ABSTRACT. Ravi Zacharias wrote a book. Good for him. It’s called The End of Reason, and it is aptly named. For those looking for logic and reason in believing in a God, I suggest looking elsewhere. No one but those seeking to entrench their bias will find anything other than tired, old and debunked arguments filled with logic fallacies that no grade schooler would be fooled by. Arguments from consequences and false dichotomies abound. It is supposedly an answer to the New Atheist books. In particular, to Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation. If so, it is an answer to a question no atheist asked…
In this first of two parts, I go over some of the bad reasoning up to and including his discussion of cosmological arguments. Read More »
I was listening to CBC Radio’s The Current this morning, as I am wont to do while driving in to work, when a story that boiled my blood came on. Indeed, any time secular government considers funding sectarian activity I go into a blood rage. You believers out there can do what you want within limits, but not on my dime! The podcast of the full discussion from diverse points of view (one of the reasons I love listening to The Current) can be listened to below (23 min running time).
A walk-in proposal to Winnipeg city council by Crusade for Christ for an inner city youth facility at Main and Higgins will be voted on today. The proposal was a rush job, today being city council’s first look at the proposal. To be fair, such rush-to-vote issues occasionally happen. The MTS building proposal was apparently one such. However, I fail to see that the ethics of erecting a building that houses the headquarters of a telecommunications company compares to the questions surrounding the public funding of a facility run by an organization whose stated objective is converting people to their form of superstition.
As I see it, this is a whopping error: evolution and naturalism are not merely uneasy bedfellows; they are more like belligerent combatants. One can’t rationally accept both evolution and naturalism; one can’t rationally be an evolutionary naturalist. The problem, as several thinkers (C. S. Lewis, for example) have seen, is that naturalism, or evolutionary naturalism, seems to lead to a deep and pervasive skepticism. It leads to the conclusion that our cognitive or belief-producing faculties—memory, perception, logical insight, etc.—are unreliable and cannot be trusted to produce a preponderance of true beliefs over false.
I have no problem with skepticism. I think everybody should be a skeptic. For those who don’t, I’m offering up the Brooklyn Bridge… Cheap!
Nor do I have a problem with anything in that last long sentence. Our memory is quite fallible. So is our ‘logical insight’, since it is based on heuristic and not rigorous logic. It just happens to work most of the time and is fast, and for the times it doesn’t it typically doesn’t matter. For instance, our natural instinct when out in the dark we hear a rustling in the bushes our impulse is to take flight. But whether the rustling in the bushes is a real danger (the tiger that Plantinga likes to use) or a prankster is not considered by our subconscious. With the former, our chance of survival increases because we don’t go over to the bush to check the source of the disturbance. With the latter, we just feel foolish. In both cases, our lives continue.
I want to say this at the get-go before I am accused of being prejudiced and bigoted: I do not think that only atheists can do science. I do not think that only atheists can determine science policy. In searching for someone to head the NIH, such a policy would reduce the field considerably and exclude many excellent candidates that we would be justified in predicting they would do a fantastic job.
Francis Collins is not one of them. Yes, he has shown his ability to administer very large scientific projects. Yes, he has demonstrated his ability to do good science. But these are not the only requirements for heading the National Institutes of Health, the largest funding agency for biomedical research in the US. Something less well known is that it also funds research outside the US if certain conditions are met.
In this the third part of a look at what science has to say on the concept of free will, we will delve into the relationship between volition and consciousness. And it gets weird. I won’t even rag on William ‘Lame’ Craig this time, though it is always tempting. One thing I should say before continuing is what version of free will I am rejecting: the traditional contra-causal free will which is a consequence of discredited dualistic notions. Tom Clark puts it this way:
If you imagine a situation in which you are behaving and you make a particular choice, many people suppose that given that situation exactly as it transpired you could have chosen something other than what you did. But a science-based naturalism looking at the situation as it arises will see the choice as a function of the exact conditions that were present at the time. So if you play that scenario there is no reason to think that anything else would have happened. Many people think, in supposing that they have contra-causal free will, that had they been in that situation even with the same desires, the same exact circumstances inside and outside themselves, they could have chosen or done something other than what they did. And this is what [naturalists] are denying. This is what I think a thorough science-based naturalism challenges is this idea of a causally-autonomous, metaphysically-autonomous self that somehow gets to cause things but is itself not fully caused1.
