn't vote? In my view, the real issue isn't collusion (whatever that means), or even obstruction. It is what I call dereliction.

 If Bush, after 9/11, and resisted clear evidence that it was al-Qaeda that attacked us, and refused to do anything to keep it from ever happening again, would that not be upsetting if not impeachable (especially if we couldn't figure out whether Bush was somehow under the sway of bin Laden for business reasons), even if Bush is this behavior broke no criminal laws? OK, nobody died in the cyberattack, just as nobody drowned in Watergate, but do we care about the independence of our electoral system?

 In my opinion, the Democrats, and we as citizens, do best if we keep the cart and the horse straight. They have to start with Russian interference and the complete failure of the Trump campaign and administration to deter it or prevent it in any way. These are undeniable facts. After that, we can raise the question of conspiracy or obstruction.

Libertarianism, soft determinism, and hard determinism

When people hear the term "soft determinism" it sounds as if we are determined more softly on soft determinism than on hard determinism, but this is not the case. Indeterminism is the view that given the past, there are two possible outcomes. However, even with indeterminism there are things that can influence the will, but they don't determine it.  A hard determinist can agree that the immediate cause of a person's action is their motive for their action, but then they point out that the persons state of motive is also an event that is caused by previous events, and that these events go back before the agent was born. A soft determinist will agree, but soft and hard determinists differ on the originating cause of the action is relevant to moral responsibility, or whether we should just look at the immediate cause and leave it at that. 
Imagine two possible worlds.
World 1) Smith contemplates murdering Jones, but thinks better of it and refrains.
World 2) Smith murders Jones. 
If indeterminism is true, then the difference between World 1 and World 2 is a matter of the undetermined choice on the part of Smith. Given the past, prior to the decision, Smith can choose to murder Jones or choose not to murder Jones. 
If soft determinism is true, the difference between World 1 and World 2 does not occur when Smith makes his choice. Something prior to the choice (the laws of nature and the facts concerning the position of the atoms in the world, or maybe something God decided to do before the foundation of the world) guaranteed that Smith would murder Jones. But, soft determinism says that in spite of this, in World 2, Smith is to blame for murdering Jones because the immediate cause of Smith's action is his own desire to kill Jones. The soft determinist points out that the murder didn't take place against Smith's will-he wasn't forced to do it. Hard determinists and indeterminists say point out the fact that his action is still the inevitable result of past circumstances outside his control. The soft determinist says "So what?" 
If Hard Determinism is true, then the difference between World 1 and World 2 is some event or set of events outside the control of Smith, AND that, once we realize that, we must realize that Smith is not really responsible for committing the murder. We may need to modify his behavior, but the idea that there is some retribution that he deserves, either in this world or in the next world, is an idea that makes no sense.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Burden, burden, ....

Who has the burden of proof when discussing God? Here. 

To my mind, who you are trying to persuade. You have the burden of proof if you are trying to prove something to someone who isn't persuaded.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Friday, July 19, 2019

Does God out-abort Planned Parenthood?

From atheist philosopher and blogger Jonathan M. S. Pearce

No one is really a fan of abortion in and of itself, but it is useful a procedure for any number of reasons, and the fetus is often merely a group of cells or something that has no personhood and feels no pain. God has designed and created human beings, in some manner, and appears to love abortion, even though his denizens don’t. Anywhere up to three-quarters of fertilized eggs are naturally, spontaneously, aborted. They either fail to implant or are rejected by the body, or undergo other such problems.
This amounts to perhaps billions of individual blastocysts or embryos over time. God doesn’t appear to lift a virtual finger to stop this. 
But this does raise an interesting question. On the assumption that human personhood begins at conception, combined with the belief that God is that creator of nature, doesn't that mean that Planned Parenthood is a distant second behind the Almighty as an abortionist? 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Of course, there is no proof of God's existence

The textbook that I use in Introduction to Ethics uses as an argument against the Divine Command theory the idea that there is no proof of God's existence. Of course there is a lot of debate about these arguments for God, and there is an atheist side to the discussion. What bothers me in the text is its assumption, without talking about any of the arguments, that of course there's no proof of God's existence. This is a popular belief in our culture, typically arrived at with no real study. 

