Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Do believers and nonbelievers have a common goal when they discuss religious questions?

I think that is critical to the pursuit of discussion. We want people to agree with us, but should this be our only goal? Is there, or should there be, a legitimate goal of trying to understand our differences, and trying to find our what really brings about the disagreement concerning the matter, or, say, belief in God or Christianity?

I think not enough attention has been paid to C. S. Lewis's remarks at the founding of the Oxford Socratic Club. He maintained that such a society was valuable at Oxford because by means of it we could hope to civilize one another.

I think the question we should ask people who are in dialogue about religious beliefs is what their goals are. I think that dialogue about religion isn't simply about getting others to agree with us. It is also about getting others to understand us better and to understand others better. Thus, if I engage an atheist in discussion, I consider it unlikely that that person will accept Christ as a result of what I say. I take that as a given. What I hope will happen is that they will understand my position somewhat better, and hopefully, gain some intellectual sympathy for my position. And with enhanced intellectual sympathy, maybe something will happen along the line. Or not.  But I do not assume that when I have failed to convince my interlocutor that I am right, that the discussion has been a failure. Far from it. 

What I hear from people out of the New Atheist camp, however, is something along the lines of "Yes, I am responding to you, but your reaction isn't important. I know that you are a hopeless faith-head. But, maybe other people might be listening who are more open to the truth, and maybe if I show zero intellectual sympathy with you and show just how much contempt I have for what you believe, maybe the fence-sitters will jump the fence my way." 

This is the Dawkins playbook, and it has been a great disappointment to see Loftus fall for it, for example. 

But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt. 

The strategy here is essentially to deny that believers and unbelievers have a common goal as well as an adversarial goal when the enter discussion with one another. If the common goal goes unrecognized, then we are going to not get anywhere, and that is why I have gotten considerably less satisfaction out of blogging than I did a few years ago. I don't know what to do about it, but I think it's important that people to look at what is being said not only in terms of what side it is on, but also whether the claims are well-supported or not. We have to be ready to criticize our own side if bad arguments are being used. 

Sexist passages

There are always two ways of looking at statements from the past where women are concerned. One of them is in comparison to our society. The other is from the standpoint of the society at the time. If you transport these statements into our time, the sound awfully sexist. After all, Women's Lib was a product of the 60s even in our culture (although there were earlier feminist voices). On the other hand, these statements may have sounded positively liberating to people back then. 
Thus, for example, people today react to passages in the Christian Bible that say "Wives obey your husbands." But I suspect that people in the time these statements were written were far more surprised by statements like "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church," since wives in that time knew that the culture expected them to be submissive, Christian or not. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What is deism?

Apparently, historically, it is not the view that God wound things up and left it alone. There is far more Christian content in the deism of people like Jefferson than most people recognize. It, for example, doesn't deny future rewards and punishments.


Monday, November 24, 2014

James Randi: I always have an out

Discussed here. 

But Randi says that it just means that he doesn't let the subjects cheat.

Is Christianity mercenary?

According to Scot McKnight, not so.

Friday, November 21, 2014


Loftus: There is nothing irrational about these videos or laughing at your faith if you are delusional, Vic. Reason is behind them. Laughter is good medicine. You need a dosage of it everyday.
Let's say believers are in fact as I say, delusional. Let's also say that precisely because they are delusional we cannot usually reason them out of their delusion. Let's say their delusion is also causing a great deal of harm (think ISIS here if you need to). Then reason calls us to do whatever it takes within decency and the law to help them out of it.
Besides Vic, we just can't help ourselves. I'm saying let loose. We laugh at your faith in private all of the time. I'm saying bring it out into the public. Let the deluded see what we really think. What's wrong with letting people know what we really think on occasion? I don't advocate doing this exclusively, although for some people that's all they know to do.
A side product of doing this, just like when atheists come out of the closet, is that it increases the peer pressure against faith. All I hear you say is you don't like it, and that's it. Christians do it from the pulpits across America every Sunday against atheists.

