Showing posts with label god. Show all posts
Showing posts with label god. Show all posts

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"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, for example, 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, to name a few. 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.

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

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.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Christopher Hitchens vs Larry Taunton | God or No God? Debate


I had gotten to the point where I thought I'd seen every video of Christopher Hitchens talking or debating about religion. But just yesterday I discovered a new one that I hadn't seen. Not long before he died, Hitchens had debated a Christian named Larry Taunton in 2010 who he'd become friends with in his last few years. The debate was never uploaded to YouTube, or at least was not easily findable. Recently, Taunton's company that hosted the debate and produced the video of it, Fixed Point Foundation, uploaded it to their YouTube channel for all to see.

I've actually had to do some studying on why religion is harmful to society because of my upcoming debate on it, and I needed to watch some classic Hitch as a refresher. So here it is, one of Hitchens's last debates. He will surely be missed. Enjoy.



Friday, June 23, 2017

Quote Of The Day: Gotta Have Faith!


I'm still super busy and have little time to write good detailed blog posts, so here's a quickie. Many theists love to point to god-believing scientists as a way to validate their faith. "Look, here's a super smart scientist who believes in god, this proves religion is compatible with science."

Um, no it doesn't. Case in point: Aron Wall. He's a physicist that many theists have cited before because he is critical of some cosmological models that do not have an absolute beginning. But if you look into the guy, you can see that his belief is really grounded not good science or evidence—but in faith. Read it from his own blog:

Our belief that God is the Creator does not depend on the vicissitudes of scientific progress, the swinging back and forth of the tire swing (or is it accelerating?) It doesn't matter, because in this case we have a more certain source of knowledge than Science.

By faith!

He goes onto define faith as "confidence about what we hope for, but do not see."

That's usually what it comes down to. William Lane Craig comes to the same ultimate conclusion. All this talk of evidence is really just to reinforce his faith, that is to say what he hopes is true. And in case you want to test your faith in the decency of humanity, watch Limp Bizkit cover the George Michael original:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

For The Sake Of Absurdity


In recent years I have more and more come to celebrate and embrace the absurd. I have an intense infatuation with what is preposterous, ridiculous, and incompatible with sound reason. I think this is why I love religion so much. It's the absurdity of it that fascinates me and the humor drawn from the absurdity that I find so appealing. Now the philosophy of absurdism within existentialism is about conflict between the search for meaning in world and its meaninglessness. And my view on this, as an atheist, is to embrace the meaninglessness of the world, rather than commit suicide or believe in a religious transcendental realm. One way we can do this is to celebrate the absurd.

But what's the absurdity? Is it the meaninglessness of the world, or the religious view of the world created by a designer who confers meaning? Well if you ask me which one is supposed to be the absurdity, it's both. They're both absurd. The world having no meaning, and the world having meaning given by some god are both absurd. The very idea of those two things are absurd too. Every worldview is absurd if you ask me. Existence itself is absurd. But we can make the most of it by finding subjective meaning in things, like art, or music, or philosophy, and so long as we don't ever confuse these things with any notion of objective meaning, this can make life more pleasurable.

But I say, we should also embrace the ridiculous of the absurd by creating more of it. I routinely tell absurd jokes with deliberate non-sequitors simply because they're absurd. I routinely emphasize natural absurdity contrived by nature. And I try to create absurd situations when ever possible, just for the sake of absurdity for laughs. The more absurd, the better. Humor is the celebration of the absurd.

There is a dark side however to celebrating the absurdity. Donald Trump as president is absurd. Totally and completely absurd. In some ways, I like it because him and his presidency are absurd, and I know people who've voted for him solely because they thought it would be absurd if he was president. Now I think his presidency is a "total disaster" and "Sad!" — to borrow his own phraseology, and I truly fear for the future. So I think sometimes it's proper to set aside one's embrace of the absurd for the sake of human well being. The absurd we celebrate should be harmless, and other than rustling a few feathers, no one should be seriously hurt from the absurd if it can be helped. The presidency of Donald Trump, while a daily monument to absurdity, is going to seriously harm the world. His lack of concern for man-made climate change alone is enough to do this.

So I urge you to consider the absurd. For laughs, try inventing a religion with the goal of making it as absurd as possible. Do it with friends, and try to out do each other. Make an absurd joke that has no obvious punchline other than the absurdity of the joke itself. Tell an absurd story just for laughs. Emphasize the absurdity of the news, situations, or of life in general. For example: How can relationships thrive in a society that increasingly celebrates individuality? It's absurd when you think about it.

