Archive for September, 2011

Another Expansion of the Term “Right” …

September 28, 2011

So it appears that before Ebonmuse moves on from Daylight Atheism, I’m going to celebrate his move by taking some parting shots at him. Because here comes another one …

This article is about a call to action over “conscience clauses”. I’m not going to say much about that. I am going to talk about his specific comment, and ask some tough questions about it. Here it is, in its entirety:

To Whom It May Concern:

Access to contraception is a human right and should be protected accordingly. That’s why I’m writing to urge you not to expand the exemptions to the recently announced rule that requires all employers to cover contraception for their employees without a co-pay.

The vast majority of men and women in America, regardless of their religious beliefs, use contraception at some point during their lives. Birth control ensures that every child is a wanted child, and by doing so, leads to happier and more stable families and less poverty and more education for children. There’s every reason for a democratic government to strongly support its use and ensure that everyone who wants it has access to it. Please don’t bow to the demands of a small, noisy minority. Leave this rule as is!

Okay, so let’s start with the first line: since when has “access to contraception” been a protected right? It’s certainly not explicitly defined as such in pretty much any Constitution that I’m aware of, and there’s no philosophical argument for saying that access to contraception is just an inherent right accorded to all humans. So, if this really is a protected right it’s going to have to be implicitly defined as the result of another right. But I can’t think of any right that that would follow from as well. Maybe freedom of choice would imply a notion of allowing people to have birth control, but certainly not any more so than, say, the right to bear arms or to, say, buy a car. So I’d need some kind of actual argument before being convinced that access to contraception is an actual right.

Second, even if it is a right, recall that this is about having full coverage under insurance for contraception, which implies that that right would mean that you have a right to have your contraception paid for, otherwise any sort of exception is just up to the relevant legislative body. But it’s highly debatable whether “access to a right” includes having someone else pay for it in any way. So even if “access to contraception” is a right, that doesn’t mean that it being funded is a consequence of that right. And if that isn’t a consequence of that right, then there’s no rights issue over the conscience clauses.

Third, this is clashing with an actual explicitly protected right: the right to freedom of religion. So even if “access to contraception” is a right, we would still have to ask if forcing religious organizations or religious employers to offer it as a benefit violates freedom of religion. I, personally, think it wouldn’t, because basic medical services should be mandated regardless of conscience, and only mandated services can clash with freedom of religion. However, I don’t think that “access to contraception” fits that bill, and so should be something offered to companies and negotiated over in the deals. Then, if enough people care about it, companies that offer it will find hiring easier and encourage others to do the same.

But I doubt that would happen, since I’m fairly certain that other than a few people who are expanding the definition of “right” to include “the things I think good”, no one cares about whether contraception is fully paid for or not, mostly because it usually isn’t that expensive to get it yourself.

So, in the next paragraph, he goes on to say that most American men and women use contraception. Probably true. So what? Most American men and women drink, but that doesn’t mean that a business has to allow drinking on the premises or pay for it or anything else. It’s simply not the case that “Most people do it” makes it a right, and from the first sentence that’s what he’s supposed to be defending, remember? So why isn’t he doing that?

The next line goes on about how this ensures that all children will be wanted children. Well, except for cases where the contraception fails of course. And while that situation is desirable … being desirable does not make something a right, nor does it require that the state ask anyone else to pay for desirable situations or trump rights to do so. So just because he thinks that this would be good for society does not, in fact, mean that the exceptions should not be expanded, especially since we can encourage a behaviour without paying for it.

He finishes with a flourish, but it’s a meaningless one. He says there are reasons for a democracy to ensure access to contraception but still conflates “pay for” with “don’t stop people from getting”. He never explains why access to contraception is a right, or how this doesn’t clash with freedom of religion. He simply says that you shouldn’t let a noisy minority dictate policy without ever even bothering to make sure that that noisy minority is not him. The comment is devoid of reason, and the post doesn’t give any additional argumentation.

This strikes me as, as I said above, someone deciding that they want something to be the case therefore it is a right. Only if we view this in light of access to contraception being a defined right does his comment make sense at all. But that is a very dubious proposition, to say the least.

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When the Real Game is Worse than the Pirated One …

September 27, 2011

The latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is up.

And that’s all you’ll get today, so enjoy it!

