Saturday, April 30, 2016

Is anyone bias-free?

In the debate over Regnerus' investigation of same-sex parenting, it seems to me that objectivity is, by the very nature of the case, going to be difficult to come by. See the discussion here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Do Christians have a persecution complex?


Science, God, and specialization

Why are some questions philosophical rather than scientific? If someone, such as Keith Parsons, affirms this, is it because of philosophical snobbery?

I don't think so. Science is not a general field. It is divided between physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, etc. Even then, scientists are even more specialized than that. But the question of God does not fall within any specialized science, so it cannot be a scientific question.

Monday, April 25, 2016

An early memory

I grew up in a United Methodist church in Phoenix. In the early 1960s, a local fundamentalist pastor was gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would have prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools.

This is something of a contrast with “equal time” laws that were developed subsequently, according to which school had to teach creationism alongside evolution. No, he wanted to re-enact something like the law Scopes violated in Tennessee.

Our pastor's response  was to publicly criticize this effort. Dr. Long thought that a battle with the theory of evolution was ill-advised, and said so from the pulpit. The Huntley-Brinkley report, then NBC’s big competitor with Walter Cronkite on CBS, picked up the story, and an excerpt from Dr. Long’s sermon was on the national news. 


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Can atheist advocacy be limited by the Establishment Clause.

The question is whether open or implied atheist advocacy in public school can violate the establishment clause. The whole basis for the Dover decision was the idea that ID content has to be kept out of the public school classroom because those who supported it were motivated by a desire to promote religious belief. In a court case it was successfully argued that you atheism is protected by the free exercise clause, in a case where an atheist prisoner was granted access to atheist materials.

Now, in the Constitution, the free exercise clause and the establishment clause go together. Heck, they're in the same sentence. Atheists can't help themselves to the free exercise clause, but when accused of violating the Establishment Clause on behalf of atheism, fall back on the "not collecting stamps" argument. That's cheating. 

So, as I keep saying, the main argument in the Dover case, which was an Establishment Clause case, only works if you assume the religious neutrality of evolutionary biology. That is the official NCSE position on the compatibility of religion and evolutionary biology that people like Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne are hell-bent on attacking. 

Given the constitutional context here, the fact that atheism is not a religion in the popular sense is irrelevant. If you want Free Exercise protections, you have to live with Establishment Clause limitations. It's the American way.

Who was he talking about?

From a commentator at Debunking Christianity. How can a professor say something so moronic as: "... philosophical questions, like the existence of God". WTF? This guy is NOT a professor but a bible thumping religionist.

This is a statement about

a) Victor Reppert
b) Alvin Plantinga
c) William Lane Craig
d) Keith Parsons

What if evolution really provides an argument for atheism?

Some people think it does. Suppose teachers and textbook writers were eager to draw out the atheistic implications of evolution, and did so in public schools. (Some seem to). 

Does that mean that the teaching of evolution in school also violates the establishment clause, since it supports the religion of atheism? 

Would this mean that evolution, as well as creationism or intelligent design, could not be taught in the public schools, since it would undermine the religious neutrality of government institutions? 

The fine-tuning of the universe

1. If the initial explosion of the big bang had differed in strength by as little as one part in 10\60, the universe would have either quickly collapsed back on itself, or
expanded rapidly for stars to form. In either case, life would be impossible.
2. (An accuracy of one part in 10 to the 60th power can be compared to firing a bullet at a one-inch target on the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and hitting the target.)
3. Calculations indicate that if the strong nuclear force, the force that binds protons and neutrons together in an atom, had been stronger or weaker by as little as five percent, life would be impossible.
4. If gravity had been stronger or weaker by one part in 10\40, then life-sustaining stars like the sun could not exist. This would most likely make life impossible.
5. If the neutron were not about 1.001 times the mass of the proton, all protons would have decayed into neutrons or all neutrons would have decayed into protons, and thus life would not be possible.
6. If the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger or weaker, life would be
impossible, for a variety of different reasons.
7. Either this is an accident, or a design. Or perhaps there is a multiverse, and we just happen to be in the universe that has life in it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

