Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Problem of Evil?

Been seeing some philosophers discussing the problem of evil and theodicy lately. My response is "eh". I admit, the problem of evil hasn't struck me as a real problem for years - especially since the objection has, by even most atheist accounts, switched from a logical to an evidential problem.

I realize that the PoE is thought of as one of the two main, actual problems for the theistic position. I think that says far more about the emptiness of atheism than anything else. And it's actually one reason I have some qualified respect for the Intelligent Design guys - since most of them will flatly say, "We're merely defending design, not saying anything about the designer - theodicy is another field. If malaria looks like it was designed, then sorry, design is inferred."

Which leads me to a comment I made in Feser's thread: What I find funny about 'evil god' arguments is that they strike me as more plausible than atheism. Vastly less plausible than classical theism or theism generally, but yeah - the case for Cthulhu or Ares is actually better, by my estimation, than for atheism.

Flying spaghetti monster, indeed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

When is a virus not a virus?

Susan Blackmore throws in the towel on the "Religion is a virus" schtick.

Blackmore, who has largely functioned as a seneschal in the service of Dan Dennett's philosophy of mind (as well as a CSISOP member), bought into and promoted this idea for... you know, I'm pretty sure it's been for years now. So it's rather noteworthy that she's throwing in the towel on this one, and in a very thorough manner. From Blackmore's perspective, religion is no longer a virus from a genetic or societal point of view.

Now, I never bought into this idea to begin with because 'viral' in the way Blackmore is defining it (even as she defines it in the article) requires speaking in terms of harm, which in turn gets into value judgments. Now, I believe in objective goods and intrinsic values, but I know it's not the stuff of science, so her project was irrelevant to me from the start. Still, I thought, interesting to see that even on her own terms the idea failed.

Interesting enough, right? But there's one problem, easy to miss.

See, the data that turned Blackmore on this question was comparative data: Stack the religious up against the irreligious and measure their traits. On sizable number of them, the religious fared better.

But... what if we reversed all the results in question? Switched the irreligious with the religious?

And there's the problem. Blackmore isn't abandoning her position because of some fundamental flaw with the 'theory' in question, but because the data that informs the theory went the wrong way. But if the religious are performing so well compared to the irreligious... then isn't secularism, or atheism, a virus itself by those very same standards?

When is a virus not a virus? When the right people have it, apparently.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Coyne versus PZ Myers!

So, Coyne and PZ Myers are squaring off against each other. Atheist fight! I'm sorry - Gnu fight.

In the left corner we have Jerry Coyne, the Shemp of the New Atheists. He would believe in God if a 900 foot tall Jesus appeared to him, or if a man claiming to be Jesus descended from the sky, turned a prominent atheist's arms into tentacles, mocked him, turned the arms back into arms, then disappeared again. If the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man appeared in Manhattan and started to scale 55 Central Park West, I assume Jerry Coyne would worship it. But it hasn't yet, so he's an atheist.

In the right corner we have PZ Myers. PZ Myers believes that there is no possible evidence or argument for the existence of God or gods, and if he personally witnessed any kind of miracle or if the Virgin Mary appeared to him personally, he would conclude it was just a "natural" thing that science hadn't figured out yet, or that he had brain damage. Myers claims that nothing, nada, no event or argument is possible to make a rational person conclude 'the divine' exists.

Watch in amazement as the barons of internet atheism exchange blows! See Coyne meekly suggest Myers is not approaching the question rationally, and whimper at the embarrassment of having his position on atheism derided as irrational! See Myers imply Coyne is an accomodationist as he jousts for supremacy to the cheers of his followers! See the accomodationists warn that acting like Myers is a sure way to make everyone think atheism is for misfits and idiots! See the anti-accomodationists engage in flights of fantasy about the coming atheistic age! Watch their comments-section flock alternately cower in confusion as the leaders of the Gnu herd squabble amongst themselves! See some of them pick sides and declare the others' beliefs anathema!

But mostly, see how hilariously petty, egotistical, and just plain Goddamn dumb these guys are. And by "see" I mean just ignore it, because you have better things to do with your time.

Now and then, I see atheists talk about how they have to fight back against theism, and get in people's faces and... you know, basically be an asshole on the internet. Well, I have advice for theists - maybe it's time to fight back against atheism. And by that I mean, stop treating it as worthy of consideration among the rational and well-read. Stop seeking out debates with these attention whores. It won't happen though. Too many egos in play on all sides.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Here come the gnus!

Incidentally, if you've noticed the more slow and obnoxious internet denizens referring to themselves as 'gnus' lately, be noted that this is apparently the latest trend of "New Atheists".

I imagine it's a step up. Previously being known as a "New Atheist" largely branded a person as stupid, ill-mannered, loud and socially autistic. But being known as a gnu? They can keep all those labels, and pick up "herd thinker" and "suspiciously cultlike" too!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Speaking frankly.

Pardon me, but I want to speak frankly, and briefly, on the subject of homosexuality.

In fact, I'll be polite here and put the frank language past the click. If you don't like frankness, come back later. I'll be talking more about Stephen Hawking or the like.

When's the last time you remember anal or oral sex coming up in a conversation about homosexuality?

See, I've been arguing about this for years, and somehow this aspect of things - largely the point of it all - has never come up. So I decided to bring it up with a religious friend of mine who is also liberal theologically and politically.

