Category Archives: faith

Is Keith Ward really that naive about science?

Credit: Jesus and Mo

I am really amazed by some of the rubbish theologians and philosophers of religion think they can get away with when talking about science.

The Guardian article Religion answers the factual questions science neglects is just one recent example. It’s written by Keith Ward, a professorial research fellow in the philosophy of religion at Heythrop College, London. With these qualifications I would have expected something much better.

He loosely bases his arguments on Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of Non-overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) (see my post Overlapping Magisteria? for a brief description of NOMA). Ward claims:

“Many religious statements are naturally construed as statements of fact – Jesus healed the sick, and rose from death, and these are factual claims. So Stephen Gould’s suggestion that religion only deals with value and meaning is incorrect, though it is correct that scientists do not usually deal with such questions.”

Here are some points

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Fine-tuning fallacies

In Fiddling with “fine-tuning” I discussed the way theologians and philosophers of religion have used claims of fine-tuning of the cosmological constant erroneously. That they have taken the fact that the value of the measured cosmological constant is 120 orders of magnitude different to the value of vacuum energy used to explain it. This has been described as the “worst calculation in physics history.” But never mind, these apologists have just utilised the huge mistake to claim that the cosmological constant is fine-tuned to 1 part in 10120! So there god must be responsible.

This is what happens when you use scientific knowledge opportunistically. Like a drunk uses a lamppost – more for support than illumination. Because the problem with the theological approach is that there is no interest in understanding the world around us – just in using science to support any argument they can drag up to “prove” the existence of their particular god.

Mind you, some non-theists also find the fine tuning concept beguiling. And they can also uncritically accept some of the fine-tuning claims that circulate. The idea that many of the physical and cosmological constants in our universe are extremely delicately balanced to values necessary for life to exist. The so-called anthropic principle.

So, Victor Stenger’s new book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us will be very useful for anyone attempting to check out these arguments by actually considering the science. He describes the physical and cosmological background to the constants, or parameters as he prefers to call them, usually used in fine-tuning arguments. And then he considers, one by one, just how valid – or invalid – the fine-tuning arguments are.

Here I will just deal with two “fine-tuned” constants – the “Hoyle resonance” for carbon nuclei and the “nuclear efficiency.” I think they illustrate two common mistakes made in estimating the degree of fine-tuning.

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Rational morality

Here’s a great video. It’s not short (31 mins) but its well worth watching right through – or downloading and watching later. Even watching several times, the speaker is so eloquent and precise with his language.

In it Scott Clifton gives a thorough critique of the Christian apologetics understanding of morality. He also gives a good outline of secular morality – a rational, objectively-based morality.

Treatise on Morality. – YouTube.

Clifton stress morality is important because it determines how we behave and how we interact with others. In the video he sets out to answer four questions:

  1. What do we specifically mean by words like “right,” “wrong,” “moral,” “immoral,” etc.?
  2. Why our definitions are useful and applicable and why they represent how the vast majority of people see these words, whether they realise it or not?
  3. How can we objectively determine what is “right” and what is “wrong” without appealing to personal taste or subjective opinion?
  4. Why we ought to do right and ought not to do wrong?

He answers the first question by defining “right” as that which promotes the health, happiness and well-being of humans. Or minimises unnecessary human pain or suffering. And “wrong” of course is the converse.

Immediately I know many readers will reject his definitions. But if you do, you should hear him out. Watch the video. Listen to his arguments.

I suspect you might find that you do in the end agree. I do.

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Concern over William Lane Craig’s justification of biblical genocide

Genocide is good if your god commands it!

William Lane Craig went ahead with his “empty chair for Dawkins” stunt in his Oxford appearance. While many of his fans loved the trick, Craig didn’t get off unharmed by his stalking of Richard Dawkins. Obviously some of Craig’s fans are concerned about Dawkins’ reference to Craig’s justification of biblical genocide. So he was forced to confront the issue during question time.

While most of Craig’s fans applauded his answer, others were rather shocked. Here’s how one reporter at the event described it (see William Lane Craig vs. Chair of Dawkins ):

“However, ultimately one question exposed Craig’s alarmingly questionable moral principles: “Dawkins has refused to debate you because (he says) you think genocide could be acceptable in some contexts. Have you ever said anything which warrants this view, and what do you actually think?” He started with the straightforward denial that we expected – “I have not in any way ever said that God commanded, or could command, human genocide”. However, the following ten minute explanation of Numbers 33:50-54 (look it up) did not involve a justification of genocide, merely a justification of the mass displacement of an ethnic group; the kicker at the end was his summary that if this forced displacement did involve killing some Canaanites, well the adults deserved it because they were sinful, and it’s alright because the children went straight to heaven. Seriously?”

“The widespread applause this statement extracted from the audience was possibly more alarming than the statement itself. Somewhere up in the wings a lone voice was shouting “Boo”; the news editor and I stared gormlessly; the rest of the spectators seemed to find this little speech all fine and dandy. I am a religious person, and as a person of faith (not in spite of it) I was morally repulsed by this analysis, and deeply concerned about the intellectual and moral fibre of the believers who found it commendable.”

“The only benefit of the doubt that I can possibly extend to Craig (and I am scraping the barrel) is that under pressure he grasped at the nearest explanation for Biblical injustices which came to mind, and would – hopefully will – qualify his extraordinary comments at some later date. I shan’t hold my breath.”

And from another report of the same event ( see Craig strikes back at genocide smear):

“However, in a question and answer session near the end of the debate, Craig’s response to the accusation that he approves of Biblical genocide provoked murmurs of disapproval from parts of the audience, and a loud boo from the upper wings.

“There was no racial war here, no command to kill them all,” he initially said, referring to extermination of the Canaanites in the Old Testament, “the command was to drive them out.”

Then Craig said: “But, how could God command that the children be killed, as they are innocent?”

“I would say that God has the right to give and take life as he sees fit. Children die all the time! If you believe in the salvation, as I do, of children, who die, what that meant is that the death of these children meant their salvation. People look at this [genocide] and think life ends at the grave but in fact this was the salvation of these children, who were far better dead…than being raised in this Canaanite culture. “

One attendee, who wished not be named, called Craig’s argument “alarming”: “I’m a Christian who generally agrees with Craig’s ideas but what he said for the last question was simply disturbing. He completely contradicted himself, one minute saying that, effectively, no children were killed in the genocide, only to say later on that it was OK that children died, that it was God’s will, and that they were saved from a debauched culture.”

He added: “I believe in a benevolent God, but that didn’t sound very benevolent at all.”

I suspect Craig will come to regret the way he has approached this problem. He has the habit of inventing explanations for things and sticking to them. even declaring his opponents are dishonest or illogical if they don’t accept his arguments.

But when it comes to strong moral issues like genocide more and more of his fans will come to see these arguments as disingenuous. Especially if he repeats his justifications ad nauseam. A habit of his.

Credit: Photo by Apolgetics 315. Yes the photo is doctored – but not by me.

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New Zealand happy – some preachers upset!

I reckon the “Rapture” may have come in New Zealand on Sunday Night.

However, it proved to be another failure for Harold Camping who had predicted the end of the world by then. He said last September:

“The end is going to come very, very quietly probably within the next month. It will happen, that is, by October 21.”

Since then Camping has kept well clear of the press – although I get the impression that after three failed attempts at prediction there were very few reporters hanging around outside his door.

However, there is now a report that he has retired from this whole business. According to the Chrsitian News (see Harold Camping Exclusive: Family Radio Founder Retires; Doomsday ‘Prophet’ No Longer Able to Work):

“Harold Camping, who predicted Oct. 21 to be the day Christians would be caught up to heaven and that God would judge the world, said on Oct. 16 that he is no longer able to lead Family Radio Stations, Inc. or his ministry, and his wife has confirmed that the 90-year-old radio evangelist has retired, a documentarian close to Camping told The Christian Post in an exclusive interview.”

But what about this?

Apparently some preachers were upset that the world didn’t end last weeked. The newspaper reports “they were all disappointed that Christ did not come”

With friends like this!

The never ending battle

Thanks to Jerry Coyne (Physics pwns creationism)

I think the cartoon perceptively indicates that sort of “research” done by “creation science.” Biblical stories are used for the answers then they only have to sort out which science they can distort to “prove” their answers. I guess that’s why we have websites like “Answers in Genesis.”

But here’s a new blog which demonstrates a “purpose” for this creation “research.” Its called Science Essentials and has the subtitle “Practical Resources for Teaching Creation-Based Science.”

The blog describes its aim as supporting a community of “parents, teachers, and administrators who desire to teach creation-based science.” And “is committed to providing relevant, practical resources to those who engage elementary and/or secondary students.”

The old story of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians attempting to get their religious myths taught in science courses.

These people never seem to give up. Which, unfortunately, places a demand on science and the supporters of science to be constantly wary of these attempts.

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William Lane Craig’s “logic”

I don’t know how long this video will survive on YouTube. It’s a takeoff of William Lane Craig and his “logic.” Apparently Craig has made several attempts to remove it.

Personally, I think there is room for many more of these videos – Craig’s debates could be mined for multiple examples of faulty logic.

William Lane Craig Is Not A Meatloaf – YouTube.

Science and the “supernatural”

I have discussed the issue of “supernaturalism” and science before but return to it having just read  Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?  by Dr  Yonatan I. Fishman. It’s an excellent paper which I recommend you read as it may challenge some of your ideas. You can download the full text here.

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Approaching a Middle East peace

Came across this song of Tim Minchen’s Peace Anthem For Palestine.

Actually think he might be on to something

A fight-back – or simply spite?

I urge you to read Brain Rudman’s article Blessings erode our secular bedrock – if you haven’t already. It’s been a while since I have found myself agreeing so much with a NZ Herald column.

Brian leads with the point that the current “proliferation of religious ceremonies in civic life is at odds with our democracy.”

He feels that the odd and anachronistic ceremony of “the religious blessing, New Zealand style, has burst from obscurity into public life, as Christianity disappears rapidly in the other direction. These days it doesn’t need a sneeze to attract a blessing. It’s as though there’s a decree from the Beehive that says you can’t open anything public without a ceremonial blessing.”

Less than half population

It is certainly strange. We didn’t have these blessings in my youth when Christianity enjoyed a very dominant position. Now they are everywhere, at a time when religious influence is declining and Christianity was nominally the religion of only 49.5% of the population in the 2006 Census (see Is New Zealand a Christian nation?).

Is this a result of a misguided belief that somehow exposure of the godless public to what Rudman describes as a “throwback to the Middle Ages” will reverse the decline? Is it a conscious attempt to return religion to its once dominant position in our society?

Or is it a spiteful response to its declining influence. A wish to impose on others ceremonies they claim are “sacred?” To make the godless public endure their “sacredness” whether they like it or not?

Sneaky use of “Maori voice”

I am pleased that Rudman raises the way that New Zealand Christianity manipulates multiculturalism and natural ethnic respect in their campaigns:

“God’s intrusion into our civic affairs has been quite sneaky. He/she has slipped in using a Maori voice, taking advantage of the increasing use of tangata whenua as providers of the ceremonial at public occasions.

This infusion of Christianity into public ceremonial has occurred by osmosis, really, drifting into our lives without debate, surviving because liberal politicians, who you might expect to raise objections, stay quiet, fearful of being labelled anti-Maori.”

It’s hard enough to protest when a non-consensual blessing, prayer or other religious ceremony is imposed – but infinitely harder when the objector is labelled a racist.

Rudman continues:

“But is it anti-Maori to fight to preserve the secular bedrock of our democracy? We don’t have a written constitution but our traditional practice has been to keep religion out of public life. The origins of that was an endeavour to stop bickering Christian denominations continuing the conflicts still festering in their European homelands.

In 21st-century New Zealand, the reasons for keeping the state and religion apart are very different.”

And these reasons relate to democracy and human rights:

“It’s not just that non-believers outnumber each of the Big Three Christian denominations – Anglican, Catholics, Presbyterians – by more than two to one; it’s only a matter of time before “non-belief” overtakes Christianity as a whole. Then there are other major world religions, now gaining a larger public face thanks to recent immigration.

This makes the belated invasion of Christianity into our public life rather perplexing. It wasn’t deemed acceptable when it was the main religion in town. It’s surely even less appropriate now that it’s fading away.”

Political risk of turning “blind eye”

Some people might argue that Rudman’s criticism is unwarranted. That New Zealanders are happy with the current situation. But these naysayers are ignoring the reality. Many people, believers and non-believers, do find non-consensual imposition of religious ceremony offensive. Even Christians can feel embarrassed by this unwarranted intrusion on others which violate human rights and religious freedoms.

And there are ongoing objections to the privileged involvement of Christianity in state occasions. The Christian prayer at the start of parliamentary business (and often in local bodies). And the blatant dominance of Christian personalities and prayers in state ceremonies and functions.

Our politicians have tended to acquiesce in Christian privilege – often because they are aware of the way the Christian conservative groups can mobilise against any changes they oppose.

But as Rudman concludes: “given the numbers, it’s something politicians preside over at their own political risk.”

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