Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Blog Asst pt 2 (and 3?) The Spirituality of Power (non vice-versa)

In my last post, I discussed how those who worship a god, or gods, or any selection of deities, really only do so because of their power, and therefore really only worship their power, not their other qualities.

In this installment, I shall tackle the notion of power in regards to the faithless - those who do not readily worship, or even acknowledge such a divine power, people such as myself, and majority of the class.

   If you do not follow divine command theory - that is, taking your orders from a higher power, you're rationalizing your  morality out of some ethically archetypal school of thought, like Kantian judgement, Niccomachean Ethics, Ethical Egoism, etc. However, each of these draws its conclusions based on some measurement of power.

Take Ethical Egoism or Utilitarianism for example. Both ultimately mandate to do what is in the "best interest."

In Ethical Egoism's case, it charges the actor to do what is in one's own best interest. "I can lie, cheat, or steal, so long as I come out on top. It's not a good idea to do this though, because if I get caught, and I probably will, then everyone will know I am a less than reputable chap, and the outcome will be negative for me."

In Utilitarianism's case, one does what is in the best interest of a whole, or a greater good. A fantastic example of utilitarianism can be found in Alan Moore's "Watchmen"(If you haven't read the graphic novel, or at least seen the movie, I recommend it, exclusively for the ethical metaphors so well constructed throughout). In it, Ozzymandias, the alleged "smartest man in the world," devises a plot to kill millions of New Yorkers with an incredibly complicated scientific device, which the world blames on either Aliens (if you read the comic) or Dr. Manhattan, the resident demigod of the United States (if you watched the movie). The act in and of itself was carried out in lieu of an inevitable nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, but the sudden disaster was enough to unite the two superpowers in a worldwide utopia, out of fear of some far greater, yet completely nonexistent threat. Ozzymandias rationalizes this as "killing millions to save billions" - Utilitarianism at its finest.

Both of these however, rest entirely on one's power - one's ability to do. Both are consequentialist schools of logic; they require that rational action first follows the consideration of the consequences. Considering is a form of doing. Therefore, the power to consider the consequences of your actions is a form of power.

In Kantian ethics, one derives what is ethical from rationally considering one's duties, or looking at the laws of the society at large. If there aren't rules to cover the situation, imagine the action universalized, and see if it makes any sense to live in that kind of world. For example - murder.
Imagine a world where the act of murder is universalized. Human life would quickly extinguish itself in a massive, self imposed apocalypse of the most gruesome proportions. Murder is clearly not ethical. Imagine theft, as well. If everyone were a thief, trust would be out of the question, and entire economies would collapse because the very basis of exchange presumes trust between the buyer and seller. Therefore theft is not ethical.  Here again, we witness power. Not only the power to consider circumstances, but the power to create and universalize a series of events on a grand scale to achieve such considerations. One might even go so far as to say that by universalizing instances of an action to determine its morality, we are acting as gods of our own imagination - exercising our power over it to do whatever we please in order to experiment with our own rational decision making process.

Regardless, power is the key factor here. If we hadn't the power to do these things, we would be without the ability to reason ethically, if not the ability to reason at all, and society would either cease to function altogether, or divine command theorists would be the only people on earth with any assertive idea as to what was to be done about anything.

I would venture to say that most anyone engages in ethical reasoning without a god is certainly proud of it, otherwise they simply wouldn't do it. There is an inherent sense of accomplishment in that you know what is right or wrong without being told explicitly what is right or wrong, but being able to determine it for yourself. It is enriching and empowering. There is no subdued voice in the back of your mind begging the question muttering "but why did God say that x was wrong in the first place? All you know is that he said it was wrong." On the contrary, you usually know what is wrong and why, exactly why, and you can really engage discussion with someone about the reasons of it for hours, if you felt like it.

The feeling that comes with this power, I argue is in and of itself spiritual. When I lost my faith during my adolescence, I felt as though I were achieving some level of transcendence - critical thinking, rather than blind faith- being what a divine being would employ to determine what is right and wrong before dumbing it down and mandating it to its subjects. I'm sure that many will agree that if there is anything divine in humanity, it is the power to make rational decisions on a great many matters, and reason among one another.

To conclude (how I originally intended in a third blog post, but found unnecessary halfway through writing this), the faithful worships the power of their respective divine entity, not the entity itself. The faithless do not worship, per se, but we all hold in great esteem our powers of reason, deduction, creation, and action. They are powers that have taken us to strange continents, the moon, and we later hope to employ them to take us to other worlds and galaxies beyond. Most importantly, however, they give us the power to traverse the distances between one another, and we are well aware of it.

