Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Natural and Unnatural

I posted a question on Yahoo answers recently asking how vegans felt about breast feeding. You see, vegans differ from vegetarians in that while neither will eat meat, vegetarians are at least willing to eat animal products such as eggs, milk, and cheese. Vegans won't even eat animal products. So I was curious to know how they felt about breast feeding since that involves consuming an animal product.

The best answer I got was essentially this:

1. Vegans are against exploitation.
2. Breast feeding is not exploitation, but eating non-human animal products is.
3. Therefore vegans are okay with breast feeding, but they are against eating non-human animal products.

That seemed consistent to me.

But there was another argument brought up that I wasn't so sure about. A few people pointed out that breast feeding is natural, but eating the products of other animals is not. It was as if to say that as long as something is natural, it is okay, and if it is unnatural, then it is not okay.

I almost posted another question about that. I was curious to know how vegans felt about homosexuality. Arguably, it's unnatural since male parts and female parts are complimentary, but same sex parts aren't. To be consistent, shouldn't vegans also oppose homosexuality for the same reason? But most vegans I've met tend to be liberal, and most liberals tend to be okay with homosexuality.

Of course a lot of people will say that homosexuality is natural just because other animals also engage in homosexual behavior. But if a vegan makes that argument, they will undermine their argument for being vegan. After all, coyotes eat chicken eggs. In fact, LOTS of other animals eat eggs that don't belong to them. Does that make eating eggs natural and therefore okay? And I've also seen interspecies breast feeding, although that usually happens in captivity more than in the wild, so I guess they could say it's still unnatural.

I'm not convinced that natural = okay or that unnatural = bad. I can think of counter-examples of both. But what do you think? Do you think if something is natural that it's okay, and if it's unnatural it's not okay? And how do you distinguish between what is natural and what isn't? Are non-human animals even capable of doing something that isn't natural? If not, then how are we? If we are capable of doing what is natural and also what is unnatural, how do you tell the difference? What makes something natural or unnatural?

If you're a Calvinist, wouldn't you have to admit that the natural state of man is that he is a sinner? Isn't sin natural? If sin is natural, then how can you equate the natural with the morally permissible and the unnatural with being morally wrong?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bill Craig, Richard Dawkins, and MMA

I just found out that William Lane Craig and Richard Dawkins are scheduled to participate in a panel discussion this Saturday morning, November 13, in a Mexican conference called Ciudad de las Ideas. There will be six people on the panel discussing the question, "Does the Universe Have a Purpose?"

[UPDATE: Here is the video on youtube. Hopefully they will eventually release a version without the Spanish translator.]

[2nd UPDATE: Here is the English version of the debate.]

As most of you know, Dawkins has refused for some time to debate Craig. As he explained on this video clip, he'll debate a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, or an archbishop, but he doesn't debate creationists, and he won't debate somebody whose only claim to fame is that they are a good debater; he's too busy. Dawkins' naivety regarding Craig can be excused back then, but by now he must know that Craig is widely published in academic journals and is well-respected among his peers, so he can no longer use the excuse that Craig's only claim to fame is that he is a good debater. And a professional philosopher, of course, is more qualified to debate the question of God's existence than an ordinary bishop or cardinal. In fact, Craig is more qualified than Dawkins since Craig is trained in philosophy and Dawkins isn't. And Dawkins did debate John Lennox (see debate), which raises questions about Dawkins' willingness to debate creationists.

A lot of Christians out there have raised complaints about Dawkins' refusal to debate Craig. I've seen most of these in the comment sections of videos on youtube. Those on Dawkins' side always ask something like, "Well, why is it such a big deal to you Christians that he debate Craig? Why do you want to see this debate so bad? Why should Dawkins debate Craig?"

I think the reason people are drawn to debates is pretty much the same as why they are drawn to MMA. The appeal is the same in both cases. There are two kinds of confrontations we like to see. The first is a clash of titans. When we know of two amazing fighters who never seem to lose, we want to see what would happen if they were matched against each other. What would happen if an immovable object were confronted with an unstoppable force? It's the same in debates. We want to see the smartest people on both sides go at it to see who will win. We like to see giants fall, especially when they are on the other team.

The second kind of confrontation is a confrontation between smack-talkers or arrogant people. We like to see the arrogant humbled. We like to see smack talkers eat their own words. Atheists and Christians talk smack almost as much as MMA fighters; they just do it a little differently. I mean think about it. If you're Catholic, wouldn't you love to see James White defeated soundly in a debate?

The reason we Christians want to see Dawkins and Craig debate is because we already know Craig is going to win. Dawkins has gotten away with belittling Christianity in public unchecked, and he comes across as amazingly arrogant in his talks and books. The God Delusion is one of the most popular books out there defending atheism, and most of the people who read it will probably never read anything by William Lane Craig (I question whether Dawkins has either). Given the influence of Dawkins' book, it should be perfectly understandable why we Christians would want to see Dawkins defeated in a public debate. We want all the people who think so highly of Dawkins to see that his arguments will not stand up to scrutiny against a trained Christian thinker like Craig. We want to see him humbled and exposed. The hope is that it will at least open his followers up to reading good academic material from the other side. We want to shake their unfounded confidence in their atheism that appears to us to be the result of skilled smack talk rather than good arguments. (It's interesting how persuasive somebody can be when, instead of really having good arguments, they just sound very confident.)

Craig has two major advantages over Dawkins. First, he's more educated in natural theology than Dawkins is, and his arguments are better. Second, Craig has more skill and experience at public debate than Dawkins. So it would be a total shock to me if Craig did not clearly win a debate with Dawkins on the existence of God, and I suspect that has a lot to do with why Dawkins won't debate him, in spite of what he says.

I think Dawkins' claim that he's too busy to debate creationists or that it's beneath him is a poor excuse not to debate Craig given how much time Dawkins has spent writing against these people. If you're going to publish books to refute intelligent design or theistic philosophy, then you can't turn around and claim it's a waste of time to refute them in debate. I'm not saying everybody who writes a book is obliged to debate. Most people don't debate at all, and that's fine. But if you are open to debating, like Dawkins is, then you can't use the excuse that you haven't got time when clearly you have. If Dawkins thinks that refuting creationists is the waste of time, then he should never have written chapter 4 on The God Delusion. I haven't read The Greatest Show On Earth yet, but I'll bet he "wasted time" refuting intelligent design in there, too.

I think public debates do have some value. When two people write books defending opposite views, we want to know how they would deal with each other directly. You can't cover a whole lot of material in a debate, but I think it's helpful to see a little peer review. It's helpful to see if a person's point of view can stand up to scrutiny, and how they will respond directly to their critics. The usefulness of debates, of course, is diminished by the fact that sometimes the outcome of the debate has more to do with the skill of the debaters than with the defensibility of their positions. (I would probably be a horrible debater because I'd get nervous, and I can't think when I'm nervous. I even get nervous when I call radio shows to talk to people who are on my side. I'd be a mess if I had to debate somebody in public who was not on my side.) But for the most part, I think debates are interesting merely for their entertainment value. We just like to see titans clash and the arrogant humbled. Debates are entertainment pretty much for the same reason MMA is entertaining.