I’m still here

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my most recent post. That’s a benchmark I’m not particularly proud of, and I figured I better publish something to show that I’m still alive and haven’t completely abandoned the blog. I remain quite interested in the topics and discussions in the “God debate”, but I guess the kinds of inquiries that lead to posts on this blog just don’t have the same priority for me as they did in previous years. I used to routinely encounter new data, or arguments, or evidence that caught my attention and inspired me to write about it. Those kinds of revelations seem to be fewer and farther between these days, and swamped by the rest of life’s goings on. But occasionally items still do crop up that intrigue me enough to engage in some dialogue, so I figured I could put something potentially interesting in this post by recapping a few of those engagements over the past year.

Last September there was a nice exchange between Ben Watkins and Mike Almeida on Capturing Christianity about the positive arguments for atheism (see Part 1 and Part 2). I was inspired to offer my own two cents, but nothing came of that. Regardless, I think the exchange is well worth a read.

I spent a little time probing the foundations of Thomistic metaphysics with a couple bloggers that were defending that view. See here and here. I’m not sure that I’m any closer to really making sense of that perspective.

The Amatuer Exegete endorsed my interpretation of Daniel’s 70 Weeks. It was nice to receive some additional validation on that. About the same time the Skeptics and Seekers podcast did a series on messianic prophecies which included Daniel’s 70 weeks. I shared a few more thoughts there, but Dale’s comments were deleted so the conversation doesn’t really flow if you read it now.

structureoftruth was kind enough to send me the spreadsheet he used for his “Why I Can’t Be An Atheist” post. My intention was to plug in my own numbers and see what happens (teaser – I have done that) but so far I have only drafted a fraction of a post. That will probably be the next ‘real’ post on this blog.

The Scientific Christian critiqued Tim O’Neill’s response on Quora regarding the resurrection narrative, and I suggested that he was misinterpreting some of Tim’s claims. I learned a few things and I think we were able to clarify some of the claims in Tim’s article.

Eric (unklee) wrote a piece about free will that led to a rather substantial exchange in which I defended the viability of compatibilism. This ended up spilling over into a 2nd post by Eric, where the discussion reached an impasse fairly quickly – but at least I helped him fix his problem with disappearing comments! I’d be interested in hearing any outside opinions on my defense of compatibilism.

Dale, co-host of the Skeptics and Seekers podcast, published a solo series defending substance dualism, which included a modal argument that I hadn’t previously encountered. In the course of our subsequent discussion, I discovered the philosophical concepts of “transworld identity” and “counterpart theory”. What do you think is the best interpretation of modal identity?

Last but not least, Joe has been pretty active lately publishing new posts on his True and Reasonable blog. I’ve interacted with him on several of those (one of which is still an active thread – I’ll get back to you soon Joe), with the discussion largely focused on the implications of moral anti-realism.

I hope you find that something I’ve linked here was worth reading and gets you thinking. I really do want to publish more than one post a year going forward, but I’m not making any promises or setting goals in that regard. That hasn’t worked out in the past. So we’ll just see what happens. As always, please leave a comment if there’s anything you’d like to discuss.


20 thoughts on “I’m still here

  1. Hi Travis, good to see you’re still around and active in your mind, even if not on your blog!

    I have a topic that has interested me for a while, a bit different to what you usually address. I often ponder why some people who are raised christian continue with their belief, and others don’t. It would be nice to think it was all about evidence and truth, but if that were really so, we would surely not be so polarised in our conclusions. On the other hand, if determinism (whether secular or Calvinistic) then perhaps the explanation is more psychological or neurological than evidential. But between those two views there is surely a range of ideas that touch on the evidential and the psychological, and they’d be interesting to explore.

    Research into NDE’s (I’m told) began with documenting experiences. I think it would be interesting if several people from each “side” documented their experiences, trying to especially throw light on why they ended up where they did, all without argument or putting the opposite view down, then together looking for commonalities and differences. Just an idea.

    • Hey Eric,
      If you want to put together a section on your site that documents faith experiences according to some template for the content, I would be happy to make a contribution. Just let me know.

      • Sorry to be so long replying. I have many stories on my website, but probably not in the form this would require. Things are pretty busy right now, but I’d like to get to it in time.

  2. Hey Travis,

    Thanks for the mentions there, as you know I appreciated the fact that you have a sincere interest in these important topics and approach them in a balanced manner even when you disagree. Sorry, for the comment deletion, as you know it had nothing to do with taking away from our convo but had to do with other matters entirely.

    That said, your comments are still a valuable part of S&S and I’ll make sure to put a link to this blog in both my Messianic prophecies Part 4 and Substance Dualism episode with the Modal argument for dualism in it 🙂

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  4. Hi Travis,

    I was hoping to hear your thoughts on an argument for the existence of God that I don’t really have an answer to.

    The argument is that macroevolution is impossible unless it is guided by God. Theists who make this argument accept microevolution but claim that microevolution cannot result in macroevolution. For example, they may point to the evolution of a certain group of dinosaurs into birds. This evolutionary chain would have had to develop hollow bones in order to be able to fly. It seems that hollow bones would be weaker, and thus having hollow bones would have been significantly detrimental until after the evolutionary chain possessing them developed wings that are strong enough to enable flight. It seems that if hollow bones are a disadvantage, then they would not have been sustained by natural selection long enough for the evolutionary chain to develop wings that are strong enough to enable flight. I don’t really have an answer to this argument and I was hoping to hear your thoughts on it.

    • Hi Liam,
      Are you looking for a general response or a response to that particular example? It seems like those kinds of arguments would typically need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Can you point to a particular post or page somewhere that does a good job of presenting the argument?

      • I guess I was looking for more of a general response, but maybe these arguments would need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The basic argument is that the development of certain features in an evolutionary chain will be disadvantageous before they become advantageous, and if they are disadvantageous, then they will not be sustained by natural selection long enough to become advantageous. If one claims that the development of a feature in an evolutionary chain will be advantageous at every stage in the evolutionary process, then it seems that one would need to evaluate these arguments on a case-by-case basis. For example, one would have to show that the development of wings was advantageous throughout the millions of years that those wings developed, even during the millions of years when the members of that evolutionary chain could not fly.

        I haven’t been able to find an article that does a good job of presenting the argument yet, but I’ll send you one if I find one. I’ve really only heard this argument from theists I know, although I’ve seen slightly different arguments online.

      • Liam,
        I think those kinds of arguments do need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but I suspect that the evaluation will ultimately lead to one of the following conclusions:
        1. The phenotypic variation did not actually contribute to negative selection pressures.
        2. The phenotypic variation did contribute to a negative selection pressure for a time, but stopped contributing to the negative selection pressure due to additive variations or environmental changes before the phenotype was eliminated.
        3. The phenotypic variation did contribute to a negative selection pressure, but this was outweighed or balanced by a pleiotropic phenotype variation that contributed to positive selection pressure.
        4. The phenotypic variation did contribute to a negative selection pressure, but the phenotype has persisted due to chance, or by virtue of unrelated positive phenotype variations, or because not enough time has passed to eliminate the phenotype.

        Using the bird bone as an example, it would appear from what I see here and here that the argument fails on count #1: pneumatic bones do not contribute to a negative selection pressure in the absence of flight.

  5. Interesting; coincidentally I have been looking into Thomistic ideas (and Aristotelian / Scholastic ideas more broadly) over the last few months as well. I can’t remember exactly what got me started on it, unless it was just that I came across a link to Ed Feser’s blog – it might have been his talk on “What Are the Laws of Nature” – and while I still find some Thomistic positions problematic, it certainly has impelled me to take a closer look.

    • I sometimes get the sense that the neo-scholastic movement sees itself as the most academically rigorous and logically sound theistic metaphysic, but essentialism seems central to the whole thing and I can’t get past that.

      • Hmm, well, I can see the hang-up on biological essentialism, though I don’t really see any problems with essentialism per se. It seems pretty obvious to me that at least some things like pure chemical substances or fundamental physical particles or fields have essences. (And I think a cogent argument could be made that the practice of science, and inductive reasoning in general, implicitly presupposes something like essentialism.)

      • Yes, if the essentialism was limited to fundamental entities then I would find it much more tolerable. But of course we don’t even really know what those entities are, and if it is even accurate to speak in such terms (versus something like a universal wavefunction).

  6. “My intention was to plug in my own numbers and see what happens (teaser – I have done that)”

    In short, where would you place your estimate, based on what?

    • I debated how to answer this, but I’m not sure there’s a good “short” version suitable for a comment. In the course of working on the draft post I have found that I can tweak the numbers as I work through the discussion, so I’m going to hold off on diving in to that until it’s published. In the meantime, my “Where I Am” page presents the most recent snapshot of my intuitive estimate for the overall odds, which doesn’t employ any mathematical methodology.

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