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Showing posts from February, 2014

Farewell, Paco de Lucia

While I can't say that Paco directly influenced my own guitar playing much, I always loved listening to his music.




Spanish Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia dies at 66

William Lane Craig on what God is made of

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From Reasonablefaith.org: 

This strikes me as exemplifying the central problem with theism: that it's so ill-defined.
God is immaterial, so he's not "anything", but he's not nothing.God is an incorporeal mind, but is not like minds we've observed, which are governed by subconscious cognition that arises from embodied physical brains.God is omnipotent or "maximally powerful", but there are many things God cannot do, so he's only conditionally omnipotent.God apparently created natural laws, yet seems somehow descriptively constrained by the laws of classical logic (i.e., God cannot embody a true contradiction). If this is a limitation of human minds, then we can only conclude that God is ineffable and that natural theology is a farce. God can exist timelessly, but is still capable of change (including cognition).God is perfect, but can have a change of his conscious state.God is perfectly good, but allows natural suffering because it's part of…

Did William Lane Craig really do that?

I was reading Sean Carroll's post-debate thoughts, and I had remembered seeing William Lane Craig's rephrasing of the Kalam somewhere else just after the debate. Sean confirmed it in his blog, and I just can't believe what I'm reading. Surely a professional philosopher (as he certainly likes to think of himself) can see the barn-door-sized fallacy here. This is the version of the Kalam that Craig used in the debate:
If the universe began to exist, it has a transcendent cause for its existenceThe universe began to existTherefore, the universe has a transcendent cause for its existence What's changed from previous renditions is the first premise, which used to simply say "Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence". Craig added the term transcendent.

Now, I have personally argued in the past that this much is obvious. We clearly can't be talking about the mundane type of physical causality we actually observe in the universe, because t…

Why I'm an atheist: a reply to Tom Gilson

I last encountered Tom Gilson back when I did my 13-part review of True Reason, a book that attempted to offer a Christian counter to the perspective of the so-called "new atheists". Tom popped over in the comments and, suffice to say, we did not see eye to eye.

I highly doubt that's going to change any time soon. But Tom does have a cool idea for a project: a series called Why I Believe – Evidence for the Faith. His plan is to offer a cumulative case for the truth of Christianity through philosophical, historical, and theological arguments.

My deconversion was sort of a two-step process: first in the rejection of Christianity in exchange for a sort of vaguely defined agnostic theism, and then from there into full-fledged atheism. And since, judging by the table of contents, Tom's series appears to be covering a lot of the ground the led me to deconvert, this seems like an opportune time to provide a contrarian point of view.

I'll be offering replies to each of …

The darker angels of our nature

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Nazis turned people into soap.

Simon-Baron Cohen's outstanding book The Science of Evil begins with an unsettling account of the Nazi's ruthless efficiency, turning humans into slave laborers and, in some cases, into a variety of household products. The question, Cohen explains, is how humans can turn other humans into objects – to completely strip ourselves of empathy toward their suffering and view them as products, as bags of meat.

Bags of meat. When I watch this short silent clip from the documentary Samsara, I sense the same sort of erosion of empathy. Don't worry, the clip is not graphic, at least not in the sense of being violent or bloody:



I watch this and see an unsettling reason why, if we don't simply start going vegetarian entirely, we should be reducing our dependence on animal products and – when we do consume them – buying local, grass-fed and organic meats and animal products. They don't show the slaughter in this video, and it's not the cold…

Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig will debate tonight, and I'm already disappointed

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William Lane Craig is an experienced debater and a skilled rhetorician – that much is not in doubt. Whether you think he's a capable philosopher skillfully undermining the case for atheism or a glorified Christian apologist polishing tired and ineffectual arguments with a new sheen of obfuscatory rhetorical bullshit is likely a matter of where you sit on the fence with your own religious beliefs.

Craig's opponents over the years have ranged from the rhetorically skilled and intellectually incisive to the blundering and confused, and I'm confident that tonight he'll be facing one of the former: Caltech physicist Sean Carroll. Often, Craig gains an edge over his opponents by knowing enough science to appear authoritative, which confuses philosophers (as was the case recently with Alex Rosenberg); or, he gains a rhetorical advantage over scientists with his rich vocabulary of philosophy. Carroll, however, is a scientist well-schooled in philosophy. Better still, Carroll i…

An atheist and a theologian had a talk about evidence...

