7/24/08

The BOBA Digest, Part 2: Daniel Dennett’s Desperation

I perceive that Professor of Philosophy Daniel Dennett is a pretty bright personage (pun intended). Unfortunately, when he gets into the neo-atheist mindset he appears to lose his wits, his cool and his erudition as a professor of philosophy.

To read/Or not to read





With regards to accountability, or responsibility, Prof. Dennett wrote:
“Those who maintain religions, and take steps to make them more attractive, must be held similarly responsible for the harms produced by some of those whom they attract and provide with a cloak of respectability. Defenders of religion are quick to point out that terrorists typically have political, not religious agendas, which may well be true in many or most cases, or even in all cases but that is not the end of it. The political agendas of violent fanatics often lead them to adopt a religious guise, and to exploit the organizational infrastructure and tradition of unquestioning loyalty of whichever religion is handy. And it is true these fanatics are rarely if ever inspired by, or guided by, the deepest and best tenets in those religious traditions. So what? Al Queda and Hamas terrorism is still Islam’s responsibility, and the abortion-clinic bombing is still Christianity’s responsibility and the murderous activities of Hindu extremists are still Hinduism’s responsibility.”[1]

I must first point out that just as Prof. Richard Dawkins did, Prof. Dennett uncritically and without providing statistics, correlates Islamic terrorism with “Christian” abortion-clinic bombings. I will not give it away here for the sake of suspense but if you are interested in facts take a moment to consider the statistical relation between the two and then see my essay The Dawkins Correlation.

Note Prof. Dennett’s insistence that any and all Islamic terrorism is Islam’s responsibility, that any and all “Christian” abortion-clinic bombings are Christianity’s responsibility and that any and all Hindu extremist acts are Hinduism’s responsibility. Let us grant this for a moment and ask the logical question, “Is this only so regarding religions and their extremists who often are violating the very tenets which they claim to be upholding?” Now more directly, let us ask, “What about atheism? Does atheism somehow and for some unstated reason get a pass? Is atheism not responsible for the greatest body count that the world has ever known?” At least according to Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Prof. Dawkins and Prof. Dennett, Austin Cline, Dan Barker, et al, the answer is clearly that atheism gets a pass and is not responsible.

But why do they get a pass and sidestep responsibility? Well, one answer provided by Prof. Dennett is quite intriguing. During his debate with Dinesh D'Souza entitled “Is God (and Religion) a man-made invention?” Prof. Dennett stated:
“…it occurred to me - let's think about Stalin for a moment. Was he an atheist? You might say well of course he was an atheist. No, on the contrary. In a certain sense, he wasn’t an atheist at all. He believed in god. Not only that, he believe in a god whose will determined what right and wrong was. And he was sure of the existence of this god, and the god’s name was Stalin.”



So, now theism is not only responsible for everything and anything done in its name but theism is also responsible for everything and anything done in the name of atheism including the actions of those atheists who suppressed and oppressed theism. This is merely a hyper-convenient argument. Perhaps Prof. Dennett ought to curve his zealousness for his worldview and return to the realm of philosophy. However, granting his statement, if this is true of Stalin it is likewise true of all atheists. Thus, atheism is self-refuting circular logic since all atheists are theists.

Discarding supernatural god(s) atheists encounter the highest being in the universe, a materialistic god, in their mirrors. And claiming that atheists are not responsible for the atrocities committed in its premise because atheists are theists (matter-theists perhaps) is no way for anyone to argue much less a professor of philosophy.


[1] Dennett Daniel, Breaking the Spell - Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Penguin Group, 2006), p. 299


Continue reading The BOBA Digest, Part 2: Daniel Dennett’s Desperation...

7/18/08

Review of Hitchens/McGrath Debate

At the risk of becoming Glenn People's personal advertiser, I'd like to point out his review of the Hitchens/McGrath debate.

Note: If you tend to shy away from logical analysis and gravitate towards 'zingers', you won't be impressed by the review.
Continue reading Review of Hitchens/McGrath Debate...

Why You and I Can't Understand Atheists

Author's note: This was published previously in a slightly modified form on atheism-analyzed.net about a month ago.

It is very common to come away from a conversation with an Atheist scratching one’s head and wondering, “Why doesn’t he understand what I’m saying?” , or, “have I completely lost my ability to communicate?”. There are specific reasons for this, as I will show here.

I recently commented elsewhere on a pertinent article that I found, written by an Atheist concerning the ethics of Atheism. The article is both clearly written and is a fair and definitive statement of how Atheists think about transcendentals such as ethics. And how they think in general. After spending considerable energy degrading Christianity, the author finally gets to “the Atheist Foundation of Ethics”, which he calls, “Consequentialist” ethics. (There is more on Consequentialism here). Here is an excerpt that will help show the thought process:

+/-


"An objective ethic is a consequentialist ethic that has an ultimate goal that is objectively measurable. It then becomes an objective question whether a particular recommended means will in fact lead to that goal, whether another means might be more effective. The statement "If you want X then you ought to do Y" becomes a statement about cause-and-effect relationships that is objectively true or false, and can be investigated by scientific procedures.

