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Showing posts from May, 2014

Why don't theists admit they're wrong? Perhaps it's a lack of empathy

Easily my favorite part of writing this blog is the fact that I'm fortunate to have a small but engaged and wonderfully insightful readership. And shortly after my previous post Why don't theists admit they're wrong? hit the front page, I had some great comments that spurred me to reflect a bit more on these perpetual impasses. I don't think I've found any precise methodology for shifting another's perspective from what I referred to as a 'defensive mind' to an 'inquisitive mind', but I think the key may lie in our ability to empathize with others.

Consider for example that one could argue til they're blue in the face with someone who is convinced that homosexuals are depraved human beings; but immerse them in a community in which they must cooperate with homosexuals, and it becomes much more likely that they'll be receptive to a shift in ideology. This is why religious conservatives are so terrified of secular colleges corrupting their …

Why don't theists admit they're wrong?

I've been through at least two major shifts in my perspective – one, my deconversion from Christianity some 15 years ago; the other, my deconversion from a self-described 'theistic agnostic' to a full-blown atheist. Both were gradual processes, with the resulting outlook the culmination of many months, and in some cases years, of critical reflection.

My transition from agnostic theist to agnostic atheist was rather unremarkable. Nothing really changed in my daily life, though I did seem to get heckled a bit more by family. They've long since backed down though, and at the end of the day I'm not really convinced there's much if any functional difference between someone who holds to a vaguely defined theism and someone who identifies as an atheist. They may disagree on issues like fine-tuning, creation, and near-death experiences, but those are generally relegated to the margins – they're coffee-table discussions interesting only to other armchair philosopher…

I wrote a book! Well, part of a book....

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Check out Beyond an Absence of Faith, a collection of essays on deconversion. I contributed an essay, as did my esteemed brothers-in-blog Bud Uzoras and Tristan Vick. The book spent a while in development hell, so to speak, and I honestly have no recollection of what I wrote or whether it's any good or not. But the collection of voices in this book is most certainly impressive, and it's a great read for anyone curious about what it's like to go through the process of deconversion and find a renewed sense of hope, morality, meaning, and self-worth.


Metaphysics with Steven Jake, part 2

Steven offered a response to my previous post over at his blog, so I'd like to take the time to offer another response. This will be my last post on the topic, as at a certain point it just becomes an endless morass – though I'm looking forward to a final response from Steven, which I'll link to from this post should he pen one.

Anyway, into the rabbit hole. I'll be replying in a more conventional style, hitting what I feel are the more relevant points:
If one claims that metaphysics is simply vacuous speculation that can obtain no knowledge, and that it cannot answer any questions that science cannot, then this is itself a metaphysical assertion! A key part of my argument is that I think the term 'metaphysics' is ambiguously defined, as is the notion of what constitutes a 'metaphysical question'. I think the historically shifting, broad, and often non-specific use of the terms makes my argument for me, and that's a case of what we're running int…

More on metaphysics, with Steven Jake

Steven Jake of The Christian Agnostic and I have had some interesting discussions of metaphysics in the past, and he took the time to respond to my previous post, The Death of Metaphysics. You can read his original post in its entirety here, but I wanted to go ahead and repost my reply to him here for my own readers. Enjoy.

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Steven,

First, thanks for engaging this topic with me. There are plenty of people who visit my blog who agree with me, so it's healthy to be challenged on my views.

It's interesting you make the statement that we are all metaphysicians, as Lakoff makes the same statement in Philosophy of the Flesh. And it's true, in the sense that we ask ourselves questions like "What is the self", "what is causality", etc. etc., and these have been at least traditionally seen as metaphysical questions. But my point is, along the lines of Lakoff, that the use of the term is antiquated. My concern is whether…

The death of metaphysics

I've had a difficult time understanding the point of metaphysics over the years, despite quite a few armchair philosophers (mostly theists) telling me metaphysics are really important. It doesn't help that the very term "metaphysics" is ambiguously defined, and its usage varies depending on which dead philosopher you read and which living philosopher (armchair or otherwise) you talk to. Reading through the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on metaphysics just adds to the confusion; the definition of metaphysics has changed over time (and in my experience, predictably, plenty of people still operate on the more archaic usages of the term), and the 'metaphysical problems' highlighted in the article struck me as either being scientific problems or semantic conceptual problems – I couldn't see any particular reason to think that the word 'metaphysics' is useful.


