Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sympathy for Intelligent Design

One of the things that keeps my sympathy for ID alive is the systematic failure of its critics to present the idea as ID's most noteworthy proponents do. Each and every time without fail ID gets presented as "The creationist claim that science can show God zapped the bacterial flagellum magically and that science can prove this" or permutations thereof. Always, always there is this shoe-horning of 'creationist' or 'supernatural' or 'miracle' into the claim, or at the very least something like 'a denial that evolution ever takes place'.

Call ID wrong. Call it fatally flawed. But when critics are so petrified of so much as honestly portraying the actual claims made by ID proponents, I find myself forced to defend them again and again.

Lack of belief and guided evolution - a dilemma

Let's say an atheist defines themselves expressly as 'lacking a belief in God's existence' as opposed to 'believing God doesn't exist'. Very common move, usually deployed in an attempt to avoid any and all proof burdens. Normally arguments over this devolve into historical arguments over the usage of the term 'atheist', but I think there's a more productive way to deal with people who make this move.

Just ask them whether they believe evolution is guided.

Consider the following:

God is (for the purpose of this argument) defined as omniscient or omnipotent.
If God is omniscient or omnipotent, then it trivially follows that all physical processes were foreseen and orchestrated by Him in advance.
Evolution is cast as just another physical process.
Ergo, if God exists, then evolution is guided.
Ergo, if someone lacks belief in God's existence - if they neither believe 'God does not exist' or 'God exists' - then they cannot believe that evolution is unguided. At best, they can lack belief that evolution is guided.
On the flipside, if they believe evolution is unguided, then they're going to have to provide evidence for this claim - and that is going to be directly tied up in the claim 'God does not exist.'

I think this move works even if God is reduced to merely 'powerful and knowledgeable', so long as God (or any agent) can in principle affect and determine the course of evolution. Mere lack of belief in God(s) leaves the question of guidance wide open with regards to evolution, but if one commits to evolution being unguided, they are committed to arguing against God's existence. And that would mean we're right back where the atheist did not want to be - in the realm of making claims and having a burden of proof.

I think few atheists are going to be willing to swallow the pill of admitting that, for all they know, evolution is guided - and that they merely lack belief in guidance.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Patricia Churchland interview on Skeptiko

Someone at Feser's blog pointed me at this interview with Patricia Churchland on consciousness and near death experiences. All I'll say is - read this. It's amazing. It really looks to myself as if Churchland just emotionally and intellectually shut down in the course of the exchange. Maybe Churchland thought that a radio show named 'Skeptiko' would automatically be celebratory of her views? You have 'Skeptic' in there after all.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"The marriage bed is undefiled!" said the coprophiliac

One claim I come into contact with when discussing sexual morality is the biblical quote "the marriage bed is undefiled", interpreted to mean that anything a married couple sexually engages in is A-OK and God-blessed. It amazes me each and every time, because really - it seems like the most transparent 'I am trying to stretch these words to justify things I want justified' move I've ever encountered on the subject of biblical morality. At that point I'm basically being told that there's nothing wrong with coprophilia so long as a husband and wife are involved, and that this is a full-blown biblical teaching - which ends up turning more into an argument that Christians shouldn't really be trusted with informing their faith by reading their own bibles more than anything.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Who are we to judge?, contextualized

Courtesy of Getreligion, the full context of Pope Francis' famous 'who am I to judge?' talk.
This is the answer. But I would like to add something else on this: I see that so many times in the Church, outside of this case and also in this case, they go to look for the “sins of youth,” for instance, and this is published. Not the crimes, alas. Crimes are something else: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, the sins.

But if a person, lay or priest or Sister, has committed a sin and then has converted, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is important for our life. When we go to confession and truly say: “I have sinned in this,” the Lord forgets and we don’t have the right not to forget, because we run the risk that the Lord won’t forget our [sins]. That’s a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. I think so many times of Saint Peter: he committed one of the worst sins, which is to deny Christ, and with this sin he was made Pope. We must give it much thought.

