Friday, February 28, 2014

The Real Challenges For Atheism Are Social

With the after math of yet another successful debate win on the side of science and atheism upon us, I do have to say that the hard questions facing atheists are not really scientific or metaphysical ones, they're social challenges like, how to deal with death as an atheist, finding purpose, happiness and meaning. I know that there are many online communities that have risen up to this challenge to offer support networks and advice. For me personally, living as an atheist, and dealing with the issues we all face and struggle with, has never really been a challenge. I almost wish I could say that I overcame a fundamentalist upbringing and eventually saw the light that is atheism, but I didn't.

I've always dealt with life's challenges free from any kind of religious help or support structure. The only time I've felt bad about myself is when I failed to live up to my expectations. Well, my family and friends have also had an influence on me. But religion never had anything to do it. Another problem atheists face is that the critics will always say things like atheism necessarily leads to gulags, death camps and tyranny. Nothing could be further than the truth. Tell me Mr. Critic, why aren't there death camps all over Western Europe now, or Japan? Surely the precipitous drop in these country's religiosity would necessitate that. But no. We see a definite correlation with lower levels of religious belief with lower crime and higher standards of living.

I was just reading an op-ed on the NY Times by one Ross Douthat, the resident conservative at the mostly liberal paper. He writes that, "the various problems with today’s happy atheism — problems that should be obvious to those with eyes to see — are sufficient on their own to drive secular liberalism toward the kind of intellectual crisis that seems to me to lurk, iceberg-like, somewhere out ahead." He's hailing the coming end to atheism; that it's just one crisis away from disaster. I completely disagree with his premature calculation. While it is true that there have been many premature declarations of the end of religion in the past century or so, I think the recent rise in secularism and atheism is here to stay and will be a increasingly unstoppable force. The reason why it is different now from when Nietzsche declared god was dead, or when the counter-culture jettisoned traditional Christianity in favor of quasi-spiritualism, is because of the internet. The internet means that if I hear an apologetic trick, I can easily Google it and find dozens of sites criticizing it and breaking down its failed science and logic. Old-school apologists who continue trotting out the same old tired and refuted arguments who aren't aware of this fact are sealing their own religion's fate, and it ain't gonna be pretty for them.

To me, the internet is without a doubt the single biggest reason why atheism is on the rise and it will eventually lead to the death of religion. Social progress on issues like gay marriage are another important reason and Douthat acknowledges this too. But apparently theists like Douthat think all this hoopla over atheism today is just another cultural fad that's headed for a collision with an iceberg any day now and that we're one crisis away from hundreds of millions of people in the West picking up their Bibles and reconnecting with the Lord. Perhaps they are not aware of the way technology and social issues have changed the playing field. I seriously cannot image the West going back to good ol' Christian values based on that old time religion.

Atheism is here to stay and no, death camps are not inevitable because of it. Take that, Douthat.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

William Lane Craig Argues For Same Sex Marriage (Sort Of)

On a Q & A a while back I think William Lane Craig inadvertently made the case for legalized same sex marriage! It happened on a question regarding, "Could God's Moral Commands Be Improved?" The questioner asks whether the commands god gave the Israelites could be improved upon. And Craig responds that, "God’s commands can be contingent upon the realities of the human condition relative to the times and places of the recipients of those commands," and that there is "a distinction between moral law and civil law." Craig continues, "Ancient Israel under Moses was a theocracy: God was the head of the government. We don’t live in a theocracy, so many acts which are deeply immoral (like adultery) are not illegal."

So here Craig seems to draw a distinction that what may be wrong in the eyes of god should not always be illegal. He seems to agree, writing:

Even though adultery is not illegal in a non-theocratic society, it remains a sin that that is deeply immoral in God’s sight. Since we live in a non-theocratic society, we should not try to make everything that is immoral also illegal.

But now the obvious question arises. If adultery is a sin in the eyes of the Christian god, but should not be illegal, then what argument does the Christian have against same sex marriage being legal? If a Christian like Craig can excuse adultery, which seems to cause far more damage to society than SSM, then he should also support the legalization of SSM since after all, we like in a non-theocratic society.

Now I know Craig is against SSM, but what defense does he have that allows legalized adultery, but not SSM? Is it because our society is "sexually promiscuous" as he says in the Q & A? Well homosexuality is promiscuous too. Does SSM cause more harm? Arguably adultery causes more harm because one is being deceived and it ruins marriages and families. Does it violate nature somehow? Craig has even acknowledged that homosexuals do not choose their sexual orientation, so homosexuality should be in god's plan, for some reason. Craig's arguments against SSM are laughable and pathetic, and deeply embarrassing for a man so well educated in philosophy. His attacks on SSM are the result of his absurd Christian worldview, which is why I could never accept it as the truth. Given Craig's apparent acceptance that secularism is a good thing that we "should" have, to me, it means that theists should be fine with SSM becoming legal since they hypocritically already support lots of other "sins" of lesser consequence being legally permitted.

Does God Permit Natural Evils?

If I had the time or the will power, I'd refute every one of W.L. Craig's Question and Answer segments. A few weeks ago a theistic writer wrote in asking Dr. Craig whether god causes or permits natural evil. Craig's answer was that god permits natural evil, but "that God is not the sole cause of natural evil."

I beg to differ.

I came across this wonderful argument a while back that argues pretty decisively that if god existed, then he would indeed be the sole cause of natural disasters. The argument goes like this:

(1) God (an omnipotent, omniscience, omni-benevolent being) exists.
(2) Natural evil exists.
(3) God is the creator and designer of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it.
(4) Natural disasters, and the evil they cause, are a direct byproduct of the laws that govern our universe.

I don't think Craig would deny premises 1-3, although he might challenge premise 2. In the Q&A he wrote:

For what is bad about natural evils is not simply the occurrence of certain natural events themselves. There is nothing evil, for example, about one continental plate’s slipping under another, nor about the earth’s trembling as a result. Such natural events are themselves ethically neutral; morality doesn’t apply to rocks and rain and wind. Rather if there is something bad about such events, it’s that human beings get caught in them.

I would agree but go a step further that it is not just people getting caught up in natural disasters that make them evil under theism, but any conscious animal that can suffer as well. That would mean that the millions of years of non-human suffering as the result of natural disasters would be evil under a theistic worldview. So given Craig's response above, I don't think he would object to premise 2.

Premise 4 is actually what Craig would seem to object to, and his first option out of god being responsible for natural evil is an appeal to quantum indeterminacy. He writes:

...if quantum indeterminacy is ontic, God could not cause an earthquake to occur at a specific time and place just by setting up the natural laws and initial conditions of the universe. If an earthquake does occur, it is only because God did not intervene to stop it. That is to say, He permitted it. Problem solved.

But god would have designed the physical universe, including the laws that govern it and would have chosen to make the universe inherently random at a fundamental level. Furthermore, god's foreknowledge would allow him to know exactly when every natural disaster would occur, even with quantum indeterminacy. I'm simply not buying the case that god creates a universe and then is shocked at how much natural suffering it causes. And Craig doesn't seem to be making that case either. He seems to be trying to argue that if quantum indeterminacy is real, then god does not directly cause every natural disaster. The beauty of the above argument I'm defending is that is god would still ultimately be responsible for natural disasters, at least indirectly, because he is still the one calling the shots on how the universe will operate and he has foreknowledge. So the problem is not solved.

Monday, February 24, 2014

I Think Carroll Won The Debate

It was a very intense debate Friday night at the Greer Heard Forum between Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig and I have to say I think Carroll decisively won. This isn't due to any sort of atheistic bias on my part, as I think Craig has "won" several of his debates on style and deliverance, but this is due to the fact that Carroll addressed nearly all of Craig's arguments and handsomely refuted them.

