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12 Out of 21

April 23, 2018 Leave a comment

GQ is a magazine that I have never purchased, I’m only familiar with it in passing. By that I mean that I literally pass it at the checkout line in the grocery store. I only really notice it when there’s a pretty woman on the cover which is a rare event. It’s a fashion magazine for men in all the ways that Maxim wasn’t, and it’s a magazine that has little appeal to me personally.

Nothing about the magazine is off putting either, I don’t hate it but I have read some interviews and articles from the magazine then guffawed at the amount of money some people will pay for toiletries. Like any magazine these days they need to put out some articles that will make sales, and this month they posted an iconoclastic article titled: “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.” The general thesis of the article is that the literary canon is full of boring, dated, sometimes sexist/racist books that were products of a different time but that the intelligentsia class (I know this is me) has said are the “great books.”

Some of them I have read, and some of them I hated. For instance I’ve never understood either the appeal or the controversy of “Catcher in the Rye.” He’s a whiny douchebag from the upper classes who goes slumming one day because he’s bored, gets a prostitute, doesn’t pay, upsets his sister, then reconciles that he belongs in the prison that he spent the entire book condemning. I guess the book was popular in its day because it used language that was representative of actual teenagers who attended boarding school, but the appeal is just lost on me. The controversy is even more of a mystery but I think that it might be due to a generational thing. The language he uses is not vulgar to me, but back then it was. “Huckleberry Finn” is on there, which sure, it’s been a long time since I’ve read it but I think the author of the submission missed the point: Twain isn’t a racist, he portrayed “Nigger Jim” the way he did to make a point about slavery, racism, and the attitudes of the South. However the entry made a point, that if all you know about Twain is Huckleberry Finn, then you really are missing out.

This brings us to #12 on the list: The Bible. The entry says, “The Holy Bible is rated very highly by the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality haven’t read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts but overall it is certainly not the finest thing man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”

Basically all of that is true but you should still read it. I know very few people who didn’t go to seminary school who can claim that they’ve read the Bible. I’ve read all of it, skipping the genealogy chapters because who cares, I wanted the stories and the morals. I was told to read it in Catholic school, a task to which I willingly assented due to my religiosity at the time. Whenever I hear some pundit talking about the problem in this country is that too few people read the Bible, I agree. More people ought to read it, it does not belong on this list. They ought to sit down and read it from Genesis 1:1 to the very end of Revelations, skipping only the copyright and font page at the end. Read the footnotes if your book has it, read all of it and then come to me and explain why the GQ author was wrong because there’s little doubt in my mind that you will disagree.

Look, the Bible has some good stories…sort of. However, for every one of the good stories in it, there’s ten that are boring, five that are horrible, and then an entire book filled with either genealogy charts or a whole bunch of laws regarding who can and can’t enter the temple on a certain day. The good stories are derivative. The story of Sampson, is the story that a drunk person who overheard the Greek Myth of Hercules tells when they try and retell it (seriously, what’s the point of the fox thing it doesn’t make sense). Moses is probably the best written character in it and he’s kind of a monster. The Jesus character would be better if we didn’t have four books that contradict each other. He’s also very odd, and I don’t mean in that “savior of man-kind so he’s going to be odd” odd, I mean that this is a guy that curses a tree because it isn’t producing figs (and I wonder what time of year it is, should that tree have had figs?). There’s boring letters and the entire book ends with an insane fever dream full of impossible things (stars can’t fall into the ocean) but to its credit is very vivid. If you don’t cherry pick, the book is unreadable which is why you should try and read it, especially if you are a believer.