Why Trump is a Racist


I don't use this accusation lightly, and am fully aware that people throw the term around too loosely. But, sorry folks, it really does apply to the 45th President of the United States, and there is no getting around it. If you are accepting him as either passable as President, or at least preferable to, say, the pro-choice position of the Democrats, at least be aware of the price you are paying in supporting a racist as President of the United States.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Human rights and philosophical naturalism

The Declaration of Independence says "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But what if we have no creator? Then shouldn't it say "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are evolved equal, that they are endowed by evolution with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." An obvious howler. 

But is this a false dilemma? 

Well, there are a couple of other options. One would be skepticism about the idea of human rights in general. States can give or withhold rights as they choose, and there is no moral fact (which is what the Declaration points to), that requires states to guarantee that our rights are respected. Thus, the right not to be taxed without representation, or the right not to be enslaved, is in the hands of whoever has the biggest guns. To accept this is to basically reject the moral foundation of what has energized us ethically over the past century in movements such as the Civil Rights movement. The other option is a kind of robust ethics in a naturalistic universe where the moral fact that states ought not to deprive citizens of certain rights is grounded in something somewhere in Plato's heaven. How such a moral fact can effectively be a deciding factor in someone decision to respect or violate someone's rights is something I have never understood. Jefferson thought he could argue for unalienable rights on the basis of how we as humans were brought into existence--that is, by Nature's God (A Christian God, just not a trinitarian God). If instead we were spat up by a blind watchmaker evolutionary process, then that argument goes out the window. The King can just say "I have the power, you don't, the Redcoats are coming, and if they win, you never had those rights in the first place." Apart from an appeal to God, how do we make the case that we don't just happen to have the rights we have because we won the wars we needed to win? How do we argue that it is not the case that if rights are being denied by some government, then they do not really exist at all? What are the moral consequences not just of atheism, but of naturalistic atheism, which rules out such things as Platonic forms, Aristotelian inherent purposes, laws of Karma, etc. on the same basis that it rules out God?

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

A problem for the divine command theory

How do we decide which god to obey?  Well, we ought to obey a god who exists, so maybe we can rule out Zeus on that account. What if Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite and company did exist.  What if each of them told us to do different things. Then what? (A famous Greek play, the Oresteia, is devoted to just that question). We should probably rule out Lucifer, but why? Because Yahweh is more powerful than he is, and created him? Are we saying might makes right? 
The answer would seem to be that we should obey Yahweh and not Lucifer because Yahweh is good and Lucifer is not. But the divine command theory says that what makes an act good is that God commanded it. But if what we mean when we say "Yahweh is good" is that Yahweh does what Yahweh wants Yahweh to to do, this doesn't sound as if it amounts to anything. Lucifer, I take it, does what Lucifer wants Lucifer to do. It could indeed turn out that paying attention to Yahweh's commands is the best way to decide what actions are right. But it doesn't follow from that that God's commandments make something right. If God is good by nature God might know what is right and command what is right, but God doesn't make something right by commanding it. This is a problem for the divine command theory. 

Monday, July 08, 2019

Is relativism the pathway to tolerance?

Relativism is supposed to be the pathway to tolerance, yet it tolerates intolerance if the culture accepts it. In fact, one of the things that differentiates mainstream Western culture from other cultures around the world is the value we place on tolerance. From the attack on Valentine's Day in Indian culture, to the rigidity of Japanese business culture, to the one child policy in China, to the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia, to the tolerance for rape cultures throughout the world, for example in Korea, to the practice of female genital mutilation in parts of Africa, we see practices in foreign cultures that do not respect human rights and are not tolerant. If our multiculturalism pushes into relativism, though, we are forced to say that there is nothing really wrong with the intolerant practices. To stand up for tolerance, you have to believe in an objectively binding moral law, something that hangs together nicely with theism, but fits with atheism only if you work very hard to get it to fit, a la Erik Wielenberg.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Relativism and Rape

A redated post.

I had a teacher at Arizona State who told me that in one culture rape is considered perfectly OK, so long as you do it at the right time. In the morning, it's forbidden. In the afternoon, it is frowned upon. At night, it is perfectly OK, since a woman who is away from the protection of her husband is asking for it. (He never said which campus fraternity he was referring to).

If cultural relativism is true, the rules of that culture, with respect to rape, are justified. There is no "court of appeal" that is over and above that culture and out culture that would permit us to say that their views on rape are wrong and ours are right. For us to suggest that they are "really" wrong in permitting rape is to elevate the rules of our culture to a kind of cosmic status they cannot have. It is to be intolerant.