The debate relied on a lot of high end physics and cosmology that the average layperson simply does not understand. Thankfully I've become increasingly more knowledgeable about physics and cosmology over the years in large part as a result of debating theists. A frequent topic that came up was the concept of Boltzmann Brains - living physical brains that can spontaneously arise out of the quantum vacuum whose initial entropy states appear to be more likely than the initial low entropy state that our universe had. To refute the issue of the Boltzmann Brain dilemma, one has to have a serious understanding of the science behind it and its philosophical implications - something I think your average atheistic debater has no idea how to address or refute. I know that Dr. Carroll has written extensively on the Boltzmann Brain problem in his scientific papers and other works and he is well equipped to handle accusations that its a defeater for the multiverse.

(On a side note, I just recently signed up for free online classes from the World Science Festival on relativity that will be taught by Brian Greene (see here for details). I would certainly like to have a deeper understanding of the science behind relativity and quantum mechanics, even if it means I may have to face my crippling fear of math. You should check it out.)

Anyway, as far as the debate went, I wish that there was another round of rebuttals and I wish that there was a cross examination period so they could've gone head to head. I think Carroll really could've pressed Craig on some of his misuse of science to support his case for theism, and he could have pressed Craig on the B-theory of time (which Craig actually brought up!) as it is a knock-down argument against the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Craig also made a lot of noise, as he always does, over the idea that the universe "popped" into existence from nothing that he thinks the atheist must believe. Even if one grants the A-theory of time, the universe doesn't really pop into being. The reason why is that this presumes that you somehow have absolute nothing - and then - the universe inexplicably "pops" into existence. But this is not how it works because it presumes time exists prior to the universe. Since time is intertwined with space, from the very first moment of t=0 you have a universe. There is no moment when nothing exists prior to the universe. Therefore, you start with a universe; it doesn't pop into being. It's the same way how you cannot rewind a DVD passed 00:00:00. There is no such time as -00:00:01 on a DVD player. From the moment the DVD starts at 00:00:00 you have a movie. Carroll brought this up during the Q & A but they were not allowed to go back and forth on it.

Overall, it was a very good debate and I think Craig got hammered pretty hard from a physicist who knows the science much better than he does. I wish Sean would engage in many more debates like this one as it turns out he's one of the best debaters on behalf of atheism.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Did Jesus Ever Get An Erection?

The whole idea that Jesus was the embodiment of a perfect human being never sounded plausible to me. If Jesus was indeed perfect and divine, then I wonder, did he ever at any point in his life, get an erection? If he did, then must have had lust, and according to Christians he wouldn't therefore be perfect. But if he didn't ever get sexually aroused was it because he was incapable of it, or did his moral perfection somehow prevent it?

The philosophical question I have is, if Jesus got sexually aroused, is it compatible with moral perfection? The absurd notions of moral perfection are what I'm confused by. Jesus is said to never have had lust in his heart (which means he wasn't a normal human), and so presumably that means he never got an erection, even when he was a baby or a teenager. This is a ridiculous idea if there ever was one. So we can entertain a logical paradox here just like the old question of whether god can create a rock so heavy he cannot lift. So the question is, could Jesus be tempted with sex so powerful, that even he could not resist getting an erection? If no, Jesus was impotent, and that means god couldn't get it up and god would somehow be omnipotent but also impotent, and the Christian notion of a perfect man would be one with no sexual desire and who cannot get an erection. If yes, then the lust Jesus would have had would have negated his moral perfection.

Presumably Jesus was capable of getting an erection, in that he had all the necessary hardware needed to achieve lift-off. But due to his moral perfection (according to Christians) he would not ever need or desire something such that it would result in an erection.

