Tuesday, November 20, 2018

If there is no life after this one, does our life here matter more?

"If there is no  life after this one, then what we do here matters more than ever." 

I hear this a lot. But I don't think it's true. If there is no afterlife, then the consequences of our actions will eventually fade out, and eventually not only will you cease to exist, but the human race will cease to exist, and when that happens your actions will make no difference.

On the other hand, if we have to live forever with our decisions, then the effects of our actions go on indefinitely, and are not eliminated by the fading effects of time or even the heat death of the universe.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Does religion shackle people?

In what way does it shackle people? Science, for example, allows some beliefs and disallows others. Is it a mental prison? After all, once you start getting into science you can't believe in just any speed as the speed of light. 186,000 miles a second isn't just a good idea, it's the law.

Friday, November 09, 2018

The good life without God, or anything else naturalists reject

I like to say that ethics without God is easy. Ethics without metaphysics is a lot harder. Consider, for example, the idea of a good life that is independent of the pleasure calculus. That seems to me to require something like an Aristotelian metaphysics. Good from whose point of view, we might ask. Is a good life one we like, or is there an objective standard of goodness by which life can be measured? Doesn't that involve either a God, an inherent human teleology, or maybe a Form of the Good which we can know (perhaps by having perceived those Forms in a past life and bringing them back through re-collection?" I have yet to see a good attempt to do ethics without God that doesn't ultimately commit you to something as unacceptable to a modern naturalist as God, and for much the same reasons. Oh, I forgot, yeah, you could bring in a law of karma that governs transmigrations of souls. Try getting that one past Richard Dawkins.

How can this be?

I’m a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, and I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.  So do dozens of my colleagues. How can this be?


Act utilitarianism, voting, and veganism

Singer, as an advocate of animal welfare, believes that you should practice veganism out or respect for animal rights.  But my decision to eat meat, or not eat meat, will have zero direct effect on the welfare of any animal. If I eat a steak dinner, the cow from whence the steak came was dead long before I chose steak over the veggieburger. But, you might say, I am voting with my dollars against the meat industry if I go for the veggieburger. But, would even a lifetime of veganism save so much as one animal from slaughter? If people in large enough numbers did what I did, then animal welfare might be affected, but the question "What if everybody did that" comes straight from Kant and is not part of at least act utilitarianism. (You can get to it through rule utilitarianism, however). But many things we do we do even though they will have little effect individually, but are still right because it would be good if everyone did them. Voting is a good example. I remember standing in a 3 hour line in the Presidential Preference Primary in Arizona to vote. It didn't affect the outcome, but if everyone refused to vote where would we be? One utilitarian of a previous generation said that he never voted, because the benefit from his voting did not outweigh the suffering he would endure standing in line. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Is it wrong to hunt witches?

If you really thought that some people were using supernatural power from Satan to harm people, and you could figure out who those people were, you probably would want to punish them. Good methods of identification seem hard to find, (putting someone on scales with a duck won't get you a fair cop).

On witch hunts, here. 

Monday, November 05, 2018

Who is to say

When people ask "Who's to say" I am always puzzled. Some things can be true or false even if there is no one to say that it is true or false. I happen to think that there are objective moral values. But if you don't believe in them, I only ask that you be consistent, and apply relativism to all statements, including. 

1) Homosexuality is wrong.
2) It is wrong to judge people for being homosexual.
3) It is wrong to impose your own moral views on others.
4) We ought to be tolerant.
If someone is intolerant, who is to say that they are wrong to be intolerant? Many people think the idea that morals are relative supports tolerance, but it actually undermines it. It turns out that there is, on that view, nothing wrong with being intolerant. 

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Human rights, moral objectivity, and the law of noncontradiction.

