Friday, June 29, 2012

Cartesian doubt

Imagine a neurosurgeon whose expertise on the human brain and whose knowledge of daily events are such that he can, with probes, dictate a subject’s experiences. after he has implanted electrodes in the brain of a certain male volunteer, the surgeon causes him to experience the removal of the probes, although they are still in place; then to experience going home through the rain, spending the night with his wife, receiving a call from the surgeon in the morning asking him to return to the laboratory, and returning—all this while he is, in fact, still on the operating table.
The next day, the surgeon does actually remove the electrodes and sends the subject home, whereupon his wife inquires indignantly, “where were you last night?” “Right here with you,” the man replies. “Oh, no, you weren’t,” she rejoins, “and I can prove it. I had the whole neighborhood out searching for you.”
Then the enlightened husband smiles and says, “ah, now I see. that surgeon fooled me. He made me think I came home. but I was on the operating table the whole time.” His smile quickly fades, however, never to return, because from that point forward the poor fellow can never be certain he is still not on the operating table.

—Charles L. Stevenson

The mind is a factory of delusion

Guard yourself.

W.K Clifford--The Ethics of Belief

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

If atheism is true, then God help us all

First off: I think atheism is probably true. My philosophy teacher actually polled the class and I said that my confidence level that there is no God is 70%.  According to atheists like Richard Dawkins that would probably make me an atheist. Yet I consider myself an agnostic mainly because I recognize the fallibility of human reason, particularly my own. All it takes is subtle prejudice or one unexamined premise for things to fall apart. Moreover, the Universe is a mysterious place full of unanswered questions, and that's not a pronouncement I am prepared to make.

I digress. According to atheists like Dawkins and others, atheism is something to be happy about. It is to be embraced. I think the complete human autonomy implied by atheism is appealing--to be able to do absolutely anything you want without having to worry about divine retribution. But I think the negatives outweigh it considerably:

1. If atheism is true, everything and everyone you know and love will perish and die. Hawaiian sunsets, the Louvre, your Grandmother, your friends, your children, are transient, and will be snuffed out of existence. They''ll be no more. They may as well have never existed. The sun is going to explode and the Universe will collapse in on itself. Not exactly a pleasant outlook.

2. Atheism robs our lives of any real, objective, transcendent meaning. We are accidents. Natural selection did not have us in mind. Purpose can only be given by the conscious action of intelligent agents. A watch has a purpose. Art has a purpose. What purpose could milk splattered across the kitchen table have, or a river rock forged over millions of years by hydraulic and geological processes? None of course, and we came about by the same natural processes. Everything is meaningless and pointless.

This? This is what you want?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Difficulty of Faith

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul tells his readers that unbelievers are "without excuse (1:20)." They have no reason not to believe in God or to have saving faith in Christ. When I was a Christian, I used to believe this strongly. Gradually though, I became less and less convinced of the strength of the arguments for faith and God. Moreover, I encountered many powerful arguments not to believe:

-evidence for evolution: if it's true, there isn't a need for a creator God. If it's not true, why is there many strong lines of evidence for it? Would God deceive us? Why give people a strong reason for disbelief if their souls hang in the balance?
-evidence for the antiquity of the the Earth vis a vis biblical deductions of the Earth's age
-the inability to reason against homosexuality. Period.
-the incoherence of Heaven: i.e., if there will be no sin in Heaven, why couldn't God have made it such that humans would not sin on Earth in the beginning?
-the incoherence of early Genesis: talking snakes with no mention of Satan, an omniscient God playing dumb and calling out to man: "where are you?"
-the unbelievability of the book of Job
-the problem of Hell
-the problem of suffering
-the barbarism of God in the Old Testament
-free will and moral responsibility. If I lack free will due to physical necessity or divine sovereignty, how can I be held accountable for my sins? Or how can biblical statements asserting that we do have free will be reconciled with a seemingly deterministic Universe?
-the powerful arguments against traditional authorship for many biblical documents: it appears that letters such as 2 Peter may be forgeries.
-the problem of denominations: which Christianity is the true one: Catholicism? Protestantism? Or some other? How can we know?

I could go on. Suffice to say it seems that God has given man many powerful excuses, or reasons, not to believe. I've read many of the Christian responses to these arguments and I find them to be unpersuasive. I want to believe, but I can't do it anymore, and I haven't been able to for some time even after much reading, contemplation, prayer, etc. How then can God judge me? Why give so many reasons to reject Christianity if our eternal well being is on the line? "Just believe!" some might say. Well, why not just believe in the abominable snowman? I have just as many compelling reasons to believe in him as I do in God: none. It seems to me much easier to propose that Christianity is false.

The Meaning of Life


Epicurus' letter to Menoeceus

Nihilism and religion

Leo Tolstoy - My Confession

 "The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, as we saw in our opening chapters, that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect."

Bertrand Russell - The Value of Philosophy

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A fun primer--Hume's problem of induction

In written form


It is kind of disturbing to see that science is built upon such a shaky philosophical foundation.