Ergo God Maximally Enjoys Getting Gangbanged

This started as a half-serious joke I told in a bar earlier this year. It has become a running gag among some of my drinking compatriots, who, like me, agree it’s, well, let’s be honest, kidding on the square. Apart from it being funny (if rather rude…so, yeah, people offended by kinky sex-positive porny stuff should stop reading and go look at pictures of modestly clothed kittens instead), I wouldn’t normally blog about this except, reality imitating art, a serious discussion of the principle the joke plays on has been engaged recently in academic philosophy, after the release of Rob Lovering’s new book God and Evidence: Problems for Theistic Philosophers (2013), recently reviewed by Clayton Littlejohn of King’s College (London) in the Notre Dame Philosophical Review.

The Boring but Essential Backstory

Lovering’s arguments are not exactly new, but they represent an evolution of those arguments in response to the latest attempts by theists to get around them. Of the five modes he employs to show theism is untenable, the fifth pertains to kinky fun gangbangs. Oh, of course, Lovering says nothing of the kind. But his argument is only just a polite way of saying the same thing I did over a snifter of fine whisky. (And I had not then even heard of his book.)

Lovering’s other four arguments are, basically, (1) “if the evidence were good enough to warrant belief, there wouldn’t be so many nice, smart people who remain unconvinced”; (2) “a god can have no good reason to hide in the way he indisputably does”; (3) “just having faith” despite all that is immoral (by the theist’s own standards); and (4) “making excuses for why the evidence doesn’t fit what we expect from a benevolent superpower renders theism self-refuting,” because (and now I’m quoting Littlejohn) all arguments for God’s existence “assume that we can know what God would do in some situations (e.g., share evidence with us),” whereas the excuses apologists resort to all require asserting we cannot know that.

And then, Lovering’s fifth argument is “omniscience is impossible.” But he gets there in a smart way: he proves a maximally great being cannot exist (and thus all ontological arguments necessarily fail), because no being can be maximally great who fails to know something someone else really does know. This is, again, not new, but it is a good focus of the argument on a genuine problem with the kind of omniscience theism requires. One can easily dismiss arguments from incoherence by just changing your definitions (hence I’m a bit harsh on them in Sense and Goodness without God IV.2.4, pp. 275-77, although I still present some there that do work). For example, showing that there are things it is logically impossible for anyone to know (even a god) can be bypassed by simply defining omniscience as “knowing everything it is logically possible to know.” But there is a way to nix that tactic: identify something that is not logically impossible to know (because, for example, you can point to someone who actually knows it), which God should or must be able to know.

Especially if God must know it in order to be considered maximally great.

Because if there is someone who in some respect is greater than God, God cannot be the greatest being. But even apart from that. If there is something someone knows, which God cannot or does not know, then God cannot be considered omniscient in any appreciable sense. Of course, one can always bite the bullet and admit God isn’t omniscient (just as one can always bite the bullet and admit God is evil…all hail Cthulhu!), but that opens Pandora’s beautiful box of Her Majesty’s Most Unsettling Cognitive Dissonance. Wait, if God is not the greatest being, how do I know how great he is? Or that he is great at all? And how can a bodiless mind have knowledge of stuff anyway? And how did that mind come to know anything? And if God can be ignorant, doesn’t that mean he can also be evil or incompetent or pathetic, too? And if he doesn’t know some important things, doesn’t that mean he can make mistakes? And be wrong about stuff? My world is c-r-u-m-b-l-ing!!!

In short, belief in God can survive the realization that God cannot be meaningfully omniscient, that in fact he must be ignorant of things even ordinary puny humans have knowledge of. But such belief is not likely to survive long. Because once you’ve taken that step, belief in God starts to look ridiculous. Yes, yes, it looked ridiculous already. But now the believer can’t avoid admitting it.

Okay, Now to the Gangbangs

(you know that’s why you’re actually reading this)

So what does all this have to do with exhilaratingly naughty group sex? I’m getting to that. But I have to bore you a little more, first. (Technically this teasing counts as S&M; my apologies–although to those who love being ruthlessly teased, you’re welcome). [Read more…]

The Gettier Problem

Among my many forms of cobbled-together self-employment I provide specialized tutoring to graduate students in ancient history and philosophy around the world. Which is rewarding in lots of ways. One of which is when my student ends up correcting an error of mine. That’s when you know you are a successful teacher, and they are starting to surpass you in knowledge and acumen. I’ve actually been excited to report on this, and correct the record. Gratitude goes to Nick Clarke.

The short of it is that long ago in a comments thread on my blog many years ago I was incorrect in my analysis of Gettier Problems. I was on to the right solution, but I made the mistake of assuming an unsound conclusion could not be considered justified (and without realizing that’s what I was doing). Conclusions in Gettier Problems rely on false premises to reach true conclusions. I was right about that. But I wasn’t right about that being grounds to dismiss them.

Backstory is required. [Read more…]

Is Philosophy Stupid?

Photo of me behind the podium, hands raised in gesture, speaking. Red-silver tie on white shirt under a dark grey suit jacket. Hair shaggy. Glasses hipster.My Skepticon 6 Talk is now available for viewing. Check it out on YouTube: Is Philosophy Stupid? (Thankyou Hambone Productions!). Ad revenue goes to charity. Also for convenience here is the link to my ancillary materials for that talk, a page that includes a link to a non-animated PDF of the slideshow, a rough text for the talk (not exactly the same as what I spoke, but close enough in most salient points, and the text has a few gems I didn’t have time for in the speech), and two bibliographies for further reading, one on how to become a good lay philosopher, and another on popular recent critiques of philosophy.

Some Good Reads on Ancient History vs. the Gospels

I blogged a while ago about Matthew Ferguson’s brilliant takedown of the 10/42 apologetic. That’s the argument that springs off the ridiculously false claim that we have better sources for Jesus than for Emperor Tiberius…why 42 against 10 even! Not. Oh, so not. See Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan. (Just this year I had a Christian in Q&A try to “get” me with the 10/42 apologetic, so it’s still making the rounds, even after such a decisive refutation that more than one Christian apologist admitted they’d boned it. I was so glad I had that article to refer my questioner to. It masterfully educates.)

Anyway, Ferguson (a doctoral student in Classics at UCI) has been blogging a lot since, in ancient history, counter-apologetics, and philosophy. But I thought my readers would be especially interested in a recent fine article of interest to historicity buffs: Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the New Testament. I have often written about the same subject (such as in Not the Impossible Faith, ch. 7; Sense and Goodness without God IV.1.2.6, pp. 246-47; and my analysis of Xenophon vs. the Gospels and the two sections after that). But Ferguson does a really good job building even further on all this, adding examples and clearly explaining the significance of each point, and going beyond even the points I’ve made. Any history buff will find it interesting. It’s just gravy that it has its uses in combating Christian apologetics as well. I’d even say it’s required reading for any layman who wants to get up to speed on essential common knowledge in the field of ancient history that often isn’t known by Christian apologists. This is the thing to read if you want to take on the absurd C.S. Lewisism that the Gospels don’t “read like” myth. They actually don’t read like history. Ferguson explains why.

Ferguson also composed a really good combo discussion of historical method and philosophy–in particular, epistemology of the supernatural, that subject wherein Christians keep accusing us of “bias against the supernatural” without quite comprehending the difference between bias and logically valid inference. Called Griffin Beak, Mermaid Fin, and Dragon Blood Soup, he presents probably one of the best articles I’ve seen on “what it would take to convince a reasonable skeptic of a miracle (like the resurrection of Jesus).” My most avid readers might notice he is building a lot on my work, but that’s the beauty of it. He develops and expands on what I’ve argued exceptionally well. This is exactly the kind of thing I like to see happen. He also makes use of Greg Cavin’s recent excellent presentation on Bayesianism, miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus (already a legend in the counter-apologetics field, Cavin’s 434 page slideshow is actually quite educational, and spot-on almost top to bottom). Ferguson’s article also made me laugh. More than once. It’s kind of a wink-wink take down of the entirety of Christian apologetics. All without explicitly claiming to be. Check it out.

Other top articles by Ferguson in the same vein are Outside Corroboration as a Historical Criterion and the Validity of Arguments from Silence and Methodological Approaches to Ancient History.



Sense and Goodness on Kindle for Three Bucks!

Image from Amazon of the cover of Sense and Goodness without God, kindle edition.Amazon is running a special on my critically acclaimed book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism for kindle. I don’t know how long this special price will last. But it’s something worth taking advantage of. Just three dollars (and three cents). That’s an 88% discount off the print edition list price. Check it out!

And now I’m off to Sacramento for Freethought Day…

Learn Philosophy from a Philosopher / Then Cure Cancer

Two big things going on this week:

(1) Learn philosophy from a philosopher. Our own emeritus adjunct professor of philosophy, Daniel Fincke (Ph.D.), is offering courses online in philosophy to anyone who is keen. Details here. You can even make requests to him of what course subjects you’d pay to be taught in. His rate is $16/hour for a 40 hour commitment, and you’ll be part of an interactive online class, taught by an expert professional.

You can still get in on his ongoing evening Ethics course (he is doing a catch-up session for new enrollees tomorrow), or get in on a new run of that course in October or December (mornings, all Eastern Time), or catch his Nietzsche course which starts this Thursday (a must do if you want to know the real deal about Nietzsche, from an actual expert on Nietzsche, instead of naively all the pop nonsense claimed about him), or this Friday start his course on Philosophy for Atheists (that’s right!). He also will offer a history of philosophy course (Enlightenment to Present) in October. For a testimonial to how useful and rewarding these courses are, and for more complete course descriptions and how to sign up, see the latter half of Fincke’s blog post here.

(2) Then go help us cure blood cancers. And make weird things happen. FreethoughtBlogs has a Light the Night Team affiliated with the Foundation Beyond Belief and we’re aiming to raise ten thousand dollars for blood cancer research. We’re in friendly competition with Skepchicks, who are doing the same. I blogged about this charity effort before (see here, here, and here), it’s becoming a major vehicle for getting attention to the fact that atheists actually support secular charities that make a difference. You can donate to the FtB team here.

Our own Greta Christina is an honored hero this year (surviving cancer and working to garner support for research) and she’s submitted to some forfeits and dares if you donate to the FtB team under her name (see My Light the Night Walk Forfeits and Dares for all the details). Our own PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, and Avicenna have done the same (check out those links), but Greta’s are the most amusing.

For more details see: Skepchick Forms “Light the Night Walk” Online Team — The Race Is On!

The Moral Truth Debate: Babinski & Shook

I’ve been sent two links of responses to my article last week, “What Exactly Is Objective Moral Truth?” Technically they are responses to Harris. But insofar as I am defending the same core thesis, and the links were sent to me, and both are by authors whose opinions I respect (even if I don’t always agree with them), they warrant a response here. These responses I think should be read by everyone, since they are common mistakes and misunderstandings, and my responses will clarify things you might need clarified…especially in the closing epilogue of this post.

First of the replies is Ed Babinski, who posted his own entry for the Harris contest on Facebook. Second is John Shook, who posted a reply on his blog at CFI.

In both cases, I must first reiterate the whole gist of my article:

One reason Harris is not the best one to use as your straw man in this debate is that doing that is lazy. It allows talking past each other far too easily. To avoid that I created a formal deductive proof of his core thesis (all the way back in 2011…and that was in development well before that, even before I read his book or even knew he was writing it–which means it is only a proof of “his thesis” in retrospect, since I had been developing the same thesis independently since 2004). What I asked people to do is find a logical invalidity or a non-demonstrable premise in my syllogism. Because that will prevent vagueries and misunderstandings and get right to the heart of who is correct. To do that, I told everyone to read my chapter “Moral Facts Naturally Exist” in The End of Christianity (indeed I said in last week’s article, quote, “the syllogisms you have to prove invalid or unsound are on pp. 359-64″). Hereafter I shall refer to that as TEC.

To keep avoiding this is to just lazily act like armchair problem solvers who can’t be bothered to actually look up the best version of the argument they are criticizing. Stop that. No more straw man fallacies. Address the best and most rigorous form of the argument. And do it correctly, i.e., actually identify an actual fallacy in those syllogisms or identify a premise in them that is false (or which you can prove we do not know is true).

Apart from simply not doing that (which is the biggest flaw in these replies, reducing them both to a classic straw man fallacy), here is also what’s wrong with the Babinski and Shook rebuttals… [Read more…]

What Exactly Is Objective Moral Truth?

Sam Harris has a contest on. “Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less.” The best essay (as judged by Harris opponent and atheist philosopher Russell Blackford) will win $2,000 (and be published on Harris’s personal website). “You must refute the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.” If any such essay actually changes Sam Harris’s mind, they will win not just $2,000 but $20,000 (and Harris will publicly recant his view).

Ophelia Benson has been critical of this contest (see A Losing Lottery Ticket, Sam Has to Presume a Great Big Ought, and a guest post from a commenter Why the Is/Ought Problem Matters). His own contest page (The Moral Landscape Challenge) has an important FAQ (a must read for any contenders). I actually am behind Harris’s program (I think his core thesis is correct, and I think Benson is wrong to say it is not), but I am not very impressed with Harris’s ability to defend or articulate it.

I had even greater problems with Michael Shermer’s attempt to defend the same core thesis Harris does, and I have commented before on how he was simply destroyed by his opponent, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, even though I think Pigliucci is ultimately wrong and Shermer ultimately right (see Shermer vs. Pigliucci on Moral Science). I expect Harris will get similarly pwned. And that’s sad. Because it hurts their cause. They just aren’t the best defenders of this idea. And they should admit that and stop trying to be lone wolfs and look for and work with expert collaborators. There are several real, even renowned, philosophers who have been defending the same core thesis for years. Harris did not come up with anything fundamentally new here, and they have far more skill and experience dealing with the rigorous philosophical requirements of this debate.

Below I will explain what is wrong with Harris’s contest so far (and why it is not what Benson is concerned about); why what Benson has been saying is incorrect (and misses the point of Harris’ actual core thesis); and how (again) science can actually take over moral philosophy the same way it has done the theory of life (in the science of biology) and the universe (in the sciences of physics, astrophysics, and cosmology) and man and society (in the sciences of anthropology and sociology) and of mind (in psychology, neurophysiology, and cognitive science). [Read more…]

Free Will in American Law: From Accidental Thievery to Battered Woman Syndrome

For my last class on naturalism and free will I composed some readings on Sam Harris’ mistreatment of the concept of free will in American law. I already deal with the legal aspects of “free will” in some detail in Sense and Goodness without God (III.4.5, pp. 109-14), and really any discussion of the subject here must begin there (where I cite and explain key Supreme Court rulings as well as standard concepts like the criteria of guilt and the insanity defense, things the public often gets wrong because they think TV legal dramas accurately portray them). I also cover the whole free will debate generally (in the whole of section III.4, pp. 97-118), and explain the reasons compatibilism provides a more fruitful understanding of free will than any alternative. (I have also blogged on free will several times before.)

But to supplement all that, I’m here reproducing one of those course readings I composed, where I address cases not mentioned in SaG (United States v. Grayson – 438 U.S. 41 (1978) and Morissette v. United States – 342 U.S. 246 (1952)) as well as a legal concept also not mentioned there, “Battered Woman Syndrome” (as a legal defense), which supplements my discussion of the insanity defense in SaG. All of this was compiled in response to Sam Harris’ (IMO awful) book Free Will. I have a lot of problems with that book. But here I’ll be addressing only one claim in it. (For those who are curious, much better books recently on free will, though still flawed, are Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge? and Kane’s A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will.) [Read more…]

Hey, Free eBook! Christian vs. Atheist Intellectual Cage Match

Cover of the book God or Godless.Today (and today only!) you can get a free eBook, containing a written (and thus carefully thought-out) debate between an Atheist and a Christian. John Loftus (an atheist with two masters degrees, in theology and philosophy, who studied under none other than William Lane Craig) and Randal Rauser (a Canadian evangelical with a doctorate in philosophy) engage in an organized back-and-forth debate on twenty topics in the book God or Godless: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions.

You can, of course, buy it in print [here]. But this very day (July 1st) a special is on for the kindle and nook editions [although, it appears, only in the U.S. and select other countries]: if you grab it today, the book is free [see kindle and nook]. If you prefer the more generic eBook format, you can get that for free, too, at a Christian vendor [here]. (Although if you missed today, it’s still available on all three platforms for cheap through the end of the month).

Loftus and I have worked together on projects in this field over the years and he made use of my work and advice for some of the positions he takes. But overall, what you get here is what my blurb for the book says:

This is a fascinating and sometimes humorous intro to twenty common debates between atheists and theists. You’ll find countless rambling and confused versions of such debates online. But here you will find a clear, concise, well-written exchange on each. Keeping it short, the authors can’t include every point to be made, but they make a good show of where each side stands on these questions and why. If you want to continue these debates further, start with this.

Indeed, this book is an excellent starting point for any of the twenty debates included. I’d recommend starting any debate online, for example, by having both sides read the corresponding mini-debate in this book, and then continuing from there. And if you just want some ideas for how to debate these topics in general, or even to help you think about them in building your own philosophy of life, this book is well suited as a primer for the task. Even if you don’t think either side is making the very best possible defense of their position, it’s even a useful task to think through how you’d do it better, since both are representative of some of the best approaches. So even then it’s a good place to start.

The twenty questions debated (alternating between the philosophical and the biblical) are (1) the meaning of life, (2) whether early Biblical Judaism was actually monotheistic, (3) the reason to be moral, (4) whether the Bible promoted child sacrifice, (5) the value of religion in respect to science, (6) whether the Bible justified genocide, (7) whether theism or atheism explains the universe better, (8) whether the Bible promoted slavery, (9) whether human reason and knowledge require God, (10) whether the Bible is sexist, (11) whether love can exist without God, (12) whether the Biblical God cares one whit about animals, (13) whether even atheists “just have faith,” (14) whether the Biblical God was scientifically illiterate, (15) whether the power of music can prove God exists, (16) whether the Biblical God was a lousy prognosticator, (17) whether any miracles are real, (18) whether God is an incompetent creator, (19) the resurrection of Jesus (of course), and (20) whether God is an incompetent redeemer.

All interesting questions to see hashed out this way. Each side makes their case, then gets a short rebuttal, and then a quick closing statement, before moving on to the next. And today, you can get an electronic edition for free (links above).