science versus religion

Is naturalism more probable than supernaturalism? – Post 3

Post 3 Gary Robertson

Gary Robertson replies to Hugh Harris based on the essay : Naturalism vs Supernaturalism – the False Dichotomy

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by Gary Robertson

Gary works in the media monitoring industry.

 

Hugh Harris defends a version of philosophical naturalism that contends it is likely nothing exists outside of the natural world. Hugh primarily bases his defence on “the observance of the natural world along with its laws”, which essentially consists of him appealing to the fact that nature exists rather than providing any positive evidence showing why it’s probable nothing transcends nature. Yet the question being addressed in this debate is not ‘Does the natural world exist?’, but ‘Is there a reality beyond the natural world?’

Hugh’s defence of weak naturalism is also based on what he perceives as “the absence of any evidence of the supernatural” and here his case largely consists of negative arguments in which rebuttals are presented against arguments for the existence of a supernatural reality. Before I respond to Hugh’s comments and counterarguments relating to my first post, “Is Naturalism more probable than Supernaturalism?”, I would like to discuss some serious shortcomings of the metaphysical position he defends.

Various forms of the ‘evolutionary argument against naturalism’ by philosophers Alvin Plantinga, Thomas Nagel, CS Lewis and others show philosophical naturalism (both reductive and nonreductive) to be incompatible with reason and that, therefore, believing in philosophical naturalism is self-defeating. Philosopher of science Bruce Gordon explains the argument as follows:

“The prospect of human knowledge depends upon the veridicality of our perceptions and the validity of our reasoning processes. If the certainty resulting from cognitive perception and valid inference provides a genuine grasp of how reality must be independent of our minds, then knowledge is possible, but if the certainty so obtained is a mere feeling and not a genuinely reliable insight into reality, then we do not have knowledge. Now, if naturalism is true, human beings came about as the result of undirected processes of evolution that had no goal in mind. In such case, our cognitive faculties are the end result of mindless causes and historical accidents that take no account of truth or logic, just the exigencies of survival. Under such conditions, any complex of beliefs and desires that conduces to survival would suffice. What we believe to be true under such conditions is therefore an accidental historical byproduct of purely natural events that bear no intrinsic relation to the actual truth of the beliefs we hold; it is an expression of how our brains just happen to work. That our beliefs should actually be true under such conditions seems quite unlikely; at the very least, whether our beliefs are true or false cannot be ascertained. If naturalism is true, therefore, our reasoning processes are so discredited that they cannot support the truth of any of the beliefs we happen to hold, especially those rather distant from immediate experience, such as the belief in naturalism itself. Belief in naturalism is therefore epistemically self-defeating, and since there is for the naturalist no remedy to this situation, it is irrational to be a philosophical naturalist because it destroys the possibility of rationality altogether.” (Gordon, 2011)

Charles Darwin himself inadvertently acknowledged that the unreliability of human cognition was intrinsic to his theory of natural selection. For instance, in a private letter written in 1881 he stated:

“Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”(Darwin, 1881)

In an earlier letter Darwin wrote:

“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the ‘Origin of Species;’ and it is since that time that it has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker. But then arises the doubt, can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?” (Barlow, 1958)

Unfortunately Darwin acknowledged this inherent aspect of his theory of evolution very selectively. As the above quotes indicate he only deemed his beliefs untrustworthy when they were inconsistent with natural selection, such as his conviction of the necessity of an intelligent First Cause and his “extreme difficulty” in conceiving the universe as the result of blind chance or necessity. However his theory was itself “a conviction of man’s mind” and therefore, following the same logic, was also untrustworthy. Darwin failed to recognize that to be logically consistent he needed to apply his doubts about the reliability of human reasoning to his beliefs about natural selection. If he had done so he would have been confronted with an internal contradiction that renders believing in natural selection self-defeating.

Hugh states that my first post “seems to exclude science from the debate, only to later revive it to provide the foundation for the kalām cosmological argument.” I find this comment rather odd for three reasons. Firstly, I mention the terms ‘science’, ‘scientific’, ‘empirical’, ‘empirically’ and ‘methodological naturalism’ a total of nine times before I even get to the kalām cosmological argument (KCA). Indeed, prior to advancing the KCA I address science in relation to metaphysical propositions, such as the proposition that a transcendent realm exists. Secondly, since Hugh perceives there to be an “absence of any evidence supporting supernaturalism” I would have thought he would be expecting little to no scientific evidence in my posts. Lastly, as I explain below, the point is trivial as scientific knowledge represents just one type of evidence relevant to the topic being debated.

Hugh then wonders why I state that “’Methodological naturalism restricts scientific enquiry to the study of natural causes and processes’, thus, ‘methods of enquiry into the existence of a supernatural reality are beyond the scope of empirical science’, and thus, ‘all propositions about ultimate reality will necessarily be philosophical’”. He suspects it is so I “can trade off the equality between the definitions of naturalism and supernaturalism”. However his suspicion is wide of the mark. I made these points to clarify the nature of the debate as Hugh appears to harbour the misconception that the epistemic status of philosophical naturalism is close to that of an empirically verifiable position, or that, at minimum, it has a higher epistemic status than supernaturalism has. Each of my points on the relationship between science and the investigation of ultimate reality can be readily confirmed as the establishment position on the topic. For instance, the US National Academy of Sciences in its official booklet Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science states:

“Because science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations. Similarly, science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance.” (National Academy of Sciences, 1998)

Or in the words of Eugenie Scott, former executive director of the US National Center for Science Education:

“Science is a way of knowing that attempts to explain the natural world using natural causes. It is agnostic toward the supernatural – it neither confirms nor rejects it.” (Scott, 1999)

The restriction of scientific inquiry to natural causes mentioned in the foregoing quotes is known as methodological naturalism (MN), which is an epistemology and a procedural process that also acts as a set of demarcation criteria for differentiating science from non-science. As Wikipedia states:

“Methodological naturalism does not concern itself with claims about what exists, but with methods of learning what nature is. It attempts to explain and test scientific endeavors, hypotheses, and events with reference to natural causes and events.” (Wikipedia, ‘Naturalism (philosophy’)

Since MN a priori excludes claims about ultimately reality, the fact that Hugh broadly aligns his inherently metaphysical position on ultimately reality with MN is puzzling. I assume this is because he adheres to scientism – the belief that empirical science possesses a unique claim to knowledge, or all that can be known about the external world are things which can be determined through the methods of the natural sciences. Indeed, in a glossary of terms used on this blog Hugh defines naturalism as “the belief that the universe can be explained exclusively by natural laws and forces. There are no supernatural, or non-natural entities or causes, or if there are, they will be understandable in scientific, natural terms.”

My statement that “all propositions about ultimate reality will necessarily be philosophical” refers to the fact that naturalism and supernaturalism are properly the domain of metaphysics. This is cogently explained in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (1st Ed), which defines metaphysics as:

“Most generally, the philosophical investigation of the nature, constitution, and structure of reality. It is broader in scope than science, e.g., physics and even cosmology (the science of the nature, structure, and origin of the universe as a whole), since one of its traditional concerns is the existence of non-physical entities, e.g., God. It is also more fundamental, since it investigates questions science does not address but the answers to which it presupposes.” (Robert Audi (Ed), 1995)

However, Hugh appears to misconstrue my statement as meaning philosophical arguments “sideline science altogether”. Clearly this is not the case as empirical evidence is crucial to many philosophical arguments, including the KCA. To restate a point I’ve made in previous replies, scientific evidence can support premises for a conclusion that has metaphysical significance, but a metaphysical position cannot ultimately be confirmed by scientific evidence alone (which would make it a scientific position). In other words, although one or more premises in individual arguments for supernaturalism and naturalism may be supported by empirical evidence, neither position as a whole is empirically verifiable.

Looking at it from the flipside may better illustrate this general distinction between scientific and philosophical propositions. There are many scientific theories – Einstein’s theory of general relativity and Newton’s theory of universal gravitation to cite just two – that are, arguably, based upon deeper philosophical premises, presuppositions and concepts which can be justified by philosophical lines of argument. However, we would not refer to these theories as philosophical propositions as they are derived from empirical observation and are amenable to direct or indirect experimental testing.

This convergence of philosophical and scientific evidence within the theories of general relativity and universal gravitation, and also within many propositions about ultimate reality, nicely illustrates Hugh’s point that “philosophy cannot exist in a bubble”. Far from been sidelined then, science plays a crucial role in many important philosophical propositions (and vice versa), including in many prominent arguments for and against the existence of a transcendent reality. And since the inclusion of both scientific and philosophical evidence often allows for a more complete and informative metaphysical argument, I wholeheartedly encourage Hugh to incorporate scientific evidence in his case for weak naturalism.

