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8/27/08

Is There a Common Misconception Regarding Absolute Moral Claims?

I was planning on posting all three parts of my response to the challenges posed by Christopher Hitchens before responding to anything in the comments sections as things are pretty busy between work and home-life—and softball :o)

To read/Or not to read


In the comments section of part I someone made a point that I thought would be best addressed in here in a new post rather than in the nether regions of that post’s comment section.

First, I wanted to point out that the ability to post as a contributor, as opposed to posting to the comments section, can be a bully pulpit. Thus, I want to make it clear that I am not singling anyone out for embarrassment or calling out the commentator by writing this post. I merely felt that the matter may be better elucidated by a new post that would also provide a new comments section to discuss one particular topic more precisely. Moreover, I chose this topic because I find that it is a very common argument.

In this post I wish to address a very particular topic. It seems to me that there is a common non sequitur which is committed regarding morality. When a claim is made that morality is absolute and or ubiquitous, authored by God and even placed by God in every human being the following objection is oft raised: If that is the case, then why do morals differ from person to person and from culture to culture?.

It may perhaps be noteworthy that morality is actually very similar from culture to culture, at least on main points.
For example, does any culture hold cowardice to be a virtue? I do not here mean something like draft-dodging since it is considered valiant to fight the power.

Does any culture consider murdering innocent and defenseless human beings to be a virtue? It would be refreshing to answer, “No” but such does not seem to be the case. Yet, this brings us to an important point. Let us imagine that there is a culture according to which brutally murdering beautiful, healthy, innocent and defenseless human babies in the womb was considered a right, moral or as Dan Barker refers to it, “a blessing.”[1]


Even in such a case we note that even while claiming that this sort of murder is a right, moral or blessing there is a plethora of excuses upon which such proclamations are premised—it is a conceptus, it is a zygote, an embryo, a byproduct of conception, it is not human, not a person, not conscience, it is her body, her choice, et al. Does anyone find themselves laboring so diligently in order to concoct excuses for feeding the poor?

George F. R. Ellis has noted the following:
“The foundational line of true ethical behavior, its main guiding principle valid across all times and cultures, is the degree of freedom form self-centeredness of thought and behavior, and willingness freely to give up one’s own self-interest on behalf of others.”[2]


The bottom line is that the reason that I do not think that the objection nullifies the claim of absolute morality is that in one case we are dealing with what I will call a “law” and in the other we are dealing with whether people choose to obey that “law.”

For instance, I say, “In the USA it is absolutely illegal to run a red light in a non-emergency response vehicle.”
Do you answer, “If that is the case, then why do some people operating non-emergency vehicles response run red lights? It must not be true that there is such an absolute law”?


In one case we have an absolute law and in the other we have choices as to whether we obey that law or not.

And so, let us grant for a moment that God has authored a moral law but has also allowed free-will. This would mean that God could author the moral law and place it within each of us but it would still be up to us to obey.

The objection may have its place in another arena but it does not seem to succeed as a refutation of claims of moral absolutes since in this context it is a category mistake.

[1] During his debate with John Rankin (Evolution and Intelligent Design: What are the issues? ) and his debate with Dinesh D'Souza (Christianity versus Atheism)
[2] W. Wayt Gibbs, “Profile: George F. R. Ellis – Thinking Globally, Acting Universally,” Scientific America, Oct. 1995, p. 55

Continue reading Is There a Common Misconception Regarding Absolute Moral Claims?...

8/26/08

Need some feedback here

It turns out I will have a bit of free time this semester (at least, it looks that way). So I thought I'd do something a little interactive. I'm thinking of doing book reviews every once and awhile to highlight my own thoughts on contemporary (or not so contemporary) works. I'd need some suggestions, though. That's where you come in. I am willing to read nearly anything within reason (no Shel Silverstein books) as long as the book is generally available and would roughly be a significantly viable topic for this blog.