These two very opposed representations of reality, one in which a divine power is what manifests our reality, and we barter with it for favorable outcomes - and the other is one in which we are the only sentient things to be held accountable for the way things are both rest exclusively on the very broad and vibrant idea of power. A concept completely and utterly intangible, but at the same time unequivocally existent.

Thomas Jefferson Quote

David, keep an eye on the shop while I'm gone just in case someone tries to sneak a god in the back door by way of etymology, fuzzy space-time continuums, Kantian reality, or quantum mechanical woo.

Here's a little pep talk from our buddy Tom:

"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.” 
 Thomas Jefferson

I'll miss you guys; see you next Tuesday.

"Truth matters"

The author says Alain de Botton inspired this one.

Berry lecture

Re-posting this reminder (and testing the new sticky note gadget)-

There's another BERRY LECTURE coming up Thursday night, this one by Reasonable Atheism co-author Rob Talisse ("Must Life Be Tragic?"). Lecture begins at 7:30 in Furman 114, but come early for booze & informal conversation.
Also, on Friday at 3:15 pm: Vandy's philosophy department hosts a colloquium featuring Jill Stauffer of Haverford College, in Furman Hall 109. Reception to follow.

Ethical Loneliness: Forgiveness, Resentment, and Recovery


In this paper, I offer an account of “ethical loneliness”: a term I’m developing to describe a condition undergone by persons who have been unjustly treated and dehumanized by human beings and political structures, who emerge from that injustice only to find that the surrounding world will not listen to or cannot properly hear their testimony—their claims about what they suffered and about what is now owed them—on their own terms. My sense is that the concept advances understanding of what is lost by victims recovering from violence or oppression. It also helps reveal the limits to both the restorative discourse of truth and forgiveness and the retributive procedural-legality approach, such that we might better understand when and how the different approaches succeed or fail, and whether there are sites where the two might meet. Finally, it draws our attention to the distinction between "wrongs inflicted" and "harms experienced," and shows how better marking this distinction might help international and domestic criminal justice systems improve their treatment of victims and thus their ability to do justice. Relying on Levinas’ work both in Existence and Existents andOtherwise than Being, combined with examples from testimony of survivors, I hope to show that Levinas gives us resources with which to think through how to respond to violence, resources that are sorely needed in current discussions of transitional justice and political reconciliation.

Atheism and Agnosticism: Nothing to See Here....Midterm Blog Project Post #3

First, a quick review. In my first two posts, I attempted to come to some reasonable definitions for both atheism and agnosticism. For atheism, I like “a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” For agnosticism, I settled on “the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable.” Putting these two definitions side by side should give the reader some rather unsurprising insight into the position that I intend to illuminate in the course of this essay: properly defined, atheism and agnosticism should not ever be in conflict. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that should you find yourself thinking that the two stances are at odds, you are “doing it wrong.” In other words, you are either adopting an unjustified definition, or you are carrying some bias, or you are simply using words incorrectly. To put it yet another way: if you accept the two definitions above and still think that atheism and agnosticism are incompatible, you have some explaining to do.

Maybe a few examples of how belief and knowledge can coexist would be helpful. Let’s look at some mundane and not so mundane statements, bearing in mind the following conditions:

1. Absolute knowledge is in all likelihood impossible, and is therefore not a reasonable standard.

2. It is possible to know the status of one’s own beliefs.

3. The presence of a belief precludes the absence of that belief, and vice versa. In other words, you either believe X or you lack a belief in X. If you lack a belief in X, then you do not believe in X (either actively or passively.)

4. The burden of proof rests with the party making any particular claim (with respect to #1.)

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, on to the examples! Consider the following statements:

“I sometimes feel nostalgic.”

“I am not right handed.”

“Australia is a continent in the southern hemisphere.”

“The sun is an enormous cloud of hydrogen undergoing sustained gravitational collapse offset by nuclear fusion.”

“I love my girlfriend, and she loves me.”

“I love God, and God loves me.”

These statements represent a broad cross section of the kinds of statements that it is possible to make regarding belief and knowledge, running the gamut from subjective first person claims to objective claims about the natural (and supernatural) world. Let’s look at each one in turn.

When I make a claim about my own state of mind, this can be thought of as an objective claim about a subjective state (assuming that I am not lying.) Perhaps someday, neuroscience will allow us to somehow verify these claims in a way that we currently cannot. But for now, people have to be relied upon to report their own mental state, for there simply is no other way to gain access to it. In other words, to say that I sometimes feel nostalgic is for me to know that I am sometimes nostalgic. Belief doesn’t enter into the matter. The person evaluating my claim, however, is presented with a different situation. They must decide whether or not it is justified to believe that I do indeed sometimes feel nostalgic. If this evaluator was especially motivated, they might interview me, observe my actions for some period of time, or ask questions of my friends and family. But all of this seems rather involved an unnecessary, does it not? In general, people can be relied upon to know what they feel, think, and believe about their own state of mind. And as long as we have no reason to think that the person in question is being dishonest, we can be justified in believing their claim.

