Monday, November 20, 2017

Conscience As a Guide to Truth


Victor Reppert made an interesting post that raises the issue of reliability of our moral intuitions.  Since it is brief, I'll repeat his post here in its entirety:
A common atheist retort: "Would you rape, pillage, and plunder if you did not have the Bible to tell you not to?"
The implication is that this would be a superficial morality. And it would indeed.
Reply: Theists and atheists alike refrain from such acts because conscience tells them that it is wrong. The question is whether they have equally good explanations for why we should suppose that conscience is a reliable guide to truth. - Reppert
The first question it raises in my mind is what kind of statement is this retort from atheists responding to?  It seems to be an answer to the common trope from religionists that atheists lack the moral guidance that comes from God, which is often stated as Dostoyevsky's famous line from The Brothers Karamazov: "If God does not exist, everything is permitted."  Many religionists take this claim at face value, and assert that atheists are devoid of any morality at all.  To such an assertion, a retort like the one Victor cites might be appropriate.  But Victor's view is slightly more sophisticated than that.  At least he doesn't deny that atheists have some kind of morality.  He just denies that the morality of an atheist is a truly worthwhile or effective way of guiding human behavior.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Brain-As-Receiver Concept


Christians can come up with some really wacky ideas in defense of their religious dogmas that fly in the face of logic and science.  When defending literal the truth of biblical stories that directly contradict each other, for example, they might make the claim that "three days and three nights" really means a period of as little as 38 hours.  If one book says Jesus was buried on a Friday afternoon, and rose from the dead on Sunday morning, and another book claims it was three days and three nights later, what should Christians think?  Surely not that either of those stories could be wrong.  They need to find some way to make those two things seem to be in agreement.  If Friday is the first day, Sunday is the third day, so you might be able to get away with saying three days had passed, but three nights?  I don't think so.  This is just a case of Christians groping for any excuse at all to justify what their belief that the bible tells the truth, and the fact that their hand-waving doesn't make logical sense is simply ignored in favor of the dogma.  Their dogma says those two accounts are telling the same story, and the good Christian is obliged to believe it.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Lying For Jesus: Blame It On Atheists


Shadow To Light is at it again.  Mikey is spewing more of his hate-filled propaganda against atheists in an effort to distance Christians from anything bad that happens, and pin the blame on those nasty atheists.  This time, it is the recent mass killing by Devin Kelley at a church in Texas.  Mikey wants desperately to attribute this tragic event to an atheist, so that he can point to it as evidence for his monotonous message: "How terrible those atheists are!"  But not surprisingly, Mikey is truth-challenged, as I will show.  In his latest two posts, he goes to some effort to make a case that the killer was an atheist, and then double down with the claim that the killing was an anti-theistic act against Christians.  And in his zeal to paint this event as an example of atheist rage against Christianity, he only succeeds in making a case against the ethical standards of Christian zealots like himself.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The A Priori Gambit


     "Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses" - Thomas Aquinas

This statement from Thomas Aquinas, known as the peripatetic axiom, expresses the basis of empiricism, and was adopted from Aristotle's teachings.  It became part of his Thomistic philosophy.  But Aquinas had a religious agenda.  He needed to justify his belief in something (namely God) that doesn't present itself to the senses.  So as he did with other parts of Aristotle's teachings, he modified it to fit his religious purpose.  Aquinas said that the intellect extends beyond what is evident to the senses, to reach a higher realm of understanding that is yet justified on the basis of perception.  His five ways are said to be a posteriori arguments for the existence of God because they are based on observation (as well as a system of metaphysics that assumes God from the outset).  So at least Aquinas pays lip service to the idea that knowledge of God is something that is derived from from the evidence of the senses.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Republican Tax Plan Hurts the Poorest


