Does physics trump philosophy?

Richard Dawkins loves Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, claiming that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or at the very least since The Origin of Species.

What Dawkins loves is the book’s contention that not only did the universe emerge from nothing, but that it had to do so. So much for the teleology implicit in “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And nothing makes Dawkins happier than something that demolishes what he calls “the last trump card of the theologian.”

Or maybe not. Continue reading

“Now that I think about it, I’m not that religious after all”

According to a much-trumpeted new study, rational thinking has a negative effect on the strength of religious belief.

Well, gee, really? Isn’t that the whole idea behind rational thinking? Do we really need a new study to tell us this? Many religious leaders and almost all atheists readily agree that religious belief is more a feeling than a thought, more emotion than analysis. Continue reading

Footprints of Ages: reflections on reasoning in Texas

I don’t spend much time these days reading about the colourful and exotic habits of that other hominid species, homo creationist. It’s not that I’m not interested in the alien mythologies of strange creatures. It’s just that the subject is very old news. Much more than 6,000 years old, in fact.

But every so often I’m drawn to the weird world of these alien beings, and when I am, I’m reminded all over again that the big difference between our two species is not what we believe but rather how we believe.
Continue reading

Five writers tackle the issue of God

Coincidentally, another periodical published last week a series of articles on one subject. Last time, it was free will.

This time, it’s God.

On March 21st, New Scientist made temporarily available online five articles from, and on, “The God issue.” The pieces’ authors include well-known apologists and atheists, pundits and professors. Like the free will pieces, these short God essays exhibit a wide range of interest in the question of the origins of belief in God. Continue reading

A free discussion of free will

Despite its frequent academic navel gazing and elitist condescension, The Chronicle Review manages to publish some pieces of broader scope and interest.

This time they’ve outdone themselves, producing a series of six short but engrossing articles on the subject of “free will.”

The articles, published online March 18th,  feature scientists, philosophers, and moralizers of various stripes– and these authors assume as wide a range of positions on the subject at hand. Taken together, the six short pieces are a useful summary of the key free will questions. Continue reading

The usual suspects lash out at hard atheism – again

I haven’t written very much about religion lately.

While a verbal war with Bible literalism was a feature of this blog’s earliest efforts, recently I’ve managed to ignore the subject in favour of more fruitful topics like politics and the human mind — despite the fact that fundamentalists continue to have too much contact with the former, and too little with the latter.

Besides, I haven’t felt much compulsion to defend the religion-haters among my fellow religion-deniers. Continue reading

Life, heat death, and the meaning of it all

Thirteen and a half billion years ago, something happened. Billions, perhaps trillions of years from now, nothing will ever happen again.

For a short time near the beginning of that unimaginable span, conditions in the universe are right for life. For an instant during that window of existence, humans live. And for a brief part of that instant, you and I live.

Yes, I’ve been watching cosmology documentaries again. Sigh. Continue reading

Common-sense dualism and the self

While doing background reading for an upcoming longer essay on our sense of self, I’ve spent some time reading articles from ages past. Well, no, they’re not that old, but in the online world, where last week is ancient history, they might as well be.

One article that caught my eye is psychologist Paul Bloom’s 2004 EDGE presentation, “Natural-Born Dualists.” Continue reading

Jefferson’s “Bible” — revising the revision

But while this syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in its true
and high light, as no impostor Himself, but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code
of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with Him in all His doctrines.
I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism.

“This syllabus” is Jefferson’s revision of scripture, a document that has come to be known as “Jefferson’s Bible,” although he never gave it that name. It’s clear from the passage, from an 1820 letter, that Jefferson was in no sense an orthodox Christian.

But that doesn’t stop some on the Christian right in the United States from recruiting Jefferson to support their false claim that the U. S. was founded as “a Christian nation,” that the separation of church and state was never the intention of the Founding Fathers. Continue reading