Friday, September 30, 2016

Quote Of The Day: The Self-Refuting Nature Of Libertarian Free Will

I've been a bit busy working on other projects and have not had the time to blog as much. I'm writing the script for a web series I plan on doing which should be good - god willing of course. Anyway, I found a quote from a person whose arguments I respect a lot on the incoherency of libertarian free will and I think he nails it in a very concise way. His name is Andy Schueler and he wrote this on Randal Rouser's blog a year ago*:

[L]ibertarian free-will is blatantly self-refuting and I'll add that it is so for any thinkable model of how causality works because it would always boil down to choices that are simultaneously caused (else they wouldn't be volitional - due to the agent´s will) and uncaused (else they wouldn't be "free" in a libertarian sense) - and something being "caused" while simultaneously being "uncaused" is a contradiction for any model of what "causality" is.

*I've fixed a few spelling/punctuation issues.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Importance Of Philosophy

Philosophy is absolutely essential to having a coherent outlook on the world that is more likelier to lead you to truthful beliefs. I don't know how I can emphasize that strong enough. In the Western tradition of philosophy there are two main camps: analytical and continental philosophy. Analytical philosophy is the dominant kind of philosophy in the English speaking world. It's mainly concerned with clarifying concepts, finding out what conclusions logically entail from what premises, what concepts are incompatible with one another, what assumptions are being made, and organizing concepts according to a taxonomic structure. Logic, ethics, and epistemology, for example, are all part of analytic philosophy. Continental philosophy on the other hand, named because it became popular in continental Europe, is mainly concerned with perception of the human experience, emotion, and emphasizing on seeing things a certain way. It tends to be more poetic. Existentialism, phenomenology, and German idealism are all a part of continental philosophy.

I'm definitely an analytics guy myself, although I think all of philosophy is useful. I'm obsessed with logical arguments and analyzing concepts and ideas to find out what's logical and illogical in the hope of finding the truth. This is exactly how I discovered many ideas that I took for granted for years were false, like perhaps most importantly, libertarian free will. While the dividing line between analytic and continental philosophy may blur at times, analytic philosophy is absolutely necessary for being rational.

I mention this because I hear it again and again from atheists: "We don't need philosophy anymore because we have science!" and "Philosophy may have helped us centuries ago, but it's outlived is usefulness." These atheists have no fucking idea what they're talking about and they don't even realize their view is self-refuting. Claiming that we don't need philosophy anymore because we have science is itself a philosophical claim. It's not a scientific claim. You can't scientifically prove that. On top of this, not all questions are scientific in nature. Some are purely logical, like in mathematics, and some just require some common sense and rational thinking. Others have to do with what we should value. All the scientific evidence in the world is not going to answer these kinds of questions. Philosophy is best equipped to answer them.

For example, imagine asking someone "What's the purpose of government?" How is science going to fully answer this question? What the purpose of government is, or whether we should even have one is a question for political philosophy, not science. Science may be able to give us answers to empirical questions that are relevant, but it's not going to tell us what style of government we should have, or if we should even have one at all.

In this sense, philosophy is more fundamental than science. Science is really a kind of philosophy; it's a particular set of methods for finding out truth. To go for science while claiming we don't need philosophy is to go for the branch while ignoring its roots. I try to tell this to many of my fellow atheist friends and it's difficult to get this message across. They tend to get hung up on semantics. They associate philosophy with theology, along with and many of the false ideas the ancient philosophers came up with. But if I asked them if they're against the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, language, and existence, almost none of them would say yes. And yet that's basically the definition of philosophy!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Happiest Countries Tend To Be The Least Religious Countries

The 2016 World Happiness Index report is out and it shows that 6 of the top 10 most happy countries on the list are also on the list of the top 10 least religious countries, as ranked by US News. There has been a strong correlation with happiness and low religiosity for years. Until not that long ago I used to think that low religiosity is what lead to happier, better off societies. That certainly can be the case to a degree, but what really happens, as the I've come to discover, is that when a country's standard of living goes up that tends to lead to religiosity going down.* So having a better economy, a better government, a better health care system, and lower crime tend to lead to religiosity declining. And this means that making the world a better place is one of the best ways to decrease religion, and by doing so, in effect, you can kill two birds with one stone.

*This is sometimes called the existential security thesis (EST) or the socioeconomic security hypothesis (SSH). For more information on the latter see Gregory Paul's paper The chronic dependence of popular religiosity upon dysfunctional social conditions.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Quote Of The Day: The Dalai Lama On Secular Ethics

Who would suspect that the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism himself, the Dalai Lama, would be in favor of secular ethics, but he appears to get it like most of us atheists do. This is probably why I'm much more sympathetic to Buddhism than most other religions. He's absolutely right: secular ethics is foundational for having a thriving world community where multicultural societies exist.

For all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, religion is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. Many people no longer follow any religion. In addition, in today’s secular and multicultural societies, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values could not be universal, and so would be inadequate. We need an approach to ethics that can be equally acceptable to those with religious faith and those without. We need a secular ethics.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Aquinas On Free Will

The metaphysical foundation of the traditional Catholic worldview is self refuting. It both requires and denies libertarian free will. This inconsistency becomes much more apparent to those who've came to see that libertarian free will itself is an inconsistent idea. However, most Catholics, or philosophical Thomists deny this charge, and the most prominent philosopher in the Catholic tradition, Thomas Aquinas, addressed this.

Article 1. Whether man has free-will?
Objection 3. Further, what is "free is cause of itself," as the Philosopher says (Metaph. i, 2). Therefore what is moved by another is not free. But God moves the will, for it is written (Proverbs 21:1): "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; whithersoever He will He shall turn it" and (Philippians 2:13): "It is God Who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish." Therefore man has not free-will.
Reply to Objection 3. Free-will is the cause of its own movement, because by his free-will man moves himself to act. But it does not of necessity belong to liberty that what is free should be the first cause of itself, as neither for one thing to be cause of another need it be the first cause. God, therefore, is the first cause, Who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature.[1]

A Catholic mentioned this to me as an argument to show it demonstrates Thomism is compatible with libertarian free will. I'm going to argue now that this in no way demonstrates that.

The 50 year old virgin
First, the problem is obvious: If god is the first cause of everything because he sustains everything in the universe at all times, then he is ultimately the cause of your will, and therefore you have no free will.

Aquinas' objection states that man's will moves him to act. This is technically in fact wrong. The will doesn't move a person to act, that is actually done by a physical process, which determines the will. So it's technically the other way around. He also states that what is free shouldn't be the first cause itself. I disagree. "Free" in this sense would have to be uncaused. Then he just states that man's voluntary actions aren't involuntary just because god really caused them. That makes no sense. It's like saying a puppet being controlled by a ventriloquist is still free, even though the puppet's every action is caused by the puppeteer. Saying god operates each thing according to its own nature doesn't negate this. The nature is caused by god and controlled by god, as everything else is. Basically, if the causal chain terminates in god, and each and every step in the chain is caused by god, at no point does libertarian free will enter the picture, which logically requires the will be uncaused. The Aristotelian principle, that "Whatever is changed is changed by another" negates the metaphysical possibility of a first cause that isn't god, which of course negates libertarian free will itself.

So, Aquinas hasn't made a logical case for libertarian free will being compatible from within the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysic.

[1] Source: Summa Theologica (Prima Part, Q83) (Emphasis mine)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Causality Is A Useful Word But It Doesn't Really Exist

One of the problems with human language is that it sometimes doesn't capture the true nature of reality, and one word where this is the case is the word cause. Fundamentally speaking, there are no causes in the way we traditionally speak of them. There are simply just worldtubes or particles in spacetime and one point on the worldtube doesn't really "cause" a later point on the worldtube to exist. What causality really is would seem to have to be the relationships of intersecting worldtubes as they precede or intertwine with one another in spacetime; they're a description of the relationship between patterns and boundary conditions. At the fundamental level, the word "cause" really should be replaced by the word "explanation" or "relationship."

