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Atheist Perspective: The Wider Teleological Argument

July 29, 2014 Leave a comment

A shorter post today as I am currently trying to sneak in under a deadline to submit a paper for a conference. One of my larger themes in writing this blog has been philosophical analysis (and admittedly, assault) on the various alleged proofs of the existence of a deity. Most often I have attacked what is known as the “Design Argument” and its more common form of Paley’s Watch. It has many flaws and it has been very misused.

You can’t use design to arrive at the conclusion that “therefore Christianity/Islam/Hinduism etc. is the true religion.” The argument just doesn’t prove that, it fact, it doesn’t even attempt to prove that. All it proves is that designs require a designer, and that the lesser is always produced by the greater. Proponents of this argument always try and bog down objectors with details such as watches, orrery spheres, and the like. However it’s always a slight of hand trick that seeks to distract the objectors from the main question that Robert Ingersoll poses, the universe is so complex that it must have a designer but doesn’t that also necessitate that the designer must have even greater complexity and thus an even greater designer?

My task, which I have about four days to accomplish (and a good deal of the work is already done, I just have to do the actual writing) is that of an argument known as the “Wider Teleological Argument” by Peter Van Inwagen. Van Inwagen is a a pretty heavy hitter in the metaphysics/personal identity area of philosophy so it’s a rather daunting task (especially since he will be at the conference). In short the argument goes that because the conditions for sentient life are apparently so specific, the odds against sentient life are so incredibly high, therefore there must be something which has “fixed the game” so that sentient life is produced.

It’s a deeply flawed argument, given that it makes certain assumptions about the conditions that must be needed for sentient life are not necessarily these conditions and could be others (there could be sentient life on planets with higher gravity that would be unrecognizable to us for example). He brings in certain physical constants such as the fine structure constant (aka “alpha”) which does nothing for his argument since alpha allows for certain material properties but not necessarily sentient ones, which gives me a nice reason to read physics but again it misses the mark. Ultimately his problem is that he assumes a deity exists and then must twist the facts to fit that hypothesis, I will however have to put that nicer.

It’s like a puddle in the road. He is claiming that all of the forces and constants are present so that one day water will fill in a depression on the road to form the puddle, while the much simpler explanation is that the puddle formed because the conditions permitted it.

Back in much more detail next week.

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Categories: atheism, philosophy, religion

An Atheist’s Perspective: Liberty of Thought

July 22, 2014 Leave a comment

The liberty of thought is an absolute liberty. It cannot be overthrown, what we think cannot be punished. If someone wishes to punish another’s thought they can only do so if the thought is put into some kind of action. The action can be just a matter of speech, but a thought by itself cannot be punished. As the old joke about the Soviet Union goes: there they had freedom of speech as well, it’s just that we have freedom after speech.

One of the worst features of religious indoctrination is that it seeks to punish thought. It seeks to make a wholly subjective thing–a thought, by making the thinker feel guilty for having the thought to begin with. We must understand that even the deity cannot make us think something, or prevent us from thinking something (evidence from Exodus not withstanding), but its followers try their best to make the thinker feel as though they have offended the infinite by merely making a thought.

The trouble with this line of action is that the omniscient deity has to understand that initial thoughts are beyond the control of us mortals. Anger is a feeling of destruction, the initial impulse is that of pure wrath against whatever is the source of our anger. The jerk driving slowly in front of us suffers innumerable deaths before we get over the fact that we are just driving along. Is not action the more important than an initial emotion that we can get under our control.

Matthew 5:28 states that if we look at a woman with lust in their heart they have already committed adultery with her. This is the thought following a glance, and for that we must burn in eternal punishment.

(as a side note: biblehub.com lists 21 different translations of Matthew 5:28 and all but 2 of them use the phrase “with her” as though she was somehow complicit in the adultery)

If the thought stays a thought and merely passes, it harms no one. Even if it stays as a thought, it still harms no one. If it never germinates into an intent, even Kant would not prosecute it.

A woman sees a man she finds desirable, she has a biological reaction normal to her; and she has now committed adultery. He does the same, and now he is also guilty. If that mutual attraction compels one to talk to another, if they enjoy each other’s company, get married, and die together; all of that is predicated on the idea that their initial attraction has broken a commandment and cursed them to hell.

