Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ephesians and Slavery

Why do people only quote the beginning of this Ephesians passage and not the whole thing? 
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

The Ephesians passage is interesting because it starts by affirming the institution of slavery and then forbids masters from threatening their slaves. What??? What kind of slavery do you have if you can't threaten your slaves???? Paul would NOT be happy with the way slavery was practiced in the antebellum South, even if you get an approval for slavery out of his statement.
In American history, freed slaves lived a better life, even though they suffered as second class citizens until the Civil Rights movement. It is not clear that this would have worked in the first century. The evidence suggests they would have starved. Eliminating slavery within the church would not have helped slaves in the wider society. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Human rights? Where's your evidence?

 Do you have evidence that we really have rights, even though someone might disagree? What if someone were to ask you to prove the existence of human rights, in much the way a religious skeptic were to ask for proof of the existence of God. Would you have a good answer for them?

Why I am Not a Republican

Did I support all those things by being a Democrat? As if being a Republican would have saved me from supporting people and positions that are contrary to the Gospel?

C. S. Lewis was right. Any political affiliation by a Christian involves compromise. Political parties are coalitions of various interests, some of which are better than others. I don't like the Democrat's abortion rhetoric which makes abortion out to be a good thing, which it most certainly is not. I hate political correctness, and the "protection" of the LGBT community from anyone who might think there is a moral issue there. There is some deification of science from the Democrats that bothers me. I don't like the Obama administration's failure to protect Christians for persecution around the world. But I completely reject the demonization narrative that I hear from so many conservatives. I do think that they are overly devoted to social justice for "oppressed" groups who can make large contributions, as opposed to others who cannot.

But Republicans have been responsible for McCarthyite attacks on innocent citizens, (resisted, though by many in the party), dragged their feet on civil rights, have been funded largely by large corporations who use their influence to get government to help their corporation (leading to a bastardized form of capitalism), supported a war in Iraq based ostensibly on the grounds of WMDs, then showed they didn't really care about WMDs now that they were in Iraq, opposed Social Security and Medicare, which really do make life better for people, on the grounds that these programs somehow compromise capitalism.

And, they supported a system of health insurance that made it impossible for me and my family to get it, not because I didn't work for a living, but because I have spent my life, as an adjunct instructor, on part time contracts (often cobbling together my teaching with other jobs), and because I got a chronic illness at the age of 23. This system of medical insurance, had it remained in place, would he rendered it impossible for me to get desperately needed surgery to keep me from getting cancer. The argument has been that it was wrong on principle to compromise capitalism by insuring that people like me could get health insurance. Only because of Obamacare was I insured during my car accident of 2014, and now for the surgery I had this past March.

Now, being unable to afford the health care I needed might have been thought of as about the same as my not being able to afford a Mercedes Benz, but I find this wildly implausible. Why does the government tax everyone to protect me from bombs, but not from cancer?

Now you might say that I am just thinking about myself here, but if you can show me that the country would be a better place on a system in which I am kept out of the health insurance market, I am willing to listen. But if the argument is that the capitalist system distributes wealth and income with some justice, and the government interference such as we find in Obamacare is an unjust distribution that amounts to theft by taxation, then I find that conclusion totally unbelievable. And I find particularly disgusting the pretense that the health care bill that has passed the House and will die a merciful death in the Senate is a replacement for Obamacare. Straight repeal would have at least been honest.

Republican leaders could have withdrawn their support from Trump and supported a third party candidate that reflected real conservatism. They didn't. Yes, the result would have put Hillary in the White House for four more years, but at least they would have spared the country from having to deal with someone who doesn't understand the difference between a dictator and a democratic leader, who wants to keep up all his businesses, who takes taxpayer funded trips to his own resort hotel in Florida, so the taxpayers pay and Trump corporations benefit, who puts in a national security adviser who is compromised by the Russians and takes their time firing him, who embarrasses the country he leads every time he goes one Twitter, and who praises as virtue every single one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Hillary would have to be the devil herself to be the worse of two evils here, but there is no evidence outside the fevered imagination of Republicans to suggest that she is anything of the sort.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How to eliminate hypocrisy

You can get rid of all hypocrisy rather easily. All you have to do is lower your standards so much that  you can't fail to practice what you preach. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Doing what you please with your own body

The government does not permit women to sell their bodies on the street. Are prostitution laws an example of government telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies?