An argument starved of reason …

September 26, 2011

I’ve read Daylight Atheism for a while, and was generally okay with it. Ebon Muse sometimes got arguments completely wrong, but at least there was often thought and reason behind the posts, even when he got them wrong. But lately the posts have taken on more of an irrational anti-religious stance, with a decline in the argumentation used to support those stances. And lately he’s made a post entitled “Theocracy Causes Famine” that’s so completely devoid of anything resembling reason that it’s just begging to be taken apart.

Start with the title: theocracy causes famine. This can’t be meant to be taken literally, right? It’s just an exaggeration tossed out for effect, right? Nope, while the post doesn’t start out proving anything like that, towards the end the summary rhetoric pretty much sets that out:

So, yes, famine is an “act of God” – but only in the sense that it’s caused by God’s self-appointed agents, the forces of religious darkness that don’t value human life and are perfectly willing to allow suffering and death. … Whenever I think of Somalia, I’m reminded that the brilliant, amazing Ayaan Hirsi Ali came from there. Could there be other minds like hers swept up in the famine, people with the same potential as her even now cradling their dying children or trudging to refugee camps? Will we stand by and permit the strangling darkness of theocracy to snuff out these bright sparks?

No, really, don’t hold back. Tell us what you really feel.

To make such bold comments, he’d better have some very good arguments for the idea that theocracy is the cause of famine in general, since that’s what he seems to be using the specific case of Somalia to prove. So, what are the arguments?

Let’s start, counter-intuitively enough, at the beginning, and the quote that kicks it all off. He quotes Johann Hari:

As recently as the mid-1980s, it was thought that famine was usually an “act of God” – a “biblical” failure of rains or crops or seasons. But in the 1990s Amartya Sen, the Nobel­ winning economist, showed this was wrong by proving one bold fact: “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy.” Famine, it turns out, is not caused by a failure to produce food. It is caused by a failure to distribute food correctly – because the ruler is not accountable to the starving.

So, let’s look at the quote that brought Ebon Muse up short, shall we?

First, there’s a lot of room between “functioning democracies” and theocracies for other governing forms. If Sen is right, then what that would prove is that democracies avoid famines and other governing systems — no matter how secular, like communist nations — well, don’t. But that certainly doesn’t mean that theocracies are particularly bad at it to be singled out in that way.

Second, this itself might be misleading. After all, in cases of extreme natural disasters governing systems tend to break down into chaos. So, in the case of extreme weather conditions that cause famine, it’s quite likely that the democracies will cease to function, and so become non-functioning democracies. Thus, we must be careful to ensure that Sen is not relying on a “No True Scotsman” fallacy. I haven’t read the book and so can’t say … but Ebon Muse didn’t provide that either.

Thus, so far we don’t have a link to theocracy at all. But maybe that last bit can do it. Maybe we can say that the leaders aren’t accountable to the people in a theocracy and so if all of the data is right that’s the problem. Yeah, that’s the ticket … except there’s no reason to presume that. There’s nothing in theocracy that leads to that anymore than other non-democratic systems, and especially dictatorships. We’d need a definition of a theocracy and some examples to say for certain.

But, fourth, we have examples of what could be called theocracies — and have, by some people — such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Israel (depending on who you believe). Do these nations suffer from famine in larger numbers than other nations? It seems not. So how can the link be made?

And this is all before we ask if those democratic nations had never had such conditions to cause famine, or if they never had what would be called famine conditions, and so there’s no link between government system and famine at all.

So, how does Ebon Muse defend his thesis from that quote?

Although a natural disaster, like drought, is often the trigger, the ultimate cause of famine is almost always a corrupt, greedy, or unaccountable government that siphons off food from the needy.

This is somewhat debatable; there may well be cases where there simply is not enough food to go around regardless of how it is distributed. But we need to ask this: what does this have to do with theocracy? Are they corrupt, greedy or unaccountable? And can democracies be corrupt, greedy or unaccountable? Well, yes, it seems like they can. And if you can claim that some provinces in a nation can experience famine, you can easily see how a corrupt democracy can be just as bad as anything else, even while we see no reason to single out theocracies in those categories.