What about the choice of your ultimate goal, your ultimate value that you are pursuing? Can we say that some goal is "better" than others, and deserves to be adopted by everyone? I think there is one that we can predict will be widely popular, because it is favored by natural selection. But there is no logical or cosmic necessity that it be adopted by everyone.

There is a built-in "default" goal of biological life, genetic reproductive success, also called "inclusive fitness" by biologists."

http://www.rationalatheist.com/Articles/atheist_ethics.html


There is more in the article; by all means read the whole thing if you are inclined. But this snippet is representative and indicative. The relationship is this, that the end determines the means. The first consideration is the goal (a common procedure), followed by the tactics needed to achieve that goal (another common procedure). But the author calls this an ethic. Ordinarily one might consider this to be a project management technique, to define a goal, then to set up tactics to achieve it. But not an ethic. An ethic would be a defined basis for judging which goal is right and which goal is wrong. So the term "consequentialist" apparently means that the consequence outweighs the tactics, not that the consequence has any moral value. The ethic then is without moral value.

The Atheist assumption here is that (a) there is no absolute right or wrong; (b) the goal is neither right nor wrong; (c) any means that successfully progress efficiently toward the achievement of the goal are acceptable.

Aside from this ethic encompassing the fundamentals of totalitarianism, it serves to illuminate the entire thought process used by Atheists in general. We can see clearly that the proposed ethic states that the conclusion is the imperative, and that the supporting elements (premises) are secondary and are to be selected for their ability to support the conclusion. This is classical definition of rationalization(1), the opposition to rationality.


If one is habituated to the defect of rationalization, the inverted procedure becomes transparent to him. It seems natural to believe a conclusion and then seek out or even manufacture the arguments that support it (with total disregard to the logic of the arguments). And it seems natural to reject and deny any arguments that do not support the conclusion (again with total disregard to the logic of the arguments).

In fact denialism is pathological in the rationale of Atheism. It is really the only defense against first principles based, transcendent logic. Such absolutist logic can only be denied, not disproved, and this is just what Nietzsche did in his support of Atheism. But most Atheists don't delve that deeply into the philosophy of their own beliefs, because there is no need to examine a personal truth construct for validity if one actually believes it.

The inversion in logic is transparent to the rationalization-afflicted, if they refuse to consider the use of first principle based, absolute, transcendent logic. In fact the inversion goes to the extent of inverting the meanings of the fallacies in order to support their conclusions.

This logical inversion is fatal to any conversation with an Atheist which tries to hinge on first principle based logic. Denial in the face of clear logic is the Atheist’s approach to argumentation. This is then turned into rebuttal in kind: tu Quoque or Red Herrings, and followed with another denial that it has been done. If the non-Atheist quits in the frustration of arguing in a nonrational, nonsensical environment, the Atheist declares victory.

But there is more to the story than how the logical inversion happens. There is the why. Why is there a necessity for rationalization and denial of fallacy in the worldview of Atheism? It is necessary because the conclusion is more important to the Atheist than the process that is used to derive it. In other words, the truth-finding process is not deemed necessary when the truth of the conclusion is pre-defined. Atheists have created their own truth. They must defend it at all cost. They cannot admit to fallacies because to do so would threaten the validity of their own personal truth construct.

Loss of the atheist’s truth construct can be a serious, even traumatic, event. It means that he must be exposed to external moral authority outside his own ethical story; it means that there becomes necessity for intellectual discipline, which is required when one seeks truth rather than inventing it; it means that it becomes necessary to value humility over elitism.

The loss of these aspects of the Atheist’s self-image is too devastating for many to consider. And so for some of them it becomes necessary to argue one’s viewpoint incessantly just to keep justifying it over and over. Why else would a person “without a belief” argue it so persistently and passionately? Only the need for self-justification could answer that drive. (The "passion of moral outrage" argument fails immediately in light of consequentialist ethics, which ignores morality altogether).

I have previously outlined the several causes that seem to lead to Atheism. The need to preserve the worldview-cocoon and safety from external moral authority is strong. But the corresponding loss of truth-finding ability when embracing Atheism is exacerbated by the artificial truth-manufacturing that is needed to support the cocoon.

And it is their truth manufacturing that makes the Atheists impossible to understand for those of us who seek the truth by rejecting conclusions that are not based on fallacy-free premises. The logic systems are too different to allow communication to flow between parties with the transfer of meaning unencumbered by inversion.

