Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Another Question for Biblical Skeptics

What do you think we have hard evidence for with respect to the life of Jesus? The crucifixion? The teaching ministry? The existence of Jesus?

Why don't they just come here legally?

Why don't they just come here legally? Here's why. From the Arizona Republic. 

There also are limits based on a person's country of origin. Under U.S. immigration law, the total number of immigrant visas made available to natives of any single foreign nation shall not exceed 7 percent of the total number of visas issued. That limit can make it tough for immigrants from countries such as Mexico, where the number of people who want to come here greatly exceeds the number of people that the law allows.
The estimated wait time for family members to legally bring their relatives into the United States from Mexico ranges from six to 17 years, according to a May study by the non-profit, nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy. It is nearly impossible for a Mexican, especially someone without a college degree or special skills, to immigrate to the United States legally without a family member or employer petitioning on his behalf.

Were the Gospels Novels? Were the Writers Guilty of Plagiarism?

Steven, you never seem to have answered Bob Prokop's comment, which he has made over and over, that the novel genre didn't exist in the first century.

Second, your use of the word plagiarism is highly anachronistic. At the present time, we are concerned about intellectual property rights, and so we have copyright laws and plagiarism regulations. But in that time, there was no such thing. If I have to grade someone's paper, then I need to know what in the paper is the writer's own idea, and what came from sources. But Luke, for example, isn't writing his gospel for a grade, and he's not trying to take royalties away from Mark. And although some people have made claims on his behalf as a historian, he's not trying to compete with Thucydides. He's trying to get the story out that he believes to be true.

In our century, we are accustomed to reading books in which the writer learns a lot of factual details so as to provide a realistic setting for the work, but the work itself is a work of fiction. So, if you were going to write a novel about someone who was going around, say, the Far East committing crimes, getting arrested, and escaping, then you might, to make the story realistic, go to the various places in the Far East, and visit the police headquarters and court buildings to find out what their police and court procedures might have been, to put in your story. You would find out how they do things in Bangkok, in Rangoon, in Hanoi, and in Ho Chi Minh City, in New Delhi, in Mumbai, in Singapore, and in Lhasa. Of course, if you were doing this today, you'd have the benefits of planes, trains, and automobiles, none of which existed for poor old Luke.

So, if the Gospel of Luke and Acts were both novels, how did he research his novel? In the words of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Determinism and the case of Jamie Bulger

HT: Sarah Kramer.

Is there a universal, common-sense, belief in free will?

What the argument doesn't mention, of course, is whether this belief in free will can be construed in compatibilist terms. I don't think it captures the underlying intuition, myself.

Just so you know, I am not claiming that this disproves Calvinism.

A question for biblical skeptics

Suppose, surviving from ancient times, we found four manuscripts about the life and teachings of Rabbi Hillel. These works were all written within, oh, say, 70 years of the main events of Hillel's life. They are similar in a number of ways, although each written from a somewhat different perspective, with some differences of detail. They are all written by people who were clearly from the School of Hillel, by people who wanted others to accept the teachings of Hillel. However, they claim no miracles at all. Manuscript evidence shows goes back into antiquity and assures us that what we have today is very close to the original autographs.

Would we say "Gosh, we really do know a lot about Hillel here. There are a lot of things we can be reasonably sure of about him, especially where the accounts coincide." Or would we say "Just propaganda. We need some independent sources, from people who weren't from the School of Hillel. Then we'd have some real information."

It's hard to imagine the Bart Ehrmans and Rudlof Bultmanns of the world being so skeptical if the Gospels were about a non-miracle-working Hillel, rather than a miracle-working Jesus.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Are illegal immigrants acting immorally?

People like Governor Brewer often say that we are a nation of laws, and that is why we must make a strong stand enforcing our immigration laws. Are people who insist on a strong stand against illegal immigration gratuitously assuming that persons who enter the country illegally are acting immorally?  If the only way to support your family was to enter another country illegally, wouldn't you have a moral obligation to break the law, since you have a moral obligation to support your family which trumps your obligation to obey the law?

I'm not drawing any strong conclusions from this, necessarily. Recognition of this is compatible with strong enforcement strategies such as SB 1070. But I don't even hear this point mentioned or acknowledged by defenders of strong enforcement. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reply to Hallquist on historical evidence

My claim is that there is more to explain for Christianity than for Mormonism or Islam. Unlike Craig or McDowell, I don’t say that the only rational conclusion is that Christianity is true. The “verdict” that the evidence demands depends on your antecedent probability. Still, I think you have some facts that are more likely to have occurred if Christianity is true than if Christianity is not true.

