Showing posts with label Morality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morality. Show all posts

Friday, August 26, 2016

Biblical Slavery For Foreigners Part III: The Micro Argument

I just wrote a lengthy follow up to my original post on biblical slavery for foreigners where I critiqued a popular Christian rebuttal but I realized that I needed a micro version of the argument that the Bible allows for conditions that meet the definition of slavery. I also want to list some of the most common responses I hear from Christians defending the view that the Bible doesn't condone slavery. So below is a micro argument that argues that the Bible does indeed condone slavery and it can be copied and pasted by anyone who wants to use it in an online debate. The agenda is as follows: (1) start with defining slavery, (2) show how the Bible allows for conditions that meet the definition of slavery, and (3) rebut a few common points and preempt as many common responses one often hears.

The Argument

The goal of this argument is to make the case that the Bible condoned conditions that amount to what we'd properly call slavery. Slavery can be generally defined as follows:

1. The condition in which one person is owned as property by another and is under the owner's control, especially in involuntary servitude.
2. (Law) the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune
3. The subjection of a person to another person, esp in being forced into work

So at least two conditions have to be met in order to properly be called slavery: (1) The person has to be forced into the position against their will, and (2) the person has to be made to perform some kind of labor, and paid nothing or next to nothing, for a certain amount of time, up to life. This would not generally include people punished for crimes in a just court of law. If anything meets these two conditions, it can be properly called slavery. I will argue that the Bible allowed for situations that meet these conditions.

In the Old Testament foreign slaves could be acquired by war, purchase, or birth. Deut. 20:12-14 says that the Israelites could force the inhabitants of the region they call their "Promised Land" as well as "all the cities that are at a distance from [them] and do not belong to the nations nearby" into forced servitude if they surrender their land and belongings. If they don't surrender, their towns will be besieged and their men will be killed and the women and children can be taken as booty. In Judges 1:28-34 it even says the Israelites forced the Canaanites, the Naphtalites, and the Amorites into servitude, all while the "LORD was with them." 1 Kings 9:21 tells of how King Solomon conscripted foreign tribes who the Israelites couldn't exterminate "to serve as slave labor" building temples, palaces, and the walls of towns. And to distinguish the rules between Hebrews and non-Hebrews, Leviticus 25:44-46 specifies that foreign slaves are not to be freed after the 7th year as a Hebrew servants do, they serve for life and can be inherited as property. This meets both of the conditions for slavery above in that under Old Testament law (1) persons could be forced into the position of subordination or property to another person against their will, or be born into that position, and (2) made to perform unpaid labor.

It is important to note that this argument is not trying to say that all conditions of servitude in the Bible meet the conditions of slavery. Much of it was what can properly be called indentured servitude. This argument is an in principle argument that resolves the question of whether any conditions allowed for under Old Testament Mosaic law meets the conditions for slavery. That is a very important point one has to be aware of when responding to this argument.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Biblical Slavery For Foreigners Part II

In the ongoing question about whether the Bible condones human slavery, Christian apologists have come up with many ways to try and explain that it doesn't. One Christian is Glenn Miller, who wrote a piece on the Christian Think Tank website on slavery in the Bible arguing this point. To properly answer this question, one should ask whether Mosaic law allowed foreigners in Israel to be legally kept in conditions amounting to slavery.

So what is slavery? Slavery has many definitions. For example:

1. The condition in which one person is owned as property by another and is under the owner's control, especially in involuntary servitude.
2. (Law) the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune
3. The subjection of a person to another person, esp in being forced into work

All of these paint a situation one could properly call slavery. Interestingly, to be a slave does not require it to be based on race or ethnicity, and it does not have to be life long. Someone forced into servitude and labor for a finite amount of time can still be considered a slave during the time they are forced. I mention this because many Christian apologists are quick to point out that biblical slavery was not exactly like slavery in the Antebellum South. That may be so, but that doesn't mean biblical slavery wasn't slavery. In the Old Testament, Mosaic law describes how foreigners (non-Hebrews) could be forcefully taken as slaves by being acquired by war (Deut. 20:12-14) and foreign slaves could be kept for life (Lev 25:44-46). While the servitude forced upon prisoners convicted of just crimes is not generally considered slavery, this didn't apply to the people the Bible mentions were forced into servitude. So at least two conditions have to be met in order to properly be called slavery: (1) The person has to be forced into the position against their will, and (2) the person has to be made to perform some kind of labor, and paid nothing or next to nothing, for a certain amount of time, up to life. Now, we can endlessly split hairs over exactly what's "force" (does verbal intimidation or coercion count as force?), but it's not necessary now, as clearly being threatened with death at the end of a sword counts as force.

iconI made a post a while back called Biblical Slavery for Foreigners where I quote from A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, a scholarly work that mentions the allowance of forced lifelong slavery for foreigners in ancient Israel. Miller's article references my source 21 times but when he quotes from it he often is quoting from slave systems of other non-Hebrew cultures. For example, his citation of page 449 references Assyrian slavery. Page 585 references Mesopotamian uses of slavery. Page 664 references Emar, part of Anatolia and the Levant. Page 741 refers to Canaanite culture. And page 199 refers to Mesopotamian culture again. None of these references refer to Hebrew culture and law which is the very thing in question. We're not debating what the Sumerians did or the Hittites did. We're debating what the Israelites did because Christians believe their law came from Yahweh—the one true god, and many Christians today are still claiming this god — and only this god — grounds morality. That's what the debate is about. And all these points Miller makes that slavery was sometimes (or even often) an economic need is totally irrelevant. No one denies that indentured servitude existed in the ANE. When debating whether the Bible condones slavery we're having an in principle argument here: did Mosaic law condone forced servitude that could last for life under any circumstances? Yes or no? That is the issue. Showing that most slavery was voluntary indentured servitude in the ANE is totally irrelevant.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Conservatives Have A Point

Growing up in the inner city, the culture that surrounded me in my adolescent years despised intelligence. Ignorance was celebrated as a virtue; it was something to be commended, something to aspire to. I remember back in school dumbing myself down in order to fit in with my peers by pretending to be stupid and not knowing the answers to the questions my teachers asked, when in fact I really did. Thinking back on this reminds me of the conservatives who say that the problems of the inner city, and the black community in particular, are due to culture and not racism. For a while I dismissed that argument, but I've changed my mind. I think conservatives do have a point on this.

Now let me first set the record straight. I am technically a liberal, although I'm beginning to hate labels more and more, especially when it comes to politics. I am a liberal—but—I definitely don't think liberals have all the right answers. They are not 100 percent right on 100 percent of the issues. That's far from the case. We must divorce ourselves from the increasingly tribal mentalities on the political spectrum. We must be willing to listen to the other side, and seek out the best criticism of our own political identifications. And we must put reason and evidence first and foremost over and above everything else, especially when it disagrees with our politics.

On the ongoing problems in America's inner cities with rising crime and stagnant poverty I think that it is undeniably true that culture is at least a part of the problem. You see, what conservatives typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on culture, and what liberals typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on racism. But as I see it, both of them are partially right. Yes — racism, the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the predatory lending practices of banks, and many other discriminatory policies have left a negative imprint on African Americans. And yes it is also true that many racist policies have hurt Latino Americans and to a lesser degree some Asian Americans. But that isn't the full answer of why these groups still struggle with poverty, violent crime, and high unemployment and incarceration rates. Culture matters. When you have a culture that nurtures and embraces ignorance as if it was a virtue, treats women like pieces of shit, and thinks that resorting to violence in order to solve your problems is acceptable, what the fuck do you think is going to happen? Do you think a culture like that is going to create brilliant thinkers, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs peacefully coexisting in safe, clean neighborhoods? No! You're going to create a culture full of high school dropouts, thugs, criminals, single mothers and absentee fathers, and low skilled wage earners who stay in poverty generation after generation via perpetual bad decision making.

Now you might argue that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and other racist policies helped create this culture that celebrates apathy and ignorance as virtues. Fine. I'd agree with you. But that's not in any way a refutation that culture is an important reason why so many minorities in the inner cities across America are committing crimes at much higher rates than the rest of the country and continue to be in poverty generation after generation.

We must cultivate a culture that celebrates and nurtures science and philosophy and reason and facts and the thirst for knowledge and truth. We must also cultivate a culture where we seek to minimize unnecessary suffering, and where we care about the well being of others. It is imperative that we do this in order to resolve the negative issues plaguing inner city minority communities for generations. I want being smart to be cool again. Make that something kids want to aspire to. I want this stupid culture of ignorance to go away once and for all and to be mocked and humiliated into extinction, in much the same way I think should happen to religion. That won't be easy, but it can happen. Here's how:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Atheist Intersectionality: The Many Hats We Wear

I was just recently thinking about atheist intersectionality: how atheism intersects with my gender, race, place of origins, my politics, ethics, economic philosophy, and views on sexuality. Additionally, the question of whether my atheism should affect my views on these things is an open question. I was inspired by intersectional feminism, which a lot of people, mostly feminists, like talk about. The idea of applying intersectionality itself to other things is a wonderful philosophical venture and one I want to explore here.

We all 'wear many hats' so to speak, and some of these hats are more important to us than others for various reasons. Atheism is very important to me in how I identify myself overall, but depending on the situation, other hats I wear are more important. I want to explore the relationships between these various identities I have with atheism. So let me start by listing some of the many hats I wear as part of my identity. In no particular order:

Atheist: I am an atheist in that I do not believe any gods exist. An atheist is someone who lacks a belief in any gods existing. This is what I like to call bare minimum atheism. It is the minimum requirement for one to properly be called an atheist as I define it. One can go further and declare they know god doesn't exist, but it isn't necessary. I've been an atheist or agnostic all of my life, and I wear the identity proudly, although I'm not always wearing it on my sleeve. You could technically classify me as a moderate atheist on this scale.

