Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Know Nothing Party's Catholiphobia

The Order of United Americans was called the Know-Nothings. They were based on fear of Catholics.

The American Party originated in 1849. Its members strongly opposed immigrants and followers of the Catholic Church. The majority of white Americans followed Protestant faiths. Many of these people feared Catholics because members of this faith followed the teachings of the Pope. The Know-Nothings feared that the Catholics were more loyal to the Pope than to the United States. More radical members of the Know-Nothing Party believed that the Catholics intended to take over the United States of America. The Catholics would then place the nation under the Pope's rule. The Know-Nothing Party intended to prevent Catholics and immigrants from being elected to political offices. Its members also hoped to deny these people jobs in the private sector, arguing that the nation's business owners needed to employ true Americans.

Cause and Effect and the Burden of Proof

Do you think you are entitled to believe that God does NOT exist in the absence of conclusive evidence supporting that position? Some atheists do think this way. They think that the burden of proof lies with the affirmative claim, and that the negative position has to be accepted by default. 
But I have a problem with this. You can't really prove, for example, that cause and effect occurs. As David Hume pointed out, you see one even followed by another event,  and it is natural for us to assume that there is cause and effect. When you see spatial contiguity, temporal succession, and constant conjunction, our minds naturally think it's cause and effect. But, says Hume, we can't prove it. But, if the burden of proof lies with the affirmative, doesn't that mean we have to prove the principle of causation in order to accept it? 

Peter Singer: Soul-Winner for Jesus


Monday, May 29, 2017

Moral nonrealism

OK, here we have, in Stardusty, moral nonrealism. Morality is an evolved sense of rules which we are perhaps evolutionarily disposed to follow, because, at least up to a point, social cooperation is beneficial, and so we have some cooperative tendencies built into us. But some of us have more of this than others, and there are, in many circumstances, strong tendencies within all of us to pursue our own interests at the expense of others. Madoff is a a great example. Not to mention all the Madoffs that didn't get caught, including some who hold high positions in banks, and maybe even the President of the United States. Ought they to pursue the interests of others even if it harms their self-interest? Is there an ultimate reality that ought to tell them to do the cooperative thing even if it might result in prison or impeachment? 

For moral nonrealists like Stardusty, the answer is a resounding NO.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Scientistic epistemology and same-sex marriage

Can you both believe that all knowledge is scientific, and that we can know that same-sex marriage is morally justified? 

Here is what Russell had to say: 

While it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.

Bertrand Russell Religion and Science (1935), Ch. IX: Science and Ethics

It follows from Russell's statement that a statement like "Legalizing same-sex marriage is a good thing to do," is something we cannot know. 

My claim is epistemological. Some people have a scientistic epistemology, but they also claim to know that we ought to allow same-sex couples to marry. That, I am arguing, is an incoherent position. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Is there a scientific answer to the question of same-sex marriage?

What can repeatable scientific investigation show?
One group of people believe that homosexual relationships should be treated as marriages by the government. Another group believes that this ought not to be done. Demographically, there are more conservative religious people on one side as opposed to the other, but this, I contend, is neither here nor there. The question is whether, by use of the scientific method can determine whether the government should marry gay couples or not. 
The answer seems to be that science can't tell us a whole lot here. It can  maybe tell us, to what extent, people with homosexual inclinations have the power to choose to enter into heterosexual marriages. Maybe. Maybe it can figure out whether gay couples can be as successful as straight couples in the role of adoptive parents. But then what? 
The argument for same-sex marriage is based on the principle of equal treatment, the idea that people who are not relevantly different should not be treated differently.  That is based on what scientific argument, that all men are created equal and were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights? Oops, that sounds a little creationist to me, doesn't it, and creationism is a no-no in science. 
Survival of the fittest? That sounds like a scientific principle all right. And being a gay couple is certainly a recipe for Darwinian disaster, right? Can't get any kids that way, right? So, maybe science shows that we shouldn't allow gay marriage because gay couples aren't doing their Darwinian jobs and aren't repopulating the species. 
Don't like this argument? Maybe you are going to remind me that you can't get moral imperatives out of scientific facts. EXACTLY. Science cannot prove that gay marriage is justified. Or that it isn't. 

Is America a Christian Nation? Yes and No

We might consider the possible meanings that might be attached to the claim that America is a Christian nation. 
On the one hand, it can mean that our government, by its nature, is committed to privileging the Christian religion and using the government to promote Christian worship and practice, then certainly not. The Constitution is perfectly clear when it says that Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion.
 On the other hand, did people in the formation of our country, frame it the way they did because of what they believed as Christians, then it is pretty clear that they did. And this includes Thomas Jefferson, who didn't believe in the miracles of Christianity but thought that if people stopped following the moral teachings of Jesus, our country would collapse. 
The French in their revolution and the Russians in theirs founded their revolutionary governments on ideas that were profoundly opposed to Christianity, even though, in the case of the French revolution, there were significant similarities between their ideas and those of the American founding fathers. Those revolutions, I contend, went quite differently from the American, because their world-views were different. 

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.