Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New Atheism: newer approaches and some questions...

For the past year or so I have been watching recorded debates with regular frequency. Most of this started when Christopher Hitchens died in Dec of 2011; the internet had informed me that I should care and so I googled and youtubed my way to google-university to learn a bit.

I watched video after video of Hitchens and must admit was enraptured: what an eloquent, poised and provocative speaker (Honestly, I still think Hitchens is amazing). My journey continued and I learned about the New Atheists and watched countless debates featuring the "Four Horsemen" and during that time started to listen more and more critically to what I was hearing and, alas, to appreciate more and more the argument their opponents were making. NOTE: I said appreciate not stand behind.

Today I find myself concerned. My self education has led me to people like David Bentley Hart. Hart has a mixed background, but part of that mixed background involves both patristics and the history of western philosophy. Yesterday, I listened to a criticism of his on Dawkins' The God Delusion and I must say it made sense to me. Specifically, he attacked Dawkins' use of the Aquinas' 5 ways. I am by no means an expert in philosophy but kept it as a major up until my least year in college, so I'm not wholly uninformed on the subject, and even I can remember that Aquinas' 5 ways were meant as a layman's guide on how to think about/recognize god and not a proof of theism per se. Then Hart moved on to discussing the "Four Horsemen" in general and their version of the history of the church and bible and I'm left thinking: why put yourself in this position. Listening to Dawkins debate evolution vs creationism is entirely different.

Now, make no mistake, I still think religion is nonsense. I also would very much like much of modern religion to go the way of other faiths and hobble off toward Mythology where it can mutate until we think it's quaint like we do with greek mythology today. But I worry about over stating positions and without sufficient evidence.... Stated more directly: if you want to make a strong argument pick those pieces you feel the strongest about. This is particularly true when your argument is a book.  And I want to make sure I've stated this. I'm not claiming I could have done better than Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris or Dennett. Moreover, I'm very much of the opinion that this group of, um, Atheist Knights are  very good at provocation which incites debate and I think that's valuable for critical thinking. Why weaken your overall position (or at least the perception of it) by introducing additional pieces that are easily picked apart by someone who is an expert in that field.

And we don't need to go there!!!

Honestly, I don't really see why we need ever go farther than: where's the empirical evidence in direct support of god? However, assuming you want to make a play that goes after the bible why go any further than what the sectarian experts themselves recognize: the bible as constructed today is based on a mixture of fragments and complete books but these same texts differ from one another... Are most of these discrepancies trivial? Yes, but not all of them are and anyway it doesn't matter. The text we have to go on is either the inerrant word of god or it isn't.

Should the atheism movement refocus its effort on evidence and shy away from debates on ethics, a priori morality and whether god is the author of evil?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pain-Capable Rape Victims bear full burden...

By now I'm sure most people have seen the news about the the house passage of the:   Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The driver behind this piece of legislation is the dubious claim that the fetus can already feel pain at 20 weeks. No one wants to hurt a baby, right?

I have several immediate thoughts on all of this and in no particular order:

  • I think that everyone who supports a bill like this should be willing to adopt and care for adopted children.
  • You want less abortions? How about better birth control. Let's encourage it and be realistic instead of pushing abstinence. Abstinence as a real option is as absurd as faith in creationism; it doesn't match the data we have.
  • Many republicans have told me before that I shouldn't assume that the goal is an outright ban on abortions. I beg to differ. It's listed as an official goal of the party (at least in some states) and actions like this indicate to me that this is indeed the ultimate goal.
  • The fact that the rape provision was added after the fact speaks volumes, imho. If the goal is to increase real reporting of rape (and of course that's not the goal) then this is a setup that makes the victim pay for that change entirely on their own.
It's that last one in this particular case that really irks me. This essentially coerces rape victims to come forward and handle all of the additional emotional baggage of that ordeal on their own and puts a time limit on it at 20 weeks.

I'm going to risk the slippery slope fallacy a bit and take this a bit farther. Republicans want to ban abortions outright.

The Official Republican Platform is quite informative. Republicans want to eliminate any state funding of abortion. Their platform also makes it indelibly clear that in their opinion abortions are not part of health care. This position is troubling given the lack of any kind of qualifying statements/exceoptions regarding the health of the mother. And as I stated above the health of the rape victim is clearly of accidental importance to the health of the fetus.

What is the official position of republicans on abortion to save the life of the mother or even to mitigate the risk of health issues in general? How about the risk of future pregnancies?

This bill still needs to make it through the senate ...