However, it is even weird for me to put in a review of the book like that because the reason it’s a “great book” is because we’ve been told for centuries of years that it is the “greatest book” by people who initially opposed its mass publication, and opposed its translation into the common tongue. It’s like watching “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Look, that movie is boring, unnecessarily long, and tedious at points. There’s some good parts and without it we wouldn’t have science fiction films the way we have them today. Yet, we’ve all been told that it’s one of the greatest movies ever so we kind of just accept it. The difference between the two is that 2001 is a marvel at filmmaking (just not in storytelling) while the Bible is just not a well written book. It might have something to do with multiple authors who aren’t compatible, telling a historical story centuries after the fact, or the fact that it is a compilation of things that don’t quite fit in (what the hell is Ecclesiastes doing in there anyway?).

As Mark Twain (allegedly) said about the book, the road to atheism is littered with pages of the Bible. So by all means disagree with the article and read it.

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Don’t Call Them Liars

April 16, 2018 1 comment

I’ve mentioned that I have a student who is outspoken regarding being a Muslim. She’s not disruptive or in any other way a bad student, in fact, she’s one of my better students. A prior post related how she forced me through debate to familiarize myself with some Islamic translations in order to argue the point that the Quran believes the world to be flat. It came down to one translation of one word in one passage that says “egg shaped” regarding the Earth. However, this translation of 79:30 translates the word “dahaha” as Ostrich egg rather than the more common translation of “spread out.” What’s troubling for this position, and my student’s as well, is that this isn’t consistent for the 19 instances that the shape and position of the Earth is mentioned. We had our discussion and then it was left. I’m not entirely sure what she took from it, other than that I as her instructor was willing to delve into some thing that I wasn’t sure about.

Last class though, we were wrapping up a discussion on limitations on free speech. I was trying to get the class to admit that we ought to be able to censor things that aren’t true (As much as I want to believe this should be the case I know that the arguments against it are much better and was playing devil’s advocate). The aforementioned student raised her hand, not my policy–it’s college, they can just talk, and said that it makes some sense because there are a lot of people that claim Islam creates terrorists and that causes people to hate Muslims, and that’s not true.

Her phrasing of the sentence was odd or perhaps I misheard she’s very soft-spoken in class (but not one on one). I replied that I didn’t quite understand what part of the sentence wasn’t true as they both seemed true to me. She replied that Islam does not proscribe violence, that terrorists are not true Muslims, and that people who hear that it does commit crimes against Muslims who haven’t done anything. I’ll say this, it was probably the best clarification I had ever heard from a student.

How to respond to this became the issue and my mind was racing for an answer. The first issue is that I’m not going to censor the truth, we literally put that subject to bed during class and had moved on to censoring falsehood. I explained that like all religions, Islam does have a call to war for the unbelievers, that we it’s a difficult problem because despite the 99% of non-violent people that 1% makes the rest look bad in countries where that religion isn’t the majority but I would hesitate to say that they aren’t real Muslims.

She replied that it’s not in there, and that you can’t be considered a real Muslim if you commit acts of terror. Now at this point I knew that I was stepping into a problem, without consulting my phone to look it up I couldn’t, from memory, recite the lines from the Quran that advocate violence to the non-believer (2:191, 3:28, 3:85, 5:33, 8:12, 8:60, 8:65, 9:5, 9:30, among others) but I needed to address a different problem. The reason was that we had spent part of the philosophy of religion section on rules in the Bible that Christians ignore routinely. For instance, conservative Christians are the most virulent anti-immigrants in politics right now despite the Bible telling them to welcome immigrants with open arms and to take care of them (lev 19:10, 33-34, Lev 24:35, Ex 22:21, Ex 23:9, Deut 10:19, Deut 24:17-21, Jer 7:6, Jer 22:3, Zech 7:10, Matt 25:35), but we don’t call them fake Christians…well, not everyone does. What we should concentrate on is how they identify themselves. If I blow up a bus in the name of the one true faith, it’s reasonable to assume that I believe in that true faith and think that I am doing the best for it. It really doesn’t matter what religion it is, as long as there is a reasonable interpretation of the religious tenants that motivated my action I should be considered as telling the truth (even Jainism justifies violence in certain cases but if I start killing apple growers because I believe they contributed to the Fall of Man, then that’s probably on me and not the Bible in that instance).