Hugh, however, goes too far when he implies that non-empirical propositions have “no regard for the real world”. While many arguments contain premises that are justified to varying degrees by empirical data, many others with ‘real world’ implications are justified purely on philosophical grounds. For example deductive arguments for God’s existence, including the Ontological Argument, the Moral Argument and Leibniz’ Contingency Argument, are purely philosophical arguments which provide evidence for the reality of a transcendent Creator. Moreover, Aquinas’ Five Ways are logical proofs that depend only minimally on inferences drawn from nature and are therefore not impacted by revisions to empirical knowledge. Further, while a posteriori knowledge is dependent on experience or empirical evidence, a priori knowledge is not and many non-empirical propositions based on a priori knowledge have practical real-world applications.

To quote from Wikipedia again:

“A priori knowledge or justification is independent of experience, as with mathematics (3,000 + 2,000 = 5,000), tautologies (“All bachelors are unmarried”), and deduction from pure reason (eg, ontological proofs).” (Wikipedia: ‘A priori and a posteriori’)

Hugh asserts “Virtually all scientists operate under the assumption of philosophical naturalism – all causes are empirical and naturalistic ones which can be measured, quantified and studied methodically.” I suspect, albeit without any supporting data, it would be more accurate to say that most scientists, including those who are theists, adopt methodological naturalism while conducting scientific research into physical phenomena, but not necessarily when investigating immaterial realities not associated with physical causality or not reducible to the actions of neurons, subatomic particles, physical forces, etc. Such realities are beyond reductionist science and include human appreciation of beauty, art, music, poetry, literature, and other creative activities involving abstract thought, as well as conceptions of aesthetics, justice, morality, honour, mercy and love.

But even when addressing the physical world science has its limitations, thereby requiring us to go beyond the senses and natural sciences to attain a more complete understanding of the universe. The reason why science cannot give us a complete description of reality is that it is, by its nature, quantitative. Although the quantitative methods of modern science have resulted in many spectacular predictive and technological successes, they can only capture those aspects of reality amenable to mathematical modeling, prediction and control. It certainly does not follow that there are no other aspects of reality.

It should also be noted that although many scientists adhere to methodological naturalism while studying the causes or properties of physical phenomena, that does not necessarily mean they are philosophical naturalists or believe the natural sciences alone reveal all they can know about the world. After all, modern science was largely founded by theists like Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Leibniz, Copernicus, Boyle and others who believed that order and precision exhibited by the physical universe, and the overall intelligibility of the natural world, revealed evidence of God’s existence. But irrespective of one’s worldview, science is about following the evidence wherever it leads and evaluating evidence entirely on its merits – not filtering it through the lens of a particular philosophical position or judging its validity on its congruence with specific metaphysical preconceptions.

Hugh contends the kalām cosmological argument commits the fallacy of composition by “moving from the contingency of the components of the universe, to the contingency of the universe”. However, the KCA does not argue compositionally – that because everything within the universe has a cause, therefore the universe as a whole has a cause. Rather, it is based on the Causal Principle – everything that comes into existence at some point must have a cause which brings it into existence, and the scientific consensus that the universe began to exist. Additionally, the Causal Principle, which is constantly confirmed in our experience, is an inductive generalisation – not a statement about one thing, and therefore cannot be the result of an inference from the parts of a thing to the whole. In other words, it is drawing an inference about all the members of a class of things based on a sample of the class. Inductive reasoning undergirds empirical science and is not to be confused with reasoning by composition.

Further, not every inference from part to whole commits a fallacy of composition; whether an inference does so depends on the subject matter. If each brick in a wall of Lego bricks is red, it does follow that the wall as a whole is red. Even if one were to infer from the contingency of the parts of the universe to that of the whole universe, I contend that would be more like the inference to the colour of the Lego wall (or the Great Wall of China) than the inference to its size.

Philosopher Edward Feser explains it this way:

If A and B are of the same length, putting them side by side is going to give us a whole with a length different from those of A and B themselves. That just follows from the nature of length. If A and B are of the same color, putting them side by side is not going to give us a whole with a color different from those of A and B themselves. That just follows from the nature of color. If A and B are both contingent, does putting them together give us something that is necessary? It is hard to see how; indeed, anyone willing to concede that Lego bricks, tables, chairs, rocks, trees, and the like are individually contingent is surely going to concede that any arbitrary group of these things is no less contingent. And why should the inference to the contingency of such collections stop when we get to the universe as a whole? It seems a natural extension of the reasoning, and the burden of proof is surely on the critic of such an argument to show that the universe as a whole is somehow non-contingent, given that the parts, and collections of parts smaller than the universe as a whole, are contingent. (Feser, 2010)

Ultimately though, since the KCA is not justified by an argument from composition Hugh is simply arguing against a straw man here.

Hugh claims the KCA’s conclusion that the universe began to exist is invalid because “given that space and time are inextricably linked, the contention that the universe began suggests a moment preceding its existence. But, as Stephen Hawking has pointed out, this is like seeking a point more northerly than the North Pole – the universe can be both finite and without a prior moment or beginning.”

Firstly, the view that the universe had an absolute beginning and there was no space, time, matter, energy and, hence, physical laws, before the universe began is the consensus view of physicists and cosmologists for good reason. The standard Big Bang model, which posits space, time, matter and energy came into existence at a single point simultaneously, is well supported by a confluence of independent lines of inquiry. Prominent US sceptic Michael Shermer briefly explains why the theory is so well supported in the April 2017 issue of Scientific American:

“There are many propositions for which we have adequate grounds for certainty as to their truth: There are 84 pages in this issue of Scientific American. True by observation. Dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago. True by verification and replication of radiometric dating techniques for volcanic eruptions above and below dinosaur fossils. The universe began with a big bang. True by a convergence of evidence from a wide range of phenomena, such as the cosmic microwave background, the abundance of light elements (such as hydrogen and helium), the distribution of galaxies, the large-scale structure of the cosmos, the redshift of most galaxies and the expansion of space. These propositions are “true” in the sense that the evidence is so substantial that it would be unreasonable to withhold one’s provisional assent.” (Shermer, 2017)

Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, along with Arvin Borde and Alan Guth, was able to prove that any universe that has on average been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin singularity theorem shows that classical space-time, under a single, very general condition, cannot be extended to past infinity but must reach a boundary at some time in the finite past. Vilenkin states:

“It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” (Vilenkin, 2006)

Or, as a New Scientist editorial plainly states, “It now seems certain that the universe did have a beginning.” (Editorial, 2012)

Secondly, nearly all space-time theorems derived from general relativity establish a singular simultaneous beginning for all the matter, energy, space and time in the universe rather than suggest a moment of time preceding the universe’s existence. Indeed, there is no justification for the assumption that causal priority implies temporal priority. As philosopher William Lane Craig comments:

“The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover—and this deserves underscoring—the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo. (Craig, 1999)

And lastly, Stephen Hawking’s model for a finite universe “without a prior moment or beginning” is a speculative proposal that employs a statistical technique (imaginary numbers) for time variables in order to preserve a purely spatial representation of the beginning of the universe. The problem with the use of imaginary numbers in the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary quantum cosmology model is aptly explained by William Lane Craig:

“The question which arises for this construal of the model is whether such an interpretation is meant to be taken realistically or instrumentally. On this score, there can be little doubt that the use of imaginary quantities for time is a mere mathematical device without ontological significance. [English cosmologist, theoretical physicist and mathematician David] Barrow observes, ‘physicists have often carried out this “change time into space” procedure as a useful trick for doing certain problems in ordinary quantum mechanics, although they did not imagine that time was really like space. At the end of the calculation, they just swap back into the usual interpretation of there being one dimension of time and three . . . dimensions of . . . space.’ In his model, Hawking simply declines to re-convert to real numbers. If we do, then the singularity re-appears. Hawking admits, ‘Only if we could picture the universe in terms of imaginary time would there be no singularities… When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities.’ Hawking’s model is thus a way of re-describing a universe with a singular beginning point in such a way that that singularity is transformed away; but such a re-description is not realist in character.

Hawking has recently stated explicitly that he interprets the Hartle-Hawking model non-realistically. He confesses, ‘I’m a positivist … I don’t demand that a theory correspond to reality because I don’t know what it is.’ Still more extreme, ‘I take the positivist viewpoint that a physical theory is just a mathematical model and that it is meaningless to ask whether it corresponds to reality.’ In assessing the worth of a theory, ‘All I’m concerned with is that the theory should predict the results of measurements.’ ’ (Craig, 1999)

Given the foregoing, Hawking’s logical impossibility of multiple most-northerly points fails as a defeater for the claim that the universe had a beginning. It would be more accurate to employ Hawking’s logical impossibility as an analogy in the following way: Before the Big Bang time did not exist, therefore one cannot go further back in time than the Big Bang in much the same way one cannot go any further north than the North Pole.