Anti-theist: Not only am I an atheist, I go a step further and say I'm an anti-theist. An anti-theist is an atheist who opposes religious belief. Not all atheists are anti-theists. Most atheists are more or less indifferent to religion. I was inspired by the New Atheism movement to oppose religious belief and dedicate myself to decreasing religiosity in the world and increasing secularism and atheism. It is an extremely important motivating factor in my life.

Determinist: I am a determinist in the sense that I reject the notion of libertarian free will and I think that everything in the universe that happens is inevitable given the initial conditions in the big bang. In this view if you were to rewind the universe back to the big bang and play it again, you'd get the same exact results and events every time you did so, ad infinitum. This you can say is part of my metaphysical worldview.

Epiphenominalist: I am an epiphenominalist in that I think whatever the mind is, it is ultimately caused or explained by something going on in the brain. Understanding the brain will most likely unlock the mystery of consciousness, although it is certainly possible a full understanding of the brain will not resolve the hard problem of consciousness. As an epiphenominalist, I reject substance dualism in the sense of dualistic interactionism.

Eternalist: I am an eternalist whose ontology includes all moments of time existing at different areas of spacetime. In this metaphysical worldview the universe is basically a block that is composed of all of spacetime laid out.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Thoughts On Circumcision

I got into a debate on circumcision recently and I thought I'd offer my thoughts on this touchy subject. I'm against forced circumcision of any kind, on both males and females, unless there is a clear medical necessity. I think it's child abuse and it should be illegal to circumcise anyone under the age of 16. I would support a law that enforced this and that made no religious or cultural exceptions. Here are some of the reasons why I'm against forced circumcision which I personally think should be a moral no-brainer.

I'm against forced circumcision because babies and young children do not have the capacity to consent to having a part of their genitalia cut off. They are the most vulnerable members of society and to force circumcision on them is to violate their right to bodily integrity.

I'm against forced circumcision because it removes sensitive nerve endings that are there for sexual sensation, and it dulls sexual pleasure. This can cause sexual dysfunction in men and make it harder to achieve an erection or have an orgasm. In women, female circumcision seeks to remove the ability to have an orgasm entirely, denying them nearly all sexual pleasure for the rest of their lives.

I'm against forced circumcision because it is often done in unhygienic conditions and where there is no anesthesia given to the baby or child. This has lead to many deaths and medical complications that have impaired the sexual abilities of those who've had it done sometimes for the rest of their lives.

I'm against forced circumcision because the claims that it prevents AIDs and other STDs have been overblown or outright lied about. As reported in Psychology Today, the studies claiming circumcision reduced risk of HIV infection "had many flaws, including that they were stopped before all the results came in. There have also been several studies that show that circumcision does not prevent HIV (Connolly 2008)." Additionally, "In the USA, during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s, about 85% of adult men were circumcised (much higher rates of circumcision than in Africa), and yet HIV still spread."

I'm against forced circumcision because of the psychological damage it can have on those who it's been done to. As reported in Psychology Today, the pain experienced during circumcision can alter the brain, making people "more sensitive to pain later in life (Taddio et al., 1997)."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Quote Of The Day: Homosexuality In Nature

Today's quote comes from a blog by Larry Arnhart called Darwinian Conservatism that I found through Secular Outpost. He makes a natural law case for homosexuality and gay marriage, and in it lists some facts regarding homosexuality found in nature. It is quite surprising how much we've documented. This is a great resource for anyone who denies there is evidence of this.

Scientists have observed homosexual behavior in 471 animal species--167 species of mammals, 132 species of birds, 32 species of reptiles and amphibians, 15 species of fishes, and 125 species of insects and other invertebrates (Bagemihl 1999, 673). Scientists have also observed that same-sex pairs have successfully reared young in at least 20 species. In some cases, one or both partners are the biological parent(s) of the young they raise together. In other cases, the partners adopt and care for young without being the biological parents (Bagemihl 1999, 23-26). Moreover, in some cases, the same-sex couples seem to be more successful in their parenting than opposite-sex parents.
We also now know that homosexuality is biologically natural in that it arises through the interaction of many biological factors in the early development of fetuses and children--genes and sex hormones shape the body and the brain in early life so that people are naturally predisposed to become heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual. Monozygotic (identical) twins are more concordant in their sexual orientation than dizygotic (fraternal) twins, which clearly shows a genetic contribution to homosexuality That the concordance between monozygotic twins is about 50% suggests that while there is a genetic influence, there are also other biological factors involved. And while there is no single "gay gene," there are probably many different genes interacting with one another in various ways that influence sexual orientation (Poiani 2010, 55-96). Explaining the biology of animal homosexuality requires a complex multicausal model (Poiani 2010, 401-425).


Moral Argument Thought Experiment To A Divine Command Theorist

Suppose I had 5 different theists each claiming their god grounds moral values, but each of these gods have a different nature. How can I objectively determine which is the god that actually grounds moral values without an intelligible way to recognize why moral values are good or bad? Claiming god grounds them is a non-starter: I've god 5 different gods to choose from.

So how would a divine command theorist answer this?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Notes From My Talk On Objective Morality

I'm an atheist who thinks morality is objective. That makes me probably a minority among my fellow atheists. I recently gave a talk in front of a local atheist group on the topic of morality where I argued it is objective. I've decided to share the notes that I used that summarized my presentation. This isn't anything I haven't written already, but it would otherwise just sit here unused, so here it goes.

  • Define morality
  • Show what I think is morality's origin
  • Show why god cannot be the basis of morality
  • Show how demonstrating this lead me to reject moral relativism

Define morality:

Morality is the distinction between right and wrong, or right and wrong behavior. Ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with morality.

Show what I think is morality's origin:
  • Imagine a universe devoid of all life. For if planets collide, stars explode, and back holes devour entire worlds and there is no life to be affected by these events, there isn't a moral component to this universe. 
  • So therefore we can say that at some very basic and fundamental level, morality has to concern living things. Living things must exist, because life can respond physically and emotionally where it can either benefit or suffer at the result of actions that happen to it. 
  • And the higher the level of sentiment of the creature, that is to say, the more conscious it is to respond and be aware of its environment, the more sensitive it will be to external actions that affect it.
  • Therefore, it would logically follow that if morality depends on life, the more sensitive and consciously aware a living being is, the greater the moral concern should be with regards to actions that affect them.
  • So a very broader definition of morality can be the distinction between right and wrong as it relates to the treatment of conscious beings, with right actions being those that positively affect conscious beings or intend to, and wrong actions being those that negatively affect conscious beings, or intend to, when it cannot be reasonably avoided.

Show why god cannot be the basis of morality:
  • Euthyphro dilemma and epistemic problem
  • Is something good because god commands it, or does god command it because it's good? 
  • If the former, morality is arbitrary. If the latter, morality exists independently of god. 
  • "God is good" fails. New dilemma: Is god good because of the properties he has (loving, kind, and fair), or are the properties that god has only good because god has them (is being loving, kind, and fair good because god has those properties)?
  • If the former, then love, kindness, and fairness are objectively good independently of god. If the latter, totally circular: i.e. love is good because god is loving, and god is good because he's loving.
  • No matter how you look at it you can never avoid a trilemma:
    • arbitrarily decided by god
    • circular reasoning
    • morality exists independently of god

Show how demonstrating this lead me to reject moral relativism:
  • Morality exists independently of god
  • The only way to rationally ground morality is to show what it does. EXAMPLE: to intelligibly show why kindness is good, you have to show what kindness does: it positively affects conscious beings - that's why it is good. 
  • This lead me to think there is an objective basis.
  • The only way to intelligibly ground morality is in what things do, what they intend to do, or a principle around them that includes what things do.
  • Objective morality can still be relative to the species. Given our nature as human beings, as social primates, certain things will be good, certain things will be bad. Different nature, different morality. Still objective.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Big Picture Tour

Last week I saw physicist Sean Carroll again for the first stop on his book tour for The Big Picture: On the origins of life meaning and the universe itself at the Bell House in Brooklyn. His latest book is basically a defense of naturalism from a scientist's perspective on how we should see the "big picture" of existence, life, and meaning, in a way firmly grounded by, and compatible with science—but with lots of philosophy thrown in—which is definitely needed in public discourse of this nature. I've been waiting a long time for a book just like this to come out because I think it's very important for the naturalist to be able to have a coherent explanation of reality fully compatible with human experience and with science. I'm also very grateful that Carroll is not allergic to philosophy like Lawrence Krauss is. Philosophy is absolutely essential to having a coherent worldview and I personally am deeply invested in having a worldview as a naturalist from the most fundamental ontology all the way up to the higher level ontologies like sociology and politics. My goal is to eventually work my way to the higher level philosophies over time and I hope this book can significantly help me with rational thinking on how to tie them all in together.

One of the interesting points Carroll argues early on is that notions like "cause and effect" are nowhere to be found in the fundamental laws of physics, they are just a way of describing reality as we see them from our human perspectives. This is very important, because for one thing, if there is no cause and effect as is commonly understood in our experience, all the "first cause" arguments for the existence of god go out the window. I've been coming to the realization that cause and effect aren't really as they seem on my own through my study of Special Relativity. In a block universe, there are simply just worldtubes in spacetime, and one point on the worldtube doesn't really cause a later point on the worldtube. What causality really is would seem to have to be the relationships of intersecting worldtubes as they precede each other or intertwine with another. For example, asking "why do I exist now?" would be explained by the fact that at an earlier event in spacetime my parents had sex. That was the "cause" that resulted in my birth and existence now – but only in the sense that if you trace my worldtube back in spacetime to its origin it’s preceded by my parent’s worldtubes and thus that establishes the "causal" relationship. This is a profound insight that radically changes our notion of causality. The traditional notion we ascribe to our everyday experiences simply doesn't exist.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Reply To Steven Jake On The Last Superstition - Part 1: Form and Essence, Act and Potency

Steven Jake over on the Christian Agnostic blog wrote a review of my review of Feser's book The Last Superstition. So let me now review his review of my review.

Let me first say that in his review he claims over and over I don't understand Thomistic metaphysics. Let's say this is true and I reject god because of it and I turn out to be wrong. What's god going to say to me when I die? "Well, you didn't get Thomistic metaphysics right. It logically proved my existence. So I'm sorry, but I have to send you to hell now." Is that not absurd? Why should "knowing" god depend so much on complex esoteric metaphysics? God exists and created the world for the purpose of us knowing him, according to almost every theist. Feser even claims this on p. 122 in his book. And yet, god's sure made that very difficult for us. Even if we reject the sadistic notion of hell altogether—as many theists do nowadays, how could it be any less absurd? Given that the Abrahamic god has desires—he wants us to live a certain way—surely us knowing that he exists and knowing how he wants us to live would help that, you'd think. But no. God instead prefers to act like a teenage girl who runs away from her crush instead of getting to know him. The god of Abrahamic monotheism makes no sense given this.

Now off to the review of the review. SJ breaks his review up into sections, not chapters, so I will follow his format.


Form and Essence

SJ starts out saying:

[F]orm or essence of a substance is the intrinsic principle whereby a thing is what it is. To put it another way, when we ask “what is X?” regarding a specific substance, we’re asking for its essence. That is to say, we’re asking what is it about X that renders it X and not Y.

Saying a thing is what it is says nothing particularly special. It's basically the law of identity. A is = to A. B is = to B. And substance wise, every thing is made of fermions and bosons. There has never been anything else demonstrated to be made of anything else. What different things are are just different combinations of atoms. And no, I'm not begging the question when saying this. The burden of proof is on the person who claims that some thing "exists" that isn't ultimately fermions or bosons, or emerged from it, in the sense of weak emergence. When I think of the essence of something, I'm thinking of essential properties: properties a thing has that it cannot not have. Fire for example has the property of being hot. Fire cannot be cold. So being hot is an essential property of fire. Being yellow isn't. Fire can be yellow, orange, red, and even green and blue. But this is a completely secular and materialistic concept; no Thomism required. When it comes to the form of a thing, Thomists have a lot of trouble defining this, as they do with essence. If there is a "Form of Triangle" that individual triangles participate in and can be measured against, then the form of triangle is the shape of triangularity. SJ doesn't offer the definition of form in this section, but merely states that mine is wrong. That's a bit shady. And Feser himself does not define and explain form and formal causes all that strongly in his book and has even noted so on his blog. This is because I think forms and formal causes are probably the hardest concepts for Thomists to define and a big reason why I think this is is because the concepts don't really map onto anything in reality; they're made up.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Value Judgments On Human Life

I'm not trying to make an argument for abortion here, but as I see it, there is a very striking difference between someone who's lived and has been conscious and was able to contemplate life, have dreams, have thoughts of love and happiness, and someone who's never consciously experienced  any of those things, at all, ever. It is a qualitative difference and it seems to me a very natural distinction. There is something much more worse about killing the former and much less worse about killing the latter. I understand people disagree. But even if I were pro-choice, I think I'd still be able to tell that there was a significant difference between the two. There are not equally the same. And if forced to kill one or the other, one is clearly preferred over the other. I hope that is obvious.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 4) Economics 101


I MET UP WITH STEVE A HALF HOUR LATER. He was a first generation Korean immigrant who came to the US when he was three. As is typical of many Koreans, he excelled in school, especially math, and had decided to go into a career in finance. We met in my first year in college in economics class. He was studying business and I was studying tech. We soon started partying together. I still remember the day when I first introduced him to cocaine at a house party. He liked it so much that doing coke soon became our thing, and for the rest of college, me, Steve, and our other friend Mario, got together virtually every weekend to drink beer, snort coke, and then go bar hopping in the city. Eventually it started getting out of hand. Doing coke had initially started out as a side thing, a little extra something something to make our nights a little more interesting. We’d pregame it at someone's house, usually Mario's. We'd drink, do a little coke, and then head out to a bar or club for the real fun. But before long, coke had become the main dish. It started replacing everything else in importance. We eventually got to the point where we were spending all our money on coke, and we didn’t even want to go out to the bars anymore. We began thinking like total cokeheads, with each of us reinforcing the worst ideas of drug addiction in the others. Why go out to a bar and spend ten dollars on a drink if we could just spend that money on more coke? It seemed logical. And so we did. Mario especially got out of hand, so much so that I eventually had to stop hanging out with him altogether. At some point, when my tolerance got so high to where I had to spend at least fifty dollars on coke just to sustain a decent buzz, a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that the coke was using me and I wasn’t using the coke anymore. It was working against me and not for me. So I gradually stopped doing it until I didn't need it anymore, which is the way George Carlin quit. Neither Steve nor Mario were able to have this epiphany, and they both spiraled further down the hole. Eventually I managed to get Steve off of it for the most part, but Mario was a goner.
     Being in finance, Steve could never kick the habit entirely, as it generally goes with the lifestyle. But for the most part he kept it under control. He was a diehard capitalist, a true free market proponent. Over the years we had many heated discussions on economics. And so when I met up with him that day I wanted to talk to him about my situation and whether he thought there was anything wrong with our current state of affairs. We went to one of those Irish pubs you see all over Manhattan. I liked those places. I could go in an anonymously drink among strangers and feel like I could fit right in. Steve knew the bartender it seemed from the way he greeted him, although it was hard to tell since he always acted like he was everybody’s best friend. He kindly ordered me a beer and we sat down in one of the booths in the back, away from the rowdy patrons at the bar.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ted Cruz Is Wrong On "New York Values"

Presidential candidate and former Canadian national Ted Cruz recently said that his rival Donald Trump embodies "New York values" as a way to insinuate that Trump is out of line with most of America. When pressed on exactly what he meant by New York values Cruz said that it refers to liberal values like abortion and same sex marriage.

"[E]veryone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay-marriage, focus around money and the media," Cruz said in last week's Republican debate.

"They're not Iowa values," he said on Fox News, "and they're not New Hampshire values."

Oh really?

Are liberal "New York values" on abortion and gay marriage really all that different from the rest of the country? Actually, no. They're not.

Pew recently conducted a poll where 55% of Americans "Favor allowing gays and lesbains to marry legally."And Gallup conducted a poll where 60% of Americans said same sex marriage "Should be valid." This number is only going to get bigger and bigger given current demographic trends. Interestingly, New Hampshire was one of the earliest states to legalize gay marriage and did so even before New York.

On abortion, Gallup conducted a poll that showed 50% of Americans identify as pro-choice and 44% identify as pro-life. A Quinnipiac poll in late 2015 showed that 57% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 40% think it should be illegal in most or all cases.

Most Americans favor legal abortion and gay marriage. New York values are American values, Ted.

Monday, January 4, 2016

AnticitizenX's YouTube Page

A YouTuber who goes by the name of "anticitizenx" makes some pretty well made videos. Check out some of his videos below on a variety of philosophical and theological concepts. He hammers away at some of the obvious (as well as not so obvious) flaws in common theological arguments, like one of my favorites to debate, the moral argument.

What is Truth?

No, Really, What is Free Will?

Philosophical Failures of Christian Apologetics, Part 1: Why God Matters

Saturday, December 12, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 2: Natural Law)

Natural law

I really suspect, at some level, that religion for many people today exists primarily as a means to justify their desire to control other people's sex lives and social interactions. It seems as if all the previous chapters and arguments were really just to lay the foundation for natural law ethics, whose proponents are totally obsessed with sex, as is the Catholic Church historically (and many religions in general). But first, Feser scoffs at Richard Dawkins' molestation incident when he was a boy and the "truly creepy vibes" he gets from a possible secular education standard which might be led by Dawkins' totally normal yet "blasphemous" views on sex that say, in part, "Enjoy your own sex life (as long as it damages no one else)". Oh my! How "creepy" of Dawkins to advocate for guilt-free consensual sex! The horror! No. The truly "creepy" views on sex are of course best exemplified by Feser's Catholic Church, given its obsession with chastity, homosexuality, and its massive pedophilia scandal. But anyway, to the heart of it:

The "nature" of a thing, from an Aristotelian point of view, is, as we've seen, the form or essence it instantiates. Hence, once again to hail in my triangle example, it is of the essence, nature, or form or a triangle to have three perfectly straight lines. 
When it comes to biological organs, we have things whose natures or essences more obviously involve certain final causes or purposes. So, for example, the function of final cause of the eyeball is to enable us to see. But suppose someone's eyeballs are defective in some way making his vision blurry. In that case, to wear sunglasses isn't contrary to the natural function of eyeballs; rather, it quite obviously restores to the eyeballs their ability to carry out their natural function. 
...whether homosexuality has a genetic basis the question is largely irrelevant. For it is quite obvious that the existence of a genetic basis for some trait does not by itself prove anything whether it is "natural" in the relevant sense. To take just one of many possible examples, that there is a genetic basis for clubfoot doesn't show that having clubfeet is "natural." Quite obviously it is unnatural, certainly from an Artistotelian sense of failure to perfectly conform to the essence or nature of a thing. And no one who has a clubfoot would...find it convincing that the existence of a genetic basis for his affliction shows that it is something he should "embrace" and "celebrate." Nor would it be plausible to suggest that God "made him that way," any more than God "makes" people to be born blind, deaf, armless, legless, prone to alcoholism, or autistic. God obviously allows these things, for whatever reason; but it doesn't follow that He positively wills them, and it certainly doesn't follow that they are "natural." So, by the same token, the possibility of a genetic basis for homosexual desire doesn't by itself show that such desire is natural...Even if it is established beyond a reasonable doubt that there is such a basis, with respect to the question of naturalness of homosexuality, this would prove exactly zip. (133-134)

