Whence Comes God's Nature?

According to the vast majority of religious believers (though perhaps not to the tiny minority of elite theologians), God is basically in nature like a larger and more powerful human being. He has plans and desires which he takes actions to fulfill; he likes some people and things and dislikes others; he experiences emotions like anger, jealousy, love, and forgiveness; he can be persuaded to act on another's behalf; and so on.The most peculiar aspect of this anthropomorphic theology is its … [Read more...]

Epicurus' World

The story goes that the renowned physicist Richard Feynman was once asked to summarize the most important finding of modern science in a single sentence. Feynman replied, "The universe is made of atoms."Although there are many other scientific discoveries that are arguably of equal importance, Feynman's choice makes a lot of sense. The discovery of atoms is so familiar to us that it's easy to overlook its breathtaking significance. We know, at the smallest scale where it still makes sense to … [Read more...]

The Happiness Machine

As any regular reader of Daylight Atheism knows, the topic of morality is a major concern of mine. In essays on Ebon Musings, I've sketched out a secular moral theory I call universal utilitarianism. Here on this site, In the past, I've written about the roots of this morality and the virtues that can be derived from it, as well as musings on what UU has to say about some controversial moral topics. In 2009, I plan on taking these explorations in a new direction.This year, I intend to write … [Read more...]

Forms and Essences

In the past, I've written about the origins of religion and how belief in gods likely arises from one of humanity's most common psychological fallacies, the tendency to attribute agency where none exists. (When was the last time you got angry at your computer and felt as if it was trying to balk you? It happens to me much too often - even when I know there's no one inside there.)There's another, related tendency that often manifests in religious belief, which is that human beings are concrete, … [Read more...]

On Agent Causation

Among the band of philosophers who hold that free will is supernatural, one of the reigning ideas is called agent causation. This hypothesis states that volitional acts are a special category of event, one that is caused not by any other event but - in some deeply mysterious way - by the agent itself. Philosopher Roderick Chisholm describes this as follows:If we are responsible... then we have a prerogative which some would attribute only to God: each of us, when we act, is a prime mover … [Read more...]

All Things in Moderation

In last month's post "Down to Earth", I discussed Thomas Jefferson's ideal of rich simplicity, what Buddhism calls the Middle Way. Rather than the vain pursuit of happiness through the acquisition of power or material possessions, the true source of contentment lies in the simple pleasures of life that are available to everyone, regardless of social status.Some of the comments mentioned Epicurus, a person I should write about more often. Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher who taught a … [Read more...]

On Analogies, and the Uses Thereof

In essays such as "Three In One", I've scorned the Christian doctrine of the Trinity:If a claim is labeled beyond our ability to understand, then how are we supposed to tell if it is true? What assurance do theists have that the Trinity is a true fact about the world that is genuinely beyond our ability to comprehend, as opposed to a false claim invented by people whose illogical nature is protected from scrutiny by labeling it a mystery we aren't intended to understand?But is this claim … [Read more...]

Doubting the Sun

Imagine, in some medieval monarchy or modern-day oligarchy, that the government passed a law which made it a crime to deny that the sun exists.No country either ancient or modern has ever done this, and it's easy to see why. Who would ever be tempted to deny the existence of the sun? The evidence to the contrary is undeniable. It's large, it's obvious, it's blindingly brilliant - it's just there. There are no rational grounds for claiming the sun does not exist; only a fool or a madman would … [Read more...]

Dawn of the Dead: Are Zombies Possible?

Inspired by a recent post on Philosophy, et cetera, I want to talk a little about zombies and what they imply for a materialist theory of the mind.When I say "zombie," I don't mean the shambling, flesh-eating undead of horror films. This thought experiment is about philosophical zombies, which are a different beast altogether. The philosophers' zombie is a hypothetical creature which, to all outward appearances, is indistinguishable from an ordinary human. The difference is that they lack … [Read more...]

On the Possibility of Perfect Humanity

Last month, in "An Impoverished Infinity", I wrote about the strange limitations that many Christian believers impose on God. These theists believe that God was not wise or powerful enough to create a world with intelligent beings that did not also include earthquakes, diseases and other disasters - as if the infinite space of possible worlds was somehow foreclosed.The discussion in the comments thread centered largely around the issue of free will, which is the most common example of these … [Read more...]