But, returning to your more concrete question: in this case, I’ve done the investigatio previa and we found nothing. This is the first question. Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Goodness knows! So much is written of the gay lobby. I still have not met one who will give me the identity card with “gay”. They say that they exist. I think that when one meets a person like this, one must distinguish the fact of being a gay person from the fact of doing a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. That’s bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said and says: “these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.”
You see here one reason that I'm sympathetic to Pope Francis: he's actually saying something that I was saying (to a lot of hostile reactions, I'll add) for a while. He's differentiating between 'the lobby' and 'the person'. He's citing the Catechism. He's doing everything I've long thought should be done, at least in this particular exchange.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Strawman Dialogues: Video Edition

I was going to do another Strawman Dialogues, but I suddenly recalled there's a perfect video illustration for the point I want to make.

I've been sympathetic to people's criticisms of the Francis-hostile forces. The problem is, I'm not a diehard defender of the hierarchy come hell or highwater. They make mistakes. In fact, sometimes they make dumb moves - conservatives and liberals alike. And many times, I can have conversations about this with people who disagree.

But sometimes, I gotta admit... I feel like Zach Cregger's character.

False Ecumenism and the Tyranny of the Aggrieved

In my recent catch-all pile for the ever controversial Codgitator, I tried to make one thing clear: an inane move on the part of a cardinal (or a pope) doesn't somehow become a really great idea just because you call it 'ecumenism' or 'reaching out.' There are such things as bad acts done in the name of ecumenism, and I think Cardinal O'Malley's recent decision to perform a co-ritual with female clergy is a great example of a rotten idea. It's also a great example of why 'dialogue' and 'ecumenism' have gotten an increasingly bad rap with conservatives and traditionalists over the years - eventually they notice that every time someone talks about the importance of ecumenism, it involves selling out the conservative or traditional positions in exchange for some jackass getting a pat on the head and momentary praise by The People Who Matter.

Now, I can go on about this very topic for a while - how on the one hand it is important to truly approach non-Catholics and non-Christians and the irreligious and the rest in a proper way, a sincere way, a reasonably measured way. I can go on about how difficult it's become to even discuss that, since there is a social liberal tendency to hijack such movements immediately and treat respectful dialogue as a means by which to manipulate a surrender or a scaling back of the values they detest but will pay lip service to anyway. Important stuff, truly. But instead, I want to talk about a modern plague - the Tyranny of the Aggrieved.

There is a modern idea that goes like this: how a person should be treated, how much leeway they should get in a conversation or even a negotiation, is heavily proportional to - in essence - how absolutely goddamn insane they are, how willing they are to scream and rant, how irrational they are willing to demonstrate they are. Ben more or less brings this up in the previous thread, justifying the actions of Cardinal O'Malley because, hey, feminists have wound up a lot of women for decades, screaming how if they aren't allowed to be priests then that's equivalent to saying that they're not equal to men at all and misogyny and patriarchy and all the rest. They're very emotionally wound up, you see, so you have to pretty much get on your knees and try to do whatever will make them happy and feel valued, because they are - put bluntly - THAT fucked up.

I'd understand at some point if some people would figure my reaction would be to agree with Ben. I've gotten into it with social conservatives over gay issues, talking about how the SoCon approach typically sucks - they treat 'gays' as a monolithic group, instead of targeting LGBT organizations, etc. I stress the need to be civil, to not make enemies unnecessarily, to speak clearly, to 'reach out'. But the fact is, I reject this kind of thinking completely. Not every woman, not even every feminist, takes this approach - but for the ones that do (and many, sadly, do), I do not recommend or endorse pacification. If a feminist has reached the point where a male-exclusive clergy drives her up the wall and the only thing that will satisfy her is some sign of capitulation on that point - some gesture, however initially small, that a female clergy may not be a COMPLETELY bad idea... at that point, you are not dealing with someone you can speak with, and you move on. Better yet, you - and I say this a lot - speak at them, not with them. Maybe some will listen. Maybe not.

But you do not succumb to the Tyranny of the Aggrieved.

You do not let the least rational person in a dialogue dictate the terms on which a conversation will be had, or whether or not a conversation will be had at all. You do not look at the person who has the mentality of a lunatic and try to figure out the magical gesture that will momentarily pacify them, because - among many other reasons - that this is the reaction many will have is already accounted for. Do not make the mistake of thinking that a ranting, raving group of people is always or even often a spontaneous thing that 'just happened', borne out of the wellspring of their hearts. You can find this right in the Bible itself. Christ was not condemned by a dispassionate jury of His peers, moved by the force of intellectual argument that He had committed a crime, even with the argument being ultimately and subtly flawed. There was a lunatic crowd screaming for his head and - this is key - Pilate attempted pacification. And Pilate knew that what the crowd demanded was wrong! He was, in his view, trying to find some way to get Christ out of the jam He was in. And ultimately, when Christ refused to play along - and why should He, intellectually or morally speaking, play along? - the decision was to sell out Christ. This wasn't lost on the Pharisees, by the way - they were riling up the crowds with an eye on a particular result.