Even as an Atheist myself for 40 years, I found it difficult to see the logic behind much of what other Atheists held to be true. But I finally decided to actually seek truth, rather than pack delusions around a preconception, no matter how valued the preconception.

Sometimes I try to communicate with one. But it is always the same, faced by artificial constructs advertised as facts, rebuttal by denial of the obvious, complete inability to connect on a rational basis. Empirically speaking, it’s a proven waste of time.

Notes:

(1)Rationalization is used here in the sense as follows:

"to find reasons to justify or explain (one's actions)"

Collins Essential English Dictionary 2nd Edition 2006
© HarperCollins Publishers 2004, 2006

and
"To devise self-satisfying but incorrect reasons for one's behavior."

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language,
Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Updated in 2003.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Continue reading Why You and I Can't Understand Atheists...

7/17/08

Thou Shalt Not Lie

Dan Barker is due to publish a new book entitled, “Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists.”


I have not read the book, not run across any reviews, nor any pull-quotes, nor anything to the likes, but I can tell you that we would all do well to consider it to be full of lies.

To read/Or not to read


First let me state that I hope that one of these days Mr. Barker’s far too oft repeated arguments from authority cease and desist. We find it again in the title of the new book, “Evangelical Preacher.” I would imagine that, at least with the uninformed and too apathetic to become informed, he probably carries a lot of weight to the effect of, “Well, Dan Barker says that the Bible says. And he is an ex-preacher don’t ya know. So he must know what he is talking about. Now he is an atheist, one of America's leading, so he must really know what the Bible says and why it should be rejected. I’ll take his word for it.”

At least this is the sense that I get. How many atheists who hate the Bible and its God take the time and energy to check what Mr. Barker is stating about the Bible and its contents? How many even notice that in one single statement he complains that Jesus “did nothing to alleviate poverty” and then also complains that Jesus said, “Sell everything and give it to the poor”[1] (at any rate he is mistaken).

Generally speaking, in order to correct Mr. Barker’s statements about the Bible it requires little more than looking up the text, reading it, perhaps reading a few verses above and below the cited text for the sake of context and his errors become obvious. That is reading for grammatical context, some historical and cultural context is also helpful but I am not here referring to esoteric minutia but to very, very basic misunderstandings, misapplications and misinterpretations.

If you are actually interested in getting a sense of Mr. Barker’s lack of biblical knowledge please see my following essays:
Dan Barker’s Scriptural Misinterpretations and Misapplications

Why Freethought?

Dan Barker's Agnosis

But why do I, in admitted total ignorance of the content of Mr. Barker’s new book, suggest considering it to be saturated with lies? No, not inaccuracies, not mistakes, not errors, but straight out lies. Please understand that I am not in the habit of referring to anyone as a liar. This is because to lie is not merely to state something that is not true but knowing that you are stating something that is not true. In order to know, for certain, the a person is purposefully stating something which they know is not true requires more than mere guess work, you would have to know their thoughts and motivation (unless, for example, your corrected someone and they kept repeating a falsehood or something of the sort).

Yet, in this case I made the claim because Mr. Barker’s “ethics” force me to make the claim as a logical conclusion. How so? I personally appreciate the manner in which Kyle Butt has so succinctly stated it in his article, What “We All Know” About a Lie. In it he makes the following point regarding the relative morals for which Mr. Barker argues:

“Putting Mr. Barker’s statements together in logical form:
(1) he considers it moral to lie in order to ‘protect someone from harm;’
(2) he considers religion to be harmful;
(3) then it must follow that Mr. Barker would lie in order to dissuade a person from believing in God or religion.”



Do you know what the Talmud states is the punishment for a liar?

“The punishment of the liar is that even when he tells the truth he is not believed.”[2]

Also see, To Lie, or Not To Lie: That is the Question The Dan Barker—Reginald Finley—Matthew Davis Fiasco


[1] Both quotes from The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Nontract” entitled “Why Jesus?” he has moreover made the same oxymoronic statement is various debates and lectures.
[2] Tosephtha - Aboth of R. Nathan

Continue reading Thou Shalt Not Lie...

The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

This will probably be an ongoing discussion here at AID as long as I'm around for the simple fact that I believe it is such a crafty, persuasive and sound argument. Once understood properly, there are significant problems that the naturalist will have to encounter. While this particular post uses Plantinga almost exclusively, there are related issues and arguments that will undoubtedly crop up in future explorations that will deviate from Plantingian waters.

With that in mind, let me offer a few words of advice for those of you that are encountering the argument for the first time. Some of these sound rather silly, but all of these have been lobbed against my presentation of the argument, and some I've seen already tossed at my mini-explanations on this blog.

+/-

1) The nature of R.

First of all, what is R? According to Plantinga, it is the proposition that "our cognitive faculties are reliable." This does not mean that we are always rational, or always produce true beliefs or any such related idea, but rather that our cognitive equipment provides enough accurate beliefs such that we are warranted, in general, to trust our cognitive equipment.

So then, R will not be attacked by anyone who wishes to debate this argument, as R is simply an assumption of every person (especially people that like to debate things like the existence of God). Without R, there is no justification for holding that ANY belief produced by our cognitive faculties (which is all our beliefs) which would include our belief that God does or does not exist, naturalism is true, evolution is true or I am reading a particularly wonderful entry on Atheism is Dead. Hopefully that is that.

2) The nature of N.

N is fairly simple to understand but possibly hard to pin down in print. N stands for "naturalism", and the hope is that N here is broad enough to cover whatever non-theistic position one might hold. Naturalism does not entail that everything that exists is physical, even though most naturalist might hold that. For example, a thinker I'd consider a naturalist but not a physicalist is W.V.O. Quine. Quine believed that numbers were abstract objects that had a kind of real, non-physical existence. However, he was most certainly would scoff at the idea of a transcendent Creator-God. Minimally, naturalism entails that theism is false. But what is it about theism that naturalists spurn? Let me offer the following definition of Naturalism (N in Plantinga's argument) tailored specifically for this argument:

N) The world, including our cognitive faculties, were designed by fundamentally non-teleological forces.

Alright, a few words of explanation here. What I am really driving at is the naturalists belief that the causes of our belief-creating-faculties were not designed with some far-reaching goal by any kind of intelligence. Don't let "design" trip you up, as I am using it in a neutral kind of way (much like Dennett does). In other words, there isn't some kind of agent that directed the universe to create and design minds that have the overriding purpose of producing true beliefs. I don't know of any self-respecting naturalist that would reject my charitable definition of N.

3) The nature of E.

I don't think that this one is quite important, though I've been complained to over the years for not taking the time to really flesh out a sophisticated account of E. What E stands for is simple- our modern account of evolution. I realize that there are various accounts of evolution, and that most of it is an in-house debate. Some groups place enormous weight on natural selection, while others lessen natural selection's explanatory power in favor of other factors (see genetic drift). To be honest, I haven't seen how the various interpretations of E have an impact on the argument, and for the most part a discussion on it serves as a distraction at best (though quite an interesting one). Besides all of that, the work of Stephen Stich (who is no friend to the argument) has preemptively answered all of the possible distinctives E could possibly harbor.

*If you are interested in this part of the debate, I kindly redirect to Stich's own work. If you have access to JSTOR, I recommend the precis of his book (otherwise, this link ought to work) If you are really brave, you can pick up the book which contains his work on the topic of evolution and rationality here. I'm quite familiar with the work itself as I presented a 30 page paper on his book less than a year ago for a local philosophy and science group. I would love to talk about this some other time, but unless the comments are tangentially related to Plantinga's argument, I'd ask that y'all hold off for now.

With that out of the way, we can proceed to the meat of the argument. Here is Plantinga's formula:

P(R/N&E)

This reads something like "The probability of our cognitive faculties is reliable given the conjunction of naturalism and evolution." Now, naturalists are going to attempt to explain using the resources available to them. Per our definition of N, we do not allow things like God into the mix. Rather, the naturalist will opt for another mechanical, non-teleological explanation for R. The following sentences are a token of such an explanation:

Naturalist: The reason our cognitive faculties are reliable is because of our evolutionary history. Creatures that had reliable cognitive faculties tended to survive better than those with unreliable cognitive faculties.

I assume that this would be the most widely used explanation of why we believe R is a justified belief. It is Plantinga's opinion that this explanation is entirely faulty. The naturalist must try to show how there is a natural connection between beliefs (mental content as opposed to merely cognitive structure) and action, and that the beliefs must be true in order to aid in survival. How is it that evolution would promise us true beliefs? Doesn't evolution give us reason to believe that we will be survivors of some sort, regardless of the verisimilitudinous nature of our beliefs? Consider the following concession by Patricia Churchland:

"Boiled down to the essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F's: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of the nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive...Improvements in the sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism's way of life and enhances the organism's chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.

Patricia Churchland, "Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience," Journal of Philosophy 84 (October 1987): 548.

Churchland's driving intuition is that adaptive behavior is king, and "true" beliefs are only desirable in a conventional, pragmatic sense, if they are desirable at all. Not all naturalists would just bite the bullet like this, however. Perhaps the naturalist would say that say something like this:

1) Evolution produces agents that tend to survive.
2) Agents that tend to survive tend to have true beliefs.
.: Evolution produces agents that tend to have true beliefs.

(1) is not controversial (perhaps it is merely tautologous). What reasons do have to think that (2) is true? Mightn't a creature have largely false beliefs and get along just fine? We have a few options here. Either:

A) Our behavior is determined by the structure of our beliefs (See here).
B) Our behavior is determined by the content of our beliefs.

