Thursday, June 30, 2011

The OTF, and ECREE

 The OTF is couched in terms of avoiding DOUBLE standards. It seems pretty clear to me that you can avoid double standards and be a Christian. Christianity has, at least as I evaluate the evidence, some evidential advantages over other revelation claims. So the complaint has to be that a person is using the wrong standard, but that's what's at issue. 

Extraordinariness is not strictly quantifiable, and has to be assessed from within some existing belief system. If someone thinks that natural theology is reasonably successful, and that we have
reason to believe in God, then we have to ask if it is possible that God has spoken. Or is he just mutely watching? If it seems likely that God has spoken, we have to find the best candidate as to where and how he might have spoken. 

It's a cumulative case on both sides. I am skeptical of the existence of "default positions," however. Whatever position you start from, there is an initial "double standard" of sorts, in that you can't reasonably expect someone to put what they don't believe on an epistemic par with what they do believe. You can do that as a thought experiment, (If I came in believing X, what would I believe about it now), but it cannot be normative unless you have good evidence that your current beliefs were arrived at in a completely non-truth-tracking way. Just seeing the weakness of how we reason isn't enough to reach that radical a conclusion. To put what we don't believe on an epistemic par with what we do, it has to be shown that our thinking processes that led us to believe what we do are completely non-truth-tracking. 

No, I would not put levitation and bike-riding in the same category evidentially, since I have different priors for each. However belief in both has to follow some general rule. 

I see prior as starting points in thinking, which have to be worked from, not justified. We're stuck with them. If we trade them in for others, we don't help ourselves epistemically. If the evidence is good enough, it should overcome whatever your initial predispositions, if we keep thinking and paying attention. However, some of us will be dead before our errors are defeated. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hurtado on Scholarship and Personal Stakes

LH: Indeed, occasionally scholars make much of their departure from religious faith, sometimes even making that a major subject in its own right (I mention no names, as ask any comments to avoid doing so too).  But surely a moment’s reflection should indicate that there is no really neutral ground, and that those in negative reacion against their own faith are in danger of being unduly influenced (skewed?) in their work as any apologist for a given religious stance.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sam Harris on Killing People for What they Believe

“Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them”

Sam Harris, The End of Faith, pp.52-53. 

Explain to me once again why RELIGION leads to violence. In the Christian community, these kinds of statements went out with the Wars of Religion. 

The Martian Test for Faith

The contemporary atheist is a creature of Christian culture. They have already interacted with it and responded in one particular way. So I don't think of them as outsiders. A real outsider would have to be from another planet.

Mars, maybe?

One More God

SteveK wrote: 

I just believe in one more God than you do.... When you understand why I don't dismiss my God, you will understand why I do dismiss all the others. ;)

An Exchange between Matt Flannagan and John Loftus (actually Paul Bennett)

This is a combox exchange between Loftus, whose comments are in italics, and Matt Flannagan, whose comments are not italicized. 