I realize this is not what is meant when people complaining about the government telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. But if it is literally true that a woman has the right to do as she pleases with her own body, then that would apply to prostitution just as easily as it does to abortion.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Owen Gingerich on science and religion

People in the scientific community think that the discoveries of science support their religious beliefs, but many are hesitant to make these claims of science itself, because they think that science, per se, can't talk about God. But based on that rule, per se science is by definition religiously neutral. Unless some configuration of evidence would, if we had it, support the claim that God does exist, then no configuration of evidence could possibly support the claim that God does not exist.

An example of a scientist of this sort would be Owen Gingerich. See also the discussion of his book here. 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

On accepting LGBT people

Many supporters of he LGBT community think that everyone should accept them. But, what does it mean to accept someone? Do I have to agree with every aspect of your lifestyle in order to accept you? Some people, I am sure, will disapprove of me if I have a religion, or if I have no religion. Should I expect everyone to approve if I marry a divorced person, or get a divorce, or if I sleep around, or if I stay chaste until marriage? If I think that a person has made some erroneous lifestyle choices, does that mean that I do not accept them? I am very good friends with lots of people whose beliefs and lifestyle preferences I disapprove of. In fact, isn't that the very essence of tolerance, to maintain social relations with persons when you differ with their beliefs or their lifestyle choices? Otherwise, there's nothing to tolerate. Is it part of gay rights to attack any and all disapproval?

Now, it could be argued that at least some people who are LGBT can't help being LGBT. What what they do about it is still, a matter of choice, right?

Monday, May 01, 2017

Reply to Parsons on the Amalekites

Keith Parsons brings up the Amalekite story here.  As it happens, I had been thinking about the Amalekite story, and replied thus:

Ah, the Amalekite story. But why are we shocked by the Amalekite story? We are shocked because we have come to believe that Amalekite lives matter. But why do we believe that? We believe that because Christians promulgated the doctrine that all souls, including, Amalekite souls, matter. Was Saul treating the Amalekites like neighbors when he took some slaves and took some goods? I don't think he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart.
The basis for critiquing the Amalekite massacre is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan.Otherwise, why not slaughter them? It's the desert, resources are scarce, it's them against us and we're for us. Besides, if those people knew the theory of evolution, they would say "OK, see, it's survival of the fittest in this dog eat god world." It is not socially useful to keep them alive, and it is hard to generate much sympathy for people who have spent the last 300 or so years trying to kill you. (Social utility and sympathy, are, as Hume noted, the primary secular bases for morality). But did God have much chance of getting the message that Amalekite lives matter across to Saul and his army? I'd put more money on making the case for single payer health care to the House Freedom Caucus. It wasn't a message they were ready for.

