Friday, May 31, 2013

God Thinks We're Super Special!


One argument theists often make that humans have intrinsic value fascinates me. We have intrinsic value, according to what many theists believe, because god says we do. He thinks we're super special! But imagine if god got angry with mankind and said that we weren't special anymore. Would all of our value suddenly evaporate? Would we all then walk around with our heads down in despair, depressed that god doesn't think we're special anymore? Would we think that we're all no better than monkeys and other apes?

When thinking about this belief that many theists have, the question I wonder, is why should we think our value depends on what god says we have?

It seems to me rather odd that we should feel the need to justify our worth and value by what anyone else says. It reminds me of insecure teenagers trying desperately to seek the approval of their peers in order to think that they have value. I think it's rather silly and immature to depend so deeply on what others think about you in order to feel any sense of value or worth.

This confirms what I've always felt about most religions like Christianity: they really serve best as emotional crutches that make people feel better.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Question: If humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes?



Answer: If rock & roll evolved from the blues, why is there still the blues? Species diverge and adapt to their new environments, those that stay will not adapt and won't change.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Does Absolute Truth Exist?


The following is the opening argument I made in a debate years ago over whether absolute truths exist with a friend . Please tell me if you agree or disagree.

To say that absolute truth does not exist, is to imply that in some sense, that all knowledge is subjective or relative, and that no piece of information could be independently and objectively verifiable. In abstract concepts like numbers and mathematics we clearly find universal constants that have no deviation. Einstein’s beautiful equation that E=mc2, has been proven repetitively by the most modern scientific instruments of today. And even if it were to be disproven, all that would simply mean is that there is another truth out there, which is currently beyond our scope of knowledge.

Surely of course there are ideas that have their truth lay in opinion. For example, if one were to ask “Is Brittany Spears talented?” this of course would be a matter of individual tastes. An absolute truth cannot lay in opinion or preference, or even consensus, it must be objective. It must be true and verifiable regardless of whether anyone agrees with it or not. That is one of the beauties of science: it’s true whether you believe in it or not. The close-minded religious fundamentalists who think the Earth is just 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs coexisted with man have no argument in the face of contradictory evidence. Their “reality” is forever intellectually silenced, and the evidence in this case is the objective truth.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Evolutionary Argument Against God - Abbreviated/Alternative Versions


The original EAAG that I wrote contains 6 premises and a conclusion and could be considered redundant in some areas. I have below a few alternative versions of it that shorten it out for a more easily digestible format.

In this version below I cut out premises 2-5 and leave in only the bare minimum of what's needed for the argument to drive the nail through:

  1. If God chose to use evolution as the process by which he created human beings and all other forms of life, then God knowingly chose a process that requires suffering that is logically unnecessary.
  2. An all-good, perfectly moral God who is incapable of unwarranted cruelty would not create beings that could consciously suffer in a way that was not logically necessary.
  3. Therefore, a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good does not exist.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Refuting The Kalam Cosmological Argument Redux


In my arrogant opinion, the cosmological argument (CA) is the best argument that theists have. Theism really stands or falls on the CA, and if theists should lose it, the foundations of theism would be on shaky grounds and theism would be in a lot of trouble. Since the CA forms the bedrock that all other arguments for god are built upon, it deserves more attention that I have duly given it.

When I first wrote on the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) I primary was trying to write a detailed technical refutation of it, but I essentially granted the argument itself as being valid. So what I want to do here is spend a few moments attacking the argument itself and some of its problems.

As you’ll recall the Kalam consists of two simple premises and a conclusion. They are:


1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause


Sounds simple enough, eh? Let’s take a look at the first premise.

Can An Actual Infinity Exist? A Quick Argument In Support Of Actual Infinities


If an actual infinite number of events is impossible as per the philosophical justifications of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) then isn't it problematic that the number future events is eternal and god has knowledge of all these events? If the number of future events is infinite, and god has knowledge of all these future events (as per his all-knowing property) then wouldn't god's knowledge of every future event consist of an actual infinity and not a potential infinity? It seems that this would contradict the theist's claims when justifying the KCA on philosophical grounds that an actual infinity cannot exist. They must, it seems, make an exception that god can have knowledge of an actual infinity of future events and that seems to me that actual infinities can exist. 

Atheism: A Rough History Of Disbelief


If you haven't already seen it, Johnathan Miller's excellent 3 part documentary on the rough history of disbelief is I think, required viewing for all atheists and agnostics. He traces the history of our somewhat tentative affair with the rejection of the supernatural and the embrace of the materialist worldview. We are probably living in the greatest time in human history to be a non-believer, and it is important to learn about those who laid the foundations that made this possible. So watch and enjoy.

Part 1:


Part 2:


Part 3:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

For The Love Of Debate: Exposing Religious Hypocrisy


The way to successfully win a debate is to argue your opponent into a corner, where the only way they can get out of the corner is by contradicting themselves. And once you've made your opponent contradict themselves, you've essentially won the debate.

I've been debating for years in my personal life, but I love getting the opportunity to take it public and in person. Once I find something that I can disagree with about another person's beliefs, I often challenge them on it, and, depending on the context of the environment, I will hold my ground until either they give up or I win. I'm extremely competitive when it comes to debating. I've literally had debates with people that have lasted over 6 hours non-stop. And since I'm not a competitive person when it comes to sports, perhaps my way of competing is to debate

Thursday, May 23, 2013

God Of The Gaps: Theistic Evolution And The Search For New Gaps


In my on going examination of theistic evolution, I've noticed that the old god of the gaps argument has continued to "evolve" (pun intended). I'm also realizing how many approaches to evolution theism offers. Here are some of the main options:


Young Earth Creationists - believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and that all animals species including man were created in their current forms according to how the Bible describes it.

Old Earth Creationists - believe the Earth is billions of years old, basically as old as mainstream science says it is, but that life was still created by an act of god in a linear fashion with simple organisms created first and more complex organisms created later.