My claim about whether or not I am right handed is amenable to a higher degree of observable verification. By definition, to be right or left handed means that you are more proficient using one hand over the other. This makes it a rather simple matter to test this claim, by experiment and observation. If these observations bear out my claim, then it would be reasonable to believe it. Note that it might still be possible for the underlying truth of my claim to be false, however. I might actually be ambidextrous, and capable of hiding this fact from direct observation. So while it would certainly be possible for a person to believe my claim of not being right handed, this believe might be based on flawed observational knowledge.

Once we move to the continental scale, things become even easier. Yes, the Earth is a big place, but not that big. In the age of airplanes, cruise ships, GPS satellites, and Australians (!), it is simply not reasonable to hold any dissenting opinions about the status of Australia’s existence or relative position. There is a plethora of evidence attesting to both, and my beliefs about it are well informed by all sorts of mutually buttressing knowledge. Is it possible that we have, all of us, been deceived in some way about these seemingly indisputable facts about Australia? That is one awfully heavy burden of proof to bear, and I can’t imagine how it could be the case. But, even in this extreme case, some vanishingly small sliver of agnosticism might be (barely) reasonably entertained. But honestly, we would have to be talking about a Matrix or Truman Show level event. That is an awful lot of wool to be pulled over an awful lot of eyes. In other words, I’m not losing any sleep over the possibility.

The sun is a very similar case, though it is different in a few crucial ways. We cannot walk on the surface of the sun, obviously. We can’t talk to people who live there, or to anyone who has ever visited. We are forced to rely on the tools of science to extend our senses beyond what we are used to dealing with. We use spectrographs to peer into the invisible parts of light that our eyes cannot see. We propel spacecraft into orbit around the sun, studded with sensors that relay back enormous amounts of data that scientists then interpret. We use telescopes to peer out into the vast reaches of space, capturing other suns in various stages of birth, life, and death. Taken as a whole, these lines of evidence lead to a robust and growing body of knowledge about our sun. Using this knowledge, scientists can make accurate predictions about solar storms and sunspot cycles, centuries and even millennia into the future. With a simple almanac, anyone that cares to can judge for themselves the accuracy of this knowledge. Again, none of this precludes the possibility that we cannot be mistaken about particulars, or misinterpret specific pieces of data. In fact, this will surely be the case at some point. What it does indicate, however, is that our beliefs about the sun are very well informed by verifiable knowledge.

I love my girlfriend, and she loves me. Simple, right? As we have already established, I can be relied upon to be the judge of my own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. The thoughts of my girlfriend can be ascertained by her spoken words, her unspoken communications, and by judging her actions to be consistent or inconsistent with what it means to love someone (using some agreed upon definition.) This is all well and good, of course. I take all of these bits of data into account, and I form a belief (based on my knowledge of the perceived facts) that my girlfriend does indeed love me. Is possible that my belief is incorrect, that is to say that it is actually inconsistent with the actual facts? Yes, such a situation is possible (or at least conceivable.) The movie Total Recall is the example that immediately springs to my mind. The protagonist had suffered the loss of specific memories from his past, and found himself in the position of having had these missing memories replaced with false ones. His wife, who professed her love for him, was actually a double agent only acting as though she loved him. Thus, our hero found himself in a situation where his beliefs were not consistent with reality. Once the deception was revealed, he was free to revise his beliefs in order to bring them into line with this new knowledge. So to recap, a person can sincerely believe something, and know that they believe it, even if their belief is based on incorrect knowledge. Based on his knowledge of the world around him, the Total Recall protagonist was justified in believing that his wife loved him. But this belief couldn’t be reconciled with reality, once the truth was revealed.

Our final example is where things get really sketchy. At first blush, it looks to be very similar to the previous example, mainly owing to similarities in sentence structure. Our first problem, however, lies with the object of my love. When the object is my girlfriend, everything is peachy. She is a real person, just like me, available for observation, experimentation, inspection (careful, she bites), and conversation. In other words, the existence of my girlfriend is such that she is a valid object to be loved. God does not enjoy the same status of existence. He (it, she, they?) is not available for observation, experimentation, inspection, or conversation.

