Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year in Review 2013

Well, I definitely didn't keep up with my goals for 2013:
  • Read through the Bible cover-to-cover and post about it on Facebook
  • Read 50 books throughout the year
  • Train for and complete at least a half ironman triathlon
Yeah I didn't do any of those!  I only read a few hundred pages of the Bible, I don't remember exactly where I left off, but I'll definitely be restarting that goal in 2014.  I've never really read through cover-to-cover, but I would still like to complete this goal sooner rather than later I just need to take more time to read.  Speaking of, I didn't finish fifty books throughout 2013 either.  I only got through about twelve, not too bad considering I probably read enough with my classes to amount to probably thirty small to moderate size books.  I didn't train for a tri at all!  I did some running and I would be ready for the Okinawa marathon in February, but now that I'm going to be in Korea from late January to late February, I'm not going to be able to do it.  I am trying to find a half-marathon while I'm in Korea.  If I can find one near where I'll be, I'll try to register for it.  So there you have it folks, I'm just like the vast majority of westerners in that I failed at all my resolutions.  Oh well, there's always next year right?

On that note my next year's goals are going to be a bit more realistic:
  • Read through the Bible cover-to-cover
  • Read at least two more books throughout the year than I did in 2013
  • Train for and complete at least a half marathon
Now to a review of my year in blogging:

#1 My primary topics have been Faith and Philosophy.  Also, I completed Discovering the Philosopher in You series and I'm about halfway through The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas I've also reviewed a couple books, and I owe you all a review of The Case for a Creator.

#2 By far the most viewed post has been: Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival, August 2013, 7th Edition the most read of my entries was: A Philosophical Approach to Abortion, by far the most commented on post was: Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 13: God: Can the Existence of God Be Proven?

#3 I haven't had as many guest posts as I would like and my attempts to build this into a cooperative blog haven't panned out at all, perhaps someday.

#4 I've already talked about some of my upcoming events/plans so I won't repeat myself.

I have been able to complete another editing project with Steven Specht though it hasn't been published yet.  I didn't spend any time on my dad's work, but that's a much bigger project and I'm having problems digging into that work.  I have had a good year blogging and I've really enjoyed the interactions foster through blogging and Google+.  I've had seventy-eight entries this year (seventy-nine after this one), and my pageviews have steadily risen over time with an all-time high of 2,000+ in December, I'm over 22,000 for the total views since I started way back in May 2007 (though I really have only been blogging regularly since June 2012).  I am a bit proud of the work I done with this blog and I will continue to work on it for many years to come.

I'm discontinuing the Faith and Philosophy blog carnival though; there have been very few entries the last couple months and I feel like it's run its course.  There will be only one more edition though I still don't have any entries for it.  I didn't blog in Korean hardly at all, I think I only had two entries, it was just too difficult and time consuming.  I did post a digital portfolio for my work on my education degree and my future career plans, but it is far from complete.  I'm much more excited about my (planned) second career than I am about my current one.

Have a good night and a blessed new year!

I've posted pictures of the aquarium before but this is my favorite

Monday, December 30, 2013

Upcoming Events and Club Involvement

There are a few upcoming events in my life that I want to talk about.  I've been thinking about this for a while and I'd like to air my ideas here.

First, (not in precedence in timeliness) is another trip to Korea.  I was privileged to visit Korea some years ago for a language class, and I'm slated to go back in late January.  Of course the timing could be better, what with it being winter and all my winter clothes are stored with all the rest of the stuff I didn't think I'd need living on a sub-tropical island.  So, I'll be spending about a month in Korea where the average high temps in Jan-Feb is between 34°F and 40°F so, yeah, chilly.  Oddly enough, last time I went to Korea it was in January.  I'm excited though, I had a good time the last time I went and I'm sure I'll have a good time again.  It'll be nice to be in a place where I'll be able to read the street signs.  I know a few Kanji (漢字, pronounced hanja 한자 in Korean) and some but not all of the kanas, so I can read some of the street signs here but the vast majority are a mystery to me.

Secondly, I've been looking into Focus on the Family's introductory apologetics program, The Truth Project, and I'm going to host a small discussion group that'll be going through the program when I'm back from Korea.  I've asked around and watched the promos and taken the host training program and I'm excited for this also.  I've enjoyed my own personal studies (and the one introductory college course) in apologetics and it will be neat to get a chance to discuss these topics with fellow believers.  The program is twelve lessons, each video about an hour long followed by discussion time.  That's the only downside to it, the time consumption.  Assuming some time to mingle and chit-chat, then an hour-long video, then discussion time.  In order to keep the total time for each session only two hours I'll have to limit the fellowship time and the discussion time.  I don't think everyone will want to sit around for hours discussing these things (I don't understand that, but I know it's common), but I'm sure there'll be enough good conversation that it'll be difficult to limit the discussion so people will be able to get back to their lives.

Third (and related to the second), I've been invited by a former coworker to start a Reasonable Faith apologetics group here on Okinawa.  There aren't any in Japan, so that's kind of a cool idea, to be the first group in Japan and the first in Okinawa.  I like Dr. William Lane Craig's apologetics lectures and his podcasts, though honestly his lecture voice is kinda dry, not unlike my own (main reason I don't do a podcast here, though I've thought about it).  His logic is pretty clearly stated though at times a bit high level.  This kind of group would be a great encouragement to deepen my own studies in apologetics.  Which brings up two final points.