A critical point is that Luke, who also wrote his gospel and Acts, (both of which contain miracle claims throughout) has been shown to be exceedingly accurate about governmental systems before whom Paul appeared. This may seem trivial, but it makes it implausible that a long time passed between Paul’s journey’s and Luke’s writing. And his is not the first gospel written, Mark’s was. Maybe the miracles didn’t happen, but the journeys almost certainly did. So you have it written down within a third of a century of the crucifixion, if that.

You don’t have maybe one or two central miracles claimed, (the Qu’ran or the gold plates) you have a lot of them, and they are placed in public places. And there is no argument against them saying “We never heard of this guy.” In fact, the early Jewish anti-Christian polemic attempts to explain an empty tomb, not deny it. You have people engaging in very high-risk behavior on behalf of this upstart Jewish cult. You have them meeting on a day not the Sabbath, you have them saying the Jewish God was incarnate, and you have them getting martyred at least as far back as James the brother of Jesus (if not the stoning of Stephen–do skeptics think that that was fiction?). Something has happened to these people, and all I am claiming is that it takes a lot more explaining to figure that out than to explain the growth of the Mormon church.

I had someone on my site, Ken Pulliam, agree with me that the case for Christianity is better than the case for Islam or Mormonism historically, but that he found it more reasonable to suppose that Christianity was also not true.

So I guess I differ from Craig and McDowell in that I set the bar a whole lot lower for myself than they do. But I think I did clear it (or perhaps, can do so with a bit more explanation).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mark Shea's defense of the Resurrection

HT: Bob Prokop.

A Catholic blogger defends the Resurrection.

Comparing the Book of Acts to the Book of Mormon

It's what I thought. There's no comparison.

What does "I have a right to my belief" mean?

What does the "right to believe something" amount to? Does it simply means that some powerful people, like the government for example, or the Spanish Inquisition if it were still around, have an obligation not to use force to make me believe something? I am not sure much of anybody is in the business of taking that kind of a right away, anyway, so to say that sort of thing almost seem trivial.

If it means more than that, then what does it mean? Does it implicitly involve a refusal to reason, and to consider the views of one's opponents seriously? If I think you are making a serious mistake, (and if belief or unbelief in God is a mistake, it's a serious mistake), don;t I have the right to try to convince you of the error of your ways, at least until you tell me to go away?

Is the attempt to provide reasons for rejecting a belief you currently have an example of trying to shove your beliefs down someone's throat? Perhaps what "I have a right to my belief" means is that we have an obligation to desist from debating a subject if we are asked to desist. Perhaps the "right to believe what I believe" is an article of conversational decorum.

What does not follow is that no belief is more justified than any other. It does not mean that there aren't well-supported and defensible beliefs and poorly supported and indefensible beliefs.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Ray of Sunshine in a lousy season

The Diamondbacks' Edwin Jackson throws a no-hitter.

The Diamondbacks are the only Phoenix-area franchise to win it all, staging the famous Rally Against Rivera in 2001, concluding with Luis Gonzalez' bloop single against the New York Yankees.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Steve Lovell comments on the Outsider Test for Faith

SL: I followed some links on your recent thread to do some reading on this. I find myself very much in agreement with your approach. Loftus wants to restrict the test to only religious matters, but this seems completely arbitrary. Moral beliefs would surely fail this test too. Or would they (I have chapter 3 of the Abolition of Man in mind)? If they wouldn’t we have a first premise of the moral argument.

Like you I also think it’s very unclear what the test really is and that Loftus seems to have a pre-theoretic commitment to the outcome. Unfortunately for Loftus I think he’s on very dodgy ground historically and sociologically. I assume he thinks atheism survives such a test? But atheists make up a very narrow slice of the population both currently and historically. If Loftus had been born 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, 2000 years ago ... or in another culture etc, etc. Being such a narrow subset of the global-historical population it seems much more likely that these atheistic beliefs are a product of cultural oddities. Theistic views have flourished in many cultures in many epochs, and therefore don’t seem especially tied to cultural mores.

Now what I do think is that our normal idea of knowledge is that it should be something which “tracks” the truth; It should be in some way sensitive to the facts. (I think these ways of putting it are Nozik’s.) The outsider test doesn’t provide a reason to think belief is not sensitive to the facts ... the basis of our beliefs would be different / non-existent were the central tenets of Christianity false, and then we wouldn’t hold the belief. This is the line I take when I defend the AfD from the genetic fallacy. If God didn’t exist, we wouldn’t desire him, and wouldn’t believe in him. That is true and relevant even if we don’t reason from the desire to God, but the desire is merely an occasion for the belief. At least, if we accept some appropriate form of reliabilism/proper-function account.