From the Catholic Encyclopedia on Fideism


As against these views, it must be noted that authority, even the authority of God, cannot be the supreme criterion of certitude, and an act of faith cannot be the primary form of knowledge. This authority, indeed, in order to be a motive of assent, must be previously acknowledged as being certainly valid; before we believe in a proposition as revealed by God, we must first know with certitude that God exists, that He reveals such and such a proposition, and that His teaching is worthy of assent, all of which questions can and must be ultimately decided only by an act of intellectual assent based on objective evidence. Thus, fideism not only denies intellectual knowledge, but logically ruins faith itself.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Even treating some issues as debatable is considered offensive by some

Here's a report from a cancelled debate from last February sponsored by the Oregon State Socratic Club:

We are sorry to have to inform you that the debate on Thursday, February 25th on the topic "Is Gender a Choice?" has been canceled. Our debaters were informed that some students on campus are offended by the topic of the debate and may plan to protest the event as transphobic, despite the fact that we had both sides fully represented. Because of this one of our speakers did not feel comfortable proceeding with the event. We are disappointed, but understand.
We hope you'll keep up to date with us as we continue onward.

The idea seems to be that the mere presentation of both sides of some issues is considered offensive.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Oregon State University has a Socratic Club

A redated post. I think there should be a national Socratic club, or,  better yet, and international Socratic club.

Well, it had one. And it still does.

Shouldn't all colleges? Here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Josh McDowell on reasons for rejecting Christ

I have found that most people reject Christ for one or more of the following reasons:
  1. Ignorance - Romans 1:18-23 (often self-imposed), Matthew 22:29
  2. Pride - John 5:40-44
  3. Moral Problem - John 3:19-20

I've never found this persuasive, any more than I find atheist explanations of theism persuasive. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The only antidote to ideological violence

From this discussion. 

But I think New Atheist fundamentalism, and that is really what it is, really think there is a brave new godless world out there to be had if we just dump enough ridicule on religious believers. 

Consider this: 

Sheahen: You've said that baptizing a child or saying "this is a Jewish child"—that is, pasting a religious label on a child—is child abuse. In your letter to daughter, you ask her to examine what she's told based on evidence. What do you hope the world would be like if all children were raised without religion, according to your theories?

Dawkins: It would be paradise on earth. What I hope for is a world ruled by enlightened rationality, which does not mean something dull, but something of high artistic value. I just wish there were the slightest chance of it ever happening.

I'm sure Dawkins didn't mean it literally, but I think this explains some of the atheistic fanaticism out there. 

People out there really believe that we can make this world a better place for everyone by getting rid of theistic belief. That is why some of them are dissatisfied with the normal methods of honest argumentation, the principle of charity, etc. when engaging in discussion with believers. Consider this diatribe aimed at you.

In order for religious believers to engage in atrocities, they have to think the religious end they want to pursue justifies the means. A good case can be made that the use of power on behalf of Christianity isn't appropriate,although Christians in history have not bought these arguments. Marx's version of the secular paradise isn't the only one out there, by any stretch of the imagination. 

The antidote to ideological violence is a willingness to accept, and accept only, those means of persuasion made available by a free and open society. This is possible for religious believers and religious unbelievers. The idea that you can save the world from ideological violence by spreading unbelief as opposed to belief is, in my view, delusional.

Are nones atheists?

Some people think the decline of religious affiliation is a gain for atheism. I think this is a category mistake.

Do scientists who believe in design need to look for it?

I try to imagine what I would do if I were a biologist, with respect to claims of design. Now, I have no trouble affirming the ancient earth, gradual development or even common ancestry. And while I might believe in intelligent design, I am less certain than your typical ID advocate that science can or should go looking for it. There are more proximate causes that need to be traced, I might just think that I should trace them and table the question of ultimate design. I have never been able to figure out why evolutionary biology needs to either affirm or deny intelligent design. Some people think that design was put in at the initial conditions of the universe, if so biological investigation won't necessarily turn it up.