My areas of interest and education are:

*Philosophy
*Religion (the history and development of Christianity)
*Evolutionary Studies
*Consciousness
*Politics
*Atheism

You shoot me some titles, I talk it over with the guys and you get a review from me with the intent of spurring discussion. Sound good?
Continue reading Need some feedback here...

8/24/08

Christopher Hitchens : The Challenges, part I of III

I admit that I am at a loss as to what the qualifications to any answer proposed to Mr. Hitchens’ challenges might entail.

To read/Or not to read


We have all been in such situations have we not? When someone asks you a question and they are so eager to give you a certain response that they are not even listening to your answer but just waiting for you to pause for three nanoseconds so that they can take the lid off of their canned response. It happened to me recently, some asked me a series of questions and regardless of my answers they were dead set on coming to a preconceived conclusion. Yet, upon considering their conclusion, I noted that they disregarded my statements and simply pushed their desired conclusion right through my statements as if they were irrelevant—pragmatism is not a virtue.

What I am going on and on about? During the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Alister McGrath which was entitled “Poison or Cure? Religious Belief in the Modern World” (reviewed here) Mr. Hitchens proposed a series of challenges. The problem is that the challenges are stated in a generic manner. That is, in a generic enough manner that I am afraid that any answer will be discredited due to a preconceived conclusion, which is that the challenges cannot be answered viably. The challenges presuppose that they are unanswerable and thus, appear to be crafted in a generic enough manner so as to make them very small and difficult target to hit.

I thought to parse the challenges into three parts and so deal with them in three posts. Let us consider the first part:
“I have a challenge which I have now put in print on the Christianity Today Website and in many other places. It's this: if it's to be argued that our morality or ethics can be derived from the supernatural, then name me an action, a moral action taken by a believer or a moral statement uttered by one, that could not have been made or uttered by an infidel, a non-believer.”

My first observation is that these challenges are based upon presuppositions. They are obviously based on Mr. Hitchens’ worldview and also upon his misunderstanding of alternate worldviews—namely the Judeo-Christian worldview. Thus, I will attempt to respond by elucidating those portions of his challenges which are premised upon miscomprehensions of the Judeo-Christian worldview. While other theists, deists, etc. can respond according to their own, my responses will be based a Judeo-Christian presupposition.

From a Judeo-Christian perspective this portion of the challenge is a non-issue for various reasons. Please note that by non-issue I do not mean unimportant or invalid as a logical question but I mean that this portion is premised upon a misunderstanding and is evidence of lack of knowledge.

Moral actions and statements are prompted by God, whether they proceed forth from the sayings and doings of a prophet or from a non-believing infidel. It is a category mistake to take a claim such as, “God is the author of the moral law” and assume that it means that no one can access that law without a direct and conscious relationship with God.

In crafting this portion of the challenges Mr. Hitchens is responding to an argument that no one has made. Rather, he is arguing against his own misunderstandings and with direct violations of that which the Bible does state and thus he is setting up a straw man.

A biblical texts aught suffice as a response:
“…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:14-15)

Continue reading Christopher Hitchens : The Challenges, part I of III...

8/21/08

Upcoming Books of Interest

I am a book aficionado. I have a large collection that encircles the room vaguely ordered by topic and author, numerically proportioned by my interest in the topic (who would have guessed?). Along with my "real" job, I work part-time at a bookstore. While not as romantic as it sounds, I do get an inside track to many forthcoming books of relative importance to the topics kicked around here that I would not have otherwise come into contact with before publication. That being said, I'm providing a small list of titles that y'all want to keep a watchful eye on. I may make this a reoccurring entry depending on my vigilance and your interest. So here we go...

To read/Or not to read


Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue (10/1/08)

Love 'em or hate 'em, McGrath and Dennett are two of the most gentlemanly participants in the recent flurry of religious debate. Dennett is an established philosopher, having added significant ideas to philosophy of mind, language and evolution.

McGrath is beginning to make a name for himself as well. He has debated Hitchens and Dawkins, and outside of apologetics has blazed a trail through some sticky areas in theology.

