Monday, October 21, 2013

No, Christianity Didn't Give Us Science

Many Christians loudly proclaim that Christianity made possible the modern scientific revolution and that other religions or beliefs would have made it impossible for science to flourish. They'll point to key figures in science who were Christian and use it to make the claim that faith and science are perfectly compatible. A Christian I was debating with made a post over on his blog arguing that faith and science are indeed compatible, and he quoted the Christian philosopher of science John Lennox to make the point. I just had to respond, given Lennox's failure to make a convincing argument. From Lennox's book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? he quotes:

C. S. Lewis’ . . . view is worth noting: ‘Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.’ It was this conviction that led Francis Bacon, regarded by many as the father of modern science, to teach that God has provided us with two books — the book of Nature and the Bible — and that to be really properly educated, one should give one’s mind to studying both.
Many of the towering figures of science agreed. Men such as Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, and Clerk Maxwell were theists; most of them, in fact, were Christians. Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it and they were not shy of saying so. The driving force behind Galileo’s questing mind, for example, was his deep inner conviction that the Creator who had ‘endowed us with senses, reason and intellect’ intended us not to ‘forgo their use and by some other means give us knowledge which we can attain by them.’ Johannes Kepler described his motivation thus: ‘The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.’

First, I’m not a huge fan of Lennox, but at least he is not, from what I understand, a creationist who denies evolution. So he gets a point for that. Second, it might be important to know that in Galileo’s day, you had to profess Christian faith. This was back when the Church was the State. If you publicly denied Christ or god you’d be burned at the stake. Galileo spent the last decade of his life under house arrest because he dared challenge the orthodoxy of the day that the Earth was NOT the center of the universe. And in 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned alive for saying the same thing and for believing there might be other forms of life out in space. Galileo was aware of this and it silenced him. Thus it took many centuries and hurdles to get scientific facts accepted because Christianity held them back.

Perfect Reaction To Angry Christians

What Came First The Atheist Or The Skeptic?

We all wear many hats in life, and carry many identities. For some of us, our race is the most important factor in our identity. Some people are black first and then an American or a Christian, or they're Latino first and then a woman. For other people, religion is first and foremost. So they might see themselves as a Muslim first, and then an American, or a Jehovah's Witness first, and then an Australian. Still others identify strongly with their gender. So for them, they might see themselves as a woman first, then a mother or a Latina. And others put nation identity first. So they might see themselves as an American first, or French first, and then male or female. And then there are those who see their occupation first. So they might see themselves as a chef first, then an Argentinian, or as a musician first, and then British.

How we identify ourselves depends on what identities we feel are most important to us. I've always hated the idea of being identified too strongly with what I do for a living because I've never really had a job that I liked a whole lot. In a city like New York, all too often you are what you do. When you meet someone new one of the first questions that you'll be asked is what you do for a living. When I would give my answer I'd feel like that person was immediately coming to conclusions about me based on what I did. I've worked in the IT industry for the past several years and I've had to deal with quite a few people thinking that I must be a computer geek who sits home and plays video games for hours on end. I happen not to be much of a gamer at all, and I'm not even much of a computer geek either.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Few Thoughts On Deism

I've been reading up on deism recently over on the site It's a site that celebrates the deistic worldview and highlights many of history's most famous deists. I think two of them, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, were two of the greatest enlightenment thinkers of all time. One can certainly be an intelligent, rational thinker and be a deist. In fact, I think of all the people who believe in god, deists are the most rational. The furthest I could ever be pushed towards the direction of theism, is deism. Given what I know, I don't think I could ever be a theist. But it is possible that I could be a deist. It's also possible that I could live comfortably as an atheist in a world filled with deists. I wouldn't even have a big problem myself with the idea of deism being true. A deistic god is a god who let's you grow and learn on your own. It doesn't command you or forbid you to do anything. It's not concerned with micromanaging every aspect of your life. As the World Union of Deists proclaim, "God gave us reason, not religion."

Deists and atheists have a lot in common. We both see the irrationality of theism and its claims of "revelation." Theism forces its adherents to believe in nonsense on little more than blind faith. Deism requires no such thing. Deism is the belief in nature's god, and only acts as a first cause. The rest unfolds according to the natural laws and order. That means there's no angels or demons, no fairies or jinns, no "prophets" or revealed wisdom. The only wisdom comes from reason, logic and empiricism.  So called prophets are frauds, motivated by selfishness or ignorance and hallucination. Religion is therefore, a great evil, a blinder limiting one's full access to nature and reality. Religion means putting your trust in a person claiming to be able to speak for god. To the deist, this is absurd.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nobody's Right, If Everybody's Wrong

You could call it, "War of the Worldviews."

Atheists are generally pretty confident that theists who hold to certain religious beliefs are just utterly deluded. I know I am. I'm convinced that theists are living in a fantasy world, believing in superstitions left over from the Bronze-age. They actually think there's an invisible sky daddy out there who knows everything you do and that angels and demons are causing miracles and disasters all over the world everyday. And they think that if we believe and do the right things, we will literally go to an celestial fantasy land after we die where we'll all be super happy forever.

And I wonder how any rational person can still believe these things in the twenty first century.

But then, the theist turns right around and accuses atheists of living in our own utter delusion. To them, they can't understand how anyone can not believe in a creator. They think it's utterly delusional to believe the whole universe "popped" into existence uncaused out of "nothing" (even though we don't have to believe this) and that purely natural processes evolved matter into all the stars, planets and life that we see today. To them, it's the atheist that's living in a fantasy world. We're crazy for not believing in their invisible spirit gods. And so we each think the other is utterly deluded.

