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


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


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. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Know Nothing Party's Catholiphobia

The Order of United Americans was called the Know-Nothings. They were based on fear of Catholics.

The American Party originated in 1849. Its members strongly opposed immigrants and followers of the Catholic Church. The majority of white Americans followed Protestant faiths. Many of these people feared Catholics because members of this faith followed the teachings of the Pope. The Know-Nothings feared that the Catholics were more loyal to the Pope than to the United States. More radical members of the Know-Nothing Party believed that the Catholics intended to take over the United States of America. The Catholics would then place the nation under the Pope's rule. The Know-Nothing Party intended to prevent Catholics and immigrants from being elected to political offices. Its members also hoped to deny these people jobs in the private sector, arguing that the nation's business owners needed to employ true Americans.

Cause and Effect and the Burden of Proof

Do you think you are entitled to believe that God does NOT exist in the absence of conclusive evidence supporting that position? Some atheists do think this way. They think that the burden of proof lies with the affirmative claim, and that the negative position has to be accepted by default. 
But I have a problem with this. You can't really prove, for example, that cause and effect occurs. As David Hume pointed out, you see one even followed by another event,  and it is natural for us to assume that there is cause and effect. When you see spatial contiguity, temporal succession, and constant conjunction, our minds naturally think it's cause and effect. But, says Hume, we can't prove it. But, if the burden of proof lies with the affirmative, doesn't that mean we have to prove the principle of causation in order to accept it? 

Peter Singer: Soul-Winner for Jesus


Monday, May 29, 2017

Moral nonrealism

OK, here we have, in Stardusty, moral nonrealism. Morality is an evolved sense of rules which we are perhaps evolutionarily disposed to follow, because, at least up to a point, social cooperation is beneficial, and so we have some cooperative tendencies built into us. But some of us have more of this than others, and there are, in many circumstances, strong tendencies within all of us to pursue our own interests at the expense of others. Madoff is a a great example. Not to mention all the Madoffs that didn't get caught, including some who hold high positions in banks, and maybe even the President of the United States. Ought they to pursue the interests of others even if it harms their self-interest? Is there an ultimate reality that ought to tell them to do the cooperative thing even if it might result in prison or impeachment? 

For moral nonrealists like Stardusty, the answer is a resounding NO.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Scientistic epistemology and same-sex marriage

Can you both believe that all knowledge is scientific, and that we can know that same-sex marriage is morally justified? 

Here is what Russell had to say: 

While it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.

Bertrand Russell Religion and Science (1935), Ch. IX: Science and Ethics

It follows from Russell's statement that a statement like "Legalizing same-sex marriage is a good thing to do," is something we cannot know. 

My claim is epistemological. Some people have a scientistic epistemology, but they also claim to know that we ought to allow same-sex couples to marry. That, I am arguing, is an incoherent position. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Is there a scientific answer to the question of same-sex marriage?

What can repeatable scientific investigation show?
One group of people believe that homosexual relationships should be treated as marriages by the government. Another group believes that this ought not to be done. Demographically, there are more conservative religious people on one side as opposed to the other, but this, I contend, is neither here nor there. The question is whether, by use of the scientific method can determine whether the government should marry gay couples or not. 
The answer seems to be that science can't tell us a whole lot here. It can  maybe tell us, to what extent, people with homosexual inclinations have the power to choose to enter into heterosexual marriages. Maybe. Maybe it can figure out whether gay couples can be as successful as straight couples in the role of adoptive parents. But then what? 
The argument for same-sex marriage is based on the principle of equal treatment, the idea that people who are not relevantly different should not be treated differently.  That is based on what scientific argument, that all men are created equal and were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights? Oops, that sounds a little creationist to me, doesn't it, and creationism is a no-no in science. 
Survival of the fittest? That sounds like a scientific principle all right. And being a gay couple is certainly a recipe for Darwinian disaster, right? Can't get any kids that way, right? So, maybe science shows that we shouldn't allow gay marriage because gay couples aren't doing their Darwinian jobs and aren't repopulating the species. 
Don't like this argument? Maybe you are going to remind me that you can't get moral imperatives out of scientific facts. EXACTLY. Science cannot prove that gay marriage is justified. Or that it isn't. 

Is America a Christian Nation? Yes and No

We might consider the possible meanings that might be attached to the claim that America is a Christian nation. 
On the one hand, it can mean that our government, by its nature, is committed to privileging the Christian religion and using the government to promote Christian worship and practice, then certainly not. The Constitution is perfectly clear when it says that Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion.
 On the other hand, did people in the formation of our country, frame it the way they did because of what they believed as Christians, then it is pretty clear that they did. And this includes Thomas Jefferson, who didn't believe in the miracles of Christianity but thought that if people stopped following the moral teachings of Jesus, our country would collapse. 
The French in their revolution and the Russians in theirs founded their revolutionary governments on ideas that were profoundly opposed to Christianity, even though, in the case of the French revolution, there were significant similarities between their ideas and those of the American founding fathers. Those revolutions, I contend, went quite differently from the American, because their world-views were different. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ephesians and Slavery

Why do people only quote the beginning of this Ephesians passage and not the whole thing? 
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

The Ephesians passage is interesting because it starts by affirming the institution of slavery and then forbids masters from threatening their slaves. What??? What kind of slavery do you have if you can't threaten your slaves???? Paul would NOT be happy with the way slavery was practiced in the antebellum South, even if you get an approval for slavery out of his statement.
In American history, freed slaves lived a better life, even though they suffered as second class citizens until the Civil Rights movement. It is not clear that this would have worked in the first century. The evidence suggests they would have starved. Eliminating slavery within the church would not have helped slaves in the wider society. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Human rights? Where's your evidence?

 Do you have evidence that we really have rights, even though someone might disagree? What if someone were to ask you to prove the existence of human rights, in much the way a religious skeptic were to ask for proof of the existence of God. Would you have a good answer for them?

Why I am Not a Republican

Did I support all those things by being a Democrat? As if being a Republican would have saved me from supporting people and positions that are contrary to the Gospel?

C. S. Lewis was right. Any political affiliation by a Christian involves compromise. Political parties are coalitions of various interests, some of which are better than others. I don't like the Democrat's abortion rhetoric which makes abortion out to be a good thing, which it most certainly is not. I hate political correctness, and the "protection" of the LGBT community from anyone who might think there is a moral issue there. There is some deification of science from the Democrats that bothers me. I don't like the Obama administration's failure to protect Christians for persecution around the world. But I completely reject the demonization narrative that I hear from so many conservatives. I do think that they are overly devoted to social justice for "oppressed" groups who can make large contributions, as opposed to others who cannot.

But Republicans have been responsible for McCarthyite attacks on innocent citizens, (resisted, though by many in the party), dragged their feet on civil rights, have been funded largely by large corporations who use their influence to get government to help their corporation (leading to a bastardized form of capitalism), supported a war in Iraq based ostensibly on the grounds of WMDs, then showed they didn't really care about WMDs now that they were in Iraq, opposed Social Security and Medicare, which really do make life better for people, on the grounds that these programs somehow compromise capitalism.

And, they supported a system of health insurance that made it impossible for me and my family to get it, not because I didn't work for a living, but because I have spent my life, as an adjunct instructor, on part time contracts (often cobbling together my teaching with other jobs), and because I got a chronic illness at the age of 23. This system of medical insurance, had it remained in place, would he rendered it impossible for me to get desperately needed surgery to keep me from getting cancer. The argument has been that it was wrong on principle to compromise capitalism by insuring that people like me could get health insurance. Only because of Obamacare was I insured during my car accident of 2014, and now for the surgery I had this past March.

Now, being unable to afford the health care I needed might have been thought of as about the same as my not being able to afford a Mercedes Benz, but I find this wildly implausible. Why does the government tax everyone to protect me from bombs, but not from cancer?