A rational system of belief must be able to account for the existence of its adherents in a way that positively relates the truth and the belief. Similarly it must be able to account for the existence of its detractors without requiring such a positive relation to the content of their beliefs. The OTF brings attention to the possibility that this positive relationship may not exist. Fine. We can doubt that, but when we investigate the relevant evidence, it looks good to us ... what else are we being asked to do?

Only my first thoughts. If I have any more, I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More on comparing the evidence for Christianity to other religions

For starters, there seems to be a lot of archaeological confirmation of, especially, some of the details in the book of Acts. Whoever wrote it knew precisely what forms of government were in place when Paul was supposed to have gotten to those cities. So that really places the author of the text close to the time and place of the events, because actually, those forms of government changed from time to time.

The reported events took place in public and involved leading figures of the time like Pontius Pilate. The Book of Mormon is about things that happened centuries before in the Americas, and archaeology is an embarrassment to Mormonism, but mostly helpful to Christianity.

You have several people writing the accounts of the whole thing, as opposed to just one persons statements. You have evidence of people engaging in extremely risky behavior to support these beliefs.

The events are more public, there is considerable more archaeological support, and you also find people taking martyrdom risks almost from the beginning and making fundamental changes to a time-honored religion based on what happened to Jesus.

And you find a lot of failed attempts to explain it all away. I mean, what's up with all these swoon theories, and theft theories, and wrong tomb theories, etc. You don't find that in Islam.

So even if you reject Christianity, I think it puts up more difficulties for the skeptic than does the founding of Islam or the founding of Mormonism. These are just a few things off the top of my head, but I think they suffice for my purpose.

Some More Notes on the Outsider Test

It might surprise some people to know that I actually bring up the Outsider Test when I am teaching classes, especially when I run across people who are fideists. I also bring up the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the same context. If it is a way of helping us to reflect on our beliefs, to not believe them arbitrarily, to see if they really can stand up to a rational test or not, then the OTF is fine.

However, I think the wayLoftus uses the test is slanted against religious beliefs in an arbitrary way. First, I think there are limits on the extent to which we can expect intellectual neutrality or objectivity from people. I don't think we can just throw away our priors and be neutral, nor do I think we should.

For example, I really do think that Christianity has an evidence base that other religions don't have, such as Mormonism or Islam. There are things that make me skeptical of those religions which are not present in the case of Christianity. In other words, if Christianity was a delusion, I think the case against it is a lot trickier to make than the case against other revealed religions. (Eastern religions typically don't make the kinds of divine revelation claims that Christianity does). If I thought that Christianity was in the same shape as those other religions, it would cause some cognitive dissonance.

I also don't think that the step from noticing a sociological influence to doubting the belief in question is as easy as John makes it out to be. In a way, this kind of reminds me of adolescents who think they are being nonconformists and really independent thinkers when their ideas differ from those of their parents. Of course, what they don't notice is how much their beliefs and attitudes conform to the people they care about most, their peers. The academic community puts a huge amount of intellectual peer pressure on religious belief in general and Christianity in particular. You escape one set of sociological influences when you reject your religious beliefs, but you become subject to all sorts of other sociological influences.

C. S. Lewis once called materialism a "boy's philosophy," and in my book I said I cringed when he said it. But I think that nonbelief as a certain adolescent appeal to a lot of people.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why the founding of Christianity is far more difficult to explain than Mormonism or Islam

I talked about this in an earlier thread. With Islam, you have to take Muhammad's word for it that he was touched by an angel. Same with Mormonism and Joseph Smith. With Christianity, you have a pre-crucifixion story where Jesus is supposed to have performed miracles in public. Did these miracles happen?  The disciples, at least, are convinced by them, and that's why we find them dropping their nets and following. You also have Jesus making remarkable claims about himself. Trilemma considerations come into play here. Even if there are possible alternatives to liar, lunatic, or Lord, are the plausible ones? Then, you have the death and resurrection events, again, a public execution, and a resurrection claimed to have been seen by lots of people. Hallucination? Theft? Swoon? Wrong tomb? Evil twin? What happened?  And then you have such things as the preaching of Peter and the missionary journeys of Paul. With the missionary journeys you have a story of a series of encounters with government officials in those localities, and at least the facts about local government have been verified by archaeology. So what was Paul doing that got him hauled up before government officials on a regular basis? Just preaching peace and love, brother? The Book of Acts says that there were miracles at this stage, too.  And then he appeals to Caesar, when failure to do so would have gotten him released?

If you can understand the psychology of Muhammad or Joseph Smith, and that seems easy to do, more so for Smith than for Muhammad, then you can see how those religions started. With the founding of Christianity you have a long public history involving lots of kinds of people. There are no far-fetched theories designed to avoid the conclusion that Smith and Muhammad were true prophets.

