Friday, October 30, 2015

Pope Francis on evolution


What creationists don't say

Religious believers, if they are creationists, typically challenge the science behind evolution. They don't just say "Sure science says that, but science is wrong." 

But I suppose they could, if they wanted to. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The truth value of unprovable statements

Many statements which are not provable, at least not by us, are either true or false, and we agree that they are either true or false even if we have no way of determining whether they are true or false. A good example would be
1)______ committed the Jack the Ripper murders. For any name you put in, they either did or did not commit those crimes. Yet we have no doubt that there is someone (or more than one person) for which that statement is true, just as it is false of everyone else. 

2) There is life of comparable intelligence to our own on other planets. 

Is there a population bomb?

Apparently, fears have been exaggerated.


God and Obamacare: Fact or opinion?

The fact-opinion distinction is less than clear. By fact do we mean something which can be true or false, or is it something that can be proven true of false. Is an opinion something that is neither true nor false, or is it something that cannot be proven true or false. 

There are a lot of things that can be true or false, about which evidence is certainly relevant, which nevertheless there is no proof that ought to convince all reasonable persons. The existence of God is one of them. Whether Obamacare is doing more good than harm, or harm than good, is another. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Notes on the Philosophy and Politics paper.

I think you have to sign into before you can download. But the idea is that academics have to analyze the issues and come to terms with them fairly and honestly, and not pay attention to what the political implications of their statements are. 

An example of this would be criticisms of Thomas Nagel. Nagel is a non-theist who develops a lot of the arguments against naturalistic materialism that I do. But he thinks you can accept the arguments supporting the idea that reason and "the mental" is fundamental to the universe without becoming a theist. In the process he is critical of the overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything. Now, I can understand why many secularists think that he's mistaken, that materialistic naturalism doesn't have quite the severe problems Nagel thinks they do. But, on top of this comes strong message that he's giving aid and comfort to religious believers and even (gasp!) intelligent design advocates, and they virtually imply that if that is what he really thinks he ought to shut up about it because of the bad political implications of making his case. After all, you don't want someone giving ammo to those "armies of the night." When people criticize them for heresy hunting, they just reply by saying "We're just criticize arguments we don't accept. Shouldn't all ideas be open to criticism?" But no, you aren't just doing that, you're saying his ideas lead to "mischief" and one philosopher, perhaps jokingly, said that his books should be put on a modern secular version of the Index of Forbidden Books. 

To them, I want to say, cut the political correctness and follow the argument where it leads. 

The paper argues that the political involvement of philosophers may lead them to not give fair consideration to positions that could be used to support their political opponents. I am inclined to agree.

Why Philosophers Should Stay Out of Politics


Thursday, October 22, 2015

The LGBT divide

I think there's actually a split in the pro-LGBT community on the issue of marriage. There is a conservative wing of it that basically says that traditional marriage is just fine, it just needs to be extended to same-sex couples. This is typical of Christian supporters of SSM such as Matthew Vines. They believe in such things as lifetime commitment, two and only two partners, marital fidelity, etc., they just think that for people who are gay in their orientation, they should exercise that with a partner of the same sex. Such people would be embarrassed, I think by Richard Carrier's adaptation of LGBT rhetoric to support polyamory.

People like Gessen are on the radical wing of the pro-LGBT movement, they are happy to see the opposite sex requirement eliminated for marriage, but they reject the rest of traditional marriage as well.

The difference between these two wings has been de-emphasized during the battle for SSM. After Obergfell, I strongly suspect that this disagreement develop more and more into a debate within the pro-LGBT community.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Is polygamy next?


Debunking the wrong answer

I noticed John Loftus objecting to my comments by, typically, bringing up Scandanavian countries. However, PL's point is relevant here, that strong secularization tends to move a country toward underpopulation, which makes it difficult for them to avoid a Muslim majority. And, I would also have to make the note that the secularization of those countries took place with very little of the religion-bashing typical of new atheism. If religion dies within a culture, I think it is more likely to die of neglect than anything else.

