Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I thought today's class was fun. Seriously, though, I'd be happy to let Kat or someone else be the discussion moderator. I calls 'em as I sees 'em but I don't always sees 'em right.

On Thursday it's
Let's try to do the group distribution thing: Group #1 post comments and questions/topics on the Shapiro essay, Group #2 Levine etc. (as well as on whatever else you're moved to think about).

There are two Antonys at the end of the line because one's in the book and one's on the web, at the link indicated. Group #4 gets Antony in the book, Group #5 "Good Minus God."

P.S. Still thinking about our class discussion in A&P yesterday on evolution & meaning... (continues)

Group 2: Against Religion

All or Nothing

“You’re either for us or you’re against us.”

This phrase has been uttered throughout history, and most notably (even ironically—contingent upon your religious and political views) by Jesus and George Bush. The Manichean or dualist philosophical outlook embodied by this phrase is fundamental to most religions and is a major tenet of Christianity. This form of exclusionism is made explicit in Luke 11:23 by Jesus: “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scatterth.” George Bush, although lacking the poetic norm of antiquity by adding ‘eth’ to the end of verbs, said the same thing in an address to Congress during a joint session: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The consequences of this divisive phrase spoken either of these leaders will have to be assessed individually but it doesn’t take an advanced degree in Logic to recognize the law excluded middle fallacy. This is one more thing Aristotle was wrong about.

The atheist pushback against religious Dominionism, protectionism and privilege is often rhetorically characterized for political and religious purposes as a ‘crusade’ against belief; a concerted effort to eliminate, wipe out or exterminate religious belief by whatever means necessary. This is derisive and inflammatory language is embodied in the phrase often used by people of faith and right-wing media: ‘the war on religion.’ I’m sure there are a few crackpots and nuts who would like to eliminate all religious belief  (even believers) from the face of the earth but, as in any concept, we can’t let the extreme define the middle. So, as Baggini notes on page 90, atheists are anti-religious in only one sense: they believe religion is false. This is an evaluation based on evidence and rationality, and in no way endorses hostility towards believers that the use of the negative prefix ‘anti’ brings to the conversation. Baggini puts it succinctly: “Atheist opposition to religion is essentially an opposition to its truth.” Suggestions otherwise are a reflection of ignorance, propaganda, or intellectual dishonesty.

If someone’s belief and their particular god retreats to the confines of there individual personal experience and personal conviction, a feeling that is so real and vivid that it can’t be expressed in words, then I, like Baggini, have no issue with that type of belief. Faith of this type may very well be 'beyond words.' 

One’s personal religious experience has no bearing on empirical facts about the world—it’s the other way around. Maybe, on some days, this is where William James and I part ways. I’m not saying religious experience doesn’t influence one’s beliefs that, in turn, create cause and effect (we can now factor in physics), I think it muddies the waters where clarity on this matter has been discovered by science. Maybe some theists just can't admit it just yet.

The push back against religious privilege is necessary for peace, equality and understanding in a modern society. Once religious privilege is defeated by means of facts, reason, evidence, ridicule, mockery, etc., we can attack hatred, bigotry, subjugation, and violence on equal footing without the illusion that immoral religious values have some justification in divine providence.  

Interview by proxy

The first interview candidate for our new Religious Studies faculty position is due in town tonight and tomorrow. I'm wondering if any of you have any questions you'd like me to pose?

(Perhaps pertaining to the kinds of courses you'd like to see from a RS prof, how the candidate conceives the relation between philosophy & religion, etc.?)

For instance: do you think you'd be interested in taking courses on (say) Comparative Religion, Religion in America, Religion & the Law, Native American Religion, "Cults" & Religion... What else?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Problem of evil

In my Intro classes we introduced the problem of evil (suffering) the other day. Baggini thinks the argument against theism based on suffering is impressive, as do I. But Intro students typically put up a force field the minute the subject is raised, and after so many years it does get tiresome repeating the same old rejoinders.

So I thought I'd ask if any of you has a fresh thought on the subject I might borrow.