Maybe I am referring to God as a concept, like freedom or democracy? Certainly both of these things can be and have been loved by countless people over the years. But we cannot reach a reasonable agreement on what the concept of God is, not like we can with concepts like freedom. And to further screw the “God is a concept” pooch, how can you be loved in return by a concept? Someone is simply not using words correctly. Instead, they are using unverified and unverifiable statements of anecdotal and authoritative dogma that have been passed down from antiquity to construct their beliefs. Everything we “know” about God comes to us through indirect channels. We are unable to “go to the source”, as it were. Thus, we have no reliable knowledge about the person (or concept) of God. Therefore, any beliefs that a person has about God must necessarily be based on exceedingly weak knowledge.

The real rub, as we all know, comes in the unfalsifiable nature of knowledge claims about God. How can a person ever be proven to be wrong about their beliefs about God? They simply can’t, not as long as they are determined to believe things for bad reasons. Unlike our Total Recall protagonist, “God” could only ever be outed as a ruse after the person’s death. And that is just a little too late for our purposes.

So, where does that leave us? Good question, because we have drifted far afield of where we started. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

1. People form beliefs based on observed states of the world, which we call knowledge.

2. Nobody has perfect knowledge (you can’t prove a negative.)

3. It is possible to believe something, and have that belief be based on incorrect knowledge.

4. The best we can hope for is to remain open to new evidence, and adjust our beliefs accordingly.

Therefore, I can make the following statements:

I don’t believe in God, but I am always open to new evidence.

I believe that there is no God, but I don’t know that he doesn’t exist.

I don’t believe that God exists, and I live my life as though he doesn’t.

I can know what I believe, while also knowing that my beliefs are based on provisional knowledge.

I am an agnostic atheist.

Shermer on Teaching Allah and Xenu in Indiana

Skepticblog » Teaching Allah and Xenu in Indiana:
Last month, the Indiana State Senate approved a bill that would allow public school science teachers to include religious explanations for the origin of life in their classes. If Senate Bill 89 is approved by the state’s House its co-sponsor, Speaker of the House Dennis Kruse, hopes that this will open the door for the teaching of “creation-science” as a challenge to the theory of evolution, which he characterized as a “Johnny-come-lately” theory compared to the millennia-old creation story in Genesis: “I believe in creation and I believe it deserves to be taught in our public schools.” (continues...) -Michael Shermer

'via Blog this'

Midterm Project--Post 1 & 2: God and Morality

Better than God

At the beginning of this class, a question was posed to us in the “introduction” section of the blog posts asking whether each of us thought we were a good person. Upon reading that question, for a moment or two, I found myself reliving a flashback from my failed-religious upbringing. The question immediately struck me as that conversational tactic that Evangelical Christians use to convert—not only non-believers or those of other faiths—but believers who have yet to be “born-again.” This translates into an unrelenting never-good-enough or much-less-than-perfect mindset that is dictated by self-interested parties from “on high.” This inaccessible ambition puts the theist in a psychologically advantageous and potentially manipulative position over their unassuming mark. The theist, wielding guilt like a bludgeon against those who pursue this unattainable platitude, plants their first seeds that, if firmly rooted, reap an almost eternal harvest of perpetual submission and control. All that is required for one to enlist themselves into this capitulation is simply say: “I believe.” The theist is not concerned whether one actually believes or not, the slippery slope of submission is all that matters. If a believer will take the bait, the dogma will do the rest.

 Although that wasn’t remotely the motivation for the blog entry, the question of personal morality is still a very important one. It didn't take long for me to engage in an exercise of "the examined life" and see that I'm in need of some improvement.  But self-improvement doesn’t have to come at the crippling cost of drinking someone else’s Kool-Aid.

Religious belief eerily parallels the Stockholm syndrome. This phenomenon is where hostages eventually feel empathy for their captors, and some will even resort to violence to defend their oppressors. Prescribed violence can be found as a source of retribution in the so-called “holy” books—even at a cursory glance.

So the question is: do we really need to give our minds away to be good? You have to ask yourself if you think you wouldn’t know right from wrong without a Bible or Quran? Would we be at sea without the Ten Commandments, Genesis, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy? Would we be confused about the moral implications of torture, killing, rape, and perjury without religion? One would hardly think so. In fact, it’s almost to the contrary. Therefore, like the introductory question, I now ask myself: am I a good person? Well, I will argue that not only can one be a good person without religion; all things being equal, one could be considered a morally superior person by denouncing the shackles of religion and rejecting the dogma commanded by imaginary gods. Given all the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, and Pol Pot— even they didn’t flood the entire planet. Religion is precariously poised against all of humanity.

