Thursday, September 24, 2020
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In Corona Ruse, a Man Took His Daughters to Be Drugged and Sexually Mutilated | Terry Firma | Friendly Atheist

There’ll be no Father of the Year Award for the dad who did this.

A man in Egypt who allegedly had female genital mutilation (FGM) carried out on his three daughters after tricking them has been charged along with the doctor who performed the procedure. The doctor went to the girls’ house after their father told them they would receive a coronavirus “vaccination,” Egypt’s prosecutor-general said. The girls, aged under 18, were drugged and the doctor cut their genitals. …

They lost consciousness and when they woke up they were shocked to find their legs bound together and a sensation of pain in their genitals,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

The girls told their mother, who is divorced from their father, … and she notified authorities.

FGM was made illegal in Egypt in 2008, subjecting the cutter to jail time. Four years ago, it also became a crime to cause a girl to be cut, which makes it possible for cops and courts to go after parents and others who present girls for FGM.

Those are excellent steps, but the practice is still widespread; some experts estimate that as much as half of all young females in Egypt undergo the barbaric and unnecessary procedure. Many African parents wrongly believe that suppressing a girl’s sexual desire through genital cutting is an Islamic requirement. The practice also exists in Asia and in Muslim immigrant communities in the West.

According to the BBC,

So far no-one has been successfully prosecuted under the law. Women’s rights groups say judges and police do not take the legislation seriously enough.

They’re not wrong. Case in point: Nada Abdel Maqsood, an Egyptian girl who was either 12 or 14, bled to death five months ago.

A forensic investigation revealed that the FGM procedure carried out on Nada was done without anesthesia and by a 70-year-old doctor who was not qualified as a surgeon,

… while her parents and aunt stood by and watched. The BBC report says that the case was a criminal matter at first, but that the prospect of a trial, let alone a conviction, has since dimmed.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Som for the link)

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What’s Wrong With Religion? | Atheist Revolution

atomic bomb

Regular readers of Atheist Revolution have seen me give countless reasons to regard religion as a destructive force. Still, one of the most common questions I receive from those who are new here is why I say religion is destructive. “What’s wrong with religion? Look at all the good that has come from religion.” I think this question makes sense, especially when one considers the perspective of those who were raised to value a religious tradition.

There are at least two problems with this line of thought (and probably many more). First, much of the good attributed to religion would (and often does) happen without religion. Thus, it isn’t always clear that we wouldn’t have as much (or even more) good in the world if religion had never emerged. Second, even if we decide to credit religion with a great deal of the good in the world, this hardly makes up for the harm it has caused. It is hard to deny, for example, that some Catholic clergy have done some good things, but does that negate the evil some have perpetrated? I don’t think so. I suspect most of their victims don’t think so either.

Being as charitable as possible, we may consider the possibility that those asking this question have a point. Maybe the overall good from religion far outweighs the bad. Maybe the costs of religion run amok are significantly less than the benefits. What then are the costs? What are the bad things about religion that would need to be outweighed by the good?

Off the top of my head and in no particular order, religion has brought us:

  1. Christians slaughtering pagans (315 – 6th century)
  2. Christians slaughtering Muslims (Crusades)
  3. Muslims slaughtering Christians (Crusades)
  4. Christians torturing and killing “heretics” (Inquisition, witch trials)
  5. Christians burning books, heavy metal records, etc. (modern U.S. history)
  6. Muslims calling for the death of authors they didn’t like (e.g., Rushdie)
  7. Christians supporting slavery on biblical grounds (~ American Civil War)
  8. Christians opposing suffrage on biblical grounds
  9. Muslims repeatedly calling for death to all Christians and Jews (e.g., cartoon rage)
  10. Jews and Muslims killing each other (from the origin of Israel to present)
  11. Christians bombing abortion clinics
  12. Muslim terrorism in America (WTC, 9/11) and around the world
  13. Christians slaughtering Jews
  14. Christians slaughtering Native Americans

Of course, this is really just the tip of the iceberg. A comprehensive list would be longer and more depressing than anyone would want to read. We could add all the impediments to science and how they have restricted our progress. We could add countless human rights violations (e.g., the cost of fundamentalist Christianity in the U.S. to LGBT persons). It would be a long list.

