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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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Satanist

April 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Friday night I met Lucien Grieves, the founder of the Satanic Temple, at the CFI Headquarters in Buffalo. The Satanic Temple is a non-theistic religious group (meaning they are defined by law as a religious group) that has a couple of goals. The first is helping to maintain the separation of church and state by suing over laws that favor one religion over another or that privilege religion over non-religion. The second was the purpose of the talk on Friday night: to expose an ongoing pseudo-scientific strain that has infected the study of psychology since the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and 90s.

Their focus has primarily been on the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD). This is a group that focuses on dissociative identity disorder (what we used to call multiple personality disorder) and the relation between that condition and abuse related trauma. On the surface it seems like this is actually science or at least a proto-science that they are seeking to gain credibility with. I’m not a psychologist so I can’t speak of the truth of DID only to say that the general consensus amongst experts is that it is a real condition but it is controversial as to what the condition actually is. The problem lies in whether the alternate personalities (alters in the literature) are socially constructed or a direct result of the trauma itself. In either case, again, I’m not qualified to weigh on this part of the debate.

What I am qualified to speak about is where it comes from or where it doesn’t in actuality. How DID manifests is a difficult issue, but we know one thing: that Satanic mind control, Illuminati training, and witch rituals aren’t the origin. This is what the Grieves spoke about: that this otherwise normally sounding organization, the ISSTD, looks on the surface to be tackling a legitimate subject just below the surface are the panic mongers instilling fear of groups which do not exist who have powers beyond the scope of the normal world.

This is all related to the Satanic Panic. The allegations during the panic where that children could be psychologically abused in such a way that the abuser could force their minds to forget the abuse and to create an alternate personality that would shield their true self from the memory. The members of the ISSTD, medical professionals, all believe that this is true. In 2014 Rachel Thomas presented on patients being abused by lizard aliens, which I suppose is one step above David Icke’s theory since they at least live in this dimension.

The general problem is not whether DID exists, it is not research into childhood trauma, it is in where that trauma originates. Aliens, Lizard Aliens, Satanic Cults, and Witch Covens do not kidnap children for these purposes because these groups do not exist in this fashion. The hysteria over it does, and a culture that believes in these things will treat them as though they are real. ISSTD presenter Neil Brick, claims that he was a programmed psychic assassin by a joint operation of the Illuminati and Freemasons (because why not check all the boxes in my conspiracy bingo card). None of this is happening, it isn’t now and it wasn’t in the 80s.

I remember that the original panic well. I followed it on the news because it was weird and to be honest I can’t honestly say that I was doubtful about it. When people those days said something on television, I didn’t have my skepticism/cynicism that I have today. I do remember the church that I attended taking it much more seriously than they should have. However given the current Pope’s endorsement of the exorcists I guess nothing has really changed. They gave us a work sheet full of Satanic symbols, lectured us on the necessity of being aware of Satanists in our neghborhoods, and then brought a local cop out to inform us about the legal ramifications. I will note that the cop was not buying it but she said we should look out for drug use and vandalism.

The biggest mystery of the panic to me is where it came from and why it took hold. My research has it starting with the book “Michelle Remembers” by Lawrence Pazder and his former patient/future wife Michelle Smith about her experiences of being a sexual abuse victim in a Satanic cult. The book has been thoroughly disproven not only by the incredibleness of the claims but the impossibility of them as well (Events in the book could not be corroborated  by outside sources but also it would require Michelle to have been in two places at the same time given the 61 day ritual described in the book). Fiction is usually the place to look, and with the popularity of The Exorcist a few years prior that seems likely, just as reports of alien abduction immediately followed the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (similarly fear of nuclear power following the movie The China Syndrome which just preceded the Three Mile Island accident [of which the latter harmed no one]).

The why question is more mysterious though, why did this take hold at the time that it did rather than any other time before or after? The majority of Americans seem to recognize the crazy now. People are getting smarter, but before the 80s this didn’t happen either. A couple of sources I’ve read point to the rise in television evangelism, but that seems to be a symptom rather than the cause. What drove the profitability of television evangelism to the point where they could push a paranoid view of a world where Satanic cults kidnap and murder children? Why was it accepted? These are the important questions as we ponder how this incredible phenomenon still has ripples that affect the world today.