Now you might say that I am just thinking about myself here, but if you can show me that the country would be a better place on a system in which I am kept out of the health insurance market, I am willing to listen. But if the argument is that the capitalist system distributes wealth and income with some justice, and the government interference such as we find in Obamacare is an unjust distribution that amounts to theft by taxation, then I find that conclusion totally unbelievable. And I find particularly disgusting the pretense that the health care bill that has passed the House and will die a merciful death in the Senate is a replacement for Obamacare. Straight repeal would have at least been honest.

Republican leaders could have withdrawn their support from Trump and supported a third party candidate that reflected real conservatism. They didn't. Yes, the result would have put Hillary in the White House for four more years, but at least they would have spared the country from having to deal with someone who doesn't understand the difference between a dictator and a democratic leader, who wants to keep up all his businesses, who takes taxpayer funded trips to his own resort hotel in Florida, so the taxpayers pay and Trump corporations benefit, who puts in a national security adviser who is compromised by the Russians and takes their time firing him, who embarrasses the country he leads every time he goes one Twitter, and who praises as virtue every single one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Hillary would have to be the devil herself to be the worse of two evils here, but there is no evidence outside the fevered imagination of Republicans to suggest that she is anything of the sort.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How to eliminate hypocrisy

You can get rid of all hypocrisy rather easily. All you have to do is lower your standards so much that  you can't fail to practice what you preach. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Doing what you please with your own body

The government does not permit women to sell their bodies on the street. Are prostitution laws an example of government telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies?

I realize this is not what is meant when people complaining about the government telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. But if it is literally true that a woman has the right to do as she pleases with her own body, then that would apply to prostitution just as easily as it does to abortion.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Owen Gingerich on science and religion

People in the scientific community think that the discoveries of science support their religious beliefs, but many are hesitant to make these claims of science itself, because they think that science, per se, can't talk about God. But based on that rule, per se science is by definition religiously neutral. Unless some configuration of evidence would, if we had it, support the claim that God does exist, then no configuration of evidence could possibly support the claim that God does not exist.

An example of a scientist of this sort would be Owen Gingerich. See also the discussion of his book here. 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

On accepting LGBT people

Many supporters of he LGBT community think that everyone should accept them. But, what does it mean to accept someone? Do I have to agree with every aspect of your lifestyle in order to accept you? Some people, I am sure, will disapprove of me if I have a religion, or if I have no religion. Should I expect everyone to approve if I marry a divorced person, or get a divorce, or if I sleep around, or if I stay chaste until marriage? If I think that a person has made some erroneous lifestyle choices, does that mean that I do not accept them? I am very good friends with lots of people whose beliefs and lifestyle preferences I disapprove of. In fact, isn't that the very essence of tolerance, to maintain social relations with persons when you differ with their beliefs or their lifestyle choices? Otherwise, there's nothing to tolerate. Is it part of gay rights to attack any and all disapproval?

Now, it could be argued that at least some people who are LGBT can't help being LGBT. What what they do about it is still, a matter of choice, right?

Monday, May 01, 2017

Reply to Parsons on the Amalekites

Keith Parsons brings up the Amalekite story here.  As it happens, I had been thinking about the Amalekite story, and replied thus:

Ah, the Amalekite story. But why are we shocked by the Amalekite story? We are shocked because we have come to believe that Amalekite lives matter. But why do we believe that? We believe that because Christians promulgated the doctrine that all souls, including, Amalekite souls, matter. Was Saul treating the Amalekites like neighbors when he took some slaves and took some goods? I don't think he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart.
The basis for critiquing the Amalekite massacre is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan.Otherwise, why not slaughter them? It's the desert, resources are scarce, it's them against us and we're for us. Besides, if those people knew the theory of evolution, they would say "OK, see, it's survival of the fittest in this dog eat god world." It is not socially useful to keep them alive, and it is hard to generate much sympathy for people who have spent the last 300 or so years trying to kill you. (Social utility and sympathy, are, as Hume noted, the primary secular bases for morality). But did God have much chance of getting the message that Amalekite lives matter across to Saul and his army? I'd put more money on making the case for single payer health care to the House Freedom Caucus. It wasn't a message they were ready for.

