Saturday, December 29, 2012
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Epiphenom is a great blog. This post is is fascinating: Atheist countries more peaceful.
It's well established that education and religiousness are inversely correlated. The trick, of course, is figuring out what the cause is. Does education cause religiousness to fall off?
And this is my 300th post!
Friday, December 21, 2012
Monday, December 17, 2012
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Some random, but connected info about mental illness and religion. Given what we know about mental illness and about the best arguments that advocates have been able to muster for God, our first thought when we encounter someone with intense religious convictions should not be to take his/her arguments or reasonings too seriously but to ask, "What are the symptoms of mental illness that she is exhibiting?" The behaviors of the most religious among us: hyper-religiousity, hyper-moralism, evangelism, hypergraphia, visions, voices, circumstantiality, disassociated states, states of religious ecstasy, euphoria, and moral elevation. And when otherwise serious academics get involved in protracted and complicated defenses of religious belief, how is that not comparable to infamous Harvard psychiatrist John Mack getting swept up by the UFO abduction testimonies of his patients?
|Classification and external resources|
- Blumer D (1999). "Evidence supporting the temporal lobe epilepsy personality syndrome". Neurology 53 (5 Suppl 2): S9–12. PMID 10496229.
- Devinsky O, Najjar S (1999). "Evidence against the existence of a temporal lobe epilepsy personality syndrome". Neurology 53 (5 Suppl 2): S13–25. PMID 10496230.
- eMedicine - Psychiatric Disorders Associated With Epilepsy : Article by William J Nowack
- Waxman SG, Geschwind N (December 1975). "The interictal behavior syndrome of temporal lobe epilepsy". Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 32 (12): 1580–6. PMID 1200777.
And some more serious research from Advances in Neurology:
"The Geschwind syndrome," Benson DF.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
"It might be in that America one of the two political parties seems to defiantly oppose the world science view. But I suspect that isn't the best way of understanding it, because they still look for oil using the assumptions about the age of the Earth that we all believe in; when they get sick they go to a doctor and they worry about the evolution of drug resistance just as we do. They're not Amish, they don't return to the land. So in a sense they have already bought into the scientific world, but there are just a few highly symbolic issues that define your moral and political identity that they stake out a position on, and I think that is very different from scientific ignorance. In fact, one study done by a former graduate student at my department at Harvard showed that people who endorse the theory of evolution don't understand it any better than those that deny it. We shouldn't confuse the moralisation of a small number of hot-button issues with hostility with the scientific world view in general."
There are those things that we say we believe, there are those things that we think we believe, and there are those things that we believe in believing in. And then there is what we really believe. When it comes down to one's real life, you don't really believe in Young Earth Creationism, most likely, no matter what you say you believe.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
When we indulge the religious urge, contrary to arguments and evidence, we foster irresponsible, unreliable, and problematic believing overall. We foster silly beliefs and set ourselves and others up for harm. Religious beliefs are not a private or harmless matter:
Scamming Elderly Asians on the Rise
Friday, November 30, 2012
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Distrust is the central motivating factor behind why religious people dislike atheists, according to a new study led by University of British Columbia psychologists.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
a.there are no empirical indications of a supernatural beings
Monday, November 19, 2012
Thursday, November 15, 2012
I'm pressed for time, so this is just going to be a brief note with some ideas that I need to develop later. It's widely believed by theists, skeptics, and atheists alike that religious belief serves an indispensable emotional function by giving people a sense of hope, emotional security, and happiness. So despite all of the powerful arguments in favor of atheism, or at least undermining objections to theism, that doubters present, this response recurs: "Ok sure, the reasons for believing in the resurrection, God, or other gods are lousy, but what's wrong with someone who still believes, keeps it to themselves, and who derives some personal contentment and emotional security from it? Why do you have to pick on them?"
Here's the thing: First, it's not at all clear that the widely accepted link between believing and emotional benefits is true. Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College, has been arguing on the basis of secularism in northern Europe that nonbelievers are actually happier.
Here are a few sources:
Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns
Here's a video of Zuckerman:
Zuckerman: Atheists, Agnostics, and the Irreligious
Here's Zuckerman on bias and discrimination against atheists in the U.S.: Washington Post: Why Do Americans Still Dislike Atheists?
Do we need God to have a happy society?
Second, humans are notoriously bad at predicting or knowing what will make them happy. See Dan Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness Ask people what the effects of a horrible accident or losing a loved one will be on them and they will estimate the effects as much more devastating than they actually are when those traumas occur. Our basic levels of happiness, contentment, and personal satisfaction reassert themselves in time, even after events in our lives that we estimate will have a long, irreversible negative effect on us.
So it seems to me that these two issues need to be connected and that we need to re-evaluate the alleged emotional and pragmatic justification for religious believing. If Zuckerman is right, then it appears that there isn't even a emotional justification for believing. Getting rid of religious belief might, contrary to what people think, make us happier, healthier, and more emotionally content.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Friday, October 19, 2012
Thursday, October 18, 2012
I got interviewed by the local CBS affiliate today about some of my fans: Professor Gets Threats Over His Book and Blog
Admittedly she's being a bit sensationalist for the sake of the news, but the opportunity presents itself to say a few things.
First, Americans, and probably lots of other cultures that measure high on the religiousness scale, do not like having religious doubters in their midst. For believers, being around an atheist or someone who doesn't buy into religious doctrines, it is a lot like having a vegetarian at the table with a bunch of meat eaters. His very existence is enough to make them feel judged, pressured, or disrespected. Most Americans are enthusiastic about freedom of religion, but in practice the real exercise of that freedom that they are comfortable with is adopting some flavor of Christianity. Adhere to some more exotic religion, and some people's tolerance for dissent gets stretched. And if someone rejects religious belief altogether, that's more than many can bear. The multitude of hostile, personal, nasty, and disrespectful comments I've gotten on this blog over the years is a testimony to this hyper sensitivity.
Americans also have a heightened sensitivity about religious matters that resembles what we see in some of the more volatile Middle Eastern cultures. The very act of asking questions, doubting, pressing objections, or being reluctant to accept flimsy theological justifications themselves are seen as inherently disrespectful, hostile, strident, and angry. For years, reviews of atheist books in the mainstream press have focused, almost to the exclusion of all other considerations about their content, on the angry, intolerant tone of the authors. Reviews of atheist books very often condemn and dismiss because of the tone rather than because of substantial objections to the content of the arguments.
The other problem is that there are a wide range of common psychiatric disorders where hyper religiosity, hyper moralism, evangelism, and religious urgency are symptoms. There are no psychiatric disorders, at least that I can find, that list skepticism, doubt, or a refusal to accept religious doctrines as primary symptoms. So, simply put, there is a significant population of mentally ill people out there who focus their anti social tendencies, their anger, and even their propensities to violence on vocal non-believers. Authors like PZ Meyers, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Martin, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer are the targets of shockingly threatening, hostile, and violent communications.
There is also good evidence from evolutionary psychology now that the religious urge has a neurobiological foundation deep in the history of natural selection for humans. The growing consensus is that we are wired by evolution to be religious. So it is not at all surprising, although it is lamentable, that so many people believe, and they believe with an enthusiasm and level of sensitivity that leads them to be hostile to non believers and skeptics. Atheists are perhaps the most reviled minority in the country, according to recent polling data.
So if we are committed to the basic principles of democracy, including a sensitivity to free speech, many of us should do some serious soul searching about our feelings of intolerance towards non believers.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Monday, October 8, 2012
I'll be discussing an argument from my book (Atheism and the Case Against Christ) at UC Berkeley tomorrow night. See details a few posts back. Specifically, I'll be talking about my Salem Witch Trials argument. Roughly, the idea is this. It is widely alleged that Jesus was executed and then returned from the dead. Our primary source of information about the alleged resurrection is the Bible. The main way that the Bible reports of the resurrection have been defended is by defending its historical reliability. I argue that by the epistemic, historic, and common sense standards that we (including Christians) already accept, there is not enough evidence to support the resurrection. If it is reasonable to conclude that the resurrection happened on the basis of the Bible evidence, then it is even more reasonable to believe that the accused in the Salem Witch Trials were actually witches. We have far better quality evidence regarding Salem, and a much greater quantity of it. And the Salem evidence possesses all the same virtues that the resurrection evidence is alleged to have. But it is not reasonable to conclude that the accused were actually witches in Salem. Therefore, it is not reasonable to conclude that Jesus was resurrected.
If we accept magic in one case, then we have to accept magic in the other. Or, the more reasonable conclusion is to reject magic in both. I go on to consider some objections that are typically offered to this argument.
My Powerpoint slides for the talk are here: The Resurrection and the Salem Witch Trials.
Hope to see you there. It should be an interesting discussion.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
There's a crippling problem with cosmological and teleological arguments. Even if they succeed at showing there was some sort of force or forces that caused the universe, or that played a supernatural causal role in evolution, or the fine tuning of physics to be biophillic, they don't show that it was God. That is, you can't get the God that people believe in--the all powerful, all knowing, all good creator of the universe, the God of Christianity, Allah, Jehovah, Jesus, and so on--from the argument. The arguments underdetermine theistic belief. I've been calling this The Gap. And the widespread consensus in philosophy now is that this is one of the central reasons that natural theology as it has been pursued for centuries, fails. Here's a slide I worked up recently to illustrate the problem more graphically.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Last week, Russell DiSilvestro and I debated the existence of God for an audience of a couple hundred at California State University, Sacramento. Here's a link to a video of the discussion.
Does God Exist? McCormick and DiSilvestro
Russell presented a form of the moral argument: roughly, he argued that the objective value of honesty as a virtue implies that there must be a God. Such moral facts cannot be explained as well by any other natural or supernatural hypothesis.
I presented an argument from divine hiddenness for atheism. That is, if there were an almighty, all knowing creator of the universe who sought our belief on the basis of evidence, then the evidence would be much better than we find it. The evidence we find is poor, and there are countless people with epistemically inculpable non-belief. God, if there were one, could have made non-belief epistemically culpable. Therefore, there is no God.
We also offered objections to each other's arguments and considered a number of good questions from the audience. Hope you find the video interesting.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
We're working on Patrick Grim's "Impossibility Arguments" in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism in my Atheism course. Here's a particularly striking argument:
Because the [impossibility] arguments at issue operate in terms of a set of more or less clear specifications, of course, it is always possible for a defender of theism to deflect the argument by claiming that the God shown impossible is not his God. If he ends up defending a God that is perhaps knowledgeable but not omniscient he may escape some arguments, but at the cost of a peculiarly ignorant God. The same would hold for a God that is perhaps powerful but is conceded to be less than omnipotent, or historically impotent but not literally a creator. If the term "God" is treated as infinitely re-definable, of course, no set of impossibility arguments will force the theist to give up a claim that "God" in some sense exists. The impossibility arguments may nonetheless succeed in their main thrust in that the "God" so saved may look increasingly less worthy of the honorific title.
A more frequent reaction, perhaps, is not redefinjtion but refuge in vagueness: continued use of a term "God" that is allowed to wander without clear specification. Here as elsewhere - in cases of pseudoscience, for example - resort to vagueness succeeds in deflecting criticism only at the cost of diluting content. If a believer's notion of God entails anything like traditional attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection, the force of impossibility arguments is that there can be no such being. If a believer's notion of God remains so vague as to escape all impossibility arguments, it can be argued, it cannot be clear to even him what he believes - or whether what he takes for pious belief has any content at all.
The whole article, with several arguments for why omniscience and omnipotence are impossible, is here:
Patrick Grim, Impossibility Arguments
Grim surveys several of the most recent, most logically sophisticated accounts of omnipotence and omniscience from Flint and Freddoso, Rosenkrantz and Hoffman, and Wierenga. None of the explanations work, he argues, because they either fail to be of sufficient scope to be worthy of God, or by being overly ambitious, they collapse under logical counter examples. That is, God's properties, whatever they are, must be sufficiently maximal. God, in order to be God, must have as much knowledge and power as can be had. But on the best accounts we have, omnipotence and omniscience are anemic and mundane beings could qualify. The most knowledge and power that any being can have are not enough to be God worthy. The result, suggests Grim, is that after thousands of years of grappling with the problem, we still don't have a clear account of what it would be to be omnipotent or omniscient. The implication is that we should conclude that the properties are impossible, unless the theist can produce some account that makes sense and that clarifies his claim that he believes in such a being.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
I'm doing some research for my debate about God this week. Prof. DiSilvestro is going to give a version of the moral argument for God. I'll post my notes/essay shortly. Here's a great video from primate researcher Frans de Waal about moral behaviors in chimps.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
California State University, Sacramento
Palo Alto, CA
Rm. 203, Photonics Center
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Approximately 13.7 billion years ago, the universe went from a singularity state of infinite curvature and energy to a rapidly expanding chaotic state, the Big Bang. During the first pico and nano seconds of this period of rapid expansion, the types and behavior of particles that existed rapidly change as the energy levels dropped. Within a few nanoseconds, the kinds of matter and the ways they behave settled into, more or less, the sorts of material constituents we find today. At this point, only hydrogen, helium, and lithium exist. The matter continues to expand outward and eventually, several billion years later, gravitational pull congregates clumps of matter together to form stars. These heat and energy at the cores of these stars cook the early forms of matter, transforming it and creating many of the other, heavier elements on the periodic table. Some of these stars are of sufficient mass to ultimately collapse on themselves, exploding outward and spraying the new elements formed in their cores out into space. That matter eventually coalesces into smaller stars, planets and moons like our own.
Only very recently have one of the hominid species--homo sapiens--on the planet developed cognitive faculties that were sophisticated enough to be able to discover these various facts about the universe. Some of those discoveries are landmarks of vast significance in our develop, although not in a cosmic scale: Darwin’s The Origin of Species is published in 1859. In 1929, Edwin Hubble published his paper, “A Relation Between Distance and Radial Velocity Among Extra-Galactic Nebulae,” in which he showed that the universe is expanding. Extrapolating backward from its rate of expansion made it possible to date the explosive beginning of the universe at approximately 13.7 billion years ago. In 1953, James D. Watson and Francis Crick published their discovery of DNA in Nature: “A Structure of Deoxyrobose Nucleic Acid.”
- The Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago.
- Only hydrogen, helium, and lithium exist for millions of years until large stars form and create many of the other, heavier elements on the periodic table.
- Some of these stars go supernova and distribute these new elements into space.
- That matter eventually coalesces into smaller stars, planets and moons like our own.
- The Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago.
- Life in the form of the simplest, self-replicating molecules occurs on Earth around 4 billion years ago.
- Once there is replication, natural selection and random mutations over billions of years lead to the evolution of more and more life forms, many of them of increasing levels of complexity.
- Dinosaurs live from about 208 million years ago to 65 million years ago.
- Life on the planet goes through several mass extinctions.
- The Cambrian explosion—a rapid proliferation of the kinds and numbers of living organisms on the planet, occurs about 540 million years ago.
- Mammals begin to expand and diversify significantly about 54 million years ago.
- Modern humans (homo sapiens) originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago.
- Human religious behavior starts approximately 300,000 years ago.