There is a sense in which writing books like the God Delusion and running websites like Debunking Christianity is a self-defeating enterprise. What you are saying by doing that is that God and Christianity are so important that someone needs to take lots of time and effort attacking it. I know they don't intend to leave this message, but that is still the effect. These people spend a lot of time and energy on what they don't believe, in debunking the wrong answer. If it's really worth the time and energy to criticize something, then there are rules, such as the principle of charity, that have to be followed. If not, then you are better off pursuing the right answer than attacking the wrong answer.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Commercial services and expression

CM: First, who wants to give a business, carrying out a commercial transaction, authority of approval? Should fat people not be allowed to buy iPhones because they make the technology look unattractive? Should book stores refuse to sell to people who wear crosses around their necks because the bookseller doesn't approve of religious garb? 

VR: The answer to this involves a distinction between commercial services that provide expression, or speech, on behalf of gay weddings, and those that don't. For the former, I there is a problem with a business putting a sign up in their hardware store that says "no gays." (So if a gay person needs a screw, they have to get it somewhere else). However, businesses that provide celebratory expression should be able, if this is a stated policy, to provide that expression only if that is what they support. If you are a professional speechwriter, should you be accused of discrimination if you will only provide your services for Republican candidates and not Democratic candidates?

Apologies for the bad pun. 

Make Christianity the state religion? Actually there's quite a lot of support for it!


I am surprised.

The moral impact of Christianity, and atheism

A great deal of fundamental ideas which we all accept as a matter of social justice came from Christians that was not accepted by, say, the leaders of Roman society at the time. Now, the history isn't perfect, and there is plenty you can use against it in the Bible and in Christian history. But what does evolution give you? Evolution says that certain critters have certain advantages over certain other critters, and that using those advantages allows the critters with those advantages to pass on their genes. If materialistic atheism is true, there is nothing in reality that supports treating people with prima facie disadvantages as equal, as opposed to simply using your advantage over them for you and those you feel close to. 

It is not as if everything in morality is religious, it's not. There are two forces in human nature that very often push us in a moral direction: social utility and sympathy. But we get social utility from those like ourselves (the social disutility of being a n-lover at a Klan meeting should be obvious), and we tend to lack sympathy for others when the others are one of "them" and not one of us. The antidote to this is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan but it cuts against human nature to a very large extent. 

I find it distressing that movements within atheism are starting to see the conflict between belief and unbelief as a war, not a debate, and are starting to adopt an us vs. them mentality. I remember the well-intentioned ideas that launched the French Revolution and the Russian revolution, and remember also where these movements ended: with guillotines and gulags. As a result I am concerned about what is going to happen if the secularist movement today gets a lot of political power. These people started off with combining secularism with a passion for social justice, and look what happened to them. The death tolls of the Soviet Union far outstrip all the "holy horrors" of Christianity, such as the Inquisition. It's not even close. One commentator over on Debunking Christianity once started talking about putting Christians in camps and preventing them from reproducing. Of course most people of that mindset don't actually come out and say this stuff, but that doesn't mean they would resist the temptation if they thought they could actually cure the great "mind virus" that way.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

What is deism? Not what you think!


Keep in mind, Victor, that those words were penned by a deist - a man who believed there were no consequences to his actions (or inactions). His "God" was a distant, uninvolved, non-actor, Who cared not what happened in the creation He (quite unaccountably) set in motion aeons ago. 

Lord, give me an honest atheist any day over a damned deist!

I don't think you have Jefferson's desim quite right Bob. It's quite different from what most people think it is.

If you believe in the idea of a transcendent, as opposed to a simply immanent God (such as many Hindus accept), there are choices here as well. For example, some believers in God are called deists, in that they don’t accept special revelation. By special revelation, I mean deliberate activity on the part of God to make people aware of who God is and what he expects from people. Typically people think of deists as holding that God created the universe and then ceased to be active within it.

However, historically deists were committed to the following five points.
1) God exists
2) God is to be worshipped
3) The practice of virtue is the true worship of God
4) People must repent of wrongdoing
5) There are future rewards and punishments.

This is somewhat different from what people today think of as deism.

Avery Dulles on Jefferson's Deism.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Religious motives for doing good

What are the religious motivations for good behavior? Is it all reward and punishment, or is it motivating for people to believe that their good actions are actions that fulfill the intended purpose of their existence? 

Left-wing tolerance

Herbert Marcuse wrote: 
“Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery. This sort of tolerance strengthens the tyranny of the majority against which authentic liberals protested…   Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”

Marcusian tolerance seems to be taking over.  See here. 

