Saturday, October 21, 2017

Quote Of The Day: Why Denying Eternalism Forces You To Accept Brute Facts



A few years ago when I was completely obsessed with the philosophy of time I read many papers for and against presentism and eternalism. In one paper called Presentism and Relativity philosopher Yuri Balashov and physicist Michel Janssen write that in order to maintain presentism one has to lose the explanatory power of the "space-time interpretation" or B-theory (which is eternalism). Lorentz invariance becomes an accidental property "shared by all laws effectively governing systems in Newtonian space and time." I've written in the past that without eternalism length contraction in special relativity becomes inexplicable. It "just is" that way with no apparent explanation. Balashov and Janssen argue it's not the thing that becomes inexplicable.

In the neo-Lorentzian interpretation it is, in the final analysis, an unexplained coincidence that the laws effectively governing different sorts of matter all share the property of Lorentz invariance, which originally appeared to be nothing but a peculiarity of the laws governing electromagnetic fields. In the space-time interpretation this coincidence is explained by tracing the Lorentz invariance of all these different laws to a common origin: the space-time structure posited in this interpretation (Janssen 1995, 2002).[22]
The argument can be made in different ways. Einstein made it in the opening paragraph of the 1905 paper with the help of his famous magnet-conductor example: for the current measured in the conductor only the relative motion of magnet and conductor matters, but in Lorentz’s theory the case with the magnet at rest is very different from the case with the conductor at rest. No matter how the argument is made, the point is that there are brute facts in the neo-Lorentzian interpretation that are explained in the space-time interpretation. As Craig (p. 101) writes (in a different context): “if what is simply a brute fact in one theory can be given an explanation in another theory, then we have an increase in intelligibility that counts in favor of the second theory.” We just presented such an argument in the case of the space-time interpretation versus the neo-Lorentzian interpretation. The argument is not iron-clad and may still be outweighed by the needs of theology or quantum mechanics. But it is on a par with, say, the argument for preferring Darwinian evolution over special creation. That is good enough for us. (emphasis mine)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Video: Losing Our Religion


A few years ago over on the PBS News Hour they had a segment on the recent PEW results which showed a dramatic drop in the number of self-identified Christians in the US and a rise in the non-religious. It's worth a watch to hear their analysis. One interesting moment is when they touch up on whether a deeply religious country is a good thing in and of itself and something to be preserved. It'll be interesting to see what further declines will occur in the coming decade. I predict that religion has entered a steep and irreversible decline, but we'll see.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The "God Has Morally Sufficient Reasons" Theodicy


It's been a bad few months in terms of natural disasters. Back-to-back hurricanes Maria and Irma devastated countries and regions in the Caribbean that were already struggling financially, killing at least 59 and 75 people, respectively. Prior to this, hurricane Harvey slammed east Texas dumping more than 25 trillion gallons of water, flooding the Houston metro area and gulf coast with as much as $180 billion in damages, and killing at least 82 people in the process. A series of earthquakes rocked southern and central Mexico killing at least 422 people, including 25 children at a school. Thousands more were injured, and perhaps millions more were affected by property damage from the natural disasters.

It's in times like these that I'm reminded of the problem of evil — specifically natural evil. Natural evil is an evil for which "no non-divine agent can be held morally responsible for its occurrence." Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, droughts, meteor impacts, and diseases that cause sentient beings to suffer or die and for which no human being is responsible are examples of natural evil.

Natural evil doesn't exist on atheism since there is no conscious creator, designer, or sustainer to nature. But since many theists do believe nature has a creator, designer, and sustainer who is also omnibenevolent — meaning perfectly and infinitely good, there is big problem with natural evil on most forms of theism, particularly Christian theism. To deal with the stinging issue of natural evil, theists have come up with theodicies, which are attempts to explain why an omnibenevolent deity can coexist with moral and natural evil.

Once such theodicy is what I'm going to call the "God has morally sufficient reasons" to allow evil theodicy, or the MSR theodicy. According to the MSR theodicy, god allows natural evils so that some good thing can come from it at a later time, kind of like how the pain you endure at the dentist (an experience I had the other week) is all for the greater good of having healthy teeth. It appears that the MSR theodicy is a variation of the soul building theodicy, which says that natural evils can be god's way of challenging moral agents to goodness or some soul building benefit.

Quote Of The Day: Sean Carroll On The Big Bang


Later on this year, probably in December, I'm going to be giving a talk at a Long Island Atheists event on how atheists can better answer some of the most common challenges they face. It's going to be called Make Atheism Great Again, and will be a preview of my talk at The Atheist Conference.

While making the PowerPoint presentation I made a slide featuring physicist Sean Carroll with a quote from his debate with William Lane Craig on God and Cosmology. It mentions the problem most people have with understanding the big bang — particularly Craig, who I think knows better, and yet continues to claim that on atheism the universe just "pops" into existence. Carroll sets the record straight, but don't expect Craig et al. to learn from it. Their job requires they deny this.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thinking About Taking The Pro-Truth Pledge


I've been a bit busy lately and haven't had much time to blog. I've been working with friends on putting together the first ever atheist conference in New York City and it's taking up much of my time. I'm currently in charge of recording and editing video promos for the event and this takes weeks of commitment. I'm also in charge of maintaining the site and various other event planning details.

I will have much more on this event in the upcoming weeks and months, but if you're interested, check out our site TheAtheistConference.com right now. Tickets just went on sale last week. We haven't heavily promoted it yet because we're waiting for a big event. But when the grand announcement is made, it will be made on all of our social media, including our Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as my site of course. I will also be speaking at the event moderating a panel. Stay tuned!

I also have many lengthy blog posts in the pipe that will be published later this month, including a critique of the "God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering" theodicy.

I will also be in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania this weekend for the annual Pennsylvania State Atheist/Humanist Conference. The Gotham Atheist contingent and I are going down there to help out and promote our conference. So that's going to take a few days away from blogging. I will hopefully have a lot in the second half of the month.


I've caught wind of the pro-truth pledge that's being talked about. In the age of Trump and rampant lying, asking people to take a pledge towards telling the truth is a necessity. There are people who are willing to lie about anything in order to further a political, economic, religious, or social goal. The ends always justifies the means, and it's leading to horrible behavior.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Zerin Firoze: Ex-Muslim Activist



A friend of mine who's a rising star in the secular, atheist, and ex-Muslim communities speaks publically about her experiences coming out of Islam, telling her story of the abuse and sexism she endured in its name. In this meme here she criticizes the professional liar and obscurantist Reza Azlan on his views on Bangladesh. He lies constantly about the treatment of women in Muslim majority countries, saying such nonsensical things like "in Indonesia women are absolutely 100% equal to men," which is empirically false.