I'm thinking about two or three other potential groups in which I'd like to participate.  I am always reminiscing about my high-school days when I ran with a cross country team and I was much faster and I think that if I could somehow get involved in a running club again, I might have more motivation and camaraderie to get some of my old speed back.  I've also been thinking about finding a language club to practice teaching English, while at the same time practicing Korean and Japanese.  And, I've recently discovered a chess group that meets on Saturdays.  It's only three older gentlemen right now, but my boys enjoy(ed) playing and I could use some over-the-board chess experience to improve my overall chess skill.  Maybe it's just rose-colored glasses but I've always felt that a group setting with encouragement and mutual support is the best place for training in a variety of disciplines.  Are any of you involved in similar clubs that have really made your life/studies/hobbies/etc. that much more enjoyable?  I've been in a variety of clubs and I hope that I can find/start some good groups while I live here in Okinawa.

Being a hippo is a rough life, especially at the zoo.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Farmer Blow & Getting Hit by Age

This entry could be titled "Farmer Blow Getting Hit by Age Random Thoughts While Running Twelve Miles in the Rain on Okinawa" but I thought that might be a bit much!

So there I was, as I said, running; I've been doing quite a bit running lately as I'm training for the Okinawa marathon in February.  By the way there's a decent chance that I'll be off island for work during the month of February, so if any of you are going to be in this neck of the woods and want to buy my registration I'll sell it to you for half price.  Back to my run.

I was around the three-mile mark (of twelve), and I found myself in need of a handkerchief.  So. For the first time in my life, I performed what is commonly called the "farmer blow."  For those of you that have never had the pleasure, a farmer blow is when one places one's finger on one nostril to close it, takes a deep breath (as much as one can while running), and blows hard out of the other side of one's nose; thereby expelling anything lodged in said nose.  Usually much to the vexation of anyone who happens to be running near (especially downwind) the person performing this classy maneuver.  Fortunately there was no one around that night.  Well, as I was contemplating this act, it hit me like a rock to the side of the head: "This is the first time I've done this, and I'm thirty-two."

I got to thinking, I've been running about half my life and that is about sixteen years!  I've been running over twice as long as my eldest son has been alive.  I started soccer in my middle-school years, continued until my freshman year of high-school, then I started cross-country and track.  So I've been running since my '91-'98 school year.  Yeah, see I'm old, I graduated in 2000!  Wow, that seems like such a long time.  Doing simple math in my head as I run really makes time go fast when one is on a little over two hour run.  Reminiscing is rough though, it leads me down memory lane and it reminds me of how slow I now am.  Not really bragging, just remembering; In high-school I could run about five-minute twenty-second/mile, and now, I struggle to do ten-minutes per mile.  Even just a few years ago when I was in language school in California, I had just finished my first (and only full marathon), and I was training for more marathoning.  At that time I was running about seven-minutes forty-seconds  per mile, and I was up to eighteen miles at a time.  So, I went from high-school times around sub-nineteen minute 5K to somewhere around twenty-three minutes.  Though of course I was working on much longer distances.  I often wish I had the camaraderie of a team and the knowledge of a coach to get me back to faster speeds.  I read a Runner's World article many years ago that a distance runner's prime is usually in his/her thirties.  I've never forgotten that article, but life has gotten in the way so much over the years that I don't think I'll ever get down to those times again.  It's kinda sad, but hey, life goes on.

Anyways, I've enjoyed this little break from heavier topics, may God bless you this Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 7: Aquinas’s Cosmology: Creation, Providence, and Free Will

Sorry for the long time between posts on this topic, I've been on various other projects including classes online, a Dawkins book review, and other things.  From the lecture notes: "'Cosmology' means the logos, or rational science, of the cosmos, or the universe. It used to be a major division of philosophy, but many of its questions—questions about time, space, and matter—have been answered by modern science. Still, many philosophical questions remain, especially questions about the relations between God and the cosmos."  I disagree with the spirit of this idea, that science has answered many cosmological questions.  It seems that science holds no power when it comes to much of philosophy.  There may be some answers available about certain cosmological mysteries available in science, but they focus on the how of things, the real questions of philosophy are still completely unanswered, namely the why.  On this topic Prof. Kreeft tackles twenty questions about cosmology from Thomas' philosophy:

About Creation

1. Why did God create the world?  God has no need for anything, as such He is the perfect giver, He created the universe for our (mankind's) benefit.  Out of His "pure generosity, unselfish love, charity—which according to Christian theology is the very essence of God."

2. But how did He create the world?  He used nothing to make nothing. Thomas defends the idea "creatio ex nihilo,” creation out of nothing.  That DOESN'T mean space/empty space, formless matter, or even potentiality.  This is quite different than other "creation" stories, including Greek mythologies that have god(s) creating the universe from matter.  This reminds me of the "kalam cosmological argument."

3. But is this creation possible?  It seems that it’s like “an infinite distance cannot be crossed, but infinite distance exists between being and nothing.”  This is a false concept, God created time itself there is no previous state of the universe.  We can understand what it is not, as this discussion points out, but we can know it analogically via our own creative processes.

4. Is the universe infinitely old?  Thomas knows that this is an important point since Aristotle, one of his primary sources of logic and reason, so he needs to do more than rely on theological dogmatism to say that the earth/universe is not eternal.  Thomas says, “the newness of the world cannot be demonstrated from the world itself, nor from its efficient cause, God, for God acts by will, and the will of God cannot be predicted by reason.”  To which Prof. Kreeft responds, "Of course, we know now that Aquinas was wrong about the first of those two points. Scientists have demonstrated, from the world itself, that it is only about fifteen billion years old."  This is one of my biggest problems with this lecture series, Prof. Kreeft seems to constantly put his opinion into Thomas' mouth.  Though I agree with this idea: "The Big Bang doesn't prove the universe was created by God, but it does prove the world has not always existed."  That's actually been the primary point of the Lee Strobel book (at least the first couple chapters) that I'm reading, the theory of Evolution is not for sure, and the Big Bang theory is one of the best pieces of evidence for God.