Don't confuse any of this with being the same thing as Albert Camus's philosophy of absurdism. That's a deeper intellectual project. I'm simply recognizing his thesis and arguing that we should cope with life's objective meaninglessness by celebrating absurdity.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Atheism In A Nutshell? Wrong


This is what the majority of theists think atheism requires you to believe:


There was nothing, and then, *poof* there was something. This gets the atheist view completely wrong. Well, I hate to say there is an "atheist view" on cosmogony, but no atheist has to accept this gross misconception that most theists think we have to adhere to.

The logic is completely wrong. Think about it. If there was nothing, how could you then have a moment later? It presupposes time exists, since you have before and after notions. But time is something—it's not nothing. Many atheists unfortunately fail to understand this, including Lawrence Krauss, who constantly refers to something as nothing, conflating the two, and bringing upon himself much justified criticism.

The fact of the matter is there never was nothing. The philosopher's "nothing" of the total and complete absence of any thing is a concept in our minds, but not something that has ever existed. Therefore we don't go from "nothing" to "something," you start with something. This meme seems to get that near the bottom. The big bang theory indeed doesn't say the universe came from nothing, because, again, nothing never existed. It says the universe came from a singularity, a point of spacetime of infinite density and energy. There may be more spacetime before the singularity, or it may be literally the first moment of all of spacetime. Either way there never was nothing, and the universe doesn't "come from" nothing. The universe has always existed—every moment—past, present, and future, in one giant spacetime block universe. The burden of proof of the existence of nothingness is on the person making the claim.

I've written a screenplay for a web series on atheism that covers this very important aspect of the origin of the universe that I hope to begin filming next month and have completed editing by the end of spring. It will cover the origin of the universe, morality, and secularism. Oh, and I will be acting in it! A million things can go wrong with it however, so I'm scared this will not ever happen. There are many points of failure, including the other actors, the cameraman, the sound guy, and our schedules. So we'll see.

But the bottom line is this: there was always something. No need for a creator.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Argument From Core Theory


The most successful scientific theory ever that gives us the most accurate predictions in all of science is quantum field theory. It says that particles and forces arise out of fields. When the fields vibrate, we observe those vibrations in the form of particles. Particles are made up of two kinds of fields, fermions and bosons. Bosons make up force fields. An example would be the Higgs field, which gives particles matter. Fermions make up the objects of matter that you and I are made of.

There are basically only three kinds of matter particles and three forces that you and I are made up of. Protons and neutrons, which make up the nucleus of atoms, and orbiting electrons, are the three matter particles. Then there are the three forces in the Standard Model: the strong and the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism. The strong force binds the nucleus of atoms together (and the quarks that make up protons and neutrons), the weak force allows interaction with neutrinos and are carried by W and Z bosons, and electromagnetism binds electrons with the nucleus.

Then there's gravity, for which we use the General Theory of Relativity to describe. Gravity is a very weak force and is very simple: everything pulls on everything else. It could be said that gravity isn't really a force per se, but is rather the curvature of spacetime. Regardless, it's just easier to describe it as a force. There are two other generations of fermions but they decay rather quickly and aren't particularly relevant for describing the stuff that you and I are made of and interact with.

So that makes up everything you experience in your everyday lives, without exception. When we combine all this knowledge into a single theory, we get what is called Core Theory. It was developed and named by Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek. And there's an equation that describes Core Theory:


Within this equation lies the physics of everyday human experience: eating, exercising, sleeping, dreaming, using a computer, driving a car, flying an airplane, reproducing, making decisions, meditating — everything you've ever done, ever seen, or ever will do (so long as you don't travel into a black hole), and every scientific experiment that has been performed is fundamentally described by, and compatible with, this equation. There are no exceptions.

The key word above is fundamentally. That means that whatever you experience yourself doing or seeing in your everyday life is going to be either reduced to and explained by, or emerges from, the fermions and bosons described by this equation. But this means there are consequences to this equation. As all-encompassing as Core Theory is, what it restricts is perhaps the most important.

One of its consequences is that psychic phenomena like telekinesis is ruled out. There are no forces or particles that your mind can produce that can bend spoons or move objects. In other words, we don't need to test the claims of every self-proclaimed psychic and mentalist. Core Theory unambiguously rules out such abilities. There's no way for there to be forces that can produce the kinds of effects mentalists claim they can cause. There's no room with in Core Theory to allow that. It isn't that we don't know of possible forces that might still exist "out there" waiting to be discovered that can allow spoon bending with one's mind, rather it's that we know all the relevant particles and forces and how they interact that are involved with the physics of everyday human experience, which telekinesis would be a part of. Any new force or particle that exists would be far too weakly interacting with the atoms that make up spoons or you and I to be able to effect them in any way like the mentalists claim they can do. This is why no psychic phenomena has ever been able to be demonstrated under any competent scientific scrutiny.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Timeline Of The World's Revelations


If theism (which is the belief in a creator god that has revealed itself to us via revelation) is true, and especially if Abrahamic theism is true, then this graphic below depicts how the all-knowing, all-powerful, and wise creator chose to reveal its authentic messages to us to ensure humanity wouldn't get confused over it.


Newly Updated 'Scale Of Belief' Charting The Relationships Between Atheism, Agnosticism, & Theism


I've updated a chart that maps out the basic relationships between atheism, agnosticism, and theism, and their respective statements or beliefs. Atheism is sub-categorized into gnostic and agnostic forms, and further sub-categorized into strong, moderate, and weak forms, along with agnosticism and theism, which allows for a 9 point scale of belief from atheism to theism.



No chart will ever satisfy everyone though. While atheism and theism are generally about belief, agnosticism is about knowledge. But gnostic atheism and theism both make claims to knowledge, and that's why they both come in gnostic and agnostic forms.

This chart also doesn't include other isms like pantheism and deism, so believers in those views might be disappointed in this scale. It isn't supposed to cover every possible god option, just the scale between atheism and theism.

So where do you fall in this category? Feel free to link or share this chart.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Why Brute Facts Are Unavoidable


If you're a naturalist like myself you have most likely come to the conclusion that the existence of the universe (or multiverse, if there's more than one universe) is a brute fact. A brute fact is a fact that has no explanation in principle. It's a fact that cannot have an explanation. There are many facts that do not have explanations, but can in principle. These are not technically brute facts, but are just unexplained facts. They can be explained, at least in principle, and many of them will be explained eventually. There is another category of unexplained facts that can be explained in principle, but not in practice. For example, a fact for which all the evidence proving it is destroyed might leave us no possible way to explain it, even though it would be in principle explainable if we just had access to the evidence. These are what you can call epistemic brute facts.

So we have three categories of facts here defined as such: (1) a brute fact: a fact that has no explanation in principle, (2) an epistemic brute fact: a fact that cannot be explained in practice but can in principle, and (3) an unexplained fact: a fact that can be explained both in principle and in practice but simply isn't. In addition to this there are three positions one can take on brute facts: (1) brute facts are impossible, (2) brute facts are possible but they don't exist, or (3) brute facts exist.

Now many theists argue that not only do brute facts not exist, they are in fact impossible. That is, they entail some sort of contradiction that prevents their existence. Many theists will also often try to argue that their worldview has no brute facts, and not only that, they can logically explain their worldview in terms of necessity. This is usually done by some sort of argument that attempts to conclude their god's necessary existence, along with the tacit assumption of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), which says that for every fact, there is a reason for its existence. Needless to say, the PSR and brute facts are not compatible.

What is an explanation is also important. An explanation is generally defined as a statement or account that makes something clear. It makes something understandable, intelligible. For example, the explanation of the existence of the human species is that we evolved over millions of years from another species of hominids. Explanations tell us the how and why a thing came to be, or exists at all. It is to me an open question whether or not all explanations are causal explanations. In other words, when we say X explains Y, are we always just saying X causes Y? Now I have written that causality exists differently from how it is commonly understood, but on my definition things are still explained in the traditional cause and effect notion. You just have to understand these relationships a bit different.

In this post I'm going to challenge several often heard claims about brute facts. One, that brute facts are logically impossible, and two, that believing in a god allows you avoid brute facts, by arguing that not only are brute facts possible, they are indeed unavoidable.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Are Cause And Effect Real? Minute Physics Video



Over on the Minute Physics YouTube channel they recently did a series of videos narrated by physicist Sean Carroll based on his latest book The Big Picture that covers such interesting topics as What is the Purpose of Life? (hint: it has nothing to do with a god) In one video they cover cause and effect and Carroll describes how it's an emergent phenomena when looking at the universe at macro scales. That means it isn't really fundamental, as I've covered here before. Go check out the video series and enjoy.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 5 Decent of the Modernists - Part 2: Inventing the mind-body problem)


iconInventing the mind-body problem

In this section of chapter 5 Feser begins by targeting the philosopher who seems to be his public enemy number one: Rene Descartes. It was he who rejected the Aristotelian account in favor of the "mechanistic philosophy" that we still know of today that rejects formal and final causes. But doing this inevitably results in an apparent "disaster": the complete undermining of the possibility both of moral evaluation and of reason itself. (186) Before getting there, Feser here summarizes the mechanistic view of the world for the most part accurately and notes the differences between primary and secondary qualities.

Primary qualities include solidity, extension, figure, motion, number and the like, and in particular any quality that can be mathematically quantified and which does not vary in any way from observer to observer. Secondary qualities include colors, sounds, tastes, odors, and so forth, and an object's having them amounts to nothing more than a tendency to cause us to have certain sensations. (189)

I would add that things like solidity wouldn't technically be a primary quality since solidity is nowhere to be found fundamentally, but is an emergent property of matter at higher levels. But this is not really relevant here. What is relevant is whether the secondary qualities exist in the objective world or they exist only in the mind of observers. On the "mechanistic" view the answer is no, Feser explains, and so a soul must exist that is separate from the physical body that interacts with it like a "ghost in the machine." But without this, the materialist seems to have a problem. How does the materialist explain qualia, the conscious experiences that determines what it's like to have it? A few examples would be in the experience of seeing red versus seeing green, of tasting coffee versus tasting cheese, or of feeling warm versus feeling cold. They're all different sensations, and yet "one cluster of neurons firing seems qualitatively pretty much like any other, and certainly very different from these sensations [such that] it is hard to see how any sensation could be reduced to or explained in terms of nothing but the firing of neurons." (191)

Yes it is hard, but not impossible. Here we still have the genuine mystery of qualia. Since the human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe, it's going to take a bit longer to unravel its mysteries than many other things. One underlying assumption in Feser's above understanding is that the neurons in the brain fire the same way when you see the color red versus seeing the color green. But why should we think that's true? Different neurons fire when we see different wavelengths of light.

Cells in the retina called "opponent neurons" fire when stimulated by incoming red light, and this flurry of activity tells the brain we're looking at something red. Those same opponent neurons are inhibited by green light, and the absence of activity tells the brain we're seeing green. Similarly, yellow light excites another set of opponent neurons, but blue light damps them. While most colors induce a mixture of effects in both sets of neurons, which our brains can decode to identify the component parts, red light exactly cancels the effect of green light (and yellow exactly cancels blue), so we can never perceive those colors coming from the same place.

So different physical processes are at work when we see different colors. The experience of seeing red is just another way of talking about the physical brain undergoing the electrochemical signals travelling through it when the retina received the wavelength of red and certain neurons fire. It's similar to talking about an object as solid even though fundamentally it's just made up of empty space and quantum fields. We still don't know exactly how the physical brain gives rise to qualia but I have no reason to think there is anything non-physical involved that is causal.* I'm open to the mind possibly having a non-physical ontology that is epiphenomenal in nature, meaning, it's an emergent property of physical brains that's causally impotent. But any notion of an immaterial mind having a physical force on matter (like the kind Feser claims, see my review of chapter 4) is unambiguously ruled out by science. Not only do we fully understand all the laws of physics that govern the everyday realm which includes the brain (and therefore anything having to deal with consciousness) and which leaves no room for a mind force to causally effect atoms, but all of neuroscience has repeatedly shown unconscious brain activity precedes conscious awareness, exactly what we'd expect on materialism.**

Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 5 Decent of the Modernists - Part 1: Pre-birth of the modern & Thoroughly modern metaphysics)


iconIn chapter 5, titled the Decent of the Modernists, Feser explains his discontent on how rejecting A-T metaphysics has ultimately lead to the modern preponderance among academics (and I suppose society in general) of the secular and atheistic mindsets. Public enemy number one seems to be the "father of modern philosophy" himself, Rene Descartes (1596-1650). It was he, along with his predecessors John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham, the latter of whom helped foster nominalism and conceptualism to rival Aristotle and Plato's two versions of realism, lead to the "undoing of the Scholaic tradition". (167)

