XFiles Weekend: the Good guys

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

We come now to one of the more interesting things C. S. Lewis has said in the entire book so far. It’s an off-hand remark, a casual comment tossed in as a obvious truism, and one that you’ll hear echoed by an astonishingly large number of ordinary rank-and-file believers. And yet, despite all the people who take it for granted that things must be this way, it’s fairly trivial to show that it’s nonsense. Logically, rationally, it means something that can be called true in only the most trivial and even tautological sense. And yet people take it as one of the most fundamental Absolute Truths a person could base their life on. Why?

This is a very interesting question to me, and I’ve got a few ideas that I think are at least part of the answer. But still something about it mystifies me. I’d be interested to hear other people’s comments on this topic.

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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Unapologetics, XFiles. 9 Comments »

XFiles Weekend: What is good?

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

It’s getting increasingly difficult for Prof. Lewis to pretend that he’s doing anything more than hiding traditional Christian dogma inside a secularized vocabulary. He still struggles gamely to maintain appearances, but in Chapter 5 he’s getting more and more careless about slipping openly Christian assumptions into his ostensibly objective “inquiry.”

[T]he being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness. In that sense we should agree with the account given by Christianity and some other religions, that God is ‘good’. But do not let us go to fast here. The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is ‘good’ in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic.

It doesn’t? How would Lewis know that? Remember, his “rational” argument thus far has been based only on the observation that people sometimes have feelings that they ought to do certain things, and yet they don’t do them. Unfortunately, as Lewis himself has argued, we don’t find any basis for this “Moral Law” anywhere in the facts of the universe, which means these subjective feelings are our only connection with the Moral Law. And these subjective feelings shift and conflict in so many ways that it’s impossible to know what’s actually in this so-called Moral Law. So how can Lewis be so sure he knows what it does and does not give us grounds for?

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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Unapologetics, XFiles. 9 Comments »

XFiles Weekend: The tangled web he weaves…

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

As we saw last week, C. S. Lewis would like us to believe that he is “not taking anything from the Bible or the Churches,” and that we are simply seeing what we can discover “under our own steam” about the source of his so-called Moral Law. Whether he is consciously trying to deceive us, or whether he has merely deceived himself, the result is a web of assumptions and superstitions so complicated that even Lewis himself gets tangled up in it, and he can’t seem to remember from one sentence to the next whether he’s posing as the unbiased objective observer, or is simply dishing straight Christian dogma.

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XFiles Weekend: Doing it wrong

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

C. S. Lewis is famous both as a Christian apologist and as the creator of a number of charming and popular fantasy worlds. He put both talents to good use in Chapter 4, and now he’s going to back-track just a bit before moving on to the next leg of his epic quest.

I ended my last chapter with the idea that in the Moral Law somebody or something from beyond the material universe was actually getting at us. And I expect when I reached that point some of you felt a certain annoyance… You may have felt you were ready to listen to me as long as you thought I had anything new to say; but if it turns out to be only religion, well, the world has tried that and you cannot put the clock back.

Lewis has three things to say to those of us who have caught on to the fact that he’s just “wrapping up” religion to make it look like philosophy, but I suspect we’ll only fit in one or two of them today.

First, as to putting the clock back. Would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? … [P]rogress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer… There is nothing progressive about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake.

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Posted in Unapologetics, XFiles. 5 Comments »

Gay rights and Biblical justice

Hey, I just had a stray thought. I know how we can settle this whole gay rights controversy in a way that should please gays, liberals, and even conservative Christians. Let’s use Biblical justice to punish gays for being gay. No, not that whole “stone them with stones” thing. That went out with bronze chariots. I mean that bedrock of moral principle at the bottom of God’s Old Testament Law, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

Since gay people sin against us by falling in love differently than we do, we should punish them by falling in love differently than they do. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth! Let’s see how they like a taste of their own medicine, eh? They want to walk down the street with a same-sex lover? We’ll show them: we’ll walk down the street with opposite sex lovers. Hah! They want to marry same-sex partners? Let ‘em. But we’ll make ‘em pay. We’ll marry opposite sex partners. Legally! Take that, gays! You want to be different from us? Fine, then we’re gonna be different from you. And it serves you right.

Yeah, none of this merciful, New Testament, God-loves-sinners crap. Paul knew how to deal with sinners. Give ‘em old-fashioned Moses-brand justice, and do to them exactly what they’re doing to us, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. 100% Biblical justice, old school. Then everyone will be able to see just how much harm you can do to someone else by falling in love differently than they do.

 
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XFiles Weekend: Thinking matter?

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 4, “What Lies Behind the Law”)

Last week, C. S. Lewis led us down a rather strange path, in search of some kind of supernatural “reality” that would be more consistent with his “moral law” than the reality we observe. He started off by offering us a hamstrung science incapable of any analysis or observation beyond taking note of what he called the “observed facts” of the natural world. Then he suggested that, if there were a (supernatural) power behind the observed facts of Nature, it could not be any of those observed facts, in the same way that an architect cannot be one of the walls of the house he’s designing. That brought us to the conclusion that we must rely on our own inner feelings, and our subjective interpretations of those feelings, as the sole available guide to whether this supernatural power exists. (It also ruled out any possibility of Biblical miracles being true, but that’s one of the occupational hazards of trying to prove the supernatural, and it’s customary to ignore such trifles.)

