Sunday, December 30, 2012

J. D. Walters' Review of The Last Superstition

A book I got for Christmas, which I have been enjoying. Here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The latest in the Torley-Loftus exchange

Here is the latest in the Torley-Loftus exchange. Or at least until Loftus replies.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

How to save mothers and children from religion

I'll play Crude's request here. I guess once they realize this, they will abandon Christianity and accept Richard Dawkins as their Lord and Savior.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some Reasons why Christianity Makes Sense to Me

A redated post.

I wrote a comment on Debunking Christianity that I would like to share here.

Victor wrote: If this is a reason to reject the maxim of my undergraduate philosophy teacher (an atheist) "You ought to believe what you already believe, unless you have evidence that what you believe is not true," then I wouldn't endorse that kind of skepticism.

Scott replied: The problem with applying this maxim to a particular religious belief is the means in which you've acquired that belief and the inability to provide clear evidence that your belief is not true. It's as if you've thrown up your hands and claimed you're stuck with your belief since there is no other method in which you could attempt to identify whether it is factual or not.

VR: No. I have considered evidence for and against theism, and for and against Christianity. I just don't know if real neutrality is possible or even desirable. That's my only beef.

I think naturalism is self-refuting because it is inconsistent with the fact that human beings perceive logical relationship and act on that basis. If they were purely physical systems in a purely physical world, this would not be possible. We could not literally do mathematics, which is the very foundations of the science on which naturalism rests its case. If naturalism is true, then there are no scientists, and there is no scientific method, and we're all epistemically screwed.

In fact it's a little amazing to me that someone could accept the outsider test for faith and not accept the argument from reason against naturalism. The OTF says that if our religious views have sociological causes, they aren't rational, which suggests to me that atheists must have purely rational causes for their beliefs. But if naturalism is true, then everyone has natural, physical causes for all beliefs, and this got to be ten times more damaging than sociological causes. If naturalism is true, then there is no real mental causation, just physical causation that mimics mental effects.

I think that Christian theism has some problems in the area of the problem of evil, but these are not worse problems than naturalists have in explaining consciousness, for example. Atheists argue that if theism is true, then there would be no suffering, but if naturalistic atheism is true, there can only be pain behavior, not real pain, because pain is a subjective qualia that has no place in the naturalistic world of objective physical states. Hence, if naturalistic atheism is true, then there should be no suffering either.

I am amazed at how monotheism could have taken hold of the mind of the people of Israel, after a long struggle with paganism, and that the little nation of Judah could have escaped dispersion from the Assyrians, which would have destroyed that nation's identity permanently. To the ancient mind, it was a lot easier to be a polytheist than to be a monotheist. How could this have been reversed in an tiny and otherwise nondescript country like Israel, when it did not happen anywhere else? Not in Greece, not in Egypt, not in Babylonia, and not in Rome.

I have yet to see an account of the beginnings of Christianity that is any better than the one that Christians offer. If there were not miracles, then how do you get a bunch of people firmly convinced that Jesus rose from the dead and getting in the faces of the Jewish and Roman establishment to spread that belief? What happened to these people? How could Jews start accepting an incarnate deity? How could they change the Sabbath, and not try to apply the Jewish Law to Gentile converts? Mass hallucinations, and then their biggest persecutor, Saul of Tarsus gets one? Just a coincidence?

How do you explain the intimate, detailed familiarity that Luke shows with the Mediterranean world if he was never a companion of Paul and didn't see what he wrote about? I don't even know how many people are on the city council of the nearby cities of Avondale or Glendale here in the Phoenix area. But Luke provides this kind of detail, and the archaeology backs him up time after time.

No other religion has the kind of archaeological support that Christianity does. Have they found that battleground in Palmyra, New York, where the book of Mormon says a huge battle took place? Thought not. Is there a good DNA match between Jews and American Indians? You mean they look more like Orientals? Who witnessed Muhammad reciting and transmitting the Qu'ran?

I even think that there are present-day miracles that provide evidence for God. We had some discussion of that on Dangerous Idea as well.

Now if you say "Anything but the Supernatural" this may all seem irrational to you. But maybe some naturalists need to take the Outsider Test and see how things look from the perspective that miracles are possible. I could argue that you have been brainwashed by the scientific establishment to rules these possiblities out. But I won't. The world just makes more sense from the perspective of Christian theism than it does from any other perspective.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's all about the process

My response to some discussion over at debunking, which is here.