Hugh informs us that philosopher of science Adolf Grünbaum “explains that the singularity of the Big Bang does not conform to an actual ‘physical event’ given its unbounded nature, infinite density and scalar curvature. Thus, it does not even have the requisite chrono-geometric relations specified by the space-time metric, to which a cause could be applied – it cannot in fact ‘be the effect of event-causation or agent-causation alike’” (Grünbaum, 1994)

Grünbaum’s comments are from his critique of the Philosophia Naturalis article “Creation and Big Bang Cosmology” by philosopher William Lane Craig (Craig, 1994a). Craig subsequently responded to Grünbaum’s objections (Craig, 1994b) and in response to Grünbaum’s claim that the Big Bang singularity was not a physical event, Craig notes:
“Grünbaum’s lengthy critique is actually directed at only two paragraphs of my original article (the fourth and the fifth). In the first of these I charge that Grünbaum’s objection that the Big Bang singularity cannot have been caused (because it could have had neither a subsequent cause nor an antecedent cause) is a pseudo-dilemma because the cause of the initial cosmological singularity could be simultaneous (or coincident1) with that singularity. In response, Grünbaum presents the following argument:

1. Only events can qualify as the momentary effects of other events or of the action of an agency.
2. The Big Bang singularity is technically a non-event.
3. Therefore, the singularity cannot be the effect of any cause in the case of event causation or agent causation.

If this argument is sound, then it is simply irrelevant whether the putative cause of the Big Bang singularity is antecedent to, simultaneous with, or subsequent to the singularity, since any sort of cause of the singularity is excluded.

It seems to me, however, that this argument is invalid, since it equivocates on the meaning of the term “event.” The sense in which the initial cosmological singularity is not an event is, as Grünbaum notes, a technical sense employed in GTR [General Theory of Relativity]. Since that singular point is not Hausdorff isolated, that is to say, since its coordinates cannot be specified independently of all other space-time points, it cannot be classed as an event as that term is technically used in GTR. But the word “event” as it is used in (1) cannot be this terminus technicus if (1) is to be plausibly regarded as true. For we can easily envision happenings which are not “events” in the technical sense in which that word is used in GTR, but which do qualify as the momentary effects of other events or agent causes: (i) The initial cosmological singularity is causally linked to later space-time points and events, so that in this case we have events which are the momentary effects of a non-event. Now consider the final cosmological singularity in a universe caught in gravitational self-collapse: here we have a case in which a non-event is the momentary effect of other events, which contradicts (1), if that premiss uses “event” in the technical sense at issue. (ii) In the quantum realm, occurrences take place (such as the collision of two elementary particles) which cannot be termed “events” in GTR’s technical sense. Classical conceptions of space and time finally break down within the quantum regime. Yet these quantum occurrences are doubtlessly causally conditioned by macroscopic physical states which are classifiable as (series of) events (such as a quantum experiment’s being carried out by a researcher). (iii) The technical sense of “event” in GTR is inapplicable to mental events such as the perception of an object or the experience of being surprised. Yet such occurrences in consciousness are clearly in part the momentary effects of events in the physical world and also, plausibly, of the action of agents, as, say, when I force myself to concentrate on some subject or to get my mind off something else. (iv) If God exists, why could He not cause momentary effects which are not events in the GTR sense of the word? Could He not create a universe not governed by GTR in which there are momentary effects of His action which are not “events” in the technical sense of the term? Since GTR is not metaphysically necessary, why is this impossible? And why could not mental processes, quantum occurrences, and singularities be causally produced by God? In short, (1) is plausibly true only if “event” is understood in a broader, non-technical sense (for example, “that which happens”) than the sense which that term carries in GTR. But in that case (3) does not follow from (1) and (2), since the notion of “event” in these two premisses is not univocal.” (Craig, 1994b)

Hugh asserts, “the laws of conservation do not suggest that we can keep on subtracting elements from the universe until we get nothing. Parmenides famous adage, ‘from nothing, nothing comes’, does not suggest that nothing preceded something and that something needs a cause. Rather, it expresses the riddle of existence itself. There is no reduction of something into nothing in the natural world. And so, the state of nothing which is supposed to precede something, is doubtful at best, and antithetical to our observations of the natural world at worst.”

Hugh’s position requires that there is at least one natural entity that was either uncaused or self-caused. However, there are a number of problems with this position. If the proposed entity had no antecedent cause it would be self-existing and past-eternal. Yet it would not be part of nature because the natural world (which of course includes the laws of conservation) had a beginning point in the finite past (a singularity) and, therefore, a past-eternal entity would transcend nature. Nor could the entity be self-caused as the notion of self-causation is a logical impossibility – no entity can cause its own existence because no entity can cause anything unless it already exists. This effectively rules out Hugh’s proposition of “a timeless natural force which governs all of existence”, but certainly allows for a timeless supernatural force which governs everything.

Hugh claims, “the cosmological argument assumes the universe itself cannot be a brute fact (or eternal) because everything that begins must have a cause; and then goes on to suggest that therefore there must be a brute fact (such as God) to explain it. This is begging the question. One cannot logically deny the existence of brute facts as a premise (whatever begins to exist has a cause) and then insert a brute fact as the conclusion (a necessary, uncaused being).”

However, the KCA makes no such assumption. As I’ve stated above, the argument simply draws a logical conclusion from premises based on (1) the Causal Principle that everything that comes into existence has a cause which brings it into existence, and (2) the scientific consensus that the universe began to exist. (Why assume the existence of something is a brute fact when the available evidence explains aspects of its existence?) Besides, while the KCA appeals to philosophical and scientific evidence to argue that the universe had a cause of its existence, it neither concludes that this cause is God or a brute fact, nor denies the existence of brute facts. Arguments that expand on the KCA, such as arguments B and C in my first post, may deduce certain properties of the universe’s cause, such as that it is supernatural, however, they do so based on valid deductive arguments. Even if one concludes that the supernatural cause of the universe is God (as I do), one is not appealing to a brute fact. As philosopher Karlo Broussard explains:

“The theist is not saying God is a brute fact, i.e., he has no reason or explanation for His existence. It is essential to classical theism that God’s existence, though not caused by another, is explained by his essence. His essence is existence itself—ipsum esse subsistens. This is not something theists arbitrarily assert but is the conclusion of deductive reasoning that starts with certain features of the world—motion (change), efficient causality, contingency, degrees of being, and final causality.” (Broussard, 2016)

Hugh says, “One can simply ask why can’t the universe, or an element within it, be the brute fact?” To borrow again from William Lane Craig,

“Although the brute fact claim for the universe’s existence would have some credibility if the universe is past-eternal, it loses all credibility once we discover that the universe began to exist, for then we are forced to say that for no reason whatsoever the universe popped into being out of absolutely nothing, which is worse than magic.” (Craig, 2017)

Please note: Given the breadth of topics covered in this response, I’ll discuss teleological arguments in a future post.

 

SOURCES

Audi, R (1995) [Ed] The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Barlow, N (1958) [Ed] The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. Collins, London.

Broussard, K (2016) ‘5 reasons why the universe can’t be merely a brute fact’, StrangeNotions.com.

Craig, WL (1994a) ‘Creation and Big Bang Cosmology’ Philosophia Naturalis 31(2): 217-224.

Craig, WL (1994b) ‘A Response to Grünbaum on Creation and Big Bang Cosmology’, Philosophia Naturalis 31(2): 237-249.

Craig, WL (1999) ‘The ultimate question of origins: God and the beginning of the universe’, Astrophysics and Space Science 269-270: p.237-249.

Craig, WL (2017) ‘Royally Bad Objections to the Kalām Cosmological ArgumentReasonableFaith.org. 29 Jan 2017.

Editorial (2012) ‘The Genesis problem’ New Scientist (2847) 14 Jan 2012.

Feser, E (2010) ‘Hume, cosmological arguments, and the fallacy of compositionEdwardFeser.blogspot.com 28 Dec 2010.

Gordon, BL (2011) ‘The rise of naturalism and its problematic role in science and culture’, in Gordon, BL and Dembski, WA (Eds) The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Delaware.

Grossman, L (2012) ‘Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event’, New Scientist (2487) 14 Jan 2012.

Grünbaum, A (1994) ‘Some Comments on William Craig’s “Creation and Big Bang Cosmology”’, Philosophia Naturalis 31(2): 225-236.

Mastin, L (Undated) ‘Time and the Big Bang’ ExactlyWhatIsTime.com

National Academy of Sciences (1998) Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. National Academy Press, Washington DC: p.124

Scott, EC (1999) “The ‘Science and Religion’ Movement. An Opportunity for Improved Public Understanding of Science?Skeptical Inquirer 23(4): 29-31

Shermer, M (2017) “What would it take to prove the resurrection?Scientific American 316(4).