Objectivity and provability

Before black swans were discovered in Western Australia, people believed that all swans were white. We had no proof that black swans existed. Nevertheless, the objective fact was, and is, that there were black swans in Western Australia. Objectivity is about what is real, not what we can prove. 
God, for example, might really exist, but have provided us with no proof of his existence sufficient to convince all reasonable persons. But his objective existence (or nonexistence) does not depend on it being provable either way. 

Chesterton beat me to it

I have been using the reductio ad absurdum "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are evolved equal, and that they were endowed by evolution with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." 

It seems as if G. K. Chesterton beat me to it by a few decades. 

“The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man.”

― G.K. Chesterton

It comes from What I Saw in America.

Aw, shucks.

Homosexuality and celibacy

The Catholic Church teaches that there is nothing wrong with being a homosexual, but if you are homosexual, you ought to live a celibate life. But some within the Church don't really understand the church's teaching. What the Church rejects is the idea that sexual relationships are essential to human happiness and human identity. If one has to have a sexual relationship with someone you love in order to be who you are, then wouldn't it follow that Jesus and Paul were not who they truly were, since both lived celibate lives?

I realize that the Catholic Church, on this issue, is asking people of gay orientation to suppress a powerful human instinct, and instinct supported very strongly by our Valentine's Day culture.  Still, it would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church's teaching oppose that person's identity. It may oppose how that person may want to express that identity, but does not oppose the identity itself. 

That said, sometimes the people who teach in Catholic schools don't get anything right when it comes to Catholic teaching. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

How religious belief can affect morality

There are various ways in which religion affects our moral conduct, that go beyond the specific teachings of a religion. Religious belief supports the idea of an inherent purpose to human existence, and the idea that in the end justice will be served. This is supported either by a belief in a final judgment or in a belief in some kind of law of karma, which in Eastern religion governs reincarnation. Some people believe in a law of karma that governs our earthly life, but that doesn't work perfectly.  The simple fact is, that in this world, people can commit murder, get away with it, and be happy about it.  On this matter, watch atheist filmmaker Woody Allen's movie Crimes and Misdemeanors. The belief in an inherent  purpose  and the belief in ultimate justice, either through karma or through a final judgment, provide energy for the moral enterprise of many persons. I'm not saying you can't be moral without them, but for a lot of people, they sure help. When we think about religion and morality, we think about specific teachings, but there is more to it that. 

Kamala Harris fires a blank

I fail to understand Harris's gains based on the debate. She fired a blank at Biden, and made it look like she hit him.I guess she hit him with a soundbite. It is one thing to say "That little girl was me, it sure helped me." It is another to argue for busing as public policy mandated by the Department of Education. That kind of federal control of schools is going to freak out the entire middle and help Trump. Biden doesn't have to deny that it could help in some instances. But busing as public policy has been abandoned in the public arena, and unless you can argue that it ought to be brought back, this is going to hurt her in the overall primary fight and certainly in the general election, especially among swing voters in states like, well, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Does the law of noncontradiction apply to moral claim, such as the claim that adultery is wrong?

There are a couple of possibilities here. One is that physicalism is true. If physicalism is true, then all facts are physical facts, and the law of noncontradictions applies to physical facts. Claims about what is right and wrong cannot be reduced to physical questions, therefore, the law of noncontradiction does not  apply here. But what if  there are facts that are not physical facts? Mathematical facts, strictly speaking, are not physical facts, since they do not obtain at particular places or times, but rather obtain at all places and times. There are also logical facts, which also do not depend upon locality. And then, are there moral facts? Atheists disagree with  one another as to whether there can be moral facts. Atheist J. L. Mackie argued that there are no moral facts. But even without God, philosophers like Erik Wielenberg think that there are nonetheless moral facts. 
If there are moral facts then the law of noncontradiction applies to these. 
But then, suppose that religion is not just something people make up, but instead is true. In this case, physicalism would be false, because a divine reality exists which, at least we ordinarily define physics, physics cannot discover. In that case, there would be a real God, maybe a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim God which actually exists, in which case it is quite possible that facts about what is right or wrong is grounded in what God knows, or what God commands. Thus, God might know, and therefore command, that adultery is wrong, and even if you are the President of the United States, if you disagree with that, you are mistaken.