However convinced you may be of the rightness of your overall position, it doesn't warrant you in running roughshod over texts. Marshall's text made certain claims, none of which entailed any denigration of science whatsoever.

Not everything is about the overall debate between Christianity and atheism. Sometimes it's about process, about slowing the process down and making sure that we are in fact representing someone correctly. In all genuinely valuable discussion, (as opposed to a propaganda war) people slow down and make sure that they are accurately interpreting the people they are talking to. Whenever people skip that step and try to win debating points, the value of the dialogue itself just disappears. One sign that you are dealing with an ideologue is that ideologues never take the time to understand the people they are trying to criticize. I don't care how silly you think people on the other side are, if you are going to criticize them, you've got to take the effort to understand what they're saying. In fact, the less inherent intellectual sympathy you have for your opponent, the more effort it will take.

Now, he may have made said something that proves your point, but this wasn't it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Is the term Gnu Atheism derisive

I'll take Pharyngula as authoritative here. Apparently not.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The folly of scientism


Advocates of scientism today claim the sole mantle of rationality, frequently equating science with reason itself. Yet it seems the very antithesis of reason to insist that science can do what it cannot, or even that it has done what it demonstrably has not. As a scientist, I would never deny that scientific discoveries can have important implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and that everyone interested in these topics needs to be scientifically literate. But the claim that science and science alone can answer longstanding questions in these fields gives rise to countless problems.

In contrast to reason, a defining characteristic of superstition is the stubborn insistence that something — a fetish, an amulet, a pack of Tarot cards — has powers which no evidence supports. From this perspective, scientism appears to have as much in common with superstition as it does with properly conducted scientific research. Scientism claims that science has already resolved questions that are inherently beyond its ability to answer.

Of all the fads and foibles in the long history of human credulity, scientism in all its varied guises — from fanciful cosmology to evolutionary epistemology and ethics — seems among the more dangerous, both because it pretends to be something very different from what it really is and because it has been accorded widespread and uncritical adherence. Continued insistence on the universal competence of science will serve only to undermine the credibility of science as a whole. The ultimate outcome will be an increase of radical skepticism that questions the ability of science to address even the questions legitimately within its sphere of competence. One longs for a new Enlightenment to puncture the pretensions of this latest superstition.

An essay on Lewis on Scripture


HT: Bob Prokop

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Three Parts of Morality

A redated post.

The Three Parts of Morality
Book 3, Chapter 1

“There is a story of a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was the sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.”

By contrast, “Moral rules are rules for running the human machine.” They are, to use my example, the instructions in the owner’s manual of a car, that tells you to keep the oil level up in the car and to change the oil every 3000 miles. These rules may seem at first to go against our natural inclinations.

Should we speak of moral ideals instead of moral rules? If we think of them is ideals rather than rules, then different people might have higher or lower ideals. Everyone is expected to try to follow the rules, even though no one comes close to following them perfectly.

Lewis mentions two ways in which “the human machine” goes wrong. One way is by bad relationships amongst people. The other is when things go wrong within the individual. Much discussion about morality on the part of modern people has to do with how people should relate to one another; that it is wrong to cause harm to others. He compares the moral life to a fleet of ships. The fleet may fail because of internal failures within the ships, or may fail because they drift apart or collide with one another.

But there is a third component to our moral lives. Are the ships going where they ought to be going? They may work well internally and sail in formation, and yet not get to the right place. Of course this means that there is a proper goal for human life.

So that means morality means:

1) Fair play among human beings.
2) Harmonizing the person internally.
3) Fulfilling the purpose of human life.

Modern people think of 1) and do not think of 2) and 3). They say “There can’t be anything wrong with it if it doesn’t harm anybody.”

2) is a moral tradition that goes back to Plato. According to Plato, reason (the desire for the Form of the Good) should command, and spirit (the interpersonal self), and appetite obey.

3. Is a tradition that goes back to Aristotle. The good life is the life that fulfils human nature. It assumes that human life has an inherent purpose. For Aristotle that purpose is inherent in our nature as humans, for the Christian tradition it is given to us by God.

Lewis thinks that we should pay more attention to 2 and 3. “You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.

Christianity is a set of claims that, if true, will profoundly affect how we ought to behave.