Vilenkin, A (2006) Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes. Hill and Wang, New York. p.176.

phantomachristmascarol

Warning Scripture replaced by new type of Theism

Published on The AIM Network – Warning Scripture replaced by new type of Theism – 20 April 2017

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peopledontwanttohear the truth

Placating the Reverend Fred Nile and the various religious lobbies is no easy task, but the NSW Government has taken to it with Yes Minister style obtuseness and Baldrick-like cunning. Maintaining its cuddly relationship with Scripture enthusiasts, the government has spent $300k on a comprehensive report, waited 18 months to release it (just before Easter), and then refused to accept most of the recommendations.

Particularly brazen, was both the refusal to include Ethics on the enrolment form, and continuing to prevent non-participating students from proceeding with curriculum learning while Scripture was conducted. Both, the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, and the NSW P & C Federation expressed disappointment and mystification at this outcome.

So, in the wake of this ongoing debacle – and like the phantom from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol – I’d like to offer the advocates of Scripture a disturbing glimpse into Australia’s atheistic yet-to-come. Christianity is in freefall in Australia: the 2016 Census result will show non-belief overtaking Catholicism as the most popular category. Soon, classes in Secular Humanism and Rationalism will appear in Victorian schools as part of “Learning about world views and religions”. Although these classes will be educational rather than evangelical, it’s not hard to imagine an increasingly irreligious society acquiescing to a more muscular approach to teaching nonreligious worldviews.

Imagine the following inverse scenario: State governments have become beholden to irreligious lobby groups, demanding to protect their freedom to promote their naturalistic belief systems. Perhaps we even have an antitheist holding the balance of power.

And now that the metaphysical wheel has come full circle, we atheists will band together, gather up our copies of “God is not Great – Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens, and begin offering evangelical classes in a new type of Theism. Yes – Antitheism! Just like Scripture, classes will be deceptively marketed as “educational”, and a benign “introduction”, but in practice they will be all-out, Hitchens-like assaults on religion, aimed at ridding children, once and for all, of the human susceptibility and credulity towards the supernatural.

After enduring a century or so of state school Bible-bashing, it’s about time. We have developed a non-believer’s version of the Lausanne movement – the Christian group committed to entreating children into fellowship with Jesus, based on research showing that if they don’t embrace the Lord before the age of 13 they likely never will. Our secular version will scare the bejesus and Jesus out of young children, warning them off celestial tyrants for life.

You’re not a teacher? Don’t worry, we’ll give you the Antitheism crash course, some angry YouTube videos, and a sober pep talk on the importance of brainwashing other people’s children.

We’ve had plenty of time to plan the rise of evangelical antitheism. While Scripture classes segregated us from our friends and frittered away hours of our childhood, we were in the other room, brooding quietly– imagine Damien from Damien the Omen – and secretly plotting revenge.

We envisaged the sort of spine-tingling, dystopian future that would chill the blood of any good Scripture teacher. Same-sex marriage is law. Evidence-based laws and regulations with appropriate limitations allow abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. And with religious exemptions removed from anti-discrimination law, no-one has to lie about their sexuality or pretend to believe in ancient myths to secure employment.

Finally, in state schools, Bible classes have made way for supercharged Antitheism, administered with the same deceptive policies which currently fail to regulate Scripture. Who approves and vets lesson content? No-one.

Parents who fail to be vigilant enough to opt their children out, will find them automatically enrolled into Antitheism. And – accidents will happen – even devout children will suddenly find themselves being told matter-of-factly that there is no God. There’s no heaven or hell either, kids. And by the way, we disapprove of your superstitious parents.

Kids will be Hitch-slapped with the absurdity of the Christian idea that our lives are governed by a God so powerful, he created an unfathomably vast universe with trillions of planets; and yet, is such an inveterate gossip and all-knowing busybody, that he insists on listening to the prayers of every single person on the planet.

Supplanting current day Scripture classes presenting the Bible as “factual” and “historical”, our classes will pillory the “good” book as a litany of fables and comical morality tales. No kids, people did not reside inside of whales, joyride upon Dinosaurs, nor live for 600 years before deciding to have children. Koala’s did not wave goodbye to Noah and leap from tree to tree all the way to Australia without leaving any trace anywhere else.

Morality cannot be derived from myths. Anthropology has shown that Adam and Eve did not exist, thus original sin is bunk. Prohibitions against murder appeared in civilisations predating Christianity and Judaism, well before the supposed Mt. Sinai summit of Moses and God.

That will bring us to the end of term, and our “God is dead” Sombrero party, climaxing spectacularly with the smashing of a lolly-filled Pinyata of Christ the Redeemer.

But we won’t repeat some of the more desperate Christian SRE classes, such as those encouraging instructors to bring in dead animals to dissect, simulating beheadings, age-inappropriate vampire lessons, comparing kids to dirty towels in need of cleansing, and threatening young children or their parents with death.

Nonetheless, Scripture advocates might justifiably recoil from this dread atheistic future. But this future is not inevitable. Take it as a warning of what’s in store unless we change our ways. Perhaps, after all, there is something to be said for a non-discriminatory and comparative approach to teaching religion in state schools. And perhaps, hopefully, the idea of obtruding unverifiable beliefs onto children may seem a little less appealing.

resurrection

Did you remember secular values this Easter?

Christoncross

An earlier version of this article published in Rendezview The Daily Telegraph 17/04/17 – Christianity no longer a central part of Australian life

 

Last week, in the Courier Mail, Dr Kevin Donnelly felt the need to remind us that celebrating Easter proves the influence of the Bible.

Having taken off the bunny ears and coaxed our chocolate-filled bellies off the couch, most Australians observe the unfastening and remoteness of family Easter festivities from the biblical story of a risen Christ.

And, if Easter really did prove the importance of the Bible, why would we need reminding?

Because, it’s not due to short term memory loss that 9 out of 10 Australians no longer attend church regularly. Nor is sudden memory-failure the reason non-belief will soon overtake Catholicism to become Australia’s largest religious affiliation.

Quite simply, the Christian church is no longer a central part of Australian life, and gentle reminders will be insufficient to revive it.

Increasingly unmoored from religious rituals, it’s worth noting that Easter – a word derived from Eastra, the goddess of spring – was originally a celebration of the spring equinox, with the date determined by the cycles of the moon.

Resurrection and rebirth myths go back as far as recorded history. Cuneiform tablets from 2100 B.C document the resurrection of Ianno, who was judged and killed in the underworld, raised from the dead after three days and restoring fertility to the earth.

And that’s not denying the importance of the Bible in understanding western civilisation. Without it, it’s difficult to comprehend how we got here. Since Constantine adopted Christianity in the 4th century, it has been integral to the character and fabric of western civilization.

But acknowledging our history, does not imply that we should deny the pluralism and diversity of our current society, nor make us intransigent against change. Further, one cannot help but detect a “culture war” theme motivating Donnelly’s argument.

Why for instance does he quote Professor Higgins, from My Fair Lady, saying that English is the language of “Milton, Shakespeare and the Bible”?

The Bible was written in Aramaic, and Jesus was a Palestinian. The Bible was finally translated to English by Protestant reformer William Tyndale in the 16th century amidst theological outrage. The original translations were burned, and Tyndale was finally rewarded for his efforts by strangulation and burning at the stake.

Western civilisation began long before the supposed virgin-birth of Jesus. Rather than being founded upon the New Testament, western culture integrated Christianity into a milieu of Jewish wisdom, Greek philosophy and Roman law.

Again, I would not wish to understate the value of the Bible as part of western literature, but it is a prism through which we understand the past, rather than a light that guides the way in the future.

The recent furore over Coopers Brewing and their support for the Bible Society over same sex marriage, demonstrates the increasing chasm between biblical beliefs and modern secular values.

The idea that our society is somehow held together by the teachings of Jesus, is decisively undermined by the Enlightenment – the secular project, which finally wrested control of government and science from the church.

Finally, secular values allowed different sects and different religions to coexist without endless conflict. The era of science conforming to theology was over, and progress was thereafter swift.

Moreover, the Ten Commandments retain little influence on the modern Australian legal system or indeed modern ethics. Nor were they particularly innovative moral teachings in their time. Surely, it wasn’t the meeting of Moses and God for 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai, which convinced humanity that murder was inadvisable. The prohibition on murder, along with other values such as the golden rule, all appear in the civilisations of India, China, Athens and Rome, predating Christianity by thousands of years.

Raising his Bible to ward off Islamic terrorism, like a crucifix to a vampire, Donnelly suggests the antidote to religious violence is yet more religion. But promoting conformity to Christian teachings will only infuriate and isolate those from other cultural traditions. What we need is a broadening of cultural tolerance, not a narrowing.