In Islam and in Mormonism, you have those religions forming a government around their leaders. Muhammad goes military, and the Mormons move out to Utah and set up territorial government run their way. Christianity expands with no help from the government until 313 and Constantine.
So I think the founding of Christianity is far more difficult to explain than Mormonism or Islam.

The Number One NBA Franchise

Here's an article by a sportswriter which, I expect, will be banned in Boston.

Getting the skeptical story straight

Of course one can deny the truth of Christianity without having a good theory as to how the movement started. One can appeal to the improbability of the resurrection story itself, and using broadly Humean reasons, maintain that even though you don't know what did happen, it couldn't have been a resurrection. Even if you were a theist, you could dodge the conclusion that Jesus was resurrected. That wasn't my point.

My point was that skeptics seem to lack a story about the founding of Christianity that makes sense. I said that if they had one, it would make Christianity seem less You had swoon theories, theft theories, hallucination theories, going to the wrong tomb, etc. In fact, skeptics in the 19th Century actually attacked one another's naturalistic theories of the origin of Christianity. Skeptics about the founding of Christianity still have pretty widespread disagreements as to how it all happened. One plausible story from the skeptical side has yet to emerge. That, to me, is an interesting fact that supports, but of course does not strictly prove that Christianity is true.

Anyone who believes a world-view has to live with some difficulties. This is a difficulty for every world-view except Christianity.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Skeptical Viewpoint

What books would I recommend that reflect the perspective of religious skepticism?

1. Bertrand Russell's "Why I am Not a Christian," in Why I am Not a Christian and other essays. Actually the whole volume is helpful.
2. Russell's "The Value of Free Thought," in Understanding History.
3. J. L. Mackie's The Miracle of Theism.
4. Antony Flew ed. New Essays in Philosophical Theology. Contains the famous Falsification Challenge.
5. David Hume, "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion."
6. David Hume, "Of Miracles," from "Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
7. Keith M. Parsons, "God and the Burden of Proof"  (Prometheus, 1989).
8. Keith M. Parsons, "Why I am Not a Christian," published originally by the Atlanta Freethought Society but available here.
9. Keith M. Parsons, "Seven Common Misconceptions about Atheism,"
10. Louise Antony, ed. Philosophers without Gods, (Oxford University Press).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Does evolutionary biology give us a case against racism?

I don't know that Darwin's theory really provides a case against racism. Darwin himself wrote:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes … will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. [2]
2]  Charles Darwin, "The Descent of Man", 2nd edition, New York, A L. Burt Co., 1874, p. 178

But, on the other hand, most people in Darwin's time thought blacks were inferior, including Lincoln. And the guy who wrote "All men are created equal, and were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights," owned slaves.

A modest proposal to start the gay marriage debate

Perhaps the first question to ask in the gay marriage debate is this: Why is the government in the marriage business at all? Why does it care? Couldn't we just privatize marriage, just like the Republicans wanted to do with Social Security? Then whatever religious or non-religious groups want to recognize or not recognize will be a matter to be determined by those groups, and the state backs out and minds its own business. Southern Baptists will require heterosexuality, the Metropolitan Community Church will marry the gay couples, and the government stays out of it.

Why are all the naturalistic explanations of the founding of Christianity such nonstarters?

I'm not going to make confident assertions about what would change my mind. There are too many factors. But I can tell you something that would, in my eyes, decrease the probability that Christianity is true.

One thing that would hurt the probability of Christianity for me would be if skeptics could come up with a halfway convincing story about how Christianity arose. Swoon theory? Come on. Jesus stripped on 100 pounds of grave clothes, pushed that gigantic stone out of the way, and put a flying tackle on the Roman guard, after being left for dead because of a crucifixion? Hallucination theory? Lots of problems. The disciples stole the body? Why? So they could get martyred for something they knew was false. Legendary development? Why does Luke know so much about all the city governments in the Mediterranean world? Jesus never even existed? How come nobody has come up with the theory that Socrates never existed? Jesus' evil twin took over after he was crucified? Getting desperate aren't we?

Of course, I know all about the Humean argument that anything's better than accepting a resurrection. Yes, rationally, one could be a skeptic about the supernatural origin of Christianity while admitting that there isn't much out there in the way of naturalistic explanations of the founding of Christianity. But why do all those theories have such ghastly problems?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Prohibition, moral obligation, and immigration reform

Would a "Prohibition argument" be relevant to the amount of immigration we should permit? Here's what I mean. Many people could argue the downside of alcholic beverages, as every woman who has been beaten by a drunken husband can attest, as every mother whose son was killed by a drunk driver can attest. Yet the illegality of alcoholic beverages did more harm than good, and most historians would say we rightly repealed Prohibition. We tried to prohibit something that couldn't rationally be prevented by legal prohibitions.