Even if religion has brought (false) hope, (false) comfort, (false) optimism about the future, a willingness to accept one’s fate (and not rock the boat of the ruling class), and has been used to explain why some people do good things (people who would be good people with or without superstition), this pales in comparison to the long and distinguished history of religious atrocities. For the sake of humanity, it is time to let go of this destructive superstition.

An early version of this post first appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2006. It was revised to fix broken links and improve clarity in 2020.

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American Atheists Helps United Nations Understand Nonreligious People as Minority Group

The civil rights organization American Atheists is helping the United Nations clarify the distinctions among religious minorities, particularly concerning nonreligious individuals and communities. The report of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly raised concerns about usage of the term “minority.”

Two important UN instruments recognize the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” explained Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists, who submitted comments to the UN. “However, neither instrument has recognized the freedom to refrain from religious practices nor to refuse to adopt a religious belief.”

“This failure to include nonreligious people in UN instruments creates uncertainty that can endanger nonreligious people and lead to oppression,” she added. “Like other minorities, nonreligious people living in religious communities suffer high levels of stigma and discrimination due to their beliefs. The same blasphemy laws frequently used to persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and Christians in Bangladesh also disproportionately affect nonreligious people.”

To help the UN understand the struggles of nonreligious people, American Atheists presented the UN with its report, Reality Check: Being Nonreligious in America, based on a survey of nearly 34,000 nonreligious Americans the civil rights organization commissioned.

“While our results show significant stigma and discrimination against nonreligious people in the US, we believe it likely that nonreligious people living regions across the world where there is a high degree of religious conformity would have similar or even more stark outcomes,” explained.

The Reality Check report found that participants living in very religious communities scored nearly 40% higher on a measure of stigmatization compared to those in ‘not at all’ religious communities. Nonreligious participants also reported significantly higher levels of discrimination in very religious communities in employment, public services, and by private businesses.”

“Fortunately, laws and policies that protect the separation of religion and government are associated with less stigmatization of nonreligious people,” she added.

The Reality Check report also drew on additional data from American Atheists’ 2019 State of the Secular States, an assessment of state-level laws and policies that affect the separation of religion and government in the United States. The report found that, among states with strong protections for religious equality, no state had high levels of stigmatization for nonreligious participants. Conversely, in states with broad religious exemptions, nearly half (42.9%) were rated as having high levels of stigmatization.

“Too often, we see that nonreligious people face persecution because they refuse to hold sanctioned beliefs or refuse to participate in mandatory religious practices. For religious freedom to mean anything, it must protect the rights of nonreligious people, as well as their religious peers,” noted Gill. “Any definition of the term, ‘minority,’ must include nonreligious people, as well as religious minorities.”


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On Racism and Changing Minds

The reason I am saying this post is that it is setting up a second piece after it.

Racism is high on pretty much everyone’s agenda right now. I am an active poster on my own personal Facebook page and in this time of turmoil, there have been ample occasion and opportunity to do so as of late. I have a range of friends on Facebook, many of whom are acquaintances or friends of friends or followers; also, people who have found me from talks I have given here and there.

I recognise the pitfall of places like Facebook, and here, becoming echo chambers. This is unavoidable. Take this blog: if I say things that people like, they are likely to hang out. I will also attract reactionaries. I don’t often ban people, as many of you bemoan, in an attempt to promote free speech and so places like this don’t become echo chambers.

There are racist comments here and those that skirt very close to the edge. There is a line that, when it gets crossed, I take action. I banned Otto for a week, recently, and have no compunction about doing this when people go too far.

However, Facebook is not only personal, it’s also always there. I am the sort of guy who gets sucked in, having always had an obsessive streak in me that can’t help but fight perceived injustices and mistruths. The thing with Facebook always being there is that this happens all too easily and my life is in a place where I have less time than ever before to do all the many things I want to do.

So I have a few people on Facebook with whom I disagree a heck of a lot. Often and vehemently. This is time-consuming. My threshold is lower on Facebook than here, though. That said, I have never unfriended people before.

Well, I got embroiled in an argument that turned out to be with someone who was fairly obviously racist: he was a friend of a “friend” of mine (who himself ended up being a facilitator of racism). He is a right-wing libertarian who has so often before flirted with racism, but not quite enough for me to properly bite at, or take action against. He is a typical radical Brexiteer who believes anyone who is not is some kind of Marxist leftist.

Where I bit with his friend was with the tropes of “black people are lazy” and have “a poor attitude to work” and “have a low IQ”. Sound familiar? The discussion started over a typical “All lives matter” style post, and a video, even, from some black right-wing comedians (the Hodge Twins).

I bit and got into a protracted argument, presenting a whole plethora of information and argument, evidence and empirical data. He provided next to nothing. After a late night and much further argument the next day, I realised I had spent probably 6 or 7 hours arguing the toss over stuff that should be pretty obvious if you had the will to pursue the evidence. I really started seeing a pattern and came to understand (again) that you can’t reason people out of a position that they never reasoned themselves into.

My efforts were water off a duck’s back. So I unfriended my “friend” after many years of arguing with him to no avail. There was a racism threshold that was crossed that I thought was unacceptable and that I felt was wasting my time and making me angry – all on my own personal Facebook.

So I stated:

I have tried to keep people as Facebook friends with whom I disagree so as not to live in an echo chamber. I am aware that I do live in one, by and large. But I’ve just unfriended someone over racism. It’s sad when you meet racism head to head. It’s sad when, given what is going on in the US, you meet the causal influence of this first hand. I am staggered.

It’s also sad that I provided, in a protracted set of arguments, a shed load of data and evidence to support my position but that it made not a jot of difference. You cannot reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

Sad times; sad that “blacks are lazy and “blacks have lower IQ” pervades as if we are living in Victorian times. I will entertain data and argument that defends this position and I am up for a reasoned debate. Heck, I have a shed load of evidence up my sleeves to defend my position. Alan Duval [linked] and I wrote a series of articles on exactly this. But if you are just going to maintain a racist position that lacks any nuance or desire to engage rationally, you can do one.

You ARE the problem.

The sort of thing I was arguing about, demanding that the other two explained, was this:

Black and African Americans
• Poverty rate: 23.0 percent
• Total in poverty: 9.1 million
• African Americans as percentage of U.S. population: 12.5 percent
• African Americans as percentage of poor population: 21.4 percent
There is a huge gap between the median wealth held by Black families ($17,000) and White families ($171,000)—a ratio of 10 to one.
The key points to the Joint Economic Committee’s report The Economic State of Black America in 2020 are:
Despite significant economic progress over the past decades, Black Americans experience far worse economic conditions than Whites or the population as a whole.
 Historically, the unemployment rate for Black Americans has been approximately twice the rate for Whites. That is the case today—6.0% for Black workers and 3.1% for Whites.
 The difference in the unemployment rates for Blacks and Whites shrinks for college graduates; however, even in the current strong economy the unemployment rate is 50% higher for Black Americans.
 During the majority of the past 50 years, Black Americans have experienced unemployment rates that, were they experienced by the entire population, would be seen as recessionary.
 Black workers have been disproportionally hurt by the overall decline in union membership and the decreasing power of unions.
 The typical Black households earns a fraction of White households—just 59 cents for every dollar. The gap between Black and White annual household incomes is about
$29,000 per year.
 Black Americans are over twice as likely to live in poverty as White Americans.
 Black children are three times as likely to live in poverty as White children.
 The median wealth of Black families ($17,000)—is less than one-tenth that of White families ($171,000).
 The wealth gap between Black and White households increases with education.
 Much less than half (42%) of Black families own their homes, compared to almost three-quarters (73%) of White families.

 High school graduation rates for Black and White Americans have nearly converged.
 The share of Blacks who are college graduates has more than doubled since 1990, from 11% to 25%—but still lags far behind Whites.
 Persistent segregation leads to large disparities in the quality of secondary education, leading to worse economic outcomes.
 The incarceration rate for Black Americans is falling, but is still nearly six times the rate for White Americans.
 Non-Hispanic Black Americans have a life expectancy 3.6 years lower than nonHispanic White Americans.

And I was met with those aforementioned tropes.

It was nice to have been inundated with a whole bunch of understanding from friends and acquaintances – but you would expect this in an echo chamber.

‘Trick Slattery, who has also written a book on free will, replied:

Yeah, racists, sexists, and homophobes are another *level* of ‘disagreement’ category altogether. It is one thing to be open to different points of view, it is another to be open to harmful, extremely irrational points of view. Sometimes the base epistemological standards are so off course that trying to change these sorts of minds without fixing the base level mechanisms first will only lead to frustration and the appearance that you are giving them a platform. For some views, it may be causally better not to give them the time of day.

One of my friends did give a good counter-argument:

 Did you by any chance see the last leg last night? Desiree Burch was a guest – and said that unfriending people over racism is not what is wanted – as if you have them on your facebook there is a modicum of a chance you will be able to reason with them (slim i know) whereas if everyone unfriends them they end up in their own echo chamber.

Indeed, this is why I had maintained the Facebook friendship for as long as I had. It’s a good point. ‘Trick replied:

There is probably some degree of racism one can assess that can give one a fighting chance at changing their mind, but from my experience, there is also a degree that is so indoctrinated and has the base standards so mixed, that it is not worth it.

Also, these people should not feel like they are being given a platform – sometimes taking away a platform and not interacting with harmful people is a way to demote their ideas.

If you DO want spend the sheer amount of time needed to attempt to uproot someone’s base level standards of evidence (a task that is very time intensive) in order to attempt to change their mind, I recommend doing so in messenger (“offline”). If they are unwilling to have the discourse with you in that way, they are not open to change and just looking to proselytize.

Another alternative, if one truly has the time to spend and is going to keep it on a platform that others can see, is not to argue with these people in order to change their mind, but rather to display how poor their thinking is to others that may read it (for their sake). I like this approach, but it does make it so you need to respond fairly quickly to the problematic words being displays, just so misinformation is not fed into your platform. This makes the task not only time intensive, but there being a pressure to respond in a timely fashion as well.

So we need to weigh these things in, including our goals, the level of time we have, and the level of timeliness we have. It is not worth it to give someone a platform if you do not have the time or the speed to correct all misinformation fed into such a system quickly …in that case it is best to not give them a platform at all.

I’ll add some anecdotal comments onto this in my next post since there were some worthwhile things that came out of this, but I am interested in hearing your thoughts on echo chambers, things as visceral as racism and racially-charged discussions, and places like blogs and social media. How best to deal with such people and how best to change minds?

Can it be done?

Are there some thresholds that can simply never be reached 9at least without some huge, life-changing event).

As one exasperated friend asked:

How to do we get through to these people then?! I feel like the vast majority of people want to be better, want to learn and are open to hearing others points of view…the rest don’t want to know despite facts, evidence, anecdotes, what’s right  How did these people get so angry/full of hate? The problem can’t go away until there’s a way to influence these people but honestly don’t know what it would take…the Daily Mail / Fox News could help!

I will look to answer these questions in future posts (a few similar questions have been asked in the comment threads here over the last week or so).

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Trump’s Litany of Ineptitude, Lies and Disingenuous Mistruths

CNN absolutely destroyed Trump’s “press conference” on Friday in “The 39 most outrageous lines from Donald Trump’s Friday ‘press conference’“. Here they are for your delectation: 1. “We were very strong. We had the greatest economy in the history of our country, we had the greatest economy in the history of the world.” This is […]

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William Lane Craig and Heaven

Recently, I wrote a few pieces on heaven with reference to William Lane Craig and how he has made claims about front-loading people who would reject Jesus (God using his Middle Knowledge to work this out) into those who, as it turns out with creation, never get to hear about him anyway. In other words, when you say “But what about those people who never get to hear about Jesus?” the Christian can say “Well, god knows in advance who would reject him no matter what, and he creates them as people who end up not hearing of him” (either historically or geographically).

Thus, these people with geographical and historical bad luck are not denied God’s salvation through accidents of history or geography, but simply would have rejected God anyway.

The first example of this that I can find comes from Craig’s “‘No Other Name’: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation through Christ” in Faith and Philosophy 6, (1989): 172-88. Craig offers this as a possible defence:

On the basis of this analysis, we now seem to be equipped to provide possible answers to the three difficult questions which prompted our inquiry. (i) Why did God not create a world in which everyone freely receives Christ and so is saved? There is no such world which is feasible for God. He would have actualized such a world were this feasible, but in light of certain true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom every world realizable by God is a world in which some persons are lost. Given His will to create a world of free creatures, God must accept that some will be lost. (ii) Why did God create this world when He knew that so many persons would not receive Christ and would therefore be lost? God desired to incorporate as many persons as He could into the love and joy of divine fellowship while minimizing the number of persons whose final state is hell. He therefore chose a world having an optimal balance between the number of the saved and the number of the damned. Given the truth of certain counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, it was not feasible for God to actualize a world having as many saved as but with no more damned than the actual world. The happiness of the saved should not be precluded by the admittedly tragic circumstance that their salvation has as its concomitant the damnation of many others, for the fate of the damned is the result of their own free choice. (iii) Why did God not supply special revelation to persons who, while rejecting the general revelation they do have, would have responded to the gospel of Christ if they had been sufficiently well-informed concerning it? There are no such persons. In each world in which they exist God loves and wills the salvation of persons who in the actual world have only general revelation, and He graciously and preveniently solicits their response by His Holy Spirit, but in every world feasible for God they freely reject His grace and are lost. If there were anyone who would have responded to the gospel if he had heard it, then God in His love would have brought the gospel to such a person. Apart from miraculous intervention, “a single revelation to the whole earth has never in the past been possible, given the facts of geography and technology”;{26} but God in His providence has so arranged the world that as the gospel spread outward from its historical roots in first century Palestine, all who would respond to this gospel, were they to hear it, did and do hear it. Those who have only general revelation and do not respond to it would also not have responded to the gospel had they heard it. Hence, no one is lost because of lack of information due to historical or geographical accident. All who want or would want to be saved will be saved. [my emphasis]

He has talked about this in many other places as well. In this instance (and this is a common move), Craig says this is a possible answer. This is one of those instances of saying, well, if there is a possible answer that a Christian could give, then that’s okay by me. We’re out of the woods and in the clear. it also underwrites the possibiliter ergo probabiliter fallacy. It’s possible, therefore it’s probable.

As I have previously discussed, this is hugely problematic from an omnibenevolence point of view.

God is the designer of humanity, supposedly.

God is the creator of that design.

God has designed and created a whole subset of people who are not able to (freely) come to love God.

This reminds me of my analogy concerning God’s creative culpability:

If God designed the universe, the laws, humanity and everything, and then created the universe; and given that God could have chosen any other possible world out of infinite choices; and given that God could step in at any moment and change things; and given that God has complete foreknowledge of future events; how is God not in some way ultimately culpable for our sin?

For example, if I created a sentient lifeform in the lab – designed from scratch and created entirely myself – and I knew 100% (and I mean infallibly) that they would break out of the lab and rampage through town causing harm (rape, murder, mugging) and knew this in advance, and then still decided to create these lifeforms and they went out and did their evil thing, would I not be in some way culpable? Yes, some of them might go out and paint pictures and do charity work, but the majority were pretty evil. Yes they did it of their own free will. But I knew this in advance. I designed them in such a way. And I created them with this perfect foreknowledge. Would the police, in evaluating the crime and suffering in the town not see me as somewhat morally or causally culpable?

Let’s put it another way. I am the CEO of a massive car company. I design a car that I know 100% will have a certain amount of faults and will, as a result, cause pain and suffering through crashing as a result of those faults. Yes, some of the cars will be great, and provide good service. But many will crash and burn. Literally. And I create them knowingly. Would I not, as CEO, be held accountable?

Either God is a bad designer and is morally culpable for punishing people who he faultily designed for failing to love him as a result of that design…


God is morally culpable for creating people who are unable to come to love him and then punishes them for this creative outcome.

He’s in quite a bind, that God fellow.

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Baptist Leader Condemns Church in Trump’s Photo Op for Being LGBTQ Affirming | Beth Stoneburner | Friendly Atheist

Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., a Southern Baptist Convention leader, once wrote that evangelicals should not support Donald Trump, recently did a 180 and announced he would be voting for the man he once said would become “the Great Evangelical Embarrassment.”

Which is to say his judgment needs work.

Now, instead of condemning Trump’s bigotry, cruelty, and racism, Mohler is fully defending his actions. Even the tear-gassing of protesters on the way to a hasty photo op outside a church.

Mohler basically posted a “both sides” argument in a recent “news briefing” on his website, trashing St. John’s Episcopal Church for being too LGBTQ friendly.

Finally, as we’re thinking about this spectacle, there were ironies abounding. One of them is the theological character of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. It is a very liberal church in a very liberal denomination. The Episcopal church in the United States has increasingly moved itself to the far left of American theology and American public life. It has been openly affirming LGBTQ, and you could just go through the list of the issues of liberal activism for a matter of decades.

There were many in the media and American Christian life, and in particular in the Episcopal church who said that they did not like the picture of the president holding the Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal church. But those who know the Bible as the inerrant and infallible, verbally inspired Word of God will profoundly also not like what is done to the Bible inside the St. John’s Episcopal Church. And furthermore, you could extend that through the Episcopal church in the United States, generalized as a denomination. It just adds to the pain and the consternation of this unique moment in American public life.

In short, tear-gassing Americans outside the church may be troubling, but teaching people inside the church that LGBTQ Americans deserve love and respect is far worse.

Mohler also said the Episcopal Church is “likely to go the way of the dodo” — that is, extinct. He didn’t back that claim up with any evidence. He also neglected to mention that his own tradition is rapidly losing members, possibly due to its refusal to accept LGBTQ people.

It’s not a good look to call out the teachings of another denomination — one known for being welcoming and inclusive — while conveniently ignoring the sexual abuse scandals and bigotry running rampant in your own.

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Atheists Oppose More Wasteful Government Spending on Abstinence-Only Education

Washington, D.C.—Today, American Atheists called on the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to scrap its proposed survey in support of abstinence-only education, rebranded as “sexual risk avoidance” (SRA) education.

“The proposed survey instruments are clearly biased to support SRA programs. They actually suggest to respondents that instruction about long-term birth control methods might ‘make it more likely for teens to have sex,’” explained Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists.

“The U.S. government has wasted over $2 billion on these ineffective, harmful abstinence-only programs over the past 3 decades,” noted Gill. “Abstinence-only-until-marriage is a failed approach that shames and stigmatizes young people, withholds critical information about sexual and reproductive health, and is ineffective at the stated goal of delaying sexual initiation for young people.”

For instance, Mississippi, which requires that its public school adopt either “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-plus” programs, had the third-highest reported teen birth rate in 2016. Arizona, which also focuses on SRA programs, had the fourth highest rate of reported cases of primary and secondary syphilis among young people ages 15-19 in 2016.

The proposed surveys show further bias by supporting opt-in sex education, which would make it harder for students to access sex education programs. The proposed collection instruments also suggest that less effective methods, such as withdrawal and natural family planning, are just as effective as condoms and birth control pills.

“This data collection is not only biased but also unnecessary because the federal government already collects information about teen and young adult sexual activity and sex education,” she added.

The Youth Risk Behavior (YRBS) is a biennial, geographically representative survey that collects data about sexual activity, contraception usage, and other related issues. Detailed information about the effectiveness of sex education programs is already collected through the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP). Finally, ACF recently updated a similar program that collects information on sex education: the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP).

“Rather than continue to pursue ineffective and harmful SRA programs, we encourage the ACF to instead support comprehensive sexuality education, which addresses the physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions of human sexuality for all young people,” said Gill. “Moreover, we urge ACF to stop spending taxpayer money on failed programs that hurt young people.”


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On the Argument from Reason: Doxastic Voluntarism

CS Lewis fashioned the Argument from Reason and it has since been taken on my Christian philosophers and apologists such as Alvin Plantinga (in the form of the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism – EAAN) and Victor Reppert. For a bit of background reading, it is well worth grabbing John Beversluis’s excellent  (UK). I will be writing a series of posts on this and the first will concern doxastic voluntarism, which I will later explain (and about which I have written about before and podcast segmented here).

The argument broadly goes like this, as Lewis quotes of JBS Haldane in Miracles:

If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true… and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.

The idea is that naturalism as a worldview is either self-refuting or indefensible. It can be formalised as follows:

1. No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

2. If naturalism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

3. Therefore, if naturalism is true, then no belief is rationally inferred (from 1 and 2).

4. We have good reason to accept naturalism only if it can be rationally inferred from good evidence.

5. Therefore, there is not, and cannot be, good reason to accept naturalism.

Or, simply put, determinism renders naturalism rationally indefensible.

Much ink has been spilt on this, and oral exasperation, not least in the famous arguments between fellow Christian Elizabeth Anscombe and Lewis himself.

Without getting into the finer details of the syllogism above, let’s look t the basic idea that determinism supposedly renders a conclusion absent of rational choice, per se. This is actually something called doxastic involuntarism. Doxastic (pertaining to belief) voluntarism is a position whereby one believes that they have voluntary control over what they believe.

Take the claim “the moon is made of cheese”. I cannot simply make myself believe this claim. There is a threshold for this claim where if the evidence was to pass it, I would believe this claim. That threshold will differ from person to person but I cannot consciously control that threshold. I will simply believe, based on a bunch of causal variables, what I believe when certain thresholds are passed.

I can’t will myself to believe in God, for example, just sitting there, straining at my brain. You can’t choose what convinces you.

If I believe that the 9/11 conspiracy theory is false at point t1, and then we moved onto t7, and then we rewound back to t1 where every variable, wave function and atom was identical, what would underwrite me “choosing” to believe that the 9/11 conspiracy theory was true? I wouldn’t just will that change, there would need to be a change in the causal variables to enable a change in belief.

So the idea of doxastic voluntarism (DV) is very closely related to libertarian free will indeed. The notion that I could have a background desire to either believe or not believe in a given position is itself victim to these causal variables. There is a grounding of evidentialism here.

Some people adhere to indirect doxastic voluntarism. This is the position we can influence certain variables that influence a belief: a desire or decision to read a certain book or to go to church or listen to a pastor that could then lead us to a belief in God. But these decisions themselves are still victim to causal variables and chains and so you cannot extricate yourself from the libertarian free will situation.

If DV was true, we would have compelling evidence of people changing their minds willy-nilly, but we don’t.

You could argue that certain positions that are lacking in any meaning, consequence or evidence at all could be resultant from DV, such that the belief that it is raining on Jupiter right now. But such a belief wouldn’t really be a belief, it would be a random lumping for a position. You wouldn’t really believe it. You wouldn’t stake your mortgage on it. It is not evidentially based.

Okay, so that’s laid out DV. Essentially, you can’t choose what you believe.

How it is relevant here is that if Christians say that you can’t “choose to believe” naturalism because your thought processes are determined and not rationally arrived at (more on this claim in the next post), then the same claim can be thrown right back at Christians for all of their beliefs. There is the notion that the Holy Spirit washes over you, or that something just clicks, or a light is turned on in your mind when reading a certain biblical passage, these are all examples of the same kind of thresholds being reached through nonrational (deterministic) processes. Indeed, any beliefs would need to navigate the landscape of doxastic voluntarism and involuntarism. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

After all the laying out of this, it is this last paragraph that is essentially my argument here. If the Christian wants to really use the Argument from Reason, first of all, they need to somehow prove the coherence of doxastic voluntarism, and that’s a very tall order because it goes hand in hand with proving (the coherence of) libertarian free will.

And no one’s done that.

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: “Where Are You?” Ouch.

Dwayne Johnson, though people have previously actually asked him to run for president because he’s such a good guy, has distanced himself from any outright political position or statement.

Until now.

And my, he’s saved up for a good one. This should hurt. He carries a lot of weight, in all senses. I mean, man, he’s big. But he’s popular in a way that is difficult to pinpoint. And this particular evisceration could be keenly felt.

There is a lot of meaning, emotion, feeling bubbling under this. You can tell.

H/T guerillasurgeon

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