Thursday, November 20, 2014

Correcting an Imbalance

I just finished rereading Karl Popper's introduction to "Science: Conjectures and Refutations" and, even though the Popper's aim is to demarcate the line between science and pseudo-science, his argument is applicable in totality to the distinction between rational thinking and religious belief.

The main gripe that Popper had with proposals such as Freudian psychoanalysis and Marx's theory of history is that confirmations of them are to be found everywhere. He distinguishes these from a real scientific theory, Einstein's relativity. Confirmations of relativity are to be found as well but the crucial distinction between this and the previous two is that relativity is falsifiable while the others are not. Einstein provided us with clear criteria for judging when his theory would be incorrect. As it happened the theory of relativity passed the critical tests. On the other hand Marx and Freud never even postulated what evidence we could collect to determine whether or their ideas were incorrect or not.

Almost every discussion where a religious belief is offered up as explanation of or conclusion about any phenomena amounts to an unfalsifiable proposition. In fact when apologists open their mouths lack of falsification conditions for anything they say is effectively a prerequisite. I advise any of us who engage at all with the religious to identify when this happens and absolutely refuse to proceed with conversation until religious beliefs are clarified to the point where they are falsifiable, at least in principle.

Monday, March 24, 2014

First Kiss, 65 Million Views!?

I while ago I watched the "First Kiss" YouTube video and, other than being bored with it, I noticed something. It had about 65 million views after being up for only a very short time.

The "First Kiss" video is basically a compilation of 20 strangers who meet for the first time and are asked to pair up and kiss. The purpose of the exercise is clear, to generate some sort of romantic aesthetic by making the viewer imagine themselves in this position; the initial awkwardness, the buildup and then the kiss itself with and attractive stranger all set to moody music.

65 million views for this? Really?

What does this have to do with apologetics or religious debates though? Well, I am often met by ignorance from the general public about why we should care about philosophical issues but more than that I am met with indifference. I know that nowadays its easier to talk openly about atheism and permissible to critique religion. The popularity of this subject appears to have grown considerably within the last ten years or so. However, compared to your basic attention grabbing stunts such as this "First Kiss" video, the atheism vs religion is way off most people's radar.

I feel bad about this. You might think that science, philosophy, reason, skepticism and distinguishing fact from falsehood would be high on society's priority list. I keep telling my self that if people were just prompted the right way they would care a little bit more about substantive concerns. There is a lot of evidence to suggest otherwise though. When I try to have a conversation about philosophy of science people get either bored or hostile. Bring up this video on YouTube then everybody wants to weigh in.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bankrupting Jesusland

I have said on numerous occasions that there is no purpose in talking to the vast majority of religious fundamentalists. There are actually a few moderates and liberals that don't seem to be worth it either but generally speaking anybody who refuses to change their position in the face of evidence and reasoned argumentation is not worth any regard. People like this have willfully abnegated all cognitive responsibility.

What to do with them then? Well, we could ignore them. This may be the appropriate response in some instances. On the other hand though if we let them ramble on they wind up conning gullible people, running interference against basic education and often times, at least in the U.S., turning politics into a farce. I suppose that merely telling the truth and advocating the use of critical reasoning abilities would help but to combat ignorance effectively different tactics may be needed.

On the fundamentalist side a whole suite of tactics are used on a regular basis. Being verbose till people assent, revising history in an obscene manner, telling blatant and often offensive lies are among the most common used. I'm not a fan of restricting free speech rights, in fact I think that one of the worst things a religious fundamentalist could do to get people to disbelieve them is to constantly repeat their own position. Even with this fundamentalists can still rip money out of the economy and dupe many people that don't have access to standard educational resources.

So, if we want to dispense with some of the more ridiculous nonsense, what should we do? Perhaps if the secular and more liberal religious community would encourage people to divert money and media coverage away from these jokers a few of them might disappear. It is imperative that, if you want to see a decline in bad behavior, that you not reward that behavior. Maybe we don't need to invite them on talk shows. Maybe we could tell our politicians to stop kowtowing to them. Oh, and also, please don't buy anything from them.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ken Ham and Others

I haven't seen the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate and I doubt that I really want to see it. On the occasions that I have seen Ham conversing with anyone in public I have asked myself,

What is the point?

Practically nothing but non-sequiturs, blatant lies and incoherent fantasies ever fall out of his mouth. It never matters what the particular subject is or who he is talking to. I've already mentioned in earlier posts that quite a few apologists fall into this category, especially the ones who want to debate. The problem is though they never really want to debate. Instead they want to pontificate in a completely one-sided way.

So, is it a waste of time arguing with the religious? No, not at all. I happen to have a had a great many productive conversations with religious people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Friendly argumentation on these topics is also useful in helping us understand many facets of our intellectual lives.

We have to be wary though. When conversing with someone, religious or not, who you believe to be lacking in basic, healthy skepticism in regards to the beliefs they hold, the first thing you should ask them is:

What, in principle, would convince you otherwise?

The follow up could be any number of ways to steer the discussion but if they say that they are unwilling  to change their belief under any circumstances at all then you have a virtual admission that they could very well be wrong. If that happens to be the case then they also have admitted they prefer to believe in lies rather than the truth, just so long as they like those lies. Do we really need to be talking to people like this? Should they really get air time and a massive amount of public attention? Of course not.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sophisticated Gibberish

In a couple of recent conversations with theists I have heard mention of the presumably sophisticated philosopher/theologians. Usually when an opponent of mine brings up one of these characters they have no clue as to what reasoning, if any, these academic jokers have for their bizarre beliefs. Billy Craig gets talked about quite a lot in conversations like these but his nonsense is so transparent that anyone can see what his real objective is. Alvin Plantinga's name came up the other day though so I decided to return to the old "ontological argument" of his.

I had read this back when I was in graduate school and remembered very little about it. After rereading it I discerned why that was. Plantinga spends about the first half of his paper on the ontological argument discussing responses that were made to the original version of the argument posed by Anselm of Canterbury. Since he simply replaces the original with his own version this exercise is pointless and betrays a bit of insecurity on Plantinga's part. Couldn't he have simply forwarded his own version of this? No, apparently he must point out that Kant's criticism is unjustified given that Anselm's ontological argument is so poorly phrased that it amounts to nothing intelligible.

Then on to the real demonstration of why one of Christianity's great defenders is about as honest as a three-card monte dealer on a sidewalk in the middle of the hood. He finally explains his version of the ontological argument about two thirds of the way through his paper. There are about twenty to thirty steps in it. We can jettison most of that because it needs to be streamlined. Palntinga defines god as a "maximally great being", which means omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect, in all possible worlds. After setting this down a bit clumsily he proceeds to use this term, "maximally great being" in a completely different sense than the one he just proposed. Then around step twenty-four or so he magically transforms the term to mean what he initially defined it to mean. This is an accomplishment for him? Even Plantinga has to admit that this doesn't amount to much and simply tells us that the argument is valid even if not proven to be sound. In addition comically titles the final section of this paper "The Argument Triumphant" in spite of the fact that for all the verbosity up till then we still haven't actually heard an argument.

What Plantinga's ontological argument winds up being is a single statement that, "Its possible, that its impossible that a maximally great being doesn't exist", and he attempts to pull this apart into pieces and shove bits of modal logic into it. This is the great towering figure that the reasonable and sophisticated Christians point to and expect the rest of us to acknowledge as a wonderful intellect? Alvin Plantinga, the scumbag used car salesman of Christianity. This is the problem not just with Plantinga but with all of the liberal theologians and philosophers that attempt, through perverse wordplay, to bore the living daylights out of their readers in the hope that we'll simply grant them that they have a point. Sorry but reality doesn't work like this. Unfortunately the fact that this nutball has a job at a real university is obscene.