Friend: (finishing up giving his view) ..And I just think that if two people love each other, then their having a relationship is beautiful and right.
Me: What about the anal?
Friend: Bweh? What ?
Me: You know. Cock going into the ass. Anal sex. Oral too, but the anal sex is sorta central and...
Friend: What does that have to do with anything?
Me: Everything? It's not like the problem is that two guys like each other a lot and spend a lot of time together. It's the..
Friend: Right, okay.
Me: ..the ass-fucking.
Friend: Quit saying that!
Me: Why? I'm just getting to the point.
Friend: There's a lot more to homosexuality than THAT!
Me: Yeah. Most of it is beside the point, though. You take out all the sodomy and the sexual stuff and what's left? It's not like I have a problem with two guys going on boating trips together.
Friend: ...Fine, but...
Me: 'cause that's the Navy. Nothing wrong with the Navy.
Friend: Right, sure, but...
Me: Unless they have an--
Me: Yeah, but like I said. Hey, if there's more to it than that, there's no problem, right?
Friend: What do you mean?
Me: Guys can hang out together, do stuff, share each other's company and so on. Just nothing sexual, and none of that stuff you won't let me talk about.
Friend: That's like asking married couples not to have sex!
Me: I don't think they should be ass-fucking either, so...
Friend: It's different!
Me: So, you're pretty much saying assfucking is a non-negotiable part of the relationships in question, at least for the guys.
Friend: ...
Me: Doesn't that strike you as really odd?
Friend: I don't want to talk about this anymore.
Me: Fine, fine...

I mean, I have this right, don't I? I flip through my CCC and go back to the teachings and all, and it's not like the church has a problem with guys who go camping together or even live together. It's the sodomy. Sure, and the inclinations towards sodomy, but those are just like any other inclinations sin-wise.

And yet, this never comes up. Ever. I mean it when I say I've been reading a lot of these debates for years, and the damn central issue has been danced around.

Well, to hell with it, I'm speaking bluntly about it from now on. I don't care if two guys enjoy each other's company, even quite a lot. It's the sodomy, the anal sex, and the cultural and personal aspects connected to it that's the problem.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Reverse-Strawmanning

This is a pattern I've seen repeatedly when it comes to discussing New Atheist arguments online:

1) New Atheist writes an article about religion or science, making several claims or arguments.
2) The claims turn out to be inane, or the arguments horrible and muddled.
3) An atheist faithful rushes in to excuse and defend their hero.
4) Their "defense" doesn't involve defending what the New Atheist actually wrote and meant. Instead, they either attempt to get to the same conclusion as the NA by using different (if broadly similar) arguments the NA in question did not himself use in the article, or they use the "what I think he really means is..." trick to have the NA say something entirely different than he did with different points and conclusions.

I could tack on 5) Even these reworked or imagined arguments tend to be crappy, but the real point is this: When you start to explicitly change what your hero is saying in the hopes of making him sound less idiotic, you're not really helping him out. If anything you're silently arguing that not only is the NA in question a sloppy thinker, but he can't even communicate his own thoughts well. Or that you're willing to make excuses and just imagine someone is saying what you prefer them to say for whatever reason, probably because it's emotionally important to you.

Case in point: Brandon's post over at Siris points out how Coyne's recent USA Today piece is just horrible. The man can't even think up analogies that actually work, much less provide arguments that get him to the conclusion he's trying to arrive at. So what's the response from one commenter?

"I think what Coyne, and others are doing, without ever saying so is using science as a synonym for rational methods or thinking. Thus, they include mathematics, logic, some philosophy and the various sciences under the term science. In a way this makes sense, after all, science is an offshoot of philosophy and you'd be hard pressed to do anything much in science without a lot of maths. But science as a discipline can't explain half of what we claim to know."

I wonder why "Coyne and others" are doing this "without ever saying so"? I mean, it's not for lack of opportunity - by any measure most NAs tend to run at the mouth. But hey, it can't be that "Coyne and others" actually mean what they say when they say the word "science", right? Because "science as a discipline can't explain half of what we claim to know", and you'd have to be pretty uninformed or confused or just plain dull to think otherwise, and guys like Coyne... well, they can't have stupid ideas, can they?

So no, Coyne can't possibly be saying something stupid. Therefore, he has to mean something utterly different than what he's saying, without ever saying so.

Of course, the rest of the reply includes bold claims that science, and apparently some philosophy, has proven that "we don't have souls" and that "mind arises from the brain". At the very least he's sure that Catholic ideas about the soul can't be true because... well, "because strokes", apparently. I won't even go into how credulous and uninformed the kid in question is. But I will mention a side point.

See, the New Atheist movement did have some modest success in one particular aim that no one likes to talk about. I'll put it bluntly: New Atheism appeals to idiots. And I'm not saying that you have to be an idiot to be an atheist (It doesn't hurt!), or that the New Atheists tried but failed to attract intelligent people. I'm saying New Atheism, dwindled though its star may be, was crafted right from the get-go to pick up numbers among unintelligent people, and that some success was had here. In part because New Atheism was marketed as a way to become very smart overnight: Just become an atheist, and (it was strongly implied) you'll be more intelligent than your peers! You'll have a higher IQ overnight! You'll be a Bright!

And before you point out that that's an easy marketing gimmick to see through, I'll just remind you that this wasn't a ploy aimed at actually intelligent people. Rather like how Ponzi scheme artists don't seek out people who have a good understanding of economics, and in fact would prefer they did not.