It’s a sentiment that I first brought up when criticizing Obama’s statement that ISIS was not a religious group: they were because they believed themselves to be, were using the Quran to justify their actions, and were taking part in attacking those that they deemed heretics. I explained to the student that all religions do this, it’s just that now most religious people don’t adhere to those parts of their books. She disagreed in the case of Islam by which I had to move on because without the proper lines I couldn’t press the point further. However I did concede her point that claiming that all Muslims are terrorists does lead to crimes against Islam which is why both Obama and Bush were very careful to separate which was which.

A side issue having to do with this is that the religious want it both ways when they invoke the argument from martyrdom apologetic. They claim that their religion must be true because there exists a number of people who have died for their religion, thus their belief cannot be a lie. However they don’t accept this premise when someone kills other people including themselves for the same purpose. Then it’s a the Scotsman fallacy all the way. It’s a poor apologetic because all it claims is that the person believed it, not that their belief was justified. After all we shouldn’t say they were lying.

Categories: atheism, religion, School

Fortune and Popularity

March 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Let’s start with some good news. I assigned my introduction to Philosophy course to write a short one page essay on whether or not a person needs religion to be moral. I have 41 students in the course, and 0 papers responded in the affirmative. Even though I had some papers begin with “I consider myself a devout Christian,” “Being raised Catholic,” and “As a practicing Muslim…” not one person in the class was of the opinion that religion was a necessary factor in being a good person. This, coupled with my skepticism course in which I just asked the question as a yes/no/don’t know received all but one in the affirmative (the missing one didn’t answer the question so I pushed that into the “don’t know” category).

It seems to me that this is the last realm where religion has the upper hand and the new generation is killing it off. So what’s the next move; would it be to figure out what about the current message is turning people off, make whatever adjustments possible, and go for a kind of rebranding? That makes sense and is the most reasonable measure that an individual could take. Perhaps such self-reflection may make the people in charge realize that they refocus their efforts toward something that matters to the up and coming generations, dial down the rhetoric when it comes to apostates, atheists, and homosexuals. Perhaps allow women a higher position in the hierarchy or (in the case of the Vatican) allow priests to marry. I’m just spit balling here. The other option is to force the individual to come to you through the use of fear.

Italian Philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli is rather infamous for his line that it is better to be feared than loved when it came to how the Prince ought to be viewed by his subjects. Without getting into it too much, this is a serious misquotation of his sentiment. What he said was that being loved is the ideal, but that people are too fickle and too ready to take advantage that being loved by them is a difficult endeavor; while making the population fear you is much easier. Once love is lost it is quite difficult to reclaim it while fear is a much simpler emotion to get back. If the aristocracy loses the fear of the state, the state can just start making arrests and seizures, but to regain love it is a mystery as to what the state can do.

I bring it up because of two news stories coming out of the Vatican. The first is that the International Association of Exorcists, back in January were pleading that they needed new recruits to meet the demand for their services. The second piece of news was that the Vatican was blaming the rise in demand for exorcisms on fortune tellers. These two pieces of news are related of course. The one sees a need for demand while the other tries to explain the demand. However, is the motive the desperate need to drive up the demand for services through the emotion of fear? The concept of possession is a frightening one, that something can take over your mind and body, and especially so if that being is malevolent (interesting that we never hear of benevolent possession).

The problem is that in lieu of actually attempting to bring people in through the changes I mentioned above they are resorting to the fear of the unknowable. A fear that is based in a phenomenon that has no basis in reality. When religion was total, it served not only the moral explanation but also the worldly explanation. The things which happened in the world, in the environment, and in the body were explained through the nature of the religion. Possession, the transformation of an individual into something terrible, was explained through demons. Now, we have numerous other explanations for that same concept so this idea of demonic possession is unneeded. What’s even more unneeded is the solution to the problem: exorcists. If someone is suffering from “possession” they need to see a mental health professional not someone who is going to chant at them a magic spell.