This is a different kind of post for me, but it fits well within the general arena of bullshit.  It is, of course, the new tax overhaul proposed by Republicans in congress.  They have been claiming that this new tax plan is tailored for the middle class.  I'm sure that most of us are well aware that it is actually aimed squarely at the rich, who will receive the lion's share of the benefits.  But at least there is some modest help for middle class taxpayers, and that's the part of it that they're trying so hard to sell to the public.  But they're not talking about the parts of the bill that would work against those modest benefits, and even result in higher taxes for many in the middle class, as well as for those who are in the lowest tax bracket - especially low-income seniors.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lee Strobel: Skeptic Believer


I read an old interview of Lee Strobel, in which he lays out his evidence-based case for belief in the Christian narrative.  Strobel says that he was an investigative journalist with a background in law, who was also an atheist and a skeptic.  And it was his regular practice to check out everything he was told - to seek out the evidence.  And that's what made him such a jerk, he says. 
we used to pride ourselves on being skeptical and actually had a sign in our newsroom that said, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out!” In other words, where are the facts? Where is the proof? Where is the evidence? - Strobel
It's a little unclear what message we should take from a statement like that.  Is he saying that being skeptical is what made him a jerk in the past, but he no longer has that problem?  Or is he saying that his skepticism is what gave solid justification for the belief that he adopted?  If his Christian faith is based on solid evidence, and skepticism is what brought him to that evidence, as well as his success as an investigative journalist, then why does he equate skepticism with being a jerk?  It's puzzling.  At any rate, Strobel uses his credentials as a skeptic to bolster his case that his conversion to Christianity is based on solid evidence. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Irrational Trump Voters

Thanks to its being brought up in one of Jerry Coyne's recent posts, I read an interesting article in Quiilette by cognitive scientist Keith Stanovich that explores the question Were Trump Voters Irrational?  As a scientist, Stanovich takes a dispassionate approach to the question, and uses data to back up his position that Trump voters in the last presidential election are no less rational than Clinton voters.
I am afraid that my Democratic friends are just going to have to reconcile themselves to the conclusion that the cognitive science of rationality does not support their judgment of the Trump voters. ... Politics is not the place to look for objective rightness or wrongness"
As a non-expert who appreciates the value of scientific data and analysis, I find it difficult to argue with him.  He certainly makes good points about rationality and lack thereof on both sides, as I will explain.  But still, something seems to be missing from his analysis.  Perhaps this is bias on my own part.  Or perhaps not.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Why Modern Physics Refutes Thomism


Thomist philosopher Dr. Dennis Bonnette has written an article called Why Modern Physics Does Not Refute Thomistic Philosophy that attempts to defend his religious philosophy against charges that it's obsolete Medieval thinking that is inconsistent with modern science.  I have made claims of this nature before.  Obviously, Thomists are feeling the heat of these objections to their philosophy, and they insist that all such objections are wrong.  Thomism is fully in keeping with modern science, according to Bonnette and other Thomist proponents like Ed Feser.  But the real problem is that atheist scientists have a mistaken or ignorant view of philosophical (and especially metaphysical) principles at the heart of Thomism.  On the basic truths about the world, scientists and Thomists believe the same thing.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

How a Scientist Can Believe in God, Part 3


We now come to the end of my response to Albrecht Moritz' defense of theistic belief in a scientist.  Moritz presents 15 objections that an atheist might proffer in his article How can a scientist believe in God?, and attempts to debunk them.  Part 1 of my response is here, and part 2 is here. After addressing the last of his items, I will give a short summary.  I hope this hasn't been too drawn out for my readers.  Moritz makes some arguments, mainly for the benefit of his fellow believers, that don't hold water with scientifically-minded atheists, and that I feel should be answered.

Monday, October 16, 2017

How a Scientist Can Believe in God, Part 2


Continuing from my previous post, I address more of Albrecht Moritz' 15 objections from atheists against the compatibility between science and religious belief.  These objections are discussed in his paper How can a scientist believe in God?  Moritz is a scientist who believes in God, and defends that belief with sometimes unscientific explanations.  It seems clear that when he is outside his field of expertise, he often falls back on traditional theistic notions.  Without further ado, here is the next set of atheists' objections.