Some have suggested Jesus was really gay and his celibacy was really just him hiding his sexuality in a culture that prescribed the death penalty for homosexual sex. If Jesus existed, I think it is quite possible. It would have provided a loop-hole around his idea that looking at a woman with lust is akin to adultery. And being that he never spoke our against homosexuality explicitly further suggests that maybe he was actually gay. I have no idea of this of course and I am only speculating. I'm officially an agnostic as to whether Jesus actually existed. But the question of whether Jesus ever, or could ever get an erection is one I don't think many Christians are unprepared to answer.

Fuzzy-Wuzzy Theism

I debate theists regularly on the blogosphere and it seems that a popular belief today is what I like to call "fuzzy-wuzzy theism." That is to say, some liberal or minimalist theists throw up this kind of vague, unspecified fuzzy language when they speak about the nature of god, morality or revelation as a kind of smoke screen to prevent you from pressing them too hard on detail. This to me is really just a tactic of handwaving that merely acts to distract or call attention away from the fact that the liberal theist has failed to be able to reasonably describe their beliefs.

In a conversation I had with a theist over on the Unreasonable Faith Patheos page, I outlined what I think are the general beliefs that this Christian has who believes that god cannot in principle communicate his message to human beings accurately, and that this explains why the Bible seems so incoherent. What I've described below is a general set of implications that this would entail. Read below and let me know if this is at all plausible, or if it is any more or less plausible than the more orthodox or fundamentalist versions of Christianity.

1. An omni-god exists and creates a universe that will result in intelligent life 14 billion years later.

2. When the intelligent life is evolved enough, god reveals himself to certain peoples in the best way he can, but the message gets misinterpreted/corrupted for some set of reasons.

3. It is at this time that the omni-god realizes that his original message has not been received accurately, since he has no divine foreknowledge to know how his humans will react.

4. After a period of frequent revelations that all get misinterpreted, god resorts to divine hiddenness as his best/most preferred way of dealing with the fact that his message has not been accurately received by his created creatures and watches in real time as they kill and harm each other over misinterpretations of this message and chooses to remain hidden and do absolutely nothing, even though for a time he was regularly interacting with people.

5. We find ourselves in the modern world with various different conflicting descriptions of god and purported revelations and an increasing number of secularists who logically are concluding that the best explanation of this is that man's imagination made up these concepts of god and religion.

6. This all might be part of god's plan somehow, and eventually god will reveal himself, and those unfortunate or foolish enough to have gotten the wrong message or interpretation, which turns out to be the vast majority of people throughout history, will be eternally separated from god and may suffer for an eternity.

7. This god is perfectly moral, and incapable of inflicting gratuitous suffering and is the only being worthy of worship and propitiation, even though no one can comprehend it, and the majority of people have the wrong god concept.

Makes sense right?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Craig Vs. Carroll Debate

The much hyped Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate is over and although I watched it intensely interested in hearing what the speakers were going to say, I didn't really have many high expectations given that Ken Ham is a ridiculous creationist after all. But tomorrow there is another debate that I think will turn out to be much more interesting. William Lane Craig, who is one of the world's foremost Christian apologists and debaters and Sean Carroll, who is a world renowned physicist and cosmologist will go head to head in what looks like is going to be a great debate.

The debate will be called God And Cosmology, and there will also be a follow up team debate with Craig, James Sinclair and Robin Collins representing theism, and Carroll, Alex Rosenberg and Tim Maudlin representing atheism. I think team debates are an exciting idea from the usual one-on-one format and I would love to participate in one sometime. I'm not crazy about Carroll's selection of Alex Rosenberg to be on his team. Rosenberg's debate with Craig last year ended horribly for him, and Craig whipped his ass. Rosenberg in my opinion is just a horrible debater and I would have chosen someone else on my team if I were Carroll. It could be a weak link for team atheism, but we'll have to see how it goes. Both debates look like they will be extremely interesting and I can't hardly wait. They will be streamed live here.

Meanwhile you can watch this discussion with Sean Carroll and Hans Halvorson at the Veritas forum. Hans seems like a very thoughtful Christian compared to the selection we often have.


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