Thursday, June 29, 2017

Is science the solution to man's problems?

May I point out that nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons are products of science?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Religion plus leads to violence. So does atheism plus.


I don't mean atheism plus as it was defined by some atheists a few years back. I mean atheism plus some further ideology.

Religion needs a lot of stuff added to it to support violence. You only get that path if you claim that the state should advance the interests of religion. The state, by definition, operates by force.

But you could have versions of atheism in which the state is called upon to use force to promote atheism. The argument I make on this issue is that neither atheism nor religion by itself are sufficient to promote violence, other things have to be added.

Communism was an ideology of which atheism was an essential component. It claimed that political power had to be used to achieve the revolutionary goals of communism, and the abandonment of religion was a necessary component of this purpose. It wasn't just the badness of people like Stalin or Mao as persons, their ideologies justified, in their minds, mass killings of those who opposed their political ambitions.

My argument was that religion plus a commitment to the use of the state to advance its goals leads at least potentially to violence. Religion in itself does not do that, you need a "plus." Atheism plus some other things built into an atheistic ideology also leads to violence. And if you just compare death tolls, atheism actually comes out a whole lot higher.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Evidence vs. Proof

A piece of evidence is an item that, taken by itself, is more likely to exist if the hypothesis is true, than if it is not true. As I see it, there are piece of evidence on both sides of the God question. People sometimes confuse evidence with proof. Proof actually demonstrates that something is true, evidence just, by itself, supports the claim. As I see it, there is evidence for a lot of things that are really false, and for which the preponderance of the evidence supports its denial. 

What science can't do (because it isn't trying)

What science does is tell us how things work, and it is darn good at it. It doesn't tell us what we should do. We could  develop a virus to kill millions of people at a stroke through recombinant DNA. In that respect, science has great power. But can it tell us if we ought to do so or not? Science isn't capable of even asking that question, so it can't answer it one way or the other. If our human race is not a positive species, then, hey, maybe that might not be such a bad idea, get rid of a bunch of pestilent humans. Albert Camus said that the most significant question in philosophy is the question of suicide. What does science have to say to someone who is contemplating that drastic decision?

So while we can see the science is moving very fast, speed of motion does not tell us whether it is getting to the right place. If we want to know how the rocks got here, or what the makeup of the human cell is,  God did it won't give us any information that could possible make it easier to keep viruses out of our cells or how to manage our climate. But this is after we have decided that it is a good thing to keep viruses our of our cells or that we ought to combat global warming.

One one view, science answer the God question, negatively. On another view, science operates by setting aside questions like the God question. But it also sets aside the moral question. Scientific explanations essentially appeal to laws of nature, but this guarantees that science will never explain why laws of nature exist at all. Or why matter exists at all.

You can set these kinds of questions aside by saying with Bertrand Russell, "What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know." But then you need to tell me what scientific experiment demonstrated that what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know, otherwise, Russell's statement is, by his own reckoning, unknowable. And in order to answer the question of suicide, we need answers, at least for ourselves, to questions that science by definition cannot solve.

None of this is slamming science. Quite the contrary. I am not slamming Paul Goldschmidt if I say he probably can't shoot a basketball like Michael Jordan, nor do I slam Jordan if I point out that his foray into baseball was a failure.




Faith and confusion

What we mean by faith might well be nothing more than confidence in something. There is nothing in the idea of religious faith that requires that it be against reason. Unless, of course, reason turns out to be against it. But many people, and probably the mainstream Christian tradition, has held historically that faith is reasonable. Dawkins is just misinterpreting religion when he suggests otherwise.  Of course, it may not be, but it is a mistake to use the employment of the word "faith" as proof that religious people have deliberately given up reason. At worst, you have to argue that they have used reason in a mistaken manner.

Hasn't gay marriage been legal for a long time?

It's interesting that people think that same sex marriage was permitted only in 2015. The first gay wedding took place in 1969, in a church. The church was permitted to do that, so gay marriage was really legal in 1969, at least in Huntington Beach, CA.

What the Obergefell case was about was not the legality of gay marriage, but the government recognition of gay marriage.

In the Loving case, there was a criminal law preventing the Lovings from living together in Virginia as husband and wife. No law of this sort was struck down in Obergefell.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The "no evidence" charge revisited

It seems to me that the universe could have gone a lot of different ways, and life would never have emerged, not simply  at the beginning, but later. 
DNA mutates, but slowly. Why does it mutate slowly? If it mutated quickly, then evolution would be too crazy to lead to anything positive like humans, or even dogs. If it didn't mutate at all, then there would be no evolution, because nothing changes. But it happens to mutate slowly, so evolution at least looks possible. It's easy to look at what happened and say it was inevitable, since, after all, it did happen.
I find the "no-evidence" position intriguing because to me, there is lots of stuff pulling both ways, which to my mind counts as evidence. The evidence can always be absorbed into the other world view (atheism or theism), but for that side it feels like their side is absorbing a foreign object, something that fits better with the other world-view. And some things, I think, we don't notice or pay attention to, when we could ask "Why did THAT happen, of all things." How is it that we live in a universe in which mathematics fits the physical world? In science it's an article of faith, but how do we explain it. 
On the other hand, the existence of suffering, and moral difficulties within all of the world's scriptures can't be taken lightly either. That's why, in reflecting on the world, I can see how reasonable people can be theists or atheists. And leading physicists, chemists, biologists, and philosophers, are both. 

Christianity, gay rights, and human rights

Many churches are speaking out for the gays. But not all of them. 

Demographic tendencies don't prove what most people think they do. Not everyone is able to see the full implications of their position. I presented the "Where's your evidence" argument that atheists use on God to the question of human rights. Instead of getting stout defenses of human rights on secular grounds, the first two responses I got were two atheists who immediately said that the argument works against human rights: there is no evidence that they exist. Governments may protect them or not protect them, but there is no justification for arguing that people just have human rights if the people with the biggest guns keep them from exercising them. The existence of human rights entails the existence of objectively binding moral obligations on the part of the powerful to allow people to exercise those rights. What it means to say that a Jew has the right to life in a Nazi concentration camp is not to say that the Jew will survive the camp. It means that regardless of what Hitler says, they ought not to be taken to the gas chambers. In fact, since they have the right to liberty, they ought never have been put in the camps in the first place. If morals are subjective in the final analysis, then the doctrine of human rights becomes untenable. I can't make the least bit of sense out of human rights apart from moral objectivity. But moral facts fit like a hand in a glove in the Christian worldview, but really don't go very well with atheism. In a materialistic atheist world-view, where do objective moral facts fit? Are they physical facts? Where are they located in time and space? 

I have a sneaking suspicion that secularists like gay rights because this is a way of taking Christians down a peg. On the other hand, the most homophobic people I have ever met have not been Christians. Christians, unless they accept the "God hates fags" ideology that says that God makes you gay so he can send you to hell more readily, believe that people, regardless of sexual orientation, are loved and valued by God. Regardless of who someone happens to be, God created you and has a profound interest in your salvation. There is no such thing as human refuse. This is the basis of which women, slaves, and the poor came to be treated better under the influence of the Church than they were treated in the Roman Empire. 

I looked at a list of anti-gay violence incidents, and with maybe one exception, none of the perpetrators were strongly religious or even claimed to have done it for Jesus. This is a fact that no one ever seems to mention. 

Hitler turned against homosexuals, and the Soviet Union, probably the first great experiment in secularist statecraft, did not permit same-sex marriage. Lenin decriminalized homosexuality, and the Stalin recriminalized it. What if you have a secularist political leader who "just doesn't like queers" and wants to kill them all? What argument can be made that he has an objectively binding moral obligation not to do that?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Evidence and fine tuning

Evidence, at least to me, would be a fact of experience that is more likely to exist if there is a God than if there is no God. Even if the such facts are outweighed by other facts, isn't it pretty cleat that such facts exist? One of them would be the fine-tuning of the universe, the fact that only because the universe began with cosmic constants that fall within some very narrow specifications did life emerge. We might have discovered the life could have emerged on many possible initial cosmic constants, but we didn't discover this. 

Are gay rights based on religion?

What about religious argument that says that we were endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. If, as atheists believe, there is no creator, the creator could not have endowed us with inalienable rights, since he does not exist. But human rights is the basis for gay rights, but if the basis for human rights in undermined, then so is the basis for gay rights. A thoroughgoing secularism doesn't support gay rights, it undermines them.

The first gay wedding in America took place at the Metropolitan Community Church at Huntington Beach, CA, 1969.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Religion and indoctrination

I think it is a mistake to think of what churches do as some kind of forcible indoctrination. I've  never seen anything wrong with a parent presenting as true what the parent believes about religion, or politics, or any other controversial issue. Prior to adolescence, children will believe what their parents tell them. Then, guess what? They reach adolescence. They hang out with people outside their religious cocoon. They even go to college. The beliefs they learned as children will act as a template which they will test against what they are experiencing in peer relationships and from their teachers. 
Now some people teach religions in ways that make children afraid of questioning.  But that is not universal in religious education, and it was not my experience. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Could God be wrong about homosexuality?

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. Rom 1: 26-27.

If this passage is inspired by God, and it really means that God opposes gay relationships (there is a serious interpretation issue here), could God be wrong about this?

I suppose on a very strong version of process theology, God could condemn something and then realize he made a mistake later.

But I still use this as a reduction ad absurdum.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Atheist talking points that don't mix

There are two atheist talking points that don't mix. Here they are:
1) Look, guys, if God would just give us evidence of his existence, we'd believe in him. The only reason we don't believe is because he hasn't provided evidence of his existence.
2) God of the gaps arguments are always wrong. Any gap in our naturalistic understanding of the world should be dealt with by waiting for science to produce a naturalistic explanation, not by appealing to God.
But anything God might do to reveal his existence could be dismissed as a gap, thus leaving the atheist unaffected. The ban on god of the gaps arguments would allow the atheist to escape no matter what God did to convince us of his existence.
Look, when I raise this kind of question, I mean show us by providing evidence. Yes, God could sovereignly perform the act of causing Loftus to believe by going "Loftus, believe," and the next Sunday, Loftus will show up in church on his knees praying to God. But providing evidence is by definition not coercive. Of course God could shove belief in his existence down your throat if he wanted to. But could he give us a good reason to believe in his existence, such that no matter how disinclined we were to want to believe in a being greater than ourselves (so that we would have to admit we were not the supreme beings) whose commandments to us are our moral duties (however much we would like to avoid performing them). Woudn't there be an escape clause available, no matter what we did? The so-called refutation of God of the Gaps reasoning provides this, it seems to me. It says we should always prefer and unknown naturalistic explanation to saying godidit, NO MATTER WHAT. This not only could be applied to our present scientific situation, but it could be used in response to every scenario that atheists come of with concerning what it would take for them to believe. "Turn or burn, Parsons This Means You," N. R. Hanson's Michelangeloid face, answer the prayers of all Christians and give them all exactly what they want, have Bibles that give electric shocks to unbelievers and only unbelievers, etc. If God were to cause any or all of these things, the skeptic could still say that saying godidit for any and all of these things would be to commit the god of the gaps fallacy, and that we should always, always, always, prefer an unknown naturalistic explanation to a known supernatural one. Shoot, there's a guy in Dante's inferno who remains a materialist and doesn't believe he's been damned.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Intuitive and counterintuitive moral principles

No one can help being white or being black, and so it seems to follow that it
is wicked, unfair, and unreasonable to disqualify a person from any consideration just because he is white or black.” 

This seems strongly intuitive as an ethical principle. 

But what on earth do we do with this one?

No one can help being a psychopath, and so it seems to follow that it is wicked, unfair, and unreasonable to disqualify a person from any consideration just because he is a psychopath.



Saturday, June 10, 2017

Party changes

America usually considers 8 years to the time to make a party change. Since WWII, we had Eisenhower (R) for two terms, and then Kennedy won a close race over Nixon. Kennedy and Johnson for two terms, and then Nixon won a close race over Humphrey. Nixon and Ford had it for 8 years, and then Carter got in for 4 years, when he lost to Reagan. Reagan was the only President to not only win twice, but successfully turn the Presidency over to his vice-President, George H. W. Bush.  Bill Clinton beat Bush in 1992, held it for 8  years, and then George W. Bush won an election despite losing the popular vote. He also had two terms, but McCain, who tried to succeed him. lost to Obama. Obama won two terms, but Hillary won the popular vote but lost the election to Trump. 
The funny thing is that evangelicals will consider correct positions on issues like abortion more important than whether the candidate's personal life fits the evangelical mold. Hillary would in some circles be viewed as a marital saint for taking her straying husband back. Trump, on the other hand, brags about lust and greed and treats them as good things. But he is on the right side on abortion (in spite of having called himself "totally pro-choice" in 1999), so a high percentage of them voted for him. 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