The restrictiveness of our quotas concerning immigration may be helping to cause a problem with illegal immigration. Prohibition empowered the Capone gang, the attractiveness of illegal immigration empowers the coyotes and drug cartels. Somehow, the situation in which we find ourselves makes breaking the immigration law desirable and attractive.

Jan Brewer likes to remind us all that we are a nation of laws. Of course we are. But the rule of law doesn't even guarantee that all violations of the law are morally impermissible. It could be argued that if someone comes across the border and does so intending to work for a living, pay taxes, and apart from the immigration law, to abide by the law, they may be doing what is at once illegal and morally obligatory. Unless you accept a moral theory that says it is always morally wrong to disobey the law, you have to consider this possibility. That is, we have a prima facie obligation to obey the law, but we also have an obligation to care for our families which may transcend the obligation to obey the law, and in the case of some illegal immigrants, they might have done what is illegal but morally obligatory. (Brewer thinks they're mostly here to run drugs and commit violent crimes, but what is the hard evidence for this claim? Why are they all in front of Home Depot looking for work, if they can get their money through crime?)

You know the old Emerson and Thoreau story? Thoreau went to jail for not paying taxes that would support what he took to be the unjust Mexican War. Emerson asked "Henry, what are you doing in there?" Thoreau answered "Waldo, what are you doing out there?"

Reply to Loftus on faith and evidence

John Loftus wrote: What would proof look like to an outsider?

I have already said what would convince me Christianity is true.

Now YOU be reasonable. What would proof look like for you to reject your adopted faith due to the accidents of birth? I was reasonable in that link. Be reasonable with us.

I don't think accident of birth carries a whole lot of weight here. I'm a Bayesian subjectivist: we come into our thinking lives with a set of antecedent probabilities, and we adjust them as the evidence allows.

It is an accident of birth that I grew up in a Methodist family, but it is equally an accident of history (unless God was in on it), that I encountered good, strong, defenders of Christianity who took the relation of faith and intellect seriously, who took my questions with the utmost seriousness, and showed a kind of intellectual integrity that I thought was often lacking in the sort of glib unbelief I encountered in the academic community.

If my reading of Bertrand Russell had not convinced me of the value of free thought (though maybe not quite as he defined it), how would my thoughts be different today? If Russell had made more of an effort to understand the Christian beliefs he attacked, how would my beliefs be different today? If Craig Bustrin from my home church in Phoenix had not introduced me to the writings of C. S. Lewis, how would my beliefs be different today? If Bob Prokop (an occasional commentator here) and the late Joe Sheffer had not talked me through my period of disaffection as an undergraduate with Campus-Crusade style literalism while remaining a profoundly orthodox Christian, how would my beliefs be different today? If Keith Parsons had not moved in to the same house with me when I was in seminary and challenged me from a skeptical standpoint, how would by beliefs be different today? I don't know, and neither do you.

Your own experience with Christianity and with Christian thinkers was different from mine, but it is just as laden with historical accident as mine was.

I am trying to counter a simplistic picture in which believers all believe "on faith" (even if they have apologetic pretensions) and unbelievers, quite rationally, are waiting for PROOF which is not forthcoming. I would like to substitute a different picture for this one, one in which we enter with intellectual predispositions which we cannot fully avoid, but which we can and must modify in response to the evidence. It's called critical rationalism, and it is to be contrasted with fideism and strong rationalism.

In the original post I was responding to people who make heavy weather out of the fact that religious believers don't have PROOF for their position, by asking what proof would look like if we had it.

At the same time, changes in belief are cumulative, and big paradigm shifts need big evidential shifts in a various areas of thought. That is just how life is when we think. If you read the life of serious converts and de-converts, you don't find ONE BIG THING that PROVES Christianity, or atheism, or what have you. It's always a lot of things.

Chesterton wrote:

But this involved accuracy of the thing makes it very difficult to do what I now have to do, to describe this accumulation of truth. It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, "Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?" he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, "Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen." The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.

The Jewish Scholar Pinchas Lapide accepts the Resurrection

A redated post.

Can one accept the Resurrection of Christ without accepting the Lordship of Christ? Apparently this is the position of Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide.

This is sort of a companion post to the Heather from Glendale post, where someone far less sophisticated accepts, or appears to accept the resurrection of Christ while declining to be a Christian.