VR: OK, I think we are at the center of what the problem really is. You say
1) Believers are delusional, and I take it this is something beyond just being mistaken. They are ignoring overwhelming evidence against their beliefs.
2) We cannot reason believers out of their delusion.
3) Their delusion is causing a lot of harm, the sort of harm the ISIS inflicts.
4) It will therefore be helpful to society overall to use whatever means are necessary to help believers out of their beliefs.
The underlying idea is that somehow, if we got believers to reject their faith, we would progress to some kind of earthly paradise or utopia. For people like you, John Lennon's Imagine is a good, serious piece of social analysis, not a pretty tune with a utopian vision written by someone who dropped too much acid to think clearly. (I wonder if even John thought it was a piece of serious analysis). My answer to that sort of thing is that you have to be that this idea is what's really delusional. You have to be really be gullible to believe something like that. If you buy that, you may claim to be from Missouri, but you have just bought bridges in New York and California and oceanfront property in Arizona.
I don't think this way about atheism in general. I have a lot of sympathy with arguments like the argument from evil. There a lot of commentators on my site who aren't particularly fanatical Christians, but they are particularly angered by this kind of New Atheism, or as I call it, atheojihadism.
It isn't religion that makes ISIS harmful, it's the idea that religion has to be brought into effect from the top down by government. On the other hand, the use of government-funded educational institutions to shove atheism down people's throats, which is where you end up if you follow Boghossian's Manual to its logical conclusions, or Dawkins' child abuse charge that is actually making it hard for Christians to adopt children in parts of England, you are turning atheism into a religion in the negative sense. Where this is headed for is a society bifurcated on religious-non-religious grounds, where we are going to be less and less able to function together as a society.
I think I've gotten uncharacteristically ill-tempered here. But I can tell you that even if I stopped believing in God tomorrow, I would still be unalterably opposed to a crusade to save people from their religious beliefs.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Somebody actually advocated revising the Preamble with the exact words I gave years ago

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are evolved equal, that they are endowed by evolution with certain inalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

It's bad enough that creationism is creeping up in public schools but it especially doesn't need to be in our own constitution. Just because our slave-owning, bigoted founding fathers were creationists doesn't mean that we should let our most important legal document reflect that. That has to be a violation of the separation of church and state clause that's also in the constitution.

Here's what I present years a reductio ad absurdum. 

Naturalistic Evolution and Human Rights

 Let's take the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Now, if you're an atheist, we weren't created at all, we were the products of evolution. So, we would have to rewrite this statement as follows:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are evolved equal, that they are endowed by evolution with certain unalienable Rights, that among these rights are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But this, of course,makes no sense. In evolution, our goal is to survive and pass on our genes, and whatever advantage can help us do that can and should be used. That being the case, all the arguments against slavery and exploitation go down the drain.
The idea that we have rights that exist even when governments eliminate them go by the boards. It's a dog eat dog world, survival of the fittest, so why shouldn't I use whatever advantages I have? You may not want to go there, but how would you answer someone who does?
It's not a coincidence that the idea of human rights arose in a Christian culture. When people have power advantages, what reason can be given to stop them from taking advantage of it.
If we were all decide that are simply and merely products of evolution, and were not created by a God who shows no favoritism, what reason do we have for not taking advantage of a favorable power balance?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Soft Determinism is not a different kind of determinism

Soft determinism is still determinism. And it's really not a different type of determinism. It is, rather, drawing different conclusions from determinism, or rather, not drawing the conclusion that we are not free and not morally responsible for our actions. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maverick Philosopher on Woody Allen and the search for meaning


An exchange about humanism on Debunking Christianity

Rudy R: Again, since you don't think only humans can solve human problems, what problems have been solved only by your god that humans can't solve?
Evidently, you don't have a very high regard for human nature and a human's potential for making things better without a god. That, in a nutshell, probably separates us both the most.
Can you logically discount humanism as a rational way to solving human problems? Just so we are clear on definitions, what I mean by logical is to use empiricism instead of faith as an epistemological method and what I mean by faith is belief without evidence or pretending to know what you don't know.
Can you mathematically show why it's more probable that having faith that a god can make the world a better place than humanism? If not mathematically, can you list all the pros and cons, and show there are more pros and less cons than humanism? I'd like to see how humanism "requires us to make gigantic leaps over the probabilities."

