Feb 23 2014

10 Things About My Opinions

I have a plethora of opinions

I think opinions are good. Without them, we’d be like the 2 guys in the old Army commercial:

“What do you want to do?”

“I dunno, what do you want to do?”

“I dunno… what do you want to do?”

Seriously, don’t you hate people with no opinions?  But at the same time, when you have opinions, you kind of like others to just accept yours. That kind of dynamic works for the short term, but in the end, no one grows. To grow, our opinions must be challenged and tested, and at least some of the time, they should change, because let’s face it, no one is right all of the time. In fact, most of us are not right most of the time—at least 100% right. We all have room to grow, and that’s what opinions are all about.

But, not everyone views opinions in the same way, and those who are not use to others having strong opinions can be offended by them. (And, it seems like it’s become America’s national pastime to be offended.)  Having an opinion has the necessary effect of suggesting (or stating outright) that someone else is wrong.

Considering that I tend to be fairly vocal about my opinion (although in a politish sort of way), I thought I would outline a few things about how I feel about opinions—and mine in particular—so I could refer people back here from time to time rather than explaining myself over and over.  So, here goes.

10 things to know about my opinions

  1. I have no shortage of opinions, and I don’t apologize for that.  I have opinions on all kinds of things, including politics, religion, philosophy, music, social issues, and banjos. If I don’t have an opinion about something, my presumed opinion is that it is not important.
  2. I expect you to have—or at least start to develop—opinions of your own.  If you don’t want to have opinions, feel free to borrow mine, but keep in mind that there are no express or implied warranties connected with my opinions.
  3. My opinions are usually resulting from a fair amount of thought, reading, analysis but at times are completely off the cuff. I won’t usually tell you which is which.  Caveat emptor.
  4. If I have an opinion, it’s because I think it’s right, and I will continue to think so until proven wrong.  Then, logically, I will consider my new opinion to be right, and my old one will be wrong.
  5. If my opinion differs from yours, my presumption is that you are wrong. Otherwise, you see, I would have your opinion…
  6. I believe I am wrong—at least partially—about everything I believe.  And I believe the same about you, perhaps even more so…
  7. I do change my opinions, sometimes quite drastically.  I have changed my opinion—often many times—about major theological issues, politics, etc.  I have even come to embrace the “Oxford comma.” However, my favorite color has always been blue.
  8. I do consider the opinions of others, even when I am arguing against them.  Opinions must be tested, and the best way to test them is through confrontation and challenge, in a friendly sort of way.
  9. Being proven wrong—i.e. changing opinions—is not failure, it’s growth.  And I will do my best to help you to grow.
  10. In the rare instance that I have no carefully crafted opinion on a topic, I reserve the right to make up an opinion on the spot and argue vehemently that you are wrong. Because that’s just who I am.


Sep 20 2011

Does atheism’s concept of morality have a Biblical basis?

Today, Tom Gilson reviews a couple of books that make the argument that the concept of morality that we have today, which is shared by Christians and non-Christians alike, including atheists, originates from teachings found in the Bible.

If you’ve paid any attention at all to the writings (and speakings) of people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, you’re probably aware of their claims that morality has its source—as does everything—in the natural world. Harris’ latest book specifically argues for a naturalistic/scientific basis for morality.  They, and other of the so-called “new atheists” go further and claim that religion—and often Christianity in particular— is actually a source of evil. While many Christians know right off the bat that this is mere foolishness, and believe theologically that morality originates with God, most of us are unequipped to respond intelligently to the atheists’ [often unintelligent] claims. Hopefully these books will help to remedy that.

Gilson writes:

To grant full humanity: what Mangalwadi called the West’s greatest discovery. It was not to be found in Plato or Aristotle, not even in the Stoics. It came from the One who died for all equally, declaring all equally worthy of life, all equally significant, all fully human. Some complain (for example) that Christianity denigrates the status of women, but the charge is both historically and geo-culturally laughable, for it is only Christianity that has brought a real sensitivity to women into world culture. A great many other claims of Christianity’s faults are in the same category. Not all of them, to be sure: both of these authors acknowledge the human error that has always afflicted the Church. Still, as Hart has pointed out, the conscience by which we name those errors is a uniquely Christian conscience.

As we all know, the mere fact that there is a Judeo-Christian moral standard doesn’t mean that all Jews and Christians can live up to it. In fact, as we know, the gospel reveals that we can’t—that’s the point of the gospel. And, of course, neither can the atheists live up to any standard they set, even the broadly-interpreted “Do no harm.” “Harm” is, of course, open to interpretation. From a Christian perspective, any promotion of atheism or naturalism is doing harm in a spiritual sense.

I don’t know that I will run out and buy either of these books soon; my stack of unread books is already too high (including one really poor excuse for a book that I’m supposed to have reviewed already). But, I tend to have a soft spot when it comes to these kinds of topics… Now that I’ve blogged about them, if I find myself wanting to read more on this topic, I at least know where to find them.

Feb 17 2011

New atheism, bad philosophy

If there’s one thing that distinguishes the so-called “New Atheists” from the old atheists, it’s that the New Atheists are notoriously bad at philosophy, something I’ve said before. Edward Feser writes on this topic,

Philosophers and theologians are constantly told that they need to “learn the science” before commenting on quantum mechanics, relativity, or Darwinism.  And rightly so.  Yet too many scientists refuse to “learn the philosophy” before pontificating on the subject.  The results are predictably sophomoric.  What an arrogant and clueless amateur like Hawking or Dawkins needs to hear before putting on his philosopher’s toga is this.  And if he doesn’t get the message, this.  Instead, the reaction from equally clueless editors, journalists, and “educated” general readers is: “Gee, he’s a scientist! He’s good at math and stuff.  He must know what he’s talking about!”  It really is no more intelligent than that.

The new atheists are, for the most part, scientists, or at least adherents to scientism, the thinking that science is the answer to everything. Sam Harris even claims that science is a proper foundation for morality.

Something else that I’ve pointed out before is that science, which is a great tool for studying the physical world, suffers from some philosophical problems, mostly stemming from the so-called Enlightenment. The Enlightenment turned man’s ability to reason into an object of worship, as well as doing some other things for which we are still suffering.

As an example of bad philosophy, the new atheists love to refer to David Hume’s thoughts on miracles, however they ignore his thinking on inductive reasoning and science. Hume argued, I think correctly, that conclusions of causality are inductively, not deductively, reasoned; and he went on to propose that such inductive reasoning is justified by its success (which begs the question, “how does one measure scientific success, unless we have already determined what the desired results are?”).

Hume also concluded, again I think rightly so, that such inductive conclusions are limited to past causes and effects; one cannot predict the future based on past evidence. Predictions about the future are based on faith that the past will repeat itself, not on any proof that A always results in B.

What this means is that just because A has caused B for the last 100 years doesn’t mean that A will cause B tomorrow. Science simply cannot tell us that for sure. If science is at all successful, past evidence of cause and effect should give us, at best, a probability for what could occur in the future. If a certain drug worked for these other folks, it should work for you. Maybe. However, science’s ability to replicate past results is now being challenged.

The Decline Effect

In December of 2010 Jonah Lehrer wrote an interesting article for the New Yorker discussing the so-called Decline Effect, which has been noted over the past few years. Basically, what is happening is that conclusions proven by past studies, to the extent they are considered scientific facts, are suddenly showing themselves to be not true. Drugs that worked 10 years ago show no sign of working today. He writes,

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.

Lehrer posits that some possible causes of this decline effect is the subjectivity of the scientists (tending to prove things they want to believe), and bias in scientific reporting. Of course, this doesn’t explain why scientists today who want to confirm past findings are suddenly unable to do so, or why the law of gravity doesn’t give predictable results.

How Firm a Foundation…

Regardless of the cause of this decline effect, the reality is that science, at least at the present time, is not able to establish sufficient causation to predict future results, or to even correctly establish past causation. Medical and pharmaceutical beliefs are suspect, as are some of the “facts” of physics.

So, while I still believe that scientific studies have value, it seems that the ability of science to serve as a foundation for morality or religion—or atheism—is quite suspect. The decline effect just re-emphasizes some of the philosophical issues of those who hold science in too high a regard, and who have put their faith in man’s ability to reason and be objective (neither of which can be reasonably shown to be exist). The New Atheism—holding itself out as the pinnacle of reason and objectivity—suffers from bad philosophy, and a resulting misplaced faith in science’s ability to give us answers.

May 25 2010

Martin Gardner, skeptic and Theist

Martin Garner passed away this weekend; he was 95. Gardner was a well-known mathematician, skeptic and author. I first became aware of him in the mid-80’s, when he edited The Annotated Alice, a fully annotated version of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

What is interesting about Martin Gardner is that while he was known for his writing on rationalism and skepticism, he remained a lifelong theist who believed in an afterlife. He had been raised a fundamentalist Christian, but turned away from that while in college (a common result of being raised a fundamentalist).While many who reject fundamentalism end up throwing out the whole baby with the bath, becoming fundamentalist materialists, Gardner never could completely shake his belief that there was something more.

There’s a very interesting post today at RationallyThinking.org, a meditation of sorts on Gardner’s The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener. I, at least, found it interesting.