He tells ignorant white Western liberals what they want to hear, and in the process, allows the sexism and homophobia in the Islamic world to persist. Reza is not dumb. He knows exactly what he's doing. He knows the majority of liberals listening to him will swallow his words whole and will not fact check a thing he says. He knows we all have an innate confirmation bias. And this is why we need to all be critical thinkers aware of our cognitive biases who fact check claims we want to believe are true.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

An Analysis Of A Former Liberal Turned Trump Voter's Reasons In "Waking Up"


I came across a blog post by a "gay, former liberal" describing his experience "waking up" out of liberalism to support Donald Trump for president. While reading it I saw a number of problems with his logic and so I'm going to critique them here. It's very important we get out of our echo chambers and understand the mindset of those who think differently from us and know where exactly they go wrong.

The blogger is named Josh and describes himself as a "32-year-old single Christian gay guy, who is helping raise his 3 year old niece." Fair enough. One can be conservative and gay, and technically one can be Christian and gay, especially since nowadays just about every Christian makes up his or her own version of Christianity to suit their personality.

In his post Josh describes how he started out not being particularly political, but interested in conspiracy theories, and then later jettisoned that interest and got deeper into politics in the beginning of the last presidential election cycle. He writes,

Then something gradually happened… while watching the debates to crack jokes, I began internalizing the information, suddenly finding my eyes to begin opening. I became aware of ISIS, and others with the desire to come to America for the purposes of ending our way of life, and illegals pouring through our borders, costing taxpayers billions, and contributing to crime. I discovered our Veterans were being treated poorly, many homeless on the streets, while others are allowed to come to the United States illegally, reaping the benefits. A wide range of issues really started to resonate with me.

A few things. Yes ISIS are evil people hell bent on destroying our way of life (you know, the liberal way) and are driven by a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. It's good to be aware of that and Democrats far too often do not acknowledge this.

Illegal immigration since the financial collapse in 2008 has been slightly declining — meaning, there's been a net decrease for nearly 10 years. But Josh is completely ignorant of that data, as is Trump, and almost all of his supporters.

As for the cost to tax payers, there's mixed data on this. Some right-leaning sources have the annual cost to tax payers at $113 billion, and many of these studies rely on estimates and include the cost of US born children of illegal immigrants who are themselves US citizens. Other studies have the number closer to $85 billion, and left-leaning sources say that there's an over all net-positive due to the consumer demand, tax revenue from income tax, payroll taxes, and the positive economic impact of lower priced goods from the cheap labor. But one thing's clear: giving illegal immigrants legal status and cracking down on work places that hire illegal immigrants off the books so that they do not pay taxes would dramatically lessen the tax burden they have on US tax payers.

And finally when it comes to the "contributing to crime" claim, it's true. Some illegal immigrants contribute to crime. But you know what? Some tourists contribute to crime. Should we ban tourists then? Of course not. Merely contributing to crime is not a justification to deport all illegal immigrants. You can't expect 11 million people to be completely crime free. Studies also show the crime rate of illegal immigrants is lower than that of native citizens. And over all crime in the US has dropped over the last 25 years, just as the numbers of illegal immigrants was rapidly increasing.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Rapture Is Coming!!!


I woke up yesterday to find this gem under my door warning me that the Rapture is coming, maybe today (who knows). Looks like I'll have to adjust my vacation plans.


Like all silly Christian apologetics, this one begins with the assumption that the Bible is the word of god. The writer of this pamphlet (along with almost all Christians) is totally unaware that 2 Timothy and 2 Thessalonians are widely considered forgeries. On the third page it quickly warns us unbelievers of what's to come:


All true believing Christians will suddenly disappear at the Rapture. This means you could be in the middle of having sex with a Christian and she or he will just vanish in the middle of the act. A Christian about to murder someone will vanish just before they plunged the knife into their victim. Airplanes being flown by Christians will suddenly be without a pilot.

Disbelievers are warned we'll face 7 years of physical torment and death in the years after the Rapture, and will be sent "strong delusion, that they should believe the lie" whatever the hell that means.

I hope these stupid pamphlets have the exact opposite effect that they're intended to have. I hope they turn people away from Christianity, and religion in general, because of how judgmental and absurd they are.

In the future, large numbers of Christians will disappear, but it won't be because of any supernatural Rapture. It'll be because they became atheists.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"If Determinism Were True There'd Be No Reason To Try And Convince Anyone Of Anything"


It's one of the most common responses you'll hear from people who believe in free will: If determinism were true there'd be no reason to try and convince anyone of anything.

There's just one little bitty problem with the claim. The exact opposite is true. Over on Strange Notions (a site I've been frequenting recently) they've written a whole series of blog posts attempting to refute Sean Carroll's last book The Big Picture. One of them, entitled Is Free Will Real or Are We All Determined? critiques Carroll's defense of determinism. All of the critiques are bad and misleading but the fourth one makes use of the claim above:

A fourth problem is that if determinism was true, Carroll would not be writing books attempting to persuade people of that fact. If reality is fundamentally determined, why would he spend time trying to convince readers to freely change their minds, to freely adjust their understanding of the world to align with poetic naturalism? Even if I, a theist, read Carroll's book and become convinced that poetic naturalism was true, I couldn't freely reject my theism, no matter what I chose or how hard I tried—I'm simply determined to believe what I believe.

The first part is totally incorrect. If determinism is true, things you do or say have a causal effect on people who hear them. However, it's only if free will is true — where your thoughts are uncaused and thus have no connection to anything that happen before them — that it makes no sense to convince anyone of anything. Don't confuse determinism with fatalism. On fatalism, things happen regardless of whether they're caused. On determinism, things only happen if they're caused. Trying to convince someone determinism is true will increase the likelihood they will accept it because you might be that causal force that changes their mind, and nobody knows the future with certainty. So it makes perfect sense to try and convince someone of something on determinism, but it makes no sense whatsoever to do so on free will. Free will requires your thoughts be uncaused (lest they wouldn't be free) and you cannot by definition have control over anything uncaused. So there is no "freely" coming to conclusions on free will; they'd all be random fluctuations.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What Questions Would You Ask A Catholic Philosopher?


