Showing posts from May, 2013

Stephen Pinker on the decline of violence

In case you don't want to bother reading Stephen Pinker's excellent but extremely long and detailed book The Better Angels of Our Nature , here he touches on the major ideas in lecture form. It's still a relatively long lecture, but it's definitely quicker than the book!

What's the big deal about materialism anyway?

I'm not gonna lie – visiting Randal Rauser's blog has certainly brought lots of topics to the forefront, as my recent spate of posting goes to show. Most recently the topics of naturalism and materialism have come up – and while it's not exactly anything new, I still find it frustrating that some folks who criticize atheism, naturalism and materialism don't seem to really understand what atheists, naturalists and materialists tend to actually believe. Specifically, the criticism seems to be that calling oneself an atheist commits you to the position that the material world is all there is, to the exclusion of any and all supernatural or dualistic possibilities. There is so much about the world that remains unexplained, and so much we likely haven't even discovered that will need explaining, that it's absurd to assert that there's nothing more to reality than material "stuff". Right? That door would seem to swing both ways: you might say, &quo

Tragedies that don't hit close to home

So recently, as you have no doubt heard, here in my home state of Oklahoma there was a massive tornado that leveled a good chunk of the town of Moore. The dead are estimated at 24. Lots of people are homeless. There has been a huge outpouring of support from all over the nation, right down to the usual Facebook "support" with lots of "thoughts and prayers" and out-of-state friends replacing their avatar with a picture of the state with the word "home" in the middle. The President pledged aid. And yet, I've felt mostly detached from it all, and I wasn't totally sure why until I talked with a client of mine tonight, who works as a nurse. She's around death all the time. She told me that she cried the first time a patient died, but that now she just goes on with her day – so much so that she feels bad for not feeling bad. Families grieve, and she steps into the hallway and converses normally with co-workers. She shrugs her shoulders, "Peop

The ontological argument, dualism, and the nature of mathematics (in one post!)

That's right – this one post is gonna have all that stuff . I've probably bitten off more than I can chew, but I think it's all connected and I want to explain why. One of the biggest semantic puzzles in philosophy seems to be the nature of existence. For example, does the number 1 exist? In what way? Does it exist as a material object? Are our thoughts non-material objects, and for that matter what the hell is a non-material object? Philosophers have been entertaining themselves for centuries with this kind of stuff. It has implications for lots of subjects. In my ongoing chats with Randal Rauser, we've touched on the old ontological argument for God's existence. The ontological argument, though there are several different versions, essentially relies on the notion that "existence" is a possible property of a concept. If we can conceive of something (we'll call it x ), then it's (presumably) greater for x to possess the property of existence

Randal replies, and so do I – it's gettin' REAL

Randal opted to offer a reply to my reply in its own blog post, which is a pretty good idea since Disqus annoyingly lacks a "compose" feature and lengthy comments often get buried beneath the mire . By now, it's been quite some time since there's been any discussion or progress on the moral law, to my frustration since that's precisely the topic on which I originally challenged Randal . It seems like a lot of this is stemming from my dismissive comments toward the ontological argument, and dammit, I'm starting to think I might have to post something (again) explaining why I think the ontological argument is so incredibly stupid, with Plantinga's version taking the cake as the most semantically confused garbage of them all – a version Randal refers to as "a brilliant piece of metaphysics". Well, to borrow a page from professional philosophers, I suppose that depends on how you define "brilliant". For now, though, we'll just have

A-Rausing converstion

Yes, I know. That title is the greatest pun in the history of humankind. You can deliver my honorary plaque later this week. Anyway, the mighty Randal Rauser offered a commentary on our conversation on his blog, which you can read here . My reply is right there at the top of the comments, but here it is anyway. Randal's subsequent response is one I'll respond to in my own blog post. ---------- Since I pinned our whole conversation to my blog (which I enjoyed thoroughly), I think that I'll let my arguments there speak for themselves. But I would like to comment on a couple of points specifically. If you want to talk about “red flags”, anybody without formal philosophical training who dismisses as “profoundly stupid” a nine hundred year old family of philosophical arguments that are still defended and discussed with great seriousness by professionally trained analyt