The second part: the purported cause of the rise in demonic possessions is as absurd as it gets. This would be like hearing a Reiki practitioner blame a rise of cancer on touch therapy. Let’s make the bold assumption that fortune telling was a real thing: why would that be related to demonic possession? Are the fortune tellers learning the future from demons, if so, then the fortune tellers are performing literal miracles. Not only are they viewing that-which-has-yet-to-happen but they are also communing with the spiritual world.

Fortune telling isn’t new though, and a particular target of the Vatican are tarot cards, which aren’t new either. They date back to the renaissance Europe, and were originally just playing cards until the 18th century when they were almost exclusively used for the divination practice they are commonly associated with today. Unless there’s been a severe uptick in the amount of decks sold or people having their fortunes read by them, this only makes sense as a means to remain relevant. Sure, if morality is no longer the magisterium of the church, the physical realm is out, I suppose the last realm is defense against the dark arts. A person who believes in possession is probably also likely to contact a psychic so why not claim that the competition is the cause.

I will concede them one point though, fortune telling is responsible for demonic possession in the same way that unicorns are responsible for UFO sightings. (sorry for the lack of links–I’m having a computer issue that is forcing me to use a ten year old model and my patience for it to catch up is non-existent)

Theological debate

March 5, 2018 Leave a comment

I have just finished teaching the a-religious section of my intro to Phil course. It was prefaced by Cicero’s Design Argument (as well as a sub-argument within it) and the Anselm Ontological Argument. From there I move on to Paine and Ingersoll writing against the truth of religion. Both of them have similar complaints but it is Ingersoll writing with the benefit of a hundred years of scientific progress who really nails it down in his essay “The Gods.”

His point is that none of the “revealed religions” contribute anything to scientific discovery. At best, they are only as advanced in knowledge as the science of their day. He concludes this position by stating that an omniscient being communicating to his chosen prophet should have knowledge of the world that is more than the people know at the time or at least clear and unambiguous if it is to be limited to contemporary knowledge. In order to assist in the understanding of the argument I make two things very clear: the first is that the argument only applies to those reading their respective works literally. By this I mean Ken Ham build a boat in Kentucky literally. For example most Christians do not accept the Bible as an accurate gauge of the age of the Earth. They, in short, reject Usherrism (that the Earth is only 6000 years old). It’s not a doctrine of the religion generally. The same would apply to other religions and their creation stories. I find it doubtful that any of the Norse believed in Ymir and the giant cow as stories that were literally true and not just as stories.

The second thing I make absolutely clear is that this is not just some liberal anti-Christian bashing either and I bring in examples from other religions that also show a scientific ignorance of the world. Along with the Bible’s Flat Earthness I show the same problem with the Quran. Suras 13:3, 15:19, 18:86, 18:90, 50:7, 51:48, 79:30, 88:20, 91:6; all refer to the Earth as being “spread out” or “rolled out.” I’m not a Quranic scholar nor an Arabic scholar. I speak no Arabic, but I can however, recognize the letters as being Arabic (which means nearly nothing, I can point to something and say “Arabic” but that is literally it). All I can go by are the translations that are available to me and every one of those 9 verses of the Quran tell me that the book has the world being flat.

The first time I introduced this problem, this semester, after a class I student approached me. Let’s call her “Aisha” as that’s one of the most common Muslim names for women, Aisha disputed my claim about the Quran. She’s a practicing Sunni Muslim who went to Quranic school. I value the truth more than being considered correct and my only problem with the student is why she didn’t bring it up during the lecture, but I’ve been told by previous students that I can come across rather imposing so maybe it’s that. Anyway, she claimed that the Quran makes the claim that the Earth is “egg-shaped” rather than flat–this is something that I’ve heard before but never really looked too much into it. I didn’t feel that I had to with three verses backing me up on the flat earth. The general thesis that I was teaching was the book was wrong, and even if one verse claims that it’s egg-shaped I have three (eight with a full survey of all verses) claiming that it’s not. She repeated the claim during lecture a session later, having gained some confidence that I wasn’t going to rip into her for challenging me, and I publicly said that egg shaped would be far more accurate than flat giving it a point on the Bible, but then still missing the general knowledge when placed against the Greeks, Babylonians, and Egyptians of the same time.