I think the OTF is seen to fail in the mind of those who are afraid of the implications.
This is an assertion backed up by an ad hominen attack on people who disagree with them.
For those interested in the truth, it’s a good test. Believers clearly set a low bar for evidence when it comes to their own supernatural beliefs, but they raise the bar when it comes to other supernatural beliefs and no evidence is sufficient when it comes to any claim which negates their beliefs. The OTF reveals this bias.
Actually I think it does the opposite, sceptics demand that Christians meet an inordinate burden of proof by proposing the OTF, but then they fail to apply this proof in other contexts, particular to premises they use to argue against Gods existence. I note this in the review.
The believer wants to think that the atheists rejects their beliefs for bad reasons, when in fact, atheists reject the believers beliefs for the same reasons believers reject other religions and superstitious claims.
This is an assertion which has been refuted already on this blog. But note you make it without any proof. If I held to the OTF I should be sceptical of this claim until you prove it.
Obviously, people believe in the magical things they do because of indoctrination, confusing correlation with causation, and confirmation bias. Christians can see this readily when they consider Greek Myths or reincarnationists– but their indoctrination blinds them in regards to their own, equally unsupportable supernatural beliefs. If they are indoctrinated well enough, they become too afraid of thinking outside the faith– afraid that they’ll suffer forever if they do so.
Again we see an assertion, involving a string of genetic and ad hominen fallacies, prefaced with the word “obviously”
If you want to insist on the OTF, I should be sceptical of these claims until you prove them. Where is the proof?
Every cult member can tell you why they are sure their religion is the really true truth– but none can tell you what evidence would get them to believe a competing claim– that’s because no evidence would or could suffice. They are brainwashed. Christians can see it with the Muslims and the Scientologists, but their indoctrination makes sure they deny it in themselves. The OTF illustrates this, however– which is why we see so much kicking and screaming around it.
Again another assertion about others being “brain washed” with you expect everyone to accept without proof. Keep the examples coming your proving my point nicely
The OTF is just a tool to help a believer counteract the biases of his indoctrination, so that instead of endlessly trying to prop us his belief, he’s got a brain more willing to consider whether his supernatural beliefs are any more likely to be true than the supernatural beliefs he rejects (such as reincarnation). As far as the empirical evidence is concerned, the answer is “no”.
I note here you limit your claims to supernatural beliefs and insist on empirical evidence. Why? This is an epistemological claim. If the OTF is true I should be a sceptical outsider to claims like this so my default position is to deny it, until you prove it.
I note the only proof you give is an assertion.
Again, thanks for proving my point.
”I understand why this would bother someone more interested in keeping the faith rather than understanding what is real. Magician, James Randi points out that the easiest people to fool are those who are certain they cannot be fooled. I know I can be fooled. And I don’t feel like fooling myself any more. I think those against the OTF are those with a strong interest in continuing to fool themselves.
Interesting, again we have the OTF defended by an ad hominen. This is apparently the only proof needed when it’s your beliefs that are under discussion. When people question the epistemic stance you adopt, you respond by saying they “have an interest in fooling themselves” and dismiss it.
Perhaps you’ll answer the question I put to you last time we discussed this. Take the claim “women and men have equal rights” or “all human beings have equal dignity and worth” can you prove this with empirical evidence? If I had been brought up in another culture I would probably not believe this. So the OTF requires me to be sceptical of it until someone proves it with empirical evidence alone.
I take it you provide empirical evidence for this claim that meets the standard you demand before on believes in theism, then you need to explain to me why you adopt a different standard here?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

How to be Anti-Science

This is an essay on the anti-science movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Madeline Flannagan reviews The Christian Delusion

No surprise, the discussion ends up focusing on the OTF. HT: Steve Hays.

The Argument from the Reliability of our Rational Faculties, or Should We Attack Water Balloons? (With a postscript from a commentator)

This is a redated post. 

IV. Argument from the Reliability of our Rational Faculties
If naturalism is true, it is often argued that natural selection would support the emergence of rational as opposed to irrational belief-forming mechanisms. But it is not at all clear to me that the most reliable belief-forming mechanisms are the most advantageous from an evolutionary point of view.
First of all I argued that simpler procedures often have more selective advantage over more complex cognitive ones. Carrier ridicules the example that I use, which is

If the chief enemy of a creature is a foot-long snake, perhaps some inner programming to attack everything a foot long would be more effective than the more complicated ability to distinguish mammals from amphibians.

Carrier thinks that this commits me to the idea that this creature will attack everything a foot long, including rocks, which is clearly not what I meant. Most universal statements presuppose a universe of discourse; thus if you were to go into a store having a clearance sale in which I find a sign that says “Clearance Sale: Everything Must Be Sold” and proceed to ask the price of the salesgirl, you would get slapped upside the head and rightly so.

But of course very often nature uses short-cut mechanisms to provide for the survival of creatures. In my home state of Arizona we have lots of rattlesnakes, and they are designed in such a way as to track warmth. Very often a warm object will be an enemy, but it need not be one. If you put a hot water balloon outside a rattlesnake’s hole it will attack the water balloon. So I might say “Perhaps nature could give a creature a tendency to attack anything above a certain number of degrees in the environment, and that would be more effective from the point of view of survival than the ability to discriminate between animate and inanimate objects,” and it seems to me that if I said that Carrier could produce all of his arguments ridiculing that claim and saying that of course being able to figure out whether something is alive or not is better from the point of view of survival than just hitting something above a certain number of degrees. Carrier also says

It will always be a more efficient use of resources (energy, time, risk, and tools) to avoid attacking all non-threats and to attack all actual threats—including entirely new and unanticipated threats. And the only means an organism can maximize efficiency in this respect is to optimize its ability to categorize and discriminate objects and events. There is literally no other way.

