Saturday, March 29, 2014
Earlier this month at my debate MeetUp I had a lovely conversation with a Muslim man over a few glasses of wine about the NSA spying scandal. In the middle of our conversation, I asked if he was Muslim, and he told me that he was. I then asked him why he thought drinking alcohol was OK since it is a prohibition in Islam and he told me that he has his "own interpretation of the Qur'an."
This is a line echoed by many theists that I've engaged in intellectual discussions with, and it's a perfect example highlighting one of the two major problems with the divine command theory of ethics. The epistemic problem with the DCT is due to the fact that no one knows what god commanded what, and whatever commands god is believed to have made can be subjectively interpreted however one wants. This leaves you ultimately, in practice, with moral relativism - which is, ironically, the very thing that the DCT seeks to eliminate.
Now the Muslim gentleman at that MeetUp is a really nice guy. He's pretty much just a regular guy who happens to be Muslim, and he can engage in intellectual conversations on a variety of topics. He takes a liberal approach to his interpretation of the Qur'an, which I think us atheists would hope for all Muslims to do, if they insist upon keeping the faith. It is said that American Muslims are far less radicalized than Muslims in other Western countries. There are always exceptions, but this is generally true. I suppose what we should encourage among all Muslims, but specifically Muslims living in the West (because we are most affected by them), is that they adopt a progressive attitude towards their religion in the same way many Christians in the West have.
Finally, I've also got my own interpretation of the Qur'an. And that is that it's a man-made book full of contradictions and factual errors and it shows. See here.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
For the past week the major news coming from science was that faint gravitational waves from the earliest moments of the universe were detected by the BICEP2 observatory near the south pole. The findings, if correct, would confirm a prediction made by Einstein nearly 100 years ago in General Relativity, as well as in inflationary theory developed by Alan Guth in 1980.
"It's hard to build models of inflation that don't lead to a multiverse," says Guth, quoted from a recent Huffington Post article. Since most models of inflation lead to a multiverse, and the recent finding corroborates predictions made by inflation theory, then it seems that the multiverse just got a big boost in credibility. For years the critics were saying that the multiverse was pure speculation, tantamount to an atheistic version of god as an explanatory force. We may or may not ever have direct confirmation of another universe, but if the data holds up and is confirmed by additional tests (of which there are several pending) then the predictions made in inflation theory that other universes are likely will move it closer to physics from metaphysics.
The multiverse does offer us an explanation for many of the current puzzles in science, like why the values of the physical constants are in the life permitting range. So if we have good evidence that the multiverse is true, there goes the fine tuning argument - which I consider the only decent argument theism has. And if the fine tuning argument implodes, then theism is really going to be in trouble in the future. Take away the cosmological argument and the fine tuning argument for example, (which I think there are already good refutations for) and theism really has nothing left to stand on. There is nothing within the universe that really needs god as an explanation that isn't better served by science and philosophy.
So what's left for theism? What will the nature of apologetics look like in 2050 when we might have discovered quantum gravity and when an inflation model with multiverse predictions becomes the cosmological paradigm rendering the fine tuning argument a total dud? I wonder what debates about the existence of god will be like then.
Presumably the atheist will have a much larger arsenal of data to draw from, as has always been the case when new scientific discoveries are made. I am optimistic that within this century, theism will become the minority position in the West, because it's explanatory power will fail to compete with the rigor of naturalistic science, and because many of the social functions that religion has played will be replaced by secular alternatives.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
I don't call myself "The Thinker" because I think I'm smarter or better than everyone else, or that only atheists "think" rationally or are capable of being thoughtful and rational. I call myself The Thinker because I'm fascinated by many intellectual topics like science, philosophy, history, politics and religion - which I consider an intellectual topic of discussion. I like to think about these things as they give me great pleasure and enjoyment. That's it. If you're fascinated by these topics as I am and spend a lot of time dwelling on them, then I consider you a thinker as well, even if I disagree with you.
If you like physics like I do, check out wolfram.com for some interactive tools that help you visualize things like length contraction and time dilation in Special Relativity.
Length Contraction Visualization: Pole and Barn from the Wolfram Demonstrations Project by Grant A. Riley
Monday, March 10, 2014
I'm in the middle of taking the free course on Special Relativity over on worldscienceu.com. I've already taken the simple version that doesn't include any math, and now I've just started the technical version that has all the math. It's a challenge since I haven't done complex math in years.