Theistic Evolutionists - believe the Earth is billions of years old, basically as old as mainstream science says it is, and that life was either started by an act of god, or developed as the result of natural laws developed by god, and allowed to evolve either with or without god's direct guidance, but will unfold according to god's plan of resulting in the evolution of human beings.


Within these three main approaches there are many other subgroups. Each group contains their own god of the gaps theory. The YECs think there's a gap between every species, but they all concede that microevolution occurs (which is really just a little bit of macroevolution). Once an "alleged" transitional fossil is found linking two species, their tired old tactic is to now argue that there are two gaps instead of one - resulting in a constantly moving goal post. Many OECs however will concede that some speciation can occur but only does so within arbitrarily imposed limits. 

It's theistic evolutionists that I want to focus on here, because of the three positions listed here, they hold the most intellectually tenable one, and that makes them to most formidable to contend with.

On his website's weekly QandA segment, William Lane Craig has said he has no problem accepting "a bat and a whale to have a common ancestor" and how "trivial in the grand scheme of things such a development would be". He even has no problem entertaining the ease with how "the evolution of amphibians from fish or birds from reptiles is miniscule compared to whole tree of life postulated by the [Darwinian] theory, for it still only involves evolutionary development within a single phylum." 

Wow. It's really amazing how far some Christians have embraced evolution. Someone like Craig just a few decades ago would probably be outright denying evolution altogether, as do about half of all Americans today. Now there's no time wasted arguing against whether species or genuses within a single phylum can evolve, but Craig's use of language makes the evolution of fish to mammals look like it's mere microevolution compared to a sponge and a fish. In Craig's version of theistic evolution, such an evolutionary leap from sponges to vertebrates via common ancestry is a "mind-boggling extrapolation from limited instances of microevolutionary change to conclusions that far outstrip the evidence."

In other words, for some theistic evolutionists like Craig who believe god's involvement is necessary, the Cambrian explosion where many of today's animal phyla appeared is the new god of the gaps. No longer is speciation contended, now the god of the gaps is over whether different phylum can have common ancestry. 

Perhaps Craig isn't researched into the fossil record surrounding the 30 million year long Cambrian explosion, but the Burgess shale in Canada and others around the world show a fair amount of fossil evidence for the evolution of major phyla. Sure we don't have a complete trail of fossils, we never will, but there is no grand mystery large enough to punctuate Darwinian natural selection with the need to insert the hand of god into the evolutionary tree of life. There are also vast resources out there available to anyone looking to conduct research like books, blogs, Wikipedia and for the lazy, YouTube. But, speaking of god's hands....

"Maybe God is instead more like the artist who enjoys getting His hands dirty in the paint or the clay to fashion a spectacular world", Craig Wonders. "Why not?'

God obviously doesn't have hands, but I'm sure that was a figure of speech. Anyway, Craig's artistic god who enjoys getting his hands wet in the clay amounts to nothing more than pure speculation. I can just as easily speculate that maybe god takes pleasure in giving babies cancer, or arbitrarily deciding which babies get cancer, and which ones don't. I can also speculate that god takes pleasure in designing all the wonderful genetic mutations that make millions of us suffer so miserably, or that god takes pleasure in designing the mutations that have resulted in diseases like smallpox, the bubonic plague, and leprosy, and enjoys unleashing it onto millions of animals and people to watch them suffer.

It's all pure speculation on Craig's part, a game I can enjoy playing too, because if you entertain the idea that god guides evolution and takes pleasure in it, then all the diseases and disorders which are the direct result of genetic mutations (which is the backbone of how evolution occurs), force you have to entertain the possibility that god's "hand" was somehow involved in them.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"You Gotta Thank The Lord" Um, No You Don't


CNN's Wold Blitzer recently asked a mother who survived the recent spate of tornadoes in Oklahoma if she thanks the Lord that she and her baby survived. She replied saying, "I'm actually an atheist" but took the comments not as an insult. I guess in a very red state like Oklahoma, where it might seem like everyone is a Christian, it's perhaps normal to just assume everyone is and believes in god. You couldn't get away with that in New York City where I live.

Wolf Blitzer's assumption put the atheist into a situation that many atheists and I are all familiar with - which is that we are assumed to be theists. How we handle that assumption depends on the situation. A simple, "I'm an atheist" is enough to assert your disbelief in god while not necessarily being rude or coming off too "militant". But if the theist making the assumption is offended by you asserting your atheism, them fuck them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Questions To A Christian: Is Pain, Suffering & Death Good?


Imagine a horrible disease were to break out in an impoverished region of the world and it causes millions to painfully suffer and results in many deaths. If, as a consequent of this disease, large numbers of people were to turn to Christ as a result of their suffering who would otherwise have not, would you say that this disease was a blessing in disguise or that it was actually a good thing to have happened?


And what if someone were to have found a cure for this disease early on, and successfully inoculated enough people so that the disease would never have spread and wreaked its havoc, thus preventing all those people from turning to Christ by preventing their suffering, would you say that the cure for this disease and the person who found it would have been doing a bad thing?



Origin Of Life Debate: Michael Ruse Vs. Fuz Rana

I know most, if not all the big names in science and those who debate on behalf of the naturalistic point of view. I've known of Michael Ruse for several years and enjoy his British sense of humor. Although he is not a scientist, per se, and is a philosopher of science, he specializes in Darwinian evolution. He recently debated Dr. Fuz Rana on the origin of life, a very fascinating topic.




Monday, May 20, 2013

Creationist Logic


Here's been my experience debating with a creationist recently:



Creationist: Evolution is a lie! There are no transitional fossils!

Evolutionist: Here is a list of transitional fossils. Try your best to refute everyone of them.

Creationist: I can't because I'm not a biologist and I don't know anything about biology!



The End



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Satanism


Satanism has long been misunderstood. Many Satanists do not actually worship an ontological being called "Satan". Satan is actually a representation, its a symbol of indulgence. Thus, most Satanists do not believe that any gods or deities exist and are actually atheists. That means Satanism is actually more like a philosophy rather than a religion, kind of like Buddhism in that respect. The official Church of Satan is atheistic and does not recognize in their fundamental beliefs the existence of any gods, demons or supernatural spirits.