Luke vs. Philostratus: Rebutting the No Evidence Charge

This is from William Neil’s 1973 commentary on the Book of Acts, published by Oliphants.
If there is one major criticism that may be levelled against the recent exponents of the theists that Luke was a theologian rather than a historian, is that they pay too little attention to the established findings of a past generation of scholars which point in the opposite direction. It is generally recognized that Sir William Ramsay latterly pressed his advocacy of Luke’s reliability almost to the point of claiming his infallibility, and came close to insisting that archaeology proves the New Testament to be true; but, in his heyday, on the basis of his own study of the inscriptions in Asia Minor, he did reach certain conclusions about the Book of acts which are still relevant.
 Ramsay was convinced that the writer of Acts knew the world of Paul in the intimate way that could only have come from first-hand knowledge; particularly is this evidence in his use official titles, which, in the days of the Roman Empire as in our day, were a peculiarly tricky problem. Yet, as he pointed out in pp. 96-7 of The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Truthworthiness of the New Testament (1914), the officials whom Paul and his party encountered were exactly those who should have been there at that time: proconsuls in senatorial provinces, Asiarchs in Ephesus, strategoi in Philippi, politarchs in Thessalonica. This sort of argument does not, of course, prove that Luke was there, but it does suggest a writer who took the trouble to get his facts right, and who might well have been on the spot himself.
Another contribution from an older generation which is still worthy of respect is the monograph by Jams Smith of Jordanhill on The Voyage and Shipwreck of the St. Paul (1848). Smith made a study of ancient ships and methods of navigation, and argued that Ac. 27 must have been written by an eye-witness who was not a sailor. The view seem more likely that the eye-witness was the author of Acts himself rather than that canvasses by Conzelmann and others, that Luke found somewhere a good story of a voyage to Rome including a shipwreck and inserted it into a few references to Paul.
            It is surely not without significance, as H. J. Cadbury pointed out in pp. 241-252 of The Making of Luke-Acts (1927), that the writer of Acts is interested in the geographical details of Paul’s journey.  He refers to Perga as being in Pamphylia, Antioch as Pisidian, Lystra and Derbe as cities in Lycaonia. Philippi is the leading city of part of Macedonia and a colony, Tarsus is in Cilicia, Myra in Lycia. He speaks of a place called Fair Havens in Crete near the town of Lasea, and of Phoenix, the Cretan harbor, looking north-east and south-east. He notes the addresses of the people in his story and the places where the missionaries find lodgings: at Philippi Paul stays with Lydia, in Thessalonica with Jason, in Corinth with Aquila and Priscilla. Paul leaves their home and hoes to lodge with Justus, whose house was next door to the synagogue. In Joppa, Peter stays with a tanner by the name of Simon, whose house was by the sea….
            In his recent Sarum lectures, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, (1963) A. N. Sherwin-White has shed new and interesting light on our problem from the angle of classical studies. He shows that the author of Acts was well-versed in the intricacies of Roman law as it was practiced in the provinces of the Empire  in the middle of the first Century; in the case of Paul’s trials before Felix, Festus and Gallio, the legal procedure is accurately described. On the question of the status and privileges of Roman citizens such as Paul, Sherwin-White maintains “Acts gets things right both at the general level, in his overall attitude, and in specific aspects.” He concludes that in Acts ‘the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…(and)…an attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted” (p. 173, 189).
            So, we have four reasons for supposing that the author of Acts of the Apostles was a careful recorder of events, interested in facts. At the same time, in both of his books, Luke and Acts, there are numerous miracles claimed. Let us consider two hypotheses:
1) NH, or the naturalistic hypothesis. On NH, all the events that took place in the New Testament have natural, not supernatural causes.
2) SH, or the supernatural hypothesis. On SH, some of the events recorded in the New Testament have supernatural, not natural, causes.
Now, given NH, the existence of a meticulous, researching, event-recorder seems to me to be improbable. Let’s contrast Luke here with a miracle reporter whose miracle claims are often compared with those of Christianity, Apollonius of Tyana. This account is from Richard Purtill’s Thinking About Religion:
The first thing to notice is the fairy-tale atmosphere. There is a rather nice little vampire story, which inspired a major poem by Keats, entitled Lamia. There are animal stories about, for instance, snakes in India big enough to drag off and eat an elephant. The sage wanders from country to country and wherever he goes he is likely to be entertained by the king or emperor, who holds long conversations with him and sends him on his way with camels and precious stones. 

Interspersed with picturesque adventures there are occasional accounts of miracles, often involving prophecy and mind reading. A ruffian threatens to cut Apollonius’s head off and the sage laughs and shouts the name of a day three days hence; on that day the ruffian is executed for treason. Here is a typical passage about healing miracles;

Philostratus: There came a man about thirty who was an expert lion-hunter but had been attacked by a lion and dislocated his hip, and so was lame in one leg. But the Wise Man massaged his hip and this restored the man to an upright walk. Someone else who had gone blind went away with his sight fully restored, and another man with a paralysed arm left strong again. A woman too, who had had seven miscarriages was cured through the prayers of her husband as follows. The Wise Man told the husband, when his wife was in labor, to bring a live rabbit under his cloak to the place where she was, walk around her and immediately release the hare: for she would lose her womb as well as thee baby if the hare was not immediately driven away (Bk. 3, Sec. 39). 

RP again: Now the point is not that Appollonius no serious rival to Christ; no one ever thought he was except a few anti-Christian polemicists about the time of some of the early persecutions of the Church. The point is this is what you get when imagination goes to work on a historical figure in classical antiquity; you get miracle stories a little like those in the Gospels, but also snakes big enough to eat elephants, kings and emperors as supporting cast, travelers’ tales, ghosts and vampires. Once the boundaries of fact are crossed we wander into fairyland. And very nice too. But the Gospels are set firmly in the real Palestine of the first century, and the little details are not picturesque inventions but the real details that only an eyewitness or a skilled realistic novelist can give. 
VR: If I recall correctly, Philostratus also has Apollonius in Nineveh, even though it had been destroyed seven centuries earlier.
Philostratus seems like someone who has a lack of interest in facts. For his purposes, alternative facts will do just as well as real one.
Now, if NH is true, we should expect all accounts coming from the ancient world that contain miracle reports to be more like those of Philostratus than those of Luke. On SH, a chronicler like Luke is exactly what we should expect. Maybe we can explain Luke’s meticulousness on NH, but we nevertheless it is far more probable given SH than NH.
Now, I am not arguing that Christianity is unavoidable given this evidence. This evidence can be outweighed. But what seems preposterous to me upon reflection is the idea that there is NO evidence for the Christian claims, unless, of course, you have an argument that evidence for supernatural claims is impossible in principle.