What we should remember at holiday times is the things which unite us, not those which divide. Namely, the Enlightenment values of tolerance, secularism, freedom of thought, the rule of law, and democracy. If we owe a debt to Christianity, it’s because of the excesses and dogmas which necessitated modern secular values.

EarthfromSpace

In defence of weak naturalism – Post 2: a response to Gary Robertson

In defence of weak naturalism – Post 2: a response to Gary Robertson’s Is Naturalism more probable than Supernaturalism?

by Hugh Harris

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The position I propose to defend is weak naturalism. Conforming broadly to the standard of scientific inquiry known as methodological naturalism, it can be distinguished from the stronger position of philosophical naturalism, which claims categorically that the natural world is all there is.

Weak naturalism: as far as we know, the natural world is all there is. I defend the claim that naturalism is more probable than supernaturalism, in my essay Naturalism versus Supernaturalism- the false dichotomy – I argue that the observance of the natural world along with its laws combined with the absence of any evidence of the supernatural, amounts to a strong prima facie case for naturalism, and its likelihood in comparison to the sans-evidence claims of supernaturalism.

In his first post, Is Naturalism more probable than Supernaturalism?, Gary Robertson seems to exclude science from the debate, only to later revive it to provide the foundation for the kalam cosmological argument. Gary states that “Methodological naturalism restricts scientific enquiry to the study of natural causes and processes”, thus, “methods of enquiry into the existence of a supernatural reality are beyond the scope of empirical science”, and thus, “all propositions about ultimate reality will necessarily be philosophical”. I’m not sure why Gary does this, but I suspect that it’s so he can trade off the equality between the definitions of naturalism and supernaturalism . Perhaps philosophically they are equal inversions, in the sense that naturalism is the denial of the supernatural and the supernatural is the affirmation of it. But evidentially, they are not equal.

Virtually all scientists operate under the assumption of philosophical naturalism – all causes are empirical and naturalistic ones which can be measured, quantified and studied methodically. When our children are ill, we don’t look for magicians or witch doctors summoning supernatural forces. Why? Because there is no evidence they work, and much evidence suggesting they’re harmful. And this is despite the plethora of religious faith healers such as the discredited John of God faith healer, who scratches at the eyes of the credulous and who has made over $10 million out of selling crystals and other fake cures, and yet, had his own cancer treated by chemotherapy in a hospital.

And so Gary might have to forgive my reluctance to sideline science altogether from this debate. Additionally, I assume we’d agree that philosophy cannot exist in its own bubble, separated from empiricism, with no regard for the real world. Ontological naturalism is indeed a philosophical position, but as a study of the ultimate nature of reality it cannot be simply hived out and segregated from science. Further, the ultimate nature of reality is unlikely to vary depending on what University faculty building one happens to be in.

Evidently Gary agrees, given he goes on to claim that “supernatural causation logically follows from empirical evidence in the field of cosmology that strongly suggests the universe had a beginning and that nature…did not exist prior to the universe coming into being. Thus, … the universe transcended nature and was, therefore, supernatural”.

But I disagree that that’s what the scientific/empirical evidence suggests, as indeed do the majority of philosophers and scientists. The kalam cosmological argument:

 

Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

The Universe began to exist.

Therefore, the Universe had a cause

 

Objecting to my previous critique, Gary issues the following challenge: “I would certainly be keen to know how the deductive arguments formulated above equate to “conflating the process of coming to an invalid conclusion using empirical evidence rather than simply observing the empirical evidence itself””.

The cosmological argument uses the causality, we observe in the known world to make the case that the known world itself must have a cause. But this self-referentially uses the laws of causality, to explain their own existence. Bertrand Russell exposes that moving from the contingency of the components of the universe, to the contingency of the universe, commits the Fallacy of Composition, which mistakenly concludes that since the parts have a certain property, the whole likewise has that property. If all bricks in a wall are small, is the Great Wall of China small?

The kalam cosmological argument makes the invalid assumption the universe began to exist. Given that space and time are inextricably linked, the contention that the universe began suggests a moment preceding its existence. But, as Stephen Hawking has pointed out, this is like seeking a point more northerly than the North Pole – the universe can be both finite and without a prior moment or beginning.

Adolf Grunbaum 1994, explains that the singularity of the Big Bang does not conform to an actual “physical event” given its unbounded nature, infinite density and scalar curvature. Thus, it does not even have the requisite chrono-geometric relations specified by the space-time metric, to which a cause could be applied – it cannot in fact “be the effect of event-causation or agent-causation alike”.

Additionally, the laws of conservation do not suggest that we can keep on subtracting elements from the universe until we get nothing. Parmenides famous adage, “from nothing, nothing comes”, does not suggest that nothing preceded something and that something needs a cause. Rather, it expresses the riddle of existence itself. There is no reduction of something into nothing in the natural world. And so, the state of nothing which is supposed to precede something, is doubtful at best, and antithetical to our observations of the natural world at worst.

Grunbaum 1994, further argues that “a galaxy of theists… take it to be axiomatic that if there is a physical world at all, then its spontaneous, undisturbed or natural state is one of utter nothingness, whatever that is… Why, in the absence of an external supernatural cause, should there be just nothing?” Further, the “presupposition of the spontaneity of nothingness lacks even the most rudimentary plausibility”. Many philosophers have argued against the proposition of nothingness as unintelligible. Why assume nothingness as a default, or a brute fact?

The other consideration, is that the cosmological argument assumes the universe itself cannot be a brute fact (or eternal) because everything that begins must have a cause; and then goes on to suggest that therefore there must be a brute fact (such as God) to explain it. This is begging the question. One cannot logically deny the existence of brute facts as a premise (whatever begins to exist has a cause) and then insert a brute fact as the conclusion (a necessary, uncaused being). One can simply ask why can’t the universe, or an element within it, be the brute fact. Crucially, even if one accepts that the universe begins, why cannot it not begin due to a timeless natural force which governs all of existence?

Thus, it’s invalid to suggest that the evidence points to a supernatural cause of the universe. In regards to teleological arguments we’ll have to discuss the specific versions. Then, my generalisations on this subject – “arguments from incredulity” – can be supported by considering the particular teleological argument in question.

naturlaism1

Is Naturalism more probable than Supernaturalism? – Written Debate

Post 1 Gary Robertson

This is the first post in a written debate between Gary Robertson and Hugh Harris based on a discussion of the essay : Naturalism vs Supernaturalism – the False Dichotomy

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by Gary Robertson

Gary works in the media monitoring industry.

 

My worldview is a theistic one (non-denominational, non-fundamentalist Christian) informed primarily by natural theology, philosophy and science.

I would generally define naturalism as the view that nature is all that exists, but would also deem the less rigid position you appear to espouse (that the existence of a supernatural realm “is more improbable than probable”) to be a naturalistic one.

While we both agree that nature exists, we differ in our respective answers to the metaphysical question of whether there is a reality beyond nature. To determine whether there is a realm that transcends the natural world we need to closely examine the evidence and draw rational, logically consistent inferences based on this evidence. Simply knowing that “the natural world does in fact exist” does not empirically confirm the proposition that nature is all there is. Indeed, such a proposition can neither be confirmed nor disproved empirically as, like all philosophical positions, it falls outside the purview of methodological naturalism.

Methodological naturalism restricts scientific enquiry to the study of natural causes and processes, which a priori excludes hypotheses and explanations relating to the reality of extra-natural dimensions. Thus, methods of enquiry into the existence of a supernatural reality are beyond the scope of empirical science and are by definition philosophical methods – not scientific ones. Consequently, all propositions about ultimate reality will necessarily be philosophical, irrespective of what they affirm or deny.

That naturalism is a philosophical view (specifically metaphysical or, more specifically, ontological) can be readily verified by consulting any reputable encyclopaedia or dictionary. Hence, I have not tried to “frame the discussion” as one metaphysical view against another. Since both positions are inherently metaphysical ones most informed discussions pitting naturalism against supernaturalism are assumed to be presenting the debate in that context, whether this is made explicit or not. This does not mean both positions “must be equally probable” either. As I noted in a previous comment, their respective strengths depend on the quality of the evidence supporting their premises and their degree of rational coherency.

You claim “there is no evidence of any other world beyond [the natural world]”, yet supernatural causation logically follows from empirical evidence in the field of cosmology that strongly suggests the universe had a beginning and that nature (space, time, matter, energy and physical laws) did not exist prior to the universe coming into being. Thus, if the prevailing cosmological position is correct the cause of the universe transcended nature and was, therefore, supernatural.

The argument can be expressed as follows (argument A) and expanded (arguments B and C):

A. The kalām cosmological argument:

(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause (nothing comes from nothing)

(2) The universe began to exist (2nd law of thermodynamics, evidence of a cosmological singularity)

(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

 

B. It is logically impossible to provide a natural explanation for how nature came into existence as such an explanation must assume the existence of nature in its opening premises, thus committing the circular fallacy. Necessarily then, the origin of nature (ie, the entirety of physical reality) must be supernatural.

