Friday, December 18, 2009

Religion, the New Atheism

"For 50 years, the big enemy out there that was against our way of life was communism, which was atheistic, so the average American saw secularism and atheism as being attached to a hostile force. Now the forces that are arrayed against our way of life are's militant fundamentalism, and now the average person in our society is attaching the idea of religion with being anti-democratic...and because of that, increasingly people are saying, "If you understand that Jesus is the only way, you're not going to be a good citizen in a pluralistic, democratic society; you're going to impose your views on people." And that has really, really gained a lot of traction with the average non-Christian in a place like New York since 9/11."

–Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism in an interview on The White Horse Inn, November 1, 2009.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Thankfulness

It's Thanksgiving once again, and once again I want to express my thankfulness to and for my blog acquaintances and friends, especially Cyberkitten, Kevin and Cori, Mike, and CRL.

One day last week during my morning commute I got to thinking about being thankful. What is required to give thanks? I decided that the most fundamental requirement is two persons, one to give thanks and one to receive it. Implied in this is that the person receiving thanks first acted graciously and thus deserved being thanked. This seems obvious and uncontroversial. You do something for me and I give you my thanks in return. But many times, seemingly without thinking, we give thanks for things that aren't the gracious act of another person.

I am thankful for my health, but to whom do I give thanks? Myself? My parents? Neither seems reasonable. I may be responsible in part for my health, but being thankful to myself seems odd. Do my parents deserve being thanked for involuntarily passing on to me a decent set of genes which, so far, have not lead to much in the way of significant health problems? That seems odd as well. Perhaps my health isn't something for which I can be properly thankful.

I am thankful for sunny days in the 70's with low humidity, a gentle breeze, and the opportunity to be outside and enjoy it. When I say I feel thankful, I really mean it. There is an undeniable sense of appreciation for receiving a gift graciously given. But is this another case of misplaced emotions? Is this inappropriate thankfulness a result of my early indoctrination into theism without which I would not have such feelings?

Since I can't undo my upbringing I guess I'll never know, but it seems that I'm not alone in feeling this "broad brush" thankfulness for things and circumstances that can't be attributed to another person; it seems pervasive throughout the human race. Perhaps we are being loose with our language. Perhaps we are transferring commonly experienced interpersonal thankfulness onto the impersonal.

Or perhaps we are not mistaken. Perhaps we share a deeply ingrained tendency to be thankful because the foundation of reality is a Personal Being. And, perhaps, if we are among the realities that have sprung forth from this Person, we naturally return thanks for the graciousness first shown to us.

It was dark, rainy, and there were many distractions during that drive to work, so maybe I was not thinking clearly. But I made it to work and, later, back home safely. And for that I am thankful.

It's a Church and State thing, you wouldn't understand.

Last week it was reported that, in 2007, Rhode Island's Bishop Thomas Tobin requested of Rep. Patrick Kennedy that he refrain from receiving Communion in light of Kennedy's position on abortion (he's for it). Some people felt the Bishop violated the separation of Church and State. Do you think it was, and, if so, why?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saladin's Stumbling Start

I am reading a debate between Young-Earth Creationist Duane Gish and Evolutionist Ken Saladin. Gish has a Ph.D. in biochemestry from UC Berkeley and Saladin has a Ph.D. in parasitology from Flordia State.

Early in Saladin's opening comments he states:

" is empirical. That means it's based entirely on things that can be observed. Science is not based on revealed truth or idle speculation."

The first link in his chain of evidence for Evolution is the well-know story of the peppered moth:

"In any college biology textbook you can read the story of the peppered moth, which made a visible evolutionary change in a few decades under the influence of pollution and predators. That's what evolution is: the ability of a population to adjust genetically to environmental changes."

I assume Saladin relates the peppered moth story simply because it is well-known. However, I was surprised that he gives the peppered moth such a high profile (Exhibit #1, one minute into a 45 minute introduction). Why?

1) Because the peppered moth experiments Bernard Kettlewell conducted in the 1950s have been shown (by devout Darwinists) to have serious methodological flaws.

2) The experiments have no relevance to the controversial Darwinian claim of explaining how species originate.

3) In order to extrapolate proof of Darwinism from what valid evidence we can gather from the peppered moth (if there is any) requires a truckload of the very speculation Saladin labels anti-empirical and anti-scientific.

Now Saladin gets a pass on the first point. The peppered moth story was not widely debunked until the late 1990s; the debate in question occurred in 1988. However, I highlight the debunking since the peppered moth story is still widely purported to be clear evidence for—if not proof of—Darwinian macroevolution.