Over on Strange Notions, they advertised an AMA (ask me anything) featuring Catholic philosopher Edward Feser. Readers, particularly atheist readers, were encouraged to write in questions, and some would be chosen for him to answer in a future post on the site.

I've read and reviewed his book The Last Superstition a few years ago, and was not particularly impressed by it. There were so many questions that arose from reviewing his book that Catholics like him fail to adequately explain that I decided to compile many of them into a single blog post.

Here is the list that I'd ask Feser, or any other Catholic philosopher, about their philosophy that I think makes little sense. It was compiled from a comment of mine on the site that used questions from my review.

  1. When did the rational soul begin to exist during the course of our evolution? Did Homo naledi have it? What about Neanderthals? Or Homo erectus
  2. Given evolution, was there a single human who got a rational soul whose parents didn't have one? If so, was he or she able to talk or think in a way their parents weren't? 
  3. Was this person as rational in capability as the average modern person is today, and were their parent's behavior like homo erectus or some other transitional hominid? 
  4. If natural selection could get us homo sapiens to the point where we acquired "such a level of complexity that it was possible for an animal to exist which was capable of having a rational soul," then why do we need god or the soul as an explanatory force for that matter?
  5. What is a squirrel's perfect essence? Does it depend on the species? Or geographic region? Does the North American tree squirrel have a different "Form," then say, the flying squirrels of Asia? And does a squirrel's "perfect" essence evolve as squirrels were evolving and changing or does it suddenly come to be in one squirrel generation? Any "genetic defect" that an animal might have could give it an advantage to its environment. That's one of the driving mechanisms for how evolution works after all. And that "defect" might become spread throughout that entire population through natural selection and gene flow. At what point does the mutation become the "Form" or "essence"? 
  6. What is the perfect form, essence, or nature of a human being? David Hasselhoff? Brad Pitt? Michaelangelo's David? Joseph Smith? The Islamic prophet Mohammad? Or is it Jesus?
  7. In The Last Superstition, you make several arguments against abortion. Among them, you say it's a "particularly violent interference with nature's purposes." (146) I suppose that would mean circumcision is too, right?
  8. God lacks passive potency, Thomists claim, but how can god create or become Jesus and not change?
  9. How can something with no size, shape, location, mass, motion or solidity act on bodies, or act on anything physical, especially without violating the conservation of energy and quantum field theory?
  10. If god doesn't reason or choose things in anything like the human sense of doing so, and he's timeless, how and why did he decide to create a universe that is apparently contingent on his will?
  11. Why does the universe have to be essentially ordered? Why does an atom need to be continually held in existence by a god? Is it metaphysically impossible for god to create something physical that continues to exist without sustenance? Is that something god can't do, like creating a stone he cannot lift?
  12. How does the "soul" go from act to potency without something outside to actualize it?
  13. From the Aristotelian perspective, how could we even distinguish a series of events having a final cause versus a series of events that didn't?
  14. How are Forms able to somehow have a causal relationship with the atoms in the physical brain via the "intellect," in a way that physics has not already discovered — since that is indeed what the Thomistic view would entail?
  15. What is it that makes the body proceed to move in a way that's in accordance with the intellect? Was it going to do so anyway via a purely material process irrespective of the intellect and will? If so, what's the point of the intellect here? How is it causal? Is it just a coincidence that the physical body moves according to what the intellect and will just so happens to think?
  16. Couldn't god 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 there are any Catholics out there who want to take a shot at these questions above, please do so in the comments below. I'd appreciate your efforts.

Monday, September 18, 2017

On Being Politically Homeless


Editor's note: this blog post was originally written in January 2016 and never published. After realizing this I've edited it to update it for today.

I've been wanting to write a blog post for some time about the politics and attitudes surrounding liberalism, "regressive leftism," Islam, and immigration. I was inspired by the events back in January of 2016 in Cologne Germany where groups of men who appeared to be of Middle Eastern and North African decent sexually assaulted hundreds of women and raped at least two. Some of those who committed the assaults may have been recently arrived refugees, and predictably, there were many conservatives saying "I told you so."

What I face here is a very complicated and tricky situation, and navigating it is like walking over a dilapidated roped bridge over a raging river: every step must be carefully planned.

I am at heart a liberal. I believe in liberty and equality and fairness and tolerance, and I despise racism and bigotry of all sorts. But the situation today regarding Islam, immigration, and political correctness is really challenging my liberal identity. Some of the things I hear coming out of the aptly termed "regressive left" are making me nauseous — while at the same time I can understand where they're coming from as a liberal myself.

Many people on the Left are genuinely concerned about racism and bigotry towards people of Middle Eastern or Asian ethnicity, but their political correctness inhibits them from acknowledging and coming to terms with the reality of what we face with Islam.

I am concerned about the rise of right-wing fascist groups and political parties in Europe and in other Western counties. I definitely don't want to see Europe go down that path. But at the same time, I'm concerned about rising immigration of people from Muslim majority counties into Europe. Just as I don't want to see Europe go down the road of right-wing fascism, I also don't want to see Europe in 30 years looking like Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

As a liberal, I want Europe to remain open and tolerant, but tolerating views that oppose that very same tolerance is in the long run problematic. There is a huge cultural clash between the disturbingly conservative views that many of those from Muslim majority countries hold, with the liberal, secular, and open European cultures. And labeling anyone who says that Europe should consider limiting its immigration a xenophobe, a racist, or a bigot, is highly unproductive. What many on the Left do not have any tolerance for is anything against their tolerance for multiculturalism. But meanwhile, they'll tolerate the sexism and homophobia of brown skinned Muslims because they're an "oppressed" minority in the West.

This level of hypocrisy is madness.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Top 10 Cognitive Biases We Need To Be Aware Of


Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment, and are often studied in psychology and behavioral economics.

This is a list of what I think are probably the 10 most common and perhaps most harmful cognitive biases we have when we're discussing or debating. They constantly derail productive discourse and prevent us from thinking rationally and reaching truthful conclusions. Oh, and we all have them.

Here are the top 10 cognitive biases starting with the mother of all biases:

1. Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirming evidence.

It also includes the tendency to be much more skeptical of evidence that disagrees with your existing beliefs.