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."

Friday, March 31, 2017


This is a description of Islamophobia. As I see it, terms like this have a proper use, but people who like to use such terms this develop them into a blanket criticism (and even marginalization) of any critics of Islam or Muslims.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On keeping what you earn

Ilion: Is a free man free to keep the wealth he produces and to use it as he sees fit, rather than to have it confiscated by vote-buying politicians?

VR: Sure! So, let us say that you can afford to defend yourself against ISIS terrorists and dangerous foreign governments. You earned the money to do so, after all. But the bleeding-heart vote-buying politicians who run the government want to confiscate your money so that they can defend not only you, but all those welfare queens in the middle and lower classes, who, after all, only want to be defended against terrorism using other people's money. And why, in the name of Ayn Rand, should they be allowed to do such a thing? 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What makes America Great Again? Is America First Christian?

Yes, but not America Only, according to James Rogers. 

Perhaps President Trump's most appealing campaign plank, in which he takes a page more from Ross Perot than from the traditional Republican Party, is to argue that globalization and international trade agreements has put  American workers at a disadvantage. But how far can this be pushed?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chesterton on freedom

“The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.” Chesterton (1935). 

Does "Every Even Has a Cause" entail determinism?

Do all causes determine their effects? If determinism is true, then if the cause is present the effect is inevitable. But when we use the word "cause" is this what we invariably mean? Maybe not. Can't we say that smoking causes cancer without saying that if I smoke, I am guaranteed to get cancer. 

Is mainstream atheist academic riddled with confirmation bias?

Naah, they're just being objective. Here. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sam Harris sees our faculties as a "kind of miracle"

See the discussion here. 

Well, so do I. The kind of reliability our reason possesses is not what we should expect given naturalism, Reason does not emerge from irrational (or if you insist) nonrational causes.

There is just the fact that within the Darwinian conception of how we got here, there's no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties have evolved to put us in error free contact with reality. That's not how they evolved. We did not evolve to be perfect mathematcians, or perfect logical operators, or perfect conceivers of scientific reality at the very small subatomic level or the very large cosmic level or the very old cosmological level. We are designed, by the happenstance of evolution, to function within a very narrow band of light intensities and physical parameters. The things we are designed to do very well are to recognize the facial expressions of apes just like ourselves and to throw objects in parabolic arcs within 100 meters and all of that. The fact that we are able to succeed to the degree that we have been in creating a vision of scientific truth and structure of the cosmos at large, that radically exceeds those narrow parameters, that is a kind of miracle. It's an amazing fact about us that seems not to be true, remotely true, of any other species we know about.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What crucifixion was like


risky business

It does look like a historical fact that the disciples went very quickly from giving up on Jesus to saying he was resurrected. If we are skeptics about the resurrection, do we need an explanation for this? This is very risky behavior, telling people who just got someone crucified that they were wrong, and that God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Shoving your beliefs down someone's throat.

Is it wrong to force someone else to live their lives based on your own religious belief system? Many people were brought up to believe that that is what they ought to do.But maybe that's absolutely wrong.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Is Speciesism Wrong?

This is a presentation of the issues involved in the charge of speciesism. 

All I can tell you is if I see a scorpion in the house, my species comes first.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Faulty assumption

From Manuel Alfonseca's popular science blog

Faced with this situation, Fran├žoise Baylis, an expert on bioethics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, believes that research on human-animal chimeras will eventually be banned because of the faulty assumption that human life is more valuable than that of non-human And he adds this:
The hope that one can ‘forever’ avoid the tough ethical questions by simply ensuring that the nonhuman animals are not ‘substantively humanized’ is flawed (short-sighted),”

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cui Bono?

What did the witnesses to the resurrection get from lying and proclaiming the resurrection? Did the get successful careers as television evangelists, with lots of Cadillacs to drive, and air conditioned dog houses for their animals?
They were proclaiming that a guy the powers that be were able to execute had risen from the dead. How do you think the powers that be are going to take that? 

