Sunday, December 16, 2018

Are the Gospel Crucifixion Scenes Eyewitness Accounts?

Everyone agrees that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, right? Maybe. But even if that’s true, widespread agreement on a claim does not make it true. Human beings are neither infallible nor omniscient, and all too often people accept what they’ve been told uncritically and believe what they’ve been told is true without actually looking into the relevant facts. After all, that’s more and more what public schooling seems designed to do. Some things never do change.

But the inclination to exploit this gaping human defect is not reserved to the public sector. It’s been going on for millennia and can be seen in action today in Sunday schools across the world as well. The belief that Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem under Pilate and at the instigation of chief priests, comes to us pre-packaged in a set of narratives whose authors are nowhere around to answer questions. So to examine the stories we have at our disposal, we’re left to our own devices. Thus it’s instructive to compare what those narratives say against each other and explore the context in which we find them, not least with regard to the writings that came before those narratives.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Faith and Imagining

One of the more prickly topics in debates between Christians and their critics, at least in my experience, is the issue of faith – what it means, how it works, what it does. Apologists will scold non-believers for misunderstanding the meaning and nature of faith, presumably contorting it intentionally to malign it. Then again, biblical and apologetic sources are not only unhelpful, but in fact contribute to the fog which perpetually shrouds the topic of faith in obscurity and haziness. It’s no wonder that apologists typically don’t raise the issue of faith in their dialogues with non-Christians. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Is human life really “futile” without a god?

I’ve often heard claims to the effect that “life would be futile without God.” It’s not always clear what specifically this statement is intended to mean, and it should not surprise us to find that those who sympathize with the statement on its face value mean different things by it. Are they saying that life would be futile if their god did not exist? If so, that raises questions regarding the nature of the premises upon which they base this assessment. Are they saying that life would be futile if one does not believe in their god? If so, that would seem to boil down to a set of beliefs that have been accepted as fundamental drivers of their view of life overall. And those beliefs themselves would need to be examined for what they entail and for whether or not they are rationally defensible.

Perhaps the statement “life would be futile without God” is intended to suggest that those who do not believe in a god are leading futile lives. According to whom? And wouldn’t such a view invite further assessments of the value – or nonvalue – of the lives of those who don’t believe in whichever god is supposed to provide “meaning” to people’s lives? How many stages is the concept “dispensable” in the mind of the believer removed from the concept “futile,” if he buys into the view that “life would be futile without God”? Is the believer who believes that life is futile without his god inclined to suppose that eliminating people who do not believe in his god is just and fair? Could the “life would be futile without God” premise be used to dehumanize people whose beliefs are different from one’s own?

These considerations of course in turn point to the fact that the claim that “life would be futile without God” is certainly not self-evidently true, so consequently it must be argued for in order for those not already accepting it to give it any credence.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Parsing the Haysian Square-Circle

Here I will post some thoughts and counterpoints to a post Steve Hays published on Triablogue at the end of July this year called Square one.

Hays begins by linking to an entry he posted in February (here) stating “an atheist attempted to refute my post.” In that February post, Hays writes:
To take a comparison, consider a typical debate with a village atheist. They lead with a particular reason for rejecting Christianity. If you shoot down their stated reason, it doesn't faze them at all. They just reach into the bag for another reason. You can go down the list, and it makes no difference.
I did not see the comment of the challenger on that blog entry, so either it was sent to Hays apart from the comments of that blog entry, or if it were originally posted as a reply to that entry, it appears to have been deleted.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Burden of Proof

People engaged in or looking for a debate often make a big fuss about who has the burden of proof. Atheists say that theists exclusively have the burden of proof, and theists say either that atheists shoulder all the burden of proof or at the very least share it. At least some do. Either way, it often seems that no one on either side is ready to come out and say, “Yep, the onus is all mine.”

Now, I’m sure I could go research any number of authorities on the subject of who owns the burden of proof in debate, but not every exchange is a debate, and going around to everyone who makes any kind of statement saying saying “Oh yeah? Prove it!” strikes me as rather untoward, anti-social, even childish. Perhaps the issue is not so much who has the burden of proof, but when is the very notion of a burden of proof even relevant to begin with. Dwelling on who has the burden of proof in a discussion (rather than a debate) can be anticlimactic and even counterproductive to the goals of a discussion. Contention for contention’s sake will only close doors that would be better off if left propped open. So some wisdom is certainly due here.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Disgruntled Apologist

Over on Triablogue Steve Hays titles a recent post with the words Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I’ll have to take his word for it that this is true, but pardon my skepticism. In fact, reading through his post, it seems his assertion is borne on some pent-up resentment for people who don’t believe in his deity.

I have often heard the aphorism to the effect that “it’s hard to be angry when you’re thankful.” And I think there’s a lot of truth to this. Moreover, many religious people in my experience have touted the virtues of gratefulness and thanksgiving, and many have demonstrated remarkable patience and humbleness along with their thankfulness. It’s quite therapeutic in fact, but I’ve never supposed that such virtues were reserved only for the believer. Nor have I ever been effectively persuaded that belief in invisible magic beings is a necessary precondition for the positive orientation to life to which many religious people I’ve known have paid ample lip service.

When I read apologetic screeds like Hays’ blog entry, dripping – as many I’ve read – with spite and venom, I don’t find a man who is thankful or grateful, humble or patient; rather, I see someone who has allowed himself to build up a rage for people he’s never even met, for people that are simply a figment of his own fantasies, people who ironically he likely wishes never existed in the first place. It’s quite easy to make imaginary people the scapegoat of our ire, but when you have a scapegoat, you have no mirror. And maybe that’s the whole point to Hays’ numerous posts excoriating non-believers. A proud Darth Vader might say, “the displeasure is strong with this one.”