Hell is Other People (Apparently)

April 2, 2018 Leave a comment

The Atheist news sphere was abuzz last week about the Pope’s apparent declaration of two things: that the soul is not eternal and that hell doesn’t exist. These comments were made to La Republicca reporter Eugenio Scalfari, a frequent interviewer of the Pope, atheist, and editor of the newspaper in question. He’s also 93 years old and doesn’t take notes or record his interviews (we’ll put a pin that for now).

So, this creates a problem because the typical story that has been happening since Francis has been in obvious is that he says something reasonable like Hell doesn’t exist, that God isn’t a wizard who can make creation out of nothing, or that atheists aren’t intrinsically bad people: then people cover the comment upon which the Vatican, not the Pope himself, begins walking back the comment.

Scalfari reported that the Pope said, “Hell does not exist–what exists is the disappearance of souls.”

Let’s assume he’s quoting faithfully. What are the implications? Well, first off this would be in line with the Renaissance belief noted in Dante that upon final judgment those in Hell are oblivated. They suffer their punishments in Hell, but then everything is washed away and those souls no longer exist after that event. This is noted in Dante as the souls in Hell can see the future. It’s an ironic punishment because they can see the end and know that though they wish their suffering to end, they also are aware that when the suffering ends they do as well.

As a philosopher it’s hard for me reconcile the comment that “what exists is the disappearance…” I mean, how does a disappearance exist? First off it’s an event, not a thing, but secondly it’s a lack not a presence so it can’t truly exist. None of that is important right now, so we will have to move on.

The problem with Hell is that it is a punishment that does not fit the crime, and this is true no matter what the crime actually is, simply because the length of time is infinite. We take this eternal situation and we place it against the notion of divine justice and we are thrust right into the Euthyphro dilemma. Divine justice would necessitate that punishment not only fit the crime but that it is done for the purpose of atonement. If I am a perpetual thief, I spend my entire life stealing, then I should be punished for it. In the afterlife, I should spend a certain amount of time being chased and bitten by reptiles. There has to be a certain amount of time by which a rational being would say that I have atoned for that crime. To say that I deserve eternal torture at the hands of these reptiles isn’t justice it’s vengeance.

Now, the apologist may claim that vengeance is the privilege of the Divine. Alright, that’s a fair point but it can’t, under any circumstance, be weighed against the crime or be called justice. The two are not related, and it is more reminiscent of Thrasymachus’ claim that justice is whatever the powerful say it is than some other metaphysical notion of justice.

Now of course, I as an Atheist, have a bias interest in their not being a Hell and for there not being a eternal punishment. I have to accept that, but I also have to accept the numerous conflicting crimes that get a person into Hell, in the words of Reverend Lovejoy, “Have you ever actually sat down and read this thing, we’re technically not allowed to go to the bathroom.” I’m pretty sure that it’s all a role of the dice anyway.

The problem with the comment is that we can’t assume that it’s the actual words of the Pope to begin with. The Vatican does have a point and this reporter doesn’t take notes or record the interviews. We can add that he’s 93 but some people, even nonagenarians, have sharp minds so let’s leave aside his age. The pope may have said something wherein he was clarifying the notion of Hell, i.e. saying that “Hell doesn’t exist the way people have imagined it” denying that “Hell” exists, but not the Hell of Dante. The popular view of Hell is not one that appears until John’s fever dream of Revelation anyway so the Pope could just be clarifying.

The most important point is that if he said it, and it was reported accurately the Pope isn’t making a doctrinal statement nor is he pronouncing the sentiment ex cathedra (invoking his infallibility). From the Catholic position this means he’s merely offering a personal view but not indicating a policy shift regarding the beliefs of the millions of Catholics in the world. While a shocking thing for a Pope to say, it’s not important as far as reflecting the beliefs of the Church itself.

As the Friendly Atheist blog points out, just last week the Pope urged members of the Italian mafia to repent less they be condemned to Hell. Further the Pope’s endorsement of exorcisms seems to bely at least the tangential belief in the place since that must be where all the demons and monsters live.

It’s important that we take this comment and the implications of it with a health dose of the same skepticism we apply to everything else. It’s a literal fallacy to accept the words of an individual that we normally would deny just because he’s saying something that we want to hear.

