Saturday, December 31, 2016
The most successful scientific theory ever that gives us the most accurate predictions in all of science is quantum field theory. It says that particles and forces arise out of fields. When the fields vibrate, we observe those vibrations in the form of particles. Particles are made up of two kinds of fields, fermions and bosons. Bosons make up force fields. An example would be the Higgs field, which gives particles matter. Fermions make up the objects of matter that you and I are made of.
There are basically only three kinds of matter particles and three forces that you and I are made up of. Protons and neutrons, which make up the nucleus of atoms, and orbiting electrons, are the three matter particles. Then there are the three forces in the Standard Model: the strong and the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism. The strong force binds the nucleus of atoms together (and the quarks that make up protons and neutrons), the weak force allows interaction with neutrinos and are carried by W and Z bosons, and electromagnetism binds electrons with the nucleus.
Then there's gravity, for which we use the General Theory of Relativity to describe. Gravity is a very weak force and is very simple: everything pulls on everything else. It could be said that gravity isn't really a force per se, but is rather the curvature of spacetime. Regardless, it's just easier to describe it as a force. There are two other generations of fermions but they decay rather quickly and aren't particularly relevant for describing the stuff that you and I are made of and interact with.
So that makes up everything you experience in your everyday lives, without exception. When we combine all this knowledge into a single theory, we get what is called Core Theory. It was developed and named by Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek. And there's an equation that describes Core Theory:
Within this equation lies the physics of everyday human experience: eating, exercising, sleeping, dreaming, using a computer, driving a car, flying an airplane, reproducing, making decisions, meditating — everything you've ever done, ever seen, or ever will do (so long as you don't travel into a black hole), and every scientific experiment that has been performed is fundamentally described by, and compatible with, this equation. There are no exceptions.
The key word above is fundamentally. That means that whatever you experience yourself doing or seeing in your everyday life is going to be either reduced to and explained by, or emerges from, the fermions and bosons described by this equation. But this means there are consequences to this equation. As all-encompassing as Core Theory is, what it restricts is perhaps the most important.
One of its consequences is that psychic phenomena like telekinesis is ruled out. There are no forces or particles that your mind can produce that can bend spoons or move objects. In other words, we don't need to test the claims of every self-proclaimed psychic and mentalist. Core Theory unambiguously rules out such abilities. There's no way for there to be forces that can produce the kinds of effects mentalists claim they can cause. There's no room with in Core Theory to allow that. It isn't that we don't know of possible forces that might still exist "out there" waiting to be discovered that can allow spoon bending with one's mind, rather it's that we know all the relevant particles and forces and how they interact that are involved with the physics of everyday human experience, which telekinesis would be a part of. Any new force or particle that exists would be far too weakly interacting with the atoms that make up spoons or you and I to be able to effect them in any way like the mentalists claim they can do. This is why no psychic phenomena has ever been able to be demonstrated under any competent scientific scrutiny.
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
If theism (which is the belief in a creator god that has revealed itself to us via revelation) is true, and especially if Abrahamic theism is true, then this graphic below depicts how the all-knowing, all-powerful, and wise creator chose to reveal its authentic messages to us to ensure humanity wouldn't get confused over it.
I've updated a chart that maps out the basic relationships between atheism, agnosticism, and theism, and their respective statements or beliefs. Atheism is sub-categorized into gnostic and agnostic forms, and further sub-categorized into strong, moderate, and weak forms, along with agnosticism and theism, which allows for a 9 point scale of belief from atheism to theism.
No chart will ever satisfy everyone though. While atheism and theism are generally about belief, agnosticism is about knowledge. But gnostic atheism and theism both make claims to knowledge, and that's why they both come in gnostic and agnostic forms.
This chart also doesn't include other isms like pantheism and deism, so believers in those views might be disappointed in this scale. It isn't supposed to cover every possible god option, just the scale between atheism and theism.
So where do you fall in this category? Feel free to link or share this chart.
Monday, December 26, 2016
I'm a big fan of the PBS Digital Studios series Space Time. If you're a physics geek like me you catch pretty much every episode that's come out. And if you aren't, you should. The series covers the numerous areas of physics from classical mechanics, to special and general relativity, to quantum mechanics and its various interpretations. Some episodes get a little deep into the equations, but that's the good part. It's fun to challenge yourself a bit. It's a great educational video series. This episode covers a bit of special relativity, which is my favorite scientific theory. Watch it. Enjoy. Get addicted.
I came across a recent blog post called Why I Am Not an Atheist Anymore and I decided to write a critique of it here since the site it's on doesn't allow comments. It's interesting to see where and how an atheist becomes convinced that god exists. Since I've written before on Why I'm An Atheist and I know the arguments for and against god very well, I can see where this post goes wrong. What I'm going to do is just take certain quotes from the piece and offer my thoughts and criticisms, exactly as if I was leaving a comment. So here we go. It starts out with criticism of atheists themselves:
One of the first things that bothered me about Atheists is how they would often act like they had proven something, when all they can and have ever done is try to do dismantle arguments and discredit evidence for Theism. A classic question is, ‘What proof or evidence can one give for Atheism?’. Seriously, try to think of one and you’ll be stuck.
I can think of one. It's not true that you can't prove a negative, although most people don't realize this. There is at least one way to prove a negative: demonstrate that the idea or thing is self-contradictory. I attempted to do just that in my piece Why I'm An Atheist with god. I don't think god is a fully coherent concept. Not many atheists are aware of such an argument. But an atheist is just someone who at the bare minimum lacks belief in any gods. It's what I call "bare minimum atheism." Once you meet that classification, you're an atheist. So an atheist doesn't have to prove god doesn't exist. An atheist merely has to say at a bare minimum, "The existence of god is unlikely, so I'm willing to say I don't believe in god," whereas the agnostic says, "I have no idea if god exists. It is unknowable." In other words, atheism is a claim to belief, agnosticism is a claim to knowledge.
As Neil Degrasse Tyson said, “There is no Anti-Golf… why is there Anti-God?” He’s an agnostic, which is really what most Atheists really mean when they say they don’t believe in God.
No, Tyson is technically an atheist, not an agnostic. Tyson has repeatedly said he remains "unconvinced" there is any god, and lacking belief in a god is the very definition of an atheist. He calls himself an agnostic but that's because he doesn't like the label "atheist" due to its perceived negative connotations. You see, agnostics are actually atheists. Since agnostics do not positively believe in a god, they lack belief, and lacking belief in a god is atheism. Agnosticism is really a form of weak atheism. See Agnosticism vs Atheism for more information and this scale of belief:
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
With the Trump cabinet shaping up to be a secular liberal's nightmare, this holiday season it's more important than ever to give the gift that really matters. And what gift is that you ask? That gift is donating money to any of the leading secular or atheist organizations that fight for our rights as atheists so that we're treated equally and free from discrimination, and that maintain the wall of separation Jefferson wrote of.