VR: Maybe I can start with a famous quote from G. K. Chesterton:
Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R. J. Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
Atheists like to point out "holy horrors" like the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Wars of Religion, and the Salem Witch Trials. But doesn't this pale in comparison to the crimes committed by communist governments, such as the party purges?
Or the Cultural Revolution
Or, I can quote this from Chris Hedges:
Those who insist we are morally advancing as a species are deluding themselves. There is little in science or history to support this idea. Human individuals can make moral advances, as can human societies, but they also make moral reverses… We alternate between periods of light and periods of darkness. We can move forward materially, but we do not move forward morally. The belief in collective moral advancement ignores the inherent flaws in human nature as well as the tragic reality of human history… All utopian schemes of impossible advances and glorious conclusions end in squalor and fanaticism. (p.10-11)

Gay Marriage: Can the government avoid taking sides?

This discussion assumes a background knowledge of Jeff Jordan's essay " Homosexuality and Discrimination," summarized here. (Jordan was my office mate at the Center for Philosophy of Religion in 1989-90). 
Same-Sex Marriage: Some Further Reflections
Accommodation, not declaration
What Jordan has right
I think Jeff has this much right, that government should, as far as possible, not try to declare winners and losers where ethical questions like the moral status of homosexuality are concerned. I also accept C. S. Lewis’s argument that Christians should not expect government to enforce a Christian understanding of marriage on the citizenry.

Who wants a declaration on this issue?
Well, lots of people. The Religious Right, for example, wants government to stand up for marriage as a relation between one man and one woman, and is looking for an affirmation of the moral superiority of traditional marriage on the part of government. Here the “Christian America” argument comes into play: America is founded on Christianity, therefore we should expect everyone in society to adhere to Christian moral standard where marriage is concerned, and this would involve rejection of homosexual relationships as morally unacceptable.
But who else wants this?
Gay activists, of course! They are looking to gay marriage as a stamp of approval on their relationships, and an implied message that those who disapprove of them are no better than bigots.
Thus we have the lawsuit against a religious baker who didn’t want to do a cake for a gay wedding, and a regulation on the part of the American Philosophical Association according to which Christian colleges that required teachers to sign a code of conduct which precludes sex outside of (traditional) marriage would be flagged as APA code violators, since it would preclude the appointment of sexually active gays and lesbians.
In Canada and Britain, I have heard of cases where preaching the traditional Christian view of homosexual conduct has been treated as hate speech.
The Brandon Eich case from Mozilla
Brandon Eich became the CEO of Mozilla. When it was discovered that he had contributed money to support the Proposition 8 campaign in California, his browser was boycotted by some groups, and as a result he had to step down as CEO of the browser.
Chick-Fil-A has faced boycotts because its leadership has opposed same-sex marriage, though some gay people have considered this an overreach.
The miscegenation parallel
Defenders of same-sex marriage often criticize opponents by arguing that opposition to homosexual relationships is equivalent to opposing mixed-race marriages. Just as opposition to mixed-race marriages is evidence of bigotry, anything less the full acceptance of homosexuality is similarly bigoted.
However, there has to be a distinction between concerns about behavior, and problems caused by non-behavioral issues, such as race.
What has changed our minds
I think we have discovered that sexual orientation is, in many cases not changeable. I don’t think you can argue that there are no choices that can be made in this area, since some people are bisexual. The case of Exodus International, the ex-gay movement, where two of the leaders got involved with one another and returned to homosexuality, seems to be a warning about how far this can be pushed.
But are sexual relationships required for the pursuit of happiness?
What if your sexual orientation is toward preteen boys. In that case, to me moral, it seems to me you would have to pass on your sex life, since there would be no moral way to have a sex life, that is, no way, without doing grievous harm to your partners.
Different groups view this differently
Secularists tend to see no problem with homosexuality, although the existence of homosexuality does present a prima facie difficulty for evolutionary explanation, for obvious reasons. (I actually asked some evolutionary biologists how they explained it).
For some reason, religious believers are not eager to bring this up as evidence of intelligent design.
Conservative religious believers
Typically take anti-gay passages in the Bible at face value, although there is a debate concerning interpretation.
Pro-gay religionists
Here is a defense of their position, from Mel White
Well, no you don’t.
However, there are economic issues involved. What the government does get involved with are things like end of life decisions, spousal benefits, etc. Can you write all that stuff into the law without implying anything about the moral status of homosexuality. If so, do we use the m-word, or not?