Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tao Te Ching

Those who read my book Sense and Goodness without God (or even some of my online work, e.g. From Taoist to Infidel, which I updated for my book) will know I was a devout Taoist for many years. It is the religion I am still most fond of, and would soonest return to if I discovered enough evidence refuting naturalism. Unless, that is, such evidence in turn confirmed or more strongly supported some religion other than Taoism. But Taoism has such an enormous explanatory power over against just about every other religion I know, I find it quite unlikely any other is true (if naturalism is false). I discuss this fact in an appendix on Supernaturalism added to my critique of Michael Rea's World without Design.

As far as a summary of Taoism itself, the simplest way to put it is that the Tao is the necessary being that underlies and originates everything and governs all outcomes, but it is not a personal consciousness, like (and probably not by accident) The Force in Star Wars it's a mindless yearning with causal effect, more like a cosmic plant that just does what it does without thinking about it (or any particular concern for us). In my Definition of Supernaturalism it would more resemble a magic potion than a god: it has mental properties like desire but reduced, atomized, to simply that; there is no coherent consciousness. You can't have a conversation with it. It isn't a person. It does not engage in reasoning. It does not "have knowledge" of anything (least of all you). But if we can commune with it and understand its ways, we can live better lives simply because that which moves with it ends up better off than that which doesn't.

Because of my peculiar background in this regard, I often still get asked what the best translations of the Tao Te Ching are. Though one should not overlook the Taoist writings of Chuang Tzu, the Tao Te Ching is the most important Taoist scripture, of which there are dozens of translations of varying merits. I will only list here what I consider the "most useful" of those I was familiar with, for understanding both the original and potential message of Taoism as a worldview. 

Friday, October 05, 2007

Our Mathematical Universe

It was recently brought to my attention that Russell Howell, Professor of Mathematics at the Christian academy of Westmont College in Santa Barbara (California) has taken notice of my article "Fundamental Flaws in Mark Steiner's Challenge to Naturalism in The Applicability of Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem" (2003). He only quotes (in fact somewhat misquotes) a single isolated comment from my article and ignores almost everything else it says, even though the ignored material contradicts his argument in ways he curiously neglects to mention. His paper, "Does Mathematical Beauty Pose Problems for Naturalism?" was published in the 2006 issue of the online Journal of the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences (yes, Christians have an association for everything).

I won't bother discussing the rest of his essay, since my article against Steiner already rebuts the same thesis Howell defends, and more than adequately in my opinion. I am only interested here in Howell's lame mischaracterization of my arguments, insofar as he quotes me at all.
Since I'm not the actual target of Howell's article, I'm only mentioned on page 9. He brings me up only when discussing Maxwell's use of a particular heuristic to discover electromagnetic radiation: by combining the assumption of a "conservation of charge" with mathematical descriptions of electrical systems that were already empirically established, he calculated (in effect) that energy should be leaking away from electrical systems (he was right: it was being converted into radio waves).

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sack Lunch

Here's some brief humor for those who are odd like me. Some time ago my sister-in-law sent us the following email:
You (Seinfeld fans) will recall that Sack Lunch was the name of the movie Elaine Benis wished to see instead of the dreaded English Patient. ("It's got Dabney Coleman. How can it miss?!) In my opinion, Sack Lunch is the greatest fake name for a movie ever. But perhaps you can do better. The winner will receive...um, a sack lunch. But maybe one with some really gourmet stuff in it. Oh, and this is a democracy so we can all vote.
And so the contest among friends and family began. Here was my entry. Enjoy. (Or not. Whatever.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Debate Videos

Not only is my TV appearance on PAX now available on DVD (or so I'm told), but so are the two grandest debates I've participated in. Of the latter, the first, "Licona vs. Carrier: On the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," which took place before an audience of half a thousand at UCLA, has long been available but went out of stock for quite a while. It is now back in stock and will probably remain so. It can now be purchased via CreateSpace (but profits still go to the Secular Web and, indirectly, to me). It's probably the best debate on the resurrection you will ever see. Licona holds up his end as well as anyone in the Christian apologetics community, and I present more material than you're likely to hear in any other debate. But like all serious debates it is long and dry.

Even longer and duller is "Does God Not Exist?" which was a team debate, three-to-four hours long, before an audience of a thousand (mostly Muslims) in Dearborn, Michigan, with Dan Barker and myself on the affirmative, and Muslim scholar Hassanain Rajabali and ambiguous cosmological creationist Michael Corey on the (double) negative. I say this is "dull" only because for most people it is. There isn't really any way to make this debate stuff exciting and serious at the same time. But if you can endure it, it is a pretty good debate, though there were aspects of it that pissed me off, as you will learn from my post-debate commentary
: "The Big Debate: Comments on the Barker-Carrier vs. Corey-Rajabali Team Debate" (2004). Well, now you can see the entire debate yourself. A fairly decent DVD version is available for purchase through informal channels, while a very poor quality version is available for free on YouTube: broken up as Part I and Part II.

Most of you already know I appear in the movie The God Who Wasn't There, the DVD of which has an extended portion of my original interview in the special features. But not many of you know I debated William Lane Craig on national television. This was on Lee Strobel's now-defunct show Faith Under Fire, which used to air on the PAX network. I debated Craig by satellite feed for ten minutes or so. I taped two or three other episodes for this show, debating other guests on other topics, but those never aired.

Many have asked me where they can get a copy of my TV debate with Craig. Well, I now have an answer: you can't. It's (sort of) available on DVD as part of a Christian "teach-by-tape" curriculum (so to speak). Bits of my episode appear on Faith Under Fire 1: Faith & Jesus. It's hardly worth watching, since almost nothing of any real significance can be said in ten minutes even in the original broadcast, but worse than that, this DVD version cuts more than half the aired debate away, shows segments out of order, and concludes with a newly added segment in which Strobel lists a bunch of unrebutted arguments in favor of the resurrection not raised by Craig. This is the only occasion Craig has ever interacted with me in public (we've briefly corresponded in private on several occasions), so it's a shame the original video has essentially been destroyed.