And so nobody's right, if everybody's wrong.

The same thing can be said in politics. A sizable portion of the Republican party thinks President Obama is a Muslim socialist, who worships allah in the White House, and who is hell bent on destroying Christian America with a radical left-wing secular agenda. Not surprisingly, it's the same segment of Americans who buy into this fantasy who also buy into the biblical one.

Although liberals aren't exactly immune to conspiracies either (9/11 truthers), many Republicans think that liberal fantasies of universal healthcare, gay marriage, higher taxes for the rich and keeping god out of government to create a 21st century "utopia" is pure madness, and will ultimately decay into Stalinism. That's right. They think universal healthcare will lead to Stalinism. And so Democrats and Republicans each think the other are utterly deluded.

And so nobody's right, if everybody's wrong.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 4

With Moreland's case for dualism already crumbling under the weight of compelling scientific evidence to the contrary, the powerhouse of his last three "recalcitrant facts" losses traction. The next "fact" against naturalism he unleashes is rationality. Apparently to him, rationality can only exist if a rational god made us in his image.

3. Rationality

Moreland describes the Christian god as being fundamental and rational who "created his image-bearers with the mental equipment to exhibit rationality and be apt for truth gathering in their various environments." (p. 41) He quotes Christian philosopher Victor Reppert saying, "The necessary conditions for rationality cannot exist in a naturalistic universe." [1] Moreland offers two reasons why naturalism precludes rationality: (1) the necessity of the enduring, rational self and (2) the need for room for teleological (goal-directed) factors to play a role in the thought processes. (p. 41) He backs up (1) with a quote from British philosopher A.C. Ewing about how enduring states of "I" are required to process things like propositions and their different constituents:

to compare two things the same being must, at least in memory, be aware of them simultaneously; and since all these processes take some time the continuous existence of the same entity is required. In these cases an event which consisted in the contemplating of A followed by another event which consisted in the contemplating of B is not sufficient. They must be events of contemplating that occur in the same being. [2]

This notion of there being no enduring self under naturalism underpins this argument. Subatomically, the atoms that make up our bodies are jumping from position to position following the laws of quantum mechanics, but those atoms that make up your body existed for billions of years, and were forged in the hearts of stars that have long since died. Who says the information carried by your atoms of your mental states and identity cannot endure? Moreland is assuming that with each nanosecond, we should be a completely different person unless we have a soul to ground our sense of memory and identity. But if memory is physical, at least in part, then brain states would preserve that memory from moment to moment, and physical damage to the brain would erase it. That's basically what we see with people who've experienced brain trauma.

Moreland defends (2) with another logical argument (p. 42):

(1) If naturalism is true, there is no irreducible teleology.
(2) Rational deliberation exhibits irreducible teleology.
(3) Therefore, naturalism is false.

Monday, October 14, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 3

The next section of Moreland's chapter is the meat and potatoes of his argument against naturalism, which he titles, FIVE RECALCITRANT FEATURES OF THE IMAGE OF GOD. He reiterates god's attributes, and touches on the happy coincidence that they're just like the ones the "beings that are alleged to have been created to be like God" have. (p. 37) Thus, he deduces that biblical theism predicts these features and this provides confirmation for biblical theism. He attacks labels such as "emergent phenomena" that many property dualists like myself ascribe to. "How, for example," asks Moreland "could it be that they emerged in the first place?"  (p. 38)

Moreland offers his first line of evidence against naturalism and in support of "what would be predicted if biblical theism were true." (p. 38)

1. Consciousness and the mental

Moreland states that it's easier to see consciousness being created by a conscious entity, like god, rather than through natural processes. But look at nature. In nature we can see all different levels of consciousness exemplified, from complex consciousness like what we have, to simpler versions found in other mammals and birds, to highly rudimentary versions found in reptiles and amphibians - exactly what we'd expect if consciousness was something that developed and evolved over time. And if a soul is responsible for consciousness, when exactly did that come into our evolution? Consciousness didn't just "appear" overnight. It was a gradual development. And I don't know any theists who think the soul evolved in stages - it's pretty much all or nothing. But then animals should have some kind of soul because many animals are conscious too. Perhaps we got the deluxe souls and animals got the basic souls? Alas, I am not a neuroscientist, so I cannot explain consciousness to the degree that someone more qualified than me could. But I know enough about science and evolution to know that if you really consider the idea that consciousness is due to a soul, considering our evolutionary past, it opens up numerous problems. I've challenged the dualistic assumption with a list of questions here.

Moreland offers four points about mental states (p. 38):

  • There is a raw qualitative feel or a "what is it like" to have a mental state such a a pain.
  • Many mental states have intentionality---ofness or aboutness---directed toward an object (e.g. a thought about the moon).
  • Mental states are inner, private and immediate to the subject having them.
  • Mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language.

Neuroscientists and neurobiologists are discovering more and more exactly how our conscious states are indeed related to the physical matter in our brains, but there is still an awfully lot to learn. A mental state, like being in a state of pain, is nature's way of letting an organism know something bad is happening to it. Mirror neurons in our brains fire when we see others in pain, even when ourselves aren't, and it's one of the reasons why we're capable of being empathetic. When it comes to intentionality, thinking of objects does create certain physical brain states that correspond to the object being thought of. Researchers have recently been able to map images of what people see using fMRI scans of their brain states as they are watching a movie. Although the research is still in its infancy, we may be able in the not to distant future, to literally read one's thoughts as they're thinking or dreaming. This shows a physical correlation between neurological brain states and consciousness. So it is far from certain that mental states have no locations or spatial extension.


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