(1) The cause of nature is either natural or supernatural

(2) The cause of nature cannot be natural

(3) Therefore, the cause of nature is supernatural

The demand of deductive logic to avoid the circular fallacy makes (2) necessarily true and (1) is a true dichotomy, therefore (3) logically follows.

 

C. Moreover, since time is a physical property of nature, logic dictates that the cause of time must have been independent of time if we wish to avoid the circular fallacy.

(1) The cause of time must have been either dependent or independent of time

(2) It is logically impossible for the cause of time to have been dependent upon time

(3) Therefore, the cause of time must have been timeless/eternal

(4) It is logically impossible to cause a timeless entity to come into existence

(5) Therefore, the cause of nature is eternal and, ipso facto, a first cause

 

From the above logically valid arguments, we can conclude that the cause of the universe must be supernatural, timeless, eternal and uncaused.

Since the kalām cosmological argument (A) appeals to scientific evidence to prove the beginning of the universe – not the existence of God, it is not a “God of the gaps defense”. Likewise, arguments B and C logically deduce properties of the universe’s cause but do not infer that God is this cause. Thus, there is no God-of-the-gaps reasoning involved in any of these arguments. And since the conclusion of argument B logically follows from the premises, it is not a matter of arbitrarily or gratuitously inserting ‘supernaturalism’ into gaps in scientific knowledge.

I would certainly be keen to know how the deductive arguments formulated above equate to “conflating the process of coming to an invalid conclusion using empirical evidence rather than simply observing the empirical evidence itself”. The same applies to teleological arguments based solely on interpreting empirical data through standard scientific methods. Simply making bare assertions, like “teleological arguments are invalid arguments – arguments from incredulity” and evolution “turned [the argument from design] on its head”, is not a counterargument.

mcarthywalkley

Possible Grooming in SRE Materials – A response to Neil Foster

connect2 connecconnect3

 

On his blog, Law and Religion Australia, Neil Foster claims 2013 Gold Walkley winner Joanne McCarthy in the Newcastle Herald, makes unfair connections between the Queensland Review of Connect Scripture Classes (SRE) learning materials and “possible grooming behavior”. By his own description Foster is “an evangelical Christian”, and as far as I can tell, has never written anything critical about Connect or SRE Scripture classes.

So, let’s see how unfair Joanne McCarthy’s “crusade” has been.

In the 31 January article, Education Minister Rob Stokes asked to immediately suspend scripture in NSW schools, Joanne mentions grooming in connection with the Education Queensland Connect review (my emphasis):

“There are calls for NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes to immediately suspend scripture in schools, and release a long-awaited NSW review of special religious education (SRE), after a Queensland Department of Education review raised serious concerns about Anglican “Connect” scripture content used in both states, including lessons consistent with “possible grooming behaviour” and advice to scripture teachers about punishing children.”

Now, Foster suggests the McCarthy’s references to “possible grooming behaviour” unfairly links Connect’s materials to child abuse and the Royal Commission.

Joanne McCarthy quotes the Education Queensland Review as identifying “lessons consistent with grooming behaviour”. Compare this reference with the relevant page of the review, which repeatedly mentions “grooming behaviour” (my emphasis):

“5.4.2 Student Protection

Some of the advice and activities in the Connect teacher’s manuals were identified as being inconsistent with preferred student protection practices. Of particular note was an activity to share and keep secrets; mentions having ‘special friends’; and a suggestion that teachers meet one-to-one with students who are interested in finding out more about Christianity.

Encouraging and practising behaviours such as these does not align to current approaches in teaching children protective behaviours. It is worth noting however that more recently published manuals suggest another adult should be present for any one-to-one discussions.

Examples include:

  • “Just as Jesus used everyday events to disguise his secret, ask each pair to discuss and then write a story to disguise their own secret” (Upper Primary, A2, Lesson 2, p. 28).

For a wide range of reasons, including that students of all ages should see teachers and school staff as trusted adults and feel safe to share information, this content is not appropriate. In general, activities should not teach or encourage students to keep secrets, particularly secrets between a child and an adult.

Creating secrets with a child is identified as an example of possible grooming behaviour within the Department’s Student Protection Guideline.

  • Use of the term ‘special friends’ – “Jesus was asking Matthew to be one of his special friends” and “Jesus calls us to become one of his special friends” (Lower Primary A2, Lesson 10, p. 92-3). When considered in a protective behaviours context, the use of the term ‘special friends’ should be avoided where possible and where there is a suitable alternative. Whilst the context in this instance is understood, in terms of student protection, adults creating ‘special friendships’ with children is viewed as an example of possible grooming behaviour.
  • Helpful teaching techniques’ provides advice on ‘Talking one-to-one with a student’, indicating that instructors should talk to students in full view of other students or teachers, even though the conversation is private (Upper Primary, A2, p. 197). Best practice would be for instructors to ensure that all discussions with students (including whole class, group or individual discussions) take place in full view of a school based staff member and other students.”

 

Unavoidably, the comments in the review bring to mind the systemic abuse and cover up within church organisations and schools. But no more so than the way McCarthy refers to them. In fact, it’s the QLD Education, not McCarthy, which specifically identifies and says it views aspects of the lessons as examples of possible grooming behaviour. The caveat “whilst the context is understood” in no way excuses the fact that this material is unequivocally “not appropriate”, and “inconsistent with preferred student protection practices”.

Foster complains about McCarthy using the phrase in connection to quotes by Greens MP David Shoebridge and Bishop Peter Stuart of Newcastle Anglican Diocese. For clarity, I quote the relevant sections from McCarthy’s articles (incorrectly noted on Foster’s post).

1 Feb, Newcastle Herald:

“Father Rod Bower said Anglican Special Religious Education material produced by a Christian evangelical group and authorised by Sydney Anglican Diocese was “of great concern”, a view backed by Newcastle Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart after a review raised serious concerns, including questions about “possible grooming behaviour” linked to some material taught to children”.

31 January, Newcastle Herald:

“Lessons for children about keeping secrets with adults and having “special friendships” with them were particularly concerning because “We know from the Royal Commission that encouraging ‘special friendships’ and secrets with adults endangers children and plays into the hands of predators”, Mr Shoebridge said.

“Keeping children safe must be the number one priority in our schools, not pandering to extreme religious views.””

I don’t understand why Foster ignores the fact that the connection to child abuse is made explicitly by Greens MP Michael Shoebridge, based on the QLD review, not by Joanne McCarthy.

The pertinent question is not whether McCarthy was out of line for accurately reporting the contents of the Education Queensland review and the reactions to it. The real question is how we’re supposed to view the horror of decades, if not centuries, of systemic child abuse and the deliberate shielding of predators by religious organisations, and then fail to register any concern about inappropriate teaching methods encouraging the keeping of secrets, special friendships, and one-on-one activities between adult and child. Not to do so, seems careless in my view.

Tellingly, the myriad of other concerns raised by Joanne McCarthy receive no rebuttal whatsoever.

For example, Neil Foster doesn’t mention the concerns of NSW Primary Principals Association president Phil Seymour that lesson materials are not checked or endorsed by the department, or his “surprise” that even the Education Minister is unable to exercise any control:

“But Mr Seymour and association treasurer Rob Walker expressed concern about whether parents had enough information to give informed consent to their children attending scripture in NSW public schools, and whether all principals knew scripture material was not approved or vetted by the Department of Education”.

Foster leaves out any discussion the merits of dissecting small animals to simulate animal sacrifice. We also left in the dark about his view of “a lesson requiring children aged 7-9 to list ways to “get rid of” a person, after a Bible story about people “getting rid of” Daniel, and a concluding prayer where children “pray that we may not be like the Israelites””,

Also omitted is Father Rod Bower’s comment that Scripture in NSW public schools is “an echo from a bygone era and now needs to be reconsidered”.

What about the $300,000 ARTD Consultants report in to Scripture and Ethics which remains unreleased more than a year later? Anyone actually interested in the facts would surely be keen to see this report.

Hansonn Islam

Fundamentalist Islam and rise of alt-right go hand-in-hand

Fundamentalist Islam and rise of alt-right go hand-in-hand – 25 January 2017, as published in the Rendezview, Courier Mail, the Daily Telegraph and The Mercury.

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One Nation’s second incarnation reflects a global mood of concern with Islamism and jihadism. Pollsters from the major parties have confirmed that its support is grounded in a hardening of attitudes towards Islam.

Growing levels of support for One Nation and other parties of its ilk are amplified by the infuriating determination of major party leaders to deny the link between religious belief and Islamism. This failure to make even the most elementary distinctions about Islam underpins the stunning rise of far Right parties globally.