Now, this book is a transcript of a debate that has already taken place, but for the 99.99% of us who aren't familiar with this meeting ought to find this book a great addition to their library.


The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (10/13/08)
by Edward Feser

This book is tentatively making me curious. I had read his stuff on the great libertarian F.A. Hayek way before I knew about this book. I enjoy his writing style, but this appears to be his initiatory foray into the world of atheism. We can be a little skeptical of him until we get our hands on it, but I will remind you that the next great entry in this debate is always around the corner. I am reminded of how little most Americans knew of Christopher Hitchens before that little screed of his hit the bookshelves, and Feser seems witty, enthusiastic and greatest of all, philosophically trained. The little blurb by Beckwith is annoyingly tantalizing--

"There have been largely two types of critics of the `New Atheism.' One type grants the empiricism of the atheists and then tries to show that belief in God is consistent with it. This approach gives away the store by removing God from the realm of the knowable. The second also grants the atheists' empiricism, but argues that it leads to the detection of design in the universe and thus the existence of God. This approach gives away the store as well, by limiting knowledge to the empirically detectable. Professor Feser offers us a third approach, one that is far more effective in defeating the New Atheism. He provides persuasive arguments that show that God is knowable and that what is knowable is larger than the set of that which is empirically detectable. This is a tour de force that should be in the library of every thinking citizen, believer or unbeliever."

Society without God (10/1/08)
by Phil Zuckerman

Normally these kinds of books slide under my nose without the least bit of a whiff from me. A few things stick out, however. It is published by NYU Press which tends to put out absolutely fantastic work. I heard from an insider that their peer-review is devastating, so we ought to at least see unreligion dressed up in a scholarly uniform. Next, this appears to be the only popular level book that delves into the "other" atheistic countries. We all hear loads about theocracies in Iran and America, and atheists in China and Russia, but what of the Danes?

This book will end up being an apology for atheistic socialism/liberalism which I guarantee will oversimplify matters economic and social, but look for this to be a sleeper in the atheists repertoire.

The Character of Consciousness (2008?)
by David Chalmers

Please, David, give us a release date.
I'll stop calling, I promise.

....

Ok, for those of you not in the know, Chalmers is the fellow that changed the way we talk about consciousness. He baptized the "Hard Problem of Consciousness", wrote a wildly successful book...and then didn't write anything for twelve years. He gave us life-changing zingers like:

The process of natural selection cannot distinguish between me and my zombie twin.

Anyway, I really have no idea what this book is going to be about, but his last book gave many of us the motivation to delve into consciousness studies and say maybe consciousness WAS designed.

Even so, David Chalmers, come back soon.

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (4/1/2009)
Ed. by Craig and Moreland

Here it is, the golden grail. This promises to be the ultimate resource of theistic arguments in one volume. The roster is an all-star team of young, emerging scientific and philosophical stars. Let me plug two of the essays that will come in the package- the Argument from Reason by Vic Reppert and the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument by Alexander Pruss. These are thought-provoking arguments that have flown under the radar is standard volumes on philosophy of religion.

Craig really has found the best of the best here. I can't think of better defenders of any of these arguments save the Ontological Argument. It would've been nice to see Plantinga writing on it, but it seems that he is getting to old for this kind of thing and he has found a spiritied disciple. I trust Craig's judgment. Listen to Craig's description of the book here, and add that thing to your wish list (200$ price tag notwithstanding).

Continue reading Upcoming Books of Interest...

8/20/08

News Item of Interest

“The Jewel of Medina” is the title of a book that Random House refuses to publish.

To read/Or not to read


“The novel traces the life of A'isha from her engagement to Mohammed, when she was six, until the prophet's death.” The novel’s author, Sherry Jones, “I have deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Mohammed…I envisioned that my book would be a bridge-builder.”

As for (not so) Random House: their deputy publisher, Thomas Perry, cited, “cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment…we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.”



I suppose that I will repeat one of the reasons why, back in the day, I declared Thank God for The Da Vinci Code!!!

