Thursday, May 31, 2012

What are the Gnus doing to atheism, and to theist-atheist discouse? Some comments for Jeff Lowder

Jeff: I think the New Atheists are doing things which are a fundamental betrayal of the basic rules which must underlie all discourse concerning matters so serious as religion. It affects people like John Loftus, who has some interesting ideas, but invariably ruins the possibility of serious discourse with him by propagandistic tactics. A kind of atheist fanaticism is brewing, which makes undermines the very process which makes atheist-theist dialogue at all rewarding.

Take this comment from Matt earlier in this thread:

(1) Did Dawkins ever say that ridicule and mocking were a valid substitute for reasoned discourse? No, of course not. We both know that there are people on both sides of the fence who are beyond the discourse of reason. Sometimes, people need to be shock-and-awed from their position by satire, ridicule, and mockery.

No, no, no, no, no, heavens no. This is a poison pill that is going to effectively wipe out serious and interesting exchange on religious subjects. It means that I can try to persuade you to believe as I do, and since my arguments are sooooo good, if you don't buy them, then we have to use ridicule tactics on you. Defenders of each side have to do their best to make their case, it may persuade some, but not everyone, but that's what argumentation is for. As Lewis says, argument has a life of its own, you follow the argument where it leads; there are aspects of the belief decision process that we may not be able to put on the table, and so we do our best and leave it at that. If we are Christians, we leave the rest in the hands of the Holy Spirit. If we engage in rational discourse concerning these matters of profound significance existentially, we make a commitment to the process of following the argument where it leads.

It is, for example, very easy to come up with a description of evolution that makes it look stupid. I've heard it a million times. If I do that, and then let out a horse laugh, have I made an argument against evolution? Of course not. Distinguishing real absurdity from the appearance of absurdity generated by a tendentious description is part of what we need to do to learn how to think. Dawkins and those that follow him are so opposed to religion that getting peopel to reject religion is more important than being faithful to the process of rational discourse. The end justifies the means, even if that means isn't really a rational process at all. Some of his statements make him sound like a schoolyard bully who will do anything to get what he wants, in this case, to turn people into atheists.

This seems to me to be caused by hatred. I understand the frustration he has experienced as an evolutionary biologist, (I've been told that all evolutionary biologists get a lot of hate mail from Christians), but that doesn't make his tactics acceptable.

Not only that, but when he calls raising a child in a religion child abuse and compares it to sexual abuse, he is implying that the government should have the right to interfere with this process, as the government does interfere when there is sexual abuse. This is something that undermines something that previous atheists have attempted to defend, and that is the separation of church and state.

I noticed that some people at SO, some of whom I respect greatly, think the quality of my blog has gone down of late. If so, I suspect it is because I have been reacting to this poisoned intellectual atmosphere, and have probably not found very constructive ways of doing so.

C. S. Lewis did a lot of things in his life, including Medieval and Renaissance scholarship (his "day job, as it were), children's literature, science fiction, devotional writing, and, of course Christian apologetics. But I wonder if one achievement is insufficiently noted, and that is his presiding over the Oxford Socratic Club. This activity resulted in the Anscombe critique of his AFR, and actually launched the career of Antony Flew as an atheist philosopher. But his effort to sustain an open environment where these issues can be discussed is, in my view, maybe  one of his greatest achievements. I recommend reading the essay he wrote about the founding of the club.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

By way of clarification--atheism and hate

The previous post was not stated with enough precision. The comparison with the KKK was not to say that the people at the reason rally had done the kind of acts of violence that the KKK has done, although, I suspect not all KKK rallies involved the use of violence. What I am claiming is that the rally involved expressions of hatred toward religious people, and that hatred of this type is no more respectable because it is in the name of "reason" and "science" than if it occurs for any other reason.

The equivalency is not between the Reason Rally and a Klan rally per se, but is rather between  expressions of hatred there expressed, and the expressions of hatred at a KKK rally. Hatred is hatred, and always carries with it the potential for violence.

The closest thing to the kind of hatred expressed at the Reason Rally that I find within today's Christian community is the hatred that is sometimes expressed toward homosexuals. There have been examples in the media of pastors from North Carolina expressing hate towards gay people. This is profoundly un-Christian and shameful. But these pastors are hardly the public face of Christianity, or even the public face of evangelicalism.  But Dawkins is, like it or not, the public face of atheism.

If someone, from the pulpit, were to say "keep mocking homosexuals, ask them if they really have sex with people of the same sex" would they be condemned as homophobes fomenting hatred?

Does anyone remember the history of the French Revolution, when the "enlightened" leaders started chopping the heads off of first the aristocrats and then other leaders of the revolution?

I am not a Catholic and don't believe in transubstantiation. But if I did, Dawkins' "do you really believe that" would not provide any reason whatsoever to reject it. God, being omnipotent, could, so far as I can tell, cause the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Jesus. The point is, ridicule is not, never was, and never will be an argument.

I am someone who opposes bringing the long arm of the law down on "hate speech." But we can express hate with our speech, and it can cause real harm. All I am asking people to do is to imagine equivalent kinds of statements and actions directed at someone else besides Christians. What if someone were to sing an obscenity-filled song about Jews, or African-Americans, or homosexuals? I've heard Christians ridicule evolution, and they can make it sound awfully silly. Is that an argument against evolution? Would Dawkins take this seriously for two seconds?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Reason Rally

HT: Ben Ya'achov.

OK, as Ricky Ricardo would say, splain. Explain to me the difference between this and a KKK rally, other than the fact that, primarily, Christians were the targets, as opposed to Blacks and Jews.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Atheist prefers reasonable believers to some fellow atheists

HT: Steve Hays.

His heresy trial starts tomorrow, Judge Richard Dawkins presiding.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Christian case for socialism

I remember my New Testament professor in seminary thought that you couldn't make much of a case for socialism based on the practices of the Jerusalem Church, but he did think that 2 Cor 8:14 established material equality as a legitimate goal.  (He was theologically conservative, but was a member of the British Labour party).

2 Corinthians 8:14 – “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality” (NIV)

In any event, just don't see "this is socialism" as grounds for condemning something. I think keeping some things on the free market, and some things within the government sphere of influence, is reasonable. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Prager on the Left's Misplaced Concern

You cannot understand the Left if you do not understand that leftism is a religion. It is not God-based (some left-wing Christians’ and Jews’ claims notwithstanding), but otherwise it has every characteristic of a religion. The most blatant of those characteristics is dogma. People who believe in leftism have as many dogmas as the most fundamentalist Christian.
One of them is material equality as the preeminent moral goal. Another is the villainy of corporations. The bigger the corporation, the greater the villainy. Thus, instead of the devil, the Left has Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, Big Oil, the “military-industrial complex,” and the like. Meanwhile, Big Labor, Big Trial Lawyers, and — of course — Big Government are left-wing angels.
And why is that? Why, to be specific, does the Left fear big corporations but not big government?

VR: My view is that anyone with too much power can be very effective in doing evil. But, more to the point, what happens when Big Business in the a position to buy Big Government through its control of campaign financing?
I must say I don't understand why many conservatives oppose campaign finance reform and rejoice at Citizens United. If the goal is to get government to stay out of our economic lives, this can never be accomplished so long as corporations can determine the results of elections through campaign donations. Sure, you might get less of one kind of socialism (social programs for the poor and middle class), but money-driven politics is invariably going to result in the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace, upholding position of those with existing money. Rather than allowing free competition to determine how things go in the marketplace, entrenched interests will continue to use the power of government to keep themselves on top, all the while claiming to be conservatives. If corporations can buy big government, then the can do all the evil of big government.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The end of Loftus

He's quitting, at least for the most part.

I have the feeling that there is something problematic about devoting your life to attacking what you are against, as opposed to defending and developing what you are for. I've noticed in showing atheist-theist debates to audiences of students that the atheists in those debates come across as negative and angry. Part of it could be the nature of the position they are taking; they have the job of tearing something down, while the believer is trying to build something up.

But, to paraphrase Richard Nixon, we won't have John Loftus to kick around anymore.

The atheist fundification of believers.

This is what I call the atheist fundification of believers. This is a quote from Ben Yaachov. He was talking about what an atheist had said in the course of discussion at Common Sense Atheism. 

He added the problem with an Atheist insisting on a fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture to a non-fundamentalist Christian is he the atheist in a sense has to put on the hat of a Fundamentalist Religious Apologist and try to convince his opponent to adopt a view of Scripture both already reject before turning around and offering an Atheist criticism of the Fundamentalist view. 

I should add that when atheists fundify believers, they commit them to a lead-footed literalism that goes beyond what would be taught by an inerrantist theologian. They commit us to a position that probably couldn't be found much of anywhere else but Jimmy Swaggart Bible College, when it was in existence. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bill Craig and Mormon epistemology

A redated post.

William Lane Craig has been criticized for using the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit in a way that parallels what I have been criticizing as the "misuse" of the Mormon "burning in the bosom" appeal. I say misuse in deference to Mormons like Clark who say that there are legitimate limits on its use and that it cannot be used to simply dismiss any and all evidence that might amount to falsification of Mormon claims. In other words, what I am talking about is the use of it as what Steve Cannon calls a "Don't confuse me with facts" strategy. But this is what many Christians think happens to them when they give what they think are good arguments against Mormon claims. But is Craig caught up in the same strategy? Mark Smith, of the Contra Craig website, writes:

MS: In my twenty minute discussion with Craig, in the process of getting his signature, I asked him about his views on evidence (which to me seem very close to self-induced insanity). In short, I set up the following scenario:

Dr. Craig, for the sake of argument let's pretend that a time machine gets built. You and I hop in it, and travel back to the day before Easter, 33 AD. We park it outside the tomb of Jesus. We wait. Easter morning rolls around, and nothing happens. We continue to wait. After several weeks of waiting, still nothing happens. There is no resurrection- Jesus is quietly rotting away in the tomb.

I asked him, given this scenario, would he then give up his Christianity? Having seen with his own eyes that there was no resurrection of Jesus, having been an eyewitness to the fact that Christianity has been based upon a fraud and a lie, would he NOW renounce Christianity? His answer was shocking, and quite unexpected.

He told me, face to face, that he would STILL believe in Jesus, he would STILL believe in the resurrection, and he would STILL remain a Christian. When asked, in light of his being a personal eyewitness to the fact that there WAS no resurrection, he replied that due to the witness of the "holy spirit" within him, he would assume a trick of some sort had been played on him while watching Jesus' tomb. This self-induced blindness astounded me.

VR: I think it would depend on the context. If someone were to walk up to me and say they had invented a wayback machine, and I wasn't at all sure that it worked properly, and we got out and saw some hillside that looked like a Jewish graveyard from the 1st Century, and no one left the grave or rolled the stone away, then that woudn't be convincing. If there were reliable time travel technology, and we got some supporting evidence, the challenge might be more severe. Generally fundamental changes of belief occur because of a wide range of considerations, so it is hard to point to one thing that would alone do the trick. But I can imagine overwhelming contrary evidence against Christianity.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is vitalism back? James Shapiro's response to the charge that his view is indistinguishable from vitalism

Today at his Huffington Post blog, Shapiro responds to Barham's challenge to distinguish his view from vitalism of one kind or another.
Shapiro responds in part:

Unfortunately, scientific vitalism, as championed by serious people like Hans Driesch, acquired a bad name in the early 20th century. Reliable observations definitely indicated sensory and control processes at work in embryonic development, wound healing and regeneration following experimental disruption. But the vitalists had no objective way to describe the cellular "home" of these capabilities.
Molecular biology has pointed us toward solutions by uncovering complex arrays of sensory, signaling, and decision-making networks in all living cells. In many cases we can enumerate network components and interactions, although in no case can we be sure the list is complete.
How these immensely sophisticated analog molecular networks operate is still a mystery. We can look to electronic computation systems for models and ideas. But I am not aware of any truly original conceptual understanding of how cell circuits operate that goes beyond the limits of current digital computers, which have neither the flexibility nor robustness of cell networks (let alone the capacity to reproduce).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Evil and the Atheism of the Gaps

A redated post.

Anonymous wrote:
First off, I think you're right when you say that you're at a disadvantage when you, as a theist, must first set out your proofs for god and how they square everyone's observations of the natural world. It's not an unfair disadvantage, though; it's perfectly fair and right that things are tougher for you than for the atheist, because you're making the positive claim ("God Exists"). If you want that claim to have any weight, you must present the positive arguement and then let others attack the logical edifice to see if it holds together. What you're doing right now is just avoiding your responsibility at a theistic philosopher, trying to get the athiests to do your work for you. I can understand why you want your opponents to play the besieged party (it's easier to be on the attack, sure), but just because you don't want to do the work of establishing your premise doesn't mean you can assume it's true and rest on your laurels.

There are some mistakes in this discussion that need to be addressed. First of all, I am not at all sure that "making the positive claim" places a burden of proof on the theist. Until somebody converts me to classical foundationalism my view of burdens of proof is that the burden of proof falls on someone trying to get someone else to change his or her mind. We have the right, as rational persons, to believe what we already do believe, unless we receive evidence against what we believe. Someone claiming that the external world exists is making a positive claim, so by the above logic he or she should have to prove to a skeptic that the external world exists in order to be rational in believing it.

Second, I have myself defended theism with arguments. So that isn't my problem.

My problem is this. The argument from evil is the attempt to shoulder a burden of proof on behalf of atheism. It is, after all an argument for atheism. It as attempt to argue that God does not exist. It is an argument against theism. For it to be successful, we need to see how it works, what moral principles are invoked, and what factual claims are being made, to see if the argument is a good one.

What I am objecting to is what I will call atheism-of-the-gaps. Theists are rightly criticized when they take a gap in the naturalistic understanding of the world as automatically proving that God must exist, so that the gap can be filled. A gap in our scientific understanding of the world might be as a result of the limitations of our present understanding rather than providing a foundation for world-view change. But when they come to the evil in the world, they point to some evil and say "Explain this, otherwise, you're being irrataional." This in spite of the fact that the omnipotence of God and the teaching of Scripture strongly predict that there will be gaps in our understanding of evil.

Now we need something more than the contention that we have a gap here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What Liberal Said This?

What flaming liberal said this?  

“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here even though some time back they may have entered illegally.”

a. Barack Obama
b. Hillary Clinton
c. Dennis Kucinich
d. Michael Moore
e. none of the above 

Douglas Gresham on C. S. Lewis

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Benedict XVI on Genesis 1:1

A redated post.

Who is apparently not a young earth creationist.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Lewis's Discussion of Faith

Here. This includes his famous statement "I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in."