Barack Obama was fond of saying more people die from falls in the bathtub than from Islamic terrorism. Studiously avoiding using the word “Islam” in relation to incidents of terror, he somehow even contrived to ascribe blame for the Orlando shooting not on the Islamist perpetrator, but on general attitudes to the LGBTI community.

In a telling footnote from the presidential campaign, an email from Hillary Clinton acknowledged Saudi Arabia’s efforts in exporting fundamentalist Islam to all points on the globe, while banking millions of Saudi dollars into the Clinton Foundation.

Pauline Hanson

One Nation’s second incarnation reflects a global mood of concern with Islamism and jihadism. Pollsters from the major parties have confirmed that its support is grounded in a hardening of attitudes towards Islam.

Mentioning or criticising Islam supposedly “feeds the narrative” and “plays into the hands” of terrorists.

But, on the contrary, the “nothing to see here” narrative actually plays into the hands of right wing opportunists and populists. Refusing to acknowledge what is so obvious and in plain view fuels an ardent desire to hear someone talk honestly about it.

Surely, we can acknowledge the influence of the Islamic fundamentalism in groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram, while calmly recognising that these extreme views are held by only a minority of Muslims. Concepts such as jihadism, martyrdom, hard-line sharia law and Dar al-Harb (House of War) are central to Salafi jihadism, and inseparable from Islamic terrorism.

With the signature of Islam written all over these crimes, it’s false and counter-productive to insist they have nothing to do with Islam. Just as it would be false and counter-productive to claim horrors such as the Inquisitions, Crusades and witch burnings were unrelated to Christianity.

Such admissions impugn neither Christianity or Islam, they only highlight the importance of identifying and defeating ideas at the extreme ends of the spectrum.

Failing to isolate and place Islamic terror as a fundamentalist strain of Islam, allows the hard Right to promulgate the culture war narrative, Islam versus the West, reinforcing negative cultural stereotypes and impugning Muslims as a whole.

Promoting social cohesion and tolerance is admirable, but requires stating the facts as they are, not by re-cooking them in more digestible form.

Just as moderate Christians are easily distinguished from their fundamentalist forebears and counterparts, so too are moderate Muslims.

The outstanding success of our Federal and State police and security agencies in foiling home grown terror plots could not have been achieved without a specific focus on the locations, groups and individuals seeking to proselytise Islamic fundamentalism.

Only western arrogance gives no credence or utility to the jihadist ideology, obscuring the unpalatable truth that terrorism is undertaken by rational actors pursuing an explicit religio-political ideology. By ignoring and underestimating the ideology, we ignore the problem, we close our eyes, we cover our ears, and we give a political free kick to anyone willing to honestly name it.

Islamic fundamentalism will not disappear with the defeat of ISIS: watch for the inevitable phoenixes rising out of the ashes promoting the same Islamist ideology. Observe the growth of Islamic fundamentalism close to home, demonstrated by recent terror attacks, public demonstrations, and an insistence on Islam dominating politics.

Support for ISIS registers 11 per cent in Malaysia and 4 per cent in Indonesia, according to a 2016 Pew poll — add to this the return of battle-hardened jihadists from Syria and Iraq.

Note also the harsh sharia law punishments in Aceh and the blasphemy trial of Christian presidential contender Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok), for commenting on a Koranic verse saying Muslims must not elect non-Muslims.

Meanwhile, a review of 2016’s list of terrorist atrocities reads like a gruesome travel itinerary, stamped in the blood of citizens from Paris, Nice, Berlin, Orlando, Ankara, Ohio, Rouen, Java, Marseilles, Kashmir, Bagdad, Quetta, and many more.

And so, while the “nothing to do with Islam” mantra prevails, One Nation and other right wing parties’ candles burn bright.

But, in the main, the Pauline Hanson’s and their parties are long on articulating grievances and short on sensible solutions.

Leaders of the mainstream parties therefore have the opportunity to better articulate the rise of fundamentalist Islam and offer balanced and sensible policy positions on immigration and counter-terrorism.

They can supplant vacuous appeals to nationalism with unapologetic reassertions of our society’s secular, liberal and democratic values which are simultaneously anathema and an antidote to Islamism.

The continued rise of One Nation and others is contingent on their continued failure to do so.


 

 

 

farage refuggee hoardes

 

PS. The following comment on Rendezvie:

 

Boz

Yup. And what’s more, many of us who voted for Hanson don’t agree with the majority of her views, she is just a vehicle for us to tell the major parties to get their heads out of the sand or lose votes.

 

scientology brisbane

Scientology Personality Test Postscript – Brisbane

After my disastrous personality test in Scientology’s Castlereagh St headquarters, I decided to try again in Brisbane. Would I get the same dire result? Is the test calibrated to generally produce a negative result?

Scientology’s Brisbane headquarters had little of Sydney’s flashiness and Star-Trek-chic. Traversing a staircase of worn carpet, I entered an office of old fashioned desks and laminate bookshelves.

But, the 200 kooky questions of the Oxford Capacity Analysis (OCA) remained unchanged. Answering them honestly, I made an effort to choose the same responses as I did in Sydney.

Alas, my graph was nearly the same.

 

brisbanegraph

 

“A bit of a worry”, said *Liz, showing my “unacceptable” personality iceberg.

When I quizzed Liz on the credentials of the test, she it was developed by Oxford University.

“The one in England?” I asked.

“Yes, Oxford University”.

I pressed her again and she became agitated.

“You can check yourself online”, she said.

Of course the test was not developed by Oxford University at all, but by L. Ron Hubbard followers Julian Lewis and Ray Kemp in the 1950’s. Rubbished by many psychology organisations as manipulative and unethical, the Oxford Capacity Analysis is not scientifically recognised, nor has its results been substantiated using standard psychological methods.

Investigating Scientology in 1970, the British Psychological Society found that answering the test in three different randomised ways produced remarkably similar personality profiles. All three methods resulted in profiles with the first three scales in the extreme range of unacceptable, rising to normal for the 2-4 scales, and then returning to unacceptable for the remaining scales.

So my result is not so special after all.

“Downright dangerous,” is how the Australian Psychological Society denounced the OCA, in a 1990 investigation, commenting that:

“We’ve had a look at their tests and if you didn’t know better, they look credible … These tests are saying people are acceptable or unacceptable, but really there’s nothing in them to allow you to draw that kind of conclusion. It’s the interpretations that are bogus — they are drawing arbitrary conclusions that simply aren’t warranted”.

The British Psychological Society’s report went further:

“No reputable psychologist would accept the procedure of pulling people off the street with a leaflet, giving them a ‘personality test’ and reporting back in terms that show the people to be ‘inadequate,’ ‘unacceptable’ or in need of ‘urgent’ attention. In a clinical setting a therapist would only discuss a patient’s inadequacies with him with the greatest of circumspection and support, and even then only after sufficient contact for the therapist–patient relationship to have been built up. “

Recall the bluntly worded, and extremely negative judgements (below) that I received in Sydney.

“To report back a man’s inadequacies to him in an automatic, impersonal fashion is unthinkable in responsible professional practice. To do so is potentially harmful. It is especially likely to be harmful to the nervous introspective people who would be attracted by the leaflet in the first place”.

My simple question: how is this still allowed?

 

No reputable psychologist would accept the procedure of pulling people off the street with a leaflet, giving them a ‘personality test’ and reporting back in terms that show the people to be ‘inadequate,’ ‘unacceptable’ or in need of ‘urgent’ attention

 

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Scientology’s personality test said I have “no real reason to live”

As published in The Daily Telegraph Scientology’s personality test said I have no reason to live -13/01/17 and Rationalist Society website

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Stepping inside Scientology’s Castlereagh Street headquarters in Sydney, with its images of erupting volcanoes and Star-Trek-style video pods, I feel like I’d been transported back into the realm of 1960’s science-fiction.

Waist-coated attendants zip back and forth.

Soon, I’m looking down at Scientology’s Oxford Capacity Analysis personality test: 200 often strangely worded questions, asking how I “feel RIGHT NOW” about a disparate range of issues.

“Does an unexpected action cause your muscles to twitch? ”

“Do some noises ‘set your teeth on edge’?”

“Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for fun?”

“No,” I answer, to all of these.

Pondering whether I “enjoy telling people the latest scandal about my associates”, I’m distracted by the roped-off office of church founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard. Presumably, the great man beams in from out-of-galaxy from time to time.

Suddenly, a young man is talking.

“Hi, I’m Scott*, come and let’s check out your results,” he says.

“This graph indicates what you have told us about yourself”, he says, reciting the standard preamble. “These results are not my opinion, but a factual, scientific analysis of your answers.”
Pinpointing scores on a scale from -100 to +100 for ten personality traits, including items like ‘Stable’, ‘Happy’, and ‘Composed’, the graph divides them into regions for ‘Normal’, ‘Desirable State’ or ‘Unacceptable State’.