Let us compare Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, and Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code:
1-Rushdie wrote a fictional novel about Islam.
Brown wrote a fictional novel about Christianity.
2-Rushdie was rewarded by being condemned to death.
Brown was rewarded by becoming a millionaire.
3-Rushdie was forced to run for his life, go into hiding, and live a secluded life.
Brown became an instant celebrity with millions of adoring fans.
4-Rushdie’s novel is actually based on a subject matter that the Qur'an itself refers to as fact—Muhammad’s proclamation and later revocation of certain verses that were explained away by the claim that he had been influenced by satan in moments of weakness. The verses that Muhammad dictated during these moments are known as the satanic verses and were known as such long before Rushdie wrote of them in his novel as they had been attested to by classical Muslim scholars such as at-Tabari and Ibn Sa'd.
Brown’s novel is based on old and utterly discredited conspiracy theories.


News items:
Random House Pulls Novel on Islam, Fears Violence
Free Speech Jilted by Muhammad Romance Novel 'Warpath'

Continue reading News Item of Interest...

8/12/08

Please tell us about it!

There seems to be a general opinion amongst Atheists that they are the victims of severe abuse at the hands of Christians. I invite these who have experienced such abuse by Christians to tell us about it, the situation and the effect of the abuse, as well as the type of Christian(s) and their beliefs, if these facts are known.

Thanks in advance!
Continue reading Please tell us about it!...

Oops...An Upside-Down Analysis

A commenter from my first post mentioned an article from “Edge”, discussing the arguably growing world population of “disbelievers” (link here). The commenter was disputing my contentions that atheism, lived as fully as possible, has disastrous effects, rather than positive ones, and that consistent atheism is not compatible with human experience. The converse was a subtle contention of the linked article’s authors, but the more noteworthy point they made was accidental. In the midst of all the pseudo-intellectual psychobabble, Paul and Zuckerman manage to demonstrate just how unnatural irreligion – atheism in particular – really is to the human experience.+/-



The article doesn’t do much to dispel the notion that “hard” atheism is detrimental to society. That’s not their intent, though they repeatedly imply that progress and security are owed to secularization - a suggestion which is historically backwards. What the article does attempt to do is to show how freer, more prosperous societies tend to have lower rates of belief than less secure societies. The gradual spread of prosperity is followed by a general decline in religiosity.

Depending on your own views, this may or not may be controversial, but it’s an idea that Christianity, at least, has been well aware of for millennia. Jesus’ challenge to the rich young man, and His subsequent lament over the problem of wealth (Mark 10:21-23), demonstrates this idea clearly. Those with full stomachs and fat wallets tend (though not unavoidably) to falter into materialism of one stripe or another.

The article’s authors seem to miss the implications of their own data, though. The facts of history force a chronology into their assertion: a decline in religiosity follows an establishment of prosperity and security. They couldn’t rightly say that the decline comes first, since it doesn’t. This doesn’t say much about the societal value of overt irreligion. The article actually notes, quite blatantly, that non-belief struggles without a heavily supportive, pre-existing social structure:

“…secularism and disbelief do best in nations that are the most democratic, educated and prosperous…”

Note, please, that in the course of this article the authors surreptitiously define “democratic, educated, and prosperous” nations, ad hoc, as those with near total social welfare systems and a strong endorsement of evolution. The sophomoric equating of “belief in evolution” with “disbelief in religion”, as though the two were mutually exclusive strains of thought, is indicative of a shallow grasp of the topic at hand. The rest of the analysis does not disappoint.

Question: if secularism in general, and atheism in particular, have something positive to offer humanity, if they have something resonant to add to the human condition, why then do they thrive only in times of ease, and wither in times of hardship? The authors continually note that only nations with expansive social welfare have pronounced levels of non-belief, and then make hysterically dense statements such as:
“So much for the common belief that supernatural-based religiosity is the default mode inherent to the human condition.”