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I have it all backwards. Maybe I as an atheist am the real villain in this screenplay. Maybe I’m the one who has made a scapegoat of Hays and other apologists in spite of their displays of scorn for non-believers and, even worse, individuals who were devoted Christians at one point in their lives, but then departed from the fold and found a new direction in life. I don’t think this is the case, but if it’s true that I am in the wrong here, I want to know and I want to correct my ways. So in the interest of discovering whether or not I’m wrong in either measure, let’s explore Hays’ post and find what we can learn. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Futility of Theodicy

Several weeks ago on his blog, Christian apologist James Anderson plugged Greg Welty’s newly released book on the problem of evil on his (Anderson’s) blog. Readers can find this in his entry Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It)? Though not an in-depth review, I’m afraid it’s more of the usual syrupy praise for the labors of a fellow-traveler in the faith doing what he can to strengthen believers’ devotion to the imaginary.

Of course I have to admit upfront that, whenever I see another book come out which, once and for all, presumably puts the problem of evil to rest (why else would a Christian theologian publish a book on the problem of evil to begin with?), part of me (the mature, adult part of me) is inclined to yawn, down a hot cup of delicious coffee, and go on with my day teeming with productive labor. Another part of me (one more inclined to playfulness) says “Oh goodie! Yet another effort to battle this untamable dragon!” and likewise yawns and moves on to another fulfilling day of personal achievement. That is to say, I probably won’t be running out to buy Welty’s book any time soon. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Edward Feser on Ayn Rand

A couple of months ago a reader of my blog wrote to me privately and asked me to comment on a January 2014 blog posting of one Edward Feser titled Does existence exist? In this entry I’m finally getting around to posting some reactions to it.

Feser headlines his blog, simply called Edward Feser, with several bits of praise, all of it I’m sure very true, such as “One of the best contemporary writers on philosophy” (National Review) and “Feser… has the rare and enviable gift of making philosophical argument compulsively readable” (Times Literary Supplement). It’s not clear where in these publications one can find such laudations. But given these accolades, one would suppose that his efforts to interact with Rand’s axiom of existence might unearth startling and profound truths missed by the average armchair philosopher.

Beyond this article, I’ve never read anything of Feser’s (not that I remember anyhow), so without studying more of his work (it will have to get in line), I will take his profile for its word when it says that he “write[s]… from a traditional Roman Catholic perspective.”

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Existence and Perception

Fundamental principles are the most critical part of philosophy to get right since all inferences, deductions and applications of its principles depend on their truth, their defensibility, and their suitability as fundamentals. Unfortunately it is philosophy’s fundamentals that are often the most misunderstood or even the least developed, either because they have not been securely identified, their truth is taken for granted and therefore deemed unworthy of deeper attention, or they have been disfigured through filters foreign to that philosophy.

I suspect that one reason why Objectivism’s fundamentals are so frequently and persistently misconstrued, is the very fact that Objectivism actually has clearly stated fundamentals, affirmed in terms of conceptually irreducible primaries, while other philosophies typically have at best vague handling of fundamentals and essentially zero regard for conceptual irreducibility. For example, consider the question: What is the fundamental starting point of post-modernism? Or Dialectical Materialism? Or Existentialism? Or Hinduism? Or Christianity? Or Scientology? Etc. Are they truly fundamental, or do they take certain unstated premises for granted? Do their stated foundations consist in identifying general facts that are directly available to any thinker, or do they rest in authoritarian pronouncements, secret canons, or elements of stories passed down by prior generations? 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Incinerating Presuppositionalism: Year Thirteen

Again we now come to another anniversary of this blog’s inception, marking a full 13 years since its inaugural post in March 2005. While I’d think by now I’d have become accustomed to the increasing rapidity with which the days, months, years and hours of my life pass, I’m still amazed at where all my time goes. For time is life, and life is all.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Does Following the Evidence Lead One Over a Cliff?

Over on Triablogue, apologist Steve Hays has posted a blog entitled Am I a presuppositionalist? In this entry, Hays runs through a number of topics pertaining to the distinctions between presuppositionalism and evidentialism, both schools of Christian apologetics. His post is a reply to a description of evidentialism given by fellow apologists Tim and Lydia McGrew.

There’s a lot to consider in Hays’ post, and I have been tempted to give it a more thorough treatment, but I decided to keep today’s post relatively short as I want only to interact with a statement Hays makes towards the end of his post, where he fits in his predictable jab against atheism.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Is the Christian God a "Necessary Being"?

Recently Steve Hays over at Triablogue posted a blog entry titled Who Made God?. This entry offers some instructive opportunities for engaging the kind of thinking many believers indulge in, so I have decided to comment on it.

Hays begins with the following provocative statement:
Some atheists think they can dismiss cosmological arguments by simply asking, "Who made God?"
Given the tone Hays uses here (“you’ll never get away with it, you meddling atheists!”), I get the impression that he believes the question “who made God?” is an inappropriate reaction to the cosmological argument. However, it seems to be a perfectly valid response to an argument which insists that everything was made by a “who” in the first place. If someone wants to validate his belief in invisible magic beings by asking “who made the universe?” why would it be wrong to suppose that, if a person, specifically a consciousness, must have created the universe and everything in it, a person, specifically a consciousness, must have created the person who created the universe?