Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Searching for Sugar Man," Or, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country."

I just watched the DVD of the film Searching for Sugar Man. From the Wikipedia article:

"Searching for Sugar Man is a Swedish-British documentary film directed by Malik Bendjelloul, which details the efforts of two Cape Town fans in the late nineteen-nineties, Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, to find out if the rumored death of American musician Sixto Rodriguez was true, and, if not, to discover what had become of him. Rodriguez's music, which never took off in the United States, had become wildly popular in South Africa, but little was known about him there.

On 10 February 2013, the film won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary at the 66th British Academy Film Awards in London, and two weeks later it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood."

And from the Wikipedia article on Sixto Rodriguez:

"In 1967 (under the name Rod Riguez) he released the single "I'll Slip Away" through the small label, Impact. He did not produce anything for another three years until he was signed to Sussex Records, an offshoot of Buddah records. It was after the move to Sussex that he changed his professional name to just Rodríguez. Rodríguez recorded two albums with Sussex: Cold Fact in 1970 and Coming from Reality in 1971. But after both of his albums sold very few copies, he was quickly dropped from the label, which folded in 1975. At the time of his release from the contract, Rodríguez was in the process of completing a third album which has yet to be released. After this happened, Sixto discontinued his music career and stayed in Detroit. There, he worked in several industries that revolved around manual labor such as demolition, yet always stayed close to a state of poverty....

"After failing to make an impact in North America, Rodríguez gave up his career as a musician. However, although he was relatively unknown in his home country, by the mid-1970s, his albums were starting to gain airplay in South AfricaBotswanaRhodesiaNew Zealand, and Australia.
After imported copies of his Sussex albums ran dry, an Australian record label, Blue Goose Music, bought the Australian rights to his back catalogue in the mid-1970s. Blue Goose released his two studio albums plus a compilation album At His Best (featuring unreleased recordings from 1973 "Can't Get Away", "I'll Slip Away" [a rerecording of his first single], and "Street Boy").
With a new buzz around Rodriguez, in 1979 he toured Australia with the Mark Gillespie Band as support. Two shows from the tour were later released on the Australian-only album Alive—the title being a play on the rumors caused by his public obscurity that he had died years ago. After the ’79 tour, he returned to Australia for a final tour in 1981 with Midnight Oil before quietly slipping back into normal life.
Unbeknownst to Rodríguez, "At His Best" went platinum in South Africa, which at one stage was the major disk-press interest supplying his music to the rest of the world. He would often be compared to successful contemporaries such as Bob Dylan. Additionally, some of his songs came to serve as anti-Apartheid anthems in South Africa,[4] where his work influenced many musicians who protested the government. It has been reported that anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was a Rodríguez fan.[5]
" In 1991, both his albums were released on CD in South Africa for the first time, which helped perpetuate his already existent fame. However, even in South Africa, few details of his life were known to his fans and it was widely rumored and believed that Rodríguez had killed himself during a concert in the 1970s.
Despite the magnitude of his success abroad, Rodríguez's fame in South Africa had remained completely unknown to him until 1998, when his eldest daughter came across a website dedicated to him.[6] After coming into contact with the authors of the website and learning of his long-standing fame in the country, Sixto went on his first South African tour, playing six concerts in front of thousands of fans. A documentary about the tour, Dead Men Don't Tour: Rodríguez in South Africa 1998, was later screened on SABC TV in 2001. Later he played in Sweden before returning to South Africa in 2001 and 2005.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sounds of Explosions at WTC7

Another video discussing the question of whether there were sounds of explosions at WTC7:

HT: Debunking the Debunkers

Saturday, February 23, 2013

God's Plan for the Human Race: Three-day Weekends!

The Jews gave us Saturday off.
The Christians gave us Sunday off.
The Muslims would like to give us Friday off.

Let's hear it for religious diversity!

  UPDATE: The only historical attempt by atheists to establish a different calendar was the 10-day week of the French Republic, which meant one day of rest and nine days of work. Boo on atheist calendars!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Would a Most Perfect Being Command Genocide?"

I'm still reading Randal Rauser's The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Aplogetic Rabbit Trails (I'm a slow reader). In an earlier chapter Randal has offered the modal ontological argument, which states that if a most perfect being (God) is possible, then it must exist. Now Randal and his atheist acquaintance, Sheridan, are considering the question of whether the God of the Bible could be a most perfect being. In chapter 21 they consider the problem of God's commanding the Canaanite and Amalekite genocides. Randal is very honest:

 "If I were considering whether the deity of some other religion could be the most perfect being, I probably wouldn't go any further in processing his or her application if there were atrocities like that on the resume. Which of us would consider a religion other than our own if it had a sacred text depicting its divine being commanding a holy genocide?.... "

"Look," he tells Sheridan, "I'm not here to defend the 'home team.'  I'm only trying to pursue the truth as best I can, just like you.  There's a lot of great stuff in apologetics these days on lots of topics like intelligent design, cosmic fine-tuning, the resurrection of Jesus and countless other topics.  But it seems to me that the standard apologetic treatments of biblical violence and Old Testament genocide are very unconvincing by comparison."

Randal and Sheridan discuss various proposals that have been offered to deal with the issue, finding most of them inadequate.  Randal eventually offers his own.  I think the book is worth purchasing and reading to find out what it is, but also just to experience the honesty that Rauser displays in discussing this and other problems that Christians need to confront if they are going to insist that they worship the most perfect being.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Is Nick Matzke going to set Professor Tour straight on Macroevolution?

Over at Uncommondescent VJ Torley has referenced an article by Professor James Tour, who says he doesn't understand how Darwinian mechanisms can account for macroevolution, and that he's willing to buy lunch for anyone who can explain it to him. Meanwhile, back at VJ Torley's post, that champion of Darwinian evolution, Nick Matzke, has offered to take Professor Tour up on his offer if someone will buy him the plane ticket. At comment 65 somebody named "groovamos" has offered to buy the ticket, and at comment 71 Nick has said it's fine with him. Should I hold my breath in anticipation of this meeting between Tour and Matzke actually occurring?

  UPDATE: Professor Tour Accepts Nick Matzke's Offer. However, Tour doesn't want the meeting recorded and Matzke insists that it be recorded. I think both are making reasonable demands, so I'm not sure either one will give in. And Nick won't be availabe until the summer, so this won't be happening anytime soon. Therefore, I have decided not to hold my breath any longer.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Djesus Uncrossed

New Testament scholar Anthony Le Donne suggests that some people are taking Djesus Uncrossed the wrong way and that it is really poking fun at Quentin Tarantino. My only question is whether it is funnier than The Greatest Action Story Ever Told.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Did Socrates Take Bathroom Breaks? Or "It's hard to unpack the mysteries of the Universe on a full bladder."

I'm back to reading Randal Rauser's The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails. Randal has been deeply involved in a philosophical/theological discussion at a college coffee shop with his new atheist acquaintance, Sheridan, who suddenly says,

"Listen, how about we take a commercial break here? I gotta take a whiz." 

"You bet," I nod, relieved for a way out of the awkward moment.  "It's hard to unpack the mysteries of  the universe on a full bladder."

As Sheridan walks away, I look over to you.  I can tell what you're thinking:  isn't it a bit crass to include a bathroom break in a book like this?  After all, Socrates never takes a bathroom break in Plato's dialogues.  Why don't I treat my characters like bladderless talking heads?

"Verisimilitude," I whisper to you.  "I'm trying to make this as lifelike as possible:  In fact, Reader, in order to maximize realism, I think I'll take a quick bathroom break myself.  I don't want to play the omnisicient narrator here, you know?  I've got to be in the story to be credible."  With that I stand up and walk over to the cash register to grab the remaining washroom key.

In case you were wondering, their discussion has been pretty interesting, too.

Friday, February 15, 2013

How to Know if God is There and Who Jesus Is.

There are I/It relationships, that each of us has with inanimate objects.  And then there are I/Thou relationships, that persons have with one another.