5. Since God is perfect, and acts perfectly, did God create the best of all possible worlds?  According to the lecture, "Leibniz argued that He did, and Voltaire brilliantly satirized that idea in Candide.  Aquinas goes with Voltaire and common sense here, as he always does, and admits that this is clearly not the best of all possible worlds."  Philosophically, the concept of other worlds might be possible, but according to science, there's no evidence for other worlds (universes).  I think this is clear from theology that the reason this world is not perfect has to do with sin, not that God didn't make things perfect.

6. Is this the only universe?  Again, it's philosophically possible, but there's no evidence.

7. What about evolution? Does it contradict what Aquinas means by creation?   Again, Prof. Kreeft puts his view that Thomas would wholeheartedly accept Darwinian Evolution.

The Relation Between God and the World

8. Does God love everything in the world?  Yes: “God’s will is the cause of all things. It must needs be, therefore, that a thing has existence, or any kind of good, only inasmuch as it is willed by God. To every existing thing, then, God wills some good.  Hence, since to love anything is nothing else than to will good to that thing, it is manifest that God loves everything that exists.”  This is a very telling definition of love, to will good towards something/someone.  Obviously, a very general overarching definition, but interesting nonetheless.

9. Does God love all things equally?  No: “since God’s love is the cause of goodness in things, as has been said, no one thing would be better than another if God did not will greater good for one than for another.”  The universe is full of hierarchies.  God loves humans more than cows which is why humans are more valuable than cows (that's not to say that cows aren't valuable).  Equality among people is a noble good, but the cosmos is not a democracy.  What would that look like?  Should we weigh the desires of mosquitoes when going camping?  If humans hold no more value than cows, I don't want to join you at your house for dinner.

10. Why did God make the universe so diverse?  Did "the multitude and distinction of things come from God?”  Yes, it comes from God's will, that not only is there hierarchy in life but there is diversity, and everything has it's strengths/weaknesses and works well with other things.  This is in direct contrast to pantheism.  In pantheism everything is united, everything is indistinguishable from god--what a boring universe.

11. Do creatures lead us away from God or to Him?  There is a danger of worshipping the creature not the Creator, but there is nothing inherently bad about created things (see #5).

12. “Whether the cosmos as well as man has God as its end?”  Yes, later in ethics, Thomas will try to prove that God is the chief end of man and the whole cosmos because of final causality.  There is a point to the cosmos (and mankind) the earth is set up to be our home, the universe is more like a house in which mankind is meant to dwell.  It is not purposeless.  God is the source and essence of all existence as well as it's chief end.

What Goes On in the World

13. On chance.  Thomas says “Everything is subject to the providence of God.”  Like “the meeting of two servants, although to them it appears a chance circumstance, has been fully foreseen by their master, who has purposely sent them to meet at the one place in such a way that the one knows not about the other.”  This includes the ideas of quantum theory, it just means we don't know what that the two things were meant to be, we see it as chance or random, but in reality it is God's hand at work.

14. How does divine providence work?  God governs the universe via his middle managers (Prof. Kreeft's analogy).  Again I think he assumes too much when he says, "This is the most basic reason why Aquinas would have no theological difficulties with evolution.  In fact, he would see the use of natural forces such as “natural selection” as showing more perfection in God than special creation of each species by miracle."  God doesn't directly cause everything, He indirectly causes through other agents that He has made, including nature.

15. On free will Thomas writes, “nothing can happen outside the order of the divine government,” but “it is part of the divine government that natural things happen by nature and free human choices happen by free will.”  He doesn't see God's foreknowledge as affecting free will.

16. On miracles, can "God can do anything outside the established order of nature?” YES, because God "is not subject to the order of secondary causes, but on the contrary this order is subject to Him.” It seems funny to me, that people often criticize Christianity for its acceptance of miracles.  Even Jefferson (and other deists) were well known for their denial of miracles because it contradicted what they thought of as God.  But, it is a strange idea to doubt miracles taken in light of the creation of the universe.  God, Who created the entire universe in the Big Bang would have no problem performing a comparatively simple thing like walking on water or raising from the dead.

17. Does the cosmos include angels, pure spirits? Yes, the cosmos is more than just the physical so it's reasonable that spirits without bodies, in contrast to humans that are bodies with spirits, would exist.  It's not absolutely certain but it's not illogical.

Good and Evil

18. Are the evils in the world are willed by God?  No, because God wills things that exist, evil doesn't exist in the same manner that a tree or an animal exists.  Evil is a deprivation that is in something that is good.  God created metals and things that explode when they reach certain temperatures, but He did not will that mankind would take those good things and use them as weapons to do evil things (not that guns are only used as evil tools).

19. Can evil corrupt the whole good?  No, because like a parasite that consumes it's entire host if evil were to completely consume all things, the death of the host would also cause the death of the parasite, evil.

20. Which of the two kinds of evil is worse, pain or fault?  Most of the arguments from evil (against God), focus on pain, or natural evil.  But, Thomas sees it the other way around, much like Socrates taught that it is better to suffer evil than to do it.  Because suffering evil hurts one's body, but doing evil hurts one's soul.  This may seem callous, but it's a method of managing the universe.  God in His providence uses suffering evil to prevent some from doing evil.  This final point I don't know that I agree with theologically.  I do agree that doing evil is worse than suffering evil, I don't see it as a providential means for God to manage the universe.  I agree (and it's biblical) that God can use evil to bring about goodness e.g. Joseph.  But, I don't think that all suffering is necessarily the same.  Sometimes it just rains, again God set up the laws of nature to govern the world, and He doesn't always intervene, so sometimes it rains on both the just and the unjust.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The God Delusion Book Review Part 3 Ch. 7-10 (final)

Finally finished this book and as I've said before, I'm not really impressed.  His style is readable and not overly intellectual, so as a reader he has an agreeable tone or voice, but what he had to say greatly overshadowed any skill in writing he displayed.  I don't have much to say about these last couple chapters so this entry will definitely be more brief than previous entries.