There are some types of free will that are compatible with determinism and we will get to those later. True contra-causal free will just has too many issues associated with it to be a viable concept. One I have alluded to before, that we would be paralyzed into inaction if a large part of our everyday actions weren’t calculated at a subconscious level. There are just too many choices at every moment. ‘Walking across the street’ is a high-level intention, but each individual step requires a decision to place the foot calculated from terrain, balance, etc. If you have to think about it, you will simply fall over. Second is that contra-causal free will means that people would be far less predictable than they are, which is not a good thing.
It’s been a while, my children. As a prominent member of the Center for Inquiry Alberta (a meaningless thing to say, since I have had little to do yet in my capacity aside from contributing ideas at meetings), I will be attending (and perhaps becoming part of) a presentation about atheism/secular humanism in a local mosque. I don’t know how much I can say about it at this time, so I will leave it there. It should be interesting and I will be putting my thoughts about that here when I can. This invitation by the Islamic community is a sight better than Bishop (insert favorite expletive here) Henry and his brand of intolerance towards atheism. Well, coming from a guy who places the moral health (read: imposes what he believes is moral) of young women above their real health by making access to Gardasil (a vaccine against some strains of HPV, a major cause of cervical cancer), I’m flattered!
But I digress. At our last CFI meeting, we discussed what we are potentially going to be asked at this presentation during the QnA part. We think the first question asked of us will be (bets, anyone?):
Isn’t God necessary for the existence of morality?
If we atheists ever talk about our atheism with the religious – and it is an inevitability when we do- this response is devastating: the Euryphro Dilemma. In a previous post on morality and why neither god nor religion are my moral compass I dealt mainly with the evolutionary development of moral behavior and the significant body of evidence behind it. If there is a single response to the claim that God is necessary for religion, it is Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma
Is something moral because it is commanded by God, or is it commanded by God because it is moral ?
Poe’s Law: Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.
I knew about it before it appeared on Pharyngula, but someone has been posing as an atheist muttering some decidedly unatheist remarks. You know the ones, where we atheists supposedly have no morals and do whatever we want because we aren’t held to account. As Penn Jillett would say, “What a motherfucker.”
No atheist would say such nonsense as the following -
What’s wrong with killing babies? I see no problem with it. I have enough mouths to feed. I don’t get the argument and I am an atheist. Since I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in anything characterized as good, bad / right, wrong. So, what’s the big deal?
Or this -
If a man wants to make a women his b****, so be it? So what if you don’t like it, what if I do?
If I want to do something, and my conscience is cool with it, then I can do it. If it’s feed a homeless person, so be it. If it’s kill my neighbor, so be it. I am not bound to any morals.
Today, March 20, is Atheist Pride Day. I can find no source for this ‘holiday’. It seems to be a spontaneous spawn of that evil internet thing. Why one day out of the year that we don’t get to take off from work? I take pride in having divested myself of dogma and Bronze Age superstition every day. I do not hide my atheism and if others have a problem with it, that’s their problem. We are all atheists to the vast numbers of gods that have past before history. I just believe in one fewer than Jews, Christians and Muslims.
I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. ~ Stephen F. Roberts
Finally. And we’re hoping to have a photo op set up Wednesday. We really wanted one for right when the first bus rolled out, but it seems that this was not possible. Cliff Erasmus, who spearheads the initiative, is being inundated with requests for interviews by the media.
Religious groups are planning a counter campaign, but just don’t get it obviously. The object was solely to demonstrate that atheism is a valid world view and deserves the same respect (more, in my opinion) that religious world views already enjoy. If my atheism and (more to the point) the open expression of my atheism offends anyone, I have just one thing to say: Deal. I have every right to my unbelief. I have every right to express my unbelief. I have every right to defend secularism in the public arena. I have every right to defend science and medicine from quacks and those whose sole agenda is to slip a fictitious deity into intellectual realms which have tirelessly sought to expel that same dogmatic nonsense.