Whew. Couple of thoughts. Why wouldn't a genetic basis for something be natural? If failure to perfectly conform to the essence or nature of a thing makes it unnatural, then almost everything we do and have is unnatural. The whole problem once again is trying to argue what you can do for triangles, for humans. Triangles are simple shapes defined a certain way. Humans are much more complicated and irregular to be compared in such a way. What is the perfect form, essence, or nature of a human being? David Hasselhoff? Brad Pitt? Michaelangelo's David? Joseph Smith? The Islamic prophet Mohammad? Or is it Jesus? He was supposedly celibate. Does that mean all sex is unnatural? No Catholic says that, but it would seem to conclude from the concept. Of course, I reject the whole conception of "natural" in this sense and many of us do too. "Natural" means of nature; it means existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind. There's a simple logical argument to show how god cannot merely allow natural defects, he must cause it, and whatever he causes he must positively will since god cannot cause something he doesn't will:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 1: The Soul)

In chapter 4, Feser lays the ground work for the soul, the natural law theory of ethics, and the relationship between faith and reason using the concepts he's laid down in the previous chapters. I've decided to break this review into three parts because the review became so long.

In the beginning of the chapter Feser finds room for two more insults on Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris—Dennett for "sheer speculation" on evolutionary psychological explanations of religion, and Harris for apparently being boring in his book, The End of Faith. Certainly there's a lot of speculation in evolutionary psychology, but the argument for the naturalistic origins of over-active agency detection forming the basis of god belief I think are pretty strong and well supported by evidence. Anyway, onto the soul.

The soul

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Aristotelian conception of the soul. It differs significantly from the Cartesian conception where there is a physical body and a non-physical soul that operates the body like a "ghost in the machine." Although many lay people still hold to this concept of the soul, it has severely fallen out of fashion in the relevant sciences and philosophy, and is considered by most in those fields flat out false.

The Aristotelian-Thomistic (or A-T for short) soul is different. The "form or essence of a living thing is just what Aristotle (and Aquinas) mean by the word 'soul,'" Feser explains. The "soul" is "to refer to the nature of a living thing, whatever that turns out to be," adding, "The soul is just a kind of form." (121) But what if it turns out to be that we're just complex arrangements of matter and energy governed by the fundamental forces described by the laws of physics, with no free will of our own? This is after all what science is showing us more and more everyday. It seems to me that terms like "soul" at best are a metaphor, like when we refer to the "soul" of a city, and at worst an outright metaphysical falsehood.

The soul being form and essence means all things have a "soul" on the A-T view. But there are three kinds of souls that Feser describes (121-122) and this means that for you Christians (spoiler alert!), you sadly won't be seeing your cat or dog in heaven:

Nutritive soul: a form or essence that gives a thing that has it the powers of taking in nutrients, growing, and reproducing itself.
Sensory soul: a form or essence that gives a thing that has it both the powers of a nutritive soul, and also an animal's distinctive powers of being able to sense the world around it (by seeing, hearing, etc.) and to move itself (by walking, flying, etc.).
Rational soul: includes both the powers of the nutritive soul and the sensory souls and also distinctively human powers of intellect and will: that is, the power to grasp abstract objects - namely, the forms or essences of things - and to reason on the basis of them, and freely to choose different possible courses of action on the basis of what the intellect knows.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Quote Of The Day: Is New Atheism Too Protestant?

From an article by Theo Hobson at the Spectator that is critical of atheism and morality. It makes an interesting point from an author:

In his book Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate he explains that rational humanism is rooted in the Protestant passion for reform: the Enlightenment opposed aspects of religion, yet ‘in a choice irony, it inherited its brave campaign against superstition partly from Christianity itself, with its rejection of all false gods and prophets, all idols, fetishes, magical rituals, and powers of darkness, in the name of human flesh and blood’. He draws on the work of the Canadian Roman Catholic thinker Charles Taylor, whose book A Secular Age discusses the Christian roots of humanist universalism (and incidentally Taylor himself was partly responding to the popularity of the new atheist narrative). Eagleton accepts that his own socialism is a faith-based position, one that derives from Judeo-Christian tradition. Without the atheists to kick against, he might not have felt inclined to present himself in such religion-friendly terms.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Concerns Of An Atheist Part I

I might be spending too much time making arguments for atheism and critiquing arguments for theism. I should spread out my topic range to include other considerations. One idea is that of some genuine concerns I have as an atheist about religion. These posts would be about what an atheist like myself really worries about regarding religion. So let me entertain one big concern I have.

One major concern I have about religion is in the way it affects how we see morality. Most religious people it seems were always religious to some extent, or they were always theists who believed in at least one god, even if they weren't religious about it. This means that most of these people have no idea what it is really like to be an atheist and to share the type of concerns an atheist would hold including its emotional impact.

Try to picture yourself as an atheist. There is no god. Every religion is completely man-made. You live in a world where you see billions of people adhering to various religions. Many of them say they have their own "interpretation" of the "truth." You can clearly see the falsity of it all, and the nonsense within it. You can recognize that all religions contain some interesting stories and moral lessons. But you can also recognize that much of its morality is outdated and the product of patriarchal societies who wanted to ground order and authority and the best way to do it was in a god. That way the dignitaries of the divine could solidify their authority and exploit the gullibility and superstition of the masses. This is not the only reason why religion developed but it is an important one for some.

So these religions god created. Some of them grew and thrived and evolved. Fast forward thousands of years to the modern world. We're now grappling with the problems of the twenty-first century and many of us still cling to the religions of centuries past. Now you have to try and reason with people who think a god has made the world a certain way, and for a certain purpose, and issued certain commands that hinder progress on certain critical problems. Take climate change. Can you imagine how hard it is to have a conversation on the reality of climate change with someone who thinks the earth is less than 10,000 years old and created by a god who won't let it be destroyed, again? Or take same sex marriage. Can you imagine how hard it is to have a conversation on marriage equality with someone who thinks their god defined marriage as between one man and one woman? Or take violence in general. Can you imagine how hard it is to have a conversation with religious fundamentalists who think it is an honor to kill for the offensive spread of a religion? Even worse is if they believe they'll be rewarded in the afterlife for doing so.

Take a moment to consider that.

Just about every theist can see the falsity of the other religion. Imagine what it's like for people who see your religion as just as false. We atheists can see the ultimate falsity of all religions. So talking to every devout believer is like your experiences talking to the devout members of those you think have a false religion. Can you see how scary it is for the atheist to live in a world with people still believing in superstition?  Can you see how scary it is for the atheist to live in a world with people still believing that demons can possess people and wreak calamity on humankind? This is something that really concerns me. I don't exactly loose sleep over it, but for a secular progressive like myself who really wants to see humankind reach its full potential, few things are scarier than billions of people who believe in superstitious nonsense and who hold to moral views from thousands of years ago who think they were really commanded by a god.

So I hope there are theists our there who will try to see what it's like from an atheist's perspective a little clearer, because many theists haven't got a clue.

How Will People Know What The Morally Perfect Thing To Do Is In Heaven?

In heaven most theists tell me that people will always do the morally right thing in every given situation. But since we all have to learn morality to a certain degree when we're growing up, we aren't born with all of morality's complexities intuitive to us. And in some situations, we might do the morally wrong thing purely out of ignorance, because we might not have been in that situation before.

So how are people in heaven always going to know how to do the morally right thing in every possible situation, even if they have the best of intentions and the purest of hearts? Is god going to beam knowledge of the right thing to do in every situation into our brains like how Keanu Reeves was able to upload knowledge of jujitsu in the Matrix? How else would millions of people know the moral thing to do in millions of different situations from the moment they get into heaven? Or will people have to learn in heaven as we do on earth? If that's true some people might do immoral things in heaven, and that to me seems hard to square with the traditional view that no immorality exists in heaven.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Only God can provide an adequate rational foundation for morality and unalienable human rights."

What are rights? Where do they come from?

Claiming rights is very popular. We all claim rights. But on what basis can we do this? A popular view is the idea that "Only God can provide an adequate rational foundation for morality and unalienable human rights." Is this the case? Well, as an atheist, I'm deeply skeptical of these kinds of claims. So let me explore this idea and go over some of the problems I think arise when one tries to ground morality and rights in a deity.

What are rights?

First off, what is a right? Years ago when I studied philosophy I took an introductory course on ethics. I still have my textbook from the class, Human Conduct: Problems of Ethicsby John Hospers. While flipping through it I came across the chapter on human rights. Since human rights are so often talked about with such passion and argument, it's important to know what we mean when we claim a right.

A right, Hospers describes, can be said to be a justified claim to something, in the form of an entitlement. It is to "claim a certain amount of moral space in which others may not trespass." (192) If one has a right, others have an obligation or duty or respect that right. If one has a right to life, and others do not have a duty to refrain from killing you, that right mean little to nothing, and may even be self-contradictory. Rights are not merely privileges. Privileges can be revoked at any time. If I let you borrow my car to run errands, that is a privilege which I can revoke when I want. You don't have a right to use my car when I don't want you to. (This is related to notions of property rights.)

Where do they come from?

This all seems fine and dandy, but it still gives us no notion of where rights come from. Enter the theists who claims that rights are endowed to us by our creator. But what exactly does that explain? Did god implant a "right" within us? If so, what is the ontology of that right? Some theists claim that god gave humans an immortal soul and that it is this that gives us our rights. But how does a soul (whatever that is) give us our rights? If cockroaches have souls would that mean it would be immoral for us to kill them? Would a soul-less person (should one exist) be any less worthy of rights than one with a soul, all other things being equal? The theist might say that it's our soul that gives us sentience—the capacity to suffer, and rationality—the ability to think, deliberate, weigh evidence and alternatives, and decide what actions to take, and that it's these combined traits, unique to human beings, that provides us the rights we have.


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