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” —Stephen Weinberg, Nobel Prize winning physicist.

Religion is not only an insult to human dignity: it’s an insult to human morality. Religion affords evil a safe refuge from the storms of our better nature because it pompously parades institutional tyranny and personal prejudices—wrought from unverifiable personal revelation—as Divine validation for injustice.

Radical relativism ultimately lies in the hands of the believer. Theistic accusations of moral relativism are simply a product of psychological projection. Theists believe only their particular brand of god is the path to “Truth,” and, if they hold that “Truth,” then the thoughts in their head commanding their actions are necessarily from their particular god. E.g., this is a logically valid argument for personal revelation:

1.     If I hear thoughts in my head and I hold the truth, then God is speaking to me.
2.     I hear thoughts in my head and I hold the truth.
3.     Therefore, God is speaking to me.

It’s that easy. This argument is completely valid but non-believers would immediately challenge the truth of the premises. The trouble is, all of that evidence is in the theist’s head and completely inaccessible to independent verification.

So, to put it loosely, here’s the rub: all (well…most) of us have thoughts in our head. Theists simply claim theirs are directly from God. As Weinberg noted, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things. Doing good things happens all the time. People, believers and non-believers alike, help the poor, donate to charity, care for the sick, etc. because they feel they have a “calling” (from thoughts in their head or a feeling in their heart) to do good things. Regardless whether one believes, Zeus or no Zeus, these thoughts and feelings prevail. But on the other side of that same coin lies a terrible beast itching to be awakened—a Divine license for injustice.

When good people unremorsefully do bad things it takes something to justify their actions. God is the perfect alibi. Since each believer is searching for “revealed truth,” bigotry and personal prejudices are easily and naturally confirmed (my god is speaking to me) by one’s own thoughts and feelings. Then, Divine authorization takes each individual believer’s beliefs to the absolute regardless of what the consequences. When this happens, the believer has certainty in their intuitions, no matter how repugnant, because God has spoken and it is so. But this is not Divine revelation—it’s evil so carefully cloaked in theology. Immorality is prescription whereas evil is conscription; it has a life of it’s own and it’s knocking on your door.

But how does this make the non-believer better than the believer? The non-believer’s morality is grounded in humanity and the believer’s morality is grounded in personal preferences. The proof for the absence of absolutes is evident in the complete lack of consensus on what a god might want, say, or command. This alone is radical relativism. As Plato’s Socrates pointed out: If thing are good because God commanded them, then good is arbitrary. The only constant in theology is the voice of God inside the believer’s head whose commands command no common consensus.

When someone says they put God first they are really saying they put themselves first. And where are all these gods anyway? Well, they’re right there in the theist’s head. So, if one puts God (themselves) first, guess what comes after that? Everything: family, friends, neighbors, loved ones, etc. But what is most significant—theists place God above humanity. The stark reality is we need humanity; we don’t need a god.

One important aspect of atheism is that non-believers have to answer for their own actions. They also have to justify morality with humanity down here on earth where it counts. Also, they can’t pretend to hold some truth that is beyond humanity and hold humanity to some incoherent standard. Further, bigots, racists, misogynists, and fascists have to answer for themselves rather than hide behind some Divine, transparent veil of protection. A not-so-distant example is justification for slavery cannot be grounded in the punishment of the children of Ham.

But being personally responsible for one’s own actions alone is does not make a person better but it certainly sets the stage. If I take responsibility for my own actions and ground my morality in humanity instead of some supernatural confirmation of prejudice, here’s a short list of what I’m not capable of:

1.     Telling children they will burn in hell for eternity if they don’t believe in my superstition.
2.     Denying others their rights because they think or act differently than those in my tribe.
3.     Lying to people about what a god wants them to do.
4.     Cheating people out of 10% of their money for proselytizing under the guise of “helping others.”
5.     Putting my invisible friend first in my life instead of my family, friends, neighbors and anything else that is important in one’s life.
6.     Spending Sundays worshiping something that doesn’t exist and reading from morally repugnant book.
7.     Apologizing for genocide, rape, torture, slavery, and a host of other unthinkable crimes against humanity in a book written by bronze-age sheepherders.
8.     Telling people that I don’t judge them but my invisible friend will condemn them to hell.
9.     Pretending I’m special or “chosen” just because of my beliefs.
10. Holding food hostage from the hungry in order to proselyte about my invisible friend.
11. Killing or beheading those who insult my god.
12. Telling others that I think their loved ones may be in “in the wrong place” after they die because they didn’t adopt my particular myth.
13. Justifying the killing of my children because they “dishonored” my family name.
14. Telling women when, how, where, in what position, and under what circumstances they can have sex.
15. Denying people who love one another—regardless of sexual orientation—the right to marry.
16. Praying for someone and thinking I’m actually doing something useful for them.

So, am I a good person? I certainly try to be. But of one thing I am certain: I’m a better person than any fundamental theist and definitely much better than the any of the gods they worship.

True morality lies in the hearts of those who carefully consider the hopes, dreams, and needs of his fellow man—not at an arm’s length—but deep in shadows of his soul.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This was a Sticky

A few thoughts from the Philosoraptor

I was browsing the web and came across a few wise sentiments from the Philsoraptor that reminded me of our class.
And also one about Pinnochio:

Thought I'd share with you. See you Thursday!
- J

Take a peek inside the vortex that is my final blog installment....

I swear, this last post is turning into a bloated monstrosity. Knowledge vs belief, and do we know what we think we know?

A Philosophical Perspective on a Neuroscientific Perspective


Here is a link that delves more into the Philosophical aspects of what Ben and I talked about today.   It's from the BBC, so it's replete with fancy British accents.  I like to listen to British people wax philosophic when trying to sleep sometimes, so, maybe try that.

Thank you all so much for your attention and participation today.   Hope you enjoyed it.

JT Eberhard engages Alain de Botton. Carnage ensues.

A brilliant and unapologetic - you can be both! - takedown of the increasingly ridiculous sounding de Botton. He is being systematically dismantled in the atheist blogsphere, and I found JT's commentary particularly satisfying.

Talisse at Vandy

There's another BERRY LECTURE coming up Thursday night, this one by Reasonable Atheism co-author Rob Talisse ("Must Life Be Tragic?"). Lecture begins at 7:30 in Furman 114, but come early for booze & informal conversation.

Group 3: Confessions of a Kindergarten Leper

In Emma Tom’s essay, Confessions of a Kindergarten Leper, she talks about two possible end time scenarios. We all know how the Christian apocalypse goes down. If you don’t, here’s the Cliff’s notes version. Jesus returns; if you haven’t accepted him as your savior you’re in trouble; believers go to heaven; everyone else……proceed to hell (you had your shot…and ya BLEW IT!) Now let’s examine Tom’s equally plausible alternative. A formerly unknown deity appears; this tentacle covered god explains how revealed religions were placed on earth to test a person’s credulity; those who discriminated against others who did not believe as they did failed this test; however, all believers are not cast into eternal fire and torture, while the atheists get a front row seat for the show; instead, those mistaken believers are embraced by those that they vilified during their time on earth and welcomed to ponder all the wondrous questions that they thought they had all the answers for. This is a utopian view of all unbelievers, but for the most part I would agree with the last part of her second scenario. While I don’t like the politics or rhetoric of the far right in our society, I am also not interested in having them punished for eternity. If Fred Phelps suddenly realized that he had been wrong all along and apologized for all the stupid and hateful things he has done to the loved ones of fallen soldiers and victims of hate crimes, I would just say “good for you old man”, and go about my day. This is not the same reaction that I would expect from the religious. I am not only expected to believe, I am expected to look at the out group as less worthy than myself. We always speak of the “thoughtful believers”, and this is obviously not a critique of liberal Christianity….just in case I get that argument….AGAIN.

Fact Q: What is the name given to the event that fundamentalist christians believe will procede the end of the world, where all true believers will be "taken up" into the clouds to be with Jesus?
A: The Rapture

Emma Tom

I enjoyed reading this essay, in particular the part about God accepting atheists. I have always thought that if there really is a God as the theists see him, he would be much more open-minded than they make him out to be. If all he really wanted was for us to worship and obey him, why not just come down here and fashion himself some sort of supernatural dictator? I think the whole point he's trying to convey is to live a good life and be good to one another for our own sake because it's simply the right thing to do, not just because he told us to. So I definitely believe that he would accept anyone who led a good life on their own accord, perhaps even more so. It's like when you're parents tell you they want you to take out the trash without being told to every time. You have to grow up and figure out how to do it on your own.

Q: What did Emma's teacher tell her that kids who don't believe in God get?
A: leprosy

Exam Questions!!

Here are the 31 I have gathered. There may be a few repeats, but at least here's one list of them!

1. What is the main problem with the cosmological argument for the existence of God?
a. Which god is it?
b. Who caused God?
c. Gods don’t exist.
d. People are just mad at God.

2. Who first articulated the ontological argument for God?
a. Saint Anselm
b. Saint Augustine
c. Deepak Chopra
d. Alexander the Great

3. What book undermined the argument from design?
a. On Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
b. The Republic by Plato
c. The Meaning of Relativity by Albert Einstein
d. The Flintstones by Hanna-Barbera Productions

4. Who made the argument from moral truth (the problem of evil) famous?
a. Christopher Hitchens
b. Plato in Euthyphro
c. Saint Augustine in Confessions
d. William James in The Will to Believe

5. The argument from pragmatism is well articulated in what author’s work?
a. On Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
b. Euthyphro by Plato
c. The Will to Believe by William James
d. The Tractatus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
e. None of the above

6. What is the essence of the teleological argument?
a. God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son.
b. God telepathically commanded pairs of animals to get on the ark.
c. The world gives the illusion of design so it had to have an intelligent designer
d. Nothing greater than God can be conceived

7. Julian Baggini in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction argues for:
a. Negative atheism
b. Positive atheism and naturalism
c. Stridency
d. Belief in God is a “properly basic belief.”

8. In Louise Antony’s piece commencing Philosophers without Gods, she says the most important thing that non-believes loose is:
a. The guarantee of redemption
b. Killing in the name of God
c. Telling non-believer’s children they’ll burn in hell
d. Petitionary prayer

9. One of the main points in Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s Overcoming Christianity is that people many people hold certain religious beliefs simply because:
a. Their beliefs are true
b. They have thought through their beliefs
c. They will be killed or ostracized if they leave their faith
d. They accept religious traditions without questioning

10. Who recently proposed the Temple of Atheism?
a. Richard Dawkins
b. Christopher Hitchens
c. Deepak Chopra
d. Alain de Botton
e. Sam Harris

11. Clifford's "Ethics of Belief" and the wrongness of believing without evidence is now being popularized by what evolutionary biologist?
A: Richard Dawkins

12. What, according to Clark, defines the worldview of"naturalism"?
A: disbelief in a creator, a corollary of the rationally defensible claim that nature is all there is

13. What Christian museum displays “The Tree of Evolutionism”? this tree claims that everything evil stems from the teaching of the theory of evolution. Including: pornography, racism, sex education, feminism, drug abuse, Nazism, and humanism, etc.
A: The Institute for Creation Research Museum in Santee, California

14. Who is the quote in the title ("If God is dead, then everything is permitted") from?
A: Dostoyevsky

15. What is the difference between onto-religion/theology and "expressive" religion/theology?
A: Onto-religion/theology makes statements that are factual claims about how the world "is"

16. What does Dennett suggest is an awesome question to keep asking oneself to guard against faith, tradition, and dogma of all types?
Answer: "What if I'm wrong?"

17. What was the name of Aristotle’s most famous work on ethics?
A: Nicomachean Ethics

18. In Dostoevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, what is Ivan's maxim?
A: If there is no god, then anything is permitted.

19. What is the title of Pascal's work that includes his infamous wager?
A: Pensées

20. 'In Plato's dialogue "Euthyphro", who is Euthyphro being questioned by on the nature of holiness?
A: Socrates!

21. What is the Divine Command Theory?

22. According to Baggini how can atheists have morals if God does not exist?

23. Who said he goes "one god further" than those who reject Zeus, Apollo, et al?
A. Richard Dawkins

24. John Harris says respect for persons does not entail respect for ______.
A. Beliefs

25. Which atheist has been repeatedly billed as "the most hated women in America?"
A. Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

26. (T/F) The "greater good" defense is one of the more frequent objections put forward against the Euthyphro dilemma.
A. True.

27. F.H. Bradley famously remarked that "_______ is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct."
A. Metaphysics.

28. Plato says that philosophy begins in ________.
A. Wonder.

29. Who are the Four Horsemen of New Atheism?
A. Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Sam Harris, and Hitch.

30. Who said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death
your right to say it?"
A. Voltaire

31. God is ________.
A. ???

Monday, February 27, 2012

Group 1: Shermer - How to Think About God

I'm only going to pick out a tidbit from Shermer's excellent essay, as this one was a little lengthy (while still being very entertaining and readable.)

He says a very odd thing about atheism, and I'm not sure if I'm just reading it wrong, or if he was just unclear in what he was saying.

First, he says "atheism is 'disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God.'" Fair enough. But then he goes on to say this (emphasis mine): "As a statement about the universe, agnosticism would seem to be the most rational position to take because, by the criteria of science and reason, God is an unknowable concept. As a statement about one's personal belief, however, I assume that there is no God and I live my life according, which makes me an atheist, although I prefer to call myself a skeptic. Why? Words matter and labels carry baggage. Most people equate "atheist" not only with someone who believes that there is no God (which is technically not a tenable position because one cannot prove that there is no God; that is, you can't prove a negative), but also associate it with communism, socialism, or extreme liberalism.