Marriage and limiting government

Marriage licenses, at the very least, require explanation. It would be interesting to know what other countries do on this issue. 

One argument on this issue might be this. People who enter marriages naturally bring children into the mix. But having children means adding mouths to feed, and children to educate, etc. So the government compensates people who risk this with various financial advantages. However gay relationships don't incur this risk, so they should not receive this kind of compensation.

One firm conviction I have on this issue is that my government is not competent to adjudicate the moral question of homosexuality one way or the other. I am against sodomy laws and forcing bakers to bake rainbow shaped cakes with two grooms on top for exactly the same reason.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A review of Mind and Cosmos


A conservative admits the G W Bush administration was a disaster


Protecting the marketplace of ideas

It's been decades since I've voted for a Republican for President. I think it unlikely that I will break that streak this year. But, recently, I have been concerned about the left-wing's willingness to compromise the openness of the marketplace of ideas. I would have considered it the openness of the marketplace of ideas to be a very liberal idea.

But consider this piece on Robert George. According to this piece, he's a bigot, his views are not politically adequate, so he should be stripped of an endowed chair at Princeton. Do they give endowed chairs to be people because we like what they say?

I think academic independence from politics and ideology is a great value. For example, I don't have a problem with people disagreeing with Thomas Nagel. What makes me mad is when his philosophical arguments are attacked not because he is mistaken, but because they give aid and comfort to political miscreants like ID advocates. Consider this from the Nagel-Weisberg review of Mind and Cosmos.

The subtitle seems intended to market the book to evolution deniers, intelligent-design acolytes, religious fanatics and others who are not really interested in the substantive scientific and philosophical issues. Even a philosopher sympathetic to Nagel’s worries about the naturalistic worldview would not claim this volume comes close to living up to that subtitle. Its only effect will be to make the book an instrument of mischief.”

So we can't say certain things because it might become bulletin-board material for the bad guys. Really. 

You gotta have a license?

In the case of gay marriage, one place to look to start with is the whole issue of what the government is doing giving out marriage licenses in the first place. With fishing licenses and driver's licenses, the government will stop you from fishing or driving if you don't have one. In the case of a marriage license, there is nothing you can do as a couple where the government will say "If you want to do that, you gotta have a license."

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Japanese Buddhists on the Hawaiian Islands formed the Young Man's Buddhist Association, or the YMBA.

Can you imagine the Buddhist monks doing this song in their orange robes?

Friday, October 09, 2015

Why aiming to marginalize is a self-defeating enterprise

One question that interests me is the question is whether debate of any kind can do anything to marginalize an opposing viewpoint, or whether there is a way of conducting discussion with the intent to marginalize, or whether all you can do in arguing against a position is to show that it is mistaken.
I am inclined to think the latter. If you are going to discuss something, you are required to be as fair and as respectful as you can be, as is required by the Principle of Charity.
I am familiar with Wolfgang Pauli's expression "not even wrong," but I think all that debate can do is establish wrongness. Now you might do so well in criticizing something that no one will ever again want to defend the opposing view, but there is nothing you can do to aim for that result. You just have to argue that you are right, and argue well.
That is what critiquing an opposing view involves. You have to work hard to understand your opponents. You will perhaps preach well to the choir, but your opponents will have every right to accuse you of the straw man fallacy. People who are informed about what they believe will look for misrepresentations in the work of people who are trying to ridicule them. And in my experience, they will typically find it.
For people who want to abolish philosophy of religion, for example, I am inclined to use a version of the pro-choice slogan: "If you don't believe in abortion, don't get one." If you can't find in yourself enough intellectual sympathy with an opposing viewpoint to deal with it fairly, you are probably better off leaving criticism of that viewpoint to others. Nothing requires you, as a theist or an atheist, to write argue for what you believe.
The predominance of religious believers in philosophy of religion, to me, has a pedestrian explanation, believers are articulating what they do believe, so they are more likely to do philosophy of religion. They think that religion holds the right answer to the basic questions of life. Atheists think that religious answers are the wrong answer, which means the right answer lies elsewhere. People may be concerned about answers they think wrong, but most people don't find it very exciting to devote themselves to wrong answers. They want to spell out the right answers.
It's not niceness, so if people ask "Why do we have to be so nice" they are missing the point. The issue is just doing the job of criticizing effectively. If you don't think you have to try to be fair, you probably won't do a good job.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Shadow to Light on conversion and deconversion: We have met the enemy and it is us, or is it them?