Philosophically, Satanism is kind of like ethical egoism, perhaps with a touch of libertarian objectivism thrown in. There is an emphasis on the self, and to look out for one's own well being and interests before anyone else. But that doesn't mean Satanists have to be completely selfish.

In the philosophy of Satanism, mutual respect is granted. If someone shows respect, by all means, the Satanist should show the same respect back. But if someone shows disrespects, the Satanist is under no obligation to show any respect back. This is basically what most people do in practice anyway, including many Christians who don't like to admit it. Satanism, in theory, is kind of like how most Christians act, in practice. Satanism just doesn't have any ridiculously absurd standards that are impossible to live up to. So that means Satanists are free to indulge in sexual lust without guilt, and unlike the Christian who indulges in lust anyway, there's no reason to wallow in self-pity afterwards for doing so.

When I was a teenager I starting hanging out with these kids who called themselves Satanists. They would talk about the rituals and the nine statements and I remember hearing rumors about sacrifices. But Satanism was really more like a philosophical novelty than an actual lifestyle to these kids. It was mostly talked about because it was cool and had an element of danger and mystic. I don't think any of them were really doing anything other than superficial expressions.

According to the Church of Satan under its founder Anton LaVey, no Satanist is allowed to kill a non-human animal for ritual. Children are not to be harmed either. Nor are any humans are to be ritually sacrificed because Satanism, much like atheism, does not believe the universe cares one way or the other. During my teen years and into my early twenties, I did go through an embarrassing goth phase and I did become familiar with the main principles of Satanism. And I have to say, once you get past the rumors and the false impressions that exist about Satanism and what it stands for, it's actually not really a bad philosophy. I'm no expert in Satanic philosophy, and I've only read but a few excerpts of the Satanic Bible, and I'm sure there are things I disagree with about it, but it does seem that many of its beliefs and principles are pragmatically driven and designed to be as practical as possible. And being a lover of philosophy, it has intrigued me once again as it did during my awkward formative years.

No, I am not a Satanist, I am an atheist, and a proud one at that. But I do like to entertain the ideas and beliefs of Satanism, just like I enjoy entertaining virtue ethics, Platonism, Buddhism, and various monotheisms.

My Evolutionary Argument Against God (EAAG)


Atheists generally tend to not rely on deductive arguments or syllogisms to make their case against god. However, while recently debating my challenge to theistic evolutionists against the incompatibility of a wholly good creator with evolution, I've come up with a counter argument to Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism called the Evolutionary Argument Against God or the EAAG.

This argument is predicated on the traditional concept of god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good and the notion that god either started the evolutionary process as a means to enable human existence or that he guided the evolutionary process along some of its steps to ensure humans would evolve.

The argument goes as follows:

  1. If god chose to use evolution as the process by which he created human beings and all other forms of life, then god knowingly chose a process that requires suffering that is logically unnecessary.
  2. If humans are the product of gradual evolution guided by god, then at some point during the process the soul appeared.
  3.  Once human beings had souls, they could be rewarded in an afterlife for the suffering they endured while they were alive.
  4.  If higher level primates are capable of third level pain awareness (knowing they are experiencing pain) then our pre-human hominid ancestors did too and they did not have souls.
  5. This means god chose to create humans using a method that knowingly would involve conscious suffering that was not logically necessary.
  6. An all-good, perfectly moral god who is incapable of unwarranted cruelty would not create beings that could consciously suffer in a way that was not logically necessary.
  7. Therefore, the traditional notion of god who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good does not exist.

Since almost every premise here is a conditional, let’s examine each of the premises to see what objections we might find.


(1) If god chose to use evolution as the process by which he created human beings and all other forms of life, then god knowingly chose a process that requires suffering that is logically unnecessary.


Premise 1 asserts the fact that the evolutionary process logically requires suffering, which god would of course have known before using the evolutionary process to create humans. Some theists like William Lane Craig think of god like an artist who takes pleasure in the method for creating life using evolution. Another theory is that god chose to use evolution contingently as a punishment for original sin which god decided would be applied retroactively to the millions of species that existed before human beings. Alvin Plantinga has proposed the idea that “Satan and his minions” have tinkered with the evolutionary process and have caused the natural evils it produces. Regardless of what explanation a theist has in mind, god still willingly chose to create man using millions of other species merely as a means to an end, and many of those species contained sentient beings who suffered tremendous ordeals. It seems odd to me that a wholly good and benevolent god would intentionally choose a method of bringing about man that requires millions of years of suffering.


(2) If humans are the product of gradual evolution guided by god, then at some point during the process the soul appeared.

For premise 2, even if a theist believes that fully rational humans appeared at once in a single generation as some theistic evolutionists do, or that "humans" can only be body + soul composites, we still have enough evidence that our hominid ancestors and cousins like Neanderthals had language capability (via the FOXP2 gene that we share) and that means they certainly had higher functioning rational and cognitive faculties than modern day chimps and gorillas. So millions of years would have passed before we get modern humans during which our pre-human hominid ancestors and cousins lived who were capable of conscious, apperceptive suffering.


(3) Once human beings had souls, they could be rewarded in an afterlife for the suffering they endured while they were alive.


Most theists believe that the soul gives humans the possibility of being rewarded in an afterlife and that this compensates the suffering that humans endure in their physical form on Earth. Natural evils like disease all have a purpose, according to some theists, in that they bring people closer to god, or that they are the byproduct of original sin. But, if a human is defined as a body + soul composite, then our pre-human hominid ancestors lacked souls and were suffering from the same diseases and natural evils that we are. God must’ve chosen not to compensate their suffering, while at the same time he allowed them to evolve the ability to be consciously self-aware of their suffering. The original sin argument doesn't make sense either. There's no evidence that there were ever just two people, and, the theist would have to believe that the punishment for original sin was retroactively applied to animals before humans even evolved! Not only is this cruel, this doesn't make sense considering evolution requires suffering. It is impossible to have an evolutionary process unfold without it. So theists who bring up original sin are logically incoherent.