Bobby Fischer to be exhumed

For the purpose of a paternity investigation. I suppose they won't be lending his brain out the lab to study what makes someone a chess genius.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Simon Tolkien on the death penalty

Simon Tolkien is J. R. R.'s grandson. He might have used a quote from his grandfather, which I have always thought relevant to the question of the death penalty:

"Many who live deserve death, and many who die deserve life, can you give it to them? Then be not to quick to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for you own safety, not even the wise see all ends." -J.R.R Tolkien

Arizona SB 1070: A Legal Nightmare

Two immigration attorneys agree that this law will overwhelm the court system with lawsuits.

This law is popular with conservatives. But I always thought conservatives hated judicial activism and "the trial lawyers." The trial lawyers are going to have a field day with this one.

Every law raises some issues which are going to be open to interpretation, and which have to be settled by the courts. This law was written in a deliberately ambiguous way, which in my view is irresponsible.

FAIR (the organization that wrote the law) also has attorneys who file lawsuits. Gee, do I detect a pattern?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dennett Debates D'Souza

This debate seems pretty interesting.

Heather from Glendale, CA that is

A redated post.

A lot of debate on this site is between people of one world-view and those of another. People like Keith Parsons have a naturalistic world-view, people like myself have a Christian theistic world-view. We tend to think that this is the great debate of our culture. But is it? There seem to be a lot of people in our culture today who seem to make no effort to develop a consistent world-view, and grab from here, there, and everywhere to meet their needs until next Friday night. How many of you run into people like this, say, in undergraduate classrooms? This is from an essay entitled Babel Undone by Richard Mouw.

This syndrome was brought home to me in a poignant manner a while back when I was a guest on a radio talk show. It was during a time when two major newsmagazines had just run feature articles about "the historical Jesus," and the host was quite eager to discuss the topic. My fellow guest was a church leader of liberal bent, and he expressed strong skepticism about the reliability of the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus—an assessment with which I strongly disagreed. When we opened the discussion to questions from our listening audience, one of our callers was a young woman who was identified as Heather from Glendale. "I’m not what you would call, like, a Christian," Heather began. "Actually, right now I am sort of into—you know, witchcraft and stuff like that? But I agree with the guy from Fuller Seminary. I’m just shocked that someone would, like, say that Jesus wasn’t really raised from the dead!"

Now this has to be Glendale CA, not its namesake in AZ, where no one (I hope) is that confused. This sort of thing, of course, often leaves us philosophers, atheist or Christian, tearing our hair out. Is there something that the Richard Dawkinses and William Lane Craigs of the world have in common (wow!) which is being lost be the culture at large?

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Celtics take the lead

The Lakers, in the last game, looked like a one-man team. If this continues, then no matter how well Kobe plays, there will be another championship banner hanging from the rafters in Boston.

Anybody know why is sell-tics and not kel-tics?

Four objections to same-sex marriage

Objection 1: Same-sex marriage violates biblical standards for marriage.

Reply: The problem with Bible verses is that our society is supposed to be a society for everyone regardless of religion, so while the Bible might give religious people a reason not to have same-sex marriages, it doesn't really offer a reason why the secular government might not have other reasons for sanctioning same sex unions for governmental purposes. You have to keep in mind that many heterosexual marriages fail to meet biblical standards, see especially Luke 16: 18. Is the government wrong to allow marriages which were initiated in an adulterous affair? Legally, if you have an affair with the Playboy centerfold, then file for divorce, you can marry the centerfold legally. Biblically, that's not marriage, it's adultery. So, if you want to impose biblical standards on the government, you can't logically stop with homosexuals, you have to de-legitimize all adulterous marriages.

Objection 2: Same-sex relationships are morally unacceptable.

Reply: The state is concerned about what relationships to recognize when, say, end-of-life decisions are made. Should these be made by a lifelong gay partner, or should other family members who were less close to the terminally ill person have the say in what end-of-life decisions this person should have made on his behalf? That the state sanctions a marriage does not imply that the state morally approves that marriage, for the reason cited above.

Objection 3: Same-sex relationships do not produce children.

Reply: Should couples who intend to be childless be allowed to marry? Should women long past menopause be allowed to marry? These marriages will produce no children.

Objection 4: Legalized same-sex marriage will lead to the legalization of every other kind of relationship, including man-boy love relationships.

Reply: Slippery slope arguments are considered a fallacy. Just because we could go further in legitimizing relationships doesn't mean that we should. In the case of relationships with children, the children are thought not to be consenting partners. So we have a principled reason for rejecting, say, a man-boy relationship while accepting same-sex relationships so long as they are consensual.

These are just some things that can be said against the typical arguments against state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. (Church-sanctioned same-sex marriage is another matter). Are there better arguments against SSM?