God wants an I/Thou relationship with you.  He does not want to be an It that is the conclusion of a philosophical, historical, or scientific argument.  He doesn't want to please your idol curiosity.  He wants you and He wants you to want Him.  If you ask, He will give you Himself.  If you seek Him, you will find Him.  If you knock, the door will be opened.   But it's not for those who don't want God to be Lord of their life.  So if you don't want God to be your boss, don't pretend that you want to know if He exists.

The same with Jesus.  If you want to know who Jesus is, ask God, "Who was Jesus?  Did he rise from the dead?"  But don't ask if you aren't willing to let him be Lord of your life.  Just turn around and move on.  

That's about the extent of my "religious epistemology."   I got nothing else to give you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Seizing the Kingdom of Heaven by Force

An old, dear friend and the best Bible teacher I've ever known taught that the key to understanding the Gospel was the passage in Matthew 11:12 :

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force."

But I always struggled to try to understand what my friend meant until I saw the film, The Polar Express.  Billy explained it better than any theologian could have: 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

C.S. Lewis on The Canaanite Genocide


Randal Rauser has been discussing the problem of the Canaanite genocide and whether God had really commanded it.  Rauser's view is that God would never have commanded such a thing, and so we should reject the view that the Bible has accurately recorded what God had to say about it. C.S. Lewis would seem to agree with him:

 "Dear Mr. Beversluis,

Yes. On my view one must apply something of the same sort of explanation to, say, the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua. I see the grave danger we run by doing so; but the dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.

To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen as all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on. Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.

But of course having said all this, we must apply it with fear and trembling. Some things which seem to us bad may be good. But we must not consult our consciences by trying to feel a thing good when it seems to us totally evil. We can only pray that if there is an invisible goodness hidden in such things, God, in His own good time will enable us to see it. If we need to. For perhaps sometimes God’s answer might be ‘What is that to thee?’ The passage may not be ‘addressed to our (your or my) condition’ at all.

I think we are v. much in agreement, aren’t we?

Yours sincerely, C. S. Lewis"

 (I'm not sure, but I think this was taken from an appendix to John Beversluis's book, C.S.Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion .)
  UPDATE: The letter is from Chapter 9, "Grief," p. 156-157, of Beversluise's unrevised edition of his book, which I don't recommend. I've heard from many that his revised edition is much better.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Forgetting Torture: Lee Hamilton, John Brennan, and Abu Zubaydah

9/11 Whistleblower Kevin Ryan writes a compelling article:

 "As stated in my last article on the subject, Zubaydah is at the center of an unraveling of the official account of the 9/11 attacks.[1] His extensive torture at the hands of the CIA during Brennan’s tenure, which included at least 83 water-boarding sessions, hanging the man naked from the ceiling, slamming him against a concrete wall, and other atrocious experimental techniques, was said to produce valuable evidence about al Qaeda. However, the government now claims that Zubaydah was never a member or associate of al Qaeda and therefore he could not have known any of the information that the 9/11 Commission attributed to him."    More.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Alvin Plantinga's Modal Ontological Argument - Made Simple

Way back when I was just a wee lad in my twenties, I read an anthology edited by Alvin Plantinga on The Ontological Argument. It had selections from all the versions of the argument, beginning with St. Anselm up to the 60s. I remember that Plantinga offered a refutation of the final selection (I think it was Norman Malcolm's). So I figured that pretty much closed the book on that argument. Then years later I heard a rumour that Plantinga had come up with his own version of the argument. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Professor Plantinga, back in 2001. He confirmed that he had changed his mind and decided there was something to the argument and provided his own version in his book, The Nature of Necessity. I asked if he thought I would be able to understand the book, and he said, "No."   I took his word for it and never tried to read it. So to my delight, somebody on youtube has offered a simplified version of his argument. I don't know if the argument has or will persuade anyone, but at least I can say I understand it, now.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Is Jesus in Hell?