After class, Aisha challenged the position again saying that since the Earth isn’t a sphere which the Greeks claimed but rather an oblate spheroid the Quran is closer to the mark. I told her honestly, I didn’t know, but that I would look it up. And thus here we are.

First problem: the Earth isn’t shaped like an egg. It’s not even close. The shape being described as an “oblate spheroid” is largely a geometrical description because it bows out a little in the center. For intents and purposes the Earth is a sphere, just an imperfect sphere. Sticking to the “oblate spheroid” description would be like telling my daughter that she drew a rhombus and not a square because I doubt all of the angles were 90 degrees. Eggs are narrower at one end than the other, that’s not the Earth so Ingersoll’s point would still stand here as the omniscient being should have that knowledge and ability to communicate it.

Second: I’ve already mentioned it, the book has one verse making this claim and eight others making the flat claim. Clear and unambiguous was the expectation Paine and Ingersoll had for the inerrant word of God. Even if we remove those qualifications it should not be contradictory.

Third: The Quran does not say “egg-shaped.” This took some digging to which I’m actually grateful to have been forced into doing. The three primary English translations of the Quran translate Sura 79:30 as “And the Earth, moreover, hath He extended (to a wide expanse);” “And after that He spread the Earth;” “And the Earth, He expanded it after that” this from the translation by Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, and Shakir respectively. “Egg” comes from Dr. Rashid Khalifa who translates it as “He made the Earth egg-shaped.” This translation is regarded amongst the orthodoxy as heretical, however that’s not my issue with it (this post would be considered heretical) though it is an important issue for the faithful, so I’m going to put a pin in that. What does matter is that contextually the verse doesn’t make sense. 79:29 discusses making the day and night, 79:31 details making the sea and the pastures.

If 79:30 doesn’t fit. “He made the dark therof, then brought for the the morn therof, he made the Earth egg-shaped, and produced the water…” It would be redundant to claim this egg shape as the dark and morning are already established to be cyclical. Further, the repeated claim that the sun circles the Earth (13:2, 18:86 [a repeat from the earlier list], 21:33, 35:13, 36:38, 36:40), actually makes more sense contextually with a flat earth than with a round earth.

It’s an interesting situation and it is clear to me that Khalifa is retrofitting a word that can be loosely interpreted as “egg-shaped” so that the Quran is more accurate than it seems to be. It’s also curious that this is the only time he makes this adjustment and not for the other eight times. No matter the case, the problem is that it falls further into the trap of Ingersoll as he points out the excuses the faithful make when defending the mistakes of knowledge in their holy book.

The Limits of Omnipotence

February 20, 2018 2 comments

So my country has had another mass shooting, and I thought it would be relatively easy to speak on that for today’s post, but then I wondered what was the new thing that I could say. Basically, I could just repeat what I’ve said before and just switch out the places. Instead of X I could say “school” or in the case of the Connecticut shooting I could keep the place and just change the age of the victim (my country has a lot of these kinds of shootings). However some politicians and commentators offered  me a new take on it. I was going to come up with the examples but enough people have made the comment that the list is too long and I don’t want to be accused of cherry picking so let’s just say Todd Starnes said it (because he did) and then a whole bunch of other people agreed with him that school shootings are the result of kicking god out of the schools.

Ignoring the fact that “god” wasn’t kicked out of the schools–forced prayer was–let’s examine this claim in detail.