A Religious Duty?

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Well I’m impressed, we’ve managed to keep the latest mass shooting in the news for more than a week. If not for the effort of the school’s students this thing probably would have gone away by now, but those plucky young high school students have bitten back at a lobby group and the gun fetishists. What those people forget is while they might be good at verbal sparring, passive aggressive and aggressive social interactions, that’s all these kids know–they are in high school. If their high school experience was anything like mine, that’s four years of constantly having to come up with insults and rejoinders, it’s their life while their opponents just have to remember what they said two weeks ago after the last shooting.

This however isn’t a political blog, though sometimes it steps into that territory–and this post will be one foot in and one foot out. I want to talk about the mass shooting on Valentine’s Day, but I will do so by asking a question: why are Christian evangelicals so in love with firearms?

For those who consider themselves Conservatives, I get it, I don’t agree because they have lauded the 2nd Amendment to a status where it overwhelms all other rights, but it’s part of their political platform. For the conspiracy theorists with the delusional Red Dawn fantasies playing out in their heads, again, I get it–you’re wrong but I get it. It’s these Christians that I don’t understand. How is it that owning an assault rifle has become part of your religion?

One church had scheduled a blessing of assault-style rifles before the shooting but then refused to cancel or reschedule the event after it. Which, fine if they want to keep it going that’s up to them, my confusion is why this is even a thing? I’m willing to bet that there’s a strong overlap between the type of church that does this, the type of preacher that supports it, and the type of parishioner that attends and Apocalypse preaching. After every shooting we can count on these types to offer the same type of reasoning: taking god out of the schools, gay marriage, abortion, etc. They have a knee-jerk reaction to blaming access to these types of guns and want to blame it on literally anything else (even when the shootings happen in churches).

When I was religious, I wasn’t into the Apocalypse stuff. I read Revelations, a few times, but that was mostly because it was so weird. I was into D&D and mythology so that book fit in, though it wasn’t as well written. Being raised Catholic, I was taught that the book was not a literal check list of things that were going to happen before the end of the world but that it was just some of the usual metaphorical literature that was universal amongst end time religions in those days. My “New American Bible for Catholics” is specific in its introduction: “This much, however, is certain: symbolic descriptions are not to be taken as literal descriptions, nor is the symbolism meant to be pictured realistically.”

That’s the general message of every time I was taught this book. Interestingly, this book is where I started to realize that my religion was full of numerology which, at the time,  I did not know was a bullshit pattern recognition coupled with some good old fashioned consequent affirmation. Everything in the book has a number in it: Jesus is a seven horned, seven eyed, lamb for example. If I still had them, I could scan copies of my doodles of these monsters, the beast with seven heads, seven horns on each, and seven crowns on each horn was probably just a mess…especially if I was trying to fit it in the margins of a single subject spiral notebook.

Yet we know that there are those that take this book quite literally and I wonder if the reflexive defense of guns is related. The enormously popular “Left Behind” books and movies by La Haye and Jenkins seem to agree with me. Portraying a world in which all the real true Christians are raptured while those that are not wage a guerilla/terrorist war against the one world government fuels the idea that weapons are needed to fight the Anti-Christ. If this is so, then why is the focus on the war part of this kind of Christian theology rather than on following the teachings and then hoping to get raptured? It seems that this type of Christian has just given up hope and latched on to a “warrior for god” mentality that they, for some reason, believe will grant them eternal bliss in heaven.

No matter the explanation there is an intrinsic relationship with ownership of a gun and a particular strain of religious belief. If Jesus is love, then why do I need an AK, AR, or HK?

This strange bed fellowship is more than likely related to the false sense of persecution that these people feel whenever other groups are granted the same legal rights that they felt were exclusively theirs for the longest time. Pointing out why that perspective is flawed has been the subject of numerous other entries on this blog.

Then again, it could be much simpler. It could be that the religious right is just that in name only. We’ve already seen that they are willing to endorse our current president in the name of family values when he’s defaulted on that several times. It could very well be that these religious extremists will say anything that tightens their control and they’ve been using religion as a cover story for the last several decades. I wish I had an answer to this question, because it sure is mystifying that these sectarians who push a “Jesus is love” message have a unique and directed fetish for a weapon of war.

 

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.