With subjective claims, such as "McDonald's burgers are better the Burger King's," we would not apply the LnC because these statements have an unstated "for me" clause. Hence, Gladys's preference for Burger King and Marie's preference for McDonalds do not contradict one another. On the other hand, if I say "The Democrats will win the House" and you say "The Republicans will hold the House," both can't be true, and one of us will be shown to be wrong sometimes this week (probably). So this was my way of asking the question of whether moral statements are objective or subjective. Now if there is a God, and God has a view of a moral issue, then the issue is objective. That may not help us figure out what the objective truth is, but it does seem to imply that there has to be one. But what if there isn't? Well, there atheists, so far as I can tell, split down the middle on moral objectivity. J. L Mackie was a famous atheist who thought that morals are subjective, but Erik Wielenberg, an American philosopher, has defended moral objectivity and argued that it is compatible with atheism. 
One feature of moral objectivity that doesn't get the attention it should is that the very idea of human rights implies that morals are objective. Think about it, some society practices, say, female genital mutilation. The idea of human rights says that that isn't just something we don't like, there is a right that these women  have not to have this done to them, and even if the society where  you are approves of doing this to them, it in FACT violates their basic rights. There is some truth about what these women should have a right to that is not changed even if the people with the biggest guns (and knives) say otherwise. The Declaration of Independence uses religious language to assert these rights, it says that they were endowed by our creator. But what this is aimed at is the idea that these rights are not up to government, or society, to give and take away, that they inhere in persons regardless of whether or not they are violated. It seems to me that accepting the subjectivity of morals means that you have to dump the idea of human rights entirely, and say it is up to individuals, societies, or governments to determine whether a girl has a right to an education, or a man has the right to be free of slavery. 

Saturday, November 03, 2018

A consequence of atheism: this is not a moral universe

People sometimes choose to do what feels good to them to do regardless of how it affects other people. And unless there is an afterlife where these things get, as it were, settled up, there is a reasonable chance that that person might be happier overall doing what most of us would consider to be very bad. Monotheistic religious traditions, and in some ways karmic (Eastern) traditions provide an influential way of sustaining the belief that the universe is a moral place, that in the final analysis right actions, and in particular right character, will ultimately get the best results. If you abandon those traditions, you do give that up, although some people don't fully realize it. The atheist filmmaker Woody Allen struggles with the whole issue of coming to terms with this in his film Crimes and Misdemeanors. There, an opthalmologist has an affair, and also engages in some shady financial dealings, but is still a respected citizen. He decides he won't be able to keep his affair from his wife, and she response by threatening to expose the affair to his wife and also expose his financial dealings. His brother, a mobster, offers to "solve" his problem by killing his mistress. The opthalmologist agrees, and the deed is done. But after that is worries about what he has done and is thinking of confessing. But, in the end, he chooses not to confess, and overcomes any feeling of guilt and remorse he might have had for having the woman killed. He ends up being OK with the whole thing and ends up being happy. We as the audience want there to be some kind of retribution on this guy, but if this life is all there is, that isn't going to happen, and this consequence is just part of what you have to put up with if you say there's no God and no afterlife. 

Friday, November 02, 2018


TANSTAAFL means "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. TANSTAAFBW means "There ain't no such thing as a free border wall." One of the most bizarre moments of the 2016 campaign was when Trump kept promising that there would be a big beautiful wall on the US-Mexico border and that Mexico would pay for it. He even repeated that piece of bovine excrement after he met with the Mexican President and the Mexican President told him on no uncertain terms that Mexico ain't paying for any wall. So, Trump still wants a wall, but he hasn't told us on whom he intends to increase taxes in order to get that wall. And since the economic successes he touts is still increasing the deficit, the question is a fair one. Are the Trump business enterprises willing to pay higher taxes so that the wall with Mexico can be built? Or maybe a nice middle class tax hike would do the job?

The seventh commandment

According to the Ten Commandments, God says "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

There are four possibilities here.

1. God really did command us not to commit adultery, and is right to do so. 
2. God commanded us not to commit adultery, but he made a mistake. (This would involve a conception of God that is very unorthodox, to say the least). 
3. God exists, but did not command us not to commit adultery. (Maybe he was misquoted.)

4. God does not exist. 

The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. Really???

If there are no absolutes, then the statement "There are no absolutes" contradicts that statement if you call it an absolute. No absolutes means no absolutes. I suppose you could say that there is one absolute, and that is that there are no absolutes other than that one. Of course I am assuming that a statement and its contradictory cannot both be true, and am taking that to be an absolute. But if you have a problem with the law of noncontradiction, then you and I are going to have trouble communicating. If you say "You shouldn't judge people" and I say "I don't see anything wrong with judging people," you really have nothing to say back to me, because, per your rejection of the law of noncontradiction, you and I haven't really disagreed. Every statement, in order to so much as function has to exclude something that it contradicts.