SB 1070 is chasing law-abiding citizens out of the state

"The immigration law creates a difficult situation for both legal and illegal residents," said Jay Butler, director of realty studies at Arizona State University. "Some illegal residents may have planned on leaving the Valley anyway because they can't find jobs. But I have talked to young Hispanics who are residents and so are their parents and grandparents. And those Hispanics plan on moving to other states because they don't want to be perceived as second-class citizens."

I'm going to keep appealing to the documentary 9500 Liberty until somebody watches it and tells me what is wrong with it. In that documentary, it was indicated that Prince William County suffered a lot of collateral damage, especially where the foreclosure rate was concerned, which increased at a rate far in excess of the other counties in Virginia. Foreclosures were already a problem in Arizona, and I am convinced it will get worse thanks to the new law.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What would proof look like if we had it

Could one ask an atheist, "What would proof look like if you had it?" Anything that you used as proof could be doubted, couldn't it, if you were really bound and determined not to believe. Water into wine? A good magic trick. Walking on water? He knows where the stones are. Loaves and fishes? The catering truck is parked where you can't see it. Resurrection from the dead? A hallucination, or maybe we only thought he was dead. Maybe the stars in the sky should spell out "TURN OR BURN!! ATHEISTS REPENT BEFORE I COME BACK AND IT'S TOO LATE."

Thanks once again, Keith Parsons, for that one.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Some confusions about truth and religion

A redated post.

I think I am seeing people fall into some common confusions about objectivity, subjectivity, absolute truth, provability, and faith.

First, something can be absolutely true without it being provably true. Let's take the Jack the Ripper murders in England during the last century. There is an absolute truth about who committed those murders. There was an individual or group of individuals who killed those girls. However, we can't figure out who the perpetrator was. There are still books being written about it today to try to solve the murders. It's unprovable by us, and we probably never will know, yet there is someone who committed those murders.

With respect to the question of God, there have been attempts to prove that God exists and attempts to prove that God does not exist. I have studies these arguments, and I happen to think that neither side has such a stong case that every reasonable person ought to be convinced. However, there are reasons to believe and reasons to disbelieve, and I think that the claim that God does exist has stronger support than the claim that God does not exist. However, if we define God as an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then either God exists or God does not exist, and if God does exist, then the people that believe that God exists are correct, and the people that do not believe that God exists are mistaken. On the other hand, if God does not exist, then the people who believe that God does not exist are correct, and the people who believe that God does not exist are mistaken. The idea that if you truly believe in God, then God exists for you, but if you don't believe in God, God does not exist for you, is nonsense. God is not Tinkerbell, the fairy in Peter Pan who continues to exist so long as people believe in fairies.

With respect to religion, there are plenty of claims made by these religions which have to be either true or false, and about which it is possible to be correct or mistaken. (I like saying correct or mistaken better than saying right or wrong, simply because I don't want to make any moral judgments concerning the people, but I only want to talk about whether they believe, or fail to believe, the truth).
Judaism claims that there "The Lord your God, the Lord is one." So if atheism or polytheism is true, then Judaism is in error.

Christianity claims that Jesus was resurrected by God from the dead. He was either resurrected or he was not resurrected. Paul says if he wasn't resurrected, the Christians, of all people are most to be pitied.

Islam claims that Muhammad is the final prophet of Allah and that the revelation he presented is the final, perfect revelation of Allah. They've either got that right or they don't.

Hinduism says that we are all on a cycle of birth and rebirth, and that I am the reincarnation of a person who lived and died before I was born. I either was, or I wasn't.

Buddhism says my sufferings are caused by cravings, and if I stop craving, I will stop suffering. That is either true or false.

Atheists say that God does not exist. They either have that right, or they have it wrong.

Etc., Etc. Etc.

To believe that one's beliefs in the area of religion are true and those that contradict it are false is not to be dogmatic are intolerant. It is simply to understand what it is to have a belief. A belief is something you think to be true. And to believe that something is true is to believe that the contradictory is false. If I say "I believe in Christianity, but I don't believe that its claims are absolutely true" is not to be tolerant, it is to contradict oneself.

Faith is not belief in the absence of evidence, although perhaps it requires the absence of overwhelming evidence.

C. S. Lewis: I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

From C. S. Lewis's The weight of Glory

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners--no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

Who is a real Christian? A Scriptural answer

Biblically, the term is used by hostile outsiders. So in the Bible, you qualify as a Christian if you get people who hate Christianity to call you one, as this Wikipedia entry indicates.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Did the Bush Administration Perform Unethical Experiments on Terror Detainees?

According to Physicians for Human Rights, yes.