So where does all this lead us? Let’s let Prof. Lewis give us his “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking” speech.

Do not think I am going faster than I really am. I am not yet within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology. All I have got to is a Something which is directing the universe, and which appears to me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.

He has, in other words, brought us nearly to the point of believing in primitive, superstitious animism as the reason for our subjective feelings of guilt. So far so good, eh? But there’s a catch. In order for animism to work, you need more than just a supernatural law. You need an thinking, purposeful supernatural Being to drive it. And that’s the next leg of our journey. Just what is this supernatural power anyway?
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Posted in Science, Unapologetics, XFiles. 4 Comments »

Framing Atheism

I don’t know if you’ve been following the discussion on Scienceblogs right now, but there’s a very interesting exchange going on between Josh Rosenau and Jason Rosenhouse on the subject of New Atheists versus accommodationists. Josh writes:

Jason’s account makes it sound as if King was an uncompromising and iconoclastic leader. But that misreads King and the history of civil rights. Remember that it was Malcolm X, not Dr. King, who insisted on change “by any means necessary.” Indeed, Malcolm X criticized King using logic analogous to that Jason deploys against accommodationism.

Sounds like strong talk, though Josh immediately tempers it with one of the many disclaimers and caveats in his post:

(I repeat that this is an analogy. New Atheists aren’t Malcolm X, there aren’t atheist nationalists that would parallel Malcolm X’s black nationalism, neither I nor any other accommodationist would claim to be Martin Luther King reborn, etc. It’s an analogy, please don’t overinterpret it.)

He’s got a point to make and he’s going to make it, but he bends over backwards to be, well, accommodating to those who might disagree with him. He wants us to hear what he has to say, and I think we need to hear it. I wouldn’t call myself an accommodationist (and I don’t think many regular readers would accuse me of being overly accommodating to religion, at least in this blog), but right now, at this time and place in the history of church and state, I think we need to listen to both sides, and do some serious, open-minded thinking. And I think the MLK vs Malcolm X analogy gives us something really meaty to think about.

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XFiles Weekend: Lewis vs Behe, Dembski, et al

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 4, “What Lies Behind the Law”)

Last week, we watched a rather sad spectacle, as Prof. C. S. Lewis, Oxford don, tried to convince us all that science can never answer any questions beyond certain basic, elementary observations (e.g. “at such-and-such a time, I saw so-and-so through my telescope,” or “when I heated this substance to such and such a temperature, it melted”). Why would an intelligent and educated man be so eager to blindfold science, and to deny the existence of the various analytical, theoretical, and experimental techniques that define what science is?

Rhetorical question, I know. Lewis wants to persuade us to believe in something that hasn’t got a chance of withstanding any sort of scientific scrutiny, so he’s anxious to get science out of the picture, and to propose an alternative “reality” beyond the reach of science. He wants to make sure we have no way of verifying the truth of what he claims, so that we have to just take his word for it, prompted and consoled by our own (carefully manipulated) subjective feelings and biases. That may not sound very intellectually honest, but you can’t deny that, in marketing terms, it has proven to be extremely effective.

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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Science, Unapologetics, XFiles. 11 Comments »

XFiles Weekend: The wisdom of the “why’s”

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 4, “What Lies Behind the Law”)

Once upon a time, a man met three students, and asked each of them, “Why did Jesus die?” The pre-med student replied that Jesus died because he had lost a lot of blood during his beatings, and because of the physiological effects of crucifixion, and because he was stabbed with a spear. The political science student replied that Jesus died because he ticked off the wrong group of guys, and was becoming popular enough to pose a credible threat to the political establishment. And the theology student replied that Jesus died in order to save mankind from sin.

All three answered the same question. All three gave answers that their professors (at least) would count as correct. None of the three contradicted the other two. And yet they gave completely different answers. How can this be? Once we understand the answer to that question, we’ll be ready to look at C. S. Lewis’ claim that science can never answer the question “Why is there a universe?”—or at least, not to his satisfaction.

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Posted in Science, Unapologetics, XFiles. 3 Comments »

The Pew Poll

There’s been some discussion lately about the recent Pew poll that shows atheists outscoring believers on the subject of the believers’ own religious beliefs. PZ Myers and Ed Brayton are among those who see this as scoring a not-insignificant point for the atheists’ side, while Chad Orzel and Josh Rosenau are among those cautioning us against reading too much into this interesting statistic. Orzel cites Razib and Nisbet as pointing out that atheists, being in the minority, are more motivated to explore and understand the religious beliefs of others, since they’re more likely to find themselves “in the crosshairs” of a dorm-room discussion or a knock at the door. Brayton, meanwhile, points out that many unbelievers (of which I happen to be one) started out as believers, and became unbelievers precisely because they learned what they were believing in, and thought about it.

Neither side should be lightly dismissed; each has something important to say, and a valid point to make. And of course, I have my own two cents to toss in.

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Posted in Current Events, Society, Unapologetics. 5 Comments »