One of the things that I was already familiar with in relativity is how the EPR paradox kind of throws a challenge to the notion of the relativity of simultaneity. The EPR paradox is basically quantum entanglement. When two quantum particles become entangled, they can be separated at great distances and when one of the particles is measured and it becomes known that it has a certain spin, the other particle instantly becomes affected and will spin in the opposite direction. That won't become known until the other particle is measured of course, and any information about the spin of the first particle that was measured won't be able to travel faster than the speed of light. This seems to preserve Einstein's Special Relativity (SR) very well that no information can travel though space faster than light.
But this is not what bugs me. What bugs me is how if two distant particles can "instantly" affect one another, and if according to SR our reference frame that determines what is "now" depends on our velocity relative to other objects, how can the two entangled particles instantly affect one another? Suppose one of the particles was on a space ship travelling at 80% the speed of light and moving towards the other entangled particle that is a million light years away. According to SR the reference frame of the particle on the ship would require that its "now" slice contain the future events of the other distant particle. So if the particle on the moving ship is measured, does the other distant particle's spin change "instantly" or does it change in the far future, according to the measured particle's reference frame on the moving ship?
Monday, March 3, 2014
Skeptical theism is view that we are not in a position to know god's reasons for acting or refraining from acting in particular situations. It is often invoked in response to the problem of evil, whereby it is argued that god has morally sufficient reasons for permitting or allowing moral evil or even causing suffering, but we are not in a position to know why.
So why should we prevent suffering and evil? Wouldn't this thwart god's plan to draw people closer to him? And if we are to prevent suffering, as some theists argue we have a duty to do, it seems to have a long term affect of secularizing the population and increasing the number of atheists and agnostics. A look around the world at the richest and most advanced countries with the highest standards of living shows a correlation with decreased religious belief and worship. This further supports the view that if we grant the skeptical theistic approach, it could be argued that we are not in the position to know we have the duty to prevent suffering in particular instances; it could be part of god's plan.
Skeptical Theist: God uses/allows suffering and evil to draw people closer to him.
Atheist: Then we shouldn't prevent suffering and evil.
Skeptical Theist: Oh no we should. It is a duty from god.
Atheist: Then it thwarts god's plan. And if we prevent it, it will help turn people away from god.
Skeptical Theist: God uses you to prevent the evil and suffering he allowed.
Atheist: It doesn't make sense. God uses suffering to draw people towards him, and that's his plan, but when I prevent the suffering, his plan is to inspire me to prevent it? It's as if god's plan changes on the fly.
Since suffering is the one of the most common reasons why people turn away from god, I'm not sure it even makes sense for the theist to argue that god uses suffering to drawn people towards him. I personally think skeptical theism is a one-size-fits-all excuse out of any situation or fact inconvenient to theism. The theist doesn't have to justify it with any data. All they have to do is insist that god has morally sufficient reasons for doing or allowing what he does. This is partly why I developed my evolutionary argument against god. It circumvents the usual skeptical theistic approach to human moral evil and suffering.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Now I don't think that I'm done, but I do think that counter-apologetics for me might be running out of steam. Don't get me wrong, I'm still fascinated by the science and philosophy behind the theism vs. atheism debate. If I had enough money, I would actually consider getting a PhD in philosophy or maybe physics specifically so that I could become the best atheist debater in the history of the world. It's a fantasy of mine. But there is also a pull from the materialistic world. And I don't mean materialism in the sense of ontological naturalism, I mean materialism in the sense of money, bitches. There is a part of me that wants to say, "Fuck it, you only live once. Why not just party, drink, give into consumerism and carnal pleasure, and forget about all that atheism shit? God doesn't exist."
I struggle with this. These two mindsets seem to be pulling me from either side, like an angel and a demon sitting on opposite shoulders. Only with me, it's the angel that's telling me to focus more on my atheism!
Right now, it's winter and it's freezing outside. We've had a particularly nasty couple of months here in New York, but in a few weeks spring will be here and I will want to get back into party mode. Perhaps I should take a cue from the Buddha and find the middle path. Perhaps I should strike a balance between my conflicting desires to immerse myself in these intellectual things and immerse myself in gratuitous debauchery. I guess that's probably the right thing to do. Plus, I know that if I do immerse myself in the party scene again I'll quickly get bored with it, because I've been there and done that, and the people living the party life are not deep thinking intellectuals for the most part. So it's probably best I do a little of both. I can't live without my intellectual fix, and the desire grows stronger and stronger as I get older. So there is no way I'm giving up my pursuit of wisdom.
But, I don't want to turn into some old fogey either, who's buried in books and who's totally lost touch with style and coolness.
Fuck it, I'm going to have to rethink my previous "fuck it."