September 30, 2009
In honor of Blasphemy Day, Dyran over at Sentient Puddle has reposted the Muslim cartoons published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten four years ago today.
If you’ve never seen the cartoons before — and, if you live in the US, you probably haven’t — it’s worth checking out just how mild these things are. And even if you have, give Dyran a click in solidarity with free speech and the right to subject anything to scrutiny and criticism.
If you can’t wait until 11:30 pm EST tonight, here’s a clip from the last time Dawkins was on the show, in 2006.
Personally, I find the interviews on Colbert kind of frustrating if it’s a subject I’d actually like to see interviewed. (On the other hand, Colbert’s interviews with sitting members of Congress, in “Better Know A District,” are hilarious.) Dawkins was pretty charitable about it last time, noting that–
I had a good time in New York. The Colbert show was fun, notwithstanding my misgivings before (which I have removed, because they now seem misplaced). While I was waiting, he came in to see me as himself, introduced himself and made sure that I understood his act: “You know I play a complete idiot?” I must say, when he is in character, he does it extremely well. The real Colbert is obviously highly intelligent and a very nice man. Aficionados seem divided about 50/50 over whether the real Colbert is religious. He is obviously too intelligent to be religious in any simple conventional sense. I suspect either that it amuses him to blur the distinction between his ‘character’ and the real Colbert. Or perhaps he is religious in the Einsteinian sense that all of us are, and goes to church because, like Martin Rees, he ‘believes in belief’ (Dan Dennett’s happy phrase).
September 29, 2009
There’s an increasingly popular apologetic making the rounds these days: that Christianity provides the intellectual framework for our modern conception of individual rights. This is a popular David Barton conceit, for example, and Dinesh D’Souza relied on it extensively in his debate with Christopher Hitchens.
Unsurprisingly, the argument has always struck me as completely batty. Our modern conception of rights stems exclusively (and some would say axiomatically) from the concept of the social contract, made explicit in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and extended in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government. Locke and Hobbes articulate a theory of individual rights that is entirely secular; in fact, Hobbes puts it this way:
A law of nature, lex naturalis, is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same, and to omit that by which he thinketh it may be best preserved. For though they that speak of this subject use to confound jus and lex, right and law, yet they ought to be distinguished, because right consisteth in liberty to do, or to forbear; whereas law determineth and bindeth to one of them: so that law and right differ as much as obligation and liberty, which in one and the same matter are inconsistent.
I do concede that both Hobbes and Locke were (to varying degrees) theists, and both drew upon the Christian tradition in framing their arguments. That is, of course, to be expected. But — at least for me — the underyling contribution of social contractarianism to liberty is that it can be justified on exclusively secular grounds. Thus, I have long concluded that Christianity offers no sort of justification for the American scheme of individual rights we now enjoy.
This is readily confirmed by history; beginning in 380 AD and extending for more than a thousand years, Christians and Christian thought dominated Western Civilization, and nobody — not even indisputably brilliant theologians and Christian philosophers like Thomas Aquinas — ever articulated a theory of individual rights (or anything that is even arguably a precursor). Rather, it was only once Christianity’s influence over Western Civilization began to subside in favor of the secular philosophy of the Enlightenment that we developed the theory of rights described above.
However, I stumbled across this interesting article by well-known atheist George H. Smith, author of Atheism: The Case Against God (which is a must-have for any skeptic’s bookshelf. Interestingly, Smith’s article was written for the Acton Institute, a Christian organization dedicated to, among other things, “promoting a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”
So the resulting article is, I think, about as “fair and balanced” as one can be on this topic. Smith forcefully articulates the positive role that Christian thought and institutions played throughout history in the development of the concept of liberty as we understand it today.
Of course, the apologist’s argument that Christianity provides an ontological justification for liberty remains patently false; there’s nothing in the Bible that suggests that individuals enjoy basic rights, and plenty to the contrary. But as a social institution and a force of history, Smith has persuaded me that the relationship between Christianity and individual rights is a bit more complicated than I initially thought.
September 28, 2009
This nifty link will take you to a series of questions about “Strong AI” that touch on consciousness, intelligence, mind(s), and the like — and evaluate whether your responses are internally consistent.
If you enjoy philosophy, quizzes, and being told that you’re internally inconsistent when you answer a question with “somewhat agree,” then you’ll probably enjoy this.
You might consider one more argument (thought) to tackle. Why have you dedicated so much time and effort to destroying “pixies in space?”
Well, I think maybe you’ve misinterpreted the mission of this site. As it says right up there on the top of the screen, I write this blog to evaluate apologetic arguments for Christianity. If you have some personal faith in Jesus that makes you happy, and you’ve got a live-and-let-live mentality, then we’re not going to have much to discuss. Most of my family members are Christians; most of the people I interact with on a daily basis are religious. My favorite baseball player is a Christian. And so on. Believe what you believe and be happy with it!
On the other hand, if you think you have a good argument why I should believe in Jesus, then I’d like to hear it. So far, I’ve found those arguments pretty unavailing, but who knows — maybe you’ll come up with a good one. Until then, all I can do is evaluate and answer the arguments that people make to me.
Read the rest of this entry »
In the comments section, “Who Cares” raises a number of issues related to the basic notion of whether we can “trust” the Bible. I think it’s worth unpacking some of those assumptions:
But, just touching on your point a) About the no agreement on any singular form of the bible. I mean, first, many people have many translations of works of Shakespeare, the Odyssey and the Iliad, and any non-english originated text we have, and the translations of those text into english, or some other language. And you assume we cannot agree on any of those text?
Here, “Who Cares” is eliding together three common atheist arguments that are, in fact, logically distinct. The first is the question of reliability; that is, how confident are we that what appears in our Bibles is a reliable transmission of what appeared in the original manuscripts. If the Gospel According to Mark we use today differs materially from the earliest circulating Gospel of Mark, for example, we would have questions about the reliability of our copy of Mark.
I want to apologize for disappearing on everyone over the past few months — I had two major cases prepare for and go to trial at the same time, and I was pretty much unable to devote the time that this blog sometimes requires.
The good news is that those cases are over, and Evaluating Christianity is back! Thanks to all the well-wishers who contacted me either via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or in the comments — I appreciate them all.