Mr. Deity pretty much knocks it out of the park, doesn't he? Bart Ehrman, too.

What else would you say to someone who says things like this?

Romans 6:23

the wages of sin are death...

so sin is the cause of evil...

but if someone dies is it because of sin or evil.

So maybe this evil thing is suspect unless you believe in the word of GOD like I do then it makes sense.

ohh, did you ask why it made sense... Glad you asked.

ok Jesus came to the earth born of a virgin... blah blah blah.. you know the story...

he died but rose on the 3rd day so we can have the right to grace... He was sacrificed for our sins & transgressions...  

So now we (Christians) are saved by grace which means that we can be forgiven of our sins, if we express them to him. 

 Or this:
Do we sin because we are evil, or are we evil because we sin? If you read the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, from the book of Genesis, it appears that humans were created without sin but with free will. If this is the case- that Eve had no sin, then why did she disobey God and eat the fruit? Did she eat because she was created as a sinner or did she become a sinner because she disobeyed God? If she had not sinned, would she have lived forever? Was death created because of her sin or was it inevitable for all humans? If God is all-knowing as scripture indicates, why would he create humans and then set them up for failure? Is it possible that God created the framework of the world and then instituted "natural laws" and then allowed man to decide how he would live?
Or this:
I feel like all of those above points can be true without contradicting one another. I think God is Good and wants us all to be faithful and good on our own, but bad things do happen because its the laws of physics and the universe. God allows them to happen because its part of life, but sometimes he will step in if he see's fit. If the world was absolutely perfect we wouldn't appreciated it and we would still find something to complain about. When parents have kids, they don't step in and fix every little thing for them even if they can, instead they let them experience a certain amount of life's sour milk! That's how we learn and in the end, it makes us stronger! I wish life was all rainbows and sunshine, but then again if It was, would I be the same person I am now? Would I understand the importance of love and goodness or would I take it for granted? Maybe God wants us to see the silver lining on the grey cloud. That way in the end when He detroys all things evil, we'll all understand how blessed we are. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Science, Religion, and Types of Questions

 I hope no one minds if I "take the microphone" so to speak and elaborate a little bit about what I was inarticulately trying to say in class on Thursday, re: science and religion and whether they ask different questions. I believe I heard someone (though not sure who) make a comment to the effect of "That's such a theist argument". My beliefs could be best described as panendeism, or perhaps more simply as form of Spinozan belief in the attributes of a natural world, run on natural laws, which on examination is composed of but one "substance" in many modes.

That being said, mainly I wanted to clarify something. While I do think it is clear that religion has dipped it's toe many many times in science's pool and tried (usually with absurd results) to answer the mechanical questions of how things work and why natural phenomenon happen, I do think it is self-evident that science and the heart/core of religion ultimately are attempts at answering different kinds of questions. Science answers the questions of what, and how. Religion is at it's best when it focuses on the question of meaning, and on answering the 'what now?' parts of inquiry. But I did want to say I do not think religion is the ONLY way to answer these questions. Baggini makes an excellent argument for the ability to find meaning in life apart from any sort of religious discourse. I think it's to Baggini's credit however when he also notes that Atheism and Science can become (as part of Atheism's origins in naturalism) too tightly enmeshed to the point where some atheists forget there are certainly other ways of looking at the world, gathering meaning, and making judgments about human life. This is an area philosophy excels in, and one of the reasons I'm a philosophy major. I can personally think of nothing happier and more fulfilling than tackling the sorts of questions philosophy asks, which are almost never scientific in nature. That being said, I easily grant there is a deep difference between philosophy and theology. My point is merely that the empirical scientific method is not the sole guarantor of knowledge.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


We'll finish Baggini next time.
T 31 Baggini 4-conclusion (Meaning and purpose; Against religion?; Conclusion; Why I’m Not a ChristianFuture of an Illusion (Freud vs. Lewis)

Even though we haven't been using the group structure as a small-discussion platform, let's continue using it to focus our posts & comments. Group 1 gets "meaning and purpose," group 2 "against religion?",  group 3 the Conclusion, group 4 Why I’m Not a Christian, group 5 Future of an Illusion (Freud vs. Lewis).