For example, asking "why do I exist now?" would be explained by the fact that at an earlier event in spacetime my parents had sex. That was the "cause" that resulted in my birth and existence now – but only in the sense that if you trace my worldtube back in spacetime to its origin it’s preceded by my parent’s worldtubes and thus that establishes the "causal" relationship. But even the terms "earlier" and "preceded" here are a bit misleading because they imply that there's an intrinsic directionality of time. However, no good data backs that up. Instead, the data strongly suggests the directionality of time is dependent on the increase in entropy. These are profound insights that radically changes our notion of causality.

So when it comes to our language, what should we do? Well, I'm not saying we jettison the word "cause" anymore than we jettison the word "solid," even though solidity is not found in the fundamental nature of reality either. It's an emergent phenomenon that exists at higher (non-fundamental) levels. Causality exists in much the same way: "cause" is a useful word to describe an emergent phenomenon that makes sense when talking about our human-level experience, but we shouldn't confuse language with reality. Human language is far better at capturing human experience than at expressing deep physical laws. We need to be aware of what causality really is, apart from its everyday usage. This of course is much easier said than done.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Rise And The (Ostensible) Fall Of The Religious Conservatives In The U.S.

In 2014, Pew showed that 72% of Americans think religion is losing its influence in public life and that there's been a recent slight uptick of Americans who say religious institutions should express views on political matters (49%). It further showed that a growing minority (32%) say religious institutions should come out and support political candidates, and 59% think it's important for members of Congress to have religious beliefs.  As expected, Republicans lean more towards wanting more religion in public life.

Furthermore, 56% of Americans who think religion is losing its influence think it's a bad thing, and only 12% think it's a good thing. I'm definitely one of those 12 percenters who think it's a bad thing. I think religion needs to recede from American cultural and political influence and the faster that happens the better the nation will be as a whole.

But the main question I want to address is whether or not opinion of the majority of Americans is correct: Is religion losing its influence in cultural and political matters?

To answer that we have to look at the recent presidential election as well as demographic data and polls on social issues. The largest and most powerful religious influence in the US has without a doubt been that of white evangelical Christians. Almost all US presidents have been Protestant with just a few exceptions. Even so, and despite a recent uptick of those who think religious institutions should get more political, data indicates that the influence of this large and mostly Republican demographic is shrinking and losing influence.

When it comes to demographics, the first and most important factor in the decline of white evangelical Christians is that the country is getting less white. The US is only 63% white, down from 69% in 2000, and 80% in 1980. As the white population shrinks, the white evangelical population shrinks. Second, the country is getting less Christian. The US is only 70% Christian, down from 78% in 2007, and 90% in 1963. In just the past 20 years the percentage of both Christians and the religiously affiliated began to rapidly decline. And just like with the white population, as the Christian population shrinks, the white evangelical population shrinks—along with their influence. Protestants now make up less than half (46%) the US population. Thirdly, there is a large generational gap with respect to Christian religiosity indicating what's to come. Only 56% of millennials are Christian, whereas 70% of generation X, and 78% of baby boomers are Christian.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Little "g"

A few years ago I started spelling god with a little g instead of the traditional "God" with a capital G. I was inspired by Christopher Hitches who spelled god with a little g in his book god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everythingwhich even used the lower case g on its cover.  "I don't capitalize my concepts," Hitch wrote.

Like Hitch, I never really thought of "God" as a proper name, but more like a noun, like "man" or "lion." It always seemed to be more of a type of being. That's why I don't like capitalizing the word "god." However, when I refer to a specific god by name, like Yahweh, or Mazda, or Odin, or Zeus, I will capitalize it as I capitalize all names.

Speaking of capitalizing the names of gods, it reminds me of that one god who did sign his name with a capital G:

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Minimal Jesus Myth Theory - What Is It?

Minimal mythcism, sometimes called the minimal mythicist theory or the minimal Jesus myth theory, that people like Richard Carrier argue for goes as follows [1]:

  1. At the origin on Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.
  2. Like many other celestial deities, this Jesus 'communicated' with his subjects only through dreams, visions and other forms of divine inspiration (such as prophesy, past and present).
  3. Like some other celestial deities, the Jesus was originally believed to have endured an ordeal of incarnation, death, burial and resurrection in a supernatural realm.
  4. As for many other celestial deities, an allegorical story of this same Jesus was then composed and told within the sacred community, which then placed him on earth, in history, as a divine man, with an earthly family, companions, and enemies, complete with deeds and sayings, and an earthly depiction of his ordeals.
  5. Subsequent communities of worshipers believed (or at least taught) that this invented sacred story was real (and either not allegorical or only 'additionally' allegorical).

As such, it's important to know what minimal Jesus mythicism is and is not because there's a lot of kooks out there, especially on the internet, proposing preposterous ideas that are backed up by no evidence or horrible scholarship, and it tends to drown out the legitimate arguments like Carrier's. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

My 1 Year Anniversary As A Vegetarian

This past August I reached my one year anniversary of becoming a vegetarian. I've only broken my vow not to eat any meat a few times: once on Thanksgiving, twice when I was at a restaurant that only served meat and I had a tuna melt, and one other time when I was starving and was offered beef dumplings and I just ate it. Other than that it's been no meat or fish for over a year.

I'm often asked why I'm a vegetarian by people I know and I always relish in the opportunity to explain why. There are two main reasons why I've given up eating meat and fish.

First is the moral argument. I do not want to support an industry, whether it's at the industrial scale or not, that kills animals and often tortures them in horrible living conditions. By not eating meat and encouraging others to do so, I will help reduce demand and that will hopefully shrink the industry as a whole, with the goal of putting it out of business entirely. A moral society simply cannot support the systematic torture and death of sentient animals for our pleasure.

The second reason is the sustainability argument. Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of the amazon rain forest destruction, 51% of global greenhouse emissions are due to livestock and their byproducts, three out of four of the world's fisheries are exploited, and for every one pound of fish caught five pounds of marine animals are unintentionally caught and killed as by-kill. In short, an ever increasing population of humans eating meat is environmentally unsustainable. A vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is necessary.

So for these two primary reasons I have given up eating meat and fish, and I can tell you, I definitely feel better and more ethical as a person after doing so. I'm am trying to walk the walk on ethics, and not just talk the talk, but I'd be a liar if I said it was easy.

Unfortunately, I read recently that about 86% of vegetarians eventually go back to eating meat. That means I'm statistically likely to go back to eating meat at some point in my future. Maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle is really hard. There are synthetic meats that are on the horizon, that may be economically viable in the next 10 years. If they can take off, I will certainly consider eating their meat. I'm not a vegetarian because I don't like the taste of meat. I love the taste of meat. If I could eat meat without animals being tortured and killed and without the negative environmental impact, I would. Synthetic meat could make this possible. It could also put the existing animal agricultural industry out of business through market competition. But we'll have to see what happens.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sean Carroll's 10 Suggestions

Since naturalists aren't particularly fond of commandments, Sean Carroll offers 10 suggestions in his recent book, The Big Picture, "that might be useful to keep in mind as we shape and experience our own ways of valuing and caring about our lives."

  1. Life Isn't Forever
  2. Desire Is Built into Life
  3. What Matters Is What Matters to People
  4. We Can Always Do Better
  5. It Pays to Listen
  6. There Is No Natural Way to Be
  7. It Takes All Kinds
  8. The Universe Is in Our Hands
  9. We Can Do Better Than Happiness
  10. Reality Guides Us

No list of suggestions (or commandments) like this can go without explanation, but if you want to read his explanations for his suggestions, I highly recommend you read his book if you haven't already:


On Libertarianism

Something that I don't often write about is political libertarianism. I have a problem with it. I have a problem with the view that the free market approach works everywhere. But in order to talk about this stuff, one needs to bring in the fields of political philosophy and economics that I am much less acquainted with than with the relevant fields needed to have the religion debate.