So, either we are to believe that the “default” condition of humanity is extensive state-run safety nets, or that Paul and Zuckerman need to pay more attention to their own line of thinking. Intentionally or not, they went to great lengths arguing that societies with more social “safety nets” are less spiritual, then suggest that this is a condition inherent to humanity.

Ironically, one of the major counter-points is the United States, still the freest and most prosperous nation on Earth, as well as one of the most religious. Of course, this fact doesn’t fit with the authors’ preconception that truly modern, educated people don’t believe in God. So, they do some silly rhetorical gymnastics to paint the US as an insecure, not-quite-so-free, not-quite-so-prosperous place. One of their complaints, apparently is that the barbaric Americans allow people to lose their jobs. All this really does, though, is highlight this notable flaw with secularism: it only survives where people feel their every need will ultimately be met by the state. Paul and Zuckerman seem to be saying, inadvertently, that a nation featuring anything less than total guarantees of material security won’t be particularly irreligious.

Atheism should feel a particular sting from this article’s analysis. The authors make a lot of mention of “irreligion”, or “nonreligion”, and relatively little of atheism proper. They note that atheists’ numbers are expanding, but their proportions are actually decreasing. Even in the most heralded “secular” European nations, sizable majorities still believe in some level of spirituality or religion. This should also be considered in light of the other means by which atheism spreads: naked force. Much of Europe is less than a generation removed from government-enforced irreligion, a phenomenon that requires time to heal.

The danger with this aspect of the relationship between social structures and irreligion is exactly in line with my contention about the dangers of atheism. Irreligion is only going to be common in places where the state exerts greater control over the lives of the citizens, one way or the other. Either the state provides for practically all material needs, so people follow the common inclination to brush aside a God they feel no need for; or, the state throttles religion out of the people with the heel of its boot.

As I’ve often noted, people tend to act out the fullness of their beliefs when faced with extreme hardship, and extreme authority. In either of the above cases, once God is truly rejected by moving from irreligion to actual atheism, the state moves from the ultimate civil authority to the ultimate authority, period. If that coincides with some real or imagined crisis…enter Stalin, Mao, and on and on and on.

So, if you haven’t already, read the complete article to get a useful, if accidental, perspective on just how disconnected atheism (and irreligion in general) actually are from natural human experience. If irreligion can’t survive without social security, and faith can exist both in prosperity and hardship, perhaps it’s not religion, but secularism, which is really on “life support”.

[also posted at Gladio Mentis]

Continue reading Oops...An Upside-Down Analysis...

8/11/08

Challenge to Atheists

[Also posted at atheism analyzed].
Atheists are de facto Materialists. Materialism is a necessary consequence of denying the supernatural. As Materialists they tend to revere empiricism as a source of truth. And they are convicted of their own possession of the singular truth of the universe, that there is no first cause.

Since Atheists have possession of the truth, they should not be adverse to sharing it here with us. The truth, of course, would be material and in the form of empirical experimental data, replicated by separate disinterested scientific teams, unfalsified, yet falsifiable, peer reviewed and published in a major scientific journal. These are criteria frequently cited by Atheists, and should be agreeable to them.

Here is a partial list items requiring material, empirical proof (See Rules below):

Note: If you can prove #4 (abiogenesis), there is $1,000,000.00 waiting for you here.

more below:


1. Prove there is no God.

2. Prove Materialism is true.

3. Prove Monism is true.

4. Prove abiogenesis actually happened.

5. Prove macroevolution actually happened.

6. Prove Parsimony is a Law of Nature.

7. Prove Universal Uniformitarianism exists in all cases.

8. Prove wisdom does not exist.

9. Prove humans are perfectible.

10.Prove universal happiness is a moral imperative.

11.Prove information is identical to the media scaffold upon which it resides.

12.Prove the Multiverse exists.

Rules:
1. Only empirical experimental data, replicated by separate disinterested scientific teams, unfalsified yet falsifiable, peer reviewed and published in a major scientific journal.

