Sunday, April 30, 2017

How are scientific beliefs caused?

Assuming no God and setting aside any life on other planets that might have evolved prior to earth's life, no agent-driven teleology has existed throughout virtually all of natural history. 

So, what is happening now? In order for the accounts we have to give a Darwin inferring natural selection from finch beaks, or physicists rejecting the ether theory as a result (among other things) of the Michelsen-Morley experiment, to make any sense, we have to describe them in teleological terms. The reasons, the evidence, have to be causally responsible for the beliefs these scientists came to hold. Otherwise, the presumed advantage of following science as opposed to superstition goes out the window. 

Yet naturalists insist that when minds arose, no new mode of causation was introduced. Matter functioned in the same way, it is just that evolution but it into forms of organization that made it seem as if it had purposes when it really didn't, and this explains the very theorizing by which scientists like Dawkins and philosophers like Mackie reach the conclusion that God does not exist. In the last analysis, you didn't accept atheism because of the evidence, you became and atheist because the configuration of atoms in your brain put you in a certain brain state, and C. S. Lewis became a Christian and a theist for exactly the same reason. If this is true, how can the atheist possibly claim superior rationality?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

If there is a brain, there has to be a mind that is not a brain

Is the brain an entity? Given materialism, I can't see how it is. It is a composite of things we call a brain. But who are we? Brains? But we can't be brains, we can only be composites of things we call brains, needing an entity to do the "calling", as it were. 

Hume puts it this way: 

I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is per|formed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things.

Dialogues concerning natural religion

So, according to Hume's principle, there cannot be a brain unless there is a mind that performs the arbitrary act of putting it together. So, in order for there to even be a brain, there has to be a mind that is not a brain.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Charles Sanders Peirce on the Gospel of Greed

 Here, then, is the issue. The gospel of Christ says that progress comes from every individual merging his individuality in sympathy with his neighbors. On the other side, the conviction of the nineteenth century is that progress takes place by virtue of every individual's striving for himself with all his might and trampling his neighbor under foot whenever he gets a chance to do so. This may accurately be called the Gospel of Greed.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Physicalism and Hempel's dilemma

One might object that any formulation of physicalism which utilizes the theory-based conception will be either trivial or false. Carl Hempel (cf. Hempel 1969, see also Crane and Mellor 1990) provided a classic formulation of this problem: if physicalism is defined via reference to contemporary physics, then it is false — after all, who thinks that contemporary physics is complete? — but if physicalism is defined via reference to a future or ideal physics, then it is trivial — after all, who can predict what a future physics contains? Perhaps, for example, it contains even mental items. The conclusion of the dilemma is that one has no clear concept of a physical property, or at least no concept that is clear enough to do the job that philosophers of mind want the physical to play.

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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, 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."