I've done a very small bit of checking and discovered that one of the most controversial statements of faith within Christianity comes from the Apostles' Creed: "...He descended into Hell." For those interested, Christianity Today offers a short discussion of the subject.  One of the Scripture passages that it is thought that this part of the Creed is based on is from I Peter 3:18-20:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,

 I'm especially interested in how C.S. Lewis used this passage in his fictional story, The Great Divorce, about a bus trip from Hell to Heaven. Having taken the bus trip, Lewis is now having a conversation with his mentor, George MacDonald, asking him why the blessed don't go down to Hell to persuade people there to come to Heaven. MacDonald explains that Hell is too small for the blessed to enter:

"All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world:  but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World.  Look at yon butterfly.  If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste."

"It seems big enough when you're in it, Sir."

"And yet all loneliness, angers, hatred, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all.  Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good.  If all Hell's miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into that Great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific itself is only a molecule....For a damned soul is nearly nothing:  it is shrunk, shut up in itself.  Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it.  Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut.  First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouth for food, or their eyes to see." 

"Then no one can ever reach them?" 

"Only the Greatest of all can make Himself small enough to enter Hell.  For the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend -- a man can sympathise with a horse but a horse cannot sympathise with a rat.  Only One has descended into Hell." 

"And will He ever do so again?"

"It was not once long ago that He did it.  Time does not work that way when once ye have left the Earth.  All moments that have been or shall be were, or are, present in the moment of His descending.  There is no spirit in prison to Whom He did not preach."

If what Lewis wrote is true, and all moments are present in the moment,  and if Jesus descended into Hell to preach to the damned, is He there still?  Does being Emmanuel -- God with us -- mean being with us, even in Hell?  And for how long?  Until all are saved?   Or at least all those who will be saved?   Until He ascends on high, leading  a host of captives?  (Ephesians 4:8)

I know that Jesus has already risen from the dead and ascended on high and sits at the right hand of God the Father.  Yet we know that Jesus is also with us now and will never forsake us.  If it is possible that Jesus is with us here on Earth, while He is also with the Father, is it possible that Jesus is also with the damned in Hell?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The World's REAL Bravest Cat

On rare occasions I find myself in disagreement with Jerry Coyne. His post of the World's Bravest Cat happens to be one of them. To be honest, due to technical difficulties I'm not able to see the image of the cat to which Coyne directs us, but I'm guessing it's a cat walking on one of the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. So I went to Youtube, just in case I could see it there. No luck, but I did find this:

Naturally somebody found a "scientific" explanation why the alligators were scared of the cat.  But what we want to know is, why would a cat think it could kick a gator's

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Does Shelly Kagan's Moral Theory Depend upon God?

If you watched the debate in the previous post, you know that Professor Shelly Kagan is fond of the theory that our morality is a putative contract between us that we would make if we were perfectly rational beings. The theistic theory of morality is that it is the commands of a perfectly rational being. Kagan's view is dependent upon the fictional existence of perfectly rational beings (or at least one such being). It seems to me that Kagan is, in effect, saying that morality is based upon our pretending that at least one god-like being exists. In other words, morality is what God would command, if God existed. It's not clear to me that Kagan can easily deny that the nature of morality does not depend upon God. It seems to at least depend upon his hypothetical existence. And I think the question could be raised, can an actual existence -- morality -- depend upon a hypothetical existence -- God?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Is God Necessary for Morality? Craig-Kagan Debate

My friend has just emailed me a youtube video of the debate/discussion between William Lane Craig and Shelly Kagan on the question," Is God Necessary for Morality?"  I've only watched parts of it, but it's already clear that this is a much better format for debate or discussions of theological or philosophical issues.  If you're challenged to debate Craig, and you don't want to go through the process of learning formal debate techniques, this is the way to go.  This is the sort of format that Alex Rosenberg wanted to have with Craig.  Too bad he didn't have his way.

  UPDATE: On a lighter note, my first question to Kagan would have been, "Professor, why do you wear tennis shoes?"