If there is a law which tells me I can’t do X, that doesn’t mean that I cannot do X what it means is that if I do X I can suffer consequences for that action. A law which mandates that I stand for the pledge of allegiance doesn’t force my action by virtue of the law itself, it forces the action by causing me to weight the consequences of the action. If I deem the penalty as too severe I will stand for the poem, if deem it not severe enough than I can choose to sit and possibly suffer the consequence. The same goes for any law or rule. The compulsion is only from consequence avoidance. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once commented that freedom of speech existed in the USSR as well as the USA, the only difference was that in the USA we had freedom after speech. The difference is important especially when we consider what people like Todd Starnes are saying.

Their belief is that the US passed a law by which “god” was no longer allowed in schools. Now, I doubt that they are so devoid of rational thinking that they believe the literal being was denied access to the school…maybe…but that it was illegal to pray, bring a bible, or anything religious based. So a student “John” cannot pray. This has caused a blanket ban on all religious thought, consideration, or feeling in the school. As a result the omnipotent being that John would have prayed to can no longer find His (because we know what god people like Starnes are talking about and it ain’t anyone other than Jesus) way into the school, or even on school property. As a result, this means that the school shooter gets to unload a few clips of his AR-15 style rifle into some students. QED making prayer forbidden in school caused this.

The implication here is that god is bound by US secular law. Once the law is enacted and the court passes its ruling it’s like Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-Dum forbidding the supernatural being from passing. What Starnes and his ilk seem to believe, again because it bears repeating, that god is bound by US secular law. That’s the first possibility. The second is the one they actually aren’t saying aloud and is pure speculation on my part, that, they believe god is causing the mass shootings because we don’t allow enough Jesus inside the school. The second, of course, is not something that most religious people believe and should, indeed, find quite offensive. The problem of evil trilemma is almost never solved by eliminating the Omni-benevolence portion in this manner.*

That returns us to the first possibility which severely limits the power of god to even speeding. This would explain a lot of the absence, but it also means that every person living within the US legal boundary has more power than the divine being that Starnes wants back in the schools. Especially those that are not legally citizens, since their mere presence is more powerful than the creator of the universe. This is not a god worth worshipping since its power is so limited, in fact it’s not a god at all.

 

*Though sometimes it’s eliminated by way of “god works in mysterious ways.” Which implies that even the worst tragedies are to some greater plan that involves such intense human suffering and our feeble minds will never grasp the true meaning. It’s not a satisfying answer by any respect but if you hear it enough times as a child you learn to stop asking why (at least that was my experience).

Self Inflicted Wound

February 12, 2018 Leave a comment

“The reason I believe in free will is because I believe in an all knowing god who knows every decision we are going to make…”

The assignment was a short, one page opinion essay on the student’s thought as to whether or not we have free will. Very easy, very quick…and most of them screwed it up. Instead of talking about free will they talked about decisions they made or didn’t make. This student wasn’t one of those that screwed up, the essay actually addressed the problem. It would be completely unfair of me to expect an answer to the question of free will, people still write their dissertations on the topic and entire subdivisions of academic disciplines are devoted to it. I just wanted their opinion as briefly as appropriate for an introduction to Philosophy course.

I focus on this student’s essay though not because of this specific answer but because of the general type of answer that it is: a self-refuting argument. Or as I call it, taking inspiration from the podcast God Awful Movies, the “jingly keys argument.” Without delving to far into the problem, the student has essentially stated that there is free will but then the reasoning seems to refute the idea of an indeterminate universe. The difference is that while the student is proclaiming a divinely ordered free will universe, there is also the counter claim that everything is already known. So setting aside the omniscience issue with choice, we’re to accept that while my decision to wear a sweater or not is mine, that choice was already made in the future…and more importantly, already known by a being possessing of perfect knowledge. Therefore, my decision had to be one way and could never have been another. This brings us full circle back to the issue we set aside a few sentences ago: was my choice really free?

This has been addressed by the Philosophical pantheon. Augustine said that there was a difference between knowing that something is going to happen and having made that thing happen–thus he can preserve both his religious beliefs and his belief in free will. It takes some mental work and some cognitive dissonance to hold both beliefs, but there we have it. What I wonder is why even come up with this argument in the first place?