Please let me know if you want to return to the small-group discussion format, at least occasionally. So far it's seemed that most of us are comfortable speaking in the large circle arrangement, though some may sometimes feel shut out. So a mix might be better for some.

Also, in case you missed my earlier comments:

I just want to put in a word of appreciation: I really admire the respectful and articulate level of discourse you've all been hitting in the course so far, in the classroom and in this space. It's been a real treat reading and listening to your contributions. I'd be inclined to keep this site up and running and maybe even open to the wide world after semester's end, if there's any interest in doing that.
One more thought: the quality of blog posts has been so good, if anyone wants to do a thematically-related series of posts in lieu of a more formal essay for the midterm or final project I'd be fine with that. 
Postscript, following up on part of Thursday's discussion:
One of the many interesting turns in yesterday’s A&P discussion came when someone suggested that it’s presumptuous of nonbelievers to assume the ultimate explanation of life and existence must necessarily be scientific. How do we know we’re not  so low on the evolutionary escalator that all our big categories (including “scientific” and “religious”) won’t eventually be swallowed up by forms of intelligence we can’t begin now to fathom? Perhaps our heated debates about god and cosmology will all be left in the dustbin of natural history. (continues) 
Rachel in A&P the other day read us a quote she found on Julian Baggini’s blog, averring the joint testimony of both modern philosophy and psychology as to the irrelevance and unreliability of feelings in establishing truth. (continues) 
Post-post... My provisional final thoughts on Baggini...

The church of what's happenin' NOW

Alain de Botton has announced plans to build a series of temples for atheists in the UK. The move follows the publication of de Botton’s latest book, Religion for Atheists.
Why should religious people have the most beautiful buildings in the land?’ he asks. ‘It’s time atheists had their own versions of the great churches and cathedrals... You can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good. That could mean: a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective... Even the most convinced atheists tend to speak nicely about religious buildings. They may even feel sad that nothing like them gets built nowadays. But there’s no need to feel nostalgic. Why not just learn from religions and build similarly beautiful and interesting things right now?
More modestly, you could worship at Atheist Station in Pennsylvania.

Chapter Two: The Case for Atheism

Show Me the Money!

How do we make the case for atheism—or anything for that matter? Few would disagree that it’s impossible to get to work in an imaginary car, open a bank account with imaginary money, or seek shelter in an imaginary home (although it’s possible to have a show business career with imaginary talent—but that’s a whole other discussion).  How do we convince our friends they don’t have invisible fire breathing dragons in their gym lockers or their Facebook page isn’t possessed by the devil? Generally, one can make this case with argument, evidence, and rhetoric. Baggini argues in chapter 2 why we shouldn’t make an exception for belief in gods.
Baggini begins by saying that atheism as a negative position, derived from the genesis of the term “atheism.” Stating this truth doesn’t further the argument. On page one, last line of the first paragraph Julian Baggini defines atheism: “a person who believes there is no God or gods.”  Baggini stakes his claim for what he calls a “rational case for atheism,” or euphemistically but argumentatively: a “positive case for atheism.” I was initially concerned about entertaining a positive case for atheism since this feeds the line of thought and question often espoused by theists, “Why is atheism true?” leaving atheists in a position to prove the negative: God does not exist, which is impossible to prove. So I thought. Baggini indicts this line of thinking as committing the etymological fallacy of trying to understand the meaning of the word from it origin. Baggini maintains this gets us nowhere and should instead focus on his positive case for atheism, which is backed up by evidence and argument.

Baggini explains that not all evidence good evidence. This notion can further be broken down into two categories:  good and bad evidence. Good evidence is independently verifiable and bad evidence is anecdotal arguing that, as Hume noted, that anecdotal evidence must be weighed against a much large body of evidence based on principle.