When someone becomes a Christian, what sets the stage is the following intuitive insight: There is something very wrong with me; I need to change.
When someone becomes an atheist, what sets the stage i(s) the following intuitive insight: There is something very wrong with them; they need to be stopped.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Great Commission, atheist style

Therefore, go and make atheists of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Richard Dawkins,  and of Sam Harris,  and of Christopher Hitchens. 

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the atheism that you have.

Seriously, why all the witnessing for atheism? 

Here's a site where you can get atheist tracts to pass out. 

Aiming to marginalize

Religious apologists complain bitterly that atheists and secularists are aggressive and hostile in their criticism of them. I always say: look, when you guys were in charge, you didn’t argue with us, you just burnt us at the stake. Now what we’re doing is, we’re presenting you with some arguments and some challenging questions, and you complain.-A. C. Grayling
Really? Tim Chaffey replies: 
Finally, Grayling’s quote is ridiculous. When were atheists burned at the stake by Christians? Christianity was the dominant faith in the U.S. for over 200 years. When has an atheist ever been burned at the stake in the U.S.? When were atheists burned at the stake in Europe? Did the Catholics do that? I know that many Christians were burned at the stake (Hus, Ridley, Latimer, Cranmer, Sattler, et al.). So where is the evidence that Christians in power burned atheists at the stake?
Most importantly, are atheists just arguing? No, some of them seek to marginalize religious belief. This is their stated purpose. Here is actor Chris O'Dowd: 
“There’s going to be a turning point where it’s going to be like racism. You know,You’re not allowed to say that weird shit! It’s mad! And you’re making everybody crazy!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

How to criticize religion without being a bigot


Finish this sentence

 If someone uses the n-word a lot and makes a lot of crude jokes at the expense of African-Americans they have got to be a......

Monday, October 05, 2015

What the laws of nature tell us

“But, don’t you see,” said I, “that science never could show anything of the sort?”

“Why on earth not?”

“Because science studies Nature. And the question is whether anything besides Nature exists—anything ‘outside.’ How could you find that out by studying simply Nature?”

--C. S. Lewis

Natural laws only tell you what will happen as long as there is no interference in the system from the outside. Furthermore, those laws can’t tell you if such interference is going to occur.


Saturday, October 03, 2015

Tim McGrew's Argument from Undesigned Coincidences

If it's all made up, how did this happen. Here. 

Why did we go into Iraq?

 Is it possible that what we sought to create over there was a democratic "beachhead" that was supposed to lead other Arabic nations to accept democracy? That has the advantage of being a more noble motive than oil, but it has the disadvantage of being doomed from the start.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Three Universalist proof texts

John 12:32: “And I, when I am lifted upfrom the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Romans 5:18: “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.”
Col 1:19-20  “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

What does it mean to say that God is not physical?

It seems to me that the statement "God is not physical" can mean

1) God's acts are not determined by the laws of physics.
2) God has no location in space and time. 
3) God's acts have no physical effects. 

The first true are true, orthodox, and biblical. The third is, of course unorthodox. 

Bayesianism in mathematics and philosophy

Bayesianism is a mathematical concept, but it is used in epistemological contexts. Basically, it is a model of what confirmation is. 

From the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy;

Though a mathematical triviality, the Theorem's central insight — that a hypothesis is supported by any body of data it renders probable — lies at the heart of all subjectivist approaches to epistemology, statistics, and inductive logic.

My overall picture of epistemological justification goes something like this. We all start from different places, and have different initial dispositions with respect to the world as we experience it. Then, we acquire further information. Historically people have tried to pull their model of the world apart and start only from certain basics, and believe only what can be built up from there, but I don't think that's necessary, especially when the people who say we have to do it disagree about what has to be in the base. I think it makes more sense to adjust the beliefs we have as we go along and move incrementally toward consensus as evidence comes in. And with some things, the hope of consensus is pretty slight in the foreseeable future, so we are going to keep disagreeing. I think, for example, that atheists and theists are here to stay for a long time, and the fact that we aren't closing in on agreement does not necessarily mean that one side or the other is just being stubborn or delusional. I would say it's because the issue is too complex and there are too many parameters to it to be sure that we have considered everything, and fairly. It's easy to come up with motives for our opponents, but that in itself proves nothing whatsoever. 

