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.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

It's Time To Be Thankful Again - A Short Rant


So, it's been another year since Thanksgiving. This time last year I was recovering from surgery and having to work from home. That episode involved two operations and two nights in the hospital, and totaled nearly 40 thousand dollars. It was $7,000 per night just to stay in the hospital. The hospital was decent but the food was absolutely horrible. Can you believe it costs that much to stay at the hospital per night? It's outrageous.

Thankfully though, I had health insurance, and good health insurance at that. I only ended up paying $500 out of pocket for the whole thing. Had I needed surgery a few years earlier when I was unemployed and without insurance, I would have been financially fucked. So this has made me appreciate what I've got and its always good to set aside a time of the year to remind us of this. I have a good job that is low stress, pays good, and provides me good health insurance. I'm a middle class person living in a first world country. Right there I have it better than 90 percent of the world's population. I live in the best city in the world. I have good friends. My family relationships are mostly good. I have my health (thanks to my insurance). And I have a new girlfriend and things are going well (so far). Right now my life is pretty good. I don't really have anything that's causing me tremendous stress. Things aren't perfect of course. I have problems here and there, but overall things are pretty good.

And this is mostly due to pure luck. I'm simply lucky that I was born with a healthy body and a healthy brain, into a secular middle class family in a first world country where I enjoy levels of freedom billions of people are not afforded. I got dealt a good hand. I lucked out in the genetic lottery. That's the reality of my situation. I'm just luckier than most other people in many ways. But with that luck I plan to make this world a better place so that other people can be just as lucky as me. That way, a greater number of people in the future will win this genetic lottery. If anything we should always thank the people who've made the pleasures in our lives possible. I thank them mostly.

I am optimistic that the world will get better. We no doubt have problems—climate change, income inequality, terrorism, war — plenty of stuff. Religion is declining in the West and I'm happy about that. We're going to have problems with the Islamic world for generations to come unfortunately, but I think the Islamic world will eventually liberalize and secularize. It won't be easy. Technology is going to improve all of our lives. Diseases will be eradicated by genetic manipulation. We've not even begun to reap the rewards of our ability to manipulate DNA and realize its potential. This is going to utterly change our ability to combat disease and make nature work for us. We can't pray for change, we must be active agents in making the world a better place — at least in the sense of making it a point to not cause any unnecessary suffering. If we all were negative utilitarians in this sense, the happiness and well being of the world would go up tremendously. That's one of the reasons why I had to give up eating meat.

This will also be my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian. It will be interesting, but I like mash potatoes and stuffing enough to call it a meal.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On Being Offended


What if I created an ideology that said Muslims are the most vile animal in the world, who are ignorant, niggardly, diseased, disobedient criminals and sinful liars, whose hearts are hardend, and who are deaf, dumb, and blind? Would you think that Muslims would find that offensive? Would you think many non-Muslims would find that offensive about Muslims? You probably guessed the answer is yes. And you probably guessed that such an ideology would be considered bigoted, Islamophobic hate speech, and perhaps even racist to many as well. Such adherents to this ideology would be routinely discriminated against and mocked with bitter disgust and no doubt most liberals would equate them with the Nazis or the KKK.

Well, this is exactly what Islam says about unbelievers, be they Christians or Jews, polytheists or atheists. And yet, Islam is not considered hate speech, nor is it considered bigoted or racist or anything else like that to most people. So how does Islam get away with such a double standard? Oh, that's right — it's a religion, and not only that, it's a minority religion. Once something operates under the title of "religion" it gets a privileged status. Criticizing it becomes "offensive" to an adherent's cherished beliefs and the PC police will come out in full swing at anyone who dares offend a believer. Meanwhile, the Muslim gets to espouse all the hateful rhetoric he wants from the Mosque, or the street, about how wicked and diseased us non-believers are with virtual impunity — because he's just doing what his religion says.

This is madness.

I'm supposed to be concerned about offending him? What about my sentiments? If we're going to truly live up to the standards set out by the PC police then let's at least be fair. If it's politically incorrect for me to have an ideology that calls Muslims the vilest of animals and sinful disobedient liars, then it's politically incorrect for Muslims to have a religion that says the same thing about non-believers. So that means we're going to have to censor the Qur'an to make it PC friendly. Or, we're going to have to ban it altogether. And while we're at it, let's do the same to the Bible and the Book of Mormon. They each have hateful, sexist, or homophobic bigoted rhetoric. How's that sound? Why don't we all consider how offended atheists are when they are told mean, nasty things in religious texts? Don't we all believe in fairness and equality?

