Sunday, June 3, 2018

Edward Feser On Thomism And Free Will


Just a few months ago Catholic apologist extraordinaire Edward Feser (whose book against atheism I've critiqued and reviewed) wrote a blog post defending divine causality and human freedom. This was linked to me in a debate I had with a Catholic theist. Not surprisingly, I think Feser makes many mistakes in his attempt to claim humans have free will given the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics of causality he espouses.

Feser's view that humans can have free will given the Aristotelian principle that whatever is caused or moved is caused or moved by another, is not convincing. Take for example his claim that the AT metaphysic view on human causality is concurrentist, and not occassionalist (like it is in Islam). On occassionalism, god directly causes everything to happen. However, concurentism, as Feser explains in another blog post, involves "secondary causes [that] really have (contra occasionalism) genuine causal power, but in producing their effects still only ever act together with God as a “concurring” cause (contra mere conservationism)." In other words,

God is in this way like the battery that keeps a toy car moving. The car’s motor really does move the wheels even if it cannot do so without the battery continually imparting power to it. It’s not that the battery alone moves the wheels and the motor does nothing.

Think of how absurd this defense of free will is. I would be tantamount to saying a puppet has free will because it hammers a nail in at the same time the puppeteer is causing all the fundamental activity. I mean, I shouldn't have to explain any further to point out why this is an abysmal defense of free will. It's self evidently absurd.


Moving on, Feser attempts to make sense of this the best he can:

God’s cooperation with a thing’s action does not change the nature of that action. Impersonal causes act without freedom because they are not rational. Human beings act freely because they are rational. That God cooperates with each sort of action is irrelevant. Suppose, per impossibile, that you and the flame could exist and operate without God’s conserving action. Then there would be no question that whereas the flame does not act freely, you do, because you are rational.

Sorry Feser, but being rational doesn't make you free. A machine learning AI-driven software program can act rationally, and it certainly isn't free. Also, being rational is perfectly compatible with a deterministic universe—you would simply just be determined to be rational, and no freedom of the will would exist. The problem here of course is that Feser's operating definition of free will is inadequate, and this is what almost all disagreements on free will come down to: semantics. He's technically a compatibilist, who thinks free will is compatible with theistic determinism, of which concurrentism falls under.

Semantic disputes are going to become more evident in my critique of the rest of his article below:

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Insanity Of Hell For Not Believing


I've written before about how the enormous complexity of god and the science, history, philosophy, and metaphysics supporting god makes the idea of sending people to an eternal hell for not believing an act of evil beyond words. The Thomistic view of god in Catholicism takes that to a new level, given its extreme metaphysical complexity. Imagine the insanity of believing in a literal hell where the Thomist's god of "goodness" sends people who didn't believe due to their failure of understanding the highly esoteric philosophy of Thomism to "properly" understand god, or for simply having no interest in it at all. I propose this hypothetical dialogue of an atheist with god at the gates of heaven.

[Pearly Gates]

God: You didn't believe I existed and now you realize I do. What have you to say for yourself?
Atheist: I had no reason to believe in you or that the idea of you made sense. So much conflicting information.
God: What? You didn't read Scholastic Metaphysics or Five Proofs of the Existence of God by Edward Feser??? He described in great detail the true nature of reality and what my true nature is and why it's impossible I can't exist!!!!
Atheist: Sorry, didn't have time for that.
God: No time?
Atheist: Yeah, I was busy working 60 hours a day and raising kids and I just didn't have the time or interest.
God: No excuse!!!!! You'll now have eternity in hellfire to think about your mistake.
Atheist: I can definitely see why you're the God of infinite love. 
God: To hell you go atheist! Next!!!

Now a Catholic might push back and say that official Catholic doctrine doesn't require strict belief like the Lutheran view does for salvation, and that those who "through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation." This comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the profession of faith.

But what if you seek truth with a sincere heart and it leads you to atheism? And what if you're confident in that answer? The Catholic Church seems to say that you can be a disbeliever and get into heaven—so long as it's out of ignorance and you want god to exist, and not because you've done your own research and concluded god doesn't exist. That's like saying that if one does seek god with an open mind they must come to belief in god—as if to say atheism is impossible to arrive at rationally. But the complexity of god is exactly the problem. God supposedly created us to "know" god, but created us with minds incapable of properly understanding god and made a world in which the amount of work one must put in to even come close to understanding god is tantamount to having it as a full time job.