Luke vs. Philostratus: Rebutting the No Evidence Charge

This is from William Neil’s 1973 commentary on the Book of Acts, published by Oliphants.
If there is one major criticism that may be levelled against the recent exponents of the theists that Luke was a theologian rather than a historian, is that they pay too little attention to the established findings of a past generation of scholars which point in the opposite direction. It is generally recognized that Sir William Ramsay latterly pressed his advocacy of Luke’s reliability almost to the point of claiming his infallibility, and came close to insisting that archaeology proves the New Testament to be true; but, in his heyday, on the basis of his own study of the inscriptions in Asia Minor, he did reach certain conclusions about the Book of acts which are still relevant.
 Ramsay was convinced that the writer of Acts knew the world of Paul in the intimate way that could only have come from first-hand knowledge; particularly is this evidence in his use official titles, which, in the days of the Roman Empire as in our day, were a peculiarly tricky problem. Yet, as he pointed out in pp. 96-7 of The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Truthworthiness of the New Testament (1914), the officials whom Paul and his party encountered were exactly those who should have been there at that time: proconsuls in senatorial provinces, Asiarchs in Ephesus, strategoi in Philippi, politarchs in Thessalonica. This sort of argument does not, of course, prove that Luke was there, but it does suggest a writer who took the trouble to get his facts right, and who might well have been on the spot himself.
Another contribution from an older generation which is still worthy of respect is the monograph by Jams Smith of Jordanhill on The Voyage and Shipwreck of the St. Paul (1848). Smith made a study of ancient ships and methods of navigation, and argued that Ac. 27 must have been written by an eye-witness who was not a sailor. The view seem more likely that the eye-witness was the author of Acts himself rather than that canvasses by Conzelmann and others, that Luke found somewhere a good story of a voyage to Rome including a shipwreck and inserted it into a few references to Paul.
            It is surely not without significance, as H. J. Cadbury pointed out in pp. 241-252 of The Making of Luke-Acts (1927), that the writer of Acts is interested in the geographical details of Paul’s journey.  He refers to Perga as being in Pamphylia, Antioch as Pisidian, Lystra and Derbe as cities in Lycaonia. Philippi is the leading city of part of Macedonia and a colony, Tarsus is in Cilicia, Myra in Lycia. He speaks of a place called Fair Havens in Crete near the town of Lasea, and of Phoenix, the Cretan harbor, looking north-east and south-east. He notes the addresses of the people in his story and the places where the missionaries find lodgings: at Philippi Paul stays with Lydia, in Thessalonica with Jason, in Corinth with Aquila and Priscilla. Paul leaves their home and hoes to lodge with Justus, whose house was next door to the synagogue. In Joppa, Peter stays with a tanner by the name of Simon, whose house was by the sea….
            In his recent Sarum lectures, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, (1963) A. N. Sherwin-White has shed new and interesting light on our problem from the angle of classical studies. He shows that the author of Acts was well-versed in the intricacies of Roman law as it was practiced in the provinces of the Empire  in the middle of the first Century; in the case of Paul’s trials before Felix, Festus and Gallio, the legal procedure is accurately described. On the question of the status and privileges of Roman citizens such as Paul, Sherwin-White maintains “Acts gets things right both at the general level, in his overall attitude, and in specific aspects.” He concludes that in Acts ‘the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…(and)…an attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted” (p. 173, 189).
            So, we have four reasons for supposing that the author of Acts of the Apostles was a careful recorder of events, interested in facts. At the same time, in both of his books, Luke and Acts, there are numerous miracles claimed. Let us consider two hypotheses:
1) NH, or the naturalistic hypothesis. On NH, all the events that took place in the New Testament have natural, not supernatural causes.
2) SH, or the supernatural hypothesis. On SH, some of the events recorded in the New Testament have supernatural, not natural, causes.
Now, given NH, the existence of a meticulous, researching, event-recorder seems to me to be improbable. Let’s contrast Luke here with a miracle reporter whose miracle claims are often compared with those of Christianity, Apollonius of Tyana. This account is from Richard Purtill’s Thinking About Religion:
The first thing to notice is the fairy-tale atmosphere. There is a rather nice little vampire story, which inspired a major poem by Keats, entitled Lamia. There are animal stories about, for instance, snakes in India big enough to drag off and eat an elephant. The sage wanders from country to country and wherever he goes he is likely to be entertained by the king or emperor, who holds long conversations with him and sends him on his way with camels and precious stones. 