It is very interesting to me that both religious and non-religious scientists do perfectly good science. Atheists like to portray religious scientists as living in a world of cognitive dissonance, of believing in design while leaving design out of their science. But probably they just do the science and, when asked about design, just say, "Well, I'm not in the business of looking for it."


Religious Violence and Cultural Fragmentation

The problems that surround the "religious violence" claim have to do with the level of generality at which the issue is addressed. For example, one of my complaints with Dawkins is that he claims that 9/11 gave him a reason to start a militant crusade on behalf of atheism as opposed to religion. My objection to him bears considerable similarity to my objection to the claim by Donald Trump that Muslims should be excluded from coming to America because some of them are terrorists. The problem is that while bin Laden and I are both theists, I am more than willing to operate within an open society, and he wants to use political power and even terror to advance what he takes to be the cause of Islam. I object to Trump's statements because in order to get from Islam to the terrorist ideology you have to take about three right turns, and there are plenty of Muslims who exist quite peaceably in an open society. I think there is a difference between Christianity and Islam in that Christianity has no statecraft in its founding documents, (all the Bible says about government is "Render unto Caesar"), while the Qur'an does purport to tell you what to do with government. 

Religion can lead to violence since religions typically assert what is most important to those who believe them. But religion does not guarantee how much a believer will care whether others believe as they do. In fact, I've seen atheists care a whole heck of a lot more about other people believing as they do than I do as a Christian. I am also inclined to concur with Christian thinkers from Lactantius to Locke and the Christians who moved Europe toward democratic government and instituted religious freedom, in that I maintain that meaningful religious devotion should be free and voluntary, and there is something inherently self-defeating about forcing religious truth on others. If one thinks one's views in matters of religion are true, then to some extent we want others to agree with us, but there are ethical and unethical ways of getting others to agree with us. (Ridicule, as a method of persuasion, seems to me to be a form of violence. Sticks and stones can break our bones, but it is just false to say words can never hurt us). 

It is sometimes asserted that religious believers have more motivation for coercive conduct than secularists, since believers think there are eternal consequences of believing or not believing, while secularists do not recognize such eternal consequences. I don't buy this. Some atheists say we are on the cusp of history, that whether we renounce faith or not will determine whether we will progress or regress as a culture. If you really believe that, then it's going to be tempting to advance the cause of atheism any which way you can. Some forms of atheist advocacy, they become widespread, may convince some people, but it may at the same time prompt religionists to protect their culture by homeschooling their kids or sending them to Christian schools, and it will also prompt a resurgence of the Religious Right. What we will get is more cultural fragmentation than we have already, and I think that will be unfortunate.

It's only a model

 In Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, the assembled knights look in awe upon the imposing walls of “Camelot”… until someone points out that “it’s only a model.”

Bob Prokop wrote:  
I remember well a discussion I had about 2 years back with astrophysicist Dr. Ron Lee. I was floored when he told me that no serious cosmologist believes that something called the "Big Bang" actually occurred billions of years ago. The Big Bang (or, to give it its official name, the Standard Cosmological Model, or SCM) is simply a mathematical construct that helps make sense of and provides a framework for observations made in the contemporary universe. But as to what really happened at the Dawn of Time, I was told, "That's not a question for science, but for theology."

Similarly, nuclear physicists employ something called a quasiparticle to explain what occurs within matter at the subatomic level. Quasiparticles have no physical existence, but once again are merely mathematical models used to account for observations.

It turns out that quite a lot of scientific terminology is like that.

VR: Why do we NEVER hear this sort of thing from evolutionary biologists? 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

C. S. Lewis on talkative communities

It's as if he knew what the internet would be like long before Al Gore invented it!

In any fairly large and talkative community such as a university there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into coteries where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumour that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other group can say.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Is all knowledge scientific?