Is this sanity? A purely subjective thing–a thought, cannot be moral stain on the individual. To condemn thought, to condemn an initial response to external stimulus is to condemn life. If 5:29 is right and that we ought to put out our ears and our eyes in order to keep paradise, you can keep your stunted morality.

Categories: atheism, philosophy, religion

An Atheist’s Perspective: SCOTUS’s Bad Decision

July 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Before we get started on this tirade, i should relate that I’m not going to get into the contraception issue. If you think that contraception = abortion, you are not only wrong but there’s no way we can communicate. Preventing something from coming to be is not the same as ending it. I’m also not going to get into the feminist argument, if you think that women don’t have the right to control their bodies, or think that contraception is a sin because it allows women to have sex without pregnancy, well, we’re in the 21st century try and keep up. If you think that recreational sex (any sex done for purposes other than reproduction) is wrong and you are not outraged that Hobby Lobby’s insurance covers Viagara and a variety of other male sexual aids, then congratulations on your hypocrisy, but I’m not getting into that either. Those issues are handled by people with more expertise than myself and have been covered ad infinitum the past week (figuratively that is).

In keeping with the general theme of this blog: I’m merely going to focus on the religious issue. The religious people are claiming a victory for a decision which essentially puts two groups narrow religious belief beyond the reach of one particular law. In other words, they are getting favorable treatment while the rest of us are forced to abide by it generally. Argue about it all you want, that’s what the decision literally said, one specific group gets to ignore part of the law because it conflicts with their sincerely held belief. What’s worrisome is that when this is done it is always about one religion trying to enforce their belief on others (in this case a medically incorrect belief), in the name of religious liberty.

I would like to ask how the ACA’s mandate harmed their religious liberty? No one is forcing any individual to take birth control. If the sin is in the action, then those engaging in unproductive sex are the sinners not anyone else. Hobby Lobby’s argument was that in providing the birth control they were contributing to sin. How? This argument means that provision equals culpability and that’s not a road that conservative Christians want to tread down, because it then means that gun manufacturers are culpable in shooting deaths; and that God himself is responsible for sin because he’s the one that placed the tree in the garden in the first place. One might think that true goodness is having something immoral available and then not using it.

Another point I want to make is that the Court’s decision stepped into a quagmire where they are going to have to decide what beliefs are valid and what beliefs are not according to this decision. No one is claiming that this decision is going to lead to animal sacrifice (or at least no one I want to listen to anyway), but there are other religious beliefs that would fit directly into this decision. Someone who supports this ruling needs to answer me this question: What is stopping a closely held private company owned by Christian Scientists from denying their employees all medical coverage?

The CS church sincerely believes that all disease is a manifestation of sin and that medicine is a flaunting of God’s will. I seriously want to hear the answer to that challenge. You can’t appeal to the populace saying that most people do not share those beliefs because 82% of the population has no problem with birth control and most of the population does not share in Hobby Lobby’s specific brand of Christianity.

I also dislike the government getting into the business of determining whether or not a belief is sincerely held (never mind the issue of whether a legal arrangement such as a corporation can have one). I have friends who are Theodish and believe in that as much as any Christian believes in Jesus. Conversely I know Jews who have no belief in the spiritual aspects of their religion and would run their businesses according to the religion out of habit and culture but not belief.

It seems odd to me that the people who wish for smaller government are lauding the fact that the government now gets to determine whether or not a belief is sincerely held. This doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.

It would have been better for the court to deny the request at exemption if only to avoid the involvement of US government to make these decisions. We have the wall of separation to prevent one religion from forcing its views on other people, I think this aspect gets ignored here: Hobby Lobby’s narrow sect of Christianity gets favored only because the five Catholic justices also agreed with their point of view in this situation. A shared belief apparently is sincerely held, but not all Christianities are the same. Evangelical Protestants do not consider Mormons and Catholics to even be Christians and this muddy water is now what the court decided to step into. While the decision was narrow in this case it’s implications are going to have to be sorted out and there is no reason to think it will just end there.

Categories: atheism, politics, religion

An Atheist’s Perspective: Is Materialism Really the Reason?

July 1, 2014 Leave a comment

The Vatican is shortly to convene a meeting to address the problems that they, as an organization are having. Namely, that there appears to be a sharp divide between their teachings and the practices of their members, e.g. they have a ban on artificial contraception yet most Catholics seem to ignore it–in the U.S. for example 82% of Catholics either regularly use contraception or have no issue with them (Gallup Poll 2012). How can this be? How can a group of people comprising the single largest religious denomination be at once faithful but also cherry pick what it is that they are faithful toward? 

The Vatican released a survey among its followers and their response led them to the conclusion that the results are in a agreement that the “underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting church teachings, namely, the pervasive and invasive new technologies; the influence of the mass media; the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead to an excessive, selfish liberalization of morals,…”

I think they are missing the point. As the world moves forward the old ideas need to adapt in order to exist and if they do not adapt then they have to realize that people are going to ignore the old ideas. The above list reads more like a complaint of the old about the young, where the former do not understand the latter. Plato complained about the young learning to read and write, thinking the old way of illiteracy caused better memories. The church here, has an existential issue; namely that they used to control the flow of information and education; but for awhile now that grip has been slipping and in areas where they were once iron clad as well. A good deal of this seems more like a grumpy old man screaming at the young kids than anything else, but we deserve to treat the list as better than just that given the importance a large number of people in the world are supposed to consider it. 

The first one is telling: technologies. The problem here, and I have to believe that the church knows this: is that technology is amoral. Despite what left wing liberals will claim, a gun is not immoral–it is just a thing and things don’t have moral worth. My laptop, cell phone, and television have no moral responsibilities only what they get used for and again, that is not the thing’s fault but rather my use of the thing. We can assume that by “pervasive and invasive new technologies” they are referring to mobile phones and in that assumption there lies a deeper issue. These devices are merely means of communication, they do not go against the teachings of the church but allow messages to get spread. The Vatican cannot condemn these things as it has a twitter account, facebook page, and a website (I follow the first two); if the new technologies are interrupting the message of the church than their problem is with the spread of alternative ideas. I’m not going to back off of that claim, since it seems obvious that the Vatican would want you to follow their twitter just not Ricky Gervais’, Richard Dawkins, or mine. Banning new technologies would be like the church somehow thinking that printing press was a leading to a impedence of their message and attempted to ban the use of it (which I could not find any evidence of despite some claims by Atheists and Protestants that it did happen. If anyone could supply proof that a Pope issued an edict against using the printing press I would amend this statement). It seems more of an appeal to the old members who statistically won’t get this technology and will not try to understand it; while at the same time avoiding placing the blame on the younger generation who do use it and are less likely to be down with their teachings on contraception, homosexuality, and other social issues. 

The materialism question though rears its head again, as often it does in the history of religion. Materialism is almost always seen as the demon that religion attempts to slay, but the trouble with “growing materialism” is that as we learn more about the world the smaller the place of immaterialism gets. Yet materialism doesn’t answer questions about the origins of life, one can believe that life begins at conception (or more accurately, shortly thereafter once the gametes fuse as conception is merely the penetration of once cell by another it doesn’t guarantee life) and still be a materialist. It’s one of those questions that are more matters of points of view than a unified stance by materialists. The other trouble is that there is no organization of materialists, no set in stone teachings. The same goes with secularism and individualism. Secularism is the point of view that there is no divine involvement in human affairs, but other than that nothing. 

Instead of blaming outside influences on the lack of adoption of antiquated teachings, maybe the church ought to look at the messages that are not being accepted. If the church thinks that other ideas are more endearing to the population then it is a matter of simple competition and the losing side has the least appealing ideas. Why exactly do they abhor contraception? Maybe aside from tossing out pithy quotes from the bible they ought to get to the root of the issue. Materialists such as myself aren’t going around banging everything in sight because I can use a condom, and I also don’t preach such practices either, yet apparently people like me are responsible for breaking down their teachings. It may be that they have failed to move on with the times and that at its core is an organization that is used to not having to explain its positions and has been blind to a changing morality for centuries. That is the more reasonable explanation.