Tag Archives: Apologetics

The argument from authority (or lack thereof)

In the natural sciences arguing from authority is frowned on. Sure, we do have to give credence to authorities when attempting to understand subjects outside our field. But, in our own areas (and in the end with any scientific subject) authority counts for nothing. After all the best test of any scientific idea is to measure it against reality. Evidence counts more than authority.

So I always find arguments from authority  weak. And when the arguer uses only that approach, maybe even using the argument from authority as a way of ignoring evidence (or even details of the argument itself), I suspect that argument from authority has become a way of avoiding the issue completely. One can end up debating at length the importance of authority, or the rights of others to have opinions, and never once deal with the real issue which sparked the debate.

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Galileo’s revolutionary contribution

A good primary source

In An interesting question Thony C at The Renaissance Mathematicus responded to a comment at my post, Early history of science, with his own blog article. While it  mainly discusses the nature of censorship I would like to respond to some comments he made about the Galileo affair.

I will leave aside his/her tactic of blaming the victim – which seems quite fashionable among religious apologists writing on this issue today. For example Thony C claims:

“Nobody had been really bothered by the potential conflict until Galileo and Foscarini had made it into a real conflict by suggesting a theological solution thus creating a real problem for the Church;” “In his unconsidered and over hasty actions Galileo had forced the Church to ban the heliocentric theory.”

There is something unpleasant about excusing all the actions of a huge institution like the Catholic Church and its Inquisition and putting all the blame on an individual. Moreover an individual who is threatened with torture and sentenced to imprisonment! Soviet apologists no doubt blamed Andrei Sakharov for his confinement to the city of Gorky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for his expulsion from the country. That’s the trouble with apologists – their loyalties.

However, I would like to deal here with the so-called “theological solution” which Thony C presents as the real problem. Unfortunately this “crime” is usually not discussed in detail, yet apologists often wish to use it to divert attention away from the scientific issues. Was the theological problem simply non-acceptance of a geocentric model which was supposedly made factual by its presentation in the Christian bible? Was it just a matter of semantics, the hubris of including scientific questions within the domain of theology?

Thony C gives a clearer idea in his comment:

“The crime the these two men committed in the Church’s eyes was not that they propagated heliocentrism, which they did, but that they told the Church how to interpret the Bible and that was definitely a no, no.”

So was it a matter of interpretation, or more correctly who should do the interpreting and how?

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Science, religion and respect for meaning

Religious apologists seem to be obsessed with the relationship between religion and science. Not so much for scientists who generally just want to get on with their job of understanding reality and helping humanity make use of the resulting knowledge.

But in retirement I have had more opportunity to come across the argument’s used by apologists to explain away the differences between scientific and religious knowledge, or to deny scientific knowledge. The overwhelming impression I have is one of bafflegab, mental gymnastics, strawmannery and jelly wrestling. Certainly not honesty.

One thing that gets up my nose is the lack of respect for language, for the meaning of words. Particularly important words like “truth” and “knowledge.” An example is this comment in a review of  apologist John Lennox‘s new book at Christian News (see Can Science, Creationism Coexist? One Christian Author Says Yes):

“In his recently published book, Seven Days that Divide the World, Lennox sets out to prove that Christians can believe in the theories of science and maintain the truth of Scripture.”

These people use the word “truth,” or very often “Truth,” to describe a collection of bronze age myths, parables and mysticism!  As for science – well that’s only “theory” – and you know what meaning they usually give to that word. No, not the scientific understanding of theory as “a set of facts, propositions, or principles analysed in their relation to one another and used, especially in science, to explain phenomena.” No, more the vague popular use of “theory” as “an idea of or belief about something arrived at through speculation or conjecture.”

This always strikes me as the height of arrogance – an arrogance that often leads to problems. One has only to think of Galileo’s treatment because his persecuters thought he was daring to question the “Truth” of scripture.

Not that scientists usually use the word “truth”, and especially not “Truth” to describe scientific knowledge. We are well aware of the provisional, but progressive, nature of scientific knowledge. Always amenable to improvement and change as it is checked against reality.

Scientific knowledge is relative  – not absolute, not “Truth”, but it’s the best we have. If science cannot give us specific knowledge about reality one can be sure no other method can.

That’s the other thing that get’s up my nose. The arrogance of some apologists who will seriously suggest they have higher standards. Because while scientific knowledge is amenable to change and improvement religious knowledge is not. It is the “Truth.”

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Some pesky delusions

Book review: The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, editors John W. Loftus and Dan Barker

US$14.28; NZ$44.97

Paperback: 422 pages
Prometheus Books (March 31, 2010)

As the title indicates this book is about delusions often promoted by Christians. These are many and varied. The show up in areas such as the history of science, cosmology, morality/ethics, history, culture and anthropology, the nature of the mind and consciousness, ideas of gods, the Christian bible and the historically authenticity of biblical history. Religious leaders and theologians promote them and congregations uncritically accept them. That is the nature of faith and is Why Faith Fails, as the book’s subtitle says.

It is a collection of articles by nine different authors. The advantage – most readers will find some articles which specifically interest them. The disadvantage – few readers will have the same interest in all the articles.

Another advantage of different authors is that they are all experts in their own fields and write authoritatively on the subjects of their articles.

So I should declare my interests.  Part I: Why Faith Fails and Part 5: Why Society Does not depend on Christian Faith specifically interested me. Part 3: Why the Christian God is not Perfectly Good and Part 4: Why Jesus is not the Risen Son of God would interest those with a background or interest in theology. Readers interested in biblical history and analysis might prefer Part 2: Why the Bible is not God’s Word.

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Becoming an atheist

Book Review: Why I became an Atheist: Personal Reflections and Additional Arguments by John W. Loftus

Price: US$15.95
Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Trafford Publishing (November 7, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1425183794
ISBN-13: 978-1425183790

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I think this book is for Christians, or recent Christians. Its discussion concentrates on the flaws in the Christian argument, rather than any substantial justification or expansion of atheist ideas. So, the arguments presented are of limited interest to a long-term infidel like me who is not interested in the details of Christian theology or their refutation.

To be fair, I have not yet read Loftus’s  Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains.” This current volume supplements that book in providing a collection of personal reflections and additional arguments. Some of these presumable originate from his popular blog Debunking Christianity.”

He covers topics like his personal motivation for his blog, religious funerals, the plight of the preacher, advice for people leaving a faith, various arguments advanced fro Christianity, the problem of evil, virgin birth, reincarnation and Pascal’s wager. On the other hand he does deal with an atheistic ethic, freethinking and “new atheism.” However, my feeling is that even with these later subjects his perspective is still strongly influenced by his recently rejected theology. So I find his idea of “new atheism” more of the caricature normally presented by apologist opponents. He seems to accept their argument that “new atheism” is about evolution, not capitalising the word “God”, or referring to “God” with masculine pronouns. He appears to accept the argument the “new atheists” are militant and lack respect for the opponents. I think this is inadequate. Similarly I found his description of the scientific process inadequate.

But that’s my perspective. I grant there will be much here for the Christian or ex-Christian with an interest in theology.

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Dawkins bashing season upon us?

Prepare yourself for another round of Dawkins-bashing. That’s not to imply there isn’t plenty of that already. And it does get pretty farcical. A commenter on a local apologetics blog recently claimed Dawkins “must be hopping mad and upset because we are hearing so little of him of late. He has been exposed as the emperor without clothes.” And this on a post which was devoted to repeating Micheal Ruse’s recent attack on Dawkins! These apologists will use anything, won’t they. And an atheist like Ruse becomes a valued ally when he is spouting his professional jealousy of Dawkins in this illogical manner (see Why I think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster). 51OV5uKtcXL._SL160_

This new round of attacks will be a response to Dawkins new book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution– out next month. In fact the attacks have already started pre-publication (see Is Richard Dawkins a stage magician?). Nothing new – such hostile reviewers usually never bother reading the book anyway. So look forward to a deluge of such “reviews.”

I am sure this new book will sell well. And it looks like it will be very informative about evolutionary science and helpful in raising awareness of its attackers and their arguments.

If you want a preview – have a read of the extract from The Greatest Show on Earth at Times On-line. Its the first part ofg a serialisation of the book (see The truth dogs reveal about evolution for the second part)

There are also three audio files of Dawkins and His Wife Lalla Ward reading from the introduction (Part 1; Part 2; and Part 3).


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chickenpopquizI don’t understand those religious apologists who claim purpose as a reason for their beliefs. Or, more precisely, I find their arguments unconvincing.

There is an example in a post by James at the local Catholic apologetics blog Being Frank (see Audacity of faith). Here he describes his purpose:

“God has put me here to discover Him, to choose to follow and love Him, and to show Him to other people.  Simple as that.  My reward for doing these things?  When I die in this life, I get to exist forever with Him in a state of pure supernatural bliss.”

So Frank believes that this is the reason his god created the universe!

But it’s all very vague. Mission statements should be more concrete.

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