Christianity teaches that I am a creature created by God for God’s purpose. Do I simply belong to myself? Many people think we do. If there is no God, then we own essentially belong to ourselves. “Whose life is it anyway?” So if we want, for example, to commit suicide, all we need to consider is what it would do to others. “If someone else made me, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself.

Suppose I am addicted to video games. “It doesn’t hurt anybody,” I say. But am I fulfilling my nature as a human being?

Immanuel Kant thought that it was wrong to lie, first and foremost, because our capacity to speak was given to us in order to speak the truth, in lying we damage ourselves by using a facility for something for which it was not intended. In fact, he maintained that all lies were wrong, something thought by most people to be too strong a position. But the emphasis on this motivation for truthfulness is something Lewis would approve of.

Christianity also teaches that human beings last forever. This has two implications:

1) States of character are more important than particular actions. If my bad temper is getting worse, this may not be a big deal if we feed the worms after 70 years. If I go on forever, then my bad temper will be just hell until it is corrected. “Hell is the precisely correct term what it would be.”
2) If individuals are gone after 70 years then a state, a nation, or a civilization may last for a thousand years. (Hitler, for example, promised that the Third Reich would last for a thousand years.) But if Christianity is true, then an individual is more important than a civilization.

Lewis says that from here on he will give an account of morality with the assumption that Christianity is true. Although this is an apologetic work, Lewis is content simply to give an analysis of what ethics looks like on Christian assumptions, without feeling the need to prove the truth of Christianity first. It attempts to answer the question “Can we get sensible answers to moral questions if we adopt a Christian viewpoint.”

Loftus comes out as an ideologue

Here. Who knew?

Lowder's Taxonomy of Theistic Metaethical Positions.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Kreeft on Happiness

Our idea of what happiness is has changed since Aristotle. Here is a quote from philosopher Peter Kreeft:

But the meaning of the word happiness has changed since Aristotle's time. We usually mean by it today something wholly subjective, a feeling. If you feel happy, you are happy. But Aristotle, and nearly all premodern writers, meant that happiness was an objective state first of all, not merely a subjective feeling. The Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, literally means good spirit, or good soul. By this definition, Job on his dung heap is happy. Socrates unjustly condemned to die is happy. Hitler exulting over the conquest of France is not happy. Happiness is not a warm puppy. Happiness is goodness.

Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1986

So, I think the idea of happiness has to be clarified when we use it. The philosophical term is not the term we normally think of today when we use the word "happiness."

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Doctor Logic and Lydia McGrew on Likelilhoods, Design, and Probabilities

Doctor Logic: If an all powerful being were designing life, we don't expect descent, common descent, common composition or a gradual appearance of features and species. How many ways can a God create life in a universe? The number of ways a God can do this is vastly greater than the number of ways unguided evolution can do so. For example, gods don't even need to create life consistent with physical laws because they can create ghosts. There's no need for descent (birth) because God can make animals outright or create factories (no car has ever been born to another car). Even keeping the species the same and changing their natural histories and genomics gives a God vastly more options than evolution. I think theists would be tempted to say that there are infinitely more ways God could create life than ways that evolution could create life.

This is a simple problem in Bayesian reasoning. Finding ourselves in a world that is consistent with unguided evolution implies that the probability that we're designed is extremely close to zero.

In other words, if God exists, then there are a million ways in which God could create things, including Young Earth Creationism, etc. If atheism is true, then if intelligent life is going to emerge, it's got to emerge through naturalistic evolution. So, if the evidence is compatible with naturalistic evolution, then the evidence very strong supports naturalistic evolution, since this evidence is very likely given atheism and vanishingly unlikely given theism.

Lydia McGrew's paper on design and likelihoods might serve as a way for theists to respond here. Because God could do it a certain way doesn't mean that it would be reasonable for God to do so.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Devil is in the Questions: NCSE on whether scientists reject God

Here.  Now, Eugenie Scott and  the NCSE aren't exactly a neutral organization on this. They are implacable foes of intelligent design, but they are criticized by New Atheists as working too hard to get the support of the religious community for Darwinian evolutionary biology.

Nevertheless I do find this interesting.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Why do I exist?

Of all the millions of people in the world, only one of them  me, and only one fo them is you. What kind of fact is this, and how would science explain it naturalistically?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Torley v. Loftus on ID and methodological naturalism

Here is a debate between Vincent Torley and John Loftus on methodological naturalism. Torley's original article was here. Loftus responded here, and Torley here.