I don't see how it can be. In order to do science, you have to be able to do mathematics. (Ever try to pass a science course without it?) But mathematics is not science. It operates using a infinite set of non-natural entities called numbers. If there are no numbers, there's no science.

What if Dawkins had said....

So religion is the problem, and 9.11 showed this? Let me ask this question. What if Dawkins had written the following:

“Allah of the Qur'an is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Would he be alive today?

Friday, April 01, 2016

Parsons and Feser on Coyne

 From the letters page at First Things. Amen and amen.

Old Atheism
I once read that the Los Alamos physicists during the Manhattan Project refused to consult doctors. Instead, they read medical books on their own, diagnosing themselves and prescribing their own treatments. They assumed that medical science must be trivially easy for anyone who could master nuclear physics.
After reading Edward Feser’s review of Jerry A. Coyne’s Faith vs. Fact (“Omnibus of Fallacies,” ­February), I conclude that some contemporary scientists must have much the same attitude toward philosophy. If you can do population genetics or you are comfortable with tensor calculus, then surely philosophical argument must be a snap. No need for any special training. Wing it, and you will be as good as a pro. Sadly, this is not the case, as amply demonstrated by some of the efforts of the “New Atheists.” When a philosophical pro such as ­Feser subjects their texts to an appropriately astringent analysis, he makes their logical lacunae and sophomoric mistakes glaringly obvious.
If what is done by Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Coyne is the “new” atheism, then I am an ­unapologetic advocate of “old” atheism. That is, I favor atheist advocacy that is argument-dense and skips the invective. Lampooning your opponents as ignorant Bible-beaters may be lowbrow fun, but it is bad manners, and, more to the point, ineffective. Don’t call them names. Defeat their arguments. That is the worst thing you can do to them. However, defeating your opponents’ arguments requires (a) taking their best arguments seriously, and (b) doing your philosophical homework. “Old” atheism is therefore hard. Caricaturing with broad strokes is easy, but it cannot be said to advance rational debate.
In fairness to Coyne, he is no doubt understandably frustrated that his excellent book Why Evolution Is True still needed to be written. Over forty years ago, Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Even back then it had been true for a long, long time. Coyne is exactly right that the continued cultural resistance to evolution has its source in ideology rather than science, and that the obscurantist ideologies are religiously motivated. However, the way to address this ­issue is not by setting up simplistic false dichotomies between “faith” and “fact.” True, if you define “faith” as Ambrose Bierce did—“Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel”—then it is easy to equate religious belief with obfuscation. Again, though, the purposes of rational debate are not served.
From the first publication of the Origin of Species, Darwin had religious allies. Darwin gladly accepted the aid and support of such allies. Harvard botanist and conservative Congregationalist Asa Gray was perhaps Darwin’s leading supporter in the United States. Evolution’s conflict is not with religion per se, but with certain dubious theological tenets. The best antidote to bad religion is good religion, but you lose the potential aid of the latter when you tar everything with the same brush.
Keith M. Parsons
The university of Houston-Clear Lake
Houston, Texas

Edward Feser replies:

I thank Keith Parsons for giving us a little of that old-time atheism. That the dispute between theism and ­atheism is essentially a philosophical disagreement rather than a matter for empirical science to settle is as true today as it was in Aristotle’s age, or Plotinus’s, or Aquinas’s, or Leibniz’s. And as the “old atheist” philosopher David Stove once said, “it takes a philosopher to catch a philosopher.”
Yet as philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend once lamented, the ­scientists of his generation—­Feynman, Schwinger, et al.—despite their brilliance, were, compared to the generation of Einstein and Bohr, “uncivilized savages” who “lack[ed] depth” when addressing matters of philosophy. Sadly, the generation of Dawkins, Krauss, and Coyne makes even Feynman and company look like philosophical giants. Combine these premises and we get the conclusion that contemporary skeptics are well advised to look to professional philosophers like Parsons rather than to amateurs like Coyne if they want their atheism to be improved as well as “new.”