I'm not making a major theological point here - I am making a practical one. Irrational reactions are, believe it or not, often tactical and strategic. They are not the basis for any ecumenism worth having, and the fact that a person is emotionally worked up does not - I repeat, does not - make their demands a hair more justifiable, or their actions more forgivable, outside of the most strictly qualified situations.

I am in favor of ecumenism. I am in favor of a more reasonable, calm, respectful dialogue with everyone from people with same-sex attraction to divorced couples to more. But I will never favor capitulation as dialogue. I will never endorse succumbing to the Tyranny of the Aggrieved. And those Christians who do are not proving themselves to be the more mature, humble participants in the conversation, showing the world how grown up they are by finding some way, any way, to pacify either a frantic single individual or a lunatic mob. More often than not, they're just playing out Pilate's role on a different scale.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Codgitating Codgitator

I have nothing to say at the moment, but for the forseeable future this is the catch-all thread for anyone who wants to gripe about or defend Codgitator's writings on Pope Francis.

Keep it here, folks. And by folks I mean Ben. And think the insults through carefully - Christians/theists/thinkers with whom we share some common ground deserve a certain amount of restraint.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Who isn't a free thinker?

From the wikipedia entry on Freethought: Freethought or free thought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds opinions should be formed on the basis of logicreason, and empiricism, rather than authoritytradition, or other dogmas.[1][2][3] The cognitive application of freethought is known as "freethinking", and practitioners of freethought are known as "freethinkers".

Interesting definition. Logic, reason and empiricism? Then it turns out everyone from Thomas Aquinas to William Lane Craig was a freethinker after all. 'Ah,' may come the reply. 'But at least on some subjects those men submitted to authority!' Alright... but if authority is verboten, then it looks like almost none of the people who are commonly held up as free thinkers really are, since every one of them bows to various authorities - particularly 'scientific consensus.' If someone argues that scientists qualify as acceptable authorities because they presumably have knowledge to back up their statements, then we're right back to accepting Aquinas and company as free thinkers too - since God certainly has the knowledge to back up HIS statements. Better yet, at least in the case of God there are metaphysical arguments for His knowledge, His omniscience. For any particular scientist or group of scientists? It gets a lot trickier.

I think the very idea of 'free thought' originated in a time and place that is so unlike our own that the concept, as it was originally presented, really died a long time ago - and it wasn't a very good idea even in its original form. Part of the problem seems to be the tendency to think of favored and individuals in a 'we' sense instead of a 'they' sense. How many times do you run into people who say "We used to think geocentrism is true, but now we know that heliocentrism is true!", only to find out that "We know" means "This is what I heard that scientists say", and if you ask them to explain how - do this when they're not near a computer or aren't allowed to check the internet - they come up short? 'We know', meaning 'Someone out there knows, I hear'. 'We discovered geocentrism is false' meaning 'Didn't someone do, like, an experiment?'


If freethought allows other people to do our thinking for us, then the entire edifice collapses and everyone is a free thinker. If other people are not allowed to do our thinking for us, then the price is a level of agnosticism that modern free thinkers would find downright worrisome. The only route left is to head off into the fog and argue that it's all very complicated and therefore necessary to consider that some levels of dogma or authority may well be acceptable after all, at which point Thomas Aquinas the Freethinker is, at the very least, a live option - and Richard Dawkins, the anti-skeptic, is as well.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The state of the culture

I'm a fan of New Advent. Kind of a wannabe Drudge Report for Catholicism. Today, I saw this title for one of their links:
Why are so many modern men such shiftless underachievers? It's simple. When the family declines, men decline...
I mention this only because, I can't remember anyone ever using that kind of broad talk with regards to women. 'Why are so many women so clueless as to get knocked up before they're married?' or the like. And there it is, on a Catholic news aggregator, one with seemingly traditionalist/conservative leanings. Maybe I missed the women thing in the past, but so far, I have yet to see it.

Behold, the state of the culture.