Saturday, February 22, 2014

Taking Classes with Dan Fincke

I'm extremely excited because this year I'm going to be able to take online philosophy classes taught by Dan Fincke.

Dan started teaching these last year, but since last year I had a newborn to take care of, I really didn't have the bandwidth to take classes. 

This year we've managed to get things nailed down enough that I can reliably attend one class a week, so I'm taking Dan's Philosophy for Atheists course.  It was tough to choose between that one and ethics, but I still feel like so much of an amateur that I really want to get a good course on philosophy to get myself somewhat settled.

Classes start next month, and if anyone is considering it then Dan is offering a $30 trial pass to sit in on some classes and an orientation.  I encourage people to check it out.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cheering for Sean Carroll

If you haven't already heard, Sean Carroll is going to be debating William Lane Craig.

There are a few things I want to say about this.

I've watched a lot of WLC debates over the years and at this point there are only a few people who would make me excited enough to watch another Craig debate.

Sean Carroll is one of those people.

I'm a huge fan of Dr. Carroll, primarily because he's a cosmologist that is philosophically informed.  He organized a Naturalism Workshop with some of the best naturalist scientists and philosophers alive and made it all available online for free (you should watch it).  He's an outspoken atheist and naturalist, but more importantly he's a great communicator.  I can watch the man give talks and afterwards I always feel like I'm better informed because of it.

If you clicked the link to Dr. Carroll's blog you'll see that most of the things he's read are predicting that he'll get clobbered.  Dr. Carroll has stated he isn't aiming to win the debate, but rather to "say things that are true and understandable, and establish a reasonable case for naturalism, especially focusing on issues related to cosmology".

I don't think Carroll is going to get clobbered and I think he should be optimistic.  I want to present a few reasons why I think Carroll will do great, some areas of concern, and some humble advice.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Bare Bones Secular Morality?

I've been doing a lot of thinking on morality and the Moral Argument apologetic argument lately.  Effectively the charge from apologists is that on atheism moral values have no ontological basis.  That means that on atheism, morality "doesn't exist" in the same way that say matter/energy exists. 

Conversely they argue that on theism, morality is as real a dimension of reality as matter/energy is.

There are a number of potential responses here, and a wide variety of secular moral systems that claim to provide an objective basis for moral realism - the idea that moral propositions are either true or false.

What I want to explore as one possible response is something very simple that could establish a very basic bare bones morality that would lead to at least a limited set of moral propositions being true or false - ie. moral realism.  At a minimum, my goal is to establish an objective basis to condemn a subset of actions we commonly deem to be morally wrong (murder, rape, theft, etc).

This system is not meant to preempt other ethical systems or theories, but rather it serves as a bedrock system that could serve as a basis for morality in an atheistic world view if we were led to reject other moral systems.

Request for Feedback

What I also want is to have people critique this idea, especially theists who defend the moral argument.  I'd still appreciate feedback from atheists who think that this account is false.  I'm going to send this post around to a few places and hopefully get substantive criticism.  When it comes to moral philosophy I fully admit that I'm at best an amateur, so I'm quite open to being shown the flaws in my reasoning here.  I may defend from some objections, but I'm honestly looking for weak points.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

An Educational Video and Ammo Against Cosmological Arguments

The couple behind the SkyDivePhil YouTube account have produced another awesome educational video on modern cosmology that's well worth watching (as are their other videos).

In this video they discuss Roger Penrose's Conformal Cyclic Cosmology (CCC) model, which is interesting for those of us in the counter apologetics area since it supports the view of an eternal universe.

The video is well worth watching in its entirety, but something of particular interest shows up at the 20:05 mark, where they ask Roger Penrose about William Lane Craig's interpretation of the CCC model.  Suffice it to say that Craig isn't much of a fan of the CCC given that it would contradict the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

The summary of it is that Craig represents the CCC model as some kind of multiverse theory, or one where there's a singular origin point of two parallel universes.  Sir Roger is very quick to point out that this is not a correct interpretation of his model, and that he is proposing a sequential series of cyclic universes.

A bit of egg, nothing more

I don't want to make much more of this than there is here.  Craig is eager to dismiss the CCC for obvious reasons, but it'd be more than a bit uncharitable to claim he was intentionally misleading people.  I honestly don't think he'd do that.

What's far more likely is that Craig was simply wrong in his interpretation of the CCC.

Now it's kind of embarrassing to be quite so wrong on this given that:
  1. One of the first papers on the CCC was titled "Before the big bang"
  2. The book Sir Roger wrote explaining the model is called "cycles of time"
  3. Sir Roger was on the Christian radio show "Unbelievable" which sponsored Dr Craig's debates and he was asked if the universes in his model could be eternal into the past, he said yes. 
  4. Sir Roger has been arguing that there are signals in the CMB form before the big bang, verifying his model. If the universes were not chronologically prior, how could such a claim make sense?
Note: A special thanks goes to SkyDivePhil for providing these four points to me in an email.
That last point is potentially very important, since the data is preliminary, but it is quite possible that there is experimental evidence that could confirm the CCC model.
That all aside, other than Craig possibly having some egg on his face here, there's a pretty important point.
The Point
The point isn't that the CCC is probably true, therefore the Kalam is false. We don't yet know if the CCC is completely accurate.  There are competing models by other cosmologists that very well could be correct.
The point is that apologists are so very quick to assert that the entire material universe must have had a beginning in order to try and drill out a god shaped hole to stick Yahweh in.   The problem for apologists is that there's no evidence that all of material reality must have had a beginning.  What we have is simply an unknown in our current understanding, with numerous competing theoretical models that could explain the data we have. 
Right now the best apologists can do is try to read their preferred metaphysical positions into the Big Bang and make arguments from those assumptions, but it's nothing more than that.