Monday, March 31, 2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Should scientists who believe in ID be excluded from science positions?

Jerry Coyne thinks so.

In a funny sort of way, these sorts of statements support one of the claims made by ID supporters. For example, the lack of peer reviewed science articles is supposed to be a reason for rejecting ID. But if all the peer reviewers are going to lose their jobs if they approve articles supportive of ID, then the lack of peer reviewed articles has an easy explanation that doesn't undermine the credibility of ID at all: namely, even if there were good evidence for ID, no peer reviewer would allow such articles for fear of losing their jobs.

Let me play back to you what Loftus just said about keeping an open marketplace of ideas.

In fact, it's this kind of democratic freedom which is the undoing of your faith. For without state sponsored censorship or social pressures against minority viewpoints the believing majority cannot stay uniformed about the evidence against their faith. We know atheism will win in the marketplace of ideas, and if not, we know that only with these freedoms can we ever know the truth. So it stands to reason we would want to grant everyone these rights in a democracy.

OK, then let's show a little trust in the marketplace of ideas, and stop behaving like such a control freak when ideas like ID are put forward in that marketplace. If ID really is the bollocks that Coyne thinks that it is, then why is he so afraid of it? 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Archeological Confirmation of Acts

Here.  Oh yeah, the guy's a Christian, so his arguments must be no good.

A valid argument for a flat earth

1. If Charles Johnson (former head of the Flat Earth Society) says the earth is flat, then the earth is flat.

2. Charles Johnson says that the earth is flat.

3. Therefore, the earth is flat.

Validity, by itself, doesn't do a whole lot.

Is the Christian doctrine of heaven a bribe, and does the doctrine of hell commit the scare tactics fallacy?

1. Some people maintain that, in religions that teach a belief in heaven and hell, that heaven is a bribe and the doctrine of hell commits the scare tactics fallacy. Is this a reasonable statement, or not? 
Here is a discussion of the scare tactics fallacy. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Intelligent Design: Is it a matter of evidence, or presuppositions?


Myth, History, and the New Testament

An interesting fact about many "mythical" accounts from the ancient world is that they don't normally provide any details, and they certainly don't provide dates and times that have been confirmed by archaeology. Let's take, for example, the Book of Acts, which contains numerous miracle claims. It not only contains miracle claims, it also has all sorts of information about local governments that brought Paul up on trial. And guess what. Archaeology has supported the Book of Acts every time. So whoever wrote that book knew exactly what the local governments in these cities consisted in. 
Now, I live in Glendale, and I know they have a mayor and a city council of three. But what about Peoria, Avondale, Surprise, El Mirage, and Goodyear? I have no idea how many people are in their council. I can Google it and find out, but whoever wrote Acts had no Google. So how did he know all of this? That's something people would normally know only if they actually appeared before all these councils. 

Now it is possible to do a bunch of research so that you can, for example, put all sorts of accurate detail into a fictional account. But ancient people didn't  do that sort of thing. They didn't mix fact and fiction the way they do in a present-day historical novel. If they were writing legends they didn't make it look to fact-checkers as if it fit with reality. So I think there are some real difficulties in the secular story that are not easy to explain. But if any non-miraculous account has to be better than a miraculous one, then I suppose there couldn't be enough evidence.

Here is a comparison between the story of Jesus and the story of Apollonius of Tyana. 

Is that a fact?

The can be evidence for something without it reaching the status of fact. For example, you can agree that the Zapruder film is evidence that there was a shooter on the grassy knoll, but still also think the preponderance of the evidence supports the "Oswald alone" theory. So it might not be a fact, but it could be supported by evidence. In fact I am inclined to think that something can have the status of a proven fact only if there is evidence sufficient to allow no other conclusion but one. So, there may be evidence supporting various candidates for "Jack the Ripper," but none is sufficient to make any of them a fact. 
Though, there is an ambiguity in the use of the word "fact." It can be either something that is true, or something that is proven true beyond a reasonable doubt. That is why when people use words like "fact" and "opinion" I always ask for a further definition. "Faith" is another word in that category. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The gold standard

Reagan seems to be the gold standard amongst conservative candidates for President. No one can win the Republican nomination these days without promising to be the next Ronald Reagan. Yet, in his time, he was considered to represent the far right wing of the Republican party, with a moderate wing still substantially represented. 

Here is his first inaugural address.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Punishment and Behavior Modification

In response to the previous discussion on punishment, I think that maybe some problems are being overlooked here. If what we are concerned about is behavior mod, then it is being assumed that the loss of retributive punishment is simply going to eliminate only the vengeance. But this is far from clear. The end up retribution may result in less harsh punishments in some cases, but also perhaps harsher ones in other cases. I am inclined to think of retribution is an upper limit on punishment. We must give criminal at most as much punishment as they deserve, but we can't possibly give them all the punishment they deserve every time, and it would make us far worse people if we did. If we thought that we ought to a serial torture killer (BTK, for example) suffering equivalent to that which he inflicted on his victims, then we would be punishing people in ways that no civilized society could punish them. 

However, once punishment is reduced to behavior modification, then we could punish people a la Minority Report who might become offenders, we could end up punishing innocent people if we think their punishment will result in better results for society. 

I hate to say it, but it's all in Lewis, it's all in Lewis. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Crime and Punishment in a naturalistic world

--In a deterministic universe, we understand that a criminal's career is not a matter of an unconditioned personal choice, but fully a function of a complex set of conditions, genetic and enviromental, that interact to produce the offender and his proclivities. Had we been in his shows in all respects, we too would have followed the same path, since there is no freely willing self that could have done otherwise as causality unfolds. There is no kernel of independent moral agency -- we are not, as philosopher Daniel Dennett puts it, "moral levitators" that rise above circunstances in our choices,including choices to rob, rape, or kill. Tom Clark, Director of the Center for Naturalism, in his article "Maximizing Liberty". Emphasis in blue added.

HT: Subversive Thinking. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Correction for Jeff Lowder, and John Loftus

Jeff is quite right that I made it sound as if Loftus was suggesting that in some cases we should put religious believers in insane asylums. He was against doing this. His "exceptions" refer to believers doing what they want to do. But what I was doing here was not even an attempt to criticize Loftus. I think he makes an important point when he says that if an atheist embraces democratic political institutions, this kind of out and out persecution is unacceptable, because democratic political institutions and religious freedom go hand in hand.

That said, I don't think John's disclaimer is as reassuring as he hopes it will be, for reasons I will explain in another post, although they are implied by some other comments I have made.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On religion and persecution

I guess that's the whole thing, the concept of accepting a liberal democratic system. Autocratic political systems usually seek religious, or anti-religious uniformity. Democratic ones don't, because you can't run a democracy in a religiously pluralistic culture without allowing religious freedom. Christianity doesn't mandate the development of a Christian state, although Christian autocrats have tried to have one. But all the Bible says about governing is "Render unto Caesar." Islam's a different story, it's a recipe for running a government, which is why America was foolish to try to force a Democratic Iraq. Communists were autocrats, and so they did some persecuting.
You do get fantasizing from Dennett about putting Baptists in cultural zoos, and you Jerry Coyne said this:
Somehow—and this will never happen, of course—it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with religious belief.
Rhetoric that treats religion as a delusion that is dangerous to society opens the possibility that someone using political power might try to wipe it out using that power. But such an attempt would be difficult within the framework of a democratic governmental system. But it might occur in subtle ways.
While this line of reasoning, to a large extent, lets atheists of the hook from the charge of wanting to force their lack of religion on others, it also goes a long way toward showing that blaming Christianity for religious persecutions is a misplaced charge. The cure for religious or anti-religious violence is not giving government the job of generating religious uniformity. That's why you have to go back a few centuries for cases of Christian based violence. The trick is to stop using the government to enforce religious belief, something that Christians have pretty much accepted for the last few centuries.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

More on the Courtier's Reply

PL is correct. I have actually studied both arguments for and against God. This isn't revealed theology or theological dialogue that presupposes belief in God. If that were the case, then I you could argue that I don't have to know all sorts of detailed about theology in order to argue for atheism. On the other hand, if someone dismisses theistic arguments without knowing the first thing about them, or if one shows a lack of familiarity with critical issues relevant to the rationality of belief in the existence of God, such as the well-known Plantingian claim that the existence of God can be properly basic, but one at the same time argues that the belief in God is delusional, then I m justified in arguing that his critique is an ignorant one. If you attack cosmological arguments but you haven't paid enough attention to know that all of these arguments use causal principles that require the universe to have a cause while God need not have a cause (ex. Replywhatever BEGINS TO EXIST must have a cause of its existence), then the critique is severely faulty.

For example, if I am going to argue against Mormonism, then I need to know the teaching of Mormonism. I need to know why someone, for example, might believe that the Angel Moroni gave gold plates to Joseph Smith. I would also have to understand the role of the Mormon "testimony" or the "burning in the bosom" which is often used to justify Mormon belief. Otherwise, I am batting the air. If I want to be critical of Mormonism from a biblical perspective, then I have to understand the Mormon position on the authority of both the Old and New Testaments, and articles of modern revelation such as the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the status of the Mormon President as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.

A critic of Catholicism might think it's a telling point against the Catholic Church to point out all the illegitimate children Popes have had, but it's ignorant to do so if I fail to recognize that whatever infallibility is claimed on behalf of the Papacy, it has nothing to do with the moral rectitude of the Vicars of Christ.

Now, someone could be justified in not being a Catholic of a Mormon without knowing these things, but if I want to have an effective critique of these religious views, then ignorance of them is inexcusable.

If I am talking to a Catholic, and I assume that he must think that his belief in God is a leap of faith not supported by evidence or reasoning, then I deserve to have a Catholic call me on it and point out that Vatican II condemned fideism as heretical.

If I am talking to Jew, and I bring up a Old Testament verses that I believe point to Jesus as the Messiah, then I need to realize that Jews interpret their Scriptures with reference to a long history of Rabbinical interpretation.

If I want to argue that Paley was an idiot, then I had better realize that he never compared the universe to a watch, and I had better, maybe actually READ Natural Theology, as opposed to just assuming that what I heard years ago in Philosophy 101 in an accurate rendition of his argument.

In short, if I want to argue against someone's position, I need to take my head out of my rear end and actually get some information as to why someone might take the positions that I am attacking.
To see my point, get yourself a copy of Anthony Kenny's The Five Ways, and compare it to what Russell said and to what Dawkins said about those same arguments. MInd you, Kenny doesn't buy them, and argues against them. But he makes a serious attempt to understand Aquinas, and Russell and Dawkins do not. It's not a matter of intelligence, of course Russell, at least, was a brilliant man. (Bertrand Russell was a friend of mine, and Richard Dawkins, you're no Bertrand Russell). I read Russell long before anything by the New Atheists was even written, and I have to say that although the guy was a real genius, he had such a lack of intellectual sympathy with things like Christianity which made it impossible to avoid egregious blunders in dealing with them, blunders that I could see through when I was 18. I never got the impression that he thought Christianity was something that he needed to put brilliant mind to work in order to critique in an intelligent manner. It seems to me that you could say of his approach what he said of a claim in the philosophy of mathematics, that it has all the advantages of theft over honest toil. A great misfortune, and an even greater one that a group of leading atheists has taken all of the worst features of Russell, and turned atheism into a popular movement.

Against the Courtier's Reply response

The objection to the Courtier's Reply response is not to the claim that you can reject a belief without examining all its defenses thoroughly. All of us have limitations on their time and can't spend hours and hours considering every position in detail. What is makes the response problematic is the fact that these people who use it write books trying to get others to agree with them. Look, if I want to reject Mormonism, I don't have to know much about it. If I write a book called The Mormon Delusion, I had bloody well better know a whole lot about Mormonism.

Lewis's Inaugural Essay for Cambridge

In which he refers to himself as a dinosaur.

A redated post.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A model for defining evidence

How about the following as a conception of evidence, based on Bayesianism? X is evidence for Y if X is more likely to exist given Y than given not-Y. 

Now if we accept this, it looks like there are lots of things that qualify on behalf of theism and on behalf of atheis. Beginning of the universe? Maybe it can be reconciled with atheism, but it's not what an atheist would expect. Ditto for the fine tuning of the universe? 

Evil and suffering? Sure it's possible given theism, but is it more likely given atheism? 

With this model, we might say of our opponents that there isn't enough evidence, or that the evidence is outweighed by the other side, but can we really make the "no evidence" charge? 

Is there something wrong with this definition of evidence?