"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do as the religious do?

There's a particularly bad argument I keep saying places. It has this form:

1. Some religious people do action x.
2. If (1), then non-religious people (like us heathens) are justified in doing some corresponding action y.
3. Therefore, non-religious people are justified in doing some corresponding action y.

I'll give an example. I saw a facebook discussion recently about wearing atheist t-shirts, and a bunch of people said that if religious people can wear shirts to show off their religion then we can wear shirts as atheists to show off our irreligion.

It's true that we have the right to wear atheist t-shirts. I wear one sometimes. BUT it's a really crappy argument to just say that we should because some religious people do. Consider this argument:

1*. Some religious people kill apostates.
2*. If (1) then non-religious people are justified in killing people who convert to a  religion (i.e. the corresponding action to killing apostates.)
3*. Therefore, non-religious people are justified in killing people who convert to a  religion.

That's non-sense; no sane atheist would sincerely think that premise (2*) is true. This is something that matters for arguments about atheist billboards, bus signs, t-shirts, and so on. It's not because religious people do those things that we should -- one *can* provide other kinds of arguments, but obviously we shouldn't just mirror what religious fundamentalists do (in fact, arguing that we should likely drives the atheists-are-just-as-fundamentalist-as-religious-fundamentalists meme.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Atheism versus agnosticism versus theism versus....

Today, we had the second day of the Philosophy of Religion class. Things are going pretty smoothly, although one student made a comment at some point about atheism being "another religion" because "it is the belief that there is no god". All of my atheist readers are probably groaning, while all of my theist readers are wondering what the big deal is.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Philosophy of Religion Class

Today is the first day of my Philosophy of Religion class. It's going to be only the second time I'm taking a class completely unrelated to my PhD (first time was when I took a weight lifting class.) I'm really psyched and currently camping out outside of the room.

According to the syllabus, we're going to start the semester off with a discussion of Fideism -- the idea that religious convictions do not need or require rational justifications (i.e. either arguments or empirical evidence) for one to be justified in believing in them. Basically, it's the "faith-trump-card" that is oh-so-familiar to any one whose ever argued with a theist (especially theists who aren't very well versed in apologetics -- in which case, they probably won't know the word "fideism" either.) However, it looks like Wittgenstein wrote a defence of this sort of position, and I'd definitely like to see how the "father of analytic philosophy" handled this question. I'm therefore pretty excited that Wittgenstein is one of our first assigned readings.

It's a sophomore level class and I'm still debating whether or not to keep my identity as a graduate student secret. Class starts in about 20 minutes, no idea if I'll decide by then....

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jessica Ahlquist Decision Reached

Edit: Please encourage other students to do things like this by contributing to the Jessica Ahlquist scholarship fund set up by Hermant Mehta (the Friendly Atheist) available here.


I just got done reading the official court decision in the Jessica Ahlquist case written by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux. Jessica is currently a 16 year old high school student in Providence, RI. An overtly Christian prayer has hung in her high school since the 1960s. She's an atheist and was suing the school for violating her constitutional rights.

She won the case, whose decision was announced today. I met Jessica along with two other high school students -- Zack Kopplin and Damon Fowler -- at the CFI Student Leadership Conference in April. The judge's comments in the decision reflect what I thought both of her and the two other high schoolers:
Plaintiff [Jessica Ahlquist] is clearly an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand, particularly in light of the hostile response she has received from her community.

The Dossier of Reason

Recently, a former pastor (now apostate) posted a very lengthy document to the atheism subreddit (post is here.) This was a compendium of all of the arguments against his former theistic beliefs that he had compiled. It's also a collection of arguments that convinced him that his former beliefs were false. It's a spectacular collection of arguments, so I wanted to link to it here. Link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1f6ZewV_Ro5HLixACGE_wgJrnlFNVKVxTfuVALqARNEs/preview?hl=en_US&pli=1&sle=true

Monday, January 9, 2012

Interest in the Beliefs of Others

I have written before about personal offence and whether one should ever criticise the beliefs of others. However, I have seen discussion lately -- mainly on Reddit -- about whether or not atheists should care about what theists believe. One can generally ask -- why should anyone ever care about the beliefs of others?

There are a variety of reasons that people should care about the beliefs of others.

Correction on "Helping Theist Arguments" (from 1/3/12)

User efrique on r/atheism has informed me that I made a conceptual error in my article "Helping Theist Arguments". With his permission, I include his comments here without alteration (other than editing out comments not related to his correction, which can be found here.) It's slightly embarrassing for me that I made this conceptual error, given the number of courses I've had on statistics and my background in statistical physics. It's slightly encouraging that efrique ensures me that this is a common mistake, repeated in a number of textbooks.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Helping Theist Arguments

Edit: Ironically, I made a conceptual error in my comments here. Please see my comments here addressing that issue.
Sometimes, when I talk to theists, I am surprised at their ability to provide me with challenging arguments. I really value those moments when a theist says something to me which actually stumps me.

Other times, theists aren't able to stump me or surprise me with their arguments. It's not because they're dumb people, but rather because a lot of religious people have never spent any time trying to defend their religion. Perhaps for them, religion is about inspiration, mystical experiences, or values. When this happens, I can't do anything but feel bad for them. Feeling sympathetic to their plight, I tend to put aside my own opinion and try fix up their own arguments. If anything, it gives me something more interesting to argue against. And I value critical thinking more so than my own opinion; in some sense, I feel morally obligated to help them provide a more rational defence of their own religion.

This happened recently on the r/Christianity subreddit and I wanted to provide it here as an illustrative example.