Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Free will and responsibility don’t distinguish between non-deterministic religions and secularism

April 18, 2013

Believers in deities often claim that because secularism is deterministic, it has no room for free will and therefore has no concept of personal responsibility or morality. But I don’t see how free will entails moral responsibility, and I don’t see that responsibiltiy entails free will.

To take the first implication direction: free will is an incoherent notion. If there is no motive or source of a decision, then the decisions are not tied to an integral self — they’re just random decisions, that don’t belong to anyone. If a decision is motivated by some determinant, then the decision isn’t free. To put it in a theological context: either god made you who you are, and she is responsible for every decision thereafter, or your decisions are random and not anchored is a self. So free will doesn’t entail responsibility. It entails no responsibility, because it entails no self. End of story.

From the other direction of entailment: the individual can hold herself responsible just to flatter herself for believing she’s an integral self. And what do you know, that’s exactly how we all feel. Responsibility is an illusion that works. You don’t need free will, only the illusion of self.

Tolerance from the other side

May 15, 2012

On the religious side, there are those who manage to harmonize with the non believers, and those who respond aggressively. Naturally, I’m more sympathetic to the former. (more…)

My Proudest Moment (and the problem with Dawkins)

May 15, 2012

One of my proudest moments:

A religious student in one of my linguistics classes challenged Darwinian evolution as “just a theory.” For a moment I thought I’d try to explain that the theory of evolution is scientific because it could be wrong, whereas Creationism is not scientific because it can never be wrong, but I realized that even if I spent the rest of the hour explaining that conundrum of falsificationism, they’d come away thinking that science is false and Creationism is necessarily true, so I’d not only be digressing from class topic, but it would be counterproductive.

Instead I suggested that the difference between the millions of years of evolution that resulted in the complexity and usefulness of natural language, on the one hand, and on the other, the clumsy strictures of standard languages, are exactly like the difference between god-given perfection and the imperfect creations of the human hand: helicopters, extraordinary as they are, crash; dragonflies don’t. The theory of evolution is the scientific way of explaining what in religion is called the god-given.

Thereafter whenever I mentioned evolution, I’d parenthetically add, “or in the discourse of religion, the god-given.” Not only did this make her happy, it allowed her to appreciate fully the content of the course without further objection. Here were two opposing theories which now seemed to work together, harmoniously, if not perfectly. It was as if theoretical swords had been turned to plowshares. And that is a desirable result overall and in itself.

When Dawkins calls atheists “brights” he does nothing to sway his opponents, he merely insults them. The religious may be irrational, but they are not stupid. (more…)

Sam Harris and the middle class virtue

May 3, 2012

Sam Harris has been pushing human well-being as a universal goal of morality, without seeing the glaring weaknesses of that assumption. First, he’d have to bite the bullet that human ignorance and illusion might serve our happiness and well-being better than knowledge and understanding. (more…)