This brings me to my second point. Even if we overlook the problems with Kettlewell's experiment, what does it teach us about evolution? As the moth's environment changed from lighter lichen-covered trees to darker soot covered, lichen-free trees, the darker moths became a greater percentage of the general peppered moth population, probably because the lighter moths fell prey more easily to birds. From this we are supposed to be convinced that all the diversity of life on earth could spring forth from one primitive form. But this story sheds no light on the origin of either the light or the dark moths. From the industrial revolution to the mid-20th century the darker moths survived in greater numbers, but the members of the species experienced no evolutionary change whatsoever. Genetically, they exited the period of evolution exactly as they had entered it. After Clean Air laws passed, the environment reverted back to favor the lighter moths, and, as a result, their percentages increased. The peppered moth story may serve as an example of how a species may go extinct, but what does it tell us about how species arise, which is what Darwinism is purported to do?

So how did the fabled Peppered Moth become Exhibit #1 in the case for Darwinism? By way of that noxious mixture of revealed truth and idle speculation. In this case the "revealed truth" is that God does not exist, therefore, life must have evolved from non-living matter by purely naturalistic means. The idle speculation is that any variation within a population brought on by environmental conditions is evidence that large scale genetic changes are also possible in the same way—despite the fact that the empirical evidence gathered throughout human history shows that such variation has narrowly defined limits even when guided by intelligent minds under ideal conditions.

So why does Ken Saladin give such prominence to such flimsy evidence? Could it be that's all he has? I have little expectation that better evidence is forthcoming.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dick says, "Enjoy your life"

I recently saw this picture online. After reading the ad on the double-decker I started to wonder about a few things. Is this the first ever ad campaign for a philosophical position? Who's paying for these ads and how widespread are they? How successful can they possibly be? What couldn't that brunette sell me? Is she cold? Is Dawkins' left hand as far down the older woman's backside as his right hand is on hers? This lead naturally to the most obvious question—as believer in God, what worries inhibit my enjoyment of life? The answer was just as obvious. I was worried that I displeased God with my fleeting desire to be Richard's right-hand man. I felt ashamed that I had never confessed and sought forgiveness for my infatuation with thin chicks of Mediterranean heritage. All became clear. God was interfering in my sex life. If I would only lay aside my belief in God and His meddling ways, that brunette—or another like her, or not like her at all, anybody who struck my fancy—would be mine for the taking. Of course she (or he, for who knows where this freedom would lead?) would have to be like-minded and willing; at least initially, until I adjusted to moral autonomy.

Then I tried to think of other ways God hindered my enjoyment of life. None came readily to mind, but then Miss Atheist UK was still floating around my cortex. Could it be that a primary impetus to discard belief in God was sexual freedom? Could famed author Aldous Huxley have hit the nail on the head when he said, "For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom..." Does famed drunk Christopher Hitchens speak soberly in saying, "Clearly, the human species is designed to experiment with sex."

The sponsors of this advertisement think that belief in God stands in the way of one's enjoyment of life. That raises three questions for my atheist friends:
1. If not unrestricted sexual pleasure, what enjoyment do they mean?
2. Does atheism offer any "benefit" besides sexual freedom?
3. Is sexual freedom the real reason you chose atheism?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

20 shirts, 20 comments

Originally posted at Vox Popoli. I created a few more links.

The 20 coolest atheist t-shirts according to the Daily Telegraph:

1) Zeus to Reason

Because the Cult of Reason turned out so well the last time.

2) Distrusted minority

When raising consciousness backfires.

3) What would Dawkins do?

If The God Delusion is a reliable indicator, string a few irrelevant anecdotes together and call it science.

4) Atheist wine club

Correction: whine club.

5) Which day did God make all the fossils?

It depends. Are you talking about Eoanthropus dawsoni or Hesperopithecus haroldcookii?

6) No one has been stoned to death by atheists

Because atheists prefer starving people to death, shooting people to death, gassing people to death, and beating people to death with shovels.

7) God works in mysterious ways

This is how Christians know you have not read the Bible.

8) Dawkins&Dennett&Harris&Hitchens

Snippy&Phony&Screwy&Silly. The four intellectual dwarves of atheism.

9) Born OK The First Time

A successful entry does not dictate a successful exit.

10) Atheists do it unsupervised

And unmarried and childless. And not very often.

11) Atheists have morals too

A morality of one is not a functional moral system.

12) Don't pray in my school, and I won't think in your church

It's not your school. And who the Hell are you to tell anyone else what to do or where to do it?

13) Imaginary friend

Now explain the other 93 percent.

14) Sleep with an atheist

Add to your STD collection.

15) Science, Dawkins, Rock&Roll

Social life as sausage fest.

16) iFraud

Because irritating Christians, Jews, and Muslims just isn't enough.

17) Roman Lions

Arguably not the best way to demonstrate that atheists do not harbor the desire to kill vast quantities of innocent people.

18) Separation of church and state


19) Wait, what?

Dinosaur rodeo rocks!

20) Darwin is my homeboy

Charles Darwin is dead. In another 150 years, Darwinism will be too. [I think half that time is sufficient.]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Euthyphro's Dilemma Revisited

Socrates and Euthyphro meet outside the food court. As they wait in line for gyros they strike up the following conversation.

Socrates: Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral?