(4) If higher level primates are capable of third level pain awareness (knowing they are experiencing pain) then our pre-human hominid ancestors did too and they did not have souls.


If premise 4 is true it logically follows. Our pre-human hominid ancestors and cousins like Neanderthals would have had evolved advanced levels of cognition that may not have been quite as advanced as a modern human, but necessarily must have been more advanced than a modern day primate like a chimp or a gorilla.


(5) This means god chose to create humans using a method that knowingly would involve conscious suffering that was not logically necessary.


Premise 5 suggests that god is just a mere utilitarian who uses millions of other species as a means to his end goal of creating human beings, but what makes god different from other utilitarians is that since evolution requires massive amounts of suffering, god actually chooses the greater of two evils rather than the lesser of two evils! It’s kind of odd since he’s supposed to be morally perfect.


(6) An all-good, perfectly moral god who is incapable of unwarranted cruelty would not create beings that could consciously suffer in a way that was not logically necessary.


Premise 6 states the most important logical aspect of the argument – that a morally perfect being like god is incapable of unwarranted cruelty, which evolution requires. There seems to be no plausible way that a theist can justify the suffering that evolution requires. I have heard theists like William Lane Craig argue that animals are not consciously aware that they’re in pain, but he even admits this does not apply to the higher primates, and that logically means it wouldn’t apply to our hominid ancestors. That's really all I need to show in order for my argument to work. And so if our suffering is logically necessary for some unknown purpose because we have souls, then this fails to explain why soul-less conscious animals would have to suffer under the evolutionary process.


(7) Therefore, the traditional notion of god who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good does not exist.


If my premises are correct, then the conclusion in number 7 logically follows because an all-good god is incompatible with creating unwarranted cruelty, and because that requires the ability or at least the capacity of intentional cruelty or indifference.

If this argument is successful this means theists like William Lane Craig and Alvin Pantinga have to accept that god is intentionally cruel and capable of committing unwarranted suffering, which means of course he cannot exist!

In order for the theists who holds to the view of god this argument is predicated on the refute the EAAG, they would have to show how the argument is somehow logically invalid, or show how a wholly good, morally perfect god is compatible with the existence of gratuitous, logically unnecessary apperceptive animal and pre-human hominid suffering, in which case they’d have to attack the science backing up third level pain awareness. If the theist cannot do this, they must admit that their notion of god is either incompetent, indifferent, or intentionally cruel, in which case their concept of god would be logically incoherent with what they’d be conceding. That would mean that this concept of god cannot logically exist. And since this concept of god must exist in every possible world, as per the ontological argument, if there exists a single possible world that this god is incompatible with, then it destroys the possibility of this god existing in any possible world. That world is the actual world. 

This argument is admittedly in its first draft and will most certainly need to be refined with time. I've considered shortening it down to 5 or 6 premises. I want this argument to be part of the public domain, so if you think it works and you think you can improve it, by all means customize it to your liking.

For other versions of this argument click here.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Some Nice Debate Points By Bart Ehrman On Biblical Inerrancy





When it comes to arguments against biblical inerrancy and the reliability of the New Testament, there are many debates and many sources of information for the skeptic. Bart Ehrman is one of the most prominent American biblical historians. A self professed agnostic, he has lectured, debated and written many books on how the Bible is not a reliable historical document. He's had some beef with atheist Richard Carrier recently over some of his writings on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, but nevertheless, even if you're committed to the idea that Jesus never existed and was entirely myth, listening to Ehrman rail against historical authenticity of the New Testament is pleasing to the ear of any skeptic, and makes you think how absurd it is that millions of people base their entire worldview on a book that is so terribly consistent.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) Part 2


The Gist Of It

Mathematically, Plantinga's argument looks like this P(R/N&E) where P is the probability of (R) the reliability of our beliefs, divided by (N) naturalism & (E) evolution. Plantinga's calculation of the P puts the probability of unguided evolution to favor true beliefs to be most likely very low. But why think it should be low?

It doesn't take an evolutionary biologist to see how under evolutionary theory, species that evolved sentience and could assess their environments would be favored for their survival advantage. And the more accurate the level of sentience, the greater the evolutionary advantage. There are two aspects to our beliefs. The first aspect are the cognitive faculties that we use to understand the world around us, such as our neurophysiology, sense of sight, hearing, and sense of touch etc. And the other aspect are our beliefs themselves that are dependent on the senses and the brain. Since it seems obvious that evolution would select for accurate senses, like for example the eagle's keen sense of sight, or the bear's keen sense of smell, then we have no reason to believe that the five senses humans have shouldn't accurately interpret the world around us. Our very evolution and survival depended on them being accurate for finding food and avoiding predators and danger.

This brings us now to our beliefs. Even though we may have evolved senses that are capable of accurately interpreting the world around us, that doesn't necessarily mean that every one of our beliefs are true. The truth is, our cognitive faculties aren't fully reliable, and that's exactly why we need science to help us determine what's real from what's imaginary. Recall the scenario in part 1 where I described the increased chance of the hominid's survival if it believed that a rustle in the bushes might be the result of a predator. Even though false positives are favored by evolution, once the rustle in the bushes can be investigated and it turns out to have been just the wind or a harmless animal, there's no logical reason to continue believing that it was a wild predator or the product of some unseen nefarious agent. Parallel this with the way our superstitious beliefs once made us inaccurately believe that naturally explained events in the world were caused by angry gods, and contrast that to how our modern scientific understanding of the world has shown us how the world really behaves. An investigation into the cause of the rustle in the bushes is in a way, tantamount to a modern scientific investigation into the true causes behind the beliefs that our senses hastily trigger.

Now that's the layman's argument.

Stephen Law's assessment of the EAAN exploits the assumption by Plantinga that the content of beliefs being true have no relation to adaptive behavior. "It can do its job of causing adaptive behaviour just as well if it is false as if it is true." Plantinga writes, "It might be true, and it might be false; it doesn’t matter." Law responds to this assumption:

Consider the suggestion that there exist certain conceptual constraints on what content a given belief can, or is likely to, have given its causal relationships to, among other things, behaviour. My claim is that, given the existence of certain conceptual constraints, unguided evolution will then tend to favour true belief.

