Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hard and Soft Determinism

Soft and hard determinism are the same kind of determinism. The difference is that hard determinists say that since determinism is true, we aren't responsible for our actions. Soft determinists say that even though determinism is true, we are still responsible for our actions. The ultimate causes of our actions are outside our control, but the immediate cause of our action is our desire to perform the action, and that makes us responsible.

Or does it? Shouldn't the ultimate cause be what counts?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An Easter service at the Cardinals' stadium, with a couple of live Cardinals

A local megachurch, Christ's Church of the Valley, had their Easter service at University of Phoenix Stadium. It featured a discussion with QBs Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. Palmer leads the NFL in QB rating. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

C. S. Lewis passed away today 52 years ago

On Nov. 22. 1963. So did a couple of other famous people.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What is NOT acceptable?

Let me make something clear. There are ways on the atheist side of keeping things civil. Before I ran into new atheists I had many, many, respectful discussions with nonbelievers, and that includes passionate nonbelievers. What I have noticed, and it's something I trace back to Dawkins, is a shift in the nature of the discussion. I remember being surprised by it in a couple of discussion groups I got into before I even opened this blog. There are people on the other side who see the disagreement between belief and unbelief to be not just a debate but a war, and who want to mobilize a people who use ridicule, not in a offhanded way, or a way that is aimed at entertainment, but aimed at providing people with a social, not an epistemic, motivation for abandoning belief based on fear of ridicule. This ridicule is not for the benefit of the believers they are debating. They are written off as hopeless. No, it is used as a tool to demotivate religious belief amongst the low-information believers in the flock, who might be influenced by "naked contempt." Your debating partner is a pawn in a game, the end justifies the means. 

Now, it is quite true that Christians have not always, historically, been willing to leave an open marketplace of ideas and have not always treated nonbelievers fairly. How Christians got to the place where there were willing to use the power of government to uphold their beliefs raises some difficult questions. I think the lessons of history have taught Christians, the hard way, that using force on behalf of one's beliefs is a self-defeating enterprise.

Violence on these matters is only possible when it looks to us as if our cause will benefit from it. Even if I decide that Dawkins is the worst influence on society possible, it would be silly to kill him, that will prove his point on a number of issues and benefit his cause. But even if that were not the case, it would violate the teachings of my religion to kill him. That was an important part of my point, that the failure to engage or not engage in violence is partly a function of what one sees as useful, and this is true of both theists and atheists. One response to the recommendation that the Pope be assassinated in the name of atheism would be that it doesn't work. But that better not be the only reason. 

I am willing to ask anyone who thinks whether one believes or not really matters, what means they are willing to use to get people to get the right answer. The charge I am responding to is the charge that RELIGION leads to violence. The road to violence, however, is open to everyone. I think, if anything, Christianity has some safeguards that limit the damage, which may be why, as Dinesh D'Souza points out, the death tolls are actually lower in the religious cases. For Christians, it is hard to argue that the end justifies the means, that the course of history is really in our hands. My claim is that you get ideological violence when you have the power to commit it, when you think the end justifies the means, and when you really think it will benefit your cause to commit it. 

When I hear that religion is a mind virus, when I hear that everything depends on curing that mind virus, then I have to wonder what means are NOT acceptable in achieving that goal, should the opportunity arise. That is the basis of what I said here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jennifer Roback Morse on the harms of same-sex marriage


Why not?

OK, suppose you think that religion really does harm, and we really have to do what we can to stamp it out. Most of us don't have the opportunity to help establish or eliminate religion by the use of violence. But suppose an opportunity arises. Through a violent act, we can, as we see it, greatly decrease the influence of religion on the world. Now what do you do? Do you say "No, violence is wrong, we have to let the God delusion die of other causes. The end does not justify the means." or do we say "OK, yeah, we're doing violence, but this is how we vastly decrease the influence of religion on the world. The end does justify the means."

The Grand Inquisitors, the prosecutors at the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusaders, etc. all thought that they were doing good and promoting the kingdom of God. 

In Tolkien's writings, the moral fate of many of the characters depends upon their willingness or unwillingness to use power (such as the power of the Ring) to do what they perceive to be good. What possible reason do we have for believing that atheists, especially of the Dawkins variety, would resist the use of power and even violence to promote atheism if the opportunity would arise? I can't think of a single one.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Religion leads to violence, or thinking ideas are important leads to violence?

When people find that certain ideas are really important, they may be tempted to kill people for them. These ideas can be religious, but they can also be economic, or racial, or even anti-religious. Whenever you think an idea is important, it is always tempting to think, under certain circumstances, that "the end justifies the means" and that you have a right to harm, or even kill, people who disagree. But it does seem to be true that ideas are important, so one cure for idea-based violence, rejecting the idea that ideas are important, has some bad side effects.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Why I don't endorse Kim Davis

Let me clarify something. I make a sharp distinction between a legal concept of marriage and a moral one, or a religious one. There may be reasons for governmentally defined marriage to include marriages that might fail to meet moral standards. So even if someone accepts a moral case against gay relationships, this does not guarantee that the government shouldn't recognize such marriages. You need something else. 

This has the support of one who has a lot of authority in the Christian tradition: 

Matthew 19:1-9
After Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went southward to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River. Vast crowds followed him there, and he healed their sick. Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: "Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for any reason?" "Haven't you read the Scriptures?" Jesus replied. "They record that from the beginning `God made them male and female.' And he said, `This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together." "Then why did Moses say a man could merely write an official letter of divorce and send her away?" they asked. Jesus replied, "Moses permitted divorce as a concession to your hard-hearted wickedness, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery--unless his wife has been unfaithful." 

This seems to me to suggest that the law can be justified, for its own reasons, in accepting relationships as marriages which are, in the final analysis, not fully moral. 

Here is C. S. Lewis on the legal-moral distinction. 

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.
My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
Now let me apply this to the case of Kim Davis. I am very much opposed to people being forced to provide speech on behalf of marriages they disapprove of, if they are in wedding service occupations. However, signing a marriage license does nothing more than affirm the legal status of these marriages, and does not entail moral approval. Unless she really has a legal argument that she doesn't have to sign those licenses, she really doesn't have a defensible position.