Saturday, March 31, 2012

The value of agnosticism

Reading elsewhere here (from a "skeptic") that "agnosticism has no intellectual merit"? Tosh. Certainly if we're talking about a limited agnosticism, such as whether or not science will "solve the mystery of consciousness," it has plenty of merit. Even if we're talking about "big ticket" agnosticism, the existence of a deity, it has merit, and not just as a halfway house. Both religious believers and a certain class of atheists who insist on absolutes, including absolute certainty, and cannot live in a world of grays, are mistaken, in my opinion.
Second, it’s ironic, or worse, for a skeptic, even if in the breed of modern self-proclaimed “scientific skeptics,” to reject the value of agnosticism. That said, this is another reason why I’ve said before, and will say again now, that modern “scientific skeptics” need to actually familiarize themselves with the philosophy of Skepticism.
Third, to claim that Arcesilaus never advocated such a thoroughgoing agnosticism, or skepticism, as to be skeptical even of skepticism, is not true. Such versions of agnosticism were advocated. And, no, that’s not a self-defeating concept, no more than is the pithier “question everything.” First, the agnosticism proposed is a state of mind, not a state of being. Related to that, no advocacy is made for the permancy of agnosticism in every instance in life. And, related to that, Arcesilaus’ skepticism is probabilistic, anticipating in some way Bayes’ theorum, perhaps.
Fourth, this doesn’t even consider Pyrrhonic skepticism, which is actually even more necessary today. Pyrrho advocated what he called “knowledgeable ignorance,” or, in more detail, taking a deliberate stance of non-certainty against dogmatism, whatever its form or stripe.
And, especially as some “scientific skeptics” are also “Gnu “Atheists” or approach them in mind, that’s the biggest reason of all “scientific skeptics” actually need to learn more about the roots of Skepticism, the philosophy.
“Darkness,” metaphorically speaking, can produce more light than heat can.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Gnu Atheism is tempting at times

I just got this mass blast email at work:
Recognizing child abuse and neglect as an epidemic that killed 1,560 children in 2010 and affected nearly 700,000 children nationwide, Christian leaders will hold an audio news briefing on Tuesday, March 27, at 1:30 p.m. EDST (10:30 am Pacific Time) to discuss efforts encouraging congregations to observe Blue Sunday on April 29, with prayer and reflection for abused children as well as recognition of the heroes who rescue and protect children.  To learn more about these efforts, go to

"Christians can and should help lead efforts to end America's epidemic of child abuse and neglect," says Dr. John Crupper, national director of Shepherding the Next Generation and a frequent contributor to the Christian website, Crosswalk. "We are calling on pastors and ministry leaders to rededicate themselves on April 29th to the belief that children are a gift from God and harming them violates not just the law.  It violates biblical principles."

Shepherding the Next Generation is sponsoring the press conference, which will include representatives from Moody Radio, World Vision and the Fairhaven Church in Dayton, Ohio.  Besides focusing on the problem of child abuse and neglect, participants also will discuss effective ways to address the epidemic including high-quality voluntary home visiting programs that can reduce abuse and neglect by as much as 50 percent.
The obvious response is, why isn't your god  preventing any of these deaths in the first place? Maybe, like Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal, he's asleep. Or deaf. Or just not listening.

Now, I don't engage in that unless such religious events are shoved in my face. But, when they are?

Hoffmann gets closer on #GnuAtheist critique

R. Joseph Hoffmann has been among the better academic writers to critique excesses of Gnu Atheism. The problem is, he has sometimes gone too far himself in protesting against some of their protests.

Because, while conservative Christians aren't all the religious in America, and do make easy targets, nonetheless, they've become more vocal, and more pushy, over the past decade. And, the more liberally religious, even when not put off by Gnu Atheists, have not always been as forceful in criticizing fundamentalist excess as they could.

And, even, some non-fundamentalists still believe some myths about atheism. For example, how else could Americans say they'd be even less likely to elect an atheist as president than a gay unless bias against atheists weren't widespread?

So, while his latest post is better than many earlier ones, he still misses a thing or two.

I do have one bone to pick with one segment of this piece in particular, and it’s where Hoffmann criticizes defending the emotional range of secularists, when he asks rhetorically:
But is there really a general movement afoot to tar atheists as emotional defectives?
Uhh, yes there is, and in a newspaper column nearly a decade ago, before the word “Gnu” was around, I riffed on Shylock myself to write just such a column. (It appeared in the religion section of The Dallas Morning News.)

In fact, after claims that atheists must be immoral, the claim that they must be emotionally soulless is probably the second one raised by conservative religious apologists and general defenders of conservative religion.

The general thesis is that without being able to be grateful to a creator deity, one just can’t appreciate a sunset, or a Beethoven quartet, in the same way that a true believer can.

That said, there are some great comments on the thread.

Nathan Bupp, formerly of the Center for Inquiry, seeing how Paul Kurtz was pushed out, wonders how Gnus would have treated a seminal secular humanist, Sidney Hook. It's a great question, and he's probably right that the likes of a P.Z. Myers would have been an attack dog against Kurtz.

Anyway, here's hoping that the generally articulate Hoffmann gets closer to what I see as the "sweet spot" on Gnu Atheist critique. While their style is pretty much all wrong, their issues don't just narrow down to the three points he lists in his post. And, while Gnus may delve too much into the language of victimization, that's not to say, per the presidential polling I listed above, my column, etc., that there aren't legitimate issues.

Right now? From my perspective, he's about 80 percent there.

Gary Gutting whiffs on 'problem of evil'

For theists, atheists, and philosophers of religion and beyond, the "problem of evil" is at the core of stumbling blocks of western monotheism.

How can a deity be both omnipotent, or all-powerful, AND omnibenevolent, or all-good?

Theistic apologists often appeal to god's inscrutability. In a nutshell, they claim that what appears to be evil now is for our ultimate good, or similar.

Gary Gutting says we need more than an appeal to ignorance, if we don't want to have a blind faith.

But, he misses what apologists also miss.

That such an all-powerful, all-good god, even if he or she must allow local evils, or allow short-term evils for long-term good, could still explain himself/herself better to sentient created beings, and *has chosen* not to do so.

That, as I have repeatedly identified it, is the "problem of psychological evil." And, I've yet to see a theistic apologist adequately answer it.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Philosophy's the same by any name

I agree in part with Colin McGinn, that many people may have bad conceptions about philosophy. But, his idea of renaming the discipline will have little effect. As for the science-philosophy gap, that comes im large part, in many areas, from scientists believing they're too good to need the insight of philosophers, especially those pesky critters called philosophers of science.

Well, as something like Pop Ev Psych shows, noooooo, scientists often need a lot of philosophical help, even straightening out.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

What about God and the first tornado. ma'am?

I'm no Gnu Atheist, and I know at bottom line people in general are creatures of emotion, and desire for psychological comfort first, then rationality second.

Nonetheless, I can't help but point out this line from a survivor of the Harrisburg, Ill., tornado, in light of the possibility that a new round of severe weather could bring more twisters to the area:
"You just keep thinking, 'God, please don't let there be another tornado.'"
Sorry, Ms. Wise, but the god you believe in, under your belief system, already let one happen there. Why not another?

IF religious people were willing to drop either omnipotence or omnibenevolence from belief systems, then non-Gnu Atheists like me would dialogue more on more issues. And, this is primarily an  issue of western monotheisms.

But ...  

Or course,. as I've said before, karma is in some ways  worse than hell, so I'm not letting Buddhism or Hinduism off the hook.