What is 'real', anyway?

I've mentioned recently that I'm re…

Luthier bashes gays, metal community unites in denouncing him

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Vik Kuletski is the owner/namesake of Vik Guitars. Just a couple of years ago, Vik's guitars were the talk of the metal community – rare, expensive, and highly sought after. Not to mention sexy:


He'd already been a bit on the skids after a combination of customer service issues (major backlogs for orders, orders continually being pushed back, etc.) and some dickish comments he made on Facebook about others stealing his designs. But today, he went a bit too far. The comment looks innocuous at first:

The comment is in reference to Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert of the metal band Cynic, who recently came out as gay; Paul is known for playing Strandberg guitars, which are headless. In case the connection wasn't totally clear, Per Nilsson, virtuoso guitarist for the metal band Scar Symmetry, replied thusly:

The shitstorm ensued from there, with Vik digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole with uglier comments, most of which he's since deleted. But, it was too late, and…

Near-death experiences: hooey

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In case you missed it, neuroscientist Steve Novella (who pens the fabulous blog Neurologica) and physicist Sean Carroll recently took on Evan Alexander, a neurosurgeon and author of the hugely popular book Heaven is Real, and Ray Moody, a psychologist and longtime advocate of near-death experiences, in a debate about whether there really is an afterlife or not. The full debate is a lengthy one, but I just wanted to offer a quick comment based on Novella's arguments around the 55 minute mark.




Novella is talking about attempts to introduce scientific controls into near-death experience (NDE) experiments, since the preponderance of evidence for NDEs is from uncontrolled, anecdotal reports. The example he uses is that of cards facing the ceiling, so you could only see them if you were floating above your body.

But the very idea of people "looking down on their bodies", which seems to be a common element of NDEs, is pretty hard evidence against NDEs because it betrays the lo…

SCOTUS: Prayers at town hall meetings are constitutional

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From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a town in upstate New York did not violate the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month” who was almost always Christian. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that divided the court’s more conservative members from its liberal ones, said the prayers were merely ceremonial. They were neither unduly sectarian nor likely to make members of other faiths feel unwelcome. “Ceremonial prayer,” he wrote, “is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.” In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her gover…

I get mail

I couldn't make this up if I tried:

From: Michael Fedorski You have no idea what you are talking about. Like most amateurs , you overstate the abilities of science and do not even realize its limits and boundaries and scope. Matters that it does not address and cannot address. Science, religion and/or Deism are NOT at war. They are entirely SEPARATE things. People such as Dawkins are ABUSING science. He is just as bad as the Evangelist.

There ARE limitations to the empirical method. Falsifiable science CAN lead to false results- about our universe sometimes. Science does not know 1/1000th of what there is to know about the universe. Some thing we will never know. Science is FALLIBLE HUMAN CREATION . This is all directly from Alex Filippenko.

In science, "laws" are NOT immutable. They CAN be wrong AND ARE OPEN to be modified or discarded. They are NOT above theories or better than. There is NO HIERARCHY WHATSOEVER between theories, laws and hypotheses. The…

How the existence of color undermines the correspondence theory of truth

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For the second time in recent memory, an in-depth discussion of philosophy and metaphysics has me re-visiting a book that has been extremely influential to my point of view: George Lakoff's Philosophy in the Flesh. Lakoff's thesis is a bold one: that virtually the entirety of Anglo-American analytic and postmodern philosophy are completely wrong, and not in a trivial way but in one so fundamental that philosophers ought to be completely re-thinking their approach to the 'big questions'.

The central themes in the book are:
The mind is inherently embodiedMost reasoning is subconscious, and we do not have access to itThe concepts we form to abstract metaphysics and other such abstractions are derived from our embodiment and cannot have meaning without it
I started re-reading the book yesterday, and one of my favorite examples comes early on in which Lakoff argues that color does not exist, but is rather a construct of the human subconsciousness interpreting the physical wo…