2. No generalities or philosophical meanderings will be accepted; only empirical (material) experimental proofs are allowed.

3. Truth by majority vote is not accepted; Truth by deferring to authority is not accepted.


Continue reading Challenge to Atheists...

8/4/08

Condolences

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
1918-2008


Russian Nobel laureate who was incarcerated in the Gulag died on Sunday, August 3, 2008.



To read/Or not to read


In 1973 he wrote the following regarding Communist Russia and the Gulag:
“…tens of thousands of specially trained human beasts standing over millions of defenseless victims. Was it only that explosion of atavism which is now evasively called ‘the cult of personality’ that was so horrible?...

Is it not still more dreadful that we are now being told, thirty years later, ‘Don’t talk about it!’? If we start to recall the sufferings of millions, we are told it will distort the historical perspective! If we doggedly seek out the essence of our morality, we are told it will darken our material progress!...”[1]




In 1983 he stated:
“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God….

It was Dostoevsky, once again, who drew from the French Revolution and its seeming hatred of the Church the lesson that ‘revolution must necessarily begin with atheism.’ That is absolutely true. But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot…”[2]


[1] Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Thomas P. Whitney, trans., The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 – An Experiment in Literary Investigation (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 93-94
[2] Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, “Men Have Forgotten God” – The Templeton Address

Continue reading Condolences...

“UNM helping track China's filtering of Internet”

This post is strictly for the sake that it may be of interest so someone.

The Associated Press reported that University of New Mexico computer scientists have been tracking the Chinese government's internet censorship.

It has been uncovered that, “They did an overhaul of their blacklist in February,” but “we're not sure why.”

Previously censored search engine terms included, “Adolph Hitler,” “Mein Kampf” and “conversion rate.” These “now appear to have been removed from the censoring software.” “Tibet” remains consistently filtered.

Also, on the censored list are, “chicken feather information collection,” “Oriental red space time,” “eighty-nine” and “multidimensional.”

Overall what has been found is that “Different things are being blocked in different parts of the country.”

Continue reading “UNM helping track China's filtering of Internet”...

8/1/08

PZ Myers Said That Scientific Thinking Has a Corrosive Influence on Religious Belief

DJ Grothe interviewed Professor PZ Myers as can be heard here in an interview entitled, “Science and Atheism in the Blogosphere.”

Let us survey some of the exchange.

To read/Or not to read


At 4:30 into the interview:
DJ: “What’s most important to you: advancing atheism or advancing the public understanding of science – or are they kind of one in the same for you?”

PZ: “They are inseparable.”

Let us pause here for a moment. This is Prof. Myers’ premise: science is not simply about observation, reproducible experiments and concocting theories but it is about getting rid of God, it is about atheist activism.

The statement above is directly followed by this exchange:
DJ: “You’ve suggested quite a few times that the more you know about science the more likely it is that you are gonna end up an atheist.”

PZ: “Yes, that’s, that’s what we know from the statistics of people going into science. That science has a great corrosive influence on religious belief. It isn’t always going to destroy religious beliefs, of course. There’s, there’s a number of fairly prominent scientists who are religious. But in general, most people, when they get training in the scientific method and start applying it in the lab and start applying it in their real life experiences, find themselves questioning religion a lot more.”



DJ: “Yeah, Jonathan Miller had that study out a few years ago, you know, countries in Europe, people score higher in science literacy therefore, they were more accepting of, of evolution, more naturalistic. But, the University of Buffalo recently had a study, oh I think just in the last year, that suggested that it was a chicken and egg sort of thing. That people who were already kind of skeptical and secular ended up choosing to go into the sciences rather than the other way around.”

PZ: “Yes I, I can see it working both ways. That’s not earth shaking news either, I don’t think. If you’re into religion you are going to be steered away, by your own interests, from science. So there’s, there is a self selection going on. But still, you know, we, we want more scientists right? We want more people thinking critically and skeptically about the world around them, it’s something that we want to encourage lots more people [sic].”

Well, we appear to be at a stalemate as regards the chicken and egg. Certainly, people may become atheists after coming into the sciences and becoming more erudite than thou. But it could also be that people who were already skeptical and secular go into classrooms such as Prof. Myers’ in order to learn science or biology but they have atheism smuggled into their classrooms in the guise of science or biology. See my essay Protecting the Science Classroom.

At 7:22 into the interview:
PZ: “I think we are getting new recruits, I, I get emails all the time from people who are saying, ‘Well thank you,’ you know, ‘this whole thing has lead me to be more self-aware, and criticizing, in coming to the conclusion that yeah, I’m an agnostic or I’m an atheist.’”

DJ: “It’s the kind of coming out story that Richard Dawkins reports a lot of people recounting when they read his book ‘The God Delusion.’”

PZ: “Oh yeah, yeah…”

It is interesting that they mention Prof. Dawkins since I was instantly reminded of the interview between he and Ben Stein in the movie “Expelled.” Prof. Dawkins asserted that people feel liberated and relieved when they realize that God does not exist. Mr. Stein asks him how he knows that, he is after all speaking with an empirical scientist. Prof. Dawkins responds that he receives letters from people to that effect. To which Mr. Stein states that there are some 8 billion people in the world and asks, “How many letters do you get?” Whatever statistically insignificant amount of letter or email either of the professors receive, this certainly constitutes a biased sample coming, as they do, from people who are motivated to contact them in order to either thank them, or buddy up to them, or congratulate them, etc. Besides, a thief may feel elated when he does not see any police officers in his general vicinity, so what of it?


At 8:31 into the interview:
PZ: “If you’d asked me when I was twelve-years-old I would of said, ‘Yeah, I’m a committed Christian’ and all this kind of thing. I wasn’t born again or anything silly like that.”

I do not want to make my following statement of greater scope than it can handle yet, Prof. Myers is yet another in a very long line of atheists who rejected theism as children based on a childlike intellect and a childlike tendency, particularly teenage tendency, towards rebellion against authority. God, being the ultimate authority, must be done away with. This is one way in which atheism is a consoling delusion: it is the delusion of absolute autonomy and lack of ultimate accountability. Prof. Paul Vitz presents a very interesting lecture about atheism and rebellion: The Psychology of Atheism. As Prof. Vitz states it, “…for every person strongly swayed by rational argument [in favor of atheism], there are countless others more effected by non-rational psychological factors.”

At 17:44 into the interview:
DJ: “Just think of that phrase that you just said, ‘corrosive influence of scientific thinking,’ imagine what, what, what a fundamentalist could to with that. Ah, you know, PZ Myers himself said that scientific thinking has a corrosive influence.”

PZ: “On religious belief, yeah. And, you know, if they threw that in my face what would I say? Say, ‘Yeah, it sure does [laughter].”

This is why I, with my tongue firmly ensconced in my cheek, gave this essay its title. Let us contextually tie this statement back to his previous statements regarding “most people, when they get training in the scientific method and start applying it in the lab and start applying it in their real life experiences, find themselves questioning religion a lot more.”

At 18:30 into the interview:
“I actually don’t see even now how anyone can find the explanations in the book of Genesis at all satisfying as explanations for the real world. I meant it’s, it’s ‘God did it,’ said eight times, nothing more…look at the book of Genesis and you should be asking lots of questions about it.”

Prof. Myers appears to be making a category mistake in that he seems to be asking the Bible to tell him things that the Bible is not meant to explain. In my essay PZ Myers Complements Christianity I pointed this out with regards to him ripping a page out of the Bible because it did not meet his criteria. He seems to demand scientific minutia from books that are not meant to provide it.
In my essay “In the Beginning…”: the Lucky Guess, I point out various scientifically accurate statements that the Bible makes about astronomy and cosmology. Thus yes, when you look at the book of Genesis you should be asking lots of questions about it. And the fact is that some of the greatest scientists that have ever lived, scientists who invented the very fields and methods of science, did ask questions in order to ascertain how God’s creation functions.