If (A) is correct, then having beliefs is what is important rather than what those specific beliefs are. The color of a basketball does not matter as long as the basketball is present. Likewise, having a neuronal event takes care of the behavior of the creature without reference to to actual content of the belief. To explain this a bit more, let's say that neuronal event N is sufficient for adaptive behavior B. Would it then matter what attending thoughts are present with N? Not in the least. It is clear, then, that if (A) is true, premise (2) from above is false (unless we just get lucky and happen to have true beliefs correspond with each neuronal event). It seems to me that this is the most likely situation given naturalism, as it refers to physical happenings for an account of behavior rather than mental ones. (As Plantinga puts it, our beliefs are invisible to natural selection.) It is also the logical position of anyone who accepts the view that our cognitive faculties weren't "designed" to confer true beliefs; what reasons could one provide for a necessary link between beliefs and behavior? Surely it isn't logically impossible that false beliefs produce adaptive behavior. Why then posit such a strong connection between the two? It has the look of an ad hoc escape route written all over it. But even if (A) is false, (B) does not give us any more of a rationale for accepting the truth of (2).

Let's look at option (B) again:

Our behavior is determined by the content of our beliefs.

Granting this, does it follow that it is more adaptive to have true beliefs rather than false ones? Plantinga lists a number of beliefs that he believes are survival-conducive yet as false as can be:

*Everything is conscious
*God exists (Even some atheists admit that belief in God, while false, has been adaptive)
*Paul believes that petting tigers is the best way to survive, but he also believes that running away from tigers as fast as he can is the best way to pet a tiger.
*Paul enjoys the idea of being eaten by a tiger, but always flees in order to find a better prospect.

The point being, their are many appropriate behaviors that could possibly follow from a number of false beliefs. This means that (2) is false as it stands and furthermore, P(R/N&E) is low.

What follows from P(R/N&E) being low? It means that evolution does not suffice as an explanation of R, and that naturalists will have to supplement their explanation of R with something that provides a reason to think that R is true. Theism provides that supplement.


Continue reading The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism...

7/15/08

Sam Harris – The Seriously Funny Project

On July 14, 2008 AD the homepage of Sam Harris’ website made one of the funnies statements you will ever read.

The homepage was describing a project to transfer Steve Wells’ “Skeptic’s Annotated Bible Qur'an, and Book of Mormon” to the Reason Project.

+show/hide-


It is stated,
“Steve spent the better part of a decade annotating these holy books and highlighted all passages notable for their historical inaccuracy, internal contradictions, scientific errors, absurdity, injustice, cruelty, sexism, intolerance, etc. (he also flagged the good parts).”


The bottom line is described thusly,
“to refine Steve’s work in a section of our website entitled ‘The Scripture Project’ where we will have religious scholars, historians, scientists, and other qualified people continue to annotate these texts on a Wiki.”


And now comes the knee slapping, bent over in convulsions, comedy,
“With the input of the right scholars, we are confident that the Reason Project website will quickly become the preeminent place for scriptural criticism on the internet.”


Yes, ladies and gentlemen this project can only succeed “With the input of the right scholars.”

Obviously, the logical questions are: “Who are the ‘right scholars’?” and “How is it determined who are the ‘right scholars’?”

These questions were not answered but I believe that an educated guess would be something to the likes of…
If you hold to an absolutely materialistic worldview – you might be the “right scholar.”

If your purpose in reading/studying the Bible is to cherry pick the bad and the ugly (ok, and perhaps the occasional rare good [according to whom?]) – you might be the “right scholar.”

If you would not know grammatical, historical or cultural context if your title as “scholar” or “skeptic” depended on it – you might be the “right scholar.”

If you make a living by expressing your personal prejudice against “religion” – you might be the “right scholar.”

If you believe that the standard for ascertaining the accurate history of the Bible text you are dealing with is anything that will contradict the Bible – you might be the “right scholar.”

If you believe that the church and the rabbinate were the last institution who could accurately establish their own cannon of scripture – you might be the “right scholar.”

If you believe that you, yes you, have finally uncovered the true meaning of the Bible – you might be the “right scholar.”


And just for further fun, I will borrow a few from the “Bible criticism” section of Tektonics’ “You may be a fundamentalist atheist if....
If “You dislike how liberal theists try to interpret the Bible for themselves, while you create your own interpretations of the Bible for yourself” – you might be the “right scholar.”

If “You can quote from the bible better than most missionaries...at least the parts where someone dies” – you might be the “right scholar.”

If “You label all scholars that actually believe the Bible as ‘biased fundies’ while those who don't believe it are known as ‘honest’ and ‘accepted scholarship’” – you might be the “right scholar.”

If “You think that Isaac Asimov was a world-class authority in Biblical Studies” – you might be the “right scholar.”