Is he saying that atheism is an invalid position on its own merits, or by virtue of the baggage that it carries with it in society? He admits to being an atheist, both here and elsewhere, so I'm a little confused why he muddies the waters here.

I personally read him as saying that it is untenable to say "I believe that there is no God." That just doesn't make sense, in light of his own definition and admission. Again, the continuum between statements of belief and statements of knowledge is slippery.

Reason Rally, March 24 2012

Anyone else going to Washington DC next month to attend the Reason Rally? My fiance and I made our hotel reservations months ago, and I put new tires on the hybrid yesterday. I hope its crazy crowded.

Next (re-posted)

Terrific presentation from Daniel on Nietzsche. Took me right back to 1982, when I fancied myself a budding Nietzsche scholar. But then I discovered Willy James. A few thoughts on "the transvaluator," & on John Lachs's Berry Lecture: Good enough for greatness...
T  28 Blackford (Shermer, Randi, Tom, Kitcher, Edis).
We'll have more presentations on Tuesday: Ben & Steven, Religion & Neuroscience;  Meghan, Parenting Beyond Belief OR Matthew, tba... 

Syllabus said the exam's on Tuesday, but that's wrong. It'll be Thursday.
Th 1 Exam #1, re-group, Vote on additional text
Our voting options will include "Potluck": instead of a single additional text for those April dates, we could just have everybody "bring their own" whatever (book, article, video, documentary,...) and comment on it. But if you have candidate texts you want us to consider, post your nominations before Thursday.

Don't know if we need to re-group. But we can, if you're tired of always getting stuck with the 2d, 3d (etc.) essay.

Remember, if you're doing blog posts for your midterm report: the last installments should be up by next Thursday (1st). Or maybe Friday, if you need just a little more time.

"A Better Life" is photographer Chris Johnson's exciting atheist book project.  You can get in on the ground floor...

EXAM UPDATE, Monday morning: I'd asked for more proposed questions for Thursday's exam, but didn't get any over the weekend. So: last call.

There's another BERRY LECTURE coming up Thursday night, this one by Reasonable Atheism co-author Rob Talisse. Lecture begins at 7:30 in Furman 114, but come early for booze & informal conversation.

Following up on our brief discussion of the need for a new Sagan, and whether Tyson's up to the job...

(David suggested somehow making my "next" posts remain in place at the top of the page, so timely bulletins don't get buried beneath the scroll. Does anybody knows how to do that?)

My First 10 Questions

1.     What is the main problem with the cosmological argument for the existence of God?
a.     Which god is it?
b.     Who caused God?
c.      Gods don’t exist.
d.     People are just mad at God.
2.     Who first articulated the ontological argument for God?
a.     Saint Anselm
b.     Saint Augustine
c.      Deepak Chopra
d.     Alexander the Great
3.     What book undermined the argument from design?
a.     On Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
b.     The Republic by Plato
c.      The Meaning of Relativity by Albert Einstein
d.     The Flintstones by Hanna-Barbera Productions
4.     Who made the argument from moral truth (the problem of evil) famous?
a.     Christopher Hitchens
b.     Plato in Euthyphro
c.      Saint Augustine in Confessions
d.     William James in The Will to Believe
5.     The argument from pragmatism is well articulated in what author’s work?
a.     On Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
b.     Euthyphro by Plato
c.      The Will to Believe by William James
d.     The Tractatus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
e.     None of the above
6.     What is the essence of the teleological argument?
a.     God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son.
b.     God telepathically commanded pairs of animals to get on the ark.
c.      The world gives the illusion of design so it had to have an intelligent designer
d.     Nothing greater than God can be conceived
7.     Julian Baggini in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction argues for:
a.     Negative atheism
b.     Positive atheism and naturalism
c.      Stridency
d.     Belief in God is a “properly basic belief.”
8.     In Louise Antony’s piece commencing Philosophers without Gods, she says the most important thing that non-believes loose is:
a.     The guarantee of redemption
b.     Killing in the name of God
c.      Telling non-believer’s children they’ll burn in hell
d.     Petitionary prayer
9.     One of the main points in Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s Overcoming Christianity is that people many people hold certain religious beliefs simply because:
a.     Their beliefs are true
b.     They have thought through their beliefs
c.      They will be killed or ostracized if they leave their faith
d.     They accept religious traditions without questioning
10.  Who recently proposed the Temple of Atheism?
a.     Richard Dawkins
b.     Christopher Hitchens
c.      Deepak Chopra
d.     Alain de Botton
e.     Sam Harris