In political philosophy, one of the major questions is "what is the purpose of government?" It's an interesting question few of us ask ourselves. We tend to grow up in cultures where government exists and its role is taken for granted. The US was founded by rebels who broke away from a theocratic king and set up a secular democracy. The preamble of the US Constitution reads that its purpose was "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". It was the first secular democracy in the world and quite revolutionary.

The purpose of the newly independent US government seemed quite clear. Or was it? What does it mean to "promote the general Welfare?" Libertarians generally believe that the purpose of government is to protect the rights of the citizens and perform a few basic functions like military, police, and the law: The military to protect the country from all enemies foreign and domestic, the police to provide security internally, and the law to provide judges and courts for legal matters. Other than that, most, if not all other areas of society will be handled by the private sector.

Libertarians disagree over exactly how far government should extend beyond the police, military, and the law. They also disagree on taxes. Some support a flat tax, others support no taxation at all and consider any form of taxation the moral equivalent of stealing. People would instead voluntarily donate money to the government in such a system. Voluntaryism, the philosophy that forms of human association should be voluntary is big among the "taxation is theft" wing of libertarians.

I've challenged many libertarians I know on whether an all voluntary taxation system would actually be able to pay for the government they think should exist and the answers I get don't sound too confident. I've asked them what should be done if voluntary tax donations weren't enough to cover the costs of the government functions, like for example, the police to secure the safety of the community, and I haven't gotten a good answer yet. Voluntaryism would also allow free riders to game the system. If your neighbors are voluntarily paying for the police and you're not, you're still going to get the same police protection they paid for. Also, who would build and maintain the roads, bridges, and tunnels? Would the private sector really be able to handle this with the level of coverage government could?

Libertarians are very anti-utilitarian. They are not focused on the end result, but rather the principle being held. So if an all voluntary taxation system failed to pay for the needs of the small libertarian government and it resulted in massive societal problems, like rising crime and civil unrest because of the lack of paid police officers, then so be it. All that matters is that government didn't tax, or "steal" anyone's earnings.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Does General Relativity Entail Eternalism?

Recently, a scientist by the name of Gustavo E. Romero wrote a paper where he gives an argument from General Relativity in favor of eternalism. The paper, called On the ontology of spacetime, offers a simple argument for eternalism based on the existence of gravitational waves:

P1. There are gravitational waves.
P2. Gravitational waves have non-zero Weyl curvature.
P3. Non-zero Weyl curvature is only possible in 4 or more dimensions.
P4. Presentism is incompatible with a 4 dimensional world.
Then, presentism is false.

A little less than a year ago gravitational waves were empirically verified by two teams of scientists in two independent tests in the US. So premise 1 is true. (At the time Romero wrote his paper, gravitational waves had not yet been confirmed; now they have.) The rest of the argument is a bit technical, but Romero writes:

Premises P2 and P3 are necessarily true. Gravitational waves propagate in empty space, where the Einstein’s field equations are reduced to: 
Rab = 0. 
This expression means that the 10 coefficients of the Ricci tensor are identically null. But the full Riemann tensor3 has 20 independent coefficients since is a rank 4 tensor. The remaining 10 components are expressed by the Weyl tensor. Then, since the gravitational waves are disturbances in the curvature, the Weyl tensor must be non-zero in their presence. If the dimensionality of the world were 3, as proposed by the presentists, the Riemann tensor would have only 6 independent components, and since in 3 dimensions the Einstein’s equations in vacuum are reduced to 6, the Weyl tensor must vanish. Only in 4 or more dimensions gravity can propagate through empty spacetime (see Hobson et al. 2006, p.184, and Romero and Vila 2014, p. 19). 

It's an interesting argument using General Relativity, instead of Special Relativity—which is most often used, to make an argument for eternalism. Some have argued that General Relativity argues against eternalism, and this would seem to challenge that view. It further adds to the case that physics supports eternalism and negates presentism, and I think we should take the findings from science to inform our worldviews seriously.

Happy Labor Day weekend!


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