I believe in God, but there is plenty of disconfirming evidence. It is just that the confirming evidence, all told, outweighs it, as I see it. 

An incomplete slogan

When people say "God said it, I believe it, that settles it," I have to ask "But who interpreted it?

Ideological violence

We might identify a class of violence we call ideological violence. We can start be identifying overall worldviews. These might be religious, in the case of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, or Hinduism, etc. or these might be materialist, or what have you. Then we might ask how much we care whether other people believe what we do. As humans we like to see people believe what we believe. And here there is a huge amount of variation in how much we would like to see others agree with us. Some Christians are really motivated to see everyone else become a Christian, others care a whole lot less. Some Christians think salvation is at stake, since the only way to be saved is to believe as they do. Others think God's grace can save nonbelievers (see the documents of Vatican II as an example). Atheists are the same way. Some atheists think belief in God is a "mind virus" we've got to cure for the sake of civilization, others have no interest in whether others believe as we do. Usually theism or atheism isn't the whole of what we would like people to believe. I don't know of any believer in God who thinks belief that God exists is necessary and sufficient for salvation. Now, caring a lot over whether other people believe as we do doesn't necessarily mean we will use force to make sure they do. we might decide that it will do more harm than good for our cause. To use violence, we have to think it will work, and that it's appropriate.  Theism and atheism are not answers to the question of the meaning of life, but they are necessary conditions for ideologies that some people think are the answer. Communists for example, thought that religion had to be destroyed so that we could achieve the classless and stateless society. 
There is a road to ideological violence whether or not you believe in a god or not. 

Victor Reppert on the No Evidence Charge

My own response to the "no evidence" charge is, I think pretty well known, and it goes like this: 

We first have to define what evidence is. 

I understand evidence in Bayesian terms. For me, X is evidence for Y just in case X is more likely to exist given Y than given not-Y. By this definition, something can have evidence for it and be false. 

There is a whole boatload of stuff that look to me to be a LOT more likely to exist if God exists than if God does not exist. Some of it's in the Bible, most of it isn't. 

Here's a short list: 

1) The fact that we can reason about the world. The fact that it is even possible to go from evidence to a conclusion. If this isn't possible, then science isn't even possible. But that implies that our acts of reasoning are governed by the laws of logic, as opposed to the laws of physics. But naturalism says the laws of physics govern everything, and the laws of logic are superfluous as an explanation for any event in the universe. 
2) That there are stable laws of nature, so that the distant past resembles the recent past. It's easy to imagine an atheistic world with no stability at all, where the laws keep changing for no reason. Why is that not the actual world? 
3) The we have just the right cosmic constants for life to emerge. 
4) That DNA allows for gradual change, as opposed to being completely static or so radically changeable that it is completely unpredictable. 
5) That monotheism arose against all odds in a polytheistic world in a country that hardly qualifies as a world superpower, and that it persisted in spite of the efforts of the superpowers like Assyria, Babylon, the Seleucids, and the Romans, to get it to assimilate into a polytheistic culture. 
6) That the disciples of Jesus got in the faces of those responsible for Jesus's crucifixion and told them that the Jesus they crucified was Lord and God, and lived to tell the tale and found Christianity. (If they killed Jesus, they can kill you too). 
7) That archaeology has discovered that if Luke was writing a story about the founding of Christianity, it wrote it in such a way that the "research" for his "fictional" story was corroborated centuries later by archaeology, "research" that would have required him to know all sorts of detail from Jerusalem to Malta at just the right time in the first century. 
8) That Christianity became the dominant religion of an empire in spite of getting no help, and intermittent persecution, from the political leaders of that empire, for nearly three centuries.

I can understand concluding, at the end of the day, that this evidence is outweighed by the evidence for atheism. What is beyond my comprehension is the idea that this somehow isn't evidence AT ALL. Repeating "God of the Gaps" fifty times is not a response.