At 19:03 into the interview:
DJ: “You’re position about science leading to atheism is fundamentally at odds with the National Academies of Science [and?] the AAAF. They say, for instance, that evolution is perfectly compatible with religion.”

PZ: “And they’re, they’re a little deluding themselves, yeah.” [he believes that those statements are “pure political pandering”]

What is really at issue here is what we mean when we say “evolution.” We may mean the observation of living organisms changing. We may mean telling tall tales about how things could have happened long, long ago based on out particular worldview. Or we could mean the inference that God does not exist (see my essay Do You Believe in Evolution?).

At 24:11 into the interview:
DJ: “But don’t parents have a right to teach their children what they believe to be true without a professor undermining certain deeply held beliefs?”

PZ: “Why should they have that right? I mean, we’ve got a social contract right? And what we are trying to do is raise lots and lots of people who are going to be functioning members of our society. And it’s in, in my personal self-interest that the children of evangelical Christians grow up to be productive members of society. Now, it’s not my interest to say they have to abandon their faith or anything like that. But if their faith is such that it’s obstructing their ability to contribute to science and technology, engineering and all these good things in our society then yeah, we have an interest in saying, ‘No, you shouldn’t be doing that.’”

As for the attitude that many atheists have that parents should not have a right to teach their own children that with which the atheist disagrees, I will point you to my essays: Teach Your Children Well and Daniel Dennett’s One Way Street of Censorship.
Overall, this statement by Prof. Myers may be indicative of just how high up and isolated in his ivory tower he dwells. The overwhelming majority of citizens of the USA are Christians and Christians have always been the majority. Thus, to presume that at any time in its history American Christians have not been functioning members of our society is to view the world through murky atheistic glasses. Evangelical Christians are not only productive members of society but active in the fields of science, technology, engineering etc. they just do not make the illogical inference of atheism from their fields of research.

What Prof. Myers statements boil down to is an argument from authority: scientists are really smart and most of them are atheists therefore, atheism is true and if you study science and become really smart you too will become an atheist.


Had your fill of PZ related tales? No! Check these out:
PZ Myers and Pavlov’s Monkeys

PZ Myers - The Desecration Delusion

PZ Myers Complements Christianity

PZ Myers - Transubstantiating from Scientist to Neo-Atheist Activist

Continue reading PZ Myers Said That Scientific Thinking Has a Corrosive Influence on Religious Belief...

Antony Flew vs. Richard Dawkins

Antony Flew is one of the 20th century's most prolific intellectuals and England's greatest link to the Golden Period of Oxbridge philosophy. He was a witness (and contributor) to the rise and fall of logical positivism and his friends/foes list reads like a who's who in philosophy:

*C.S. Lewis
*Michael Dummett
*Gilbert Ryle
*Richard Swinburne
*Bertrand Russell

I myself have a half-dozen books on my shelf with his name underneath the title, and it is unlikely that any respectable collection of books on philosophy of religion wouldn't include at least a smattering of his work.

+/-

Dick Dawkins, as you all know, published the God Delusion a few years back and the book was an instant success (as far as sales go). Though many on the overtly Christian side have criticized GD for being silly or inflammatory, there have been a few non-Christians to pick on Dawkins.
Add Flew to that list.

Flew claims that Dawkins is a "bigot" in the sense that he does not present the strongest position to attack. This can also be construed as a straw-man argument, but I tend to think that Dawkins has not presented the most charitable reading of his opponents (see here). We see this kind of thing all the time, but it appears to come with fundamentalism of any stripe, whether it be a Christian or Muslim or New Atheist. You see, "fundie" is a human condition, not a theistic one. I believe Flew (who has spent his career presenting his opponents most charitably) has cornered Dawkins. But we all know that a cornered fundie can be a dangerous animal, and I doubt we'll find many atheists paying attention to the wise words of an old gentleman like Antony Flew.
'Tis a shame.


Continue reading Antony Flew vs. Richard Dawkins...