My graph was disturbing to say the least: a mostly submerged iceberg, with only the tip rising above ‘Unacceptable’.

Staggeringly, I scored the lowest possible -100 for ‘Depressed’, along with dire scores for ‘Nervous’, ‘Critical’, and ‘Withdrawn’.

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At first I laughed in surprise and embarrassment. Apparently, I am the most depressed person in the world.

But then, I recalled giving answers suggesting that I’m not depressed at all: answers indicating that I’m generally happy, I often sing or whistle just for the fun of it, I sleep well, I find it easy to relax, and I cope with the everyday problems of living quite well.

How did these answers fail to improve my worst-possible score for depression?

Scott said the analysis is a complex reading of all my answers.

“What this shows is there’s something on your mind. You’ve got some problems in your life, right now.”

“Have you had any breakups, or loss?”

Sure, I said, but haven’t most people?

Noticing Scott reading from a printout, I asked if I could see it.

One after another, the page was filled with blunt, judgmental observations.

“You see no real reasons to live as your life is full of problems and difficulties that your despondent attitude prevents you from solving”.

“You are completely irresponsible.”

“You are very irritable and can become hysterical or violent in your actions.”

And so on. No longer was I laughing.

Recommending urgent treatment in Scientology’s Dianetics program, Scott brought out the books and the DVD’s. I stopped him there. Explaining to Scott that he could put it down to my critical nature, but I simply didn’t accept the report’s findings.

Jokingly, Scott pointed to me -96 score for ‘Critical.’ We both laughed.

Scott gave me a copy of the printout, shook my hand, and then let me loose on central Sydney.

Seemingly, the personality test is calibrated to generally produce an alarming result. L. Ron Hubbard advocated reinforcing the “ruin” of the subject’s personality, followed by advice on salvaging it by using Scientology. Regarded as manipulative and unethical by many psychology organisations, the test is not scientifically recognised, nor has it been substantiated using standard psychological methods.

As I left the Sydney building, I noticed what looked like Uni students in the lobby – and wondered how I’d have reacted to such a damning character assessment at such an impressionable age.

After a Daily Mail reporter undertook the test in 2003, she said felt like “curling up in a ball and never going out again.”

Only a few hours after taking the test in 2008, Norwegian student Kaja Bordevich Ballo, took her own life by jumping from her 4th-storey dorm room window. Despite leaving a suicide note for her family apologising for not “being good at anything”, the resulting police investigation failed to confirm a causative link to Scientology.

Still, looking at these smiling young faces, I want to tell them to get out of here.

After kidnapping his wife in 1951, L. Ron Hubbard was reportedly diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic by her doctors. This may explain Scientology’s hostility to the field of psychiatry, which it describes as “an industry of death”, and why the church spurns psychiatric drugs in favour of vitamin supplements, and spiritual practices.

The ramping up of advertising for free personality tests coincides with the recent opening of a $57 million ‘Scientific Wonderland’ in Chatswood, NSW, where Scientology will treat people with mental issues caused by depression, substance abuse and trauma.

Despite diagnosing and treating mental illness, Scientology escapes the regulation of health authorities because it offers its services under the guise of religion – that’s how it continues to get away with claiming it’s services are “factual”, and “scientific” – without proper scrutiny. Surely, this is a loophole which needs closing.

 

Oxford Test Explanations Printout

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In Defence of Santa: Why he’s just as likely to exist as Jesus

In Defence of Santa – The AIM Network 24/12/2016

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By now, the elves are wrapping the toys. The reindeers are running test flights. Santa is busy double-checking Xmas lists, and plotting the logistics of the world’s greatest overnight delivery.

But a new UK board game, Santa vs Jesus, has blighted the festive season with unwelcome sectarian dissension, presenting Xmas as a pitched battle between Jesus and Santa. Cries of “insult, blasphemy” ensue: the satirical board game is accused of falsely equating belief in Jesus with belief in Santa Claus.

My blood boils at this sacrilege. Yet another example of politically correctness gone mad, and elitist intellectuals tainting our most cherished institutions. How dare they demean the good name of Santa Claus? On behalf of children everywhere, let us rise up and defend Santa’s honour. If not for own sake, for the sake of our culture, of our civilization, and by God, for the real meaning of Christmas.

That is, what Christmas really is: an end-of-year celebration, retail bonanza, and family reunion. A shop-til-you-drop procession of tinselled shopping malls, parking rage, office parties, Kris Kringles, twinkling streetscapes, Die-Hard and Love Actually re-runs, culminating in the once-a-year family get-together with the usual disputes and rows – all of the above made tolerable, joyous even, by stupefying quantities of sugar and alcohol.

Arrogantly, anti-Christmas-carol activists poke fun at the Santa story. How could anyone believe a jolly fat man at risk of early-onset-diabetes has the stamina and wherewithal to deliver gifts to every child in the world? Claiming that Santa is only Coca-Cola’s amalgamation of the yuletide characters of various traditions, these immoral, believe-in-nothings only demonstrate their blindness to the value of culture and tradition. Can they prove Santa isn’t real? No.

Frankly, I’m agnostic about the existence of Santa. But just because infrared technology fails to find any trace of an enormous toy shop at the North Pole, doesn’t mean I should rule him out altogether. Sure, I’m sceptical about Santa even fitting into most chimneys and I’ve never seen a flying reindeer. But “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, as they say.

And, since when must omniscient beings lower themselves to mere terrestrial standards of empirical proof? Why should the lowly and common measures of evidence be applied to Santa alone? Indeed, using the arguments applied to other contemporary deities, belief in Santa is more than reasonable.

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

As St Anselm argued: given we can conceive of the greatest possible being – and, we accept that a being which exists, is greater than one purely imagined – then, that greatest being must exist. Thus, if we accept the premise that Santa is the greatest gift-giver, then, by irrefutable logic he must exist. Never mind that this also applies to the greatest sophist, the greatest idiot and the greatest obscurantist. They exist also, and often employ St Anselm’s argument in favour of their own articles of faith.

And, as we know, faith is an element of proof in itself. Have faith and ye shall be rewarded. Where a deficit of proof exists one can legitimately insert “faith” to bridge the gap. Then – Poof! – the object of faith reliably appears!

Behold, every year, millions of children put their faith in Santa and the Christmas team dutifully delivers. After days and days of breathless anticipation the big day comes… Then, hurrah! Squeals of delight, and yelps of excitement attend the feverish unwrapping of real, actual gifts. Ask any child how convincing this is.

Further, Santa is ubiquitous during the festive season, appearing on television screens constantly. News services track his progress from the North Pole. Parents everywhere use the supervising presence of Santa to wring some good behaviour out of their otherwise insolent offspring. Either Santa exists, or most of the adults in the world are complicit in a global Santa hoax conspiracy.

If this still fails to satisfy, allow me to borrow one of the planks of Biblical scholarship. The “criterion of embarrassment” states that if historical accounts are embarrassing to their author they can be assumed to be true. Now, consider the story of a ridiculously attired and morbidly obese man who supposedly travels all around the world on flying reindeers delivering presents to children he somehow divines as good. Embarrassment galore! Increasingly, scholars dispute the validity of this criterion – justifiably so, considering debate in the Australian Senate.

Austere scientific thinkers may have trouble accepting the Santa narrative. But remember, this is a moral tale not a scientific one, not meant to be taken literally. It’s about favouring “nice” over “naughty”, “good” over “bad”, by rewarding the good children with presents and lumbering the rest with smelly coal.

But, as all parents of young children know, this begs the question as to how children actually behave. The problem of evil. Given Santa’s omniscience and superpowers, how do we explain the continued reign of terror by these frightening midgets? Free will hardly suffices to explain temper tantrums, impudence and addiction to video games, rivalling that of present-day Australian tennis stars. Seeing as the incentive of gifts has conspicuously failed, and since global warming has curtailed Santa’s access to coal, a more interventionist policy is warranted. It’s unsurprising that the world’s major religions moved to slightly harsher penalties such as an eternity of roasting and re-roasting in the flame-pits of hell. Likewise, it’s easy to see how the religions of Abraham condemned the whole of humanity as corrupt and fallen, requisite of salvation.

And so, a radical new plan emerges. A new prophet will arise – Santa Junior – an elfin messiah of the children. He will be seized by secular powers and gruesomely tortured to death, signifying Santa’s gift of redemption to horrid little monsters everywhere. And then, showcasing Santa’s full repertoire of magical powers, Santa Junior will be sensationally brought back to life. Although this somewhat negates the supposed sacrifice, it caps off the story nicely. And, if this doesn’t work, Santa will equip his sleigh with intercontinental ballistic missiles and commence laying waste to play centres and schools. So please, give Santa some respect. And kids, if you don’t like the sound of apocalyptic Santa, you had better actually be good from now on.