Interspersed with picturesque adventures there are occasional accounts of miracles, often involving prophecy and mind reading. A ruffian threatens to cut Apollonius’s head off and the sage laughs and shouts the name of a day three days hence; on that day the ruffian is executed for treason. Here is a typical passage about healing miracles;

Philostratus: There came a man about thirty who was an expert lion-hunter but had been attacked by a lion and dislocated his hip, and so was lame in one leg. But the Wise Man massaged his hip and this restored the man to an upright walk. Someone else who had gone blind went away with his sight fully restored, and another man with a paralysed arm left strong again. A woman too, who had had seven miscarriages was cured through the prayers of her husband as follows. The Wise Man told the husband, when his wife was in labor, to bring a live rabbit under his cloak to the place where she was, walk around her and immediately release the hare: for she would lose her womb as well as thee baby if the hare was not immediately driven away (Bk. 3, Sec. 39). 

RP again: Now the point is not that Appollonius no serious rival to Christ; no one ever thought he was except a few anti-Christian polemicists about the time of some of the early persecutions of the Church. The point is this is what you get when imagination goes to work on a historical figure in classical antiquity; you get miracle stories a little like those in the Gospels, but also snakes big enough to eat elephants, kings and emperors as supporting cast, travelers’ tales, ghosts and vampires. Once the boundaries of fact are crossed we wander into fairyland. And very nice too. But the Gospels are set firmly in the real Palestine of the first century, and the little details are not picturesque inventions but the real details that only an eyewitness or a skilled realistic novelist can give. 
VR: If I recall correctly, Philostratus also has Apollonius in Nineveh, even though it had been destroyed seven centuries earlier.
Philostratus seems like someone who has a lack of interest in facts. For his purposes, alternative facts will do just as well as real one.
Now, if NH is true, we should expect all accounts coming from the ancient world that contain miracle reports to be more like those of Philostratus than those of Luke. On SH, a chronicler like Luke is exactly what we should expect. Maybe we can explain Luke’s meticulousness on NH, but we nevertheless it is far more probable given SH than NH.
Now, I am not arguing that Christianity is unavoidable given this evidence. This evidence can be outweighed. But what seems preposterous to me upon reflection is the idea that there is NO evidence for the Christian claims, unless, of course, you have an argument that evidence for supernatural claims is impossible in principle.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

How are scientific beliefs caused?

Assuming no God and setting aside any life on other planets that might have evolved prior to earth's life, no agent-driven teleology has existed throughout virtually all of natural history. 

So, what is happening now? In order for the accounts we have to give a Darwin inferring natural selection from finch beaks, or physicists rejecting the ether theory as a result (among other things) of the Michelsen-Morley experiment, to make any sense, we have to describe them in teleological terms. The reasons, the evidence, have to be causally responsible for the beliefs these scientists came to hold. Otherwise, the presumed advantage of following science as opposed to superstition goes out the window. 

Yet naturalists insist that when minds arose, no new mode of causation was introduced. Matter functioned in the same way, it is just that evolution but it into forms of organization that made it seem as if it had purposes when it really didn't, and this explains the very theorizing by which scientists like Dawkins and philosophers like Mackie reach the conclusion that God does not exist. In the last analysis, you didn't accept atheism because of the evidence, you became and atheist because the configuration of atoms in your brain put you in a certain brain state, and C. S. Lewis became a Christian and a theist for exactly the same reason. If this is true, how can the atheist possibly claim superior rationality?