Pre-birth of the modern

According to Feser, both Scotus and Ockham's views on metaphysics and god lead them to conclude that god cannot be known through reason, and must be believed on faith. In other words, god's existence cannot be proved, they contend, and since Descartes' time this general theological view which rejects A-T metaphysics in favor of a more mechanistic view of nature has dominated Western thought. This, Feser says, is what many of the New Atheists pick up on in their critique of theism in general. Feser spends several pages on Hitchens' book god is not Great, criticizing his alleged ignorance of Ockham's razor. Feser argues that versions of it previously were addressed by Aquinas himself and even Aristotle. That may be so, but it doesn't show that change, causation, and final causality necessarily entail "God" — who is dispensed by the razor. Adding god into the mix just adds more unanswerable questions and logical problems.

Scotus' skepticism, Feser says, is motivated by an emphasis on god's will over his intellect.

So radically free is God's will, in Scotus's view, that we simply cannot deduce from the natural order either His intentions or any necessary features of the things He created, since He might have created them in any number of ways, as His inscrutable will directed. Ockham pushes this emphasis on the divine will further, holding that God could by fiat have made morally obligatory all sorts of things that are actually immoral; for example, had He wanted to, He could have decided to command us to hate Him, in which case this is what would be good for us to do. Thus we are brought by Ockham to the idea that morality rests on completely arbitrary demands rather than rationally ascertainable human nature. (168)

But wait a second. If god created that human nature, couldn't he have created us with a different nature, which would rationally entail a different kind of morality? Couldn't god, for example, have made humans reproduce by laying a large amount of eggs ensuring that only a few could possibly be raised to adulthood instead of giving birth to live young? What principle prevents god from doing that? In other words, was god's choice in creating our nature the way it is at all arbitrary, or is there some logically necessary reason why he created our nature the way it is? If so, what's that logically necessary reason? If not, then our morality is ultimately arbitrary even if it logically entails from our nature, because our nature itself would be arbitrary.

Feser takes a long swipe at Hitchens' critique of Ockham's views that we cannot prove a first cause with the traits typically associated with theism—omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omniscience, etc., and deal with the "unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator." (god is not Great, p. 71) But this was answered "long before Ockham was born" Feser states. (170) This may be so, but it would make little difference to the question of god's existence if A-T metaphysics ultimately fails to make a convincing case proving a first cause with typical theistic traits must exist, as I think it does. I do agree with Feser that Hitchens does not engage deeply with the metaphysical arguments for god. God is not Great doesn't set out to disprove the existence of god, it's primary goal is to show how religion poisons everything by critiquing religious history, belief, traditions, and institutions, especially the Abrahamic religions. And I think it does a damn good job doing so. But Feser is focused on the metaphysical arguments, which you're not going to get in great detail with Hitchens, who was best at showing how absurd, stupid, and harmful religion is.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Religious Leaders Pray Over Donald Trump For God To Make Him President


This is why people think religion is silly.

The faithful gathered last year to infuse Trump's campaign with the power of the lord in his luxury high rise tower. One woman even says while praying over Trump that "any tongue that rises against him will be condemned according to the word of God."

Yeah.

If Donald Trump is the man Yahweh has sent to deliver us from Satan, wow.

But hey, it looks like Yahweh has delivered. This was recorded a year ago and since then Trump has won the all the primaries and became the nominee. He's also close to tying Clinton in several key swing states but will still have difficulty in the electoral college. But who knows, as anything can change in the next month. We'll have to see what's going to happen in November to see if Yahweh's going to deliver.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Number Of Religiously Unaffiliated "Nones" In US Rises to 25%


I have good news to report from the trenches of the secular front on the ongoing secularization of the US. The number of religiously unaffiliated "nones" has risen to 25% of the US population according to a recent PPRI survey, up from the 22.8% reported in the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape survey.


From the report:

In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as “none,” and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14% of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20% by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest “religious group” in the U.S.

More young adults are unaffiliated than in the past too. While it is no surprise that younger people tend to be less religious, the percentage of young adults who are less religious is increasing over time. Thirty years ago in 1986, only 10% of 18-29 year olds were religiously unaffiliated. That doubled to 20% in 1996, and has nearly doubled since then to 39%. Interestingly, there are more seniors 65+ who are religiously unaffiliated today than there were 18-29 year olds back in 1986.

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