Therefore, the positive argument for atheism hinges on the strong evidence of naturalism—from which atheism is borne—and contrasted with the weak anecdotal evidence (i.e., personal experience and revelation) on which theism is based. One reason weak evidence (anecdotal) can be disregarded is that humans have been notoriously bad at introspection. The strong observational evidence simply points to the natural biological nature of humans that is independently verifiable. Even though human consciousness may be a mystery, there is no reason to presuppositionally posit a god into whatever strikes us mysterious or unexplainable at the current moment. Naturalism allows for this mystery to be an open question.
Baggini also debunks the ‘theistic defense’ based on the assumed aphorism: “absence of evidence is not evidence of evidence of absence.”

But what can Baggini make of the statement? In one sense it’s true, but others it’s not. Evidence or absence of evidence is contingent upon observation. If we don’t investigate a claim, then, yes, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence because there is simply no data to support the claim either way. But, upon observation, the lack of data (absence of evidence) is, by logical default, evidence of absence, which is confirmed by the lack of data. Therefore, absence of data is evidence of non-existence.

Baggini notes two other counter-objections made against atheists. One is that atheists are too sure of themselves since there is so much we don’t understand about consciousness, and the other claim is that theists have evidence for the existence of God. He reminds us that the latter argument is based on very weak evidence noting the theist has to make a case other than by the repetition of hearsay.

The former criticism, which is a psychological projection of appeal to authority, has no basis in light of independently verifiable evidence.

An interesting point Baggini makes in what I would call the anti-William James argument, is to criticize the reluctance to form conclusions based on the ‘permanent possibility’ principle of undiscovered evidence. He argues that failing to form conclusions in the spirit of possible further evidence allows a whole host of possibilities to exist for any belief. He argues that, although these conclusion don't have to be permanent, the ‘evidence to date’ rule that weighs against something not being true is reason enough to believe them. We can still manage to get out of Plato's cave without absolute knowledge. 

In fact, we don’t need absolute certainty on either end of the belief-disbelief continuum to make claims about the world in which we live. Perhaps we should, as Baggini noted, take the pragmatic notion of abduction, and really take a serious look at what would be the best explanation of the human condition and the world around us.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Group 5: Las Noches del Dia


Also described as so on the site for The Euthyphro Dilemma, trying to expand this argument is much like beating a dead horse. But I suppose the majority of us can humor ourselves a little, eh?

My dilemma with this dilemma was the statement 'Either God is the origin of moral principles, or it isn't.' Maybe I'm breaking this down a little too much, but if this God were the creator of moral principles, which vary endlessly, wouldn't there be in fact multiple gods? I want a root definition for 'Euthyphro''s 'good', or else I'm stuck on the thought that the God we speak of is some selfish superhero that morphs himself like an amoeba just for kicks, or that he may just have multiple personality disorder and has frantically run out of medication. I guess what I'm getting at is this: What about cultures without morals like those of our own? Are those practices they partake in 'evil' because there is a God that punishingly wills it to be so? Do we classify them as evil because they are opposite of our perception of a loving God? Lastly, if we had no 'evils' to compare the 'good' with, would we know what the meaning of 'good' was at all?

For a discussion question,
'In Plato's dialogue "Euthyphro", who is Euthyphro being questioned by on the nature of holiness?
A: Socrates!

Group 4: Pascal's Wager

The problem I have with Pascal's Wager is that it goes against what I thought philosophy was meant to do, find the truth if possible using logic and reason.  With this argument, it is not out of logic and reason, but rather fear.  He supposes that you have nothing to lose from believing in God, right or wrong, and everything to lose in not believing in God.  But what about the way that you lead the life you have?  I do believe that there is something , if not much, lost in believing in a God and a religion that comes with confining rules that you must follow.  It puts restrictions on your experiences in life.  It effects both the physical and mental aspects in life that you can explore.  I guess Nietzsche said it better with his idea of the "slave morality".  These limitations on experiencing the fullest life possible in order to stay under the control of God is horrible to begin with, little alone to take on a God and lifestyle that I do not believe in.  To me, it is a risk I'm willing to take.  Fear can not overpower me to live a life that I can't believe in. 

Group 1: What is atheism?