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Tips for People Debating William Lane Craig

Okay, you didn't really want to debate the guy, but everybody kept calling you chicken, or your agent or editor said it would be good publicity for your new book. Whatever the reason, you now find yourself publicly committed to debating William Lane Craig. The guy's a former college debater, who can make your position look bad, no matter how much better you think your arguments might be. So assuming that you don't want to look like a complete idiot, what do you do? Well, if I were you I would contact the debate coach at your college or university and ask for tips. If the coach knows her stuff, she'll at least help you with the basics, like how to use a flow sheet (if you look carefully at Craig during the debates, you'll notice that he uses one). But just in case you can't get hold of the coach, I've included a video I found on youtube. It was made for high school students, but that's okay, because you probably don't know anymore about debating than they do. Anyway, what have you got to lose?  The better you are at debating Craig, the higher your book sales.

UPDATE: You cannot hope to conduct a formal, competitive debate without using a flow sheet. It is the indispensable tool for a debater.

Thoughts on the Craig-Rosenberg Debate

I've been watching the Debate between William Lane Craig and atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg. It's the first and probably last William Lane Craig debate that I watch. I was on the debate team in high school for four years, so I know the advantage that the experience of debating gives Craig over his opponents. It doesn't necessarily mean that his arguments are better. It's that he is able to present them more concisely and in a more organized manner in a limited amount of time. I agree with Rosenberg that this is not the best way to try to discuss or argue about these matters. I guess my advice to inexperienced debaters who are challenged to debate Craig is to respond, "Craig is a much more experienced debater, so I don't think I would do very well in a debate with him. I am, however, willing to co-author a series of letters with him, where we have time to organize our thoughts and respond to each other's points."  For example, the philosopher Alvin Plantinga, has done this at least a couple of times that I know of: once with the philosopher Michael Tooley and once with Daniel Dennett.

I haven't finished watching the debate, yet, but I have a couple of thoughts about it.  I'm not sure how strong the cosmological argument is (contingent existence implies necessary existence).  For me it works on an emotional level.  Yes, it seems logically possible for there to be contingent existence without necessary existence.  But our constant striving to answer the question "Why?" would leave us unsatisfied with mere brute fact for the ultimate answer.  We want there to be an answer which makes sense and that we just see must be so.   Which is what a necessarily existent being would be.

I'm glad that Craig made the distinction between Divine Command Theory and Divine Nature Theory and favors the second.  I'm not sure it answers the Euthyphro dilemma any better, but it seems to offer more promise.

Rosenberg is one of the few philosophers I've seen who seems to buy into what is known as Scientism, and does so wholeheartedly.  I'll have to watch the rest of the debate to see if he goes into more detail.

UPDATE: I guess I should add that regardless of the logical status of the Argument from Evil, it works on an emotional level for me the same way the Cosmological Argument does. One of the things that attracts me to Christianity is that it offers an answer that also works on an emotional level: Whatever reason God had for allowing so much apparently gratuitous pain and suffering in the world, He has at least deigned to become a human being and taken some of his own medicine. In fact, somehow his pain and suffering have become the focal point for the meaning of all pain and suffering. Whatever this world of grief is supposed to be about, we can say, "Emmanuel -- God with us."

Further Update: Just finished watching the debate. I don't understand but am curious about Alex Rosenberg's position. I'll have to buy his book and try reading it. I imagine that's why he agreed to do the debate -- free advertisement. It worked on me, at least.

Last Update: During the question and answer period Craig did make a good point: People are much more likely to watch a debate than read a philosophy book, or even listen to two philosophers have a discussion. So if one wants to disseminate one's views to the general public, a formal debate is the way to go.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Jobs Report, and Why the Recovery has Stalled.

Robert Reich offers what is to me a fairly convincing and easy to understand argument as to why our economy is stalling: Nobody is spending. Private consumers don't have the money, and deficit hawks aren't letting the government spend more.

UPDATE:  The Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, himself a deficit hawk, had tongue-in-cheek suggested that if Keynesian economics worked, why couldn't we just counterfeit money and stimulate the economy that way. Actually, that might be the only option left. Anybody got a printing press?