Euthyphro: This is certainly the case.

S: And we are obligated to obey God because He truly relates to us the moral law?

E: You have put your finger precisely on it.

S: If God merely intermediates between man and the moral law, could we not discern the law for ourselves, bypassing, as it were, the middle man?

E: Heaven forbid! These things are too lofty for us!

S: Too lofty for us to receive directly, but not too lofty when passed from hand-to-hand? If God truly relates these things to us surely they are not tarnished in transmission.

E: I would hope not. [PE contemplates] Perhaps God is required to comprehend the source. If we were to approach it directly we would not perceive it rightly, or we would be consumed by its holiness.

S: You may have something there, but two things worry me if this state of affairs obtain.

E: And they are...?

S: First, is it conceivable that what we call God is subject to a superior holiness? Second, does this holiness approve of our offering worship to its messenger rather than itself?

E: This cannot be! God, by definition, is the Supreme Being and what is supreme serves no master.

S: But we have arrived here by mutual agreement, and we have found that God is not God.

[Standing just behind them is William who has overheard the conversation. He interjects...]

William: Excuse me. May I add a thought of my own at this point?

E & S: Please do.

W: What is this superior holiness that God intermediates for us, to which He is beholden?

S: The Good.

W: What is it's nature?

S: As far as I can tell it is an eternal and universal set of moral relations.

W: Is it a thing or an abstraction?

S: An abstraction, a principle.

W: And this abstract set moral relations bind us as well as God?

S: I would think so.

W: It follows then that all things are obliged to adhere to this eternal and universal set of moral relations. Is that your understanding?

S: It is.

W: Do you see this ant crawling up the table leg?

S: I see it.

W: If all things are obliged, is this ant obliged?

S: I don't know much about ants, but I doubt if ants are under any obligation.

W: How about the table itself?

S: Certainly not.

W: So not all things are bound by this superior holiness?

S: No, not all things, but all sentient beings.

W: A helpful clarification, but it raises a question. If there were no sentient beings, if the world were populated only by ants, would there be anything under obligation?

S: I suppose not.

W: And if there were no sentient beings, a set of moral relations would be meaningless, perhaps impossible?

S: I'd have to think that through, but is sounds plausible.

W: Likewise, would not Good itself would be meaningless or impossible?

S: [exhibiting consternation] Mmmmm...

W: Can we conclude that an abstract set of moral relations cannot exist in a vacuum; that at least one sentient being is required for goodness and obligation to have any meaning whatsoever? Can we further conclude that these abstractions cannot precede a being, but must emanate from a being that sets them and imposes obligation upon all beings including himself? Can we ultimately conclude that such a being cannot be distinct from Good but is the source of Good, or, simply stated, is Good Itself. You ask, "Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral?" But now surely you see that what is moral can only be what God commands.

S: [continued consternation] You have given me food for thought.

E: Thank you William, but I must tell you that I was just about to make this same point myself.

W: Sorry for stepping on your toes Euthyphro. [The conversation hits a lull, the three men are looking around. Williams continues after a sigh.] Is the service here always so exceedingly slow?

S: Euthyphro, coming here was your idea. What gives?

E: Hey, I've always used the drive-thru!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Euthyphro for Dummies

"Consider this: Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?"

When Euthyphro's dilemma is discussed by people like Julian Baggini (by way of Cyberkitten) or even TruthSeeker (by way of Kevin Parry) are they expounding or confounding Plato? Have they discovered a fatal flaw in a God-based system of ethics? Have they pulled the rug out from under traditional religious beliefs?

Baggini says,

"To my mind, the Euthypryo dilemma is a very powerful argument against the idea that God is required for morality. Indeed, it goes further and shows that God cannot be the source of morality without morality becoming something arbitrary."

To my mind, Baggini, from this auspicious start proceeds in circles and gets nowhere, but stirs up a lot of dust doing so. We can come back to Baggini, but for now I want to turn our focus on TruthSeeker. TruthSeeker poses the dilemma to Heather on the pretext of engaging in some intellectual discussion (albeit unrelated to the topic at hand), so I'm not sure what TruthSeeker thinks other than that Heather showed "a total lack of understanding of Euthyphro's dilemma". So I ask TruthSeeker to enlighten us about that here in a forum dedicated to the topic. After that I'd like to know if there has been any advance in philosophy in the intervening 2,400 years on the nature of the good or did Plato write the last word on it?

Near the end of the dialogue, Socrates has become frustrated in his attempt to learn from Euthyphro the nature of the pious and impious and in despair says, "So we must investigate again from the beginning what piety is, as I shall not willingly give up before I learn this." (15c)

I'm with Socrates. TruthSeeker (and everyone else), the floor is yours.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Proofs of God's Non-Existence

Are there disproofs of God's existence? I shutter to think. (Maybe that's my problem.) Tell me how I can know that God does not exist.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cartoon: Modified

Modified from the version posted by Kevin. My sincere apologies to the fine original artist at