I'm glad you asked :-)

Oddly enough, I was asked to do a blog post on this very question in the not-so-distant past. So just for grins, I'll reproduce it here (with my gracious permission.)

What is atheism? Great question, and odds are that you’ll get 10 different answers if you ask 10 different people. People who define words are just like everybody else: they have their own agendas, their own biases, and their own beliefs. As such, you will find that definitions of atheism often say as much about the people doing the defining as the word they are attempting to define. So, let’s look at a few boilerplate definitions to get a feel for the landscape. A quick Google search turns up the following:

1. Disbelief in the existence of God or gods.

2. A lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

3. The doctrine or belief that there is no God.

4. Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God.

There are some similarities there, sure, but also some pretty substantive differences. Definition #1 centers around “disbelief” as a key aspect of atheism, but that doesn’t leave room for people who have never been exposed to the hypothesis that gods exist. How can a person disbelieve something that they have no awareness of? Definition #4 suffers from the same problem, but throws in the twist of “denial.” This gets into some semantic sleight-of-hand territory, but in practice “disbelief” and “denial” can rest on the same evidentiary ground. If the evidence for a proposition is found to be lacking, it seems that I can either disbelieve the claim, or deny its veracity. Either way, I don’t believe it. Definition #3 is a great example of the definer’s bias shining through, because I seriously doubt that the word “doctrine” would come up during a discussion about whether or not we have evidence to support the existence of Bigfoot.

So that leaves us with Definition #2, a simple lack of believe in gods. This accounts for people who actively disbelieve, those who have never been exposed to the idea of gods and therefore can’t believe or disbelieve, and those who just don’t care (and therefore lack belief.) This definition also has the added benefit of jiving with our understanding of how the “a” prefix should function in language. Placed in front of a word, “a” simply denotes the absence of whatever follows. So, simply put, atheism implies the absence of theism (a belief in a god or gods.)

Now if all that sounds a little anticlimactic, don’t be too surprised. Theists have done a pretty good job of loading atheism down with lots of baggage over the last few millennia, and it takes time (and a little effort) to dispel myths and misconceptions. But now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

Having shared that, I find that I like most of what Baggini has to say on the subject. I'm sure our group will have more to say about it on Thursday.

Group 3 - Atheist Ethics

I like the argument made in this chapter concerning the necessary separation of morality and god. What this does in my mind is put morality on us. We determine what is moral based on our own values, and since we value survival and freedom, we choose a code of morality that supports these. Once again, given free will, we choose the most logical because logical works best.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Th 26 Baggini 1-3 What is atheism?; The case for atheism; atheist ethics; Pascal’s Wager; Euthyphro dilemma

Let's distribute these topics, at least for purposes of posting, among the *five groups. Everybody try to come up with discussion topics and factual questions about Baggini's first three chapters accordingly-i.e., Group #1 concentrate on "What is atheism?" and Group #2 on "The case...," Group #3 on "atheist ethics," Group #4 on Pascal's Wager, & Group #5 on the Euthyphro dilemma.

Here's Baggini's video "Secular Believers."

(If you've forgotten...)

*1. Kat Kolby, Parker Hardy, David Broome, Meghan von Colln, Jamie Sutton

2. Steven Wolfe, Dean Hall, Ben Conrad, John Holloway, David Brandt

3. Josh Yardley, Brian Woulfe, Erik McInnis

4. Joshua Hay, Matthew Busman, Joe Heath, Patrick Gibbons, David Nagy

5. Brian Murphy, Daniel Murphy, Andrew Mitchell, Jonathan Rarick, Rachel Brooks

Additional Qualisoup videos on morality - post by David Broome

Not to hijack the conversation, but here are the other two videos in the Qualiasoup series: Morality 2: Not-so-good books and Morality 3: Of objectivity and oughtness. Since the first one was so well received, I thought I would share the remaining installments.

Both are well worth watching, as they are clear, concise, and just generally well done. Pay particular attention starting at the 11:58 mark of Morality 3, wherein Craig and the ontological argument are handed a logical comeuppance.