It reminds me of the Epicurean paradox concerning the existence of evil and an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing god. Epicurus never said it, the Epicureans did not believe in a god that cared and had little awareness or interest themselves in the burgeoning Christian cult when the school was adopted by the Roman intelligentsia. They had no rivals which postulated such a being so it wouldn’t have made sense to them to offer specific arguments against them. The paradox itself comes from a Christian writer named Lactantius who was using the paradox as a polemic against the Epicurean school to say, “look these idiots believe that an all powerful, all knowing, all good god wouldn’t allow evil in the world so they are a bunch of atheists which is why we shouldn’t follow them.”

Does Lactantius answer his own paradox? No. Why then would he write such a damning thing about his own belief?

In both cases we have authors defending their personal beliefs by developing extremely difficult problems for that belief, but doing so thinking that it buttresses their own argument. Augustine, in his defense, is not making the problem up and then arguing against it, he’s making an argument against an external threat. So while I think his position is weak he’s not shooting himself in the foot with it.

However this does not excuse my student or Lactantius from what they have done. Nor does it scream to the motive of why they came up with it in the first place. The only reasonable explanation that I can offer is that they do not understand what they are saying. This could be for two different reasons: the first is that they are merely parroting what someone else had told them. In the case of Lactantius this might be less probable given the lack of knowledge he was sure to have since while his writings indicate an exposure to the other philosophical schools of Rome (Stoicism is his other target in this same work) they also show a lack of understanding of them (which is something I suspect can be attributed to a great deal of early religious writing in the bible–but that is for a much longer and more researched post), it might very well be that Lactantius developed this argument on his own thinking that the Epicureans didn’t believe in any gods, which he would have been wrong about as they were Deists. With the student it’s more probable that this a repeated argument but I can’t make any conclusions as to the certainty, but since it’s an easily searchable claim–in fact, an essay making the exact claim in much greater detail was the first result with the search terms “free will, Christian, omniscience.”

The second, and I think the more probable explanation is that they think it helps their cause because they haven’t considered the implications of it. Lactantius is looking for a slander against the Epicureans for their naturalism and their denial of an involved god so he throws the ancient slander that the Epicureans were “atheists,” why not it worked on Socrates and Aristotle. However, “atheist” didn’t mean then what it did today it just meant that a person didn’t worship the “right” god the “right” way. The student seems to believe that their god gives free will, but then hasn’t considered that such knowledge leads to a deterministic universe unless they didn’t feel like getting into it, which is a bit problematic for their paper. In either case, the strangest thing is that just a little self-reflection on their own assertions would lead them to understand that they are providing ammunition against the very thing that they are arguing for.

 

By a Preponderance…

February 5, 2018 Leave a comment

It’s been awhile since I’ve hit up this book and believe me I was looking for an excuse today, but since it is only my birthday and not an actual holiday (so far) I decided to crack open this book. We left off at the end of chapter III, so I pushed passed the fictional testimonial into chapter IV titled “the Challenge of Science.” First off I can already guess his argument, not because he’s a theist, but because he’s already thrown it out there back in chapter one and given my experience with this book already I’m going to assume that there’s nothing new in here. In either case, we must push forward and hope that it starts with something new…

…and no, it begins with a screed against naturalism and a case of completely not understanding what “science” is, “If science is the discovery of physical truth…” ok, good start depending on what we are supposed to understand the phrase “physical truth” to mean but that’s me being a bit pedantic so I won’t spend anymore pixels on it. “…it must be intimately connected with the realm of morality and religion.”

So that sentence took a hard left didn’t it? Let’s just say this, no it doesn’t. That’s not the realm of science. Whether or not gravitons exist has no reflection in the realm of morality or religion unless a particular religion does not believe in the existence of such particles (or it does). The same applies to the function of the pineal gland, or the resultant affect on an individual with regard to chemical substances. It is not the job of science to determine religious doctrine or morality, and any attempt to do so should be met with extreme skepticism. The author basically admits that this is the current view of “science” but then claims this is wrong without giving any basis for why. In a different book I’d not make this a criticism expecting it to be followed up in later pages, but he’s dropped claims before and I have no reason to think that this will be any different.