From Is Theology Poetry by Lewis

"If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. And this is to me the final test. This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream. The dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world. I know that there are such things as dreams; I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner; I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons. But while in the nightmare I could not have fitted in my waking experience. The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." - C. S. Lewis, "Is Theology Poetry?"

The fourth L

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Lewis's argument is that since the reasons for believing that Jesus was a great moral teacher come from the same sources that say that Jesus claimed to be God, accepting the claim that Jesus was a great moral teacher without accepting that idea that he claimed to be God. Lewis then goes on to argue that claiming to be God if you are not God is psychologically incompatible with being a great moral teacher. 
Some people maintain that besides Liar, Lunatic, and Lord, Lewis overlooks Legend. But the legend theory wouldn't support that claim that Jesus was a great moral teacher but not God, it would instead, undermine both claims. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The minimal facts argument for the Resurrection


These are the minimal facts:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion
2. The disciples of Jesus were sincerely convinced that he rose from the dead and appeared to them
3. Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus), who was a persecutor of the Christians, suddenly changed his beliefs towards Christianity
4. James (brother of Jesus), who was a skeptic of the Christian faith, suddenly changed his beliefs towards Christianity
5. The Tomb of Jesus was found empty three days after the crucifixion of Jesus (Habermas and Licona 2004, 48-76)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The external world and the burden of proof

If both a proposition and its denial cannot be proved, what rules do we use to decide what to believe? If I say "Can you prove that the external world exists" and you can't prove it, should we then not believe that there is an external world?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two consistent propositions

The following two positions are consistent with one another. 

1) Abortion is murder. 
2) The Constitution, properly interpreted, makes it unconstitutional to outlaw abortion. 

The arguments for 1 are never identical to the arguments against 2. Arguments supporting 1 do not prove that 2 is false. So 1 and 2 are compatible.

Of course, the Constitution is amendable. Arguments for 2 involve trying to show that the right to privacy is not absolute. The argument is never that the personhood of the fetus is provable. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Why Trump is not a credible defender of the unborn, or of traditional marriage

Trump isn't a credible defender of the unborn, or of traditional marriage. To oppose abortion and gay marriage you have to push back against the sexual revolution. To do that, he has to repudiate the Playboy mentality that runs through all of his comments about women up to now, and he hasn't even tried to do that. After all, the kind of sexual conduct he described in the Access Hollywood tape is exactly the kind of behavior that causes women to have unwanted pregnancies. The idea that I can have sex with anything that moves so long is it is of the opposite sex, but I can't marry someone of the same sex is hypocritical and leaves you wide open to the charge of being a bigot. A traditional Christian who opposes gay marriage can say, "No, I'm not prejudiced against gay people, it is just that same-sex sexual conduct is proscribed, but lots of heterosexual sexual conduct is also proscribed, and you may or may not get the chance to enter a marriage." Trump can't say that, without fully repenting of the attitudes he has expressed over and over again. No wonder he refuses to reverse Obama's pro-LGBT executive orders. 

Thoroughly worldly people never understand the world

From G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy

Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true. Once I remember walking with a prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of the modern world. Yet I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it. The publisher said of somebody, “That man will get on; he believes in himself.” And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written “Hanwell.” I said to him, “Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”

Is Trumpism a heresy?


Tuesday, February 07, 2017

I am an Obamacare beneficiary

Due to putting together part-time jobs over the past 25 years, and because of a pre-existing condition, I have been unable to get health insurance before the Affordable Care Act was put into effect. Since 2015 I have had plans from the Marketplace, and during that time I got one operation to prevent a life-threatening condition, and been informed by my doctor that I need one once again.

So, why I am so darn liberal? Could be because I am a lying hypocrite with no regard for the truth. Or, because I want to live.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Did T. H. Huxley Anthropomorphize Nature?

If so, he just relocated the skyhook.

Lennox writes:

However, it is apparent that even more was involved. A central element
in Huxley’s crusade is highlighted by Michael Poole.34 He writes, ‘In this
struggle, the concept of “Nature” was spelt with a capital N and reified.
Huxley vested “Dame Nature”, as he called her, with attributes hitherto
ascribed to God, a tactic eagerly copied by others since. The logical oddity
of crediting nature (every physical thing there is) with planning and
creating every physical thing there is, passed unnoticed. “Dame Nature”,
like some ancient fertility goddess, had taken up residence, her maternal
arms encompassing Victorian scientific naturalism.’ Thus a mythical
conflict was (and still often is) hyped up and shamelessly used as a weapon
in another battle, the real one this time, that is, that between naturalism
and theism.