Law then jumps into an overly convoluted hypothetical involving probability of belief content and its correlation with adaptive behavior, but he concludes by saying:

Suppose that, solely in combination with a very strong desire for water, a certain belief/neural structure typically results in a subject walking five miles to the south. Surely, if there are such conceptual links between behaviour and content, then the property of causing that behaviour in that situation will be among those properties lending, as it were, a considerable number of points towards that belief/neural structure achieving the threshold for having the content that there’s water five miles south. Other things being equal, that belief/neural structure is much more likely to have the content that there’s water five miles south than it is, say, the content that there’s isn’t water five miles south, or that there’s water five miles north, or that there’s a mountain of dung five miles south, or that Paris is the capital of Bolivia. Perhaps the belief/neural structure in question might yet turn out to have one of these other contents. We can know a priori, solely on the basis of conceptual reflection, that, ceteris paribus, the fact that a belief/neural structure causes that behaviour in that situation significantly raises the probability that it has the content there’s water five miles south. Among the various candidates for being the semantic content of the belief/neural structure in question, the content that there’s water five miles south will rank fairly high on the list.

But now notice that, given such conceptual constraints exist, unguided evolution will indeed favour true belief. Consider our thirsty human. He has a strong desire for water. He’ll survive only if he walks five miles south to where the only reachable water is located. He does so and survives. Suppose this adaptive behaviour is caused by a certain belief/neural structure. If there are conceptual constraints on belief content of the sort I envisage, and if a belief/neural structure in that situation typically causes subjects to walk five miles south, then it is quite likely to have the content that there’s water five miles south – a true belief. Were our thirsty human to head off north, on the other hand, as a result of his having a belief/neural structure that, in that situation, typically causes subjects to walk five miles north, then it’s rather more likely that the belief in question is that there’s water five miles north. That’s a false belief. Because it is false, our human will die.

He further adds:

If beliefs are neural structures, then it is at least partly by virtue of its having certain sorts of behavioural consequence that a given neural structure will have the content it does. If such constraints exist, then one cannot, as it were, plug any old belief content into any old neural structure, irrespective of that structure’s behavioural output.

What Law is basically saying is that there are conceptual links between a belief's content and that content's relationship with survival. If your very survival is on the line, you simply cannot entertain false beliefs without the ability to perceive true beliefs because false beliefs can be very costly in an evolutionary sense. So even though nature's tendency to favor false positives exists, it also awarded species accurate senses that can properly discern reality, and this can be used to investigate and falsify those false positives in particularly evolved species like us, in the form of what we call today science. But...even if there weren't any good explanations for why evolution would allow for accurate beliefs, the paltriness of the alternative hypothesis (that I critiqued in part 1) is bad enough when one considers the fact that it can only be justified with tremendous faith on supernatural events like original sin that stand in defiance (and in contradiction) of any serious scientific evidence. The alternative to naturalistic evolution is therefore an entirely faith-based position.

The very idea that evolution merely rewards adaptive behavior and not truthful beliefs actually would show why us religious beliefs are not true. But skepticism is actually not something very well rewarded by evolution, since we know it favors false positives over false negatives. So if Plantinga's account of naturalism is taken superficially, he successfully shows why religious belief isn't true, since that's what evolution would favor in the form of false positives. I think theists and naturalists alike can acknowledge the fact that humans have believed many far-fetched ideas that had little grounding in reality. It's safe to say that most of our beliefs throughout human history were false. The reason why this is so is clear: without science to test and falsify dubious beliefs, we had no way of knowing the truth except with what can be known a priori. Science has done a brilliant job at eradicating the nonsensical, and the triumph of naturalism over the past few hundred years is a testament to the power of science. To date, there isn't a single sufficiently explained phenomenon that has a supernatural cause. And the thing is, science can, in principle, verify the supernatural. All we would need to do is observe and measure a clear violation of the known laws of physics under highly controlled circumstances, in such a way where it would be obvious that intelligence was behind it. But I won't be holding my breath for the day when that happens.

Finally, Plantinga's own "sophisticated" theology itself has a built-in a defeater to his own argument that our beliefs are true because god guided evolution. When it comes to natural evils Plantinga says, "Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain."* So if theistic evolution is true and if demons can tinker with the evolutionary process while god is powerless to stop them (in order to not violate their free will), then why should we believe our cognitive faculties and beliefs are accurate? Under Plantinga's sophisticated theological hypothesis, malicious demons could surreptitiously be playing tricks on our minds and they could've steered our evolution in such a way that made our beliefs untrue. And with this brilliant piece of theological insight, he destroys his own argument.

Plantinga is not offering a serious argument here if he actually expects the naturalist to entertain the idea that earthquakes, diseases and the evolutionary process itself can literally be caused or influenced by evil demons in order for his EAAN to be plausible. It's ideas like this that make me have to sigh in dismay at what happens when one rejects methodological naturalism in favor of supernatural conjecture. This is exactly why naturalism has been the preferred methodology of science since Darwin.

And lastly, if Plantinga represents one of the pinnacles of sophisticated contemporary theology, then his absurdities speak volumes about the intellectual bankruptcy of theology in general, and its failure to be congruous with actual science.


P.S.
I am in the midst of developing a counter argument to Plantinga's EAAN. Mine is called the Evolutionary Argument Against God or EAAG, and it's designed to show how evolution is not compatible with the concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good god in the form of a syllogism. Stay tuned.

(Click here for the argument.)


Sources:
http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2012/12/plantingas-evolutionary-argument.html

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/sophisticated-theology-plantinga-explains-why-god-makes-animals-suffer/

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/plantingas_closing_argument/

* Plantinga, A, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2011, Oxford University Press). pp. 58-59

The Three Stages Of Jihad



I've checked out a few of this guy's videos and they seem to be very well researched. I'm not sure if he's a Christian or a non-believer, but in terms of his criticism of Islam, I'd pretty much agree with him. Islam is clearly not a religion of peace and it never was.

This video is about Islam's conduct towards war and how Jihad is seen in three different stages.