Group 4 Arguments 26 and 27

Argument 26:  The argument for the survival of the Jews

The argument says that the Jews were responsible for giving the world the concept of one God.  Also the Jews have beaten the odd of survival from many different sources that threatened them for many year.  Since it seems implausible that there is a rational way that they have been able to survive for this long, they must be protected by God, thus God exist.  The first flaw with this argument is that there are many different reasons that helped the Jews survive the threats against them.  This like there lack a central land of there own and many of there cultural traits have help the adapt and survive the threats against them.  There is a rational explanation for there survival and it doesn't necessary have to be God that is responsible for there years of survival.  I don't think that God is responsible for the Jews survival, but rather there skills, values, and strength is what has kept them alive.

Argument 27:  The argument from the upward curve in history

The argument says that as history goes on, there is a rise in the morality of the world.  The good guys win and evil loses.  Next that natural selection favors the aggressive and selfish trait.  These traits allow them to win the battle for resources.  These selfish traits that are necessary for survival contradicts the rise of good morality we have seen throughout history.  Only a all powerful, benevolent God has the power and morality to guide us on this morality upswing, thus God exist.  The flaw that is stated is that this argument assumes that all of the traits that allow us to survive are based in a selfish and aggressive behaviors.  There is a lot of other behaviors that have allowed us to survive, such as reasoning and learning.  We have been able to learn from history that helping others and also help you survive.  People wouldn't live very long if we tried to get through life on our own.  I also have a problem with the first part of the argument that states that there has been a rise in morality.  It can be said that the morality of the winners throughout history have had there morality claimed to be good morality, mostly because there are the most powerful and survive the longest.  Also with so many moral codes in the world, who is to say abjectly that one is better than the other.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Group 5 - The Knights of Dei (31-36)

Any particular thoughts on these arguments? Here's my two cents.

Personally, I thought a lot of these had little substance to them. Maybe Goldstein was running out of steam.
Pascal's Wager's no match for Occam's Razor, in that - yes the point of probability is completely ignored by the argument, and furthermore, what kind of person are you if you're just believing in god "just in case".

To quote Mark Twain, "faith is believing what you know ain't so," in other words, "you don't believe what you believe you believe."

The William James's "leap of faith" argument is talking about a completely different God entirely - and the end goal isn't "do this and go to heaven," it's "do this and feel better."

My question to that is - again, if you were to take a leap of faith - and assuming that believing in some all powerful governing and judgmental force over the universe exists makes you feel better about yourself, and enriches your life - what kind of a person are you? The Epicurean paradox shows that god is either powerful enough to stop evil but unwilling to stop evil, powerless to stop evil but willing, or both powerless AND unwilling to stop evil - or does not exist.

So how does believing in a malevolent god, a weak god, or a malevolent AND weak god, enrich your life in any way?

The unreasonableness of reason argument was completely nonsensical, and by the time I had reached premise 3, I had decided that it was best to come back and read the argument again later, because Goldstein had officially "gotten my goat," the clever shrew!

The point of that is, if you're going to deliberately make an attack against reason itself, and dilute it with the uncertainty of faith, what is the point in trying to make a logical argument against it? It would be like trying to make a vinyl record that made such an abhorrent sound when played on a gramophone that it destroyed both itself and the player through the residual sound vibrations.

The argument from sublimity is flawed because it assumes that everyone witnesses the same beauty in everything. Instantiate ONE ENTITY who finds beauty in nothing, and the entire argument falls apart.

Spinoza's god argument, I don't actually see as much of a flaw in premise 1, as I do in premise 8. That which exists and explains itself does not have to be God. That was a completely arbitrary insertion of a divine into what is really just a logical grey area.

The final argument from the abundance of arguments was a total cop out.
Any number of invalid arguments are still invalid. Probability does not factor into deductive logic.


Futurama logically proves God has no free will?

Thought this was interesting.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Morality 1: Good without gods

Here is one of my favorite videos, dealing with our ability to be good without the "benefit" of belief in gods. It's very well done, and addresses the very question that we hope to reach some kind of consensus on this semester. For what it's worth, there are two other videos in this series, with another forthcoming. Enjoy.

