Friday, April 29, 2016

A few more thoughts regarding atheism and agnosticism:

One must distinguish a belief in one of the gods of the world’s religions from an open, and wondering attitude about there being some kind of mind behind the universe (maybe even behind the “multiverse”, if there is such). I think many of us physicists that study the strange and intricate mathematical laws that seem to underlie the material world may often entertain such speculations (though perhaps there is a tendency to not want to admit it for fear of appearing philosophically “soft”).

Maybe when one says he/she is an atheist, one must specify the particular “god” one does not believe in. As Dawkins and other “New Atheists” have often said, virtually everyone today is an atheist with regard to Zeus or Jupiter. And I agree that the Gods as portrayed in the Bible or the Koran are almost certainly inventions of the human mind, party motivated by wishful thinking about the promise of a glorious afterlife.
But beings such as the oft-heard example of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” are really off the mark, as these are presumably tangible, material creatures, in the same class as the Lochness monster, and in principle could be detected, if they did exist, via methods of investigative science. And these creatures are not, as far as I can tell, put forward to solve any metaphysical mystery.

Some will argue that the miracles described in the ancient scriptures violate what we know about how the physical world works, and what its limits are. Walking on water, parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, and so on. This is certainly true, although I suppose if the alleged miracle supported some deep metaphysical truth and was a one time event for that purpose, then perhaps we could not dismiss it with certainty. In that regard, I disagree with Hume, who wrote, if I understand him, that we should disbelieve a miraculous event if we had not observed such things happening in our experience. But it seems hard to understand what deep truths would be supported by these miraculous events. So it seems rational to view them with extreme skepticism.

But, as for miracles: There are two huge mysteries, or seeming miracles, staring us all in the face every day, (1) the fact that there is something rather than nothing (the puzzle the philosopher Heidegger was know for being obsessed with), and (2) the mysterious property of animal consciousness, in particular, human consciousness, that has apparently allowed we humans to put together at least a tentative theory of how the physical world behave at the quantum level, far below the realm of our direct sensory experience.

I continue to be puzzled by the claims of many “New Atheists” that “there is not a shred of evidence” for a God or Deity. Once one understands the claim of a believer to be about a metaphysical reality, it then seems irrational to expect the believer to produce evidence of a physical nature. By contrast, a believer in the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” would be, quite rightly, be expected to produce physical evidence if he is to be taken seriously.

I for one am humbled by the mysteries of existence and consciousness cited above, and while it is not clear that a god, deity, gods could solve or explain them, they are why I am inclined to say I am an agnostic. If there is a position that is called “agnostic theism”, it might come close to describing me.

Monday, April 25, 2016

In defense of Sam Harris:

I just watched a conversation between Abby Martin and her brother about the (somewhat controversial) New Atheist Sam Harris, a contemporary intellectual that I usually (though not always) to agree with. The video can be seen here.

This is just too painful to watch in its entirety. In just the first few minutes, the Martin siblings make so many assertions about Sam Harris that are wrong that my exasperation threshold is pegged. I have read a lot of Sam Harris's writings, and nowhere does he say that we should intervene in muslim theocracies. Far from "hating" muslims, as the Martins keep asserting, he is trying to enlighten them through rational discussions, and hopes to eventually convince not only muslims themselves but also misguided "multiculturalists" in the west to question and reject harmful concepts such as Sharia law.

It is true that he does, as do I, dislike many aspects of Islam. I would hope any rational person, who really cares about kindness, human freedom, and love would similarly be critical of a great many aspects of islam.

And they seem to think that criticism of Islam is somehow "racist", something I find indefensible. How many times do we have to point out that a religion is not a race?

By the Martin sibling’s logic, or, more correctly, the lack thereof, a person who criticized black slavery in the US south in the mid 1800’s would be accused of “racism”, not only against black people (for example, arguing something like “they are happy as slaves”), but also against the slave owners who were of largely different ethnic stock than those in the northern (free) states.

I wish the Martin's would give references to the insulting charges they make against Harris. From what I have read of him, almost all of their claims are either lies, or at best, based on misunderstandings of his arguments. But since Harris writes in a clear, easy to understand manner, I suspect that there is some hidden agenda of the Martins, and they deliberately lie to advance it. What would this agenda be, I wonder?