More on god of the gaps

When I take my car to a mechanic, I expect that a good enough mechanic will be able to find out what is wrong with it. There is a lot about how the universe works that we do understand very well, and something could happen that messes with pretty well-understood processes. Is there some point at which the scientific community could end up scratching their heads saying "We've tried every way to account for this naturalistically, and it's not happening."
Atheists are often asked if their atheism is falsifiable. Many of them will respond, as did my good friend Keith Parsons, when he said that if the galaxies in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words "Turn or burn, Parsons this means you," he would turn.  But if someone were to go from spelling stars to a theological explanation, they could be immediately accused of committing the god of the gaps fallacy. If we, on principle, have to prefer an unknown naturalistic explanation over a theological one in every case, then we ought to follow that rule even in this case. If that is true, then saying "you don't have any evidence" takes on a different flavor than we would ordinarily think. The complaint usually sounds like "God could do something to give us adequate evidence for his existence, so why doesn't he?" But if we follow a strict ban on gap arguments, then there is nothing God can do to give us adequate evidence of his existence. Poor guy, he's omnipotent, but he can't prove his existence to us to save his life. It isn't that there isn't enough evidence, it's that, by the very nature of the idea of God, God cannot give us enough evidence if he tried his very hardest. I find this to be an extremely paradoxical position, though apparently Dawkins has embraced it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Hitler? A Christian? You're Kidding, Right?

May I kindly point out that this discussion of whether Hitler was a Christian invariably gets weird. What kind of Christianity is it that allows you to hate, persecute, and kill people in virtue of being racially Jewish??? I know Christians have treated Jews poorly in their history because they failed to accept their Messiah, but at the very least, if you accept the Messiah, you are OK. But if you hate Jews because they are racially Jewish, this has, uh, er, some pretty serious Christological consequences, doesn't it?

This is from Timothy Snyder, who recently wrote a book on Hitler. 

Timothy Snyder: So what Hitler does is he inverts; he reverses the whole way we think about ethics, and for that matter the whole way we think about science. What Hitler says is that abstract thought—whether it’s normative or whether it’s scientific—is inherently Jewish. There is in fact no way of thinking about the world, says Hitler, which allows us to see human beings as human beings. Any idea which allows us to see each other as human beings—whether it’s a social contract; whether it’s a legal contract; whether it’s working-class solidarity; whether it’s Christianity—all these ideas come from Jews. And so for people to be people, for people to return to their essence, for them to represent their race, as Hitler sees things, you have to strip away all those ideas. And the only way to strip away all those ideas is to eradicate the Jews. And if you eradicate the Jews, then the world snaps back into what Hitler sees as its primeval, correct state: Races struggles against each other, kill each other, starve each other to death, and try and take land.


Monday, June 05, 2017

The atheism of Marx and Mao

Karl Marx thought it important for people not to believe in God, because he thought that it was being used to make workers complacent with being exploited and not want to rise up against their oppressors. I think that in many cases, Marx had a point. 
Mao Tse-tung, who was a follower of Marx, wanted people to reject God for the opposite reason. if there is a God, there is some being above Mao to whom Mao would have to be accountable.

What was the greatest Witch Trial of all time?

Many people complain about the Salem Witch Trials as an example of the effect of religion on human life.  would respond to the greatest witch trial in the history of the human race, the Party Purges under Stalin. 
The death toll in these made the Salem Witch trials look like small potatoes. But the perpetrators of those purges were all atheists, presumably having no religion. 

“Taken together, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch burnings killed approximately 200,000 people. Adjusting for the increase in population, that’s the equivalent of one million deaths today. Even so, these deaths caused by Christian rulers over a five-hundred year period amount to only 1 percent of the deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler and Mao in the space of a few decades.”3
Dinesh D'souza

God as a scientific hypothesis

It's quite true that many scientists, in the past, and today, believe in God, and for some of them God is an important background belief in their scientific investigations. Yet, the commitments of the sciences provide a large barrier to making God an actual scientific hypothesis. 
This is a statement of Methodological Naturalism made by the National Academy of Sciences:
Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science. (in Jones 2005, 66)
As result, a court determined that Intelligent Design could not be presented as a scientific hypothesis in biology class because it violated the standard of methodological naturalism. If science is constrained by the rule stated above, then our failure to find God in the universe through science in not terribly surprising,  because if someone claimed, as some have, that science had found strong positive evidence in favor of God, then that would be dismissed by definition as not science. 
What you can't do is both of the following: Claim, on the one hand, as Richard Dawkins does, that the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design, but, whenever someone claims that scientific evidence supports the reality of design, say that you aren't doing science, since you are bringing in a designer. That is to play a "heads I win, tails you lose" game. 




Alvin Plantinga's Achievement

On the New Atheists Plantinga writes

One might say they are more style than substance, except that there isn’t much by way of style either; their preferred  style seems to be less that of serious scholarly work than of pamphleteering and furious denunciation They blame everything short of bad weather and tooth decay on religion…Their style emphasizes venom, vitriol, vituperation, ridicule, insult and ‘naked contempt’; what’s missing, however, is cogent argument.-

The article is here. 

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Clarifying the Russell Post

I never said Russell was inconsistent. My objection isn't to Russell, but only to people who, in discussing moral theory, go subjectivist or emotivist, but then in discussing something like gay marriage, act as if marriage equality is some kind of moral imperative. That is to be inconsistent. If you are going to be moral non-realist, you had better be consistent.

If you say, "It is morally wrong, always and everywhere, to believe anything for insufficient evidence," then you can't be a consistent subjectivist. If subjectivism is true, then everything is permitted, including believing all sorts of things for insufficient evidence.

A Catholic Faith and Science Page

Here. 

HT: Bob Prokop

Government should not be our source of morals

Some people really do have a careless attitude toward abortion because it is legal. Our society looks to our government to tell us what is right and wrong, but in cases like abortion, government can't do a good job of that. We have to get our morals from the church (or a secular replacement), but NOT the government.

My point here is independent of whether or not government should be forcibly preventing abortions.

Another example was came from a program I watched about legalized marijuana in Colorado. One woman started using pot while pregnant, and when asked about why she did that, she said that it was legal, so she didn't see why she shouldn't do it.

A popular myth about Christianity and Young Earth Creationism

SP: -Every Christian was a YEC until just a couple hundred years ago. Dozens of Ussher type calculations have been performed and accepted broadly for nearly the entire Judaeo-Christian history, starting with the traditional Jewish calendar.

Only very recently when science proved religion was wrong did the notion of reinterpreting scripture come about.

Science disproved Christian doctrine, so Christianity changed its doctrine to be less incompatible with science.

VR: Nope, and St. Augustine is the classic counterexample. The idea that every Christian prior to Darwin thought Ussher was right is just nonsense. 

Friday, June 02, 2017

Is God an open scientific question?

Do you think the question of God is an open scientific  question? 
Consider the following cases: 
1. There is oxygen v. there is phlogiston
2. There is ether vs. there is no ether.
3. There is natural selection vs. there is no natural selection, 
4, The universe had a temporal beginning v. the universe had no temporal beginning, 
In each case, possible evidence could have pointed us either way, and seems to have pointed us in one of those ways. Is the question of God like this? Is there a possible set of evidence which, if we had it, would have pointed us toward belief in God, such that failure to find this evidence is evidence against the existence of God? 
Lots of people in science would exclude the possibility of a God hypothesis in science on methodological grounds., It is inappropriate from the very definition of science. But if so,  science can't provide evidence against God either, since God was excluded on methodological grounds from the beginning, 







Thursday, June 01, 2017

J. Warner Wallace on the differences between biblical slavery and New World slavery

Here. 

But I wish he had dealt with the rest of this passage:

Exodus 21:20
And if a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.


because it goes on to say

21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

If you compare the Old Testament with the practices of the pagan world, it's plainly a quantum leap forward. But there are still problems. The moral learning curve for the Hebrew people is agonizingly slow, and that is why we get things like this and the Amalekite ban. And I think skeptics are right to wonder if God couldn't have sped up the learning curve by providing a more dramatic and forceful presence. 

But Jesus' ethics is still another quantum leap, but nothing comes from Jesus that isn't pulled from the Old Testament. 

You can call Yahweh a moral monster, but somehow, he managed a quantum leap forward in the moral consciousness of the Western world. Quite an accomplishment for the most unpleasant character in all fiction. 

I think these leaps are hard to explain naturalistically.