Often we are told, mostly by liberals (and I will state right away that I am an unabashed liberal, but this does not mean liberals are above criticism), that “Islam is a religion of peace” and that “terrorists are not true Muslims.”
But it seems to me that this is a resort to the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. So what is this all about?
This fallacy involves changing a definition to avoid criticsm. Regarding the origins of the term, RationalWiki has this to say:
“The term was coined by [the late philosopher] Antony Flew, who gave an example of a Scotsman who sees a newspaper article about a series of sex crimes taking place in Brighton, and responds that ‘no Scotsman would do such a thing.’
When later confronted with evidence of another Scotsman doing even worse acts, his response is that ‘no true Scotsman would do such a thing,’ thus disavowing membership in the group “Scotsman” to the criminal on the basis that the commission of the crime is evidence for not being a Scotsman.
However, this reasoning is fallacious, as there exists no premise in the definition of ‘Scotsman’ which makes such acts impossible (or even unlikely, in the case of Scots). The term “No True Scotsman” has since expanded to refer to anyone who attempts to disown or distance themselves from wayward members of a group by excluding them from it.”
As with Scotsmen, so with Muslims. Perhaps there is a core set of beliefs that one has to have in order to be a “true” Muslim, or Christian or Buddhist or whatever. But from my perspective at least, what is going on here is an attempt, perhaps understandable due to a desire to get moderate Muslims to cooperate with the West and to prevent outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in western nations, to define a term in such a way that one’s ends can be achieved without having to take into account thorny criticisms. There are probably as many ways to inerpret the Q’ran as the Bible, and some of those interpretations lend sanction to violence.
I was just over at the “Positive Atheism” site, and I came across this quote from Voltaire, which appeared in a letter to an interlocutor following the catastrophic Lisbon earthquake, which killed thirty thousand people, with another seventy thousand lives snuffed out in the ensuing Tsunami:
“My dear sir, nature is very cruel. One would find it hard to imagine how the laws of movement cause such frightful disasters in the best of possible worlds. A hundred thousand ants, our fellows, crushed all at once in our ant-hill, and half of them perishing, no doubt in unspeakable agony, beneath the wreckage from which they cannot be drawn. Families ruined all over Europe, the fortune of a hundred businessmen, your compatriots, swallowed up in the ruins of Lisbon. What a wretched gamble is the game of human life! What will the preachers say, especially if the palace of the Inquisition is still standing? I flatter myself that at least the reverend father inquisitors have been crushed like others. That ought to teach men not to persecute each other, for while a few holy scoundrels burn a few fanatics, the earth swallows up one and all.”
Voltaire went on to write the moving poem “On the Disaster at Lisbon,” as well as his magnum opus, the novel Candide.
One thing that really raises my blood pressure is when theisst who believe in the traditional model of the 3-0 god assert that all things happen for a reason. Really? If such a god exists, this must mean he had a reason for cancer, malaria, and smallpox, along with tsunamis, earthquakes, and other “natural” disasters (are they truly natural if they are part of an omnipotent deity’s plan?).
But some people just don’t seem to get the point in abstract, but need a concrete example. So here’s one: Little Bella Bond, only a toddler, was punched in the abdomen repeatedly by her mother’s boyfriend until she died; her body was then kept refrigerated for a month before the culprit finally disposed of it. If all things happen for a reason, and if god is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then he must have had a reason for allowing that to happen. Why did he not protect this child? What prevented him, in his supposed might, from sheltering her from these vicious blows? I have been punched in the abdomen, and it is not a pleasant experience. Imagine the suffering of this poor, innocent, defenseless child as she was repeatedly pummeled by a grown man.
I defy anyone who believes in good, kind, and also all-knowing and all-powerful god to argue that there was a reason according to which the supposed loving almighty had to allow this to happen to little Bella.
I’m finally catching up on posting items about our monthly meeting programs. This brings us up to date.
This program involved a recent presentation on the concept/topic of free will given by Jerry Coyne at the Imagine No Religion 5 conference held in Vancouver, Canada. Jerry has had a long time interest in the idea of free will and has staked out his own position by arguing that free will is merely an illusion and doesn’t really exist. The title of this talk is, appropriately enough given his view, “You Don’t Have Free Will”. The argument for his position is based on his perception that everything we know about the brain and its relationship to our behavior supports the view that it and the associated concept of mind ultimately reduce to material events and there is no real gap into which one can insert an immaterial, supernatural or spiritual essence. If the brain has only a material existence, all our actions can be explained by material events which could, in principle, be reduced to physical events which would lead to predictable outcomes. We have no choice in our actions separate from these material events even if we feel we do. This is not a position likely to produce a lot of jolly agreement from most of us.
So, watch the video, load up your arguments, take aim and give old Jerry hell for trying to wreck one of our favorite ideas even if it doesn’t feel religious.
Some of us have begun to talk about “what next” after atheism. In other words, we have come to the realization that there is no god, so how should we approach life with that in mind (and for others, this might be a non-question, as they never believed in a god in the first place)? Many might turn to philosophy (I hope!), and among those who do, a high percentage might seek optimistic and cheery words of encouragement. But there is much to learn from more pessimistic philosophers as well. For example, consider the advice of the French philosopher Nicolas Chamfort, who wrote:
“Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.”
Hard to argue with that, I guess. Maybe there is wisdom to be found in honest pessimism.
We had a presentation by Janet Neurauter from the ICC Foundation regarding scholarship options for GRAF via the Foundation. Then we had a fairly long discussion about our plans for providing a scholarship and decided the best route appeared to be to work with the ICC Foundation. We would offer a single scholarship for $500 in the spring of next year for use by a student in the fall and spring semesters next year. The Foundation requires a minimum of $500 and then provides half that amount in the fall of 2015 and the remainder in the spring of 2016. There is no charge from the Foundation and they handle most of the administration and award process. We can specify criteria for students eligible for the scholarship and make those as exclusive or inclusive as we choose. The Foundation chooses a subject for an essay by the applicants and has a committee review these and make the decisions on the awards based on whether a student qualifies for a particular scholarship. The funds available and the sponsoring organizations or groups are publicized by the Foundation at the local schools, through the Community Foundation and probably through the newspaper as well. We will need to authorize this process by early January and provide our criteria by then as well. Since the Community Foundation charges a fee for handling any scholarships and the ICC Foundation has a minimum amount that matches what we had considered investing in total, it seemed a simple decision to work with the ICC Foundation. An email explaining all of the details again will be sent to GRAF members for feedback.
In addition to discussing the scholarship issue we took a look at the new website developed for the Iron Range Coalition of Reason by the United Coalition of Reason in Washington D.C. This is a regional group in which we are planning to participate. The site can be viewed here. It is still a work in progress and we will eventually be able to edit and add to the site as needed. The coalition is intended to help publicize the presence of organizations like GRAF in this region of Minnesota and help us acquire additional members. Training in how to manage publicity is still being planned, but we don’t have dates or details as yet. It may be the case that much of the training would be done online rather than in a meeting in Duluth.
Given the time required to discuss the items noted above, we didn’t have a lot of time to discuss the video by Alain de Botton regarding the philosophy of happiness. So, here it is and we can discuss it online.
So, you are an atheist. You have let go of god, or perhaps never believed in the first place. So what next? You still have a life to live — how should you live it? What is important and what is not?
This is known in philosophy as “the problem of conduct.” What is the good life? Is there only one type of “good life?” Is it available to anyone, or just a select few?
These questions were probably best addressed by philosophers of the Hellenistic Age (definition available on Wikipedia). How to live a good life was the major unifying topic among Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics, and others.
English author and activist Alexis de Botton has come under fire from other atheists due to his endorsement of “atheist churches” and the like, but he is well versed in philosophy, especially the problem of conduct. At our upcoming monthly meeting, Ken tells me (and sorry if I have stolen any of your thunder, Ken) that we will be viewing a video by de Botton regarding Epicurus, the Philosopher of Pleasure. This moniker has gotten Epicurus a bad name; but before you judge, come and see exactly what it is that Epicurus meant by pleasure, and see if you agree with his prescription (or some of it anyway) for a good life.
A while back I posted a link to a podcast/video produced by Phil Vischer who was the original developer of the loathsome Veggie Tales, a kids cartoon show intended to indoctrinate them in fundamentalist christianity. In that link Vischer and his minions were supposedly providing a review and critique of Peter Boghossian’s new book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists”. They seemed not to have understood the book and declared that they were the smart ones who knew what faith was about. I didn’t agree.
At the time I thought it would be interesting, but unlikely, that Vischer would actually engage in a discussion directly with Boghossian. Apparently others thought it would be an interesting conversation too and Vischer responded after a few months by actually inviting Peter to participate in one his podcasts where they would discuss their differing ideas about faith and its “virtues”.
The video of this podcast is provided below and it is an interesting listen. It seems to boil down to Peter trying to get Vischer to use language more precisely and not confuse faith with trust or confidence. If they all mean the same thing, then faith is just confidence or trust without the evidential quality that the other two words carry with them. This seems to mean that faith is a poor cousin as it were of the other two words, but Vischer claims it is actually the best of the lot…but without evidence. I wasn’t able to concentrate fully on this at my initial listen, so I’ll have to relisten to see if there is anything more to the argument. It is a civil discussion and interesting in that regard at least.
If you have the time and patience to listen carefully, it makes me think a bit about having this kind of discussion with the Presbyterians. Some day perhaps. It also seems to be a good example of how Boghossian can engage in a Socratic dialog around another person’s faith claims and get them to start the glimmer of doubt. Peter doesn’t convert Phil in this podcast, but it was interesting to see how his questionning led Vischer to begin to refine his language a bit. They didn’t get to the end of the dialog by far, but maybe Boghossian will return to continue the conversation. I will have to check once in a while.
PZ Myers has a post up regarding the question of the compatibility or lack thereof of God and science. Give it a read. Anyway, I thought I would pose the question: are God and evolution compatible? I am not asking whether there are people who believe in God and accept the evidence for evolution, but whether, upon deeper consideration, they are truly compatible.
I am intentionally framing the question in a rather naive way, because I think doing so does not shift the discussion in too specific a direction. I am really interested to see how everyone reacts.
Some of you (certainly Ken) may be aware that Jerry Coyne has had a polite online exchange with an Eastern Orthodox clergyman. The clergyman has accused Coyne of not engaging seriously with religion and theology, and instead resorting to straw man arguments which at best only apply to fundamentalism. Coyne has replied effectively, and has pointed out that the burden is on theologians who wish to make claims about God. And, until they can demonstrate that he or it exists, there is no need to get all wrapped up in the unending twists and turns that are the labyrinth of theology. Here is an excerpt from Coyne’s site, Why Evolution is True, in which he demolishes the purported challenge of what he terms (sarcastically) “Sophisticated Theologians:”
“You could make the Best Arguments for fairies as well as for God. I would tell Fr. Kimel that fairies live in my garden (why is it always garden fairies in these arguments?), and that they make the plants grow. He wouldn’t believe me, of course, because I can’t show him evidence. But then I’d pull out my hole card: that the fairies are simply ineffable plantspirits which one can’t see, but without them the plants can’t grow: they sustain the vegetation. They are the Ground of Garden. He still wouldn’t believe me: he’d say I was making it up. I’d then tell him that he was a Fairy Fundamentalist.”
Indeed. It seems that such theologians want to hide behind the claim that god is “ineffable.” But if this is the case, they sure do expend a lot of verbiage discussing him.