Chapter 7 more or less continues on a theme that religion is bad.  His stated point is that he's trying to prove we don't in actuality, even Christians, get our morality from the Bible.  For this point he brings out yucky (for a lack of a better term, my word not his) stories from the Bible.  Claiming that these sad stories are proof that we don't actually read this Bible from which we claim to get morality.  The interesting thing about this hit me when I thought about, for whom is he really writing this?  Anyone who has even a modicum of knowledge of the Bible, or really anyone who reads these scripture will clearly see that these are not, as Dawkins seems to be claiming, people or moral stories that the Bible is teaching us to emulate.  They're clear examples of negative stories.  He claims that the scripture has only two ways it can teach morals: "One is by direct instruction, for example through the Ten Commandments ... [t]he other is by example: God, or some other biblical character, might serve as ... a role model" (pg.237).  Again showcasing his lack of philosophical training he sets up a beautiful false dichotomy in that (I only removed slight points that don't have any bearing on the statement), the introduction to chapter seven.  Really, those are the only two ways the Bible can be looked at as a source of inspiration?  What about negative examples?  What about simple historical records?  What about parables that aren't out-and-out direct instructions?

One of the things I noted is that in all these supposedly terrible stories that he cherry picks for examples of bad things in the Bible, he often sums up sections with some vague reference to "modern ethicists" or "modern moralists."  He's calling upon these silent (absent) authorities to pass judgement on small sections of an entire work.  Who are these supposed authorities, and from whence do they derive their morality?  Are they their own source of moral authority?  Do they call upon the majority opinion?  Is utility their authority?  Dawkins hasn't given any arguments for utilitarian means to divine morality, just categorically denies any deontological or authoritarian source for morality.

Another point that I'd like to make in regards to Dawkins' attempts to interpret scripture, comes from both professor Peter Kreeft and scripture itself.  Prof. Kreeft talked about this in the first lecture I listened to on the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, and it was something like a defense of why he's a good source for knowledge about Aquinas, though it might seem he'd be biased because Aquinas is his favorite philosopher.  Something to the effect of, whom would you rather call on to give a lecture on the moon landing: an astronaut/or scientist that was involved in the program and has devoted his/her life to the efforts?  Or the preeminent lunar landing sceptic (if there is such a thing as a preeminent fool)?  So, who do you want to explain the Bible to you?  This man Dawkins who, apparently thinks the entire thing is a waste of paper, with a few exceptions of literary prowess that is in the text?  Or an actual Bible scholar who has actually studied the text his/her entire life?  There's also this great quote that displays his ignorance where it comes to the content of the Bible: "Then too, there is improved education and, in particular, the increased understanding that each of us shares a common humanity with members of the other races and with the other sex - both deeply unbiblical ideas that come from biological science, especially evolution" (pg. 271, emphasis mine).  Really?  Adam and Eve ring a bell anyone?  Of course Dawkins claims that any theologian worth talking to, claims that Genesis 1 is just a nice allegory that can be discarded as just fantasy.  Which, as I actually agree, opens up the text to a personal/anyone's interpretation.  Basically, if you claim any part of the text is allegorical (that isn't clearly indicated as such, e.g. Proverbs and parables), you open it up to subjective cherry-picking of any portion to discard.  You don't like the Bible's teaching on X, well, just claim that portion of the text is allegorical or for whatever reason not applicable (contrary to the rest of the text), and you're golden.  Want to claim misogyny is biblical?  Take a few verses out of context and you can "prove" anything you want.

In general I do not recommend this text, though, if you are a Christian like me with some understanding of apologetics and philosophy, your faith might be strengthened (as mine was) seeing these weak arguments.  Basically, if this is the best arguments against God, belief in God is truly the more reasonable option.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The God Delusion Book Review Part 2 Ch. 4-6

Sorry for the delay in getting to this next section of my review of The God Delusion but I've been busy editing a new book by the author of Notes from Afghanistan.

Back to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  If you're interested part one is here.

First off, in my review of the first three chapters I talked about how there's no real argument given, or at least not much of an argument given.  Mostly just blustering and casually brushing aside arguments for god, well, in chapter four Dawkins finally gives his argument for "why there almost certainly is no god."  He attacks the "Ultimate Boeing 747" concept as fallacious, citing Natural Selection as NOT blind chance, rather a step-by-step ascent of "mount improbable."  He also, rightfully attacks the concept of "god of the gaps."

I don't hold to Dawkins' intimation that theists/religious people are afraid of or somehow all have enmity towards science.  He says again and again that theist love these gaps in scientific knowledge and that theists cling to things that science cannot (yet) explain.  Again, bad logic in over-generalization/stereotyping.  Just because there have been instances of people that feel that way and their foolishness has been put on display doesn't mean that theists are all foolish when it comes to science.  I don't claim any special knowledge when it comes to science/mathematics I've never had an interest in them (above a cursory curiosity).  I prefer philosophy, logic, language, linguistics, etc.  Just because I have faith doesn't mean that I'm afraid of a scientific explanation, but that's not what Dawkins gives.  He doesn't give "scientific" explanations for these "gaps" he gives atheistic speculations.  The gaps that even Dawkins admits science cannot bridge are the formation of life, the formation of the eukaryotic nature of cells, and the emergence of consciousness.  But, in answer to all these gaps, his argument is the Anthropic Principle.

So, if you're not familiar let me sum up the anthropic principle as Dawkins describes it, though he calls the principle to action in all the cases where science cannot give an answer.  It's something like this, given the number of stars we know exist, even with a one in a billion chance for life to evolve on a planet (though I've read the odds are actually in the trillions), given the estimate of a billion-billion planets in the universe it had to happen, not once but many times.  There are several problems with this idea.  I'm not a mathematician so I could be wrong on this, the issue is probability.  Take a coin toss.  If you flip a coin 100 times you should get 50 heads/50 tails.  However, you could flip a coin 1,000 times and get heads every time.  Odds don't mean that if you do something enough times all the options will present themselves, just that they should or are like to present themselves.  So, it holds that even with a billion-billion possibly earth-like planets, life could have only happened one time and only here on this planet.  Philosophically the anthropic principle is even more fallacious.

