Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sam Harris On Racism And Police Brutality Asks A Tough Question

I just listened to Sam Harris's recent podcast with Brown University professor Glenn C. Loury on racism and police brutality. You can listen to that below if you haven't already. One interesting question Harris asks Loury is that given how African-Americans are about 13% of the total US population, yet in 2013 accounted for 52% of all Murders and nonnegligent manslaughter arrests, 56% of robbery arrests, 31% of rape arrests, and 33.9 % of aggravated assault arrests, and were less than 25% of those killed by the police according to The Guardian as of today in 2016 (and 26% for all of 2015), what should the number and percentage of African-Americans killed by the police be?

Now Harris didn't use these same exact statistics but they are in line with his point that African-Americans are over-represented in criminal arrests. It seems to me that African-Americans are under-represented in the percentage of them being killed by police when you factor in their arrest rates. In other words, we should expect at least 40 or 50% of those killed by the police to be African-American, not 25%. Is this true? What other relevant factors am I leaving out? It's an interesting question that I'm sure many on the left will find challenging. Professor Loury in the podcast said he didn't know the answer to that question, but it's worth an answer.

P.S. I still think Chris Rock got it right more than a decade ago when he made his video How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police. It's worth another watch in light of this increased focus on police brutality and killings.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Does Special Relativity Entail Eternalism? Part 3 - The Logical Argument

Can we make a deductive logical argument showing how eternalism is entailed from Special Relativity? Well, let's see if we can. It involves three parts. First there is the background knowledge, and that is Special Relativity itself, specifically its two postulates. Second, there is the train scenario that is used for the argument. And finally, there is the argument itself.

Background knowledge:

Given Special Relativity's two postulates:
  • (SR1) the laws of physics are invariant (i.e. identical) in all inertial systems (non-accelerating frames of reference).
  • (SR2) the speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of the motion of the light source.
…I will argue that the train scenario that was thought up by Einstein, logically entails eternalism. Here’s how:

The scenario:

In the train scenario, the man (M) and the woman (W) are both an equal distance from the two lights sources at the front and back of the train (events A and B, respectively). M is on the platform, and W is on the train. M receives the two light signals from events A and B at the same time, while W receives the light from event A first and event B second.

The argument:
P1. The only way to measure the simultaneity of two distant events is by measuring a signal coming from the events and calculating the time it takes to receive the signals and the distance from them to the measuring device.

P2. Since the speed of light doesn’t change from a change in motion (SR2) this entails that if two light signals are received at the same time from two equidistant objects that each sent at particular events (events A and B), then the time when those two objects sent those signals are simultaneous. Events A and B would have to have physically existed at the same time according to the frame of the measuring device.

P3. Likewise, if the two signals arrived at different times it must indicate that events A and B were not simultaneous and could not have physically existed at the same time according to the frame of the measuring device; otherwise we’d have to deny the two postulates above and hence deny the two fundamental principles of SR.

P4. Given SR1 above, M is at rest and is still relative to W, but it is also the case that W is at rest and is still relative to M. Neither can objectively say they are still or in motion.

P5. And given SR2, the speed of light is not affected by the movement of the light sources relative to M or W. Its speed and light cone will be the same from the perspective of M and W.
C1. Therefore, since M and W are both an equidistant space from events A and B, if M receives the two light signals at the same time, A and B must physically exist at the same time according to the frame of M (from P2 above). If W receives the two light signals at different times, A and B must not physically exist at the same time according to the frame of W (from P3 above).

C2. Since the perspectives of M and W are all legitimate given SR1, SR2, and P4 above, their ontologies must both physically exist.
C3. This logically entails eternalism. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Biblical Slavery For Foreigners Part III: The Micro Argument

I just wrote a lengthy follow up to my original post on biblical slavery for foreigners where I critiqued a popular Christian rebuttal but I realized that I needed a micro version of the argument that the Bible allows for conditions that meet the definition of slavery. I also want to list some of the most common responses I hear from Christians defending the view that the Bible doesn't condone slavery. So below is a micro argument that argues that the Bible does indeed condone slavery and it can be copied and pasted by anyone who wants to use it in an online debate. The agenda is as follows: (1) start with defining slavery, (2) show how the Bible allows for conditions that meet the definition of slavery, and (3) rebut a few common points and preempt as many common responses one often hears.

