Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism

A Christian that I often debate with was kind enough to buy me a book that he thinks makes a good case for god's existence and addresses many of the arguments made by the so called New Atheists. In return, I promised to actually read the book (of course) and write a chapter-by-chapter review of it here on my blog.

Well the book, called The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheismwritten by a philosopher named Edward Feser, arrived a few days ago. I've read the first chapter and the preface and I have to say that the book seems like an interesting read. I like Feser's writing style. He's very polemic and clear about articulating his point of view and he's able to keep my attention while reading (which is very important). And at 267 pages of content, the book isn't too long.

I had very little knowledge of Feser before being told of this book. He's an associate professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College according to Wikipedia. There are thousands of professors like Fesar who stay under the radar and never make a whole lot of noise outside of esoteric philosophy circles, and one can make a name for themselves by criticizing or debating big name philosophers and scientists, like those that comprise the New Atheists. But so far Feser is still relatively unknown, even to many theists and atheists active in the debate over god, religion, and secularism.

Feser's book is a critique of what's become known as New Atheism, and I'm told it's a very good one. Here on this blog I will be critiquing Feser's critique of New Atheism. But here's the problem. I don't always agree with many of the New Atheists myself. And to be honest with you, the only two books I've read in their entirety made by a New Atheist author is Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (which I still regard as an excellent critique of Abrahamic monotheism and its social effects),* and Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape. I've read part of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, which is arguably the most famous of the New Atheist's books, and I've read excerpts of Sam Harris' The End of Faith (which is the book that started the "New Atheism" phenomenon) and Daniel Dennett's, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. I agree with these guys on a lot of stuff, but not on everything. So when I criticize Feser it won't necessarily be from the perspective of the New Atheists, it will be from my perspective. And that means I might at times agree with Feser and not with the New Atheists, or I might disagree with them both.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

List Of Capital Offenses In The Old Testament

Here's a list of all the capital offenses in the Old Testament as compiled by Thom Stark in Is God a Moral Compromiser? It makes for a handy reference.

  • Premeditated Murder (Exod 21:12-14, 22-23)
  • Kidnapping (Exod 21:16)
  • Striking a Parent (Exod 21:15)
  • Cursing a Parent (Exod 21:17)
  • Rebelling against a Priest (Deut 17:12)
  • Rebelling against a Parent (Deut 21:18-21)
  • Sacrificing to Deities Other Than Yahweh (Exod 22:20)
  • Working on Saturdays (Exod 35:2)
  • Using Yahweh’s Name in Vain (Lev 24:10-16, 23)
  • Being the Owner of a Goring Ox That Finally Gores a human to Death (Exod 21:29)
  • Prophesying Incorrectly (Deut 18:20)
  • Sacrificing Children to Molech (Lev 20:2)
  • Divination or Magic (Exod 22:18)
  • Adultery (Lev 20:10-21; Deut 22:22)
  • Bestiality (Exod 22:19)
  • Incest (Lev 18:6-17)
  • Homosexuality (Lev 20:13)
  • Consensual Premarital Sex (If You’re a Woman) (Deut 22:20-21)
  • Temple Prostitution (Lev 21:9)
  • Rape of a Married or Engaged Woman (Deut 22:25)
  • Failure To Scream When Being Raped in the City, If You’re an Engaged Woman (Deut 22:23-24)

Interestingly, pedophilia and owning slaves is not a capital offense, but working on Saturday, premarital sex and prophesying wrong is. Considering how horrible this list is, it's a damn good thing we don't have absolute unchanging morality.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Does Acupuncture Work? (Part 2)

(continued from part 1)

Early last summer I began a series of acupuncture treatments to help myself quit smoking. My on-again off-again addiction to tobacco since I was 17 has been one of the most frustrating things to give up, and when Hitchens died of esophageal cancer back in 2011 after decades of having been a heavy smoker, the idea that I should really quit became more pungent. I know that smoking can degrade the quality of life, especially in the latter years, as well as cut years off of it and can cost tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. So when I heard that acupuncture can cure this addition, and that my insurance covered the treatment 100% I thought, why not give it a try.

After about 3 dozen sessions what has the result been? Did it cure me of my addition to tobacco? Did it get rid of the desire?

Even though I'm a skeptic, I admit that I wanted acupuncture to work really badly. But after several months of treatment, I can't say that it has cured me of my smoking addition. I definitely smoke less now than I did before I started the treatment, but I don't know if that was due to my psychological desire to quit or whether the acupuncture actually did anything. It is really hard to tell. Maybe the acupuncture just provided me a false sense of security, but I don't know.

Throughout the treatment I was continually asked by the therapists what my smoking level was. This made me feel like I had to report that I was smoking less because I wanted to make them think that it was working. But this also had the effect of making me smoke far less than I normally smoked. I eventually began having days when I didn't smoke any cigarettes at all, which I didn't have before the treatment.

YouTube Atheists

I enjoy my share of YouTube atheists from time to time. They can provide a lot of entertainment and help you understand and refute the many apologetic tricks theists never cease to conjure up.