“A lord of only the subjective is necessarily the god of only the irrelevant.”–I agree.

We then get a very superficial but not inaccurate summary of the idea of naturalism. The author describes it as the view that only natural causes exist, we are all the product of accidental forces, and that life has no meaning other than what we give it. Ok, I’ll leave some of my problems with that aside since their heavy philosophical issues with this idea of “meaning” but this is not something I would mark wrong on a student’s paper.

We are treated to a light expansion of this idea with a quote by genetics professor Richard Lewontin about getting “them” (it’s unclear from context who “them” is) to reject supernatural causes. I have to guess about the context but this makes, at the very least, practical sense which is why scientists since Newton have been trying to excise unnatural causes from explanations. Why? Because you can’t measure the non-material causes. You can’t offer a predictive progressive research programme that offers a theory which is either verifiable or falsifiable based on spiritual entities. The reason the domains of religious and scientific knowledge do not overlap is because they have utterly different goals. Show me a non-naturalistic explanation that actually makes a prediction and I’ll push those circles a little bit together but until then I’ll take the material explanation since it makes my cell phone work and gives me medicine. Aligning the harvesting of crops with the moon didn’t change agriculture, knowledge of soil consistency, botany, chemistry, and biology did. Disease cures don’t emanate from “pray on it” they are directly caused by the scientific method which has rejected, since the writings of Hippocrates the idea of unnatural causes.

He also thinks that anyone who accepts the naturalistic view has to ignore the “increasing weight of scientific evidence coming to light in so many areas of inquiry; evidence that points patterns of intelligent design in the universe and its component parts.”

First off, he offers none of this evidence. Secondly, he can’t because it doesn’t exist. Proponents of ID will point to what are patterns in various cherry picked natural phenomenon. The shape of a galaxy, the shape of a hurricane, and the growth of a conch shell roughly (very roughly) correspond to the golden ration (or theta) and they point this out saying “look there’s a clear design here.” If we assume that they are right then this being of omniscient intelligence needs to get back to the crafting table because the execution of the design isn’t that well done. Further we can also comment that the design of parasites while seemingly based on a pattern is evidence of malicious design serving no purpose other than to propagate species whose sole existence is to thrive off the pain and suffering of other life forms. Finally, there are explanations for why these patterns exist and usually that explanation is gravity. Accretion discs of nebula, galactic star fields, and even galactic clusters–it’s all gravity. However, one could and without contradiction point out that these laws were set in place by the omnipotent creator (as the view of the Vatican is currently). Fine, but that still doesn’t remove us from naturalistic explanations of the world, it just sets up a prime mover argument.

The problem with this argument is that it is a) self-contradictory because we then have to assume a self-created thing and b) doesn’t get us to Christianity it only gets us to some divine power which could be anything. Of what value would assumptions of a natural cause be to the human genome? Zero.

What he’s driving it is a lamentation that there isn’t enough Jesus in the classroom. He remarks that Christian thinkers are dismissed from academics. This is just false. What is dismissed are religious explanations for the natural world. I teach philosophy, my department does not lack in religious individuals or even in religious philosophy (well the one that I am enrolled as a PhD student does not, my current department does not have a religious philosophy person). I would have a nice long talk with my department chair and then human resources if I dismissed or failed students based on the Christian beliefs. Our author’s main problem is that he fails to understand that religious explanations are not used in science anymore merely because of their religiosity but because they aren’t useful at explaining things. You have to already accept the premise and the conclusion then shoehorn all the physical evidence into it. The challenge of science isn’t that it claims god is dead (because it doesn’t) it’s that it’s been proven to be more useful than relying on a 2000 year old book for the natural world.