Another view is that doing "good" is the same as doing god's will, and so those who disbelieve but who do good can receive salvation. But there is as much complexity and disagreement surrounding what's "good" as there is surrounding what's "god" and so this ultimately leaves you with the same problem. Suppose you dedicate your life to doing what's "good" by giving women access to condoms, birth control, and abortion services—all things forbidden by the Catholic Church. You can easily see how this view leads to the same dead end. Hell is just as absurd in Catholicism as it is in Protestantism.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How Christianity Was Spread


The history of how religions are spread are usually violent, and Christianity's spread is of no exception. Although Europe is the continent most closely associated with Christianity, much of northern Europe beyond the borders of the Roman Empire of antiquity wasn't Christianized until the Middle Ages, a full thousand years after Christianity began.

Much of that began in the 700s under the reign of Charles the Great, better known by his French name Charlemagne. His army conquered and subjugated the pagan Saxons of modern day Germany, forcing them to jettison their religion, traditions, gods, and idols, and publicly profess their belief in Christianity. Those who resisted faced stiff punishment, including death.

Looking back at history, one can say this helped unite the continent under one religion, and to an extent that is true. Religion can act as a unifying glue that holds distinct peoples together. This is one of the reasons why many bemoan the fall of Christianity in Europe, even secular people like Douglas Murray. Once the religion becomes undone, the glue that binded the continent for a millennia gives way to shifting political tribes without a single common identity that transcends language, country, and ethnicity. That's where something like secular humanism comes into the post-theistic landscape, even though I have my reservations it has the ability to replace the unifying aspects of religion.

The following documentary from a German state funded channel DW reenacts the bloody history of Christianity's spread through central Europe in the early Middle Ages. Very interesting to watch.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

This Is The Zodiac Speaking - Documentary


Back in the mid-1990s I became obsessed with the Zodiac killer case. I read Robert Graysmith's book Zodiac, several times. I collected any book that mentioned the case, watched any show that had anything to do with the case, and was delighted that they made a mainstream movie in 2007 about the killer, based on Graysmith's book, also called Zodiac.

I had something of an obsession with serial killers in my teens. The Zodiac killer was the most fascinating one for me, because he wasn't your typical breed of serial killer. He created a character with a symbol and moniker and even dressed up as his character in one of his killings. He mailed cryptic letters to the news papers that contained coded ciphers that he claimed revealed his identity. The 340 character cipher, known as the Z340, has never been cracked. Recently, in the 2016 presidential race, the Zodiac killer was trending on Twitter and I thought he may have been captured. But no, it was because Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz was being accused of being the Zodiac killer due to their similar appearance. Obviously, that's impossible, as Cruz is too young, but the incident sparked my interest in the Zodiac killer once again. I started looking online for Zodiac material, and came across the documentary: This is the Zodiac Speaking. The name is taken from how the Zodiac used to open his letters. If you've ever been interested in the case, it goes into extraordinary detail for each of the killings and it's worth a watch.




The Zodiac killer was never caught, making the case probably the biggest unsolved criminal mystery in American history, at least modern American history. Who was the Zodiac killer? It's a question millions of Americans would like to know the answer to before they die. Although no one was ever caught and formally charged with being the Zodiac killer, there were a few promising suspects. The most well known, was Arthur Leigh Allen. A plethora of circumstantial evidence linked him to the Zodiac, but not enough to formally charge him.

Then in 2003 a partial DNA profile was lifted from the back (or possibly the front) of a stamp on one of the letters Zodiac mailed to the newspapers. It was tested against Allen, who died of a heart attack in 1992. It wasn't a match. The most promising suspect was not the Zodiac—at least not according to the DNA obtained, which some people think was not Zodiac's. I personally never thought Allen was the Zodiac. I think Zodiac was so good at hiding that he was probably never a formal suspect. In his letters Zodiac claimed to wear a disguise so that in real life he looked nothing like his description. The widely known description of the Zodiac came partly from an incident after the Zodiac's last confirmed killing of cabdriver Paul Stine in the Presidio Heights section of San Francisco, where police officers responding to the murder saw (or stopped) a man walking away from the scene. Because there was a mix-up in the description of the suspect's race, the SFPD were looking for a black male instead of a white man, and they let the man go. It is widely believed that this was the Zodiac. The Zodiac even confirmed the incident in his subsequent letters that it was him. The best chance of capturing the killer slipped by, and police never came as close to capturing him again.