Does the name Joseph Mengele ring a bell, so to speak?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

What Price Enforcement? Another reply to Vallicella on SB 1070

   Let's try to generate a racial profiling scenario to see what is wrong with it. Profiling can take on different levels. Local law enforcement is expected to be a main player in the fight against illegal immigration. What that results in, is that anyone who looks like a lower-class Hispanic is targeted for what I call "fishing expeditions." Being Hispanic, perhaps along with evidence that the Hispanic is lower-class, is considered sufficient for "reasonable suspicion." People who look like lower-class Hispanics are pulled over on "tickytack" violations, other groups are not. When there is a loud music call about white people playing the Stones too loud, the police ask them to turn the music down. If the music is in Spanish, and the people look like lower-class Hispanics, papers are asked for. Whites get that 10 mph cushion with the speed limit, Hispanics are pulled over if they are so much as 1 mph over the limit. Everyone knows the police don't pursue every possible offense; they pick their battles. But in the hope that they will be able to get an illegal immigrant deported, they pick their battles with Hispanics differently from the way they pick their battles with the rest of us. "Legitimate stops" are generated on other ostensible grounds, but their real purpose is to ask a Hispanic about his immigration status.
      What this means is that, not just the immigration laws, but many other laws are enforced differently depending on the whether or not a person looks Hispanic. Or, perhaps only those police officers who harbor anti-Hispanic prejudices will enforce the law in this way, but citizens will have no protection against that kind of special treatment. That's the sort of thing I'm concerned about. I'm not willing to pay THAT price to enforce the immigration law. We are entitled equal protection under the law, and there should not be different rules for different racial groups or social classes. Can you agree that the above scenario would be a bad one? The fourteenth amendment guarantees equal protection under the law.
           Please note that I am concerned about how our citizens are treated. One group of citizens will be treated differently because of the color of their skin.
           Now, remember that Brewer says that the bill will be enforced without profiling, so I take it she thinks that there is such a thing as profiling, and that 1070 won't involve that. We are still waiting to see the specifics on how the law will be enforced. The question I have is whether the law won't result in a whole lot of undue litigation, whether it will be interpreted in such a way as to avoid the above scenario, and if it doesn't involve profiling, will it be an effective law at all, or just a symbolic gesture.
       Yes, some of the worst fears about the law are generated by its opponents, and that has resulted in the departure of some people. Whether those people are only illegals, or whether Hispanic citizens have left because they fear unequal treatment by law enforcement, is not completely clear. However, that doesn't make the law effective. Assuming that the law is implemented in a way consistent with the Constitution, will it continue to be effective?
          I have no problem with the immigration law being enforced at the border, where it should be enforced, and at the workplace, where some sort of workable ID will be more effective. I just hate the idea of a whole class of people, most of whom are law-abiding citizens, being treated differently by law enforcement because of the color of their skin.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A definition of religion

A redated post.

“Religion is constituted by a set of beliefs, actions, and experiences, both personal and corporate, organized around the concept of an Ultimate Reality which inspires worship or total devotion.”

From Peterson, Basinger, Reichenbach, and Hasker, Reason and Religious Belief 4th ed. Oxford University Press, (2008).

Based on this definition, is secular humanism a religion?

Why people don't like talking religion and politics at the dinner table

The reason why these topics get so sensitive is that we transfer our discussion of the issues, which can be difficult, to a discussion of the people who hold the positions in question, which is easier. It is easier to talk about Democrats than it is to talk about Democratic policies, it is easier to talk about believers (or unbelievers) rather than beliefs. But when people take this "easier" path, we find that the conversation takes on a personal tone that is missing when we just talk about the issues. It is easier to say "Atheists just don't want to believe in God" or "religion is a crutch" instead of seriously considering the reasons why one should, or should not believe in God. But to say that religion is a crutch, or to say that atheists just don't want to acknowledge God, is to go beyond saying that the other side's belief is false to actually insulting the person on the opposing side.

If we could all learn to avoid what in logic is called the ad hominem fallacy, we could discussion politics and religion at the dinner table without raising the hair on the back of anyone's neck.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Give me your tired, your poor

And if they're very, very lucky, they can come to America. This is from Forbes Magazine.

Some argue that they are only opposed to illegal immigration and that those who wish to move to the U.S. should go through the legal channels. I'm afraid this is a dodge: American immigration law is cumbersome and wasteful; further, most of the people who wish to move here stand no chance of being allowed to (Reason offers these handy directions to legality). Perhaps you're proud that your ancestors "came here legally." I'm pretty sure they would be denied entry today.

Without just advocating open borders, it seems to me that we can ask whether they should be more open than they in fact are, and whether our immigration policy is rational.