But if this were the case wouldn’t Mother Nature have hit upon rational creatures a whole lot sooner, instead of using a wide range of other kinds of mechanisms to promote survival? I pointed out in my book that the reason in humans requires the development of large brains which, while providing the advantage of enhanced knowledge capacities, have the disadvantage of making the creature more vulnerable, requiring longer periods of immaturity, etc. The emergence of reason involves trade-offs from an evolutionary standpoint, though of course it can be very well seen why a naturalist might say that trade-off is worth it. If we consider such natural occurrences as the dance of the bees, we find sophisticated ways of discovering where nectar is (and where it is not), without anything like conscious reasoning being involved. It seems just false to say that there is, and can be, no substitute for reason.

Darwin once raised doubts about his own capacities to understand the world accurately on the assumption of evolution by natural selection. The possibility that false beliefs can promote reproductive fitness seems impossible to deny. I don’t know if any scientific studies have been done on this, but I remember high school, and I distinctly had the impression that the guys who held egregiously inflated views of their own attractiveness to the opposite sex tended to have more successful dating lives than those of us who assess our attractiveness more realistically.

Douglas Henry, in the 2003 edition of Philosophia Christi, provides an excellent example of how systematically false beliefs can benefit survival, in his essay “Correspondence Theories, Natural-Selective Truth, and Unsurmounted Skepticism.” He considers the attempt by Ruth Millikan to provide an evolutionary foundation for realism and the correspondence theory of truth. He maintains that the fact that humans tend to respond positively to placebos suggests that false beliefs can, and often do, have survival value. The placebo effect is well-documented in medical literature, showing that if someone receives some medication that they think will benefit their health, then that will benefit their health even though it is nothing more than a sugar pill. On the other hand trading the false belief “This is the latest cancer medicine” for the true belief “This is just a sugar pill” will result in the loss of the positive health effects of believing that a person is receiving beneficial medicine.

If false beliefs about matters that are of immediate concern can be false yet helpful, is it also possible natural selection could, in various ways, incline us toward a whole range of false beliefs? Could our beliefs be systematically false and still adaptive? I see no reason to think they could not.

The Arguments from Reason are far from finished products, either as a result of Lewis’s efforts or as the result of my own or other people who defend them. Far more than I have been able to do already will be required to make a persuasive case to most people that reason is a phenomenon that fits far better into a supernaturalist world-view than into a naturalistic world view. A good deal more needs to be done by defenders of the arguments from reason, especially in addressing naturalistic philosophers like Dennett, Millikan, and Dretske who had attempted to tackle the problem of how reason can exist in a naturalistic universe. There is a long struggle ahead to try to show first that the central elements of reason to which I have alluded are ineliminable, secondly, to show that reductive analyses of these elements of reason are unsuccessful, and third to show that an alternative world-view, such a theism, provides a better way of understanding these phenomena. However, I firmly believe, and continue to believe, that the more we study attempts to naturalize reason the more plausible it will seem that “Something’s rotten in Denmark, ” and that a fundamentally mentalistic world-view, like theism, can clean up the stench.

Postscript: The following comments, by an anonymous commentator some four years later, strike me as very interesting: 

A few comments to some of Ahabs points:

In fact humans do not tend to respond positively to placebos. 70% or more of those taking them will not get better.

If 30% of those taking sugar pills will get better, then humans often respond positively to placebos. That's quite astonishing and fits well with other reasearch in psychology about the influence of positive thought about the future.

Actually, if one found out that they were taking a placebo they would want the real medicine and consequently increase their chances of survival.

I agree with this, but the point is that the placebo effect promoted survival in the past, not that it does now. Many traits don't serve survival well now but did so in the past (adrenaline in a stress situation).

But now you've jumped from an individual belief to a system of beliefs.

I agree that this is the best objection to the "systematic error" argument. I guess this could be turned into a good argument, but nobody has done this so far.

Natural selection does not select for individual beliefs. It selects for the mechanism which is capable of forming beliefs. A person whose brain is able to arrive at enough true beliefs to increase its chances of surviving the hazards of this dangerous world is, all else being equal, going to have a greater likelihood of passing on her genes than a person whose brain is less adept at good belief formation.

This is the typical answer to any argument from reason. I think the problem with this answer is that it requires and presupposes a huge metaphysical framework that is highly controversal and becomes less and less plausible. It requires the "naive" view of mental causation, the idea that the content of our thoughts directly influence behavior. David Chalmers has made a great case against the kind of mental causation required for this view.

Usually it also presupposes that evolution delivers an explanation for our phenomenological mental life. But this is highly implausible and disputed by many in the philosophy of mind. My zombie twin would have the same advante in natural selection that I have.

I can't make a cogent case against this objection in a comment here because it presupposes so much. But overall it seems to me that the premise of the objection is highly disputed and that contemporary philosophy of mind actually moves away from it. This makes the objection useless.

The reason why this objection is so common seems clear to me. It is very simple and fits very well with ordinary common sense convictions about the mental. This makes it attractive to anyone who is not familiar with the metaphysical problems it causes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Intellectual Rubbish Dilemma

I think there is something I call the Intellectual Rubbish Dilemma, which is the problem we have if we choose to get into discussions with views that we think of as rubbish and unworthy of respect. The difficulty is that an effective critique of an opposing position requires careful and charitable reading of what an opponent has said. To do a good job in critique requires us to be charitable, but to use enough charity to do a good critique sometimes requires us to appear to have more respect for our opponents than we think they deserve. In such situations I err on the side of charity. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Online Material by C. S. Lewis

This is Steve Lovell's resource.

Loftus misrepresents me again (surprise surprise)

John, why don't you learn to read more carefully. I was very explicit about NOT attributing this to God, or anything like God, so I have never said that the God of the Bible did it.  Nor do I have any certainty about what the explanation is.  I have always found the incident curious. While lots of people go down in spelling bees, the temper tantrum this boy threw is unique in all the spelling bees I have ever been part of. I distinctly remember the time my violin teacher gave for what happened seemed to be exactly the time at which this happened. My teacher spent almost no time talking about clairvoyance, it was never something he was "on about." This was an isolated occurrence.

My memory for these sorts of specifics is pretty good. I can, for example, remember my score in most of the chess tournaments I have ever played in. I can remember three of the four words I went out on in the four years I competed in spelling bees in grade school. I am somewhat

There are clearly three possibilities. One is that he was not aware of what happened at the bee, but that did some fancy guesswork to make it look like he did. The second is that he did have knowledge of what was going on a mile away, but that it has a naturalistic explanation. Or, it could have been something that does involve something over and above what we ordinarily can ascribe to the natural world.

Obviously, I'm in no position to lighten James Randi's wallet. But I still think that skeptical responses to these sort of things are to quick, too easy, and too dogmatic. I did say that this is evidence of the paranormal, but what I am coming to realize is that my concept of evidence may be different from yours. For me, X is evidence for hypothesis Y if experience X is more likely to occur if Y is true than if Y is not true. This is all pretty clearly understandable if there is clairvoyance than if there is no clairvoyance. In fact, I wonder how all of you would analyze the phrase "X is evidence for Y."

That said, I do NOT hold the belief that this is something that is naturalistically inexplicable. I am decidedly undecided on what the explanation is.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The "no evidence" charge

I have often been puzzled by the charge, made by many atheists, that there is NO evidence for God, or for the supernatural, or paranormal, or what have you. The reason is that as I understand evidence, X is evidence for Y is X is a fact of our experience that is more likely to be the case if Y is true than if Y is false. And it looks to me that there are all sorts of things in our experience that are more likely to be there with God than without God. The kind of testimony to the Resurrection that we have, it seems to me, is more likely to be there given the existence of God than without the existence of God. That doesn't mean that there is a God, to be sure, or that the Resurrection happened.

In an exchange on Debunking Christianity, someone said

To a rational, skeptical mind, claiming to have seen evidence of the paranormal is, in and of itself, evidence of 
delusional thinking.

When I said that I had seen evidence of the paranormal, I was referring to the violin teacher incident  that I discussed a few months back. Now I can easily see coming out of that discussion thinking that it wasn't a genuine episode of clairvoyance. What I can't see is thinking that it provides no evidence at all for clairvoyance. It seems to me that of course, it's something that is more likely to have occurred if there were such a thing as clairvoyance as opposed to if there were no such thing, even if it is really wasn't clairvoyance 
after all.

Glass Houses

You are not showing the greatest critical thinking skills here either. I granted that if I were dismissing the book because of that single review, that would be a mistake, and I granted that it was natural to think that I was doing that. I then pointed out what I didn't intend my comments to be read that way, that instead I was pointing out some problems with the book that a reviewer noted, and then said that IF the reviewer was reading the book accurately, that would be evidence of an uncritical skepticism. 

DO NOT IGNORE MY INTERPRETATION OF MY OWN COMMENTS. I think people are entitled to come back and say "That's not what I meant," even when their opponent's interpretation of those comments is reasonable and perfectly understandable.  

Let me get this straight. I make a hasty statement that sounded more dismissive of a book than I really meant to be, and that proves that my critical thinking skills are poor. But you can made accusations that someone is "deceived" without making clear what it was I said that occasioned that charge, and we shouldn't question YOUR critical thinking skills? YOU can commit the ad hominem fallacy any time you want to, and not be called on it? People who live in glass houses.....

Let me bring up the "uncredentialed hack" business with Tim McGrew. I don't fault you for not knowing that he was a credentialed scholar. What you should have recognized, however, was that his responses were reasonable and intelligent. If you work in the blogosphere, you have to be willing to engage serious thinking regardless of credentials. You then rebroadcast a critique of an essay by the McGrews that completely misinterpreted his statements and attributed to him statements that he never made. 

I am not going to make the kinds of harsh judgments about your overall critical thinking skills that you have made concerning mine. I think you are smarter than you are at your worst moments. But if I were to do so, you've given me a whole lot of material to work with. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blind as a Bat?

Here is my reply to what I consider to be Loftus' ad hominem attack on me, which he has just posted.

You are picking up on something that I realize was not properly clarified and you are running with it. I quite admit that I made it sound as if the comment from the book was a grounds for simply dismissing it, but let's put this in context.

I made three statements. One was that I thought that it wasn't clear that God is necessarily a supernatural being, and that I didn't see any reason a priori why God couldn't figure into a supernatural explanation, and that we could, at least in theory, predict God's actions through science.  I then asked if seeing a miracle would count as real evidence for God, and then I pointed out that I had seen evidence of the paranormal. In response to that I get the familiar charge of being delusional, and a book on how to think about weird things as proof of that. Now, I don't see exactly which claim of mine was supposed to prove delusion, or what in the book was supposed to do show what was wrong with what I said. At least in the eyes of one reviewer, the book makes several appeals to our sense that something seems ridiculous or silly in order to dismiss it. Since lots of stuff that seems ridiculous or silly has often turned out to be true on investigation, (think quantum mechanics, or even Darwin's theory of evolution) it would be certainly problematic, at least to my mind, for the book to do that. Now, maybe, the reviewer misread the book.
But surely you would agree, (or would you?), that this would be a problem if it were an accurate reading.

But there are lots of books on all sides of lots of questions. One would like to compare Schick's critique of NDEs with the best defenses of them.

In any event, it is arguments, not arguers, that are the appropriate objects of consideration. You're only as good as the argument you are presenting. To forget this is to commit one of the cardinal sins of critical thinking, the ad hominem fallacy (or the appeal to authority fallacy). 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Debunking Christianity exchange on (you guessed it), the OTF

This discussion, on the whole, went rather better than most I have had over there, even though it begins with typical Loftus-style bluster. The following is, I think, my most interesting contribution, although there are other interesting discussion-tracks. 
I object to the idea that you should treat something you don't believe as having the same epistemic status as what you do believe, unless it can be shown that what you now believe is entirely and completely the product of non-truth-conducive causes. That's certainly not the case for me, though I sometimes present OTF-type arguments to students who think that it is a sufficient reason to believe something that they were raised to believe it. I think the OTF is a worthwhile thought experiment (what if I had started out with different beliefs, then what would I think?), but I really don't think it really gives us anything over and above ordinary admonitions to pay attention to evidence and consider opposing positions. Insofar as it places nonbelief as a sort of "default" position on religious beliefs, I think it is committed to some highly questionable epistemology. So I don't think it's the intellectual monument that it is typically hyped to be, nor do I think it provides an argument that demonstrates the irrationality of all Christians and underwrites the familiar delusion charges.  I encountered something like it when I read Russell's The Value of Free Thought. I found that essay very intellectually challenging when i was 18, though I certainly would take issue with a lot of what was in there.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is the argument from prophecy a flat Tyre?

A redated post.

I changed the title of this one.

Does the fulfillment of biblical prophecy provide evidence that God exists? Farrell Till is a well-known skeptic who argues against this claim.

HT: Amanda Chandler.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is there a case to be made from fulfilled biblical prophecy?

Despite well-known abuses of prophecy, Bloom in this essay claim that a case can be made.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Four features of conscious states

A redated post.

Someone asked me for a definition of consciousness. J. P. Moreland's essay "Hume and the argument from consciousness" in Sennett and Groothuis ed. In Defense of Natural Theology (IVP, 2005) delineates some features of conscious states that he thinks they have.

1. There is a raw qualitative feel or a "what it is like" to hve a mental state.
2. At least many states have intentionality--ofness or aboutness--directed toward an object.
3. They are inner, private, and immediate to the subject having them.
4. They require a subjective ontology--namely, mental states are necessarily owned by the first person sentient subjects who have them.