If you believe that “When a Christian's interpretation of a passage (based on the social/literary context) solves one of your favorite contradictions, it is only their personal interpretation, and can be dismissed as such. But your interpretation (based on a ‘plain’ reading of the text) to arrive at the contradiction in the first place is entirely objective, and is obviously THE correct interpretation” – you might be the “right scholar.”

If “Your only knowledge of The Bible comes from searching ‘bible contradictions’ in Google” or from your future searches of “The Scripture Project” – you might be the “right scholar.”

If “You consistently appear on discussion lists demanding that Christians accept your literal interpretation of various scriptural passages just so you can then launch into the usual ‘argument by outrage’ - despite being told over and over that no Bible scholar or school of Christianity shares your particular bizarre literal interpretation” – you might be the “right scholar.”

If “You pontificate about the Bible as if you are an expert in theology, textual criticism, ancient languages & cultures and much more besides, when your knowledge of the Bible is just cut and paste from atheist discussion lists which cut and paste it from atheist websites which cut and paste it from embarrassingly unscholarly rantings by the likes of Messer's Freke & Gandy and Acharya S, etc.” – you might be the “right scholar.”

If “Archaeology continually frustrates your attempts to find errors and contradictions in the Bible, but you continually use the same outdated accusations anyway since you're running out of material” – you might be the “right scholar.”


Yes, ladies and gentlemen this project can only succeed “With the input of the right scholars.” Just send in your application along with a video showing you ripping a page out of a Bible*, following in the footsteps of PZ Myers, and will instantly be deemed the “right scholar.”

*This only works with Bibles, as ripping up of the Qur’an or any other scripture is politically incorrect and dangerous outside of the USA in which Christian tolerance allows you to besmirch Christianity and destroy the Bible at will.

If you are interested in seeing how today’s neo-atheist fare as “right scholars” please consult my following essays:


Sam Harris:
Sam Harris’ Mythunderstandings Sam Harris: Instigator At Large
Let Him Who is Without Faith Cast the First Stone

Richard Dawkins:
The Apostle Thomas: Patron Saint of Scientists?

Planting God More Firmly on His Throne

Dan Barker:
Dan Barker and Bertrand Russell: The Dynamic Duo of Demonstrably Deleterious Delusion, Part 3

Why Freethought?

Dan Barker’s Scriptural Misinterpretations and Misapplications

Continue reading Sam Harris – The Seriously Funny Project...

7/11/08

The Red Light of Punishment

One counter theistic-moral-system argument that has become ubiquitous is that theistic morality is somewhat of, if not altogether, a sham since it is motivated by threats of punishment. Some who have made this argument are Dan Barker, Keith Parsons, Austin Cline, et al.

+show/hide-


As Mr. Cline states it,
“Theistic and religious moral systems typically include prominent threats of punishment for disobedience, and even sometimes eternal punishment for the worst disobedience or disbelief. A truly moral choice, however, cannot be dependent upon a desire to avoid punishment.”

I would personally be quite grateful if anyone could direct my attention to any secular, atheist, non-religious country-nation-government-society that does not include threats of punishment for disobedience of their morals/laws. Such societies never seem to state, “Please do not beat up your neighbor’s pets. But if you do, then we will again ask you nicely to please not do it again.” Nay, every moral system includes punishment whether temporal, eternal or both but not neither.

The bigger issue is the statement, “A truly moral choice, however, cannot be dependent upon a desire to avoid punishment.” One problem is that the atheist must assume, by pretending to know a person’s motivations by some form of mind reading, that a theist is making a moral choice in order to, or solely in order to, avoid punishment.

The atheist cannot know this and it is a non-sequitur to claim that following a moral system that threatens punishment implies doing so in order to, or solely in order to, avoid punishment. We may also wonder if in judging theists of being moral due to presumptions about their inward motivations atheist are not so much attempting a Vulcan mind-meld but expressing their own prejudices since there is no way that they can know the motivations—if you disagree please present your evidence for an immaterial, invisible, motivation.



Allow me to pose the following question:

Why do you not run a red light?


This is asking why, when you are driving a motorized vehicle at some velocity and come upon a red traffic light, do you not keep right on driving but come to a stop? There are perhaps two main reasons which may interact so that no one of them may be our only motivators but act together to cause us to stop.

1. It is illegal to run a red light (unless you are driving an emergency response type vehicle).
2. Running a red light may cause you to collide with another vehicle.

Since it is illegal: you may not run a red light simply to avoid a legal punishment.
Since you may collide with another vehicle: you are risking your health and life and or the health and life of someone else.

Let us assume that I am so compassionate that I do not run a red light because I do not want hurt someone else. Does the fact that it is also illegal mean that I do not really have compassion upon others? Does it mean that my compassion is a façade for my real motivation which is avoiding punishment? Not at all.