The anthropic principle set out as a philosophical idea sounds something like this:
1) It is highly improbable that life could exist without outside intervention
2) We're here, alive, thinking about that probability
3) It must have happened
Really?  Putting it another way: life could exist without god, we're alive, therefore it did.  The amazing thing to me is that he doesn't just use this principle for the alignment of planets to set up a planet on which life might evolve (the so-called, Goldilocks zone).  He applies this principle to all the mysteries of science!  Like the Big Bang, why are the cosmological constants in perfect setting to allow for a universe that is capable of producing planets that are capable of producing life?  As a side note I watched an interesting (banned) TED talk that claims they might not be constant after all.  There's no need to ask "why" because we're here, therefore it must have happened.  This particular use of the principle might strike people as odd, because think about it, to apply the principle there must be millions to billions of options, or at least enough that the odds are overcome; this means that there must be millions upon millions of universes, either in the past, or multiverses/parallel universes.

Moving on to chapter five about the roots of religion Dawkins again displays his prejudice: "...it only raises the question of why a mind would evolve to find comfort in beliefs it can plainly see are false" (pg. 168).  He then tries to give his Darwinian evolutionary explanation of how religion could have come about.  He starts off with the idea that we've evolved in such a way that obedience of one's elders is a good thing.  The older people obviously know how to survive and if one listens to the elders' advice one will (presumably) survive better but here's how religion comes into play from that notion.  "The child cannot know that 'Don't paddle in the crocodile-infested Limpopo,' is good advice but 'You must sacrifice a goat at the time of the full moon, otherwise the rains will fail,' is at best a waste of time and goats" (pg. 176).  One of the many problems with this theory, is where did the elder get that idea?  There cannot be an infinite regress.  Someone accidentally sacrifices a goat on the full moon and the rains came, or someone didn't happen to have a goat on a full moon and there was a drought?  How could a primitive mind, that can't recall enough data to make even basic tools be asked to recall and relate one day with a whole season wherein the person probably would have died.  How does that lead to survival?  Someone who accidentally sacrificed a goat and then lived through a season with rain survives and passes down this superstition?  I have serious doubts in all these kinds of speculative answers because I see this kind of statement all the time, not just in Dawkins' writing.

The problem in this whole bit about the evolutionary source for religion, which he gives similar guesses in later portions of the text for other questions, but I'll deal with the idea in general here.  All these guesses or theories about evolutionary processes bringing about X result, boil down to this type of argument: 1) this is how X trait could have been passed on through evolutionary natural selection ∴/therefore 2) it was passed on through natural selection.  Basically, if I can explain how something could have happened without god, that's how it must have happened.  I saw this in two different YouTube (two links "You" and "Tube") videos about the beginnings of the universe (though neither mentioned god).  They basically laid out how the universe could have expanded from a subatomic particle that popped into existence from nothing with such and such characteristics, then ballooned out to become the entire universe.  They (both videos) seemed to be speaking authoritatively about these theories, like, this is a possible explanation of how it could have happened without citing god, therefore it must be correct.

The same fallacious thinking is apparent in Dawkins' writing, here's how it might have happened without god, therefore that's what happened.  I like the original Ockham's Razor argument as it was explained to me many years ago: you walk into a room and the window is open, you ask yourself why the window is open.  There could have been a microburst of wind that happened to blow at just the right angle to open the window, or there might have been an earthquake that shook in just the right manner to rattle the window open, or on and on, but the most basic answer, that is someone left it open, is the correct answer.  So, I ask you, in all this theorizing, if such and such variables might have come aligned at just the right way to bring about X trait is the more simple answer, or is it more simple to say, Someone put them that way?  Not that postulating a Supreme Being is more simple in every instance, but in this particular argument, it seems to be straightforward.

Sorry for the length but I only have one more chapter to cover!

In chapter six Dawkins seeks to provide an answer to the idea of mankind being good without God.  As such, he starts off with pointing out the evil in the letters that he and fellow atheists have received from religious people.  Don't get me wrong I hate seeing things like this and I wish I could have worked with those people on how to rewrite their grievances without insults.  Nevertheless, they're out there.  I'm not going to argue that religious people are all civilized that's clearly not true.  I'm not even going to try to narrow the definition of "true religion" that's just a no-true-scotsman fallacy.  The only thing I have to say is to not judge religion by the outspoken few that give it a bad name.

There is one letter that Dawkins attempts to address that claims that evolutionary theory leads to nihilism.  He rebuffs the claim by throwing out there that natural selection is not random.  I think he's missing the point of the issue.  It's not whether the evolutionary process is random (which by the way it requires at least random mutations, so there is an element of randomness in the whole theory) or not; the issue is whether it's a guided process or unguided.  It's about purpose, meaning, and goals.  Not about randomness.  Natural selection has no goal, no guiding principle other than basic survival.  As such it is hopeless despite how Dawkins brushes that claim aside.

Dawkins offers a guess about how natural selection could lead to kindness to one's kin, but then kills his goal of giving meaning within the natural selection schema by likening any altruism outside one's own kin to an accident.  I ca't that one could accept this kind of argument.  Basically, he's saying that while we're not produced via random processes our kindness to anyone other than kin (which is logical), is accidental.  Tell me how this doesn't have a nihilistic conclusion?  "We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) that we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce).  Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes" (pg. 221).  Tell me how a mistake is better than random when it comes to showing purposefulness.

On thing occurred to me as I was reading his claim about determining that we all have a shared moral compass because of the evolutionary process, I thought of the "famous violinist" argument for abortion.  Based on simple moral tests, we see that everyone agrees one should submit to helping the helpless.  The analogy holds absolutely no weight in the argument about abortion, but it does point to the idea that people often agree on ethical dilemmas.  I love the mention of Harvard biologist Marc Hauser mentioned on page 222 and following.  It's proving C.S. Lewis' arguments from Mere Christianity one survey respondent at a time.  Again Dawkins shows prejudice and dogmatic thinking and shows why he and most of those he references should not be trusted: "For Kant it was a moral absolute.  For Hauser it is built into us by our evolution" (pg. 224).  If one starts off with the dogmatism that there must be no god and that everything is explicable by evolution/natural selection, of course your conclusion is going to agree.

Plantinga calls this sophomoric philosophy (I didn't read that review in full before starting my reading/review, I'll probably read it when I'm done with the book), but here's another example from the latter portion of ch. six: "The main conclusion of Hauser and Singer's study was that there is no statistically significant difference between atheists and religious believers in making these judgements.  This seems compatible with the view, which I and many others hold, that we do not need God in order to be good - or evil" (pg. 226).  So many problems with this and I've taken up way too much of your time so I'll try to be brief.  First, attacking religion is a strawman.  The issue isn't religious faith, it's the existence or non-existence of a deity.  So, saying that either side of the issue is good or bad has nothing to do with the actual question.  Secondly, and he attempts to make some response to this, is that the question isn't about the ethical or unethical behaviour of people.  The issue is moral objective standards.  He takes a stab at that question, but more or less brushes it away as not really at stake here.  He claims to answer it in the following chapter but after a small sneak peak, he's more or less going to stay on the track that religious people do bad things therefore religious belief is actually negative towards being good.  He's already hinted at that conclusion by pulling out statistics relating the conservative states in the US versus the liberal states in crime statistics.  Wow, talk about twisting statistics to suit one's needs.  Basically, his argument was something like, there is a higher crime rate in certain cities within predominantly contain Republican Party voters, therefore religious people are actually more evil than atheists.  As to the concept of absolutist morality, he basically brushes it aside because he's believes in a consequentialist view of morality, so seeking a moral absolute is unnecessary.

Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival, December 2013, 11th Edition

Joshua Tilghman presents Life and Death in the Tongue posted at The Spirit of the Scripture.

Only one (again, and late) submission for the blog carnival this month.

Though I completely disagree with the actual veracity of this particular entry and what I consider hyper-spiritualization of a biblical message, it does technically fit the topic of relating philosophical content with faith.

As this carnival has really died over the year that I've been doing it, I think I might confirm what I've been considering for a few months.  The next month's edition will be the last edition that I host.  If any of you are interested in taking over hosting, feel free to contact me.  I have often felt alone in my views and this carnival has done nothing to change that.  Even though I have found many like-minded individuals' blogs (see my links page, I'll be adding more and more links there as I find them) I haven't connected any of them with this carnival.  Thank you all for reading I hope you continue to follow my own blog even with the discontinuation of this carnival.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


So I posted the other day of a pop culture surprise and how I randomly ran across a song by Selena Gomez with some positive lyrics.  This week while out on a run (I'm prepping for a Feb marathon), I happened to hear this song by MIKESCHAIR:
MIKESCHAIR - "Keep Changing The World" Lyrics by http://www.sweetslyrics.com/
Something here is wrong
There are children without homes
But we just move along to take care of our own
There's so much suffering just outside our door
A cry so deafening
We just can't ignore
To all the people who are fighting for the broken
All the people who keep holding on to love
All the people who are reaching for the lonely
Keep changing the world
Take a look around
Before the sun goes out
What's lost can still be found
It's not too late now
It only takes one spark to make the fire burn
So reach inside your heart and let this be the start
Chorus (X2)
I know you see this suffering
How they gonna recover when
People just look over like,
Like they don't even notice em,
Everyone who's focusing,
On ending all this hopelessness
You can change the world
By changing Who the world is hoping in.
I see the sun coming up
It's a brighter day
Let's show the world that love is a better way
So lend a hand join the fight
'Cause time is ticking away
Keep changing the world
Chorus (X2) (Italics mine.) 
Now, I understand that MIKESCHAIR is a (so called) "Christian" band.  The reason I phrase it like that, is the simple fact that a group technically cannot fall under the category of Christian.  Because a Christian is a person that follows/believes in/bases one's life on Jesus Christ.  But, a band can be comprised of Christians, and can seek to write God-honoring lyrics/songs, but it cannot really be in that sense of the word.  So, I wasn't really surprised hearing such a great message, but I did want to bring it up here as it really hit me.

I don't know if you're a regular reader, or first-time visitor, or whatever but I often talk about/discuss/debate apologetics and other philosophic issues through this site, and I love a good debate/discussion about the existence of God, morality, philosophy, etc.  But, in all that, sometimes I lose sight of what the Gospel is really about.  I mean the word actually means, "good news," but I don't think about the hope of the Gospel.  This song really put that back into my thoughts.  Is apologetics important?  Yes.  Does it offer strong arguments for Christ?  Yes.  Will it (alone) bring people to the hope that is in Christ Jesus?  Probably not, it's too confrontational.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Sociological Approach to Abortion

I know, I'm a glutton for punishment.  The last time I posted about abortion here a veritable conflagration of comments and arguments ensued.  But, here I am again, making another argument for life.  It's so important to me that I actually plan on doing at least one more after this one.

Let's look at a sociological approach to sex.  Ignore hollywood's glamorizing and glorification of sex.  Let's look at it from a biological point of view.  What is the chief goal of sex?  Well, that answer is obvious, to some, to procreate.  That's not to say sex can't be fun that'd backfire pretty quickly, it is fun and it's intentionally so, it encourages security and commitment between sexual partners.  Is sex a right?  No.  Procreation is a right, more a responsibility for all humanity.  If everyone were to stop procreating, what would happen to society tomorrow?  Well, there's actually a movie about that, Children of Men with Clive Owen paints a grim picture of a society that is unable to procreate.  So, what is the best scenario in which one should engage in sex?  Well, this is an easy question for me (religiously).  That would be marriage.  HOWEVER, this is not about pushing biblical morality or religious teaching.  What is the sociologically best situation for sex?  Now, this is arguable and I'm (again) not trying to force peoples' social mores to change, but the best situation in which one engages in procreation (which requires sex) is a committed relationship.  I'm not going to throw in any extra stipulations or anything like that, but think about social stability.  Mother and father both have care over the resultant child.  One or both can work while the other can remain with the child to care for it during the child's defenseless developmental periods.  Again, this isn't going to apply to every situation; these are generalities that make sense.

Now, since the biological goal of sex is to procreate, what does abortion do to this process?  Well, the answer is obvious, it aborts it.  Now, wait a second you might say, "What about single mothers?"  Does this sociological answer let them off and give them the right to kill the fetus?  NO.  Not only does this argument work in concert with many other arguments against abortion, one needs to keep in mind what sex is really about.  Procreation.  The stereotypical love affair in movies, where boy meets girl in X social scene, goes home with the partner, has sex, falls in love or whatever, is NOT real life and that's not a good way to build a relationship.  As anyone in a healthy relationship will tell you, if they're honest, relationships need more than one dimension.  A relationship only about sex (or any other single-dimensional characteristic) is doomed to fail because some day (usually soon) one or both partners won't have matching sexual desires.  Likewise, if it's built on some other single dimension, if that one thing fails the relationship fails, but a relationship built on many pillars is more secure.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think the state must get involved in a relationship to validate it.  Having that piece of paper from the courthouse really doesn't mean anything.  The real meaning is in the commitment made between the two in the relationship (I won't go into the multiple partners area because I find it fairly clear common sense that that kind of relationship is definitely not as secure as one-to-one).  Also, the reason a commitment should be public is fairly obvious.  Which commitments are more likely to be kept, ones in secret between one or two people, or ones made in front of friends and family?  Now, I don't want to go into the social ills of divorce, but it seems obvious (again) that divorce is terrible sociologically.  Again, I'm not saying the alternatives don't work.  Obviously millions of people grow up without one or the other parent involved; keep in mind we're not looking for a line in the sand, we're just exploring the way things ought to run.

Okay, so this line of reasoning means that every time one has sex one should expect to get pregnant.  Right?  That's the rational, biological, normal outcome of sex.  So why is the question of abortion all about women's rights?  I know women's rights have been trampled on in the past, I mean look at how long it took women's suffrage to pass!  Women have all the same human rights as men and it's completely moronic to argue otherwise.  Women have reproductive rights.  Women have health care rights.  Women have rights over their own bodies, anyone who argues differently is ignoring the truth of what it means to be human.  Those are rights that everyone has and is born with.  (Even a biblical argument against women's rights falls apart though many have claimed otherwise.)  The fact that the genders are different and fulfill different roles in different situations, has nothing to do with rights, that's one of the strengths of human society.  We can adapt and grow better together because we have differences that work better together than separately.  That's part of the reason the sociologically best situation for sex and procreation is two happily married (or committed in front of their friends and family) couple.  This whole argument for abortion rips at the already feeble fabric of society.

I don't think anyone can stand solely on sociological arguments and say that abortion is morally wrong.  Sociology isn't really about making those kind of judgements.  Sociology can tell us what works well and the way things really ought to work.  Sociology can also seek out variations and show how they can succeed and what types of things will help bad situations work out.  But, it's clear that aborting an average of 3,000 fetuses daily is NOT good for society.  We need to work together as a society to stop this rift in the way things ought to be.

Based on some comments I'd like to add some edits:

A research paper devoted to studying and comparing the statistics for children growing up in various types of families said this:
Research indicates that, on average, children who grow up in families with both their biological parents in a low-conflict marriage are better off in a number of ways than children who grow up in single-, step- or cohabiting-parent households. Compared to children who are raised by their married parents, children in other family types are more likely to achieve lower levels of education, to become teen parents, and to experience health, behavior, and mental health problems. And children in single- and cohabiting-parent families are more likely to be poor.
This being said, most children not living with married, biological parents grow up without serious problems. In individual situations, marriage may or may not make children better off, depending on whether the marriage is “healthy” and stable. Marriage may also be a proxy for other parental characteristics that are associated with relationship stability and positive child outcomes. The legal basis and public support involved in the institution of marriage helps to create the most likely conditions for the development of factors that children need most to thrive—consistent, stable, loving attention from two parents who cooperate and who have sufficient resources and support from two extended families, two sets of friends, and society. Marriage is not a guarantee of these conditions, however, and these conditions exist in other family circumstances, but they are less likely to.
Emphasis on my points though the conclusion is tempered in the second paragraph with the fact that most don't have serious problems, it's more about individual situations.  Again, I don't think this research says that marriage is required to make happy, healthy, productive members of society, but the research is pretty clear on the fact that it does (provided it's a low-conflict marriage).  We're seeking what works best, not a solution to all the world's social ills.  This is an argument that shows sex/procreation belongs between committed, individuals that are intending to take care of their offspring anything else (especially in excess) is counter-social.

The God Delusion Book Review Part 1 Ch. 1-3

So, I've read several reviews of this book and I've seen several reactions to this work, but I wanted to get it straight from the horse's mouth in a manner of speaking.  So I'm reading The God Delusion, and I'll give you my notes.

