Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mind and matter

I just finished reading Mind & Cosmos; Why the materialist New-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false, by Thomas Nagel who is a world-class philosopher. I need to preface my remarks by saying that my field is not philosophy. That, combined with the fact that I read the book rather quickly (which is not usually the best way to read philosophy) means that my understanding of the book may be quite limited and even wrong at points.
Nevertheless, as I understand it, Nagel argues that it is virtually impossible for mind, consciousness, reasoning and values to emerge spontaneously from matter in a Neo-Darwinian system. Consistent with his atheism, Nagel rejects theism and intelligent design but, in my opinion, without adequate reason (other than the fact that he just doesn’t like it).

If I understand Nagel correctly, his very tentative solution seems to be that purpose is somehow just built into the fabric of the universe. Nagel’s reasoning seems to be:

1) It is pretty much impossible that mind could evolve from matter under a Neo-Darwinian system [I agree]

2) Theism is not worth serious consideration [Nagel mentioned but did not seriously engage with arguments for intelligent design other than to agree that proponents have raised serious questions about the origin of life under a Neo-Darwinian system].

3) The only alternative seems to be the idea that purpose is built into the very fabric of the universe [but if it is impossible for matter to spontaneously evolve into consciousness and mind, how is it possible—without a Designer—that dead matter is somehow endued with purpose from the start?]

Deep, thought provoking read from an honest, non-militant atheist perspective.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

An open letter to Democrats and other progressives on the 2016 election

Lately it seems that Democrats have been blaming everyone but George W. Bush for losing the election—Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, James Comey, Huma Abedin, purveyors of fake news, Russian hackers, the media, and even the Electoral College system. As a conservative Evangelical Christian I’d like to suggest one more reason Hillary lost this election, and make a proposal about how Democrats might do better next time.

I think I speak for most conservative Evangelicals when I say that we were appalled when we saw a few Evangelical leaders unconditionally promoting Donald Trump. Evangelicals who had so strongly insisted that character matters when it came to Bill Clinton were now unapologetically promoting a man whose morality was even worse than Clinton’s! Not only that, but Trump’s whole personality was deeply troubling. Here was a man who made very personal and often cruel attacks on everyone who crossed his path, and would seemingly sue just about anyone who got in his way! These are very disturbing traits for a man who seemed to think he could run America like a CEO runs a company! Many of us were (still are) concerned that he is a megalomaniac who has the potential trampling people’s rights with a pen and a phone like someone else who comes to mind.

So the fact of the matter is that many of us Evangelicals almost threw up in our mouth when we voted for Donald Trump! Why would conservative evangelicals vote for someone who was so thoroughly repugnant to our values?

There are numerous reasons, of course (many residing in Hillary Clinton herself), but among the most significant was the fact that we believed that the Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, were waging war on our freedom. Hear me out—There are millions of us “deplorables” and unless you at least try to understand our position you have little hope of ever getting our vote!

We saw our freedom threatened in two areas in particular. First, was the issue of abortion. Many Evangelicals view abortion as nothing less than murder. This is not just political rhetoric. This is honestly what we believe (the fact that human life begins at conception is supported by science). So it’s bad enough that our country legally permits that which from our perspective is practically a holocaust, but when Democrats began trying to legally force Christian-owned organizations to pay for abortion coverage, it crossed a line. It is one thing for a government to engage in immoral practices we oppose—Evangelicals are not personally accountable for that. But many Christians believed that being forced to pay for insurance packages enabling their workers to obtain abortions would make them personally accountable to God for a practice they honestly believe to be murder. Forcing people of faith to support issues which they believe to be in violation of God’s law is tyranny. This country was founded by people who fled such tyranny!

Second, was the issue of gay rights. What began as a movement that urged tolerance has become one of the most intolerant movements in country! Christian bakers, florists, psychologists, and others are being run out of business (and have even had their lives threatened) by gay rights advocates. Contrary to the way Evangelicals are often portrayed, we do not hate gay people! In fact, these Christian business owners were happy to serve gay customers—they just could not support the institution of gay marriage.

For example, Christian bakers were happy to bake cakes or cookies for gay customers, but they honestly believed (rightly or wrongly) that baking a wedding cake for a gay wedding constituted providing support for an institution that violated God’s laws.

There were, of course, plenty of other bakers who would have loved to have the gay customers’ business but that wasn’t good enough. Gay rights advocates chose to intimidate, threaten and use government regulations in an attempt to force these Christians out of business. Even some gay people were scandalized by the intolerance exhibited toward these Christians. Would Democrats want the government to force a gay baker to provide baked goods for an anti-gay rally? Of course not! In most other cases, Democrats recognize that forced speech is not free speech.

It is very important to understand, however, that this is not just about government forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do. For example, when I lived in Arizona, the state government required us to get the emissions checked on our cars every year. I hated that hassle, but it didn’t violate my convictions so I complied. It is an entirely different matter when governments try to force people of faith to do things they sincerely believe to violate God’s laws. Christians who are serious about their faith simply can’t comply. “We must obey God rather than man,” St. Peter is quoted as saying.  Forcing people to violate deeply held religious convictions is not freedom—it is tyranny.

So when the Democrat Party and Hillary Clinton aggressively supported both of these attacks on Christians—and would have certainly appointed justices to the Supreme Court who would ensure compliance—what choice did we have? We could have sat this election out, but that would have ensured a Clinton victory and the continued erosion of our liberty. In our view it was better to take our chances with Trump who might possibly threaten our freedom in the future, than to vote for Hillary who was already threatening our freedom today.

So how could Hillary have won the election? Imagine if Hillary had said:
·        "I am absolutely committed to fight for abortion rights—but in America we also uphold religious liberty. We will not force people of faith to violate their religious convictions. We will not go after doctors or nurses who, because of sincere religious conviction, cannot perform or assist in abortions and we will not force Christian-owned businesses like Hobby Lobby or Christian book publishers to pay for abortion coverage. But apart from such rare religious exemptions, we will fight vigorously to uphold abortion rights."

·         Second, "I will relentlessly fight for gay rights including gay marriage—but in America we uphold freedom of speech. While we will insist that all businesses must serve all customers regardless of race or gender, we will not force people of faith to support the institution of gay marriage. And we will not force Christian churches, charities, missions, schools or colleges to hire or enroll anyone who refuses to comply with their religious behavior codes. But apart from these relatively few religious exceptions, I will be a staunch defender of gay rights and gay marriage."

If the Democrats in general and Hillary in particular had campaigned on this I am absolutely convinced that Hillary would have won the election hands down. That is because many, many Evangelicals were on the fence in this election due to their strong distaste for Donald Trump. It wouldn’t have taken much to swing their vote to Hillary. In fact, there are many Evangelicals who would like to vote Democrat because they (naively, in my view) see Democrats as caring more for the poor. Personally, I was about as strongly opposed to Hillary as one could legally get, and yet, my distaste for Trump was so strong that if Hillary had only been tolerant in these two areas, even I may have voted for her!

Intolerance was one of the factors that cost Democrats this election. If Democrats would practice the tolerance they preach, they just might win next time.