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.