Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Ghost In The Machine

David Chalmers has attained a degree of celebrity and earned the adoration of theists, with his philosophical argument against physicalism.  The argument is based on the conceivability of philosophical zombies (or p-zombies).  Before I get into the argument itself, I should explain what a p-zombie is.  This is not the fictional creature of movies that has returned from the dead, but rather a philosophical concept of something that is physically and behaviorally identical in every respect to a person, but that nevertheless lacks any conscious experience.  A p-zombie can't be distinguished from an ordinary person, because it behaves the same, reacts the same, and gives the same answers to any questions.  It would recoil from pain and say "ouch", for example, but not actually experience the feeling pain.  Another way of saying this is that the p-zombie has no subjective or first-person experience.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wars Aren't Started For Religious Reasons

Victor Reppert makes a plea for the sake of honesty and historical accuracy: Religion is not responsible for most wars- can people stop repeating this nonsense?  Fair enough.  I think we should all strive for honesty and historical accuracy.  And of course, he's right - as long as you understand what is meant by the term 'responsible for'.  He cites an article by anthropologist Scott Atran, who says "the chief complaint against religion — that it is history’s prime instigator of intergroup conflict — does not withstand scrutiny."  And aside from the fact that this isn't really the chief complaint against religion, he's correct.  Wars are started for many reasons besides religion.  But it would not be correct to say that religion plays no major role in the conduct or sustainment of warfare.  So we need to understand Victor's plea in a nuanced way.  It's not as if religion has nothing to do with it.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

For The Glory of God

I found a somewhat interesting article by apologist Timothy McCabe that made me do a double-take when I read it.  McCabe takes a stance on free will that sounds strikingly different from what the vast majority of Christians hold.  The way I read it, he flatly denies that there is free will.  The title of his post, and the question that is purports to answer is: If God has a "divine plan" for everyone, then does that mean he controls humans and animals to meet his plan?  McCabe wastes no time in answering that question.  He says, "Definitely."  So he says that God determines our actions and choices, but he's not a determinist in the same sense that I am.  While I believe that our actions play out according to physical laws, McCabe believes that God decides what will happen, and everything that happens is for the glory of God.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Small Mind, Closed Mind

Over at Shadow To Light, the militant theist Mikey is so obsessed with trying to find fault with everything said by any atheist, that he is completely closed to the possibility that they might be saying something reasonable.  And what is it that he is raving about now?  An atheist has concluded that there are no gods.  How outrageous.  But it's not merely that this atheist doesn't believe in Mikey's fantasy.  What has Mikey drooling and frothing is the notion that the atheist is being inconsistent with his own "Official Position".  If this sounds strange to you, I would have to agree.  But remember, this is Mikey, and his capacity for reasoning is clearly limited by his affliction.  I'll try to make this all a little more clear.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

On the Timelessness of God

With his theory of Relativity, Einstein threw a monkey-wrench into our understanding of time.  We always used to assume that there are three distinct divisions of time: past, present, and future.  The present is the only thing that has existence, because what is in the past is gone, and what is in the future has not yet come to be.  Time is viewed as a progression of existence.  Indeed, if you look at the Google definition of time (definition:time) you will see that it agrees with this intuitive understanding: the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.  But there are other definitions.  Merriam-Webster defines it as measured by change: a nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future.  In fact, without the notion of a changing state of affairs, the concept of time is essentially meaningless, since there is no way to distinguish one moment in time from another.  But Relativity theory confuses this intuitive notion of past, present, and future, because it removes our ability to say that event A precedes event B in time.  Therefore, there is no "present", and no way to definitively categorize all events as belonging either past, present, or future.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Conversion of Leah Libresco

I wrote an article some time ago about ex-atheist converts to Christianity.  The main point of that article was to note that by reading their own accounts of their conversion experience, it is usually possible to discern that they had non-rational reasons for making the conversion.  There are two key factors in these stories.  First, they had never completely abandoned the religious beliefs that they grew up with, but retained some core elements of it somewhere in their psyche (such as the feeling that there must be an over-arching reason for our existence, for example).  Second, these core elements of belief re-emerged when they encountered a period of stress or emotional need, and became the real impetus for their fully embracing religious belief once again, often accompanied by a sense of relief that they no longer had to pretend that they were atheists. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Phony Intellectualism Exposed

Joe Hinman has done a lot of reading - especially academic works including various philosophers and scientists.  Being exposed to a wide variety of ideas gives one a well-rounded perspective.  He loves to cite their words in his own writing, usually in support of his ideas about God and theism.  That's great.  They can lend an air of erudition, and provide a measure of academic authority to help you make your point.  Especially if you understand what they're saying.  But if you don't, you run the risk of destroying your own argument.  And besides that, you risk crossing the line from from erudition to pretentiousness.  And that seems to be the hallmark of Joe.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bonnette on Brute Facts vs Sufficient Reason

Thomist philosopher Dennis Bonnette has written a number of articles that defend the tenets of Thomism in the face of modern science.  I previously addressed one of them here.  Bonnette places metaphysics above science, and explains away discrepancies between them by downplaying or ignoring the realities of physics.  In another article that focuses on the subject of brute facts and the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Bonnette presents a distorted view of science to make it seem compatible with his religious dogma.  This is precisely the kind propaganda that Thomists rely upon to justify the false belief that their Medieval philosophy is fully consistent with modern science.  But a more realistic view of science and reality would refute Bonnette's story.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ten Tips For Atheists

Christian apologist John Dickson wrote an article some time ago with the purported object of promoting productive dialog between Christians and atheists.  It contains ten pieces of advice for the atheist to follow that he feels will advance this objective.  I applaud him for his effort, but I have to take issue with him on a number of points.  I'll address them one by one.  At the same time, I think there are a number of things that he (as well as other Christians who want to engage in robust debate with atheists or skeptics) might want to think about.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Extraordinary Claims - Who Needs Evidence?

Most reasonable people understand what Carl Sagan meant by his expression: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  If someone tells me that an everyday event occurred, I have little or no reason to doubt the truth of that claim.  But if they tell me something occurred that rarely or never happens, it would be reasonable to doubt that claim unless they provide sufficient reason for me to believe it.  What is sufficient reason?  Obviously, it depends to some degree on the person who is being convinced.  Is that person credulous or skeptical?  Is there motivation to believe?  Sagan's expression assumes a person who isn't credulous or motivated by other factors to believe the claim.  Some people will believe anything.  Some are motivated to believe for reasons other than sufficient evidence.  In that case, they may try to deny the value of evidence in an effort to discredit skeptics.  Such is the case with Dean Meadows, Christian apologist at Apologia Institute.  Meadows presents three arguments against Sagan's epistemological rule of thumb.