The Argument

The goal of this argument is to make the case that the Bible condoned conditions that amount to what we'd properly call slavery. Slavery can be generally defined as follows:

1. The condition in which one person is owned as property by another and is under the owner's control, especially in involuntary servitude.
2. (Law) the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune
3. The subjection of a person to another person, esp in being forced into work

So at least two conditions have to be met in order to properly be called slavery: (1) The person has to be forced into the position against their will, and (2) the person has to be made to perform some kind of labor, and paid nothing or next to nothing, for a certain amount of time, up to life. This would not generally include people punished for crimes in a just court of law. If anything meets these two conditions, it can be properly called slavery. I will argue that the Bible allowed for situations that meet these conditions.

In the Old Testament foreign slaves could be acquired by war, purchase, or birth. Deut. 20:12-14 says that the Israelites could force the inhabitants of the region they call their "Promised Land" as well as "all the cities that are at a distance from [them] and do not belong to the nations nearby" into forced servitude if they surrender their land and belongings. If they don't surrender, their towns will be besieged and their men will be killed and the women and children can be taken as booty. In Judges 1:28-34 it even says the Israelites forced the Canaanites, the Naphtalites, and the Amorites into servitude, all while the "LORD was with them." 1 Kings 9:21 tells of how King Solomon conscripted foreign tribes who the Israelites couldn't exterminate "to serve as slave labor" building temples, palaces, and the walls of towns. And to distinguish the rules between Hebrews and non-Hebrews, Leviticus 25:44-46 specifies that foreign slaves are not to be freed after the 7th year as a Hebrew servants do, they serve for life and can be inherited as property. This meets both of the conditions for slavery above in that under Old Testament law (1) persons could be forced into the position of subordination or property to another person against their will, or be born into that position, and (2) made to perform unpaid labor.

It is important to note that this argument is not trying to say that all conditions of servitude in the Bible meet the conditions of slavery. Much of it was what can properly be called indentured servitude. This argument is an in principle argument that resolves the question of whether any conditions allowed for under Old Testament Mosaic law meets the conditions for slavery. That is a very important point one has to be aware of when responding to this argument.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Quote Of The Day: William Lane Craig On The Use Of Reason

Today's quote comes from none other than Christian apologist extraordinaire William Lane Craig. In his apologetic handbook Reasonable Faith he writes about the "legitimate" use of reason:

The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence. The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel. In light of the Spirit's witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology. Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith; as Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding. A person who knows that Christianity is true on the basis of the witness of the Spirit may also have a sound apologetic which reinforces or confirms for him the Spirit's witness, but it does not serve as the basis of his belief. [1]

Let's briefly examine this. According to Craig, the only legitimate use of reason is in its ministerial sense of submitting to and serving the gospel. In other words, according to Craig, reason, argument, and evidence cannot exist outside of the gospel to judge the gospel on its veracity or to contradict it. Instead, reason, argument, and evidence only exist to serve the gospel's presupposed truth. The gospel basically determines what's reasonable. The basis of Christian belief according to Craig is not reason, argument, and evidence, it's the witness of the Spirit. That is, it's a warm fuzzy feeling one gets when they read the Bible, or "talk" or pray to Jesus and Yahweh. This is a horrible way to infer ontology, as I've written, and it goes to show you that all of Craig's evidentialist ramblings are really just a post hoc rationalization. 

[1] Craig, William Lane (2008-07-23). Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Kindle Location 686). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis mine)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Biblical Slavery For Foreigners Part II

In the ongoing question about whether the Bible condones human slavery, Christian apologists have come up with many ways to try and explain that it doesn't. One Christian is Glenn Miller, who wrote a piece on the Christian Think Tank website on slavery in the Bible arguing this point. To properly answer this question, one should ask whether Mosaic law allowed foreigners in Israel to be legally kept in conditions amounting to slavery.

So what is slavery? Slavery has many definitions. For example:

1. The condition in which one person is owned as property by another and is under the owner's control, especially in involuntary servitude.
2. (Law) the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune
3. The subjection of a person to another person, esp in being forced into work

All of these paint a situation one could properly call slavery. Interestingly, to be a slave does not require it to be based on race or ethnicity, and it does not have to be life long. Someone forced into servitude and labor for a finite amount of time can still be considered a slave during the time they are forced. I mention this because many Christian apologists are quick to point out that biblical slavery was not exactly like slavery in the Antebellum South. That may be so, but that doesn't mean biblical slavery wasn't slavery. In the Old Testament, Mosaic law describes how foreigners (non-Hebrews) could be forcefully taken as slaves by being acquired by war (Deut. 20:12-14) and foreign slaves could be kept for life (Lev 25:44-46). While the servitude forced upon prisoners convicted of just crimes is not generally considered slavery, this didn't apply to the people the Bible mentions were forced into servitude. So at least two conditions have to be met in order to properly be called slavery: (1) The person has to be forced into the position against their will, and (2) the person has to be made to perform some kind of labor, and paid nothing or next to nothing, for a certain amount of time, up to life. Now, we can endlessly split hairs over exactly what's "force" (does verbal intimidation or coercion count as force?), but it's not necessary now, as clearly being threatened with death at the end of a sword counts as force.

iconI made a post a while back called Biblical Slavery for Foreigners where I quote from A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, a scholarly work that mentions the allowance of forced lifelong slavery for foreigners in ancient Israel. Miller's article references my source 21 times but when he quotes from it he often is quoting from slave systems of other non-Hebrew cultures. For example, his citation of page 449 references Assyrian slavery. Page 585 references Mesopotamian uses of slavery. Page 664 references Emar, part of Anatolia and the Levant. Page 741 refers to Canaanite culture. And page 199 refers to Mesopotamian culture again. None of these references refer to Hebrew culture and law which is the very thing in question. We're not debating what the Sumerians did or the Hittites did. We're debating what the Israelites did because Christians believe their law came from Yahweh—the one true god, and many Christians today are still claiming this god — and only this god — grounds morality. That's what the debate is about. And all these points Miller makes that slavery was sometimes (or even often) an economic need is totally irrelevant. No one denies that indentured servitude existed in the ANE. When debating whether the Bible condones slavery we're having an in principle argument here: did Mosaic law condone forced servitude that could last for life under any circumstances? Yes or no? That is the issue. Showing that most slavery was voluntary indentured servitude in the ANE is totally irrelevant.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Great Lecture By Jonathan Haidt On Politics, Morality, And Psychology

I just watched this and I thought it was good enough to post. I'm taking the day off to go to a birthday party. It's David Silverman's 50 birthday. He's a president of American Atheists. Should be fun. Please enjoy this video and learn from it. We all — liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans, independents and libertarians, religious and non-religious alike — need to get better on how we evaluate ourselves and our views.

Monday, August 8, 2016

10 Questions For A Christian

Editor's note: For some reason I wrote this blog post years ago but then apparently never published it. Well, better late than never. Here are 10 (or so) questions I have for any Christian who thinks Christianity is the truth and wants me to agree. Or just 10 questions for Christians in general. Not every question applies to every type of Christian. Some of them are aimed at a more general Christian theology, so if you're a Christian and feel a question doesn't apply to you, just ignore it or offer your alternative view. These also aren't intended to be the most difficult to ask a Christian, some of them are just out of curiosity.

  1. Do you think it's immoral just being an atheist, or being a proponent of atheism?
    • If yes, is being an atheist more immoral than being a murderer or a rapist?
    • Hypothetically speaking, would you rather have your daughter to date or marry an atheist or a god-believing rapist/murderer?
  2. Do you personally think atheists deserve to be tortured in hell forever just by being atheists?
  3. Would you rather live in a universe where atheism is true or where Islam is true? 
  4. Would you rather see a future US population that is mostly secular and atheist or mostly Islamic? What about for Europe and the entire world?
  5. Is there anything about your religion that you feel personally makes no logical sense or is emotionally disturbing or especially cruel, or does everything about your religion make perfect sense to you?
  6. What sufficient reasons exist for why god set things up as he did? Why create an unimaginably large universe so that we could exist on one tiny planet, where god would reveal himself to select people in one region of the earth who were ignorant of science and who lived in cultures permeated with superstition, and whose job god decided it would be to pass on his message through word-of-mouth so that the rest of the world would have to just take it on faith while thousands of alternative faiths would compete with it so that god could eternally punish anyone who didn't accept it? Can this plan be morally justified? (Note here that "eternally punish" doesn't have to be torture, but could mean just the eternal separation of god.)
  7. How does one expect to exist eternally without going mad? In other words, if heaven exists where you will live eternally, what can you possibly do forever to keep you occupied? What would be the point of living? Most people's lives are motivated by searching for truth, or to improve their lives and the lives of others, but if in heaven no one needs help and there are no problems to be solved and no truths to be known, what would motivate a person to live eternally? Is god's love really enough for eternity? It seems to me that the only way this can be plausible would be if we're stripped of our personalities and turned into robots. 
  8. If god's commandments constitute our moral duties and what is right and wrong and you think they are not arbitrarily decided, they must then be in accordance with what positively benefits human beings such as love, compassion, and empathy. If this is so, wouldn't these things also be objectively good in the absence of god? If not, please explain why.
  9. If god is intrinsically perfect and holy why does the biblical god have an extreme jealousy complex? Since jealously is not a characteristic we consider virtuous it would seem incompatible with perfection that god would demand to be worshiped at all, let alone have beings tortured eternally or annihilated for not worshiping him. Can this be morally and logically justified?
  10. Finally, if god does not exist, would you seriously feel that you no longer have a purpose in life or a reason to live or be moral? And can you understand that many of us are capable of living moral and fulfilling lives without god or religion?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Conservatives Have A Point

Growing up in the inner city, the culture that surrounded me in my adolescent years despised intelligence. Ignorance was celebrated as a virtue; it was something to be commended, something to aspire to. I remember back in school dumbing myself down in order to fit in with my peers by pretending to be stupid and not knowing the answers to the questions my teachers asked, when in fact I really did. Thinking back on this reminds me of the conservatives who say that the problems of the inner city, and the black community in particular, are due to culture and not racism. For a while I dismissed that argument, but I've changed my mind. I think conservatives do have a point on this.

Now let me first set the record straight. I am technically a liberal, although I'm beginning to hate labels more and more, especially when it comes to politics. I am a liberal—but—I definitely don't think liberals have all the right answers. They are not 100 percent right on 100 percent of the issues. That's far from the case. We must divorce ourselves from the increasingly tribal mentalities on the political spectrum. We must be willing to listen to the other side, and seek out the best criticism of our own political identifications. And we must put reason and evidence first and foremost over and above everything else, especially when it disagrees with our politics.

On the ongoing problems in America's inner cities with rising crime and stagnant poverty I think that it is undeniably true that culture is at least a part of the problem. You see, what conservatives typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on culture, and what liberals typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on racism. But as I see it, both of them are partially right. Yes — racism, the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the predatory lending practices of banks, and many other discriminatory policies have left a negative imprint on African Americans. And yes it is also true that many racist policies have hurt Latino Americans and to a lesser degree some Asian Americans. But that isn't the full answer of why these groups still struggle with poverty, violent crime, and high unemployment and incarceration rates. Culture matters. When you have a culture that nurtures and embraces ignorance as if it was a virtue, treats women like pieces of shit, and thinks that resorting to violence in order to solve your problems is acceptable, what the fuck do you think is going to happen? Do you think a culture like that is going to create brilliant thinkers, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs peacefully coexisting in safe, clean neighborhoods? No! You're going to create a culture full of high school dropouts, thugs, criminals, single mothers and absentee fathers, and low skilled wage earners who stay in poverty generation after generation via perpetual bad decision making.

Now you might argue that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and other racist policies helped create this culture that celebrates apathy and ignorance as virtues. Fine. I'd agree with you. But that's not in any way a refutation that culture is an important reason why so many minorities in the inner cities across America are committing crimes at much higher rates than the rest of the country and continue to be in poverty generation after generation.

We must cultivate a culture that celebrates and nurtures science and philosophy and reason and facts and the thirst for knowledge and truth. We must also cultivate a culture where we seek to minimize unnecessary suffering, and where we care about the well being of others. It is imperative that we do this in order to resolve the negative issues plaguing inner city minority communities for generations. I want being smart to be cool again. Make that something kids want to aspire to. I want this stupid culture of ignorance to go away once and for all and to be mocked and humiliated into extinction, in much the same way I think should happen to religion. That won't be easy, but it can happen. Here's how:

My Favorite Hitchens Quote

In Letters to a Young Contrarian, Hitchens wrote what has become my favorite quote from him:

"Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence."

It made me think of my life so far and how during much of its duration I regretfully kept silent. I used to be very shy when I was younger. I rarely, if ever, spoke up in public. I'd usually sit in my chair in school, emotionless and timid, afraid to talk to anyone. I had no confidence in who I was. I couldn't make friends. I couldn't talk to girls. I'd keep my opinions all to myself, afraid I'd be mocked by my peers for exposing what they were. The interests that I had, like science and history, were simply not "cool" in the culture I grew up in and I suppressed my knowledge of them, thereby suppressing the main source of confidence available to me.

Then I got older. Towards the very end of high school and into college I began to break free from my cocoon. With some luck I made friends. I started to speak up in class and offer my opinion. I took several public speaking courses that greatly helped my ability to speak in front of audiences. At times I got really good at it, becoming the most outspoken person in the class. In fact, in one professional development class in college, my professor called me the best student in the class. I had achieved this by showing off all my knowledge of history and philosophy, which greatly impressed him. I had finally, right around that time, "found myself" so to speak.

Today I am very comfortable in my skin. I like who I am. I like my personality. I like my interests. I like my sense of humor. I am very outspoken now. Hitchens' quote further inspires me to not stay silent. When it comes to philosophy and politics I cannot even imagine being shy about them at this point in my life. There will be an infinite amount of time after I'm dead when I'm not going to be saying or writing shit. During this finite amount of time I have in this universe it is absolutely imperative that I be heard so that there's at least a chance that my views will makes waves. That's why I can never stay silent. Not anymore. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Quote Of The Day: Why ISIS Fights & Hates Us

Today's quote comes from the latest issue of ISIS's very own publication Dabiq. To those out there who still insist that ISIS is the result of purely socio-economic reasons and/or motivated by Western foreign policy that has nothing to do with the religion of Islam, I give you an article shutting that view down right from the source. It's entitled, "Why We Hate You & Why We Fight You" and in it ISIS explains exactly why they fight and hate us and (spoiler alert!) it's first and foremost due to their religion of Islam. They hate our secular, disbelieving, gay-enabling lands of freedom and sodomy, where we let criticism of Islam and their pedophile prophet Mohammad be tolerated. They will not rest in hating and fighting us until we convert to Islam or submit to Islamic rule under dhimmi status and pay the jizyah. All of us. Only a temporary cease fire is the best we can ever hope for in terms of "peace." That's why ISIS needs to be wiped off the face of the earth and every last one of them is destroyed. And their ideology and religion need to be utterly refuted into extinction so that it never comes back.

Here are their top 3 reasons why they hate and fight us.

1. We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers; you reject the oneness of Allah – whether you realize it or not – by making partners for Him in worship, you blaspheme against Him, claiming that He has a son, you fabricate lies against His prophets and messengers, and you indulge in all manner of devilish practices. It is for this reason that we were commanded to openly declare our hatred for you and our enmity towards you. “There has already been for you an excellent example in Abraham and those with him, when they said to their people, ‘Indeed, we are disassociated from you and from whatever you worship other than Allah. We have rejected you, and there has arisen, between us and you, enmity and hatred forever until you believe in Allah alone’” (Al-Mumtahanah 4). Furthermore, just as your disbelief is the primary reason we hate you, your disbelief is the primary reason we fight you, as we have been commanded to fight the disbelievers until they submit to the authority of Islam, either by becoming Muslims, or by paying jizyah – for those afforded this option – and living in humiliation under the rule of the Muslims. Thus, even if you were to stop fighting us, your best-case scenario in a state of war would be that we would suspend our attacks against you – if we deemed it necessary – in order to focus on the closer and more immediate threats, before eventually resuming our campaigns against you. Apart from the option of a temporary truce, this is the only likely scenario that would bring you fleeting respite from our attacks. So in the end, you cannot bring an indefinite halt to our war against you. At most, you could only delay it temporarily. “And fight them until there is no fitnah [paganism] and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah” (Al-Baqarah 193).
2. We hate you because your secular, liberal societies permit the very things that Allah has prohibited while banning many of the things He has permitted, a matter that doesn’t concern you because you separate between religion and state, thereby granting supreme authority to your whims and desires via the legislators you vote into power. In doing so, you desire to rob Allah of His right to be obeyed and you wish to usurp that right for yourselves. “Legislation is not but for Allah” (Yusuf 40). Your secular liberalism has led you to tolerate and even support “gay rights,” to allow alcohol, drugs, fornication, gambling, and usury to become widespread, and to encourage the people to mock those who denounce these filthy sins and vices. As such, we wage war against you to stop you from spreading your disbelief and debauchery – your secularism and nationalism, your perverted liberal values, your Christianity and atheism – and all the depravity and corruption they entail. You’ve made it your mission to “liberate” Muslim societies; we’ve made it our mission to fight off your influence and protect mankind from your misguided concepts and your deviant way of life. 
3. In the case of the atheist fringe, we hate you and wage war against you because you disbelieve in the existence of your Lord and Creator. You witness the extraordinarily complex makeup of created beings, and the astonishing and inexplicably precise physical laws that govern the entire universe, but insist that they all came about through randomness and that one should be faulted, mocked, and ostracized for recognizing that the astonishing signs we witness day after day are the creation of the Wise, All-Knowing Creator and not the result of accidental occurrence. “Or were they created by nothing, or were they the creators [of themselves]?” (AtTur 35). Your disbelief in your Creator further leads you to deny the Day of Judgment, claiming that “you only live once.” “Those who disbelieve have claimed that they will never be resurrected. Say, ‘Yes, by my Lord, you will surely be resurrected; then you will surely be informed of what you did. And that, for Allah, is easy’” (At-Taghabun 7). 

When reading ISIS propaganda, prepare to see how twisted and warped taking the religion of Islam literally can make you. Read it all right from the latest issue of Dabiq, entitled Break the Cross.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Nuclear Bombs

When I was a kid I was totally obsessed nuclear bombs. I was fascinated by how they exploded and by calculating the range of their destructive effects. I spent many hours watching footage of nuclear tests conducted by the US, the USSR, and other countries. I had always wondered what would happen if a nuclear bomb went off in a major city of the world, like mine. Now I of course do not in any way want that to happen, but the idea has always fascinated me. Well now, thanks to the internet, there is a site where you can detonate virtual nuclear bombs anywhere on earth and see what kind of destructive effects it would have. That site is called Nuclear Secrecy.

If a 50 megaton nuclear bomb detonated in the air over the center of New York City, it would destroy almost the entire city, and it would cause third degree burns to people over almost the entire metropolitan area who were exposed. Almost every building in Manhattan would be obliterated or severely damaged. Radiation fallout would stretch for a hundred miles down wind. Casualties would be approximately 7.6 million, nearly the entire population of New York City. And injuries would be estimated at 4.2 million. The city would be unlivable, and would ultimately have to be abandoned. It would be a scene out of a nightmare. It would be, Armageddon.


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