But surely there are better arguments, right? Skipping the example of Ireland that he himself doesn’t claim was theocratically motivated, the next argument is to look at Somalia as an example:

And the same thing is happening now in Somalia. As Nicholas Kristof writes, the country is experiencing a historic drought – aggravated, no doubt, by climate change – but that alone wouldn’t have caused such a severe crisis. Kenya and Ethiopia, which are also affected by the drought, are coping better thanks to technological advances, like drought-resistant crops and irrigation systems.

Well, Ethiopia for quite some time now had been the poster child for famine and famine relief, and it seems unlikely that those famines were caused by theocracies since I doubt Ethiopia was one then. In fact, Ethiopia seemed to be a prime case for “We just don’t have the means to produce enough food”. Now it’s recovering, and that’s good, but it’s not exactly a good example of his case. How do we get to theocracy from this? Oh, right, we’re going to appeal to Somalia’s specific case and try to prove that it is something like theocracy that leaves it worse off:

But the closest thing to a government in Somalia is the violent, ignorant Islamist movement called the Shabab that’s the only authority in most of the country. Kristof puts it chillingly:

The area where large numbers of people are dying almost perfectly overlays the regions where the Shabab is in control.

So, there is a theocracy in parts of the country and people are worse off there — it doesn’t say that everything’s okay elsewhere — than they are in other places. Case proved … if one data point could prove a case, and it clearly doesn’t, and Ebon Muse knows that, so there isn’t an argument here so far. But surely we can build on this, right?

The Shabab has actively kept out aid workers and relief shipments, apparently viewing them as unwanted intrusions from corrupt and godless Western countries. They’ve blocked rivers and stolen water from villagers to divert it to farmers who pay them bribes. They’ve even tried to prevent starving people from fleeing.

So, there are three things that that area has done: kept out aid workers, stolen water in response to bribes, and prevented starving people from fleeing. Of these, only the first — and most minor — one has even a tangential relation to religion … and might even be true. It also might simply be a way to ensure that they preserve their political power and ability to get bribes and prosper themselves, because, you know, it’s not like the West ever sent troops into Somalia or anything, right? I fail to see how you can call that group typical of a theocracy or use that one data point to prove something about theocracy. At all. There’s no argument here. This is a rant, and an unreasonable one at that.

So, you’d think that another argument was coming, but no such luck. We end up at the closing rant, reproduced here in its entirety:

So, yes, famine is an “act of God” – but only in the sense that it’s caused by God’s self-appointed agents, the forces of religious darkness that don’t value human life and are perfectly willing to allow suffering and death. Famine is not inevitable, even in a warming and overpopulated world. The question is whether we, the defenders of humanity and civilization, the people who care about this life, are willing to act to prevent it.

Whenever I think of Somalia, I’m reminded that the brilliant, amazing Ayaan Hirsi Ali came from there. Could there be other minds like hers swept up in the famine, people with the same potential as her even now cradling their dying children or trudging to refugee camps? Will we stand by and permit the strangling darkness of theocracy to snuff out these bright sparks?

It’s an evocative and emotional statement … but you really only get to make those if you actually, you know, prove your case. And he hasn’t. There’s no rational case here … and yet he’s pretending there is. Why?

For a so-called advocate of reason and critical thinking, this post is utterly devoid of either. Which is disappointing, because I know he can do better than that.

Fear of Theocracy and Secularism …

September 25, 2011

I read this post over at Metamagician, and part of it bugged me. Now, Russell Blackford is, in my opinion, one of the more reasonable of the Gnu Atheists, so much so that he might not really be one at all except that they seem to think he is (Coyne calls Blackford “Brother Blackford” all the time). Now, I’ve had issues with Blackford when he gets angry, because he seems — to me, at least — to say some rather odd things when angry. But I take that more as proof that anger is not a good thing, and not necessarily as a strike against him.

Which is why this surprised me, since it seems fairly calm and measured but struck me in an entirely uncomfortable way:

The ACL denies that it wishes to impose a theocracy, but it certainly supports laws that are based on esoteric or otherworldly moralities associated with Christianity. That in itself is enough to worry about.

So, in wondering about whether or not the ACL wants to impose a theocracy, supporting laws based on esoteric or otherworldly moralities associated with Christianity — meaning, if one parses out the prose, that they advocate for laws that reflect the Christian morality that they, you know, actually have — is used as a sign that even if they don’t want an official theocracy, their views still in some important way cross over the line of secularism and impose religious values on the rest of society.

At first blush, this almost always seems reasonable, and it’s often hard to see why this isn’t. Until you remember one thing about democracies: in a democracy, in any matter where conscience is required to settle a vote, a decision, or a law, people are not only allowed but are required to decide based on their own conscience, whatever that conscience or moral belief is based on.

Except that this underlying impression that basing any such decision on religious reasons is somehow not acceptable means that that holds unless your moral conscience is guided by religion, at which point you are not only not required to base your decision on your religious conscience, but are in fact not even allowed to do it. And all of this in countries that, in fact, recognize freedom of religion as a protected right, meaning that people are not supposed to be treated differently based on their religious beliefs. And here we have a case where if your conscience is guided by your religion your conscience is therefore suspect and is not allowed to guide how you decide your vote or what laws or policies you vote for or advocate for.

Now, I don’t base my moral decisions on religion, but instead follow a philosophical approach. But I don’t see any reason why I should be allowed to, say, advocate for laws based on my Stoic moral beliefs and others should be allowed to advocate for laws based on their humanist beliefs but just because some people base their advocacy on religious beliefs that’s suddenly not okay. My Stoic beliefs and humanist beliefs are no more rational or rationally supported than religious beliefs, and again we are supposed to — in a democracy — vote and advocate on the basis of what we believe no matter what the reason is for that belief.

So, then, why is the New Atheist form of secularism so concerned with people basing their democratic decisions on religion? Well, I think Blackford inadvertently gives us the key: the fear of theocracy. The New Atheists start from a confrontational stance, forged in light of attempts to get creationism into schools, to restrict science on the basis of religious moral concerns (see stem cell research), to restrict freedoms on the basis of religious morality, and in light, of course, of 9/11. And when you look at the world, it’s not a baseless fear. The religious outnumber the non-religious by a large amount, and in many countries one at least broad religious denomination is dominant. And we’ve seen secularized states collapse before; Iran being an example that went from mostly secularized to religiously dominated in a surprisingly short amount of time.

This, then, is the fear that the New Atheists are reacting to. In a democracy, if your majority block is religious, politicians will try to appeal to them by making laws appeal to their religious sensibilities. And in that case, even secular states and politicians might turn democratic states into defacto theocracies; acting on the basis of religious interests because that’s the voting block that dominates. And that’s presuming that they don’t just change the laws to make it a theocracy in the first place.

Thus, religious involvement in politics is potentially threatening, leading to religious morality and sentiments dominating simply by force of numbers. And so religion must be cut from public life completely, while good “secular” philosophies and moralities are allowed free play.

Now, note that the most successful countries at secularizing did not, in fact, do this. They treated religion like anything else, and as far as I can tell there was no major push to keep religion out of public life. Sweden, for example, still has a state religion; Canada still maintains separate Catholic schools in a couple of provinces. All there was was an underlying and insistent focus on that bad word for Sam Harris and that other bad word for New Atheists: toleration and accommodation. This led to a notion where religion and politics were not in constant conflict, and so people were allowed to settle in to what was important to them. In prosperous, free democracies, religion became less important. It may resurge, but the success those countries had was based on insistence on tolerance for all beliefs — including non-religious ones — and accommodating religious beliefs to ensure freedom of religion.

And what we can see in Europe is that when you take the tack that the New Atheists want to take, conflict erupts. When you attack religion, take the accommodation out — even to a reasonable level — you make it look like the state is, in fact, attacking the religion, you put religious people on the defensive. They are unlikely to accept a world where their religion is treated differently than the approved secular philosophies, even if those philosophies advocate things considered absolutely horrible by their own moral standards. A world of, in their minds, moral decay where the state and state-approved philosophies insist that they are not allowed to do anything about it — even point out that state. They will then get defensive, and rally around the religion, and oppose secularization … and then you have massive conflict. And if it proceeds to the state where you either have to choose religion or secularism, then you have a war, a war that can end in either a completely secular state with religion as a second-class philosophy if it exists at all, or a theocracy.

If the New Atheists make it seem like an intermediate state is not possible, that it’s either no religion or a theocracy, many religion people will sadly accept the theocracy over losing religion completely. And thus they may well bring about that which they fear so much.

Due to circumstances completely in my control …

September 23, 2011

… I’m not going to be able to post anything tomorrow. I might post something on Sunday. So this might be a bit of a slow week but I’ll try to squeeze in something substantive just to make it up to you.

Putting Happiness Above Morality …

September 21, 2011

I started reading last week before class a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf for quite a while: “Aristotle, Kant and the Stoics” edited by Stephen Engstrom and Jennifer Whiting. T.H. Irving has an essay in it called “Kant’s Criticisms of Eudaimonism”, where he discusses how Kant criticized various eudaimonic theories, like those of Aristotle, the Stoics, and Epicurus. One of the main thrusts is that one of Kant’s objections to the view of the Stoics is off because they don’t treat “happiness” the way he argues they do. I also think that in addition to that the Stoics do not put happiness above morality or let happiness judge morality because for the Stoics it is always the case that if your morality doesn’t make you happy, you need to change your idea of happiness so that you’re happy being moral, and not the other way around.

So, this led to a test for those who do, in fact, make happiness the test for morality, which is to ask one question: If being moral didn’t make you or the appropriate group happy, should you give up morality for happiness?

The Stoics, of course, say no. You act morally and change your view of happiness.

For Aristotle, it’s a little more complicated. The Stoics do not allow for any indifferents that you need in order to live a good (eudaimonic) life. Aristotle did think you needed at least a minimum standard of living to have the good life. So, for Aristotle, the answer must be “It depends”.

For Epicurus and Utilitarians — and I include Sam Harris-type view as Utilitarian — the answer is neither yes nor no, but is instead “The question makes no sense; how can something be moral that doesn’t make the relevant grouping happy (or happier)?”. For them, the link between happiness and morality is one of identity; there can be nothing moral that does not increase happiness and vice versa.

But this, of course, leads us to see the obvious problem with those sorts of views, by asking one more question: If acting justly didn’t make the relevant group happy, would it then be immoral to act justly? Scientific utilitarians will immediately try to argue that empirically that isn’t possible, with more or less degrees of success (it’s not that hard to come up with possible cases), but the attack here is not empirical, but is conceptual. We do think that acting justly is in and of itself moral even if it does not increase happiness in any relevant group. But the Utilitarian, to be consistent, is forced to deny this, and that acting justly is only moral insofar as it increases happiness. And this, then, belies the idea that Utilitarianism fits in with what we consider to be moral; it is clear that we do not believe that the be-and-end-all of morality is that it makes a particular group happy. There are considerations beyond that. And if that is true, then Utilitarianism fails … no matter how much one studies the brain or claims that everyone wants to be happy.

Since we can imagine moral duties beyond increasing happiness, the Utilitarian view cannot be right unless they can prove why we’re wrong. So far, none has.

Dewey and Russell …

September 20, 2011

Well, I was busy at work today and really want to play City of Heroes tonight, so I’m running a little short on time for a blog post. But I’m taking a course on the debate between Dewey and Russell, and have to write commentaries every weak on the readings, and thought that since I have to do it anyway I might as well use them to fill in my empty blog space [grin].

The first readings were on Dewey and Russell’s independent attempts to disprove notions like that of F.H. Bradley and others. Both were sympathetic to that view at one point and both rejected it, and then formed their own theories. The readings were:

Dewey, “Reality and the Criterion for the Truth of Ideas”.

Russell, “On the Nature of Truth”.

And this is what I said about them:

Dewey and Russell here are both taking aim at F.H. Bradley’s idealist notions.  Both advance arguments against the challenges the idealists make to empiricism and also advance theories on what truth really is that rebuild the notion of truth after taking down the idealist conception.  So it will be useful to examine for each of them one of the main ways they attack the idealist position and also to make a point about how each tries to save truth afterwards.

For Dewey, the key argument against the idealist view is that it relies on two senses of reality and truth.  One is the Absolute Truth, and Absolute Reality, which is the ideal and idealized.  The other is our specific experience.  What we have, even as a complete unity, is nothing more than our experience, but our experience is precisely what the idealists are claiming is incomplete and in error.  Any attempt to derive any notion of truth from experience, then, is going to be flawed on the conception of the idealists.  But if that is the case, how can we get any notion of this Absolute Truth at all?  What logical basis can we have for linking to this Absolute Truth and this Absolute Reality?  What basis can we use to decide what logical values are of use – such as, say, the principle of non-contradiction – in determining a reality without us having something to guide us to better and worse conceptions of reality?  Thus, the conundrum: if the Absolute Truth is not related to the experienced truth in a way where we can connect the two, then of what use is this Absolute Truth?

An idealist could reply here that it is possible that we cannot, in fact, access the Absolute Truth.  Dewey’s counters rely heavily on the idealists thinking that it is attainable.  However, if the idealist tries to argue that there is an Absolute Truth that is not attainable, then this seems to reduce to the Kantian noumenal, and the pragmatist can simply acknowledge it but proceed precisely as they would without it, and deal with the mere appearances as that is all they and anyone can have.  So this retreat is not as palatable as it might seem.

Dewey’s notion of truth, however, is more problematic.  He ties it to the verification principle, and argues that what makes something true is, essentially, what truth is.  His example of the streetcar (pg 335) highlights the problem with this: it suggests that if you do not verify something true then it is not true, which is a theme he carries on throughout the rest of the paper even to his “saved man” example (pg 337).  But for true propositions, it seems reasonable to say that a proposition is true or false even if I cannot currently – or ever – verify whether or not it is true.  That noise either was or was not a streetcar even if no one goes to look out the window.  So that is a dubious proposition, to say the least.  Additionally, if he sticks to empirical verification he runs into an issue of propositions – like mathematics – that do not need or cannot have empirical verification.  A Davidsonian can define truth as the set of conditions that would prove or make the proposition true by claiming that it applies to any condition, empirical or not.  But this stance may not be open to Dewey.

Russell, on the other hand, makes his major push against the relation principle, trying to demonstrate that we have good reason to think it false.  Ultimately, the key argument seems to be that for at least some terms we have to expect that they will eventually end with something that is not a relation, and so the proposed infinite regress never occurs.  Russell uses the example of “greater than” to suggest that if we try to follow the proposed infinite regress we will eventually end up with something that is not an adjective of the two terms, especially if the relation is asymmetrical.  This, however, seems like a bit of argumentative slight of hand, especially since it would have to apply to any possible relation and the idealist problem might include a relation to the nature of only one term.  It is not as clear that this will happen, and Russell does not work even the “greater than” relation out in detail to show where it would end.  A stronger argument is about the nature of an object.  If the nature is different than a thing itself, then it must be related to it, and so the nature of a thing must have a way to relate without an infinite regress.  But if it is the same, then in what sense?  Is a subject just a collection of predicates?  Then what makes a unique nature?  Will not any set of predicates do? (Pg 42 – 43) It is unclear, however, if this is a real challenge to idealists like Bradley, who insist that the natures of everything are bound up all together in one massive monism.  Russell disregards this as not properly allowing for an identity of differences, but this seems, again, like argumentative slight of hand; the idealists likely do not see that as a problem, and so it is no reason to reject it for them.

Russell’s definition of truth is based on the relation between facts and beliefs (pg 45).  One can either take the simple approach and argue that truth is how beliefs link up with facts, or one can add an additional objective falsehood and argue that beliefs link up with either facts and truth or fictions and falsehoods, which would easily allow for us to understand and accept false beliefs.  If, on the other hand, we reject objective falsehood, then belief becomes a complex notion and beliefs that do not link up to facts are, essentially, beliefs about nothing.  Neither option seems palatable; beliefs that are false still seem to be beliefs about something, just something that is false.  However, that does not mean that we need some kind of objective falsehood like some kind of objective truth.  Do mistakes really need an object, or can they simply be errors?  What, in fact, is an objective falsehood that underpins this?  What kind of object is it?  What reality does it have?  True beliefs can point to reality, but false beliefs with objective falsehood point to … what, exactly?  Are all possible falsehoods contained in the fact object?  Why would a fact contain falsehoods?  It is not all that clear how this is supposed to work out in the end.

Schedules …

September 19, 2011

So, I hinted in a previous post that I have to rearrange my schedule to fit in my projects. I meant that literally. Yes, I do indeed keep a basic schedule of what I want to do when, that I try to fill out every week to plan my week out. And I do it only for my personal life, not for my work life.

This is not because I’m an uptight person obsessed with schedule and routine. I like routine, but have always been a bit flexible on schedule. No, the reason I do it is because a few years ago I noticed that I had a lot of things to do but wouldn’t remember that I wanted to do them when the time came. So what would always happen is that I’d be sitting around some evening thinking “What do I want to do?”. And I’d churn over some ideas, reject them, and then finally settle on watching a few DVDs or reading or playing a game or something. And then about an hour later I’d think “Wait, I could’ve done that!”. But, of course, at that point it would be too late to start doing it, so I’d put it off, and so I wouldn’t do things like write stories or essays or anything like that. It was starting to get a bit frustrating.

So creating a schedule allowed for two things:

1) I didn’t forget the things I really wanted to do, as they were written into the schedule for that week.

2) It forced me to explicitly reject doing them. I didn’t hold strictly to my schedule, and ditched things whenever I felt like it, but the schedule forced me to explicitly say “I don’t feel like writing a story today; I think I’ll read or play a game instead” or “I don’t feel like playing Fatal Frame 2 today”, thus putting the onus on me to set priorities and not my memory.

Later, it also gave me the abilty to both split out amounts of time for the various things I want to do that roughly matched their priority and to settle the times when I can conveniently do each activity, as well as providing specific dedicated general times for each priority.

It doesn’t solve my problems, but it kinda works.

And so I have to settle when I’m going to do my various projects so that this can all get done.

So a philosoper walks into a bookstore …

September 18, 2011

… and buys three books:

Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith”.
A copy of the Bible.
And “The Essential William James”.

The last might be of use for my class this term, which won’t be that relevant to this blog. The first two, however, hopefully will be, because I:

1) Want to read and comment on in detail “The End of Faith”.

2) Read and philosophically comment on the works of Paul.

As well as read and comment on (in less detail) Edward Feser’s “The Last Superstition”. I have to adjust my schedule to try to fit all this stuff in, so I don’t know when I’ll do any of this, but it’s upcoming.

Let’s see if I can offend all sides of the debate [grin].

Making enemies left, right and centre …

September 18, 2011

I’ve talked before about how it seems to me that the Gnu Atheists are getting obsessed with the enemy, but reading the first few pages of Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith” has driven home another thought: just how many enemies the Gnu Atheists are making. And by that, I don’t mean people who consider them enemies, but people they consider enemies. There are:

– Accommodationists of the sort who simply don’t think that religion is all bad and that maybe religion and atheism can work together (in Dawkins).

– Accommodationists of the sort who think that science and religion are not incompatible in an interesting way.

– Moderate religious people (Harris).

– Theology.

– And now, at least in the comboxes, philosophy.

All of these have one thing in common: they do not take the hardline towards religion that the Gnu Atheists want taken. The first three are obvious. Theology is not itself religion — although most religions have theologians — and is an academic unit with a long pedigree. However, it can be used to make religion seem rational and so out it goes. First, they attack the idea that most religious people use it, and then they attack the idea that it’s any sort of proper intellectual field. Now that the defenders of theology are mustering philosophy against that notion, some Gnu Atheists are attacking it, partly out of a misguided scientism and partly, it seems to me, out of a notion that if you aren’t against religion completely you aren’t really on the same side as them. This is blatantly obvious with respect to religion because the comments — often from different people, I’ll admit — seem to both use the fact that philosophy is not itself religious against religion and attack philosophy for accepting and taking seriously arguments about God and religion.

Ultimately, it’s a direct reflection of an “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude, and Sam Harris in his first few pages is quite clear that that’s the strategy he’s after. And it is this that “accommodationists” like Josh Rosenau and Eugenie Scott protest. They think that at least some religious people can be allies in some areas — like in promoting evolution — and note that it’s really hard to do that when you have a very vocal group insisting that unless you’re completely anti-religious you’re an enemy of science.

And for their trouble, they get attacked and treated as enemies. Does anyone see anything wrong with this picture?

The more you treat anyone who disagrees as an enemy or a heretic, the more fundamentalist you become. If Gnu Atheism isn’t there already, it’s well on its way. And spare me the “Well, we can’t be doing that because heretic and fundamentalist are religious things, and we aren’t religious” reply. If you act in the same way as people reacting to heresy or the way fundamentalists do, the comparison is apt.

Guys, you look like Boris Karloff, and you don’t even care.