Friday, January 20, 2012


We have one more class devoted to Goldstein's God arguments, or anyone else's any of you wish to discuss. I'm especially interested in the Argument from Pragmatism (#32), which is probably at best an argument for the right to believe (and not for the existence of God).

If you've already posted something about the argument(s) your group delegated to you, take a look at them all and pick one or two that especially compel your attention, admiration, or derision. Are any of them better than the Babel Fish?

On Thursday we begin Baggini.

BTW: check out the new text blocks in the right margin: FAITH IS ABSURD. SO? and QUIXOTIC FIDEISM and REASONABLE ATHEISM. The last is from a new book of the same name my Vandy friends Aikin & Talisse have just published. Might be something we'd want to consider reading as a class. Or maybe Eric Weiner's Man Seeks God. Or Martin Gardner's "Why I Am Not an Atheist." Or de Botton's Religion for Atheists. Or A.C. Grayling's Good Book. Or...

P.S. Thanks to Dean for noting this amusing "bathroom" book, probably not a candidate for April but still possibly worth a look: 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know: Religion. Might strain the claim that "the life of religion as a whole is our most important function."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"How to Debate an Atheist" author debating, endlessly

Found a brief clip from the Shanks-Dembski debate I mentioned today, if anyone's interested. Dembski's all over YouTube, debating Hitchens, Shermer, and others.


These are the groups we sorted ourselves into last time-

1. Kat Kolby, Parker Hardy, David Broome, Meghan von Colln, Jamie Sutton

2. Steven Wolfe, Dean Hall, Ben Conrad, John Holloway, David Brandt

3. Josh Yardley, Brian Woulfe, Erik McInnis

4. Joshua Hay, Matthew Busman, Joe Heath, Patrick Gibbons, David Nagy

5. Brian Murphy, Daniel Murphy, Andrew Mitchell, Jonathan Rarick, Rachel Brooks

Group 3: Arguments 13-14

The Argument from the Improbable Self:
This argument focuses on the unique conscious experience of each individual person. Since we know only what it is to be ourselves and not what it is like to be anyone else then there must be something special about our existence. since we are all unique entities, then there must be a creator that takes an interest in manufacturing one of a kind persons rather than assembly line humans. If god is the creator of all conscious creatures, then why create the psychopath. Psychopathy is easily explained when we look at developmental and social influences that could shape the brain of these people; invoking god does not. Many Buddhist would also disagree, arguing that our notion of self hood is an illusion. Even Sam Harris argues that a person can leave behind the sense of self by focusing on their attention through meditation, and is studying the effects meditation on the brain using magnetic resonance imaging. If it is possible for a person to temporarily leave the internal narrative that is our ordinary conscious experience, what happens to it in the interval?

The Argument from Survival after Death:
Many people report "crossing over" to the other side after flat lining and have comparable experiences that should be considered credible. Many people claim to have seen themselves while doctors are trying to resuscitate them, as well as dead relatives and white lights etc. Because poeple have had concious experience apart from their earthly form, then there must be a part of us that is imortal.....insert god for the existance of our having imortal souls. This is an easy claim to dispute since there is no empirical data to corroborate any of these claims. However; there would be an easy way to devise an experiment that would give us such evidence. In emergency and operating rooms around the world a 15 digit random number generator could be placed on top of a cabinet that could only be seen from above. Only the experimenters and a few staff would know of the devise. If anyone ever came to and said; "I was hovering over my body while you were performing CPR, and i saw the number 24180774156849 flashing in red on top of that cabinet." then we could start having a conversation about how serious we should take such claims. The occurrence of people seeing the same white light could be a result of the brain going through its shut down mode, analogous to what your laptop does when you turn it off.

Philosophy Club

If anyone's interested, the philosophy club's planning to meet today and most Thursday's at 5 pm in JUB 304.Contact Ryan Parrow (rnp2q@mtmail.mtsu.edu) for details.

