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.