Monday, September 26, 2016

Turns out we didn't need church after all

I wanted to do a quick post as an update on my possible attendance at a Unitarian Universalist church.

To do a quick summary, my wife & I wanted to ensure our daughter had more interaction with other children, especially in leisure time. My wife also did somewhat miss the church community, especially since she was also a stay-at-home parent for about 2 years at the time.

This led me to investigate attending a Unitarian Universalist church.  There was one practically around the corner from our house, but my only hang up was related to what exactly they'd be teaching our daughter. 

So I sent an email to the church's contact address and laid out what we believed (atheists, but humanists) and what my concerns were (what was taught about supernatural beings in their kids classes).

To my surprise I got...absolutely no response.

My guess is that they don't really have someone checking the contact email account at the church, which is really odd given what I know about how even small churches operate. I used to be a very active volunteer when I was a believer, even when most of the volunteers were quite old, we had something setup where the email would go to someone who would respond.

Life went on, and then I only recently remembered how odd it was to have never heard back from the church.  This caused some reflection in me, and I realized we as a family have nearly zero desire to go to the church anymore and I wanted to elucidate why.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cheering for Jeff Lowder

Tomorrow, renowned Internet Infidel Jeffrey Jay Lowder will be debating Christian Apologist Frank Turek at Washburn University on September 21, 2016.

Unfortunately the debate will not be live streamed, but it will be recorded and should be posted online afterwards.  Suffice it to say if you can attend this one live, go do so.

Why am I posting about this? Because it's hard to overstate the amount of respect I have for Jeff Lowder. When it comes to doing counter apologetics on the internet, Jeff is one of the OG's. In 1995 he co-founded and was President of Internet Infidels, one of the most accessible and comprehensive resources of serious atheist thought in philosophy of religion online. When I was deconverting, was invaluable.

This isn't just a case of someone being the first to do something, Jeff currently blogs over at The Secular Outpost and I consider him to be one of the best people making atheist content on the internet.

He is extremely precise in his work and in his charitable representation of the views of his opponents. He's also extremely well versed in apologetic arguments and counter points.  He's literally got at least 20 years of studying this topic, and if you search Internet Infidels or his posts on The Secular Outpost you'll see he has an educated position on all of the common arguments.

Basically, Jeff knows his shit.

He's squaring off against Frank Turek, a very successful apologist. Frank isn't a Alvin Plantinga or a Richard Swinburne, that is he's not a professional philosopher. He's someone who takes philosophical arguments and presents them in accessible ways. This is not to insult Frank Turek at all, or to say that he doesn't understand his material - he does.  He's a clearly a professional communicator, and from what I've seen of his debates he's a pretty damn good one at that.  If I was an Evangelical Christian, I'd be glad to have someone as effective as Frank Turek communicating my views.

Jeff isn't a professional philosopher either, but I think Jeff knows the material so well that he will be able to point out the problems with Frank's arguments in ways Frank probably hasn't had much experience with.  This will serve to deflate the aura of certainty that Franks apologetic style comes off as selling to evangelicals, and that's a service we should applaud as atheists.

This will definitely be one to watch if you care about precision in the philosophy underlying the theism vs atheism debate.  I eagerly look forward to the video or audio being released online, it should be quite the debate.

Go Jeff Go!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sean Carroll, Catholicism, & Unfalsifiable Metaphysics

We interrupt your regularly scheduled quiet time on the Counter Apologist Blog to bring you an actual post!

Lately I've been doing some thinking about apologetic arguments, and that leads me to thinking about metaphysical arguments in general.  Part of this post is to help me document some ideas I’ve had about fundamental issues regarding metaphysical arguments. 

Much of this is triggered by reading posts by Catholic apologists and theologians.  Catholics are unique in that they tend to be Thomists, and so ascribe to a kind of Aristotelian metaphysics that was endorsed by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas is the official philosopher of the Catholic Church, and much of their theology is based on his work. 

If the name Aquinas rings some bells, it’s because he’s the guy who has the “Five Ways” or rather five arguments that supposedly prove the existence of a god.  One of the most famous of these arguments is one for a “prime mover” or an “unmoved mover”.

The argument itself isn’t really important per-se, it’s actually air tight in terms of premises following to their conclusions.  The issue is the Aristotelian metaphysics it assumes and is based on.  Suffice it to say, if you’re using the kind of neo-Aristotelian metaphysics favored by modern day Thomists, the conclusion readily follows.

What atheists disagree with in terms of the Thomists is the metaphysics they assume.

The problem with metaphysical assumptions, especially ones that try to get to the base of fundamental reality, is that proving or disproving them is either trivially easy or impossible.  The trivial ones are easy to disprove because they assume something we can show not to be the case, and the others are so well crafted so as to be immune to disproof – though that also leaves these principles underdetermined.  We can’t actually prove or disprove these kinds of assumptions.

So it was this tweet by one of my favorite contemporary atheists, Sean Carroll, discussing an objection to his book “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself”.

The objection comes from a writer/apologist named Brandon Vogt who writes at

In the book, it appears (I’ve not yet read the book) that Sean directly goes after the Aristotelian metaphysical assumption that “Everything in motion must be moved by something” and as Brandon helpfully clarifies, by motion he means any change whatsoever. 

Sean points out that the conservation of momentum casts doubt on that assumption, using the example of “objects on frictionless surfaces moving at constant velocity do not need a cause to keep moving”.

Brandon counters that at best this shows we don’t need a sustaining cause to keep an object moving, it wouldn’t show we don’t need an initial cause to start said motion. 

Brandon continues to say that by failing to distinguish between types of causes, Sean misses the point of the argument, and so fails to refute it.

The more I think about it these underlying issues, the more I have to agree that Sean hasn’t, and in fact can’t, disprove Aristotle’s premise.  However at the same time I don’t believe Brandon or anyone else can establish the premise either.  

The assumption of the naturalist is that physical stuff that makes up our universe has always existed. Right now we think the most basic form of physical stuff is what is described by quantum mechanics (QM).  The idea we get from QM is that this “stuff” has and will always operate according to these QM laws.  There is no “cause” of it to have started, and it doesn’t require anything to sustain it either. It just exists and it does its thing.
The theist will disagree with that, but that’s our position. 

A Thomist says that all changes require some kind of cause, which is backed up by our intuitions and our everyday experience.  The problem comes from example that Carroll brings up, and from another famous example, that of radioactive decay.   Eventually radioactive elements will decay. It’s completely random, and as far as we can tell it simply happens. There’s no physical cause of it, not apparently anyway, and the best we can do is predict a range in which the decay will happen (this is the half-life of a radioactive element.

You might think this would disprove the Aristotelean metaphysic, but they will respond that just because our best theory doesn’t show that there is some kind of cause for the decay, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Perhaps there’s a better theory out there that will come about once we solve other problems in physics.  

The issue is that while it’s true we can’t definitively say there is “no cause”, it certainly appears as if there isn’t one give our best information and theories.  

So the key metaphysical principle at stake in the argument gets put in this kind of perpetual underdetermined status, never to be resolved. 

Study this stuff long enough and you’ll notice that this is a very common theme for nearly any major topic in metaphysics. Metaphysical principles are relegated to metaphysics, instead of just physics, because the principles themselves are so general and crafted in a way that they can’t in principle be proved or disproven. 

So in the end, atheists will point to things like the conservation of energy or what Sean refers to as the Quantum Eternity Theorem which says either time is infinite or it is not fundamental. Either way, looking at our best description of the physical stuff (ie. quantum mechanics) the physical stuff has “always existed”. 

A theist can counter even that evidence by saying, somewhat like Young Earth Creationists, that god still created the universe a finite time ago and made it look as if it has always existed, but there isn’t evidence of this. 

In the end, the theist holds to their metaphysical principle which is based on our intuitive “every day” experience of how the world works, and the atheist points to findings from science which undermines those intuitions and principles. 

The theist can say that our evidence doesn’t truly undermine their principles, but they can’t exactly prove that we must accept those principles either.  So round and round we go, with neither side able to prove the other wrong, because of the very nature of the question being asked.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Convincing Theists to Abandon Theism?

This is intended as a conversation piece in response to a rather interesting blog post by philosophical theologian Stephen J. Graham.

Despite being quite very opposed to Stephens views, I really enjoy interacting with him on Twitter.  Most exchanges we have are very respectful and we seem agree on a variety of topics not related to theism.

His blog post really caught my eye since he tries to answer philosopher Anthony Flew's challenge of asking what it would take to abandon theism.

Stephen's answer is quite candid, pointing out he doesn't really know exactly what it is that grounds his theism but never the less he gives two things which could undermine his Christian beliefs:
  1. Showing the concept of god is incoherent.
  2. Conclusive historical evidence of Jesus not existing or the resurrection being a hoax.
Stephen also goes on to describe how a traumatic event in his life could make the problem of gratuitous evil more convincing to him personally, which would undermine his belief in god.  There isn't too much I would say in response to that point, so I'd like to focus on the first two.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Countering the Moral Argument

Note: What follows is the script for my YouTube video on Countering the Moral Argument.  Keep reading below for the transcript!

A much longer Counter to the Moral Argument

Note: This is a much longer version of my "Countering the Moral Argument" video/paper that goes through each objection listed there in far greater detail. 
The moral argument for god’s existence is one of the most common arguments apologists will use in debates with atheists. It also tends to be one of the most misunderstood arguments, which I think contributes to its persistence in sticking around despite having been debunked a long time ago.

This paper will focus on two objectives.

1.       The primary goal is showing the Moral Argument is false.

2.       Showing inherent problems with the theistic moral system that underlies the moral argument.

Note why these are two separate goals, because one can show that the moral argument is false, but still hold to a theistic ethical system.

I’d like to start by presenting the argument as it is commonly defended by popular apologists like William Lane Craig:

1.)    If god does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.

2.)    Objective moral values exist.

3.)    Therefore god exists.

First off let’s get the easy caveats out of the way. The argument does not say that:

     Atheists can’t act morally

     Atheists can’t tell the difference between right and wrong.

Here’s what the argument does try and say:

1.       Atheists do not have a basis for an objective morality on their worldview.

The argument alleges that atheists are somehow being inconsistent by not believing in a god while still believing that morality can be objective.

Now that we’ve established what the moral argument is trying to do, let’s get started with identifying exactly what apologists mean when they use this argument.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Apprehensions about attending a Unitarian Universalist church

This is a bit of a personal note, but I figured that I could use an outlet for my angst and that others may find these thoughts useful.