Group 4 Argument 22 and 23

Argument 22. The Argument from the Consensus of Mystics

The argument that is she makes against the truths she makes attacks the notion that mystics can gain contact with a god through visions. The idea I believe is made that is made that the state is limited to these mystics. She makes a point to compare the visions of the mystics to a state of being drunk that is dismissed when the drunkard makes cases of seeing things. She also makes a point to show that for the visions to happen that are limited in the bounds of a language that is tied with a religion.

Argument 23 The Argument from Holy Books

The argument starts with her stance for the Holy books to be truth, there must be an independent knowledge of the being in some cases "God" to have already existed. The second flaw that she points out is that the books all claim to be right, a certain aspect of texts to be truth while laying the claims of others to be wrong. The issue that she brings up with the holy texts is that each group claims that their point of view is the correct one and their texts are the back bone for the arguments.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Group 2: Arguments 7-12 Posts and Comments

7. The Argument from Cosmic Coincidences
8. The Argument from Personal Coincidences
9. The Argument from Answered Prayers
10. The Argument from A Wonderful Life
11. The Argument from Miracles
12. The Argument from The Hard Problem of Consciousness

Group 3 - Goldstein arguments 17-18

I would agree that altruism does not conflict with evolution, but I look at it from a bigger picture standpoint than an individual benefiting in the long run from being altruistic. When looked at close up evolution seems to be all about genes and the individual, but these are just smaller parts of the puzzle. The point of it all is the survival and progression of the species and of life at large, not the individual. It is a given from the start that the individual will not survive; the individual is mortal, the species is not (at least potentially). Altruism benefits the survival and progression of the species, so altruism should be favored by evolution. From here it could certainly be argued that evolution works this way because a god designed it as such, and equally so that it was not. Neither side can say why, though, and so neither side is as of yet better. Personally I lean to the former.

Free Will:
I don't like the conflict between predictable decision making and random decision making here. Just because we are predictable doesn't mean we don't choose to be. What she calls predictable I call logical. We have learned through experience that logical works and random doesn't, and so we choose to be logical and predictable; we like predictable. All these supposed chain reactions have to start somewhere. It is free will that gives our actions that initial push.

The Loudmouths (Group 1) Arguments 1-6/Doubt Quiz

Ridiculously long title ftw!

The Doubt quiz told me that I'm either an agnostic or some hybrid atheist thing...I'm pretty sure I can decide for myself. We all agreed that the wording was tricky and that the quiz does not accurately determine what or how one doubts in entirety.
Factual Question about the Doubt Quiz: If you answered "no" to every question, what kind of a doubter are you?

Goldstein's 36 Arguments
I have the first two; The Cosmological Argument and The Ontological Argument.
Here are some questions to get discussion going!
How can it be said that everything needs a cause yet God seems to not have one?
Could we think of something OTHER than God that could have caused the universe? Perhaps another life form unknown to humans? Vulcans, maybe...
Why is it right or wrong to treat existence as a property?


Everybody please post your thoughts on yesterday's class, the Doubt Quiz, etc., and on Goldstein (whose 36 arguments will occupy our next two classes). Propose questions for discussion, depending on which argument(s) your group has delegated to you. Also, any factual questions about Hecht & Goldstein you think would be good candidates for the exam.

Th 19 Goldstein, 36 Arguments (Arguments 1-6 , Cosmological Argument through Argument from the Beauty of Physical Laws; 7-12, Argument from Cosmic Coincidences through Argument from the Hard Problem of Consciousness;  13-18, Argument from the Improbable Self through Argument from Free Will; 19-29, Argument from Personal Purpose through Argument from Human Knowledge of Infinity;  30-36, Argument from Mathematical Reality through Argument from the Abundance of Arguments.
 Again, Group #1 gets arguments 1-6, Group #2 7-12 etc. Critique the critiques...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Religion for Atheists"

A New TED Talk: Alain de Botton advocates "Atheism 2.0," because we all need "connection, ritual and transcendence." In his post-talk exchange he's even explicit that atheists need "religion" so as not to be "cut off" from morality. Comments?