Monday, May 31, 2010

There's Something About Daniel Part I: The Brights


You know who I miss? Daniel Dennett.

Not that he's really gone anywhere. He's still alive as of this writing. Still at Tufts, I believe. Probably still teaching, maybe even still writing books and articles.

But he's gone in other ways. Gone from the New Atheism the way Dave Chappelle is gone from stand-up and sketch comedy - he's an increasingly foggy memory, despite so much initial fame. When everyone was saying "I'm Rick James, Bitch!" in comedy-loving circles, budding wannabe internet philosophers were quoting Dan Dennett's gems.

What's that? You don't remember him? Come on! This is Daniel freaking Dennett! Right-hand man to none other than Clinton Richard Dawkins! One of the original Four Horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse! You know that whole "Brights" thing? He was one of the guys who came up with that!

And there we have one of the reasons I miss Dan: His train-wrecks. And man, was The Brights Movement ever a train-wreck. Sounded good on paper, I'm sure: A snazzy new name to refer to atheists (particularly materialist atheists) with! Something to fill them with pride so they speak out about their views! So sayeth Dan, "Let's get America's candidates thinking about how to respond to a swelling chorus of brights. With any luck, we'll soon hear some squirming politician trying to get off the hot seat with the feeble comment that "some of my best friends are brights.""

Dan (and to be fair, others) missed out on a few key points:

* Getting committed, materialist atheists to speak up isn't a problem. In fact, despite being a tiny minority, it's remarkably difficult to get them to shut up - no matter the context, no matter the forum, no matter how off-topic they're getting - especially on the internet, where every pissant has multiple ant hills to piss from.

* Pride isn't much of a problem either. Again, what Dan wanted to give atheists, they weren't lacking to begin with - see the "have a problem not shutting up" bit. Generally people who run at the mouth on controversial subjects don't really have a confidence probably. More the opposite.

* Which leads us to the name. Brights? Seriously? When this idea was being kicked around at some Liberal Arts Students for Atheism meeting, did anyone raise their hand and say 'You know, if someone told me they were a Bright, I wouldn't even wait to hear what that meant - I'd figure I was dealing with some kind of pompous jackass'?

You don't hear much about the Brights anymore, because it went over like a lead freaking balloon. Religious believers had a field day, with atheists proving that even self-righteousness and sanctimony wasn't a market theists had cornered. Non-atheist irreligious squirmed and distanced themselves from the very word, and in the process the movement itself. Atheists with something close to social tact quietly and quickly abandoned the bandwagon, wincing whenever their compatriots with the more potent strains of social dysfunction proudly bandied their Asshole Credentials in a public forum. To Dan's credit, he achieved one part of his aims: squirming was involved.

That's what that special something about Daniel Dennett is: He's the famous philosopher, one of the original New Atheists... and yet he's the Doctor Evil of secularism. Impressive credentials, big plans, and just about every intellectual move he's ever made has backfired hilariously. He wanted to be the hero in a drama, and ended up as the villain in a comedy.

Dan may have largely retired from the already dwindling New Atheist movement, but I'm more than happy to replay his Bright ideas. They deserve to be remembered.

(And yeah, part of the reason for the post was I wanted an excuse to post that picture. I'm easily amused.)

Sculpt!

Alright, no controversial post today. Instead, something a little more interesting.

Do you want to sculpt, but don't want to make mess with clay and also you have really terrible art skill? Also, are you a cheapskate?

If so, I highly recommend this program. It's tremendously easy to use, and even a complete amateur like me is able to find amusement in crafting some hideous monstrosity in mere minutes with its assistance. Give it a shot!

Davies on New Atheism!

Ed Feser has tossed up a link to a long interview with Fr. Brian Davies, where he touches on a number of topics - including the sputtering, sliding-into-obscurity movement known as New Atheism.

Again, I marvel at this habit of theists in building up the New Atheist arguments before tearing them down. I'm not talking about mere accurate representation. Instead it's closer to providing entirely new, nuanced arguments that conceivably someone could have made, but practically to a man the NA's have not. Reverse-strawmanning, where you respond to something closer to an accurate observation rather than the crass stupidity your opponent actually engaged in. Even perpetually polite David B. Hart recently unloaded on the New Atheists, finally admitting that there just isn't much of substance to the movement as a whole.

I think this attempt to bend over backwards in terms of civility is not only misplaced, but harmful. It's like responding to some ignorant, stubborn anti-semite's yells of "Jews are money grubbing bastards who keep leading the world into war and poverty!" as if he made some kind of intricate argument about American foreign policy towards Israel and the demographics of those employed in the entertainment industry. Sometimes the most apt response is, "Man, you're pretty dense. Get lost."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sense from a Politician!

A rare thing, but Rick Rubio managed to speak some.

I've noticed the same, really. This turning the government into God.

More could be said, at length, but really - of all the things to put one's faith and hope in. Government?

Take whatever crimes one can accuse religion of historically (preferably after reading The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day). They pale in comparison to the sins of government, in way after way.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Argument from Evolution!

I was wondering when someone would make a move like this. It's an argument that evolution points towards towards the truth of Christianity - not merely theism, but Christianity specifically.

I've only glanced at the argument, and at the moment I think it's very interesting but not strongly persuasive as written. Part of the problem for me is that the author's making a very bold move, which in the process elevates evolution to something that smells like necessity for God. I could be misreading it.

That said, I've actually been waiting for these sorts of arguments to surface for a while - you'd think theistic evolutionists would be making them! Some ID proponents make arguments along these lines, but of course most of them are committed to saying their arguments are scientific rather than philosophical, which means most of the commentary is about the appropriateness of the label rather than the merits of their arguments.

My impression is that most TEs avoid making arguments in that direction largely because so many of them are motivated first and foremost by avoiding conflict, particularly with agnostic to atheist colleagues. The received wisdom on 'avoiding conflict' on that front seems to be to just talk about how awesome science is, how compatible it is with religious belief, and to avoid all greater details about this when possible. (Be sure to wring your hands and talk about how complicated and mysterious everything is!) But make a move to argue how evolution comports with design or theism - or worse, points towards it - and you're pretty much saying "Hello, secularists! I'm here to take your favorite toy away from you and use it in the service of something you dislike and are frankly somewhat afraid of!"

Anyway, it's an interesting move so I thought I'd toss it up here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Non-Religious ID Proponents?

Saw this latest post over at the Discovery Institute's central site, very short and zeroing in on the following quote from some schmo over at the Huffington Blog:

“You will never meet a non-religious person who is a proponent of Intelligent Design.”

Crowther makes short work of this quote, but I think it's a bit dicier than he's letting on.

Not that he's wrong on any central point, really. More that it's a Catch-22 situation: If you're a proponent of Intelligent Design, then you will be labeled 'religious', period. Call the designer some kind of Paul Davies style pan(en?)theistic 'Life Principle', or 'An advanced civilization' like Nick Bostrom, or flat out 'aliens' like Raelians. Belief in these things, or even in their possibility, will be casually called a religious belief.

Of course, you don't have to believe in ID to be religious. Hell, you can reject the idea of a creator or creators existing and still be religious (see the usual Buddhism examples, with the 'it's a bit more complicated than that' caveats.) You can believe a pantheist and be religious. You can be an atheist and be religious.

What I'm getting at here is the idea that THOSE people over there are 'religious' whereas THOSE other people are (or one's self is) 'non-religious' has always struck me as bunk. Stanley Fish touches on some of this, at least in a political context, but I think the distinction goes further.

I'll try to boil down my view this way: Do you have a belief/view on the origin of our universe? Existence/reality as a whole? The nature of reality, mind, and existence? Congratulations - you're religious.

Do you have no opinions whatsoever on any of these things? Well, if you've ever had an opinion or even entertained a skeptical point of view about them, you're a liar. And if you haven't, chances are I just spoiled your state of innocence by asking you this very question. Sorry about that.

Energy!

So, earlier today I thought to myself, "Hey, just what the hell IS energy anyway?"

Turns out I'm asking a question physicists themselves have been asking for quite a while now. Shamefully the page I found most informative about this came from a site featuring a winged turtle, a creature I normally wouldn't trust as a cereal mascot, much less to teach me fundamentals of physics.

Thankfully, the money quote there is from cereal-unaffiliated Richard Feynman:

"It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is. We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount."

No knowledge of what energy is? Surely you're joking, Mister Feynman! Ha ha.

Anyway, realizing the ambiguity about what energy "really is" (or more specifically, what our state of knowledge is regarding it) has deep philosophical and intellectual consequences and blah blah blah. Let's put the pontification aside for a moment and have fun.

One of the less known joys of being a Catholic who's actually read about his faith is the ability to do the Immaculate Conception Quiz Trick on unsuspecting people. I'm sure the people who come to this blog are familiar with it: Ask someone who is supposedly knowledgeable about Christianity or Catholicism what the Immaculate Conception is. Most of the time, if you know how to spot a bluffer, they'll say that it's the doctrine that Christ was born of a virgin. At which point you say "No, it's the doctrine that Mary was conceived immaculately, ie without sin". They grumble and either owe you five bucks or, better yet, get exposed as a bullshitter. Either way, it's a fun trick.

So, for those of you with a slight strain of whatever Vox Day has in your blood, I'm going to tip you off to a better trick: Read up on the link I provided, along with a few other associated links, and ask a person what energy really is. Chances are - again, if you know how to spot a bluffer - you're dealing with someone who's never taken the time to learn more than a cursory and pragmatic definition of the word. Enjoy the results.

Hey look, I got a blog.

Finally decided to get a blog of my own for these political / philosophical discussions, which hopefully will keep me from cluttering up the sites of other more interesting people.

Oh, and for added fun I turned on moderation for all comments. I wish I could just pre-select the people who can add comments without giving them post access, which is an obvious feature and is probably included but I'm too tired and slow to figure out how this is done. Either way, here we are.

Not sure what I'll post first, but in the meantime I'll try to figure out how to link the blogs I like reading.