This argument may be ubiquitous but it is narrow and fallacious.

Continue reading The Red Light of Punishment...

7/8/08

Does God Prefer Atheism?

In 2008 AD a debate took place at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst between Louise Antony and William Lane Craig which was entitled “Is God Necessary for Morality?” (audio: Part 1, Part 2)


+show/hide-


At 51:39 into part 1 Prof. Antony stated:
“If he wants to know…why it’s wrong to cheat poor people, I can tell him. It’s the objective wrongness of cheating poor people. If he wants an explanation of why this is wrong, I can tell him that too. It’s wrong because it’s unjust, it’s wrong because it causes needless suffering. Those are observation facts, they’re obviously true and they’re facts whether or not God exists and they’re sufficient to explain why those actions are wrong.”

Being the debate’s premise, morality was discussed at length. Based on Dr. Craig’s questions Prof. Antony provided the answers above and yet, she only succeeded in engaging in tautology. In order to define “why it’s wrong…why this is wrong” she merely employs further moral-speak while never taking what it seems to me to be an eternal regress of sorts back far enough. To say that it is wrong because it is wrong is not to say why it is wrong but is merely repeating that it is wrong. This only creates further questions.


Prof. Antony

The issue was “why it’s wrong to cheat poor people” and the answers were:
It’s the objective wrongness of cheating poor people
So, it is wrong because it is wrong and we know that it is wrong because it is objectively wrong. But why is it wrong? How do we know that it is objectively wrong? Why should I care about poor people? Why should I care that they are cheated? Why should I not cheat them?

It’s wrong because it’s unjust
So, it is wrong because it is, and now we basically apply another term for “wrong,” unjust. But why is it unjust? Why should I care about justice or injustice?

it’s wrong because it causes needless suffering
So, it is wrong because it is, and now we basically apply another term for “wrong,” it causes needless suffering. But why should I care about suffering? Why should I care about needless suffering? Maybe if the poor suffer enough they will be motivated to work themselves out of poverty.

Her answer is perhaps due to the fact that atheist’s ultimate answer to anything and everything is to appeal to the brute fact—it just is—it is wrong because it is wrong.

It may be an “observation fact” but does not explain why it is wrong nor why I should be the least bit concerned about the plight of the poor. Thus, these facts do not take us one single step towards explaining why those actions are wrong but take us back quite a few steps.

Perhaps I am simply making a big deal out of nothing since it is enough that people do not cheat the poor because it is simply objectively wrong and there is no “why.” Is it not enough that the poor a not further suffering needlessly? Yes but. If atheist’s have no reason to do good they violate nothing when they want to do bad. If they do good for goodness own sake and do not do bad because it is just bad then there is no wall separating the two, no excuses, no justification, no barriers to cross, no hurdle to jump over from good to bad.

But perhaps Prof. Antony finally does explain why atheism is morally superior to theism and why God prefers atheism.

At 1:18:46 into part 1 she states:
“Catholics make a distinction between two forms of remorse for your sins: you can have perfect or imperfect contrition. If you have perfect contrition you’re sorry because you did something wrong and you offended God. If you have imperfect contrition you are only sorry because you are afraid of being punished. It’s ok if you have imperfect contrition, that will keep you out of hell. But perfect contrition, I was taught, was much better because it bespeaks the best possible motives for repentance. Not fear of punishment but hatred of sin, desire to do what’s right.

Now, as a young Catholic girl I always felt that my own contrition fell short. No matter how hard I tried to focus on the inherent evil of my sins I found myself thinking instead about what it might cost me later, how many days in Purgatory is this worth. Tease the cat, it’s worth it.

Later when I was in college I found my faith flagging and I was struck by I perverse insight. The perfect contrition that had alluded me hitherto might finally be achieved if I became an atheist. If I didn’t believe in God then fear of eternal damnation could hardly be a reason for me to repent of anything. If I as a non-believer felt bad for having done something wrong it could only be because it was wrong.

Much emboldened I took my reasoning a step further—maybe atheism was the only way to achieve perfect contrition, the only psychologically possible way for fallible selfish human beings to put aside concerns for ourselves in confronting our misdeeds. And wouldn’t a God who loved what was good be more pleased with creatures who saw what was good for its own sake than for those, than with those who did so only to curry favor?...atheists, if they commit themselves to justice, to peace, to the relief of suffering can only be doing so out of love for the good.”


Firstly, I wish to mention that the concept of Purgatory is problematic to the point of being non-biblical (if you are interested in why I make this claim please see what I wrote here).

Next note that what we are really dealing with is not a logical problem with the Roman Catholic doctrine but the concerns of a little girl who had her doubts and finally got smart enough to become an atheist. My tongue is only partly inserted into my cheek at this point, I do empathize with the little girl but see that the young college woman’s conclusion is fallacious.