So just the other day I got out my credit card and I donated to three of the nation's leading secular organizations dedicated to keeping America secular and promoting and advancing the secular worldview. They need your money now more than ever. Secularists might be facing in the next presidential administration the toughest legal and policy battles they've ever had to fight in more than a generation.
These organizations will need money for lawyers, for outreach, for educational campaigns, and for fighting the numerous legal battles that are surely going to happen once Trump takes office on January 20th. I do my small part on my little corner of the web but the real soldiers on the front line maintaining the wall of separation are the activists in organizations like these.
So please consider donating even just a small amount of money, $10 or so, to help them fund the many challenges that the Religious Right, under Donald Trump and Mike Pence, are going to push.
This season please give the gift that really matters.
What's American Atheist's mission? From their site:
American Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a "wall of separation" between state and church.
Their mission is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints in the United States, and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all.
You can even donate in Mike Pence's name by clicking here.
What's the FFRF's purpose? From their site:
The purposes of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., as stated in its bylaws, are to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.
Monday, December 19, 2016
question of the week over on the Reasonable Faith site a questioner asks Dr. Craig about Sean Carroll's response to the fine tuning argument he made during their debate on God and Cosmology back in 2014. Craig wrote a lengthy response to Carroll's rebuttal and I want to examine his response and show why I think it's wrong.
Initially, Craig is confused as to what Carroll's argument is an objection to. He doesn't know if it's supposed to defend physical necessity or chance, which are the only other options Craig says that exist, other than design. Craig writes,
Of course, the theist thinks that God could have miraculously sustained life or perhaps created a universe operating according to different laws of nature which were not fine-tuned. But how does that do anything to subvert the argument? When it is said that were the values of the constants and quantities found in nature to be altered, life would not exist, one is implicitly assuming ceteris paribus conditions—“all else being equal,” that is to say, assuming no miraculous interventions take place. This is, after all, an argument aimed at showing the explanatory inadequacy of naturalism, not at showing that God could have created the universe in only one way.
It's not really supposed to defend either physical necessity or chance. It's supposed to show the vacuousness of theism as an explanation of fine tuning. It's offensive, not defensive. The argument that god could have created a universe that wasn't fine tuned for life, yet still had life in it would literally be a miracle, and that would be good evidence for god since physical science wouldn't be able to explain how life could exist under such inhospitable conditions. On naturalism it's not an option that life exist without the right physical conditions for it, it's a necessity that it does. But a god wouldn't need to do this. God is not constrained by the laws of physics. If god wanted to leave us good evidence he exists, he had the option of creating life via some kind of perpetual miracle, inexplicable in principle to the natural sciences.
As far as assuming ceteris paribus conditions, doing so assumes that god isn't doing the very thing he could do to show naturalism is false: give us proof life is a miracle. And because debates of theism involve the potentiality of a miracle as an explanation, in this instant it's not wise to assume ceteris paribus conditions.
Contrary to what Craig writes, this inclusion of god's ability to create life via miracles does indeed help the naturalist's case because this would have been the best option for god to show us he exists because it would rule out all possible naturalistic means to explain life. That would potentially be a knock-down argument for theism. Instead, the theist is basically saying god chose to create a universe with life in the one way it would have to exist if naturalism was true: physical life forms dependent on the right physical conditions for them to exist.
Why would a god do this? Well, perhaps god had no choice. Since free will is logically coherent, that applies to god as well. Being all knowing and all powerful does not get you out of the logical dilemma that libertarian free will necessitates. And since a timeless being must have a mind that never changes, god's decision to create our world would have to have existed eternally, with no other option being possible. So on theism here we are! No other world was technically possible. It just is.
Theism fails to have any explanatory power over naturalism.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Liberals love to complain about how inequality is bad for society and that we need to do something about it, but many free-market types would tell you that inequality is good. They'll say that a meritocracy will inevitably result in inequality because some people will naturally work harder than others and make more money. And those who have more money and goods will incentivize those who don't to work harder. Economic equality, they'll say, is socialism!
So let's talk about what being against economic inequality is about. For most on the Left, fighting economic inequality doesn't mean that we use government to make everyone's income equal no matter that they do or how hard they work. It's also not about implementing a maximum wage, or just taxing the wealthy into poverty.
Being against economic inequality is recognizing we have rigged political and economic systems that cater mostly to the needs of the wealthy and elite and as a result the total amount of wealth and wealth accumulation in the world is increasingly going to a smaller and smaller class of people at the very top of societies. This top-heavy concentration of wealth is bad because as the lower and middle classes maintain less wealth, they have less purchasing power to drive their economies. Creating economic policies that cater to the lower and middle classes that allow them to receive and retain more of the wealth generated will give them greater purchasing power which will better drive the world's economies, and this will secure better living standards for the vast majority of people.
Consider that the top .7% of the world's population now owns 45.6% of the world's wealth according to this new graph done by Credit Suisse. Less than 1% owns nearly have the wealth on the planet. 73% of the people on the planet have less than $10,000 and their total amount of that wealth is just 2.4%. The wealthy have rigged the systems in almost every country to favor themselves and they do so in such a way that reduces or stagnates wealth accumulation in the lower and middle classes. Fighting to change this system around the world is what fighting economic inequality is.
Friday, December 16, 2016
new survey reporting that Jews and Christians worldwide have on average higher levels of educational attainment than the unaffiliated do. On some Right-leaning sites this is being touted as a rebuttal to the often heard claim that atheists are more educated than Christians, or religious people in general.
Well, there is a way to explain this but it's a little bit complicated. In the US, a larger percentage of the unaffiliated (and therefore atheists) have higher education than Christians, as the same survey reported. This is not always true for several developing countries. This means region must be factored in as much as religion. The latter claim that atheists are more educated than religious people in general is indeed true and this same study reports that when the affiliated and unaffiliated worldwide go head-to-head on the percentage of those with higher education, the unaffiliated always show more. (See below)
As I sit home on this blustery frigid night remembering Christopher Hitchens on this, the five year anniversary of his death, I'm reminded of how important his point of view was on the issues. Although many younger people learned of Hitchens from his involvement in the New Atheism movement, he had spent over 30 years as a journalist covering international affairs, economics, and social policies. He always had an interesting angle on the current events of the day that you might not have considered even if you typically agreed with him and he always knew how to explain it in brilliant prose. And it was from this that he was best known.
What would Hitchens have to say about the current state of affairs in US politics? Of Trump's election? Of ISIS and the war in Syria? Of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and safe spaces all over college campuses? Of PC culture and the rise of the Alt-Right? If Hitch was still writing for Vanity Fair would he and Trump get into a Twitter war? (Assuming Hitch would eventually make a Twitter account.) These are questions I've been asking myself over and over again these past few years. I know where Hitch would fall on most of them but I'd have no idea exactly what he'd write and I'm sure there'd be plenty of surprises if he were here speaking and writing about them.
We'll never know.
We do however, know Hitchens's views on religion pretty well. And on numerous occasions he made the following argument about the futility of reconciling the prolonged nastiness of the evolutionary process with the basic claims required of Abrahamic theism in light of it:
The argument takes the conservative estimate of how long our species has existed for. It may be over 300,000 years by some estimates, which would strengthen Hitchens's point considerably, but he opts for the low end to show it's enough to make his point. Is Hitchens correct in his assessment? And is this a good argument?
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Five years ago I remember sitting in my cubicle at my godawful former job in New Jersey and getting a text from a friend that read "My condolences." Within a minute I reasoned that this could only mean Christopher Hitchens has died. His health had taken a turn for the worst and in his last public appearance several months prior he had looked ghastly and frail; the chemotherapy taking its toll. So I Googled it and confirmed this suspicion: Hitch had died.
I had been hopeful along with many of his supporters that he would recover despite the odds, but they were just stacked too high against him. I remember commuting home on the PATH train back to Manhattan that night severely depressed, thinking life had no meaning for me anymore. My hero was dead. There was just no point to living anymore. Another friend of mine texted me asking if I wanted to hang out and drink with him, and I said I couldn't because someone I close to me had died.
Although he wasn't a friend, Hitchens became my obsession ever since I caught onto the New Atheist movement back in 2009. (Read here for my first ever post about him.) He stood out as its most interesting expositor. I loved his polemic style and his sense of humor in the way his jokes made subtle jabs at his intellectual opponents. I watched everything I could find about him on YouTube and I bought several of his books, including his god Is Not Great, which I devoured, and which I was lucky enough to have him personally sign after his debate with Tariq Ramadan on whether Islam was a religion of peace, just about a year before he died. And let me tell you, seeing Hitchens debate live is so much better than seeing him debate on YouTube because the energy from the audience's reaction to his wit is palpable.
When he died I moved on of course towards new intellectual heroes but Hitchens will always have a secure place in my prefrontal cortext. He had a huge impact on my life. He convinced me that mere secularism is not enough, and that the world needs some antitheists to make the case that religion has enjoyed its privilege for far too long and shouldn't be tolerated as something sacred that's beyond criticism. He made me want to be an intellectual, to be knowledgeable of worldly affairs, to care about reason and evidence and to despise ignorance in all its manifestations. Oh, and drink tons of whiskey, which I've been doing.
And so now I'm in the atheist community, dedicated towards fighting the good fight for defending atheism, science, and reason, retarding religion back to where it belongs (in the domain of myth), and for promoting secular humanist values to make the world a better place. And you can thank Hitch for that.
If you've noticed a change on my site recently it's because it now carries a "medal" of sorts indicating my site has been awarded as a "Top 30 Atheist Blog" by feedspot. I certainly am honored for the recognition. I've been blogging for 6 years on this site and I don't plan on stopping any time soon. On the list are such giants as Hemant Mehta's Friendly Atheist blog, which is huge on the web, and Atheist Revolution, another huge site, along with several relative unknowns.
Now while my site is relatively unknown compared to the heavy hitters above, I do hope it can expand in the future to become a major player. It all depends on how much I can dedicate myself to writing good quality blogs that arouse people's interests. I tend to focus mainly on counter-apologetics where I deconstruct religious arguments I find unconvincing, as well as make my own arguments for atheism. This means that sometimes my blog posts are mired in technical detail that will only appeal to someone interested in the argument. I don't often focus on commenting on the latest news in the secular/atheist communities because there are plenty of other blogs doing that much better than I can, and I just cannot blog at the frequency required to do that due to work. If blogging was my full time gig, then maybe.
So while this is an honor to be recognized I feel the pressure to live up to it. I hope that I can churn out worthwhile content in the future. And as winter is almost here and I am not fond of cold weather, I do plan on blogging more frequently. I am also seriously considering a YouTube channel since I've always wanted to do that and doing so will certainly increase my exposure. The only problem I have with it is the amount of time it will take to do so. Which has always been my problem.
But, I do have many ideas planned in the future for 2017 with my local atheist community in terms of content creation, so stay tuned. Here's to a productive 2017!
Friday, December 9, 2016
A popular claim by Christians towards atheists who are skeptical that Jesus was a historical figure is that we have more evidence for Jesus's existence than for Socrates's, and that would mean that anyone who accepts Socrates as historical figure but not Jesus is being inconsistent by unjustifiably applying a higher standard for Jesus.
So is it the case that we have more evidence for Jesus's existence than for Socrates's? The answer is no. Here's why.
First it's important to note that Jesus and Socrates share many similarities as figures. Both are highly revered. Both were considered fathers of important movements (Jesus of Christianity, Socrates of Philosophy). Both never wrote anything themselves, and for both their knowledge was spread through their disciples.
But here are the important differences:
1. Unlike with Jesus, we have dozens of eyewitness accounts who wrote about Socrates and whose names we know. In some cases we have the titles of the books and quotations of them from later works. In two cases the books survive. From Plato and Xenophon we have whole books preserved. We have nothing like that for Jesus.
2. We have eyewitness accounts from critics of Socrates. The Clouds by Aristophanes is a play written specifically to make fun of Socrates that Socrates even attended. We have nothing like that for Jesus.
So much is preserved of what Socrates said and so little of what Jesus said, despite Jesus founding a great church that became dedicated to preserving everything written about him. It's amazing that we have no written eyewitness accounts of anything about Jesus at all given that mission of the church. You'd think we'd have volumes of eyewitness accounts, but we have none.
And that's why we actually have more evidence of Socrates's existence than Jesus's, and why it is not being inconsistent to think Socrates was a historical figure and Jesus was not.
For more information on this I highly recommend reading On the Historicity of Jesus, by Richard Carrier.
 The New Testament is not an eyewitness account: Paul never saw Jesus in person, and the gospel writers weren't eyewitnesses either.
About a year ago some guy came up to me in Union Square park and handed me this piece of paper. It spoke about what wisdom is and the dangers of bad habits. We had an interesting philosophical discussion, that included at one point me convincing him religion and god are not necessary for wisdom.
Now, aside from some grammar errors, I mostly agree with his idea. At the time I was quitting smoking and I was aware of the dangers of bad habits. It also reminded me of the bad habit I have of laziness. I can easily spend all day watching stuff online and not being productive. I really want to get a YouTube channel up and running but its going to take a lot of work. A lot. And working full time, balancing a social life, writing for this blog, and trying to maintain a YouTube channel will be difficult. But I feel that if I just cut out the time I waste procrastinating I could do all of these things and reach my highest potential.
We spoke about doing good for the world and went into what bad habits keep each other down. It ended on a very positive note. The man seemed genuinely interested in making the world a better place and spreading wisdom, and I seconded that desire. I wished him well and I went home.
You need to first define what it is you mean by a racist, and then you need to either show that Donald Trump falls into that category, or doesn't. Here's the thing: I'm not sure I can define all the relevant aspects of exactly what a racist is, even though I can certainly give you examples of racism. I'm not sure I know exactly where that blurry line is where true racism becomes non-racism. That line is on different ends of the spectrum depending on who you talk to.
For example, some people think that if you merely make a joke that makes fun of a race of people — what many would consider a racist joke — just one time, then you're a racist for the rest of your life. Make one racist joke, you're a racist for life.
Other people would say, no, it takes a little bit more than that to be a racist. You have to show a consistent pattern of making racist jokes. Then you're a racist. Other people would go further than that and say, yes, you have to show a consistent pattern of making racist jokes, but it depends on the context. If you're making them in the context of friends that you know very well with no racist intentions and you're just making a joke that you think is funny and everyone in your company is OK with it, then you're not a racist. But if you're doing it in the context where people are not comfortable with it where you have racist intentions, then you're a racist.
OK. Some people would agree with that and then go a little further and say that that doesn't really qualify you as a racist — you actually have to discriminate against people. You actually have to not treat people equally when you're dealing with them in your personal life and also in your professional life, and so some people add that criteria to what is racist.
Some people would go a step further and say everyone has the right to associate with whomever they want to, and doing so isn't necessarily racist — in the same way you're allowed not date people of a certain race if you don't want to and that wouldn't make you racist. So if you choose to only have friends of a certain race then that doesn't make you racist either, they argue.
Other people would say, well if that's OK, if that doesn't make you racist, then what does is having all those things mentioned up until now but in addition to that having a condition where you're actively going out and harming people of other races: You're burning a cross on a black person's lawn, you're bombing a synagogue or a black church, or physically going out of your way to harm people of a different race — that makes you a racist.
Well OK. Look at this whole entire spectrum here and notice how it went from just making a racist joke one time making you a racist, to all the way on the other end of the spectrum where you must actively be going out and harming people of another race physically and not just merely making jokes; you must go out and you must physically attack someone of another race or try to destroy their property. And only that makes you a racist.
Think about that. This is a huge debate here and I'm not sure I know exactly where I land on this spectrum, although I think I'd probably stand somewhere in the middle. The Google definition of a racist is "a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another." That certainly is racism but I think this definition is a little too strict. What if one thinks they're racially superior, but never discriminates against anyone based on race? What if one discriminates against people by their race but doesn't think any race is superior? These questions make defining racism a bit difficult.
But back to the original question: is Donald Trump a racist?
Saturday, December 3, 2016
I'm going to be writing an argument that uses core theory to argue against free will, souls, and for materialism. In the mean time, here are some prerequisite questions to the person who would attempt to deny physics has any ability to give us decisive answers to questions about free will and the existence of souls and who thinks these things exist beyond science.
1. If we have a soul, and that soul gives us free will, wouldn't it have to be the case that this soul has a force that has a causal effect on the physical matter that makes up your body that overrides the existing natural forces known in physics? Yes or no?
2. If yes, that soul-force is either accounted for in the laws of physics or it is not, true or false?
3. If it is accounted for, where in the equations of physics is this found?
4. If it isn't, then where is the evidence of a 5th force overriding the natural forces governing your body? This should have been discovered since this 5th force must be affecting the atoms in your body every second you exercise free will and make a choice.
5. If this force is not part of the existing forces, wouldn't it be injecting new energy into the universe violating the law of the conservation of energy? Yes or no? If no, why not?
There's a new YouTube channel called MultiversalJourneys that seems to be dedicated to clarifying misconceptions about various scientific theories and one of its videos is on the multiverse. It features Sean Carroll, who's one of my favorite science communicators today and defenders of naturalism. There are so many misconceptions about the multiverse hypotheses in physics that it's necessary for the experts to constantly educate the public on what it is, and what it isn't, and why many scientists think we do not live in a singular multiverse. It's worth a watch.
In his Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science (1949), the German physicist and philosopher Hermann Weyl reflected on the nature of physics in light of the early 20th century revolutions of relativity and quantum mechanics which show there is no flow in time:
The objective world simply is, it does not happen. Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling upward along the life line of my body, does a section of this world come to life as a fleeting image in space which continuously changes in time.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
But therein lies my problem. I consider myself a liberal by and large but I disagree with my fellow liberals on several key issues that sometimes become debating points with them. For example, I think European countries should limit their immigration from Muslim majority countries because there are problems with assimilation, radicalization, unemployment, and in some cases, problems with crime. My liberal friend's jaws drop when I say this. They can't believe that I, a self-professed liberal, could ever utter such a thing. I'll give you another example. I think African-American culture contributes to the problems in the African-American community and that it isn't just systemic racism and poverty. Again, when I say this around my liberal friends they can't believe I could say such a thing and they always feel compelled to push back and debate me on it.
A handful of times I've been accused by people of not being a liberal, and instead being a conservative! Oh my! Me? A conservative? How could this be? That's one of the dirtiest words you could call a liberal. I think it's preposterous that I would be considered a conservative. I'm liberal on almost every issue - but I'm not a liberal fundamentalist. I don't take the extreme left position on every issue, and I detest being pressured by the far left to jump on over to their side, while at the same time I can understand that urge. This is exactly where the political labels like "liberal" fail.
So what can we do? Do we create a variety of new terms to describe the growing political micro-genres? What do we call Second Amendment loving liberals? Or pro-choice liberals? Another reason I despise the labeling is because once you call yourself a "liberal" in a conversation you're going to be assumed by your interlocutor to hold every position liberals typically believe, and I hate that. When I'm talking to conservatives and I identify myself as a liberal I often have to clarify that I disagree with liberals on certain issues — like Islam and terrorism — because liberals have a reputation of thinking Islam has nothing to do with terrorism (an absurd idea). And so more recently when I'm asked to identify my political affiliation, in order to try and avoid the assumptions I've been calling myself a "left-leaning independent populist," or that I'm "mostly liberal, but disagree with liberals on certain things." But it isn't as convenient as having a single word represent you.
So as it stands I lack a definitive label that I feel identifies me properly in the political sense and I'm not motivated to try and create the right term. Unlike with the term "atheist" — a label I proudly wear because I know it identifies me and I know how to defend it — the term "liberal" is increasingly becoming something I identify less with, not because I'm becoming a conservative, but because the term is too restrictive.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll from last summer showed that Trump supporters had the highest rates of negative views towards black people. While not surprising, one thing to note is that since people tend to be embarrassed to report views that are considered unpopular to others conducting a poll, it could be the case that these numbers are underrepresented - just like with how analysis of election polls suggests people were embarrassed to support Trump in surveys.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Saturday, November 26, 2016
We need to talk about some of the problems we have.
I think it's more important now than ever that we figure out and address the problems within much of liberal thinking today. I say this because if we don't it could be the downfall of liberalism that enables people on the Right to continue having their political and social victories. And we don't want that. So we have to get real with one another and talk among ourselves about the problems within liberalism and the way liberals behave, because there are plenty. And don't you try and deny that there are problems in liberal thought today. Thinking like that is exactly part of the problem. You must first acknowledge that there are problems with how liberals think and behave, and force yourself to be open minded. OK. So how do we do this? Well, I don't pretend to have all the answers, but here are some important things we can do to correct what I see as an influx of too many irrational ideas and behaviors threatening the progress of liberalism.
Know that there is a difference between liberals and liberalism. Liberals are people who in one way, shape, or form, have liberal views on various issues. The way they behave in relation to their views can take on a variety of forms, from informed and respectful to down right nasty and fascistic. Liberalism is the general philosophy of liberal views that liberal people hold, and it too comes in a spectrum that can take on a variety of forms. As such, "liberalism" acts more like an umbrella term that can cover many ideas some liberals will disagree with. So when listening to the criticism of the Left, keep that in mind. You can maintain your liberalism while disagreeing with the tactics used by some liberals and with ideas that exist under the umbrella of "liberalism." We don't all have to always agree. So don't feel the need to always defend everything liberals do and every idea liberals have when a conservative is criticizing them.
We need to divorce ourselves from identity politics. When we focus too much on gender, race, sexuality, and other identifying labels, we tend to alienate those that are outside those labels while implying that everyone inside the label thinks alike. I've heard many liberals aghast at how Trump could win 30 percent of the Latino vote given his stance on immigration and what he said about Mexicans. But I like to kindly remind them that Latinos are not a monolith. I know several Latinos who are OK with a border wall and are OK with deporting at least the criminal illegal aliens. And liberals are also too obsessed with the idea of merely having a woman president. Yes, I'd love to have a female president, but it has to be the right female president. It can't just be any woman. Hillary was a terribly flawed candidate but many too many liberals overlooked this and were drawn to her primarily because she could make history as the first female US president. But that didn't work because not everyone is obsessed with merely getting a female president. And when she lost I heard many liberals blaming sexism as the main reason (or the only reason) why she lost — as if her hypocrisy and scandals meant nothing and it was only her gender that caused her to lose. This is the kind of close mindedness that results when you give into identity politics and all you see is a person's gender. Stop thinking people vote based on their gender or race or sexual identity and focus on the issues that transcend these labels.
People who think different from you should be allowed to speak openly. I agree with some of the criticisms of the Left that many liberals are increasingly becoming authoritarian in their tactics such that unless you agree with them and hold the most liberal positions on every issue, you are denied the right to speak and organize, especially on university campuses, and are labeled a bigot, a racist, a sexist, or a xenophobe. Respect the freedom of speech you claim to support. We liberals need to respect diversity of opinion, in additional to racial and gender diversity. Liberals need to begin actually engaging people with opposing views and debate them with reasoned arguments, not try to prevent them from speaking. The Left is giving up on intellectual argument because they feel they've won the culture war and don't have to debate anymore. Bad ideas will inevitably develop and will flourish under a system where free and open criticism is shunned, and that's exactly what the Left is allowing more and more.
Friday, November 25, 2016
over 2 million votes and counting. Second, this election was not about the traditional social issues like same sex marriage and abortion. It was about jobs, trade, and immigration. Now yes, while it's true that building the border wall and deporting illegal immigrants is a strong conservative view, immigration is not a typical social issue in the same way that same sex marriage and abortion is.
So as a socially progressive liberal, Trump's election didn't really phase me. The American people are not turning the clock back on decades of social progress and going back to the close minded views of the past. More Americans will be moving towards liberal views on same sex marriage, abortion, marijuana legalization, and more Americans are will be becoming increasingly secular in the coming years. Our attitudes on political correctness, long associated with liberals, will probably have to be reconsidered in light of Trump's win, but that's something I personally support.
It is true that legally speaking, many policies and laws can regress back to past decades. It is possible that a Supreme Court packed with conservative justices can roll back certain progressive decisions that might effect us for decades. And that's scary. We might see creationism back in the schools, the 10 commandments back on public court houses, and Roe v Wade struck down. So there will be no doubt many epic legal challenges over the next 4 years due to Trump's win and my friends and I are already talking strategy about what we may need to do. This is a time for action. Let's hope Trump's win unites atheists, secularists, and liberals like never before. It's time now to set aside minor disagreements and to focus on the big battles up ahead.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
It seems that many YouTube atheists have moved away from criticizing and debunking religion to talking about feminism, political correctness, and other things that are dividing the atheist community. Criticizing religion is feeling more and more now like beating a dead horse. Religion has lost the debate. It's over. Atheism won. I've been increasingly feeling this myself. And although I'm not completely done beating the horse of religion (I don't think it's dead, yet) I do feel the strong urge to pivot towards politics and social issues more.
With the election of Donald Trump two weeks ago, the time to be political is more urgent now than ever. What's a Trump presidency going to mean for secularism? What's it going to mean for the future of science education? What's it going to mean for progressive values? For race relations? For the atheist community? These are currently all open questions. But Mike Pence's history of evolution and climate change denialism, along with Trump's the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, who was once rejected as a federal judge in 1986 for being too racist, the future is not looking good.
I'm particularly concerned about Trump's conflict of interests. His business holdings and properties around the world can directly conflict with his presidential duties. There have already been reports that he allegedly asked the president of Argentina for a favor on a project he has in the country. Trump is renting the Old Post Office in Washington DC from the government via the General Services Administration and has turned it into a hotel and once he becomes president he will get to appoint the administrator in charge of the GSA. He's already suing DC to lower his tax rate. Trump can use that hotel as well as his other properties to curry favor from leaders and diplomats alike. And since Trump is apparently not putting his assets in a blind trust, but is instead having his kids - who he'll be able to communicate with regularly, run the Trump Organization, it's certain Trump will use the office of the presidency to enrich his personal wealth.
There are actually a few things I agree with Trump about. I am for a strong border, and I am ok with deporting criminal illegal aliens. But I do not think we should deport all of the illegal immigrants who have behaved themselves while in the US. I think they should be allowed to get permanent legal status, but not citizenship. If they want to become citizens, they must return to their homelands and apply like everyone else. I am for a vetting process that seeks to determine whether potential immigrants or people we grant visas to are sympathetic to Sharia law. I do think that we should consider limiting immigration from countries with cultures where it might be more difficult for immigrants from there to adapt to American culture, but I'm against banning all Muslims.
I do support pulling out of the TPP negotiations, as Trump announced earlier this week. And I do support renegotiating NAFTA. In fact, most, if not all of our trade deals need to be renegotiated to favor American workers. I do generally think PC culture has gone too far but I'm not in favor of going back to the racism and sexism of the 1950s and 60s.
Trump is a bit vague on other issues. He was pro-choice his whole life until he started running for president. I don't know how sincere he is on his pro-life stance but I'm for keeping Roe V Wade exactly where it is. So I disagree with Trump on that. I do know Mike Pence is vehemently pro-life, and he's really the one I fear most. On same sex marriage Trump said the issue was "settled" and seemed to indicate that this decision was not something he planned on changing. I think Trump is personally not against same sex marriage, but again, I fear what Pence might try to do. He's actually tried to jail same sex couples who try to get married in his state of Indiana when he was governor.
I'm definitely against Trump's views on climate change. I think Trump doesn't actually believe it's a Chinese hoax but I think he's still going to try and push fossil fuels very strongly. I'm definitely against his plan to pull out of the Iran deal, but I think his stance against this was all talk. I've been told by a few fellow liberals that Trump getting elected has allowed us to avoid World War 3 with Russia over Syria. I have no idea if that's accurate.
Basically, politics is too important now. Debates over religion are interesting, but the real work and debates need to be about politics. The political threat from the Religious Right just became much more potent with Trump's election, and we are going to need to keep a watchful eye on them. On top of that, our nation is more divided now than ever. How do we get people out of the echo chamber? How do we get information and facts to people in a post-truth world? How do we resolve our differences and bridge the divide? What are the rational solutions to our nation's problems? These all need answers and to do that it takes attention. So I'm still going to write about debunking religion, but that is going to be shared with more political issues.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Whatever position you have on man made climate change — even if you think it's a Chinese hoax —you'd think that a rational person would agree that we should treat the planet with respect. We shouldn't dump toxic chemicals in the waters, we shouldn't destroy ecosystems beyond repair. We should respect and preserve habitats. It's juvenile to think we can pollute as much as we want without consequence, regardless of your views on climate change.
I think man made climate change is real and the evidence shows it. And I recently did the single biggest thing you can do to stop man made climate change if you care about it: I stopped eating meat. But I know there are many people who care about the environment who just aren't willing to do much about it and who say that the taste of meat is just too good to give up. I was like that for a long time. It's just too hard for many of us to sacrifice something we enjoy and actually do anything for the betterment of our planet.
Consider this analogy. Imagine if I was passionate about preventing rape, but I didn't want to do anything about it. I never spoke out or argued against it. And if a friend of mine told me he thinks it's OK to sexually assault or rape women I never try to convince him that way of thinking is wrong. Instead I do absolutely nothing to change my lifestyle to affect the problem of rape. Would that make any sense? No, it wouldn't. But for those who are passionate about preventing climate change and do not stop eating meat, it makes just as much sense.
As I sometimes say, being against man made climate change while being a meat eater is like being against date rape and being Bill Cosby. Watch the NatGeo documentary Before the Flood on YouTube which goes into the effects eating meat has on the environment. It argues that you should at the very least cut out beef from you diet and switch to chicken, as chicken production's carbon foot print is much smaller than beef's.
This is an excellent introductory video on the human brain and how it functions. What's fascinating is how images we see are physically superimposed on the brain as a reflection. I had no idea that occurred. Neuroscience will slowly unravel the mysteries of the brain, revealing just how our thoughts are encoded in its tissues, and hopefully that will illuminate the nature of consciousness.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
It was the unthinkable. His candidacy was the butt of many jokes. No one took him seriously at first except for a handful of people. And then his popularity soared to number one, and he began winning primary after primary, but they said he would never win the nomination. And then he won the Republican nomination. And then they said he would never win the presidency.
And now he has just won that.
The critics had been wrong over and over again this election. Including me of course, but I was just going by the projections, and they failed miserably. This is a year when the things that they said couldn't happen, happened. And so early next year we will have President Trump in the White House. It doesn't sound right. It is only now, a full day after he won, just starting to sink in.
So now what? First, how did this happen? In short, the Democratic establishment pushed a corporate friendly centrist who took large amounts of money from banks, who praised free trade like NAFTA and the TPP, and who chose another corporate friendly centrist who loved the TPP as her running mate. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine were the epitomes of the establishment wing in the Democratic Party who lost touch with working class voters. And so in those critical rust belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, Donald Trump's promises to renegotiate NAFTA, pull out of the TPP negotiations, close the border and bring manufacturing jobs back into the US appealed to voters in a way that Hillary Clinton couldn't. And so working class white voters — hundreds of thousands of them who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, took a gamble and voted for Trump this time. And that was enough for him to carry those states. That defeated Hillary.
That's the main reason why Hillary lost. The Democrats became too detached with working class voters, particularly white ones, while Trump appealed to them with his promises. This is why I think Bernie Sanders should have been the Democratic nominee. He appealed to white working class voters more than Clinton and he would have likely won those four critical battle ground states in the general election.
Second, I don't know what this means for secular liberal atheists like myself. Certainly it means we're going to have challenges that we wouldn't have had under Clinton. Mike Pence is a super religious conservative who seems hell bent to push through his conservative religious ideology into law. And with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate, and with Trump appointing at least one conservative Supreme Court Justice, things will be tough. I also fear the death of intellectualism in politics, where having a detailed understanding of policy gives way to cult of personality and simple minded catch phrases, and that this becomes the winning formula from now on. That scares me deeply.
We will have to see what happens. Get ready for the greatest reality show on earth.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
This Tuesday is election day and I find myself for the first time in a troubled situation. There is no one on the ballot that I really support. Unlike in 2008 and 2012 where I was a pretty strong Obama supporter, this year there isn't anyone I'm enthusiastic about.
Obviously this election is different than most years because of Donald Trump. It's the first time we have a major party candidate who has no political experience I think since George Washington. He's rambunctious, foul-mouthed, unconventional, and a little crazy — to say the least. Trump becoming president is terrifying on so many levels. He lies through his teeth so blatantly and with such utter disregard for truth that he's taken the concept of the "lying politician" to a new level. Indeed, his brain seems to be impervious to facts. He's proposing filling the Supreme Court with Scalia clones, which if another justice dies in the next four years will tip the court conservative enough to reverse Roe v Wage and Obergefell v. Hodges, effectively turning abortion and same-sex marriage back to the states. Trump has no serious knowledge of the way government works, or the world, and he as all but the most simplistic understanding of the political issues our next president is going to have to deal with. He's a wild card, unpredictable, capable of undermining our democracy and stability, and his VP pick Mike Pence is one of the most conservative members of the Religious Right in the nation.
If Trump is going to win he has a narrow margin in the electoral college. Here's a possible winning scenario for him. Trump would have to win Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan. If not Michigan, he'd have to win Pennsylvania. He also has to win Iowa. Or if he loses Iowa, he has to win New Hampshire and all the typically Republican states. Hillary Clinton just has to win just two of those states and Trump's done. The electoral college heavily favors democrats.
Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com
Saturday, November 5, 2016
Across the secular web there has been an uproar over the Southern Poverty Law Center's recent decision to add Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to their list of "Anti-Muslim Extremists." Now I've followed both of them for years and read their work, listened to their speeches and lectures, and I know for a fact that neither of them are anti-Muslim extremists.
But because Maajid is occasionally critical of Islam, Islamic history, and what Muslims have done in the name of Islam (and in many cases still do today), he's been branded by some on the left as anti-Muslim, despite being a Muslim himself. And so they've written critical pieces against him in left-wing syndications that exaggerate or outright lie about his deeds and intentions, and the SPLC picked up on that and branded him an anti-Muslim extremist without clear justification.
Regressive leftists like CJ Werleman have called Maajid a "House Muslim" because he's willing to take the "extreme" position that there is a link between Islamic beliefs and terrorism and because he challenges Islamists and engages with atheists. Instead, "true Muslims" according to regressives must be the kind that deny theology can have any influence whatsoever on anyone's actions — unless they're good of course. And "true Muslims" must be the kind that blame Western foreign policy for all the problems in the Islamic world and who deny groups like ISIS have anything to do with Islam.
So watch the video above. Tell me this isn't the work of a true Muslim reformer who's trying to find the difficult path on getting Islam updated for the 21st century — which all liberals should realize is desperately needed. The SPLC made a bad decision, and there is a petition on change.org to get both Maajid and Ayaan removed. I urge all of you to sign it and share it on Facebook.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
If you're a naturalist like myself you have most likely come to the conclusion that the existence of the universe (or multiverse, if there's more than one universe) is a brute fact. A brute fact is a fact that has no explanation in principle. It's a fact that cannot have an explanation. There are many facts that do not have explanations, but can in principle. These are not technically brute facts, but are just unexplained facts. They can be explained, at least in principle, and many of them will be explained eventually. There is another category of unexplained facts that can be explained in principle, but not in practice. For example, a fact for which all the evidence proving it is destroyed might leave us no possible way to explain it, even though it would be in principle explainable if we just had access to the evidence. These are what you can call epistemic brute facts.
So we have three categories of facts here defined as such: (1) a brute fact: a fact that has no explanation in principle, (2) an epistemic brute fact: a fact that cannot be explained in practice but can in principle, and (3) an unexplained fact: a fact that can be explained both in principle and in practice but simply isn't. In addition to this there are three positions one can take on brute facts: (1) brute facts are impossible, (2) brute facts are possible but they don't exist, or (3) brute facts exist.
Now many theists argue that not only do brute facts not exist, they are in fact impossible. That is, they entail some sort of contradiction that prevents their existence. Many theists will also often try to argue that their worldview has no brute facts, and not only that, they can logically explain their worldview in terms of necessity. This is usually done by some sort of argument that attempts to conclude their god's necessary existence, along with the tacit assumption of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), which says that for every fact, there is a reason for its existence. Needless to say, the PSR and brute facts are not compatible.
What is an explanation is also important. An explanation is generally defined as a statement or account that makes something clear. It makes something understandable, intelligible. For example, the explanation of the existence of the human species is that we evolved over millions of years from another species of hominids. Explanations tell us the how and why a thing came to be, or exists at all. It is to me an open question whether or not all explanations are causal explanations. In other words, when we say X explains Y, are we always just saying X causes Y? Now I have written that causality exists differently from how it is commonly understood, but on my definition things are still explained in the traditional cause and effect notion. You just have to understand these relationships a bit different.
In this post I'm going to challenge several often heard claims about brute facts. One, that brute facts are logically impossible, and two, that believing in a god allows you avoid brute facts, by arguing that not only are brute facts possible, they are indeed unavoidable.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Over on the Minute Physics YouTube channel they recently did a series of videos narrated by physicist Sean Carroll based on his latest book The Big Picture that covers such interesting topics as What is the Purpose of Life? (hint: it has nothing to do with a god) In one video they cover cause and effect and Carroll describes how it's an emergent phenomena when looking at the universe at macro scales. That means it isn't really fundamental, as I've covered here before. Go check out the video series and enjoy.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
|Photo from @BlairReeves|
A disturbing trend is developing. More and more people are getting misinformation on the internet by hyperpartisan news agencies that are shared on social media sites. Many of these sites peddle out baseless conspiracy theories mixed with half-truths or claims that are in some cases outright lies. They're basically click bait, geared towards appealing to emotion and confirmation biases rather than objective journalism based on facts and honest reporting.
And people gobble them right up. As BuzzFeed recently reported, "the least accurate pages generated some of the highest numbers of shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook — far more than the three large mainstream political news pages analyzed for comparison." I deal with Right wing conspiracy theories in debates online all the time and I can't tell you how annoying it is. The Left is not immune to this either. Far from making us smarter and more knowledgeable, the internet seems to be having the exact opposite effect: it's making us less informed, more biased, and more partisan. Facts don't matter anymore. Any piece of data that doesn't confirm your already existing beliefs or that doesn't make you comfortable is just tossed aside in favor of one that does. And because sites like Facebook use algorithms that feed you what you've already liked, you're less and less likely to even see anything that you might disagree with.
So what, if anything, can we do about this? Well, I actually don't know, but I can offer two possible answers.
First, we can help flood the internet with well researched, fact based information that can debunk the lies that are out there. This should ideally be done by a non-partisan organization dedicated to honest, fact-based research that's not associated with any high profile or partisan people, because if they are, they're more likely to be dismissed outright. In psychology, the framing effect is a cognitive bias whereby people tend to immediately dismiss something if it's associated with a person or thing they do not like. I once linked someone I was having an online debate with to an article about Donald Trump being put on an allowance after one of his well known bankruptcies and he dismissed it outright because it was from Mother Jones. We need to take that into account when we debunk lies on the internet. Some people will go so far as to not trust anything that comes out of any mainstream media source, and will trust the "alternative news" sites instead, even though most of the time they're garbage.
Second, we can pro-actively mingle with people who share different views from us. Have friends that disagree with you on politics, religion, economics, and social issues. Don't retreat into the echo chamber where everyone thinks just like you. It's only going to reinforce your own biases (and we all have them). There are many people for whom I'm their token liberal friend, or I'm their token atheist friend. Put me in a room with 5 people who disagree with me on politics and religion and I'm happy. Hopefully, by becoming exposed to other people's views our bubbles will burst, and we'll be more likely to consider other views, or at least understand opposing views better, and that could result in us better understanding the issues. When people found out that one of their friends or relatives was gay, it tended to make people more understanding of homosexuality. Having friends of other political views might have the same effect.
Now this all might be a pipe dream, but at least it's something. We have to find solutions to this problem.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 5 Decent of the Modernists - Part 2: Inventing the mind-body problem)
In this section of chapter 5 Feser begins by targeting the philosopher who seems to be his public enemy number one: Rene Descartes. It was he who rejected the Aristotelian account in favor of the "mechanistic philosophy" that we still know of today that rejects formal and final causes. But doing this inevitably results in an apparent "disaster": the complete undermining of the possibility both of moral evaluation and of reason itself. (186) Before getting there, Feser here summarizes the mechanistic view of the world for the most part accurately and notes the differences between primary and secondary qualities.
Primary qualities include solidity, extension, figure, motion, number and the like, and in particular any quality that can be mathematically quantified and which does not vary in any way from observer to observer. Secondary qualities include colors, sounds, tastes, odors, and so forth, and an object's having them amounts to nothing more than a tendency to cause us to have certain sensations. (189)
I would add that things like solidity wouldn't technically be a primary quality since solidity is nowhere to be found fundamentally, but is an emergent property of matter at higher levels. But this is not really relevant here. What is relevant is whether the secondary qualities exist in the objective world or they exist only in the mind of observers. On the "mechanistic" view the answer is no, Feser explains, and so a soul must exist that is separate from the physical body that interacts with it like a "ghost in the machine." But without this, the materialist seems to have a problem. How does the materialist explain qualia, the conscious experiences that determines what it's like to have it? A few examples would be in the experience of seeing red versus seeing green, of tasting coffee versus tasting cheese, or of feeling warm versus feeling cold. They're all different sensations, and yet "one cluster of neurons firing seems qualitatively pretty much like any other, and certainly very different from these sensations [such that] it is hard to see how any sensation could be reduced to or explained in terms of nothing but the firing of neurons." (191)
Yes it is hard, but not impossible. Here we still have the genuine mystery of qualia. Since the human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe, it's going to take a bit longer to unravel its mysteries than many other things. One underlying assumption in Feser's above understanding is that the neurons in the brain fire the same way when you see the color red versus seeing the color green. But why should we think that's true? Different neurons fire when we see different wavelengths of light.
Cells in the retina called "opponent neurons" fire when stimulated by incoming red light, and this flurry of activity tells the brain we're looking at something red. Those same opponent neurons are inhibited by green light, and the absence of activity tells the brain we're seeing green. Similarly, yellow light excites another set of opponent neurons, but blue light damps them. While most colors induce a mixture of effects in both sets of neurons, which our brains can decode to identify the component parts, red light exactly cancels the effect of green light (and yellow exactly cancels blue), so we can never perceive those colors coming from the same place.
So different physical processes are at work when we see different colors. The experience of seeing red is just another way of talking about the physical brain undergoing the electrochemical signals travelling through it when the retina received the wavelength of red and certain neurons fire. It's similar to talking about an object as solid even though fundamentally it's just made up of empty space and quantum fields. We still don't know exactly how the physical brain gives rise to qualia but I have no reason to think there is anything non-physical involved that is causal.* I'm open to the mind possibly having a non-physical ontology that is epiphenomenal in nature, meaning, it's an emergent property of physical brains that's causally impotent. But any notion of an immaterial mind having a physical force on matter (like the kind Feser claims, see my review of chapter 4) is unambiguously ruled out by science. Not only do we fully understand all the laws of physics that govern the everyday realm which includes the brain (and therefore anything having to deal with consciousness) and which leaves no room for a mind force to causally effect atoms, but all of neuroscience has repeatedly shown unconscious brain activity precedes conscious awareness, exactly what we'd expect on materialism.**
Saturday, October 22, 2016
An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 5 Decent of the Modernists - Part 1: Pre-birth of the modern & Thoroughly modern metaphysics)
In chapter 5, titled the Decent of the Modernists, Feser explains his discontent on how rejecting A-T metaphysics has ultimately lead to the modern preponderance among academics (and I suppose society in general) of the secular and atheistic mindsets. Public enemy number one seems to be the "father of modern philosophy" himself, Rene Descartes (1596-1650). It was he, along with his predecessors John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham, the latter of whom helped foster nominalism and conceptualism to rival Aristotle and Plato's two versions of realism, lead to the "undoing of the Scholaic tradition". (167)
Pre-birth of the modern
According to Feser, both Scotus and Ockham's views on metaphysics and god lead them to conclude that god cannot be known through reason, and must be believed on faith. In other words, god's existence cannot be proved, they contend, and since Descartes' time this general theological view which rejects A-T metaphysics in favor of a more mechanistic view of nature has dominated Western thought. This, Feser says, is what many of the New Atheists pick up on in their critique of theism in general. Feser spends several pages on Hitchens' book god is not Great, criticizing his alleged ignorance of Ockham's razor. Feser argues that versions of it previously were addressed by Aquinas himself and even Aristotle. That may be so, but it doesn't show that change, causation, and final causality necessarily entail "God" — who is dispensed by the razor. Adding god into the mix just adds more unanswerable questions and logical problems.
Scotus' skepticism, Feser says, is motivated by an emphasis on god's will over his intellect.
So radically free is God's will, in Scotus's view, that we simply cannot deduce from the natural order either His intentions or any necessary features of the things He created, since He might have created them in any number of ways, as His inscrutable will directed. Ockham pushes this emphasis on the divine will further, holding that God could by fiat have made morally obligatory all sorts of things that are actually immoral; for example, had He wanted to, He could have decided to command us to hate Him, in which case this is what would be good for us to do. Thus we are brought by Ockham to the idea that morality rests on completely arbitrary demands rather than rationally ascertainable human nature. (168)
But wait a second. If god created that human nature, couldn't he have created us with a different nature, which would rationally entail a different kind of morality? Couldn't god, for example, have made humans reproduce by laying a large amount of eggs ensuring that only a few could possibly be raised to adulthood instead of giving birth to live young? What principle prevents god from doing that? In other words, was god's choice in creating our nature the way it is at all arbitrary, or is there some logically necessary reason why he created our nature the way it is? If so, what's that logically necessary reason? If not, then our morality is ultimately arbitrary even if it logically entails from our nature, because our nature itself would be arbitrary.
Feser takes a long swipe at Hitchens' critique of Ockham's views that we cannot prove a first cause with the traits typically associated with theism—omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omniscience, etc., and deal with the "unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator." (god is not Great, p. 71) But this was answered "long before Ockham was born" Feser states. (170) This may be so, but it would make little difference to the question of god's existence if A-T metaphysics ultimately fails to make a convincing case proving a first cause with typical theistic traits must exist, as I think it does. I do agree with Feser that Hitchens does not engage deeply with the metaphysical arguments for god. God is not Great doesn't set out to disprove the existence of god, it's primary goal is to show how religion poisons everything by critiquing religious history, belief, traditions, and institutions, especially the Abrahamic religions. And I think it does a damn good job doing so. But Feser is focused on the metaphysical arguments, which you're not going to get in great detail with Hitchens, who was best at showing how absurd, stupid, and harmful religion is.