See more posts I've made against Islam:

The Infidel's Guide To Islam

Free Speech Vs. Islamism

Is Islamophobia Justified?

Multiculturalism And The Failures Of Moral Relativism

How Many Countries Would I Get Killed In For Writing This Blog?

The Islamic War On Free Speech

Does Islam Condone Unjustified Violence?

How To Talk To A Muslim: Debating The Existence Of Allah, The Validity Of The Qur'an, & Evolution

How To Talk To A Muslim: Debating The Nature Of Allah

How To Talk To A Muslim: Debating Homosexuality

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"Question: What's the difference between Jesus and a painting? Answer: It only takes one nail to hang a painting."

LOL.

Monday, May 13, 2013

If it's possible that there's a greatest conceivable being, is it also possible that there's a coolest conceivable hipster?

It just occurred to me...

Matt Taibbi On Wall Street Crooks Getting Away With The Financial Collapse

Friday, May 10, 2013

Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) Part 1


Imagine that you're a hominid walking on the plains of East Africa a million years ago. You suddenly hear a rustle in the bushes. Is it a lion or just the wind? It's safer to assume that it's a lion just in case because you'll be more likely to survive if you do. But if you assume it's just the wind and it is a lion - you're lunch! It's not a mystery to see why evolution has favored the former rather than the latter. The former is a type one error, a false positive. It's assuming that there's something there that isn't. The latter is a type two error, a false negative. It's assuming that there isn't something there when there is.

Our tendency to assume that there is some intentional agency behind what is often just an unintentional natural process, is the reason many psychologists, neuroscientists and biologists believe why we created many religions and gods. You could say, in a way, that evolution has favored false positives and beliefs that were baseless in reality. This explains why religious belief persists today in so many people along with superstition. Millions of years of evolutionary programming are not easily shaked off.

The Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has tried to make the argument that evolution combined with naturalism would lead us to believe that evolution would favor false beliefs over accurate beliefs and that if naturalism were true, we wouldn't expect our cognitive faculties to have evolved to accurately comprehend reality. Thus, according to Plantinga, naturalism is a self-defeating position.

This argument has been picked up by the likes of William Lane Craig as well as many other amateur Christian bloggers and it is becoming one of those things atheists like me are beginning to hear over and over again. I've been debating with a Christian blogger over this very issue recently and it's encouraged  me to learn a few things about evolution and the theistic mindset.

When I first heard Plantinga's argument, my immediate reaction was to question an aspect of the theistic evolution which he and many other Christians hold to. Namely, if we are the product of divinely guided evolution whereby god selected for our cognition being accurate, then how do you explain things like mental illness and irrational/superstitious beliefs like voodoo, Mormonism, talking snakes, and flying horses carrying "prophets" to heaven, as well as thousands of other false gods and religions (Christianity included)?

The only answer theists have is the doctrine of original sin. Other than that, they must admit their designer is either incompetent and/or intentionally cruel. This poses a serious problem for the theist because there is no evidence that an episode of original sin ever took place. In fact, all the evidence is against it. There never was a bottleneck of just two individual people, and there never were two first "people" either. Humans gradually evolved over millions of years, and there never was an ape that literally gave birth to a fully evolved human being. If you have to believe there was in order to be a Christian, then you might as well join the ranks of creationists like Ray Comfort and Kent Hovind.

Furthermore, the evolutionary process involves necessary cruelty to those animals involved in it, so the theist must believe original sin was retroactively applied before humans had souls or had even evolved. That speaks of a rather cruel designer who'd punish animals for hundreds of millions of years for what two evolved humans were going to do at some point in the future (not to mention how cruel it was towards all the humans who lived before the alleged sin took place). The only other explanation I heard other than the fictional Adam & Eve scenario, is that somehow an angel fell and it pissed god off, and so god therefore chose to create the world using evolution with its necessary suffering and mutations as a punishment. There is absolutely no evidence backing the fallen angel scenario, and it must be believed on even more faith than the Adam & Eve myth.

So, if theistic explanations for why there are defective brains don't pan out we are left with evolution by natural selection it seems to me. So addressing Plantinga's argument, can we explain why or how evolution would favor belief content being true?

I will address his argument head on in part 2 because I don't want this post to run on forever. I find extremely long posts annoying even though I admit I'm as guilty as charged of it.

To be continued...


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Free Speech Vs. Islamism

Free speech is a complex topic, certainly more true in some countries than in others. While I personally am an ardent supporter of as much free speech as possible, including (especially) the public criticism of religion, I am fully aware that there are forces out there opposing this kind of speech and are working towards having it muffled. This is true among many Muslims in the West who oppose criticism of Islam that they deem isn't "intellectual". They'll point to the double standard in many European countries on speech laws and say things like, "In the West you can criticize Islam, but if you question the holocaust, you go to jail! Why not give Islam that same benefit?"

These critics have every right to point out this double standard. That's why I strongly oppose laws against holocaust denial am I'm thankful we don't have such laws in the US. But rather than make the critics happy by affording Islam the same benefit the holocaust has, I say open the gates to all criticism of historic events, historic figures and religions and ideologies.

If you check out some Islamic websites, as I do occasionally, you'll read that many organizations not considered at all extreme, support the restrictions of speech they deem anti-intellectual, or unconstructive. They also oppose the idea of secularism and human rights as it is commonly understood in Western liberal democracies. Some even oppose democracy itself.

Consider the UK based Muslim Debate Initiative whose website argues against secularism by stating "If we looked at Secularism, we notice that it stipulates a separation of religion from lifes [sic] affairs (politics). If this is the case, does that make sense? How can man’s purpose in life be separate from his life’s affairs?" And it concludes by saying, "Instead of aping the West and prostrating ourselves to western political theory and solutions, let us be proud of Islam, strive to establish it and create a noble, progressive and advanced Khilafah, to take us into the 21st century and beyond."

Now of course not all Muslims believe in establishing a 21st century caliphate in the West, but it is not a tiny fringe minority that do. I think that if large numbers of Muslims in the West are arguing for Sharia law being implemented onto non-Muslims, that is certainly a good reason to be attentive to the motivations and growing presence of Islam in the West.