So will the Zodiac ever be caught? If he's still alive he'd be at least 75 years old. People live to be 75 so it's still possible. But recently a new idea has sprung up and the case is currently active. The Golden State Killer was recently caught after 40 years when DNA evidence from the killer matched one of his relatives who had submitted their DNA to a public genealogy site. Many people are now asking if the same technique could be used to catch the Zodiac. At this point, without a confession and strong physical evidence, it seems that this is the only real hope we have left of finding the identity of one of America's most notorious serial killers.

But as much as I want to see the killer identified, there's something about the enduring mystery that creates a mystique surrounding the killer. If and when the Zodiac is identified, who he is will almost surely be a disappointment to the idea of him we have in our heads. Who knows? Truth is often stranger than fiction. There's even a new show on the History Channel about the Zodiac I've just learned. Looks interesting. See the trailer below. Maybe one day in the not too distant future, the Zodiac killer will finally be unmasked.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Quote Of The Day: Tim Maudlin On Block Time


Tim Maudlin via Quantum Magazine
Tim Maudlin is a philosopher of science who is often cited as a critic of the popular view in science and philosophy known as "block time," which is just another way of describing eternalism: the view that all moments of time—the past, present, and future, are all equally real and ontological. But it's not so clear that Maudlin outright denies the block universe conception of time. In an interview he gave with Quantum Magazine last year, he seems to affirm block time, but mistakingly thinks it denies change.

A popular misconception of the block universe is that time or change isn't real. But this is just a figure of speech. In the block universe time and change are definitely real. What isn't real, however, is the flow of time and change. There is no flowing of one moment to the next coming into and out of existence in a block universe since all moments exist, but there are definitely distinct ontological states of what exists at different times. This is what time and change are in a block universe: it's the fact that the same events do not exist uniformly throughout the spacetime block. But this often gets misconstrued as "time and change doesn't exist at all" by many scientists and even by many well-intentioned eternalists, and due to that, many people reject the block universe because it seems so self-evidently true that time and change exist. (For an explanation of the experience of the flow of time in a block universe, see here.) I will let Maudlin explain in his own words his issues with this complicated linguistic aspect of block time upon being accused of bucking the the trend. For all his experience on time, he too seems to get tripped up by this.
You don’t sound like much of a fan of the block universe. 
There’s a sense in which I believe a certain understanding of the block universe. I believe that the past is equally real as the present, which is equally real as the future. Things that happened in the past were just as real. Pains in the past were pains, and in the future they’ll be real too, and there was one past and there will be one future. So if that’s all it means to believe in a block universe, fine.
People often say, “I’m forced into believing in a block universe because of relativity.” The block universe, again, is some kind of rigid structure. The totality of concrete physical reality is specifying that four-dimensional structure and what happens everywhere in it. In Newtonian mechanics, this object is foliated by these planes of absolute simultaneity. And in relativity you don’t have that; you have this light-cone structure instead. So it has a different geometrical character. But I don’t see how that different geometrical character gets rid of time or gets rid of temporality.
The idea that the block universe is static drives me crazy. What is it to say that something is static? It’s to say that as time goes on, it doesn’t change. But it’s not that the block universe is in time; time is in it. When you say it’s static, it somehow suggests that there is no change, nothing really changes, change is an illusion. It blows your mind. Physics has discovered some really strange things about the world, but it has not discovered that change is an illusion.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Abortion And Anti-Natalism Part 2: The Pro-Choice Argument


No issue continues to be as divisive as abortion. The polls on the ethics of abortion have not significantly budged in the past few decades, with no clear majorities for it or against it. As a negative utilitarian who is sympathetic to the ideas in anti-natalism (but who isn't an anti-natalist), I am naturally pro-choice as a result. I see it as excessively immoral to force a woman to give birth with total disregard to her circumstance, or the future baby's circumstance. 


But abortion still needs to be argued for, especially given its controversies. I think the pro-choice crowd has in general failed to make a strong case for the ethics of the pro-choice position, whereas the pro-life crowd has vehemently made many cases against abortion. The reason why is obvious: abortion is the law of the land, and therefore pro-lifers are more motivated to make the case against abortion than pro-choices are to make the case for it's morality and legality. And this has the potential to turn the tide of opinion in favor of outlawing abortion, which could motivate politicians to implement stronger anti-abortion restrictions, despite the supreme court's 1973 decision. 

So in making the case for the ethics and legality of abortion I want to start where I think many pro-choicers fail. A common argument many in the pro-choice side make is that the fetus isn't human and isn't alive and that therefore aborting it isn't killing a living human being. I don't think it's necessary to claim this to defend abortion, and I also think it's wrong. A fetus has human DNA, making it genetically identifiable as human or homo sapien, and it is a living organism, requiring food that it metabolizes into energy to subsist. So I think this common argument forces the pro-choice position into defending two claims that are indefensible and ultimately unnecessary in defending abortion, and they should be dropped. It is simply unnecessary to claim a fetus isn't human or alive to justify abortion.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom


I've been a bit too busy to blog regularly as of late because we just began production on our documentary on free will and it's been taking up much of my free time. I'll have more information on this as the project solidifies. But in the meantime, I have another guest post by author Karen Garst on her upcoming book Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom. I've had her as a guest post here before back in 2016 for her book Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion.


________________


After finishing my first book, Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion, I had a chance to attend several secular events including the Women in Secularism Conference. This was excellent and I had the opportunity to meet many interesting women. So instead of going back into retirement, I decided to write another book. The result is Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith - and for Freedom.

Each of the essays in this book examines one aspect of the impact of the three Abrahamic religions on women: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the first essay, licensed professional mental health counselor Candace Gorham, author of The Ebony Exodus Project, dives deep into the impact of religion on our psyche. She outlines the basics of mental illness that can be caused by religion, including depression, anxiety, shame, and guilt. Gorham also discusses the ineffective religious treatment for mental health problems such as pastoral counseling, conversion theory, and faith healing.

Lauri Weissman, a professor of communications at a top-ranked American university, gives an overview of the first in the three Abrahamic traditions, Judaism, and its proscriptive roles for women. As “an oppressed and isolated minority within an oppressed and isolated minority,” Jewish women have endured millennia of religiously justified misogyny.  Scriptural disgust for female bodies and demand for ritual purity enforce an essential “otherness” by which women are excluded from leadership roles and core practices of many Jewish communities. These earliest attitudes are replicated by Islam and Christianity, which hold some of the same core texts to be sacred.

Alexis Record, frequent book reviewer and blog contributor, expands Gorham’s discussion by focusing on the impact of childhood indoctrination. Record was raised in a fundamentalist household and was educated using Accelerated Christian Education. In 2001, Norway banned the curriculum for violating their Gender Equality Act.[1] A mother’s roles are discussed as “helper, cook, cleans house, washes and irons clothes.”[2] Record concludes with an action plan to help children know what is true and to give them the tools they need to distinguish facts from beliefs.

Dr. Valerie Tarico, author of Trusting Doubt and blogger at www.valerietarico.com, gives an insightful analysis of the treatment of women in the Bible and early Christianity. Her work outlines the tendency of Bible writers and subsequent Christian leaders to eliminate any notion of a feminine divine and to paint women as unclean, dirty—literally property to be owned, given away, sold, or claimed as spoils of war by powerful men. Christian apologists like to ignore the Old Testament and focus on the New Testament. Yet as Tarico outlines so well, it is hard to ignore the statements of early Christian fathers or the roots of their disdain for women in the Bible itself.

The third Abrahamic religion, Islam, is explored by Hibah Ch. Ch is a Syrian expatriate born and raised in Aleppo in a conservative Muslim family. She left Islam in her twenties and now studies chemistry and mathematics in the United States. Ch reveals that female deities in the Arabian Peninsula were initially revered but subsequently destroyed by Islam. In addition, there were successful business women and female rulers prior to Islam. Inspired by the patriarchal norms of Judeo-Christianity, the founder of Islam, Mohammed, adopted many of their negative proscriptions regarding women.

Aruna Papp, author of Unworthy Creature:  A Punjabi Daughter’s Memoir of Honour, Shame and Love, was born and raised in India. The oldest of seven children, Aruna’s formative years were governed by her father’s pastoral service, the culture of honor, and her yearning for an education that eluded her.  In an abusive arranged marriage, Aruna immigrated to Canada with two small daughters. Here she learned about rights and protections Canada offers to women. She embarked on a frightening but empowering journey that lead to two masters’ degrees, and a second, loving, and mutually respectful marriage. In her pioneering career counselling immigrant women, Aruna is recipient of dozens of awards, including the Toronto Women of Distinction. Aruna facilitates training on “Risk Assessment: How Honour Based Violence differs from Domestic Violence.” As a Canadian Delegate at the 57th Session of the UN Aruna spoke on Honour Killing in the West countries.

The next two essays, written by Valerie Wade and Deanna Adams, outline the impact of religion on African American women. Wade is a historian at Lynnfield Historical Consulting, where she assists families with genealogical research and conducts workshops on preservation and other history-related topics. Adams is the author of the blog Musings on a Limb, where she expresses her views as an African American atheist, professional, and mom on subjects related to the intersectionality of racism and skepticism. She currently serves on the board of the Humanists of Houston. Wade describes the culture in Africa prior to the Middle Passage of the slave trade. In many societies in Africa, there was a strong influence of female goddesses like Mawu, Yemoja, and Ala. The advent of Christianity, with its rampant misogyny, however, put African American women in a double bind: they were disadvantaged because of their race and because of their sex. Adams continues this history and states that during the civil rights era, Christian churches held back and many avoided involvement. Just like in the churches, women’s involvement in civil rights was more as workhorses. After this era, the prosperity gospel phenomenon took much of the women’s hard-earned dollars. Other impacts such as the prevalence of domestic violence and the lack of psychologically sound support also contribute to the struggle of African American women today.

Marilyn Deleija, born in Guatemala, and raised in Central California, gives a unique prospective on what it means to be an Atheist Latin immigrant. She has worked hard to be politically active in her community and has also helped to improve political information access to them. She is a local volunteer in Central California and has helped in moving her community progressively forward.  In her essay, her experiences reflect what she sees needs to be changed with regards to religion and how it can affect local communities, but more specifically, Hispanic prominent communities, like places she grew up in.

Hypatia Alexandria introduces herself as a multi-faceted individual, dedicated to promoting secular values as well as social, political and business interests in the US Latino community. She completed her education in an all-girls Catholic school. Thus, she is well aware of the huge impact of religion, particularly Catholicism, on the US Hispanic Population. She writes and discusses the influence religion has on Latino women and the multiple barriers they face in achieving true gender equality.  Hypatia cofounded Hispanic American Freethinkers (HAFREE), a non-profit organization that encourages critical thinking in the US. She is currently a PhD student at Virginia Tech.

Kayley Margarite Whalen, digital strategies and social media manager at the National LGBTQ Task Force, adds yet another dimension to the subjugation of women by religion¾that of a transgender woman. In her essay, she weaves her personal journey both as a transgender woman and as an atheist along with current research on gender identity. It is an issue that virtually all religions have not yet come to terms with.

Dr. Abby Hafer, author of The Not-So-Intelligent Designer, takes up the discussion of evolution in her essay.  She points out that evolutionarily speaking, females are the first, original sex.  She contradicts the argument from nature by showing the many different gender roles and forms of sexual expression that exist in the animal kingdom, and points out numerous fallacies in the idea of intelligent design, in particular with regard to women’s reproductive systems.  She shows how the Abrahamic religions go out of their way to trap women, and reveals that the natural rate of spontaneous abortions makes the evangelicals’ God by far the world’s busiest abortionist.

Gretta Vosper, author of With or Without God and Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief, leads a congregation in Canada’s largest Protestant denomination, the United Church of Canada. She is in the middle of a controversy and may lose or leave her position because she is an atheist. She explores how her congregation developed around her after her declaration of atheism and how she has attracted congregants who want the community that a church provides but none of the doctrine.

If you have a chance to read the book (it is available for pre-order here), please go to my website and vote for Faith or Freedom (and a short review on Amazon would be much appreciated). The book will be available June 1.

Karen Garst
March 24, 2018

[1] Jonny Scaramanga, “Norway Banned ACE. Could the UK Follow?” Patheos, August 4, 2014, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/leavingfundamentalism/2014/08/04/norway-banned-ace-could-the-uk-follow/.
[2] http://faithlessfeminist.com/blog-posts/exposing-accelerated-christian-education/


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