One YouTube atheist I've come to like is this guy calling himself TheMessianicManic. I like his videos because they're usually short and to the point, no more than 5 minutes or so, and he takes on many of the common arguments theists make. I also like the style of his videos. They're well edited and straightforward and not too over the top. Check him out below:

This other guy CultOfDusty is pretty well known. This particular video humiliating Ray Comfort is genius.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What A Week

I've been out for sometime due to a medical issue that caused me to spend a few days in the hospital. Life's been pretty shitty for me the past week or so. I can tell you that if I didn't have medical insurance I'd be fucked. It's sad to think that in the richest country on earth, a person's life could be nearly ruined because of a treatable medical emergency. I have private health insurance through my job and so far it's been OK, but I wonder what Obamacare would've been like.

I have some pending posts I hope will be interesting. I will follow up on my post Does Acupuncture Work? and I will have my personal answer to whether it worked for me. Also, a Christian interlocutor of mine who I debate with regularly has offered to buy me a book he thinks makes a good argument against the New Atheists called The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. I hope it's a good read. The reviews I've read however, are not too kind, but we shall see.

I've spent years trying to find the best arguments for god and against atheism. In the early years I've focused on a lot of Ray Comfort level idiocies but were then told by theists that I really needed to check out William Lane Craig, because unlike embarrassments like Ray Comfort et al., Craig was a "sophisticated theologian" who was able to address all the atheist's challenges for evidence. Well, after having spent years following (and critiquing) Craig's arguments, I'm not that impressed by him. In fact, although I think he's a superb debater, I think many of his arguments and views are a joke. But then I was told yet again by internet Christians that Craig is not a real sophisticated theologian, and I had to check out Alvin Plantinga, because he was a real sophisticated theologian. Then I read some of Plantinga's arguments, and although I do indeed find them sophisticated in that they're complex and very esoteric, I didn't find them compelling and found some of them also to be joke-worthy.

But yet again I'm told that the real "sophisticated theologians" are the ones behind the scenes who aren't the well known popularizers. And now I land of Edward Feser, a Catholic philosopher who I'm lead to believe is the real real sophisticated theologian. Well, I will read his book and give a chapter by chapter review on this blog. It will be a nice little winter project, as I'm generally inclined to stay home in the long cold winter months. And as an interesting note, I was told that reading Feser's book would deeply challenge my atheism. Oh really? This should be fun.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2014

William Lane Craig On Identifying Objective Moral Values

Listen to our favorite apologist William Lane Craig in the video above explaining where he thinks we can identify the objective moral values he believes are grounded in Yahweh. He says the way you can know moral values are objective are that you can "appeal to your moral experience. Don't you think as you reflect on it, that certain things are genuinely evil, for torture a little child for fun."

But listen to this. Craig's basis for objective moral values is actually our subjective emotional responses. This is quite interesting and problematic, for at least two reasons:

First, how does Craig explain the sociopath who doesn't feel that it is evil to torture a child for fun and may even enjoy the idea? The truth of the matter is that we don't all respond emotionally to different moral situations the same way. Some of us lack the physiological ability to empathize with the suffering of others and may even enjoy the idea of torturing others. The basis for objective morals is therefore on shaky ground if it is going to be rooted in one's subjective emotional response.

Second, our emotional responses differ from culture to culture and from people to people. Take an issue like same sex marriage. There are people on both sides of the issue that are very passionate and emotional about their views. Trying to "appeal to your moral experience" will do nothing on these kinds of moral issues to establish an objective basis. Craig might think that his moral experience is somehow more objective than others, but he has no basis to make such an argument.

What Craig is actually doing is a microcosm of what all religion does on morality. What religion does is it takes the moral values that are held by that culture - what repels them, what attracts them - and codifies it into a religion and assumes that these morals are now somehow properly basic. Craig is just taking his own moral experience as a Christian American and making them "properly basic" and declaring them objective, but in reality there's no objective basis for them, it's totally subjective. That he doesn't see this is telling.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Islam, ISIS, Ben Affleck, Bill Maher, And Sam Harris, Oh My

I can't believe that I haven't yet written a single post about the radical Islamic militant group ISIS, although I've tweeted plenty about it. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or simply just the Islamic State, are a band of radical Islamic militants who, through a campaign of violence and terror, have gained control of many parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq and seek to establish a new Islamic caliphate based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, known as Sharia. They've been accused of beheadings, crucifixions, and mass killings, and are considered even too extremist for Al Qaeda.

ISIS's brutality is once again reigniting a debate that we never actually finished having which became part of the national conversation after the events of September 11th, 2001. The debate is over whether Islam is a religion that condones violence and oppression, and whether the problem with terrorism and violence among Muslims is caused, at least in part, by the Islamic religion.

Recently, on Real Time with Bill Maher, Ben Affleck got into a scuffle with Maher and guest Sam Harris over this very issue. What ensued was a classic failure of liberals like Affleck to understand the argument. Affleck did exactly what Harris says liberals do when he said, "We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people and that is intellectually ridiculous." Almost right after that Affleck does exactly what Harris just said people do by calling it "racist" to criticize Islam, which is a fucking religion! What Affleck fundamentally doesn't understand is that Maher and Harris are criticizing the religion of Islam, not the followers. They're criticizing the Koran and what it says, and you can criticize the Koran without saying all Muslims are violent or sexist. The Koran has many violent and sexist verses in it (as I will get to), but we all fully acknowledge that most Muslims are not violent. They're not all trying to blow themselves up to get 72 virgins, or cut the head off of the nearest infidel. Critics of religion like Maher, Harris and myself, can recognize this important distinction that far too many liberals like Affleck fail to see.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Brian Greene On Free Will And The Laws Of Physics


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