Sunday, April 13, 2014

Missing In Action

It's been a while since I've blogged. I've had a few changes in my life in the past month or so. I got a new job recently and it requires that I work longer hours. That means less time for blogging, but more money, and that means more opportunity for partying. This past winter I spent many cold winter nights huddled in front of my computer blogging and debating online. Now that I have more money, and the weather has gotten nicer, it seems to me that my priorities have changed. Going out partying in the city with my friends has won out over sitting home alone with my computer.

This is not to say that I've lost interest in my atheism. Not at all. I've just been focused much more on the city. I'm still fascinated by metaphysics and questions on ultimate reality. I've been watching the new Cosmos series. So far my reviews are mostly positive. I like the fact that Tyson spends a lot of time inculcating the scientific mentality into the audience by telling them to never rely on authorities and to question everything, especially commonly held assumptions. I'm not sure the new Cosmos is better than the original that Carl Sagan did in 1980. Sagan's was a masterpiece. He had an amazing talent in personifying the awe and wonder of the universe. Tyson certainly has that too, and it's no wonder that he should be Sagan's natural successor. But the new Cosmos hasn't felt to me to be inspiring that awesome wonder that the original did in quite the same way.

I haven't been reading any new books about anything interesting. I've been engaging in a few online debates here and there, and what I've mostly gotten out of them is a further confirmation that theism makes no sense. A few witty Christians I've been debating really think that the evidence lies on their side. I've noticed though, that many Christian blogs have strict commenting policies. If you say anything that they don't like, you're banished. Gone. Most atheist blogs have a free and open commenting policy. I let anyone comment on my blog, and only have to delete the occasional spammer.

Unfortunately, given my new schedule, I won't be able to blog at the same volume I once did. If I'm lucky I'll be able to squeeze one or two a week. I miss those long nights writing for hours on my laptop. I have a host of ideas in their embryonic stages that I want to try committing myself to writing. I want to explore endurantism verses perdurantism, dating dynamics for atheists, and many more. All in due time I hope.

For now, getting over my hangover is my main concern.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"I Have My Own Interpretation Of The Qur'an"

Earlier this month at my debate MeetUp I had a lovely conversation with a Muslim man over a few glasses of wine about the NSA spying scandal. In the middle of our conversation, I asked if he was Muslim, and he told me that he was. I then asked him why he thought drinking alcohol was OK since it is a prohibition in Islam and he told me that he has his "own interpretation of the Qur'an."

This is a line echoed by many theists that I've engaged in intellectual discussions with, and it's a perfect example highlighting one of the two major problems with the divine command theory of ethics. The epistemic problem with the DCT is due to the fact that no one knows what god commanded what, and whatever commands god is believed to have made can be subjectively interpreted however one wants. This leaves you ultimately, in practice, with moral relativism - which is, ironically, the very thing that the DCT seeks to eliminate.

Now the Muslim gentleman at that MeetUp is a really nice guy. He's pretty much just a regular guy who happens to be Muslim, and he can engage in intellectual conversations on a variety of topics. He takes a liberal approach to his interpretation of the Qur'an, which I think us atheists would hope for all Muslims to do, if they insist upon keeping the faith. It is said that American Muslims are far less radicalized than Muslims in other Western countries. There are always exceptions, but this is generally true. I suppose what we should encourage among all Muslims, but specifically Muslims living in the West (because we are most affected by them), is that they adopt a progressive attitude towards their religion in the same way many Christians in the West have.

Finally, I've also got my own interpretation of the Qur'an. And that is that it's a man-made book full of contradictions and factual errors and it shows. See here.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Multiverse Seen As More Likely

For the past week the major news coming from science was that faint gravitational waves from the earliest moments of the universe were detected by the BICEP2 observatory near the south pole. The findings, if correct, would confirm a prediction made by Einstein nearly 100 years ago in General Relativity, as well as in inflationary theory developed by Alan Guth in 1980.

"It's hard to build models of inflation that don't lead to a multiverse," says Guth, quoted from a recent Huffington Post article. Since most models of inflation lead to a multiverse, and the recent finding corroborates predictions made by inflation theory, then it seems that the multiverse just got a big boost in credibility. For years the critics were saying that the multiverse was pure speculation, tantamount to an atheistic version of god as an explanatory force. We may or may not ever have direct confirmation of another universe, but if the data holds up and is confirmed by additional tests (of which there are several pending) then the predictions made in inflation theory that other universes are likely will move it closer to physics from metaphysics.

The multiverse does offer us an explanation for many of the current puzzles in science, like why the values of the physical constants are in the life permitting range. So if we have good evidence that the multiverse is true, there goes the fine tuning argument - which I consider the only decent argument theism has. And if the fine tuning argument implodes, then theism is really going to be in trouble in the future. Take away the cosmological argument and the fine tuning argument for example, (which I think there are already good refutations for) and theism really has nothing left to stand on. There is nothing within the universe that really needs god as an explanation that isn't better served by science and philosophy. 

So what's left for theism? What will the nature of apologetics look like in 2050 when we might have discovered quantum gravity and when an inflation model with multiverse predictions becomes the cosmological paradigm rendering the fine tuning argument a total dud? I wonder what debates about the existence of god will be like then. 

Presumably the atheist will have a much larger arsenal of data to draw from, as has always been the case when new scientific discoveries are made. I am optimistic that within this century, theism will become the minority position in the West, because it's explanatory power will fail to compete with the rigor of naturalistic science, and because many of the social functions that religion has played will be replaced by secular alternatives.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Why I Call Myself "The Thinker"

I don't call myself "The Thinker" because I think I'm smarter or better than everyone else, or that only atheists "think" rationally or are capable of being thoughtful and rational. I call myself The Thinker because I'm fascinated by many intellectual topics like science, philosophy, history, politics and religion - which I consider an intellectual topic of discussion. I like to think about these things as they give me great pleasure and enjoