Radical Agnosticism

A few times I’ve referred to my view about “the God question” as “radical agnosticism.” I thought it might be fun to work through what this means.

For the purposes of this discussion, by “God” I shall mean follow Hart’s definition of God as “the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things” (The Experience of God, p. 30).

Next, I shall stipulate that our assertions about the world fall into two classes: those that take a truth-value in all possible worlds and those that take a truth-value only in the actual world. This is a contemporary version of “Hume’s Fork”: there are “relations of ideas”, “truths of reason”, analytic a priori claims and then there are “matters of fact”, “truths of fact,” synthetic a posteriori claims. (There are some reasons to be skeptical of this neat distinction but I’ll leave that aside for now.)

Whether or not God exists would therefore seem to be either a “truth of fact” or a “truth of reason”.  I shall therefore now argue that it cannot be either.

Continue reading

Godless Intelligent Design Theory

Moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive. “I think the likelihood may be very high,” he said…Somewhere out there could be a being whose intelligence is that much greater than our own. “We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he said. “If that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”


Continue reading

What did Lamarck and Darwin really say?

Historically and conceptually, modern Genetics and modern Evolutionary Theory are closely intertwined. Mendel and Darwin both published their masterpieces in the mid-1800s and both were promptly misunderstood and discounted for half a century. Both theories required several more “kicks at the can” before final acceptance. Put simply: the Theory of Evolution itself evolved in response to an emerging understanding of Genetics.

Some quick questions:

Question: Name the scientist that first suggested “the effects of use and disuse” were passed from one generation to the next?

Answer: Charles Darwin and NOT Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who actually had a somewhat different theory.

Question: Name the scientist who first to employed the term evolve/evolution while also suggesting human beings had “evolved” from apes?

Answer: That would be Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. (Lamarck in fact invented the word “evolution”, a word which never appeared in Darwin’s Book “Origin of the Species”). Continue reading

Foundationalism and Anti-Foundationalism

There’s a deep and fascinating question about whether we need “foundations” in our philosophical system, and if so, why and what kind.

First question: is the foundationalism primarily epistemological (foundations of knowledge) or ontological (foundations of being)?*

Second question: insofar as foundationalism implies a hierarchy, is the grounding or fundamental principle at the top of the hierarchy or at the bottom?

These two questions give us four positions:

top-down epistemological foundationalism: rationalism
bottom-up epistemological foundationalism: empiricism
top-down ontological foundationalism: theism/idealism
bottom-up ontological foundationalism: materialism

The ontological foundationalism can be reductive or non-reductive. Hence:
reductive top-down ontological foundationalism: idealism
non-reductive top-down ontological foundationalism: emanationism
reductive bottom-up ontological foundationalism: physicalism
non-reductive bottom-up ontological foundationalism: emergentism

Likewise, anti-foundationalism can also be epistemological or ontological:

epistemological anti-foundationalism: pragmatism (or: the good parts of Hegel/Peirce/Sellars)*
ontological anti-foundationalism: process ontology (or: the good parts of Spinoza/Whitehead/Deleuze)*

The main reason why I have resisted efforts to interpret me as an empiricist or materialist is that both empiricism and materialism are forms of foundationalism. Since I am an anti-foundationalist (both in epistemology and in ontology) I am as opposed to empiricism as I am to rationalism, and as opposed to materialism as I am to theism. My views might look like those of an empiricist/physicalist, but only if one insists on interpreting those views through the lens of the foundationalism that I reject.

As time permits I’ll explore the arguments for epistemological anti-foundationalism and ontological anti-foundationalism. For now I just wanted to get the conversation started.

*I’m leaving aside ethical and political versions of foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, though I think that’s where the philosophical action is really at.

** I’m only citing philosophers in the Western canon here, but Nagarjuna in the Madhyamika tradition of Tibetan Buddhism developed a consistently anti-foundationalist epistemology and ontology one and a half millennia  before it was even conceived of in the West. Within the West, probably Nietzsche and Dewey would be the first consistently anti-foundationalist philosophers.

Questions for Christians and other theists, part 7: Original Sin and the Fall

Among Christianity’s many odd doctrines is the notion of original sin. The details vary from denomination to denomination, but a common view is that all humans are born into a state of sin because Adam succumbed to temptation in the Garden of Eden, and that this state of sin makes us worthy of God’s eternal condemnation.  Only Christ’s sacrifice can redeem us.

Continue reading

How and Why: questions for scientists and philosophers?

The late John Davison often remarked that science could only answer “how” questions, not “why”. It seems to me philosophers, perhaps I’m really thinking of philosophers of religion rather than in general, attempt to find answers to “why” questions without always having a firm grasp on how reality works. Perhaps this is why there is so much talking past each other when the explanatory power of science vs other ways of knowing enters a discussion. Continue reading

The Reasonableness of Atheism and Black Swans

As an ID proponent and creationist, the irony is that at the time in my life where I have the greatest level of faith in ID and creation, it is also the time in my life at some level I wish it were not true. I have concluded if the Christian God is the Intelligent Designer then he also makes the world a miserable place by design, that He has cursed this world because of Adam’s sin. See Malicious Intelligent Design.
Continue reading

Merry Kitzmas!

December 20th, 2015 is the tenth anniversary of the decision in Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. 

Judge Jones (a Bush-appointed Republican) wrote a 139-page legal opinion which can be summarized thus: 

Teaching intelligent design in public school biology classes violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (and Article I, Section 3, of the Pennsylvania State Constitution) because intelligent design is not science and “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”

wikipedia article, side bar 

Despite the precedent set by Kitzmiller/Dover, creationist and Intelligent Design advocates continue to battle to remove teaching of evolution from public schools and to protect teachers who insert biblical creationist or ID speculations into science classes.

I found this interesting essay in response to our current “friend” John West from 2007, when JW applauded passage of Louisiana creationism law.

All sorts of laws advance secular purposes—that’s what laws are supposed to do, and the Constitution assumes as much—but no law may advance a merely religious purpose under the Constitution. Thus those who lobby for law to advance a religious purpose are indeed under a disadvantage, one traceable to the Constitution itself,which purposely erects a roadblock in the path of those who would want to use the government to propagate a religion. It does not erect a similar roadblock to those who would use the government for secular purposes[see essay for footnote], whether it be to set up a fire department, or run the U.S. Army, or the Post Office, or whether it be to teach students about biological science. It is therefore perfectly valid for a secularist to attack the religious motivations of her political opponents, while simultaneously rallying her own political supporters to secularism.

Timothy Sandefur

I think it’s particularly interesting that Sandefur identifies the non-symmetry between trying to advance religious purposes and trying to advance secular ones, which I know many religious people mistake.

Happy anniversary, y’all


Three powerful commentaries on the nature of our existence:

The first is a BBC programme called The Secret Life of Waves.  My father, who died earlier this year, was very keen that we should all watch it, and it helped us hugely after his death, to know that this was what he thought, and wanted to share with his children and grandchildren.

The second is a lecture someone introduced me to recently by Alan Watts, It Starts Now.

Continue reading

Are we in a war?

Barry Arrington, owner of the pro-ID blog, Uncommon Descent is alleged to have written the following in an email to a contributor:

We are in a war. That is not a metaphor. We are fighting a war for the soul of Western Civilization, and we are losing, badly. In the summer of 2015 we find ourselves in a positon very similar to Great Britain’s position 75 years ago in the summer of 1940 – alone, demoralized, and besieged on all sides by a great darkness that constitutes an existential threat to freedom, justice and even rationality itself.


In this thread I don’t want to discuss the rights and wrongs of the email itself, nor of whether or not TSZ constitutes a “great darkness”.  Barry is entitled to decide who posts at UD and who does not; it’s his blog.

What interests me is the perception itself, which I suspect is quite widely shared.

Continue reading

Pastor Hates Jesus after Reading Coyne’s Book

Bruce Gerencser was a pastor for 27 years until he started reading books with non-Christian viewpoints. One of the 5 most influential books in his conversion to atheism was Jerry Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True. Bruce’s kids are no longer evangelicals and left the faith that he once taught them. He openly says he hates Jesus now.

Continue reading

Unyielding Despair

Gregory has made the connection more than once between atheism and despair. But he wasn’t the first.

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

– Bertrand Russell. A Free Man’s Worship

I’m thankful that my foundation is not one of unyielding despair.

The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with with a problem of pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves.

– Aldous Huxley. Ends and Means

I am also thankful that I do not believe that there is no valid reason why I personally should not do as I want to do, and that my friends have no desire to seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves.