Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bas van Fraassen on Materialism

Found linked at Vic Reppert's blog was this piece by Bas van Fraassen on Materialism and Naturalism, saying what I've been saying for years now, but doing so better.

One great quote: To identify what naturalism is, apart from something praiseworthy, I have found nigh-impossible.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thomism and the Common Man

If there's one objection I have to Thomism, it's not with the content so much as the approach I see Thomism offering. See, I'm a big fan of Ed Feser, and due to him, a growing fan of scholastic and classical thought. I've learned a tremendous amount by my spur-of-the-moment decision to buy The Last Superstition when it first came out, and it's done wonders for sharpening my understanding of formal and final causes, of just what Thomists (and Cartesians, for that matter) mean by the 'soul', the obfuscation often in play by materialists, etc. To put it simply, there's a tremendous amount of knowledge there. I'm still absorbing it, and the more I absorb, the more I see how modern philosophy has gone wrong.

But... there is one problem I have. The problem is that Thomism is just not really accessible for the average person. And like it or not, Christianity - while having a ferociously potent intellectual and philosophical tradition - is not thoroughly a religion for the intellectual or the philosopher. And by that I mean is, it seems obviously meant to be more accessible than that. This is not to say that Thomism is not valuable, even tremendously so - far from it, especially as a Catholic. It's that I think Thomistic thought and argument should not comprise the entirety of proclaiming the Christian message, or even the theistic message.

Put another way, I think there exist - while imperfect - more accessible arguments for God. Or at least, arguments for the belief that the natural world is self-evidently arranged such that concluding the intention of a mind or minds from it is powerful, natural, and intuitive. And I more and more think that it's there where the conversation with the modern world really has to start. Simple arguments with strong rhetoric, that give a man a reason to suspect a powerful mind or minds in nature. Not a definitive proof of the Christian God, but enough inference of a mind to give a man reason to investigate further, and to approach the world strongly or reasonably suspecting that it does, in fact, have an Author. And if so, that perhaps there's more that can be learned about this Author.

There's a prominent place for Thomism, even now. There's a place for the likes of William Lane Craig. But there also needs to be a place for the common man - and I'm as common as they come - who simply looks at everything from the periodic table to planetary formation to the human circulatory system to evolutionary theory and says, "This really has the look of a mind's work about it."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Meanwhile, at Peter Woit's Blog

Woit and company give their thoughts on Stephen Hawking's musings as of late.

Their short take: Hawking no longer is making much sense (on the cosmological end of things) and has basically given up intellectually. They're engaging in some fairly heavy psychoanalyzing, which I'd normally say is off limits - but Hawking sees fit to psychoanalyze everyone else, so screw it.

Oddly enough, I think what they think may be happening with Hawking may well be happening with far more scientists: Maybe they're getting the sense that we're approaching a wall on the 'big questions' as far as science goes, where all that's left are ideas and no real way to test them. But rather than admit that answers may not be forthcoming, they just swap in speculation and call it science. It's all multiverses, you see!

It reminds me of that bit about the scientists scaling the cosmological mountain only to come across theologians saying "What took you guys so long?" Except in this case, the scientists are looking for what the most comprehensive theories about the universe shall look like, and they find them in a book labeled "Metaphysics".

Which, I suppose, would constitute evidence that hell exists - for certain scientists, anyway.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life After Death - A Curveball

One problem I've had with the claim that there is no life after death is that it involves making a bet that even a die-hard atheist shouldn't be confident making.

See, the focus is normally on particular kinds of life after death - "you die and then you're in heaven/some place". Now, I think there's actually some very suggestive evidence there, empirical and philosophical and otherwise.

Now what about actual physical resurrection? That's key in the Christian tradition of course, and apparently so in the jewish and muslim ones as well. Oddly enough - without getting into questions of deeper metaphysics - superficially it seems even a materialist would have to entertain the logical possibility of life after death if it's put in the form of a resurrection. Put the right matter back the right way and, there you go - death undone.

