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Friday, November 30, 2007


Well, this November marked the third anniversary of the DT Strain Philosophy Blog! After three years of blogging, I've collected a journal that has been helpful to me in remembering my own philosophical explorations over this eye-opening period.

I have been thinking about whether or not to continue this blog, and considered ending posts but leaving it up as an archive. The main reason for this has been my busy life lately. In either case, I would continue to add essays to the Philosophy Site over time.

Nevertheless, I've decided to keep the blog going. It's simply been too valuable a tool to me. As I look back over these posts, I'm reminded of important thoughts I've had in my own explorations that I would normally have forgotten. I've also gained insight by all the kind people who have left comments and alerted me to tangent thoughts.

But, while the blog will continue, I think I will narrow its focus some. In the past, posts have consisted of whatever happened to have crossed my mind, plus commentary on some major events of the day. What I plan to do this coming year is focus on helping to develop a Humanist philosophy more fully.

By that, I mean to work on developing thoughts to 'fill out' Humanism more in the area of addressing one's personal needs, ethics, and life practice. What we'll ultimately need is a new manifesto specifically aimed at personal life practice, ethics, and needs - something far more robust than the broad principles and 'social issue oriented' objectives in the current one (although the current manifesto has nothing but good and proper material within it - it is necessary, but not sufficient). In that endeavor, I plan to take inspiration from ancient philosophy, science, psychology, modern pragmatic wisdom, and my Humanist brothers and sisters who are engaging in similar thought. Many of us have had the notion of this endeavor for some time, but it has remained largely ungrounded. For more on this, see the website of my Humanist Contemplatives Club.

So, this being the end of my third year in blogging, here is a summary of the TOP TEN POSTS from 2007!

I Am A Believer
Either/Or's and Iraq
Socrates & The "Soul"
Increasing Wisdom
Humanist Ritual
How Messed Up Is This?
Analysis: How News Misleads
What Can't Be Proven?
Complexity, Economics, and Libertarianism
Why Determinism Doesn't Get Us Off The Hook

These posts do not include the often-longer essays on my Philosophy Site. Also, see "The Best of" page for a summary of the Top Ten Posts of ALL TIME for my blog.

Here's wishing all my readers a happy new year and looking forward to more interesting posts :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Subtle Distinction

Recently a reader, J.L.A., commented on my post: Responses to Dr. Francis Collins. Thanks very much to him for reading and for the comment.

Dr. Collins had characterized atheists as being opposed to the 'possibility' of a God, and I corrected that this is not what atheism is. Rather, atheism is merely the lack of a belief that a God does exist; a subtle distinction in itself, though not the one that is the subject of this post. J.L.A. wrote in response:
It is certainly true Dr. Collins is overgeneralizing the view of some atheists. However, there are some atheists who are convinced that there is no god and think that anyone who believes in one is deluded (I have had the misfortune of knowing several of them myself). Unfortunately, they are often the most vocal people in the group and that is often the reason that others misunderstand the meaning of the term "atheism".
I think there is a subtle distinction at play here that goes unappreciated. This unappreciated distinction makes it appear there are more 'strong atheists' (those stating certainty that God is non-existent) than there actually are. In reality, in all my dealings with atheists, I don't know that I have ever really met one.

The subtle distinction is this:

While we cannot know whether or not the claim of a non-physical entity immune to empirical observation is true are false, we do know that it is irrational to hold a belief in either position - specifically due to that fact.

Therefore, people who believe in God are deluded. And, even if they someday die and find themselves looking at God in the face, they will still have been deluded during their lives.

In such a case, they would not have been deluded about the existence of God itself, but deluded in thinking that it is reasonable or rational to accept as true such an extraordinary claim without empirical evidence.

It would be like being convinced that J.L.A. is actually an alien from a planet on the other side of the galaxy, posing as a human. Even if this bizarre claim turned out to be correct by chance, one would be no less deluded in thinking it reasonable to hold such a belief without justifiable, rational reason. In fact, even a much more likely possibility, such as believing J.L.A. to be 110 years old, would be irrational without some sort of evidence to believe it.

So, what happens is that believers encounter an atheist of this nature, who certainly doesn't believe God is impossible or claim to know that such a being could never exist. But the atheist unfortunately projects a sense that he sees the believer as generally silly, irrational, and wrong. The perception on the part of the theist is correct, but they confuse the source of the atheist's attitude as being a belief that they are wrong about God, when in fact, the source of their attitude is the belief they are wrong in their belief in God, regardless of whether or not there is actually a God.

In that judgment, the weak atheist is correct: the theist is objectively wrong.

Where these kinds of atheists are wrong, however, is in their attitude; and I think this is what you may really be referring to when you mention your unfortunate association with such people. I would advise all atheists not to project such attitudes in the first place. Aside from it simply being uncivil and rude, it is also unfair and conceited. Of our many millions of thoughts, we are all wrong (i.e. deluded) about something, and there is no evidence that a person is necessarily dumb or deserving of such treatment merely for being a theist. Most people are deserving of respect, and that in no way requires any censorship of the substance of our critiques. Furthermore, such attitudes only serve to raise walls and hamper communication. And, of course, it also leads to this common misunderstanding about atheists in general as being people who deny even the possibility of a God.

Mature people should be capable of communicating their positions clearly without smugness, intolerance, or demeaning attitudes. We are all part of the same human family and all attempts to convey truth or reason should be made with compassion in mind, and with the attitude that engenders.

As for those few people who might actually claim to know that a God cannot possibly exist, I consider them equally as wrong in that extraordinary claim.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Weighing Up Democracy

Everyone knows by now that Pakistan's president Musharraf has declared a 'state of emergency' and suspended democracy in his country, postponing elections and putting a stop to a court case that was deciding the legitimacy of his presidency. Pakistan has allegedly been an ally in the 'war on terror' and has been given billions of dollars by the U.S. to help fight it.

Philosophically it would be impossible for the purpose of the war on terror to be 'defending democracy' (as has been claimed) if it were a higher priority than democracy itself. If one is willing to put the means before the ends, this would be an indication that those means exist for something other than the stated ends - some other unstated ends.

What Musharraf has done in his country does not overly surprise most Americans. But it seems unimaginable to Americans that such a thing could happen in the U.S. What is more important to American president George W. Bush: the 'war on terror' or democracy? There's a good way to know where your president's priorities lie.

The Bush Administration has stated they are opposed to Musharraf's 'extra constitutional measures'. Statements are easily made. You can determine a person's priorities by where they spend their money. If Bush agrees to a suspension of funds to Pakistan until democracy is restored, then we will know that he values democracy more than the war on terror. If he does not suspend funding, then we will know he values the war on terror more than democracy itself.

And, what would the implications be for a country if its president, when faced with a contradiction between democracy and fighting terrorism, preferred the latter to the former?

In my haste I neglected to address another huge factor, which is the danger of extremists within the country taking over a democratic Pakistan with nuclear weapons. Here we see an example (like Iraq) of what democracy could unfortunately be when it isn't coupled with that other pillar of a just society: individual rights. Democracy without a doctrine of rights (and the cultural foundation that supports such notions) is merely mob rule. Among those rights; the separation of religion and state. So, it's not just the weighing of democracy but the weighing of democracy with or without individual liberties that must be considered. In that respect, it's possible Bush could have a logical 'out' in this case, regarding funding support.

This also really highlights the possible mistake of thinking that a people, if given the vote, will automatically vote themselves rights. The United States during its founding was inspired by a solid foundation of Western philosophers whose ideas helped shape the Bill of Rights. Without that cultural foundation, might a people unwittingly vote tyranny for themselves? Such is the madness of dogmatic religious fundamentalism that only a Western fundamentalist leader could fail to understand - and such is the danger we find ourselves in if we collectively lose that cultural philosophy.