Now Moreland mentions a fifth feature, which I take it no physicalist is going to buy:

5. They fail to have crucial features (spatial extension, locatioin) that charcterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language.

Now I take it this last one is not one that a materialist could accept. But the first four seem to me to reflect what consciousness is. I would add that consciousness is importantly unified, that there is single entity that possesses all of the relevant conscious mental states; something that ties them together.

I take it that this is the common-sense conception of consciousness, and to reject it would be to accept a revisionist position.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Separating the supernatural from the natural in the story of Jesus--the point behind the trilemma

It is popular to disconnect the plausibility of naturalistically acceptable claims made by the New Testament writers from those involving a supernatural commitment. This kind of an issue has come up before, when people have argued that no amount of accuracy on the part of the New Testament writers in recording mundane matter (such as we find in the Book of Acts), provides any evidence that the supernatural claims are also true.

 It is interesting that some of you who are very eager to affirm the unity of the New Testament when you are arguing against the claim that the New Testament provides independent, or even partially independent strands of evidence for the claims of the New Testament, seem to want to argue that the New Testament is a diverse source when arguing that maybe we can accept the non-supernaturally involved claims while rejecting any element of the supernatural.

First, accurate reporting is a habit of mind. Even in mundane matters, you have people who take varying degrees of effort to get things right. If we conclude that a good deal of what our sources have to say is false, then that reflects poorly on everything they have to say, in much the way that evidence that a witness in a court case is untruthful about one thing can damage their credibility in other matters.

Admittedly, there are differences amongst the scenarios which conclude that the miracle claims are false. On some views, the writers experienced what they said they experienced, but were wrong about the causes of what they experienced. Hallucination theories of the Resurrection fit into this category. If the disciples hallucinated the risen Jesus, then they were "appeared to Jesus-ly," but were mistaken in supposing that the real risen Jesus was the cause of their being so appeared to. Or,t they might have seen lepers walking away from Jesus apparently cleansed, when the cause of this recovery was psychosomatic rather than divinely caused.

But other views treat the claims to be pretty much made up out of the whole cloth. If the New Testament contains a lot of material that was just made up, then it seems to me it would then be hard to credit passages that say Jesus taught that you should turn the other cheek.

I think the Gospels record actions on the part of Jesus that are mostly connected to his supernatural claims in one way or the other. Telling someone their sins are forgiven isn't directly supernatural, but if we accept it, we give ourselves the problem of figuring out how someone could believe that he had the prerogative to do so. Even Jesus's manner of teaching is a little odd from a naturalistic standpoint, in that you have a Jew who speaks on his own authority and even puts his own words (But I say unto you...)
in the place of the Law of Moses.

Now, you can argue, of course, that there are some good moral ideas that you can take from the New Testament even if Jesus didn't do or say much of anything he is supposed to have said. That's a different issue. I think something stronger can be claimed here; I believe that there is an ethical mind behind the Gospels that possessed true moral greatness, and that that is something that would have to be explained by any naturalistic theory. But that is a subject for another time.

But what I do maintain is that an easy separation between the naturalistic and the non-naturalistic is going to end up being a whole lot harder than it looks to carry off. It is indeed what the Trilemma argument is driving it.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Darek Barefoot replies to Richard Carrier

A redated post.

Darek Barefoot has posted a defense of my book against Carrier's criticisms on the Secular Web. I've spent a fair amount of time responding to Carrier, but I really think he doesn't give the best responses to my arguments that a naturalist can produce. However, when someone put as much into a response as Carrier did, it does deserve a good response.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


If you are trying to get from one side of the lake to the other side of the lake, is the question to ask "What would Jesus do?"

The humanistic Jesus

If you can't trust what the New Testament says when it says Jesus rose from the dead, can we nevertheless trust the New Testament when it teaches that Jesus told people to turn the other cheek? It's the same book.

Psychoanalyzing Strident Religious Unbelievers

A redated post.

This is the wikipedia entry on reaction formation.

If one really thought psychoanalyzing one's opponents had much validity, there would be a lot of ways to do it. I would like to invite crusading atheists to examine themselves, to see to what extent their strident atheism could be reaction formation.

Of course, believers can be caught up in reaction formation as well. I think it important, though, to be acting intellectually, and not just reacting.

I take it seriously when an atheist says "Examine your thinking and see if it isn't just wishful thinking," for example. If they say "You only believe because you want to,' knowing only that I am a Christian, that crosses the line. But I think I can say "examine yourself" without committing the ad hominem fallacy.