The fallacy is committed with extremely restrictive statements:
If I as a non-believer felt bad for having done something wrong it could only be because it was wrong.

…maybe atheism was the only way to achieve perfect contrition, the only psychologically possible way.

...atheists, if they commit themselves to justice, to peace, to the relief of suffering can only be doing so out of love for the good.

Just how does she know that atheist could only, is the only, and can only, the only possible way mind you?

This is the fallacious myth that only atheist have pure motives but there is no logical reason to arrive at such a conclusion. Except perhaps to talk yourself into believing that atheism is the only one true way and is more moral than thou. Certainly, a little girl’s rightful concerns found their ultimate answer in denying God’s existence but it is an illogical concept that the now Professor Antony should reconsider and reject.

This concept is based upon various assumptions:It begins by assuming that theists are doing good due to fear of punishment, thus assuming no other motivation.It moreover, assumes that atheists do good for its own sake and not for any ulterior motive.Yet, it is possible for both theists and atheists to do good due to good old fashioned selflessness, due to seeking self-esteem, recognition, peer approval, guilt, to get something back, to be thought of as good, to be able to say “I’m good,” or any other number of reasons both pure and impure.

And why would an atheist feel bad for having done something wrong? Perhaps because it was wrong. Or perhaps because they are embarrassed, or because they got caught, or because it negatively affected their self image, or because it affected their social standing, et al.

In fact various atheists claim the opposite, at least on occasion, of Prof. Antony’s “only” view. They claim, instead, that moral actions are to be performed for the purposes of self aggrandizement and stroking our self-esteems:

During a debate with Peter Payne (which I analyzed as “Dan Barker and the Alien Rape Voyeurs”) Mr. Barker stated the following reasons:
“1. “if you wish to be…a healthy person” (meaning mentally healthy).
2. “if you wish to be labeled ‘ethical’ by other people.”
3. “if you wish to be viewed by your society as ‘a good person.’”
4. “if that’s something you wish.”


The Humanist Society of Scotland:
It’s best to be honest because… I’m happier and feel better about myself if I’m honest.”

Although, why being honest should make us happy remains a mystery.

Reginald Finley (aka The Infidel Guy) and Matthew Davis put forth the following reason for moral behavior:
“if one does horrible things to people, that person will eventually have horrible things happen to him.”

This is certainly hip “My Name Is Earl” watered down karma but is obviously pseudo-morality based on the self.
Thus, maybe Prof. Antony did not stumble upon the only psychologically possible way but found a psychological band-aid.




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Later this week I will post on the issue of whether theists cannot be truly moral for morality’s own sake due to the concept of divine punishment. It will probably be entitled “The Red Light of Punishment.”

Continue reading Does God Prefer Atheism?...

7/7/08

Presuppositionalism Podcast

I'm still working on that entry for the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, but in the meantime I thought I'd give a shout out for a new podcast that just started up recently. The episode I'm linking to is a solid introduction to presuppositionalism: "What is Presuppositional Apologetics?". I generally fall into a classical scheme of apologetics, and my ilk tends to find presuppositionalism philosophically challenged. Glenn Peoples, on the other hand, has good philosophical instincts and this serves him well as he corrects the misapplications of presuppers like Van Til and Bahnsen.

Even though I disagree with Glenn on some issues, his presentation of apologetics will challenge anyone honest enough to take time and analyse the issues of the podcast. I will ask you all to kindly download the episode rather than just stream it off his website as it can suck up valuable bandwith.
Continue reading Presuppositionalism Podcast...

7/2/08

Bill Craig in Christianity Today

I thought that I'd pass this on to y'all. Christianity Today has just released their cover story for the month by Dr. Craig entitled "God Is Not Dead Yet" (a play on the famous Time article). Craig goes through a bit of history here, explaining the roots of contemporary philosophy of religion and giving a nod to Plantinga's oft-ignored book God and Other Minds. Next Craig runs through the typical theistic arguments which is fairly straightforward and predictable:

*Cosmological Argument (two versions)
*Teleological Argument (he focuses on the fine-tuning version but makes note of Behe)
*Moral Argument
*Ontological Argument

This last bit is fairly interesting in that Craig has long ignored the ontological argument and in some cases repudiated it. It appears he has had a change of heart, however, and now he endorses this controversial argument. The only reason I am making light of this development is the impact of Craig on apologetics and the relative avoidance of the ontological argument by apologists. Will that change now? I kinda think so.

I am disappointed that Craig has continued the trend of avoiding Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) which I have heard him use before. I think this is one of the most powerful arguments against naturalism and for theism that is out there, but it has gone relatively unnoticed (it appears to be more of a web sensation than anything that has taken hold in academia). I plan to talk about this argument in the near future on this blog.

In other news, Christopher Hitchens was waterboarded.
Continue reading Bill Craig in Christianity Today...