What these Islamists want is the destruction of the wall separating religion from government so that they can have their Sharia courts side-by-side with Christian ones, Jewish ones and (I assume) non-religious secular ones. That way the law is separate and unequal for everyone! Just as god intended it to be. Many of these Islamists are publicly saying that they will stop there and that they will not force Sharia onto non-Muslims. But, if criticism of Islam will be deemed illegal (by who exactly is not known to me at least) then it seems impossible that I as a non-religious person would be able to live freely as I would be able to in free secular democracy.

This is why I consider the debate over secularism the most important and practically relevant aspect of the overall conflict between religion and atheism.

Stand for secularism! Stand for freedom of speech!

The Boltzmann Brain Dilemma



The multiverse theory is probably the single best argument against the apparent fine tuning of our universe’s physical constants that many theists like William Lane Craig say implies a designer. That means it naturally has its religious critics because they see the existence of a multiverse as an undermining threat to what theists see as something god best explains. 

Since the existence of a potentially infinite number of universes comprising a vast multiverse puts a damper into the argument from fine tuning, let me address the so called “Boltzmann Brain” dilemma rebuttal that theists are using. On his website, William Lane Craig made the following objections to the idea of a multiverse:


If we were just a random member of a World Ensemble, then we ought to be observing a very different universe. Roger Penrose has calculated that the odds of our solar system’s forming instantaneously through the random collision of particles is incomprehensibly more probable that the universe’s being fine-tuned, as it is. So if we were a random member of a World Ensemble, we should be observing a patch of order no larger than our solar system in a sea of chaos. 

In order to be observable the patch of order needn’t be even as large as the solar system. The most probable observable world would be one in which a single brain fluctuates into existence out of the quantum vacuum and observes its otherwise empty world.

On another Question of the week, Craig writes:

Now a similar problem afflicts the contemporary appeal to the multiverse to explain away fine-tuning. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of our universe’s low entropy condition obtaining by chance alone are on the order of 1:10^10(123), an inconceivable number. If our universe were but one member of a multiverse of randomly ordered worlds, then it is vastly more probable that we should be observing a much smaller universe. For example, the odds of our solar system’s being formed instantly by the random collision of particles is about 1:10^10(60), a vast number, but inconceivably smaller than 10^10(123).

First, a little background knowledge if you’re not familiar with a Boltzmann Brain.

Boltzmann Brains are a term made by Austrian Physicist Ludwig Boltzmann. In short, he lived in the late 1800s at a time when the steady state theory of the universe prevailed. He and many others believed the universe was timeless and eternal, and Boltzmann, who was an atomist, (a theory still controversial at the time since the atom hadn't yet been discovered) theorized that all the matter and structure in the universe could be the product of a random fluctuation of matter. Although this would be highly improbable, the infinite history of the universe he thought would give it the time necessary to happen. But, an entire universe fluctuating out of random collisions is more improbable than just a single solar system, and just a single brain would be more probable than a solar system. So any sentient being in the universe is much more likely to be just a single conscious brain that suddenly materializes from random particles colliding, rather than be a person with a whole body, living in a vast and orderly universe full of galaxies. Hence the term, Boltzmann Brain.

The Boltzmann Brain concept is interesting and I’m only a little familiar with it. One argument I heard against it goes like this. Imagine estimating the probability that if you were born as a form of life on earth, what would be the chances that you’d be born human. Since the number of insects on earth dwarfs the number of human beings overwhelmingly, there is a much higher probability that we should have been born as insects. There are an estimated 10^18 insects on earth compared to a relatively small 7 billion human beings (up from just 1.5 billion 100 years ago). That means that there are about 150 million insects for every one human being on earth. But you obviously weren’t born as an insect despite the overwhelming odds against it. So just because there is a much greater probability of something, it doesn’t mean that it will happen. Rare events happen all the time. In fact, every single event that ever happens in our universe is a rare event because the chances of that event not happening and some other event happening instead are always probabilistically more likely.

So we know we aren’t Boltzmann Brains given that they exist for a tiny amount of time, look around (with no eyes!) and then disappear back into quantum foam. I suppose chance again can explain this dilemma, in the same way that it does for how our universe’s physical constants could fall in the life permitting range. In the multiverse scenario, eternal inflation involves there being an unlimited number of rolls of the dice, and given an eternal future, a universe like ours is inevitable. Does that mean that hyperspace is littered with Boltzmann Brains amongst the universes? I don’t know, but it seems the chance hypothesis and the multiverse still has a chance.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

If A Good God Actually Existed...

If a good god actually existed, I think that there'd be a lot more evidence for his existence to the point where denying his existence would be untenable, and almost as absurd as denying that the sun exists. Going by the evidence for god that we have now, if god did exist, he's done an awfully good job making the world appear exactly as it would if atheism were true.

Some will naturally say that I have no justification for saying what evidence god should or should not have provided us for his existence. I've heard some of those arguments and think that they too cannot be fully justified and can conveniently double as an excuse for the lack of evidence for god's existence. All I have is my brain and its ability to reason and examine evidence, and I have concluded with it, that a truly good god, an omni-benevolent god, who has set up the world such that disbelief in his existence culminated in eternal doom, would have provided enough evidence to sway even the most pressing skeptic. Because if god knows all things, he knows that some of us are born such that we cannot believe such heavy claims on faith alone, we require evidence that is at least as substantial as the claim it purports to back up.

But then again, why must god be good and not just very powerful? There exists quite a burden on those willing to say god is all-good and all-wise and all-powerful. The god who willed this world into existence must have within him to properties of indifference, and malice. For why else could there exist so much needless suffering, and intentional cruelty befalling man and nature, and a keen lack of evidence backing up the scriptures? Someone who would intentionally put us all through this test, must truly lack compassion. That's why it is always more plausible for me to believe that god was made in man's image, and not the other way around.

Why Is 'Nothing' Assumed To Be The Default?