Even in the preface Dawkins has already shown his prejudice.  Obviously the title says a lot, "Delusion."  He even mentions that psychologists asked him to change it because the word delusion is a scientific term and to apply it to the millions of people that believe in god wouldn't do justice to the word.  Of course that doesn't seem to faze Dawkins and his writing about that almost seems boastful, like he's proud of the fact that he's insulted the majority of the world.  How about this quote?  "... I believe there are plenty of open-minded people out there: people whose childhood indoctrination was not too insidious, or for other reasons didn't 'take,' or whose native intelligence is strong enough to overcome it" (pg6).  In case you didn't catch that, if you're open-minded or intelligent you'll give up anything you were taught about God in your childhood and be an atheist, like all the other smart people in the world.

How about this "gem"?  Quote from a Roman Catholic bishop who wrote to Einstein, "...He is all wrong.  Some men think that because they have achieved a high degree of learning in some field, they are qualified to express opinions in all."  Of course, Dawkins' retort is a false analogy based on his presupposition that God is just as fanciful as fairies.  Dawkins claims that theology isn't a "proper field" at all.  I find this particularly interesting because I've heard a very similar comment levied against Dawkins.  He's a world-renowned ethologist and evolutionary biologist, not a philosopher or theologian yet he's written extensively and authoritatively on subjects he has no (formal) education in.  No offence to his brilliance in his fields, but what expertise does a animal behaviorist and evolutionary biologist have in the fields of philosophy of religion, theology, philosophy in general?  Being brilliant in one particular field of knowledge doesn't give one authority to speak to all other fields of knowledge.

The biggest problem I have so far is that there haven't been any arguments (yet, he keeps hinting that they'll be proven in later chapters).  Chapter one, the first section is simply a childish foot-stomping raving that when atheists say "god" they don't mean the word "god."  Something akin to a child throwing a fit saying, "I did not say what you think I said!"  Alright!  When Dawkins and other atheists say "god" they really mean, uh, well... nothing really, they apparently mean force or nature or the universe, or whatever they want it to mean at that particular moment, but they most certainly do not mean a personal intervening god that is worthy of worship.  Dawkins talks about how Einstein was NOT a theist as some theists claim, that he was actually a deist or pantheist.  The only acceptable belief in god, to Dawkins, is the deists' god that creates the universe then leaves it alone and never interacts with it again; an invisible, intangible, inactive, uncaring, uninvolved, person-less, unintelligent being with no human characteristics at all.  The deists' god is the same as the pantheists' god, an impersonal force that has nothing to do with humanity, that's the only acceptable god, one that has nothing to do with the universe.

Then in chapter one, section two, Dawkins offers a half-hearted attempt at an (advance) apology, which comes too late since the only thing he's said so far is that only intelligent people believe in either an impersonal god or that the universe is god, and by extension only idiots believe in a personal god.  It's almost comical, Dawkins makes this claim that theists are always trotting out scientists, especially Einstein, that believe/believed in god and then dismisses it as a bad argument.  Then, he turns the same fallacious argument around and uses it, saying that this or that brilliant scientist is atheist and the vast majority of Nobel prize winners in science have been atheists, on and on.  I'm sorry, but if an argument is fallacious for one side of an argument, it's equally as fallacious for the opposing side.  Think about it; if I say, "Thousands of people believe in pink unicorns, therefore I'm a pink unicorn."  You cannot say, "Thousands of people don't believe in pink unicorns, therefore there's no such thing as pink unicorns."  An appeal to the people or authority is a fallacy for either side.

In chapter two the insults just keep coming.  Not only does Dawkins attack those that believe in a personal god, but he begins attacking anyone who believes that we cannot know whether or not there is a god, agnostics.  As part of his disdain for agnosticism he attacks the concept of NOMA (Non-Overlapping MAgisteria).  He, who has been continuously accusing God of evil acts and intentions, seems to be calling on god to prove himself.  It's like Dawkins is calling upon god to submit to scientific inquiry or proof.  It's like Dawkins is saying he expects this wicked, sneaky, conniving, evil, all-powerful entity to answer this puny ant's call.  Reminds me of a quote from the 2012 Avengers movie, "The ant has no quarrel with the boot."  (Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying God is the boot looking to crush ants like us, merely that Dawkins is making god out to be this crushing, killing, evil boot character then complains when that entity doesn't kowtow to his demands for proof.)  Dawkins, who is much less than an ant, is shaking his puny fist at a god he doesn't believe exists saying, "How dare you not prove yourself to me!  How dare you presume to break the laws you set by performing miracles, but when I ask you're silent!"

I just finished reading Jenna Miscavige Hill's book about getting out of Scientology, and she had a quote that Dawkins would do well to listen to: "My parents were aware it was my choice to remain in [Scientology], but they also knew I was brainwashed.  The last thing you want to tell a person who is brainwashed is that they are brainwashed."  If Dawkins really wants to get through to us poor brainwashed theists, telling us we're brainwashed is definitely not the way to go.

Then on pg. 83 Dawkins quotes Norman Malcom in relation to Anselm's ontological argument, which seems to have a loophole in it about existence being more perfect than non-existence.  "The doctrine that existence is a perfection is remarkably queer.  It makes sense and is true to say that my future house will be a better one if it is insulated than if it is not insulated; but what could it mean to say that it will be a better house if it exists than if it does not?"  The answer to this riddle seem painfully obvious.  If you need/want shelter, it's much better to have a house that exists than one that doesn't.

In summation: the first three chapters and preface do nothing in the way of arguing against God; hopefully the actual arguments will begin in chapter four.  The first three chapters have been nothing but blustering and casually brushing aside arguments for god.  Even Aquinas' eloquently framed ways to God were poorly treated and no real arguments or counter-arguments have been made.  These first three chapters can be summed up as such: Anyone who believes there is a God and anyone who believes that we cannot know if there is or isn't a god, is an idiot.