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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Science, Religion, and Culture Library

This is our newly formed "Science, Religion, and Culture Library" here at Virginia Tech. It was formed through a partnership between Freethinkers at Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Interfaith Initiative. We are currently looking for donations to expand our collection, so if you would like to make a donation, please contact me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What's the Relationship between Science and Religion?

There's a debate currently going on at the Huffington Post, with user feedback, on the relationship between Science and Religion. Instead of providing commentary directly on that debate, I thought that I would take some time to outline the four basic views that philosophers and historians have had on the science/religion interaction. This is not meant as an argument for one view over any other, but as an educational outline of the way philosophers have treated this distinction. The four basic views are:

1. Conflict (the Draper-White Thesis)
2. Dialogue
3. Independence (NOMA)
4. Complexity

Well, this is rather unexpected....

I've been following Leah Libresco's blog "Unequally Yoked" for quite some time. Originally, her blog fascinated me because she was an atheist, dating a Catholic, who was responding to a lot of religious literature. At the time I started reading her blog, I was an atheist, dating a Christian, who had just started writing a blog responding to a lot of religious literature. I felt like I could relate to her blog more so than some of the other blogs I had been reading. Since then, myself and the girl I had been dating broke up; Leah and her guy apparently split, too. Still, I kept reading her blog because it provided an interaction between atheism and theology that few blogs focused on. It also had the Ideological Turing Test, an experiment I thought was just really cool.

This morning, Leah announced that she just wrote what would be her last blog entry for the Patheos atheism portal. She apparently decided that her conception of Morality was really best characterised as a Person, and that thought best captured in Catholic doctrine. In other words, she has gone from being an atheist blogger to Catholic. Her new blog will be on the Patheos Catholic Channel.

Still, I will continue to read what she writes. It will be fascinating to see where she goes on this journey. And I wish her all the best in that journey.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Christians Can Change Their Minds on Homosexuality?

My mother recently sent me a Huff Post article on Facebook entitled Christians Can Change Their Minds on Homosexuality. Of course, this is a topic I've blogged on recently here and here. Nonetheless, I decided to write a response. What follows is an edited version of my response to that article:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

When Theists Decide to Love the Gays....

Woman's suffragist Susan B Anthony once stated, "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires." Here I would like to discuss something very different from what Anthony had in mind; when religious people put into the mind of God a view that I agree with.

Recently, more than 120 religious leaders gathered at a Methodist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to form a group called Clergy United for all Families. This is a group that defends the equality of marriage for all people -- a goal that I emphatically defend as well. However, despite the large amounts of approval I have for this, I have some misgivings as well.

Friday, June 1, 2012

"Do you think seeing is required for believing?"

I recently came across a thread where, in response to someone asking for empirical evidence for the existence of God, a theist responded:
So are you saying seeing is required to believe in something?
I am really tired of seeing people equivocating between seeing and empirical evidence.

Empirical evidence is not, and never has been, the same thing as “seeing”. I can see something without having empirical evidence for it. For example, people have visual hallucinations and dreams. With the use of drugs, we can artificially induce all kinds of visual stimuli without something (other than the drug and it's interaction with one's brain) actually being there. In fact, even viewing a movie involves seeing things which, in some sense, have never actually existed*.

Additionally, we can have empirical evidence for something without seeing it. I’ve never seen what a sunrise looks like from the surface of the planet Mars, but we have good empirical evidence that it occurs. Likewise, I’ve never seen a capybara, but I have strong empirical evidence that capybaras really are rodents indigenous to South America. Giant squid have never been directly observed while alive, but that we have giant squid carcasses is good evidence that there are also living giant squid. For an even stronger example, I’ve never directly seen an electron, but we have good empirical evidence for their existence.

It’s certainly not required that we see something to believe in it, at least not in the sense of logical necessity. It’s also not necessary that we have empirical evidence for it.

But there is something else which is true. For the proper epistemic grounding of a wide range of claims**, empirical evidence may be required. And if we are cognisant of this detail, we may find ourselves unable to wilfully change our minds on a given issue without proper evidence. Otherwise, we’re just being gullible.

*Note that in both hallucinations and in the case of cinema, you are actually seeing something that exists. With the hallucination, you are seeing a real hallucination. And in the case of cinema, you are seeing a real movie. But Darth Vader presumably does not really exist, even though you can view a representation of him in Star Wars. In that sense, in which you could be mistaken about what you think you are seeing, you can see something that does not really exist.

**This surely cannot be true of all claims. If it were true that all claims required empirical evidence, we'd find ourselves in an infinite regress. Why? Because every proposition a would need to be justified by another proposition b, itself justified by a third c, and so on. By having certain kinds of reasonably basic assumptions that can be agreed upon by all relevant parties, we can cut off this infinite regress. That may not be a satisfying solution, but the only alternative is strong philosophical scepticism; i.e. the position that we cannot know -- or even infer -- anything at all. It may be additionally argued that some propositions are best justified in non-empirical ways. For example, mathematical propositions are, arguably, best justified in virtue of a mathematical proof. Our internal emotional states are perhaps best inferred by internal reflection rather than empirical investigation of the world external to ourselves. Additionally, David Hume's famous "is-ought" dichotomy gives us strong reason to think that empirical investigation is incapable of fully answering moral questions; empirical investigation can allow us to infer what is, but not what we ought to do.