Example:
  •  When we're looking for data to back up our views we notice that the ones that support it stand out as if they're blinking, and the ones that don't support it we ignore. It's so much easier for me to brush off disconfirming evidence and come up with easy justifications for it. 
How to fix it:
  • Be more skeptical about data that supports your views. Since your views are relying on that data, you should do an extra amount of work to ensure it is accurate. A few years ago when Chinese scientists claimed mathematical proof the universe came into existence spontaneously from nothing, I didn't accept it as proof despite my desire to do so. I made sure that the evidence stood the test of time first. 
  • Try and seek out data that is critical of your own view. I look for criticism of atheism all the time. I look for criticism of my political views all the time

2. Sunk-cost bias: the tendency to believe in something because of the cost sunk into that belief. (Hanging onto losing stocks, unsuccessful relationships, etc.)

Example:
  • Religious people holding onto creationism to the point of absurdity because they've believed it for so long.
  • My own belief in free will was held for years because I had held it for a long time and it had become such a deep part of my identity.
How to fix it:
  • The amount of time you believe in something should bear no importance to whether or not the view is true. 
  • Consider that the things you've believed for a longer amount of time might even mean they're less likely to be true, since you were likely younger and less knowledgeable when you started believing them.

3. Anchoring bias: the tendency to rely too heavily on a past reference or on one piece of information when making decisions.

Example:
  • We all have the tendency to refer to one piece of information that caught our attention because knowing all the pertinent information is just too difficult.
  • Scientific studies in health or medicine that get a lot of attention that are then falsified are still being used by people as the basis of their view.
How to fix it: 
  • If you're relying on a single data point to assess an issue or to come to a conclusion on it, you need to make sure that data point is accurate and representative of the subject matter. 
  • Don't base your views on a single data point, or let it too strongly influence your assessment. Read up on other studies. 
  • Recognize that you will likely make a guess about something based on a suggested value that is deliberately given to you in order to bias you in a particular way.

4. Framing effects: the tendency to draw different conclusions based on how data are presented.

Example:
  • According to a CNBC poll 4 years ago that surveyed two different groups. one was asked whether they opposed Obamacare, and the other the Affordable Care Act. 46% of the group that was asked about "Obamacare" was opposed to the law, while 37% of the group asked about the "Affordable Care Act" was opposed to the law.
  • At the same time, more people support "Obamacare" (29%) than those who support ACA (22%.) In other words, having "Obama" in the name "raises the positives and the negatives," as CNBC put it.
How to fix it:
  • Just like how peer review process withholds the names of the person being reviewed and the reviewer to help eliminate this bias, you should sometimes withhold the names of people or organizations when making a case. 
  • You should also study the merit of the data on its own rather than dismiss it entirely based on its source or whose name is associated with it. I will recognize for example when my political opponents are correct. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Another Reason Why The Claim "Goodness Is Grounded In God" Fails


Suppose I have five different theists who each believe in five different gods with varying moral attributes before me. They each argue that goodness is grounded in god and that without god there is no way to have objective moral values.

One by one they make their case and describe their god's moral attributes — one god loves homosexuals, the other four hate homosexuals; three are highly jealous, the other two humble; three say eating meat is immoral, the other two are indifferent to meat eating; two of them think men and women are equal, the other three say men are superior to women; three of them think abortion is justified, the other two say it isn't.

Suppose I'm also told by all believers that all of the gods share the same basic properties that the traditional notion of god has: timeless, changeless, immaterial mind, who also must be infinitely good, infinitely wise, and can do anything logically possible.


How can I ground moral goodness in "God" when I have multiple gods who each ground different and incompatible moral values — without having an objective standard that exists independently of all these gods that I can use to assess them by?

You see, telling me that god grounds goodness does nothing to tell me what goodness actually is and how I can identify goodness from non-goodness. It states an unintelligible, circular argument: God is goodness, and goodness is god.

Each theist tries to tell me that only their god grounds goodness, and not the others. But going by the whole notion of "God" grounding goodness, there is no way for me to tell which one actually is without an objective standard independently of god. I certainly can't rely on my moral intuitions. Moral intuitions are often culturally relative, and will be different in different people.

For this, any many other reasons, the notion that goodness is grounded in god fails.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

England's 1677 Proposed Atheism And Blasphemy Bill


There's a scene in the second episode of the excellent documentary Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief where Johnathan Miller meets with an archivist of the House of Lords and they search through the original drafts that would eventually become the 1697 Blasphemy Act. Miller discovers a frighteningly worded draft for a proposed Atheism and Blasphemy Bill, that luckily never made it into law. It proposed that

if any person, being the age of 16 years or more not being visibly and apparently distracted and out of his wits by sickness or natural infirmity, or not a mere natural fool, void of common sense, shall, after the day whereon the Royal Assent shall be given to this Act, be word or writing deny that there is a God [or deny either of the two Natures of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that is, His being both perfect God and perfect Man, or shall declare that he believes not in God,] ..... that person, upon complaint thereof made to any Justice of Peace, are due proof by two witnesses, shall be committed to prison, there to remain without bail or mainprise, in order to his trial, at which trial being by his peers legally convicted, he shall have no benefit of clergy, but judgment of death shall pass upon him [and execution shall follow, without pardon or reprieve, of which he is by this Act made altogether incapable]; (Bold mine)

Imagine living in a society with a law like that? This sounds very much like the blasphemy laws in modern day theocracies like Saudi Arabia. It's a good thing we in the West live in a time where we have a separation of church and state, and where we've mostly come to our senses about the victimless crime of blasphemy. See the full wording below.


To watch the full documentary go here: Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief 
See also the Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts

Monday, September 4, 2017

Nuance People, Nuance!



I've been inspired to write a short rant about how we need to promote the idea of nuance in our social, political, and ideological views. To me these nuances are common sense, but all too often in today's discourse they are all but forgotten.

  • You can hate Nazis and white supremacists and still be critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. 
  • You can be critical of US and Western foreign policy and still think that Islamic terrorists are inspired by the Islamic religion to commit violence.
  • You can agree with basic feminism, which is gender equality, and still be critical of many proponents and ideas of third wave feminism. 
  • You can think political correctness has gone too far and still agree that we should have some basic norms of respect and decency. 
  • You can think political correctness has gone too far and still be a liberal or a conservative who's against racism and sexism.
  • You can stand up for the freedom of speech for people with hateful ideologies and still be against what their ideology is about.
  • You can think Islam is a sexist, homophobic, and violent religion and still respect the human rights of Muslims.
  • You can stand for trans-rights and not be transphobic for not wanting to have sex with them.
  • You can stand for the rights of racial minorities and be critical of the crime problems and social issues in their communities.
  • You can be a liberal and be critical of Islam, contemporary feminism, and political correctness.
  • You can be a Republican or a conservative or even a Trump supporter and not be a racist, sexist, homophobic, Nazi sympathizer.
  • You can be for higher taxes on the rich and more government regulation and recognize that some tax laws and government regulations hurt the economy.
  • You can be an atheist and think that religion has positive social benefits.
  • You can think that there is legitimate criticism of Islam and not be an anti-Muslim bigot.
  • You can agree that some racists criticize Islam and not all critics of Islam are racists.
  • You can think that immigration needs to have controls and limits and not be a racist xenophobe.
  • You can stand for the rights of Muslims and not be a Jihadist.
  • You can support a political candidate and not agree with all their positions.
  • You can support a public figure and not agree with all their positions.
  • You can be critical of the State of Israel and not be an anti-Semitist.
  • You can be critical of the Palestinians and not be a Zionist.