Monday, November 16, 2015

What Countries Have Secular Majorities? An Interactive Map


Majorities in Canada, the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, South Korea, China & Japan are either not religious or convinced atheists:


I know this came out months ago and isn't exactly breaking news but I just wanted to put that into perspective when we realize just how secular a large portion of the population of the world is. I thought about this in the recent #PrayForParis fiasco, especially in how France is one of the most secular and least religious countries in the world. The US is behind the pack but slowly catching up to the rest of the first world. However, it will likely take another generation to match up with where the UK or France is today. Patience is a virtue.

You can check out the interactive map below:

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Don't Pray For Paris, Become An Advocate Against Regressive Beliefs


The recent news out of Paris is horrible. At least 129 are dead in 6 orchestrated terrorist attacks, less than a year after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The hastag #PrayForParis started trending on Twitter as a result. This is very common when there is a tragedy somewhere. Praying for someone means thinking about them in a nice way. It involves asking some higher being, power, or spirit to show love, compassion, help, and mercy towards the person or persons you're praying for. As atheists, we know such prayers are useless. Your prayers do not affect the universe in any way. At most, we can say that when we know we're being prayed for, we feel good. It's little different from finding out someone likes you and is thinking positively about you. It makes us feel good. But prayer has no metaphysical effect.

When dealing with these kinds of tragedies, rather than praying, we should resist that urge however powerful and instinctive it may feel, and instead apply a more rational and practical response. We should donate money, food, and supplies, whenever possible. And when dealing with terrorism based on perverted and false ideology, like that of Islam, our response should be to become advocates against their regressive beliefs. We should refute them and their ideology at every chance we get, within reasonableness. And we should become advocates for the modern, secular, progressive way of life that we live and stand for. Let's make #TerrorismSociallyUnacceptable as Bill Maher recently tweeted. Let's stand for liberal principles! But let's also not become racist xenophobes in the process. Of course, it goes without saying that not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslims. It is bad ideology that we need to be advocates against, regardless of whether it is religious or secular.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Was Jesus A Bastard?


Meme time.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Why Isn't Jesus Mythicism Taken Seriously In The Field?


According to Dr. Richard Carrier, the history of the mythicist debate is relevant:

  • Over the last 100 years there have been many terrible and outright crank arguments that Jesus was a myth. They were often logically fallacious or they had uncorroborated fact claims, and so many scholars in the field have simply dismissed new arguments as being of the previous kind and have assumed that they've already dealt with all such claims and that they've all been debunked.
  • Much of the push back has come from scholars in the field who are either Christian, so they cannot accept that Jesus didn't exist for the obvious reasons, or they're in secular schools that are integrated into the Jesus studies academic network and they're relying on grants and donations that are heavily controlled by Christian donors and cannot concede mythicism or historicity agnosticism for that obvious reason. 
  • Scholars can get punished by their colleagues, and there are some historicity agnostics who will not go on record out of fear of losing their jobs. 
  • For example, in the 1970s when Thomas Thompson argued that Moses didn't exist, some of his colleagues tried to forcibly remove him from conferences and tried and get him fired. Now Moses mythicism is the mainstream view among scholars and Thompson has been vindicated. Jesus mythicism might be the same way in the next few decades.
  • In the last 10 years or so, many new effective arguments have developed that have cut out the bad arguments completely using new evidence scholarly methodology and have gone through peer reviewed academic standards. Dr. Carrier's book On The Historicity Of Jesus includes them and has been peer reviewed by a major academic press.

Are we on the cusp of a major revolution in biblical studies on the historicity of Jesus in the same way we were on the historicity of Moses and the patriarchs 40 years ago? Only time will tell. My prediction is that we are, and that once the good arguments get their due and the field of biblical studies changes such that scholars do not have to worry about their career if they become agnostic, we will see more and more scholars accept the arguments. And this will further facilitate Jesus mythicism among lay people, as we're already starting to see, and as a result Christianity will continue to perpetually decline, much to the dismay of Christians.


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