William Lane Craig delivers a whopper on dualism

Man, this guy is a gold mine. From a recent Q&A: As I contemplated Libet’s results, it struck me forcefully, this is exactly what the dualist-interactionist would expect. The soul (or mind) does not act independently of the brain; rather, as the Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Sir John Eccles put it, the mind uses the brain as an instrument to think. So, of course, the soul’s decisions are not simultaneous with the conscious awareness of them. How could they be? Given the soul’s reliance upon the brain as an instrument of thought and the finite velocity of the transmission of neural signals, of course there is a time lag between the mind’s decisions and the awareness of them HHhhhwwwwhhat? Okay, let's say the soul acts on the brain like software on hardware. Why couldn't decisions be simultaneous with conscious awareness, since the soul is (presumably) responsible for conscious awareness as well? Why would there be any lag at all? Why would the "lag&

My conversation with Randal Rauser, in a nutshell

I could hardly blame anyone for not reading the entire lengthy conversation between myself and Randal Rauser that constituted the previous post, particularly given today's micro-second attention spans (thanks, cats on the internet). For those of you who read it, I hope you enjoyed it (and your sandwich). But for everyone who lacks either the time or the inclination to sift through all that stuff, here's my summary of the basic points being argued. Bear in mind that I'm representing Randal's points as I understand them , and I should allow for the possibility that I haven't understood him as he intended. If there are any doubts, you'll have to just read his comments for yourself. Randal's premise is that an objective moral law exists. This law is as much a part of reality as anything else we experience, crucial to our understanding of human nature, and evidence that God exists (because as the old argument goes, you can't have a moral law without a

A conversation with Randal Rauser

I've been told by several readers I ought to visit Randall Rauser's blog. After he recently did a book with Jon Loftus, I finally got around to visiting his blog and perusing some recent posts. The fact that he seemed to be defending the most profoundly stupid apologetic argument ever devised – the ontological argument – in several exchanges he's had with my blogging comrade Jonathan Pearce , coupled with his background in philosophy (I've generally found philosophers to be better at bullshitting than imparting any meaningful knowledge) raised some red flags. But I took a stab at it to see what all the fuss was about. My take on this discussion is that I asked a pair of rather simple questions – for evidence that an ontological moral law really exists, and more importantly how it could be objectively known by us mere humans – and he basically drowned the discussion in obfuscations and digressions. But obviously, the only other person who's as biased as I am about

When disaster hits, don't be a dick

Maybe it's because I have lots of atheist friends on Facebook, or maybe it really is becoming more prevalent; either way, I'm seeing lots of snarky comments in the aftermath of the devastation in Moore, OK about how stupid and pointless it is to offer prayers in the aftermath of a natural disaster. While I don't personally know anyone who was hurt, killed, or had their home destroyed (Tulsa is a good ways from Moore), I'm only a couple degrees of separation from those who have. And yes, lots of people are talking about "sending prayers". Yeah yeah, I'm an atheist and I think praying is stupid. Like George Carlin said – what's the point of praying if God's just going to do his will anyway? And what good is a Divine Plan if every asshole with a two-dollar prayer book can come along and screw it all up? You gotta love the selective believer logic which says that God isn't at fault for not stopping a massive tornado from wreaking havoc, but it

Repeating wrongness

The other day, the popular Facebook page I Fucking Love Science posted this picture: Aside from basically being meaningless drivel, the more glaring problem is that Albert Einstein never actually said this. His Wikiquote page keeps a healthy list of quotes frequently misattributed to him (there are many), but new ones like this seem to pop up all the time. And yet, at the time of this writing, the picture had over 10,000 shares. On a more personal note,  an alert reader called my attention to a statistic I had used in the previous post – that Christians are over-represented in the prison population. It's a statistic that's been bandied about for years, and I'd never heard it challenged, but it turns out even the crack team at Friendly Atheist was aware of the dubious validity of the statistics. It reminds me of the time that I hastily reposted a survey on religion and sex conducted by Darrel Ray, the results of which formed the basis of the book Sex & Go

Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying... the ultimate "backsliding" Christian?

If, like me, you grew up in the youth group culture of the 1990s, you've probably heard the term "backsliding" to denote those who fell back into the worldly ways of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Y'know, because you're either a pious, chaste Christian or a self-loathing angry hedonist – no middle ground! Anyway, if you haven't caught the story in the news yet, here it is: Tim Lambesis is the singer for the mediocre metalcore band As I Lay Dying and the vastly more awesome Austrian Death Machine . He's now facing serious charges after allegedly meeting with an undercover cop who was posing as a hitman, whose services he (Lambesis) solicited to have his estranged wife killed. According to the prosecution, Lambesis met the officer (whom he knew only as "Red") and gave him his wife's name, the security codes to her house, told the 'hitman' a time to do the deed (when he had the kids, so he'd have an alibi), and when asked

10 more things atheists wish Christians knew about them

The other day I came across this great video: an interview with Neil Carter, who participated in an interview at a church in Jackson, MS, in conjunction with the "National Interview an Atheist at Church Day", which is apparently a thing. The longer interview is here , but I enjoyed this excerpt in which he lists 11 things atheists wished Christians knew about them. If you don't want to watch the whole video, they are: We have morals, too! You don't know us better than we know ourselves We don't deep down believe in your particular god (sorry, Ray Comfort) We don't hate your particular god  We don't all disbelieve because something bad happened to us Believing isn't a choice Most of us used to be Christians, too Quoting the Bible doesn't work like a Jedi mind trick We don't worship the devil Hell doesn't scare us; to us, it doesn't even make sense We aren't all anti-theists The last one is sort of soft-ball accommod

A theologian speaks on evolution – profundity does not ensue

It's perhaps not particularly well known that the theologian William Lane Craig is what biologist Larry Moran would call an IDiot – an advocate of Intelligent Design Creationism. In fact, he's a fellow at the ironically named Discovery Institute, along with a litany of other theologians, lawyers, and lots of other people who aren't, golly I dunno, biologists . He took a crack at debating Fransisco Ayala, who is notable for being both a biologist and an evangelical Christian (and a darling of the John Templeton Foundation). I didn't watch the debate because, well, I don't give a shit what a theologian thinks about biology. But sometimes (well... lots of times) they make such stupid remarks that I can't resist the urge for rebuke. Which brings me to my recent visit to , Craig's website. In a recent "Question of the Week" segment , he's asked to clarify his view of evolution. He doesn't specifically mention Intelligent

It's... alive!

If you've followed this blog for any significant length of time, you've undoubtedly noticed that I tend to go in spurts. I'll be churning out blasphemous content practically daily, and then... nothing. Well, this is one of those 'nothing' times. Part of it is old-fashioned writer's block. I've got a post drafted about the nature of apologetic arguments, but y'know, inspiration isn't exactly overflowing. I find myself caring less about apologists, anyway. The other part of it is that I'm spending lots of time with my girlfriend and with my guitar. My two favorite things! I also nabbed a new guitar and amp this week, which means even writing this took an unusually high degree of self-motivation. In any case, I'm sure inspiration will strike soon. In the meantime... well, I dunno. Karate. Oh, and on another note, my blog is right around the 300,000 view mark. That's pretty pathetic, actually – Jerry Coyne has something like 20 milli

The dark pit of MLMs

I have a friend, whom I'll call Robocop for privacy purposes, who some time ago got pulled into an MLM. It seemed pretty innocuous at first, but as time has gone on I've been reminded more and more why I really, really hate MLMs – it's no exaggeration to say that they destroy lives. So the MLM that Robocop has gotten into sells what I'll call Product X. Product X, so the claims go, is not like similar products you can find for significantly less money in the store; rather, it has a myriad of health benefits that might range from lifting your mood and helping mental focus to putting cancer in remission. As with most such products, a search through Google Scholar will reveal a paucity of data supporting such grandiose claims. Then there are the promises of wealth. Robocop has heard one pitch after another telling him about the high life he'll live as a successful entrepreneur. There are pamphlets with pictures of big mansions and expensive sports cars, all with t