But here's where the problem comes in. Eternity... that's a very long time, and even the atheist is going to believe in eternity by and large. And if at death you either don't have consciousness, or don't have the right sort of consciousness, any resurrection of your body at any point is going to make any amount of time pass in a blink for you. Couple that with matter/energy being unable to be truly destroyed as opposed to changed - according to scientific theory - and it seems to me you have reason to be pretty spooked about the possibility of life after death, even if you're an atheist.

Granted, this leaves all kinds of specifics up in the air, and it's certainly not a proof of *heaven* or the like. My greater point here is that a lot of things can happen given eternity, and there is no quicker way to wait through eternity than to die or sleep through it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Well, that's pretty culty

Just saw a New Atheist (complete with the self-description of "gnu atheist") over at Valicella's blog. The cult-like behavior practically glowed off his responses.

* Constantly talking about "we". As in "what we, gnu atheists, believe". You know, because he's a representative. Because he's even conducted a single scientific poll. Not only making use of this word and imagined position, but doing so incessantly - practically every other sentence is "we gnu atheists believe" or "we gnu atheists want".

* As mentioned, he was pretty much pulling gnu beliefs out of his ass. "Gnus are against pseudoscience!" Well, every person thinks they're against pseudoscience. Even the timecube guy. The idea that gnus are - as a group - against eugenics though? That's laughable.

* Defending the idea that anyone or anything lacking a belief in God is an atheist, expressly including spark plugs. So, you know, apparently I flushed an atheist down the toilet this morning, and Magic Johnson became ill when his body was adversely affected by various atheists invading his body. Anything at all in order to avoid being put on the defensive, it seems. Including sounding creepy and crazy.

* Insisting that most people understand evolutionary theory adequately, then admitting he has no data on this. Remember, science is important, but don't let that stop you from making claims about whatever you want when the data is lacking. Likewise for the 'gnu atheists focus on arguments for theism that are bad and popular because that's why most people believe in God'. Right, because - given Dawkins' mangling of Aquinas' and other's beliefs in his own book, we can trust gnus not to construct strawmen? We can trust them to even be aware of them?

But really, the whole thing was just freaking culty. In my anecdotal experience, the creepier religious people I've ever come into contact with communicated much like this. The irrationality, the droning, the hivemind attitude. I get the impression that the one benefit of someone coming up with that 'gnu' label is you'll be able to identify a nutjob and/or a supreme asshole far more easily now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Who Wants God to Exist?

For some reason, I never see this question asked, or at least not nearly enough:

"Do you wish the God of Christianity existed?"

Clearly you could guess the answer in most cases - I'm talking new atheists here - but still, I think it's important to ask the question that way. Though I also suspect most NAs would refuse to answer the question.

Another question I'd like to see thrown around:

"If the God of Christianity was here right now, what would you say to Him? Not ask, but say."

I've asked this one myself to a few people. If recollection serves, each response has just been something close to a string of expletives.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Well, I'm Stunned.

Well, damn. Well done, sir. I laughed out loud at several points, and I'm a pretty stodgy bastard when it comes to humor.

It's rare to find someone who can mix anything approaching conservative positions with humor, but this was damn near flawless. And on a social issue no less.

I haven't seen much of his other work, but this guy's style should be regarded as a kind of blueprint.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More Atheist Sightings

Paraphrased: "How come Christians never let me argue against THEIR God? Instead they always want to talk about why there's something rather than nothing, or first causes or things like that! I don't want to talk about those gods, I want to talk about theirs!"

Except an atheist isn't supposed to deny only that specific God over there, but God and gods, period. And understanding those fundamental attributes of God is, and has historically been treated as, key for understanding the specifically Christian God. Imagine trying to justify the existence of whales to a man who denies the existence of all aquatic life. You try to explain the plausibility of how a creature could move and live underwater, and he just gets angry: No, he wants to talk about WHALES. All this talk about fins and algae and so on, he doesn't want to hear about it.

Whales are so improbable and ridiculous-sounding after all - why, how would they move and what would they eat?