These are just some of the nuanced views that are possible that today's social, political, and ideological debates seem to completely leave out. Because we've become way too tribalistic and black and white in our thinking, what we need to do is constantly remind ourselves and others that nuance exists. It's more important now than ever. As I think of more nuanced views in my interactions, I will be adding them to this list. If you have any suggestions to add, mention them down in the comment box and please spread the word!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

National Day Of Prayer


Prayer is the perfect solution to people who want to do nothing and yet still feel good about themselves.


"But Many Great Scientists Believed In God!"


Time for one quick counter-argument—

When debating the social effects of religion and atheism an inevitable argument coming from the religious will be something like, "But many great scientists were believers in God: Newton, Galileo, Faraday..."

OK. We atheists hear this a lot. Sometimes it's made by theists making the general claim that belief in god is compatible with science, sometimes it's made by theists making the specific claim that Christianity is compatible with science.


Regardless of the specifics here's my response:

Yes it is true that many great scientists have been believers in god, but it is also the case that prior to the late 1800s in Western culture you pretty much had to openly profess a belief in god. There were laws on the books in European countries that made it illegal to deny the existence of god or the truth of the Christian religion, and the penalties could be severe. Until the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act 1677 the death penalty was applied for atheism in England. And throughout all of Europe, from the time the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as it's official religion, the Catholic Church (and then later the Protestant churches after the reformation) had a monopoly on academic institutions.

What all this means is that until fairly recently there were no secular institutions of higher learning in the West. And by law, you had to profess belief in god, usually the right version of god, in order to maintain your freedom, social status, and job — and in some cases your life. So to say that Newton and Gallileo were believers in god, or were Christians and were brilliant scientists ignores that point. During their time they had no ability to be otherwise. And even during the post-Enlightenment period when the punishments for disbelief and blasphemy stopped being enforced (even though in many cases they remained on the books into the 20th century) there was still a tremendous amount of social pressure to believe in the religious orthodoxy, just as there is now in the more religious parts of the US, and in the Islamic world.

It was not really until Darwin's time in the second half of the 1800s that we began to see the emergence of any sort of real social acceptability of agnosticism or atheism. It was only once you got past the turn of the 20th century to the time of Einstein, Popper, and Freud that atheism became acceptable in the sciences and philosophy. And once it became socially acceptable what did we see? We saw the floodgates open of atheists in the sciences and today most of the best scientists are atheists or agnostics. In other words, once it became socially acceptable to be an atheist in the sciences, atheism quickly became the dominant view.

So the main reason why many great scientists (as well as philosophers, thinkers, and inventors) were believers in god, was because years ago you had to be, and religious institutions held a monopoly on higher learning.

Now of course today there are many great living scientists who are believers in god. Francis Collins, head of the human genome project, Don Page, physicist and cosmologist, Francisco Ayala, evolutionary biologist and philosopher. But if you look at the many reasons why contemporary scientists and thinkers believe in god, it rarely, if ever, is inspired by their scientific views. It is usually based on some emotional epiphany or the popular notion that god is required to have morality. In Francis Collins's case for example, he was hiking in the Cascade mountains when he saw a frozen waterfall split in three and upon seeing this, dropped to his knees and accepted Jesus Christ as his lord and savior.

Yeah.

Furthermore, we humans are very good are compartmentalizing beliefs. We can hold contradictory beliefs quite easily. So just because a scientist is a Christian, a Muslim, or another religion, it doesn't mean science is compatible with those religions.

Thomism Can't Even Stay Consistent With Its Own Principles


I've been embroiled in several comment threads over at Strange Notions, a Catholic apologetic site, on a variety of issues related to metaphysical first principles and brute facts. There, I've tested out my argument that brute facts are unavoidable to the many Catholic apologists on the site, including Dr. Dennis Bonnette, a retired professor of philosophy who now teaches free classes at the Aquinas School of Philosophy, and is contributing author on the site.

As a reminder, that argument is:

  1. The traditional notion of god in classical theism is that of a timeless, changeless, immaterial mind, who also must be infinitely good, infinitely wise, and can do anything logically possible.
  2. All of god's will and desires must exist timelessly and eternally in an unchanging, frozen state.
  3. That would mean that god timelessly and eternally had the desire to create our particular universe, and not some other universe, or no universe.
  4. Our universe is not logically necessary; it didn't have to exist, and god didn't have to create it.
  5. The theist would have to show that it was logically necessary for god to create our particular universe in order to avoid eventually coming to a brute fact.
  6. There is no way to answer this question, even in principle, with something logically necessary.
  7. Thus at least one brute fact must exist even if god exists.

I think my argument is irrefutable, but I'm not so cocky that I'm unwilling to debate it. In fact, debating it is exactly what I need. I wish to put it up against the best minds in Thomism to see how they respond. And after a week of debating the argument back and forth with Dr. Bonnette, I basically got him to tacitly admit that god's eternal desire to create our particular universe, and not any other universe, or no universe, is a brute fact. He didn't acknowledge it's a brute fact of course, and he denied that it was, but he had to ground his explanation in circular reasoning.

First, one of the metaphysical first principles that Thomists like Dr. Bonnette argue cannot be denied is the principle of sufficient reason, which states that everything must have a reason, cause, or ground for its existence. Furthermore, this reason will either have to be contingent or necessary. That is, it's either going to be dependent on something else for its explanation, or its explanation will be contained within itself, meaning, it's logically necessary.

Dr. Bonnette's view is that god's substance is identical to his will. This means that a god with a different will is a god with a different substance, and in effect, is a different god. So god with eternal desire A is a different god than god with eternal desire B. For simplicity I said let's just call them god A and god B.

There is no logically necessary reason why god A exists, rather than god B, since both are logically possible and neither is logically impossible (assuming god is not incoherent). So Dr. Bonnette's metaphysics (if granted) only covers one aspect of this: that there needs to be a god. But it doesn't demonstrate why there needs to be god A vs god B, or any other god with a different eternal and unchanging will (which again, will be a different god).

Since there is no logically necessary reason why god A has to exist, the reason why god A exists and not god B/C/D/E... etc, cannot be based on a logically necessary reason. Hence his metaphysics fails to explain why we have the particular god we have. Given this, only non-necessary, contingent reasons can explain why. They will all necessarily be reasons that could have been otherwise, and ultimately when drilling down to why any particular answer explains a non-necessary aspect of god's will (and therefore his substance) he must terminate in a brute fact at some point since there is no logically necessary reason available to him.

A few comments later he says,

The reason why God A exists and not God B is because God A does exist and God B never did. God B was never a real possibility because the only God that exists is God A. You are again trying to go back in time and think of two possibilities. God is outside of time and there never was an actual possibility of any God but him.

The explanation in his first sentence isn't a logically necessary one, and so he's admitting god A is not logically necessary. And saying that god A exists simply because god A does, can be applied to the eternal universe: The reason why our eternal universe exists and not another eternal universe is because our eternal universe does exist and another eternal universe never did.

It makes the logical grounding of god A no more justified than the atheist's grounding for the universe. The Thomistic theist in this sense has no edge over the atheist.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Black Lives Matter: A Brief Critique


In the past few years the Black Lives Matter (or BLM) movement has become a prominent fixture on the issue of police killings, particularly towards African Americans. Here I want to offer a short critique of the movement and it's ideology on some areas where I think criticism is much needed.

First, I want to say that I of course think the lives of black people are just as valuable as any other race, and I'm aware that black lives matter really means black lives matter too. Meaning, that black lives matter in addition to other lives, they are of equal worth and value. The way I see it, the BLM movement should ideally be seen as black people raising their hands in the face of racist mistreatment saying, "Hey, our lives matter too and our worth as individuals should be treated as equal to others."


On that very basic point, I agree. Black lives matter too. But I've noticed that quite a few BLM advocates have to clarify this distinction often enough that it makes me think, why not just change the name of the movement and hashtag to #BLMT or #BlackLivesMatterToo? It's just three extra letters and it would clear up an enormous amount of confusion by people who think the BLM movement is to say that only black lives matter, or that black lives are more important to other lives, and that's not what it stands for.

So that's my first critique. My second critique makes use of an analogy. If there is a population of people affected by two diseases that are killing them, disease A and disease B, and disease A kills 96% of this population, and disease B kills only 4% of this population, and if my life goal was to care for the lives of this population, which disease should I be focused on, disease A or disease B? Obviously, any logical person would say I should focus on disease A since it's killing a far greater percentage of the population. And yet, the BLM movement is a movement focused almost entirely on the 4% of deaths of black Americans attributed the police officers, regardless of the race of the officer. If the BLM movement seeks to promote the lives and worth of black Americans, why not focus primarily on the homicide rate in the black community that overwhelmingly involves black on black homicide? For every black person killed by a police officer in the US, there are about 23 cases of black on black homicide. If it was my life passion to care about black lives, I'd be focused on that, because that's what's killing the vast, vast majority of black people in the US who die by violence. So I think the BLM movement needs to reconsider its priorities.

Thirdly, since the BLM movement has no official membership, anyone taking up a BLM banner and marching in the streets suddenly becomes a representative of BLM. This allows bad actors to tarnish the name of BLM and there seems to be no process by which this can be eliminated. BLM officials need to better distinguish themselves from hooligans who commit violence in their name.

BLM Activists blocking a highway in Baltimore
Fourthly, the BLM leadership, to the extent there is any, doesn't seem interested in weeding out activists in its ranks who make absurd demands or use questionable tactics in raising the group's awareness. Blocking highway traffic is not a good way to make people realize that black lives matter. What if you or your loved one was dying of a heart attack and needed to get to the hospital and couldn't make it in time due to BLM protesters blocking traffic and they died as a result? Rushing the stage at a Bernie Sanders rally and grabbing the microphone before a liberal white crowd and telling everyone that they're proponents of "white supremacist liberalism" is not a good way to make people realize that black lives matter.

In fact, tactics like this will do more to hurt the movement than help it. It will make people think the BLM movement has been hijacked by a bunch of thugs who are going to use violence and intimidation to obtain their ever growing list of demands. The BLM movement needs an serious infusion of critical thinking and analysis among its ranks, and I don't see that happening.

Because of this I can't be a part of BLM. I can't march in their protests. I can stand by and support policies that help the problems many black people disproportionately face, but I cannot be a part of the BLM movement because of its flaws. And no, I'm not a white supremacist or a Nazi sympathizer because of this. You can hate Nazis and white supremacists and still be critical of BLM.

Nuance people, nuance.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Time To Walk The Walk: Hurricane Harvey Donation


If you want to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, and if you're a humanist or an atheist who wants to show the world that atheists can do what the religious can do — but even better, then donate to help the recent hurricane victims through the Foundation Beyond Belief. I just gave $10.

Foundation Beyond Belief

Sunday, August 27, 2017

David Smalley - Eating Our Own: How You Can Save the Movement


Recently at the Gateway to Reason conference in Missouri, podcaster David Smalley of Dogma Debate gave an excellent speech on the divisions in the atheist community that are tearing us apart. The Atheist Conference we're doing in New York City is specifically about atheist unity and rebuilding our community so that together we're stronger and more able to fight for what we stand for.

Our agreements far outweigh our disagreements. We all need to stop freaking out when someone disagrees with us on one thing, especially when they agree with us on ten things. Nuance is a word we must all become familiar with and practice.

Listen to the valuable points he makes in this talk.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Back From AACon2017


So earlier this week I got back from the American Atheist 2017 convention down in Charleston South Carolina. I had to take a 13 hour bus ride there because flights were insanely expensive due to the solar eclipse, and hotels were also completely booked so I also had to stay with some friends.



This was my first atheist convention and so I had few expectations. The only other atheist event I went to was last year's Reason Rally, which was fun, but a bit of a dud. We were there primarily to make connections with leaders in the atheist community for our upcoming conference in New York City to have them support or speak there. And so far that goal seems to be successful.

Every conference needs good speakers — speakers that motivate you to buy tickets and come out to the event. It also has to be fun. We need to bring the young atheists out. The average age of this conference was about 50. There were a lot of silver haired seniors. Many of them were heads of the secular and atheist organizations that partner with American Atheists, and those roles usually require skill sets that take many years to acquire. There really needed to be a lot more 20 and 30 somethings in the crowd.

Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist

We want The Atheist Conference to be full of young atheists, motivated to atheist with a cause. That's why we want to get the YouTube atheists on board. They bring the young atheists out. So we have our eyes set on prominent YouTube atheists for speakers, panel discussions, and perhaps, a debate. I will be hosting a panel discussion on debating atheism that I will be designing soon with two highly knowledgeable atheists thinkers and debaters. This is right up my alley, and should be a big hit (I hope) if not really interesting and informative.

So my primary take away is that we need to be more entertaining than AACon was and that will be partly because our goal with TAC will be different. We need more young people, and we need to make it much more fun for the attendants. We need more drinking, more socializing, less awkwardness. We're working to make this happen and I will have a lot more information in the coming months leading up to the conference.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Evolution Of Anti-Evolution Legislation


Amazingly, evolutionary biologist Nick Matzke has charted the evolution of anti-evolution (read: creationist) legislation in the US, as reported a few years ago by Slate. Ironically of course, it looks remarkably similar to the tree of life of actual Darwinian evolution. Don't these creationists see the irony? From the article:

To make the chart, Matzke performed a phylogenetic analysis, tracking the language in 65 bills since 2004 that have sought to limit or oppose the teaching of evolution. He found that these bills had been directly reproduced with a few mutations and modifications. For the most part, all employed the seemingly reasonable-sounding strategy of encouraging educators to “teach the controversy.” Shocker: It’s the same technique that has been used in bills that oppose the teaching of climate change.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Atheist Vs Accutheist Dialogue


In an email thread, a person who describes himself as an "accutheist" is debating several other atheists and I on the existence of god. He's a pantheist turned theist who created the term accutheist to mean accurate theist, or one whose idea of god is accurate. I wrote to him about how his logic for his belief in god is weak and filled with dogma and how one cannot see their beliefs as dogma when they believe it. Here is a section of that email below where I summarize what our lengthy 2 and a half week debate was basically like:


You see, no one can tell they're being dogmatic when they sincerely believe what the dogma is about. Then, it appears as "logic" to the dogmatist. 
Example: 
Accutheist: God is defined as everything.
Atheists: That's your definition, most other theists disagree with you.
Accutheist: No here's a wikipedia article saying this.
Atheists: We've checked, wiki doesn't say that. It says pantheists define god as everything, not all theists.
Accutheist: But the Bible says god is everything.
Atheists: No it doesn't, and even if it did, it wouldn't prove god is indeed everything because you cannot define something into existence.
Accutheist: You don't understand logic, God is defined as everything.
Atheists: Again, you're just defining god as everything, you need to prove god is indeed everything.
Accutheist: God is defined as everything. Everything exists. Therefore god exists.
Atheists: THAT DOESN'T PROVE GOD EXISTS, NOR DOES IT PROVE GOD IS EVERYTHING. You cannot just assert god is everything and claim you've showed it is.
Accutheist: This is the definition everyone knows.
Atheists: No it isn't. It is a particular pantheistic definition you are asserting is true.
Accutheist: You don't understand logic, God is defined as everything.
Atheists

When An Atheist Is Moved By Religiously Themed Music


Question: Is there any room for spirituality in naturalism beyond the the kind of Carl Saganesque awe of the universe?

I honestly don't know. But I'm willing to say yes.

Even a naturalist like me can become enamored with music devoted to religious belief and even god. Some of my favorite songs are actually about god.

Just about 8 months ago I really got into Audioslave. I had been a minor fan of Soundgarden back in the day and knew of Chris Cornell's work. My favorite Audioslave song is "Show Me How To Live." It's about asking your creator god how one should live their life. The chorus goes:

Nail in my hand, from my creator.
You gave me life, now show me how to live.
Nail in my hand, from my creator.
You gave me life, now show me how to live.


This goes against nearly everything I believe, but shit, it makes for one awesome song.


The video concept makes no sense to me however, but the song is superb early 2000s alternative rock, powered by one of my favorite guitar players, Tom Morello. I can rock out to music devoted to almost everything I stand against without a problem. We should all be able to do this. We should respect art for art. We should all be able to appreciate the work of things devoted to what we disagree with.

Another band that I just discovered makes amazing music often with spiritual themes. Goat is a "Swedish alternative and experimental fusion music group." One of my favorite songs of theirs is "Talk To God." It's an amazing piece of music that in me at least, invokes the kind of awe and emotion that I think religious people get when they pray and ritualize. Listen to it yourself.


Music has always been the one thing in my life that gives me anything close to spirituality. It opens my mind to seeing the world in new ways. It makes me see the inherent spiritual side of human nature. We've evolved to believe. We've evolved to ritualize things. It's what we do. To deny this is to deny human nature. So I'm searching for a real explanation to that question above, and I haven't found it yet.

But I'll let you know when I do.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Trump And Religion


I love Seth Meyers's A Closer Look and The Check In segments where he breaks down the latest political events in a comedic way. Here he charts president Donald Trump's precarious relationship with religion.


God's Creation Ex Nihilo Time Paradox


In an email debate I'm having with a theist I thought of this argument that proposes a paradox. The paradox applies to the traditional theistic notion of a god that is an eternal, immaterial being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. The one major assumption that this argument makes is that god is not beyond logic. That means logic applies to god: god cannot do anything logically impossible or be in a logically impossible state.

The argument:

There are two views of time: eternalism and presentism. On eternalism all moments of time physically exist — past, present, and future; on presentism only the present moment physically exists.


This argument doesn't take a stance on which one is true, but only shows the logical implications for the claim that god created the universe on each view.

If eternalism is true, the universe (as well as everything else) is eternal and cannot by definition have been created in the sense of making something physically exist. All moments physically exist. Hence if eternalism is true, god cannot have created the universe. And also, there'd be no explanation for why this universe vs. another universe, and you'd ultimately get a brute fact.

If presentism is true and god is eternal (has an eternal past) then an infinite amount of moments had to pass before god created the universe. It is logically impossible to traverse an infinite amount of moments, therefore god could never create the universe on presentism.

So regardless of whether eternalism or presentism is true, neither scenario allows for god to create the universe. Hence, the traditional notion of a god who creates the world ex nihilo is impossible.

So how would a theist get out of this dilemma? Well, some say god is timeless prior to creation, or always timeless. But I'd argue that a timeless being cannot by definition do anything: timeless creation is itself logically impossible. They can grant eternalism and say that god creates the universe in the same way we create art and machinery by simply physically preceding it. But on eternalism we don't really create things in the sense of making them physically exist. They already exist. There's just a pattern of atoms before them in the form of humans making them, but it all exists. Now on this view god loses his omnipotence since he's locked into the block universe and could not have been any other way. It also means god has no free will, which few theists are going to accept, as this would negate the traditional notion of god and make it unrecognizable.

So in reality the theist has few realistic options here. They will most likely say that god's ways are beyond our comprehension. A cop out. I can just say the origin of the universe is beyond our comprehension.

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Debate: Has Political Correctness Gone Too Far?


Well, it turns out that I forgot to upload my debate on political correctness from a few months ago. I thought I had published it, but I guess I forgot when I went on vacation. So, here it is: Has political correctness gone too far? What do you think? Who made the better argument?


Sunday, July 30, 2017

2017 EU TERRORISM REPORT: 95% Of All Terror Related Deaths Due To Jihadism


When you count the number of deaths associated with terrorism in the European Union in 2016, about 95% of it comes from Jihadist related terrorism. This is reported in the 2017 EU Terrorism Report. I used this as evidence in my recent debate against religion along with other stats to show that religion is bar far the single biggest reason causing terrorist related deaths around the world today.

Here are some of the findings reported in the TE-SAT 2017:

  • Arrests: 1002 persons were arrested for terrorist offences in 2016. Most arrests were related to jihadist terrorism, for which the number rose for the third consecutive year: 395 in 2014, 687 in 2015 and 718 in 2016.
  • Victims: Of the 142 victims that died in terrorist attacks, 135 people were killed in jihadist terrorist attacks.
  • Age of terrorists: Almost one-third of the total number of arrestees (291 of 1002) were 25 years old or younger.
  • Explosives: Explosives were used in 40% of the attacks. Even though terrorists use a wide range of readily available weapons, explosive devices continue to be used in terrorist attacks, due to their high impact and symbolic power.
  • Technical trendRegarding the potential use of alternative and more sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the current trend in using weaponised unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as a drone, in the Syria/Iraq conflict zone might also inspire other jihadist supporters and increase the use of this kind of tactic.
  • Terrorism financing: 40% of terrorist plots in Europe are believed to be at least partly financed through crime, especially drug dealing, theft, robberies, the sale of counterfeit goods, loan fraud, and burglaries.
  • Women and children: Women have increasingly assumed more operational roles in jihadist terrorism activities, as have minors and young adults. One in four (26%) of the arrestees in 2016 were women, a significant increase compared to 2015 (18%). In addition, the United Kingdom reported an increase in the number of women, families and minors engaging in the conflict in Syria/Iraq, and the Netherlands reported that more 40 children (age 0-12 years) have travelled to Syria and Iraq.
  • Ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism99 foiled, failed and completed attacks carried out were labelled as ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism. Dissident Republican groups in Northern Ireland were involved in 76 attacks.
  • Left-wing and anarchist terrorism: The numbers of attacks of left-wing and anarchist terrorists increased in 2016 compared to 2015. 27 attacks were carried out and EU Member State authorities arrested 31 people. Italy, Greece and Spain were the only EU Member States to experience left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks.
  • Online propaganda: The quantity of Islamic State propaganda decreased in 2016 due to lower production rates and the containment of dissemination. After a peak in mid-2015, the number of new videos produced by the Islamic State slowly decreased. In the second half of 2016, the frequency of new releases dropped even further. As the volume of Islamic State propaganda diminished, al-Qaeda and its affiliates attempted to take advantage of the situation and increased their efforts to reach new audiences.
  • Social networks: Jihadist groups have demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of how social networks operate and have launched well-organised, concerted social media campaigns to recruit followers and to promote or glorify acts of terrorism and violent extremism. The success in restricting terrorist activity online shows the impact of collaborative efforts between law enforcement, such as Europol’s Internet Referral Unit (IRU) and the private sector.

Quote Of The Day: Free Will And Eternalism


A friend of mine linked me to a Business Insider video where professor Dean Buonomano at UCLA talks about neuroscience, free will, and eternalism.



Here's a transcript from the video:


It seems that everything in the universe has already happened under eternalism.

In the context of physics, there’s two general views of the nature of time. One we can think of is "presentism," which only the present is real. And the second, we can think of as "eternalism" in which the past, present, future are equally real. And under this view, now is to time as here is to space. In other words, just as I happen to be here now, it’s perfectly acceptable to me that there are other points in space I could be. Similarly, just as I am here now, under eternalism, there’s plenty of other points in time, the past and future, where perhaps other versions of myself or other parts of my world line exist and are as real as I am.

Under eternalism, the question of free will and determinism becomes much less clear because it seems that everything in the universe has already happened under eternalism. It’s called the "block universe" view in physics — in which everything has, in a sense, a manner of speaking, already happened. And this would mean that what we think of as free will is, in a sense, an illusion. But I think part of the challenge there is coming to terms of what free will means. I think in reality from a neuroscience basis, what we should think of free will is simply a subjective feeling of your unconscious brain making decisions. Pain might be a sense of what happens when somebody steps on our toe. Free will is the subjective sense — the feeling we get when the unconscious brain makes the decision giving us the impression that it was the conscious mind that just made that decision. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Back From Vacation...


So, on Monday I got back from my vacation in Europe. I went to London, Paris, and Amsterdam, and spent a few days in the Dutch countryside too. Overall the trip was a success, and by success I mean that I achieved my goal of getting a cultural feel for Europe in a way that helped me understand it, along with having some fun of course.


London was amazing. I did many of the touristy things, but I also went bar hopping and talked with locals, and I went to an all day philosophy conference that showcased several talks by philosophers on the arguments for god. Afterwards some of us went for drinks and talked religion and philosophy, and they were buying me drinks all night long! Amazing.

After 5 days in London I took a train to Paris. I actually missed my train because I got lost in the St. Pancras train station, but I eventually made it. Paris is beautiful. It's every bit as beautiful as they say it is. I rented a bike to get around town easier and made my way to the Eiffel Tower, only to find that the line to go up was too long. So the next day I went to Tour Montparnasse, which has an observation deck and was almost empty. I took some amazing photos there.


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