I don't remember where I saw it recently, but I read something discussing evidence of the roundness of the Earth. It's something that so many of us take as a rigorously established fact that we're pretty confident that flat-Earthers are a bunch of nutcases. But the point to consider is that our knowledge that the Earth is round is, itself, predicated on a litany of epistemic assumptions that we tend to take for granted in our everyday discourse.

It's predicated on the reliability (or "truth", if you want to go there) of mathematics, the reliability of the laws of optics and of our optical equipment. And yes, even though there are people who have gone into space and actually orbited the Earth, some might say that even that evidence is predicated on the nature of our phenomenal conscious experience, the reliability of intersubjectivity, and on and on.


When you throw theology into the mix, these concepts can rear their heads pretty quickly:

Atheist: What is the e…

Worst. Weekend. Ever.

A handful of you may have noticed that I let a few conversation threads slide the last couple of days both here and over at Randal's blog. Early Friday evening I started feeling sick to my stomach, and I ended up in pretty bad shape. Fever, projectile everything, even fainted at one point and slammed my head on the bathroom floor. Luckily my lovely fiance stayed by my side and took care of me, but needless to say it's been a hell of an ordeal and definitely not how we envisioned spending Valentine's Day. My appetite is gradually returning, as is my strength. I got extremely dehydrated, so for now I'm just trying to slam down all the water my stomach will tolerate. Hopefully I can get plenty of food and rest today and be back to normal Monday.

What is God's mind like?

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Warning: George Lakoff's book Philosophy in the Flesh is probably going to be giving me ideas for posts for a while. Apologies if it gets annoying.


In the previous post, some conversation arose on the nature of God. Theists generally claim that God possesses clearly-defined ontic properties – most notably among them (for this post) conscious thought. God, as William Lane Craig would be quick to tell you, is a "disembodied mind".

One of the bizarre paradoxes of consciousness is that we are not aware of our own process of reasoning. Lakoff illustrates this early on in his book:
Consider, for example, all that is going on below the level of conscious awareness when you are in a conversation. Here is only a small part of what you are doing, second by second: Accessing memories relevant to what is being said Comprehending a stream of sound as being language, dividing it into distinctive phonetic features and segments, identifying phonemes, and grouping them into morphemes  A…

Do new atheists look down on philosophy?

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Massimo Pigliucci, who is both an academic philosopher and an atheist, hasn't pulled any punches in his criticism of "new atheists" (srsly, the term is getting pretty old, people) supposedly thinking philosophy is a waste of time and/or just being really totally ignorant of the vast annals of philosophical literature. He's ignited the criticism again recently, and it's resulted in an all out... wait for it... Twitter and blog war (oh my!) of epic proportions.

Other atheist philosophers who are friendlier with the "gnu" crowd, like Dan Dannett and A.C. Grayling, don't seem to indulge in the kind of fierce attacks on other people's intellectual credibility that Pigliucci does. So, what's got Massimo in such a tiff?


It's notable that I've recently been revisiting a book by George Lakoff called Philosophy of the Flesh, in which he basically says that pretty much all of Western philosophy is a farce. The problem is that traditionally, phi…

22 questions from creationists – answered in one sentence

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Following the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, an article from Buzzfeed in which 22 creationists pose questions for people who believe in evolution has been floating around Facebook a fair bit, so I decided to answer them all. In one sentence.


1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

He teaches kids about science, so yes.



2. Are you scared of a Divine Creator?

I can't be scared of something I don't think exists, but it's a false dilemma because lots of believers still accept modern science – including evolution.


3. Is it completely illogical that the earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings… Adam created as an adult…

Yes, because it conflicts with everything we've learned from multiple disciplines of science over many centuries.


4. Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove Evolution?

The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that entropy never decreases in a closed system, but the Earth is not a closed system because it …

Moar debates! Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye, Sean Carroll vs. William Lane Craig

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I'm really not a fan of debates. They're a contest of rhetorical aptitude, not a way of disseminating truth from falsehood. And I've seen far too many formal academic-style debates in which the two interlocutors spent most of their time talking past each other rather than in dialogue with one another, so predictably no one's opinions on either side is either changed or challenged. But there are two interesting debates coming up that just might be worth checking out.

1. Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham



So. Bill Nye "The Science Guy" (he's not actually a scientist) vs. young-Earth creationist and Biblical literalist Ken Ham, who is probably most famous for heading up the unintentionally hilarious Creation Museum in Kentucky, as well as heading up Answers In Genesis.

There's quite a bit of hoopla over whether it's appropriate to give someone like Ken Ham a forum for their nutbaggery. There's also concern over whether Nye is actually going to take the time to …