We mildly assume, quite naively I believe, that there shouldn't be anything, that nothing should exist at all, if there isn't some grand creator to make it. This assumption led philosophers like Leibniz to ask why there is something rather than nothing, because intuition would tell us that nothing should somehow be the default. I can understand this notion of nothing being the default, however, I also recognize the fact that our intuition has been misguided before.

It may be as it turns out, that something must always exist, that absolute nothing has never and could never exist. If this is indeed true, than our arduous quest to explain the meaning of existence is futile at best. In my journey in understanding philosophy, I have come across the term brute fact. In order to give a sufficient explanation of something, you cannot have an infinite regress of explanations. As it seems, and you must eventually arrive at some terminating point. For theists, that point is god. God is their brute fact. For the naturalist, it may be some fundamental law that necessitates existence.

Existence and nature might just be brute facts, and so it may be futile to ask why these laws of physics and not others, or why this universe and not another. I myself have wondered why this god and not another, and why did he create this world and not another. The former at least is explained by theists that god's own existence is necessary for some reason. What that reason is, varies from theist to theist, and religion to religion, but I've also wondered why there shouldn't truly be nothing: no universes, no laws of physics and no god. And since god is a mind, I've wondered if god ever reflected on his own existence, and why it is that he exists, eternally.

Personally, I contend that god's purpose is to create us, and that without us, or without creation, god serves no purpose unto himself. If it is indeed, as I believe, that existence is the default, that there is always something rather than nothing and that there has never been and cannot ever be absolute nothing, than it's no surprise we created many gods and myths to in order to explain our existence. So asking why there is something rather than nothing may be the wrong question. The better question might be, why isn't there nothing rather than something?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bike Ride On A Beautiful Spring Day

I am sick of thinking about religion. Seriously. It gets nauseating after a while. For the moment let me digress onto something I rarely do: writing about my day. Late this afternoon I went on a bike ride around my borough of Queens. I snapped a few shots of the city and scenery. Take a look below.


1. The Upper East Side across Hell's Gate









5. LIC piers



6. The "Freedom Tower" officially called 1 WTC. Almost complete.



7. Chrysler Building.



















Friday, May 3, 2013

Healthy Living For A Healthy "Soul"



Many years ago my sister recommended that I see her friend who was a spiritual healer that could help me guide my life in a better direction and address some issues I had been facing. My sister was very spiritual and knew many hippie types that specialized in yoga and spiritual cleansing. Since it wouldn't have cost me anything, I abided.

I met my sister's friend in a fourth floor apartment in the East Village right on second avenue and eighth street. She looked like your stereotypical hippie: She was a white woman with long dreadlocks, and had all sorts of beads and accessories you'd think a shaman should wear. She also had a very intense stare and demeanor as if she was permanently in touch with her inner chi. 

We practiced a meditation ritual that I found rather difficult to concentrate on. Meditation has always been difficult to me. I've never been able to tame my mind in the way it's needed for a successful experience. I think it's because I think too much. I remember being in the middle of the "trance" and opening my eyes and seeing her so into it, that I felt jealous I couldn't quite get there with her.

Later she gave me a massage that was supposed to unlock my inner spirit that involved cracking my back by her stepping on me and putting downward pressure on my spine. That might have been as close as I got to inner peace.

Finally we talked about what was bothering me and she wrote down on a piece of paper some thoughts or suggestions should I consider going forward with my life in order to help me. I recently found this paper folded in a book (Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great of all places) after several years. It said:

How does attachment to people, places & things prevent you from growing? How do they contribute to fear, insecurity, & self doubt? Is this the truth of who you really are? How are you potentially being held back by fearing to take risks? What does taking risks mean to you? Why is this crucial to your growth - for now & later?
What is your daily routine for developing your practices & new direction for a healthy/empowered lifestyle? Is there anything holding you back from this?

It finished with some recommendations to keep a day to day regiment to guide me towards a better path.

*Daily Practices
1. Meditation: BOS, practice 10 min. twice daily, am & pm & all throughout the day
Breath
Observe, witness, as it is, w/o judging, labeling, assessing
Surrender, letting go, pure acceptance of what is
2. Colon cleanse: Live Live, 63 E. 10th St. between 1st & A
3. Diet: Try 2 weeks of no meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, sugar. 80% living/raw foods, 20% coocked
4. Drink 1 1/2 liters lemon water daily
5. Take yoga classes, ashtanga, kundalini

I remember trying to go on a raw food diet afterwards and dropping a lot of weight as a result, and since I was really skinny at the time, I just couldn't keep it going. Although I have to be honest that I have not been able to adjust my life to this daily regiment, I have definitely cut down on the amount of processed foods and garbage that I used to eat when I was younger. I only drink organic almond milk or protein juice, and I eat a lot of fruits. I of course have my occasional junk food binges but I keep them under wraps because I'm a lot more conscious now of how negative they are health-wise.

While I haven't been able to fully accept life as it is, I do feel that some things should be left alone and not constantly dwelled upon. The mind should be occasionally unplugged. In the years since this experience, I've no doubt struggled to be a better person and to treat my body better. Even though there is no "soul" to be cleansed, we do have our inner being, our bodies and our minds, and they do fall prey to contamination.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

15 Things To Consider When You're Feeling Down




Last summer when I had lost my job, it gave me time to reevaluate my life and use my time differently. I was sitting in Union Square park enjoying a beautiful sunny day and I decided to jot down a few ideas to consider now that I didn't have to spend so many long hours in the cubicle. Here is what I wrote. Take from it whatever makes sense and whatever you feel can make a positive difference in your life.


  1. Got to Meetup groups to keep active
  2. Continue writing every day and reading
  3. Go out! Enjoy the summer. Enjoy the outdoors!
  4. Make projects and stick to them!
  5. Make some art!
  6. Connect with people that matter
  7. Collaborate with like-minded individuals
  8. Indulge in your passions!
  9. Enjoy life!
  10. Stay positive, live positive!
  11. Learn a new skill that you did not have time to learn before
  12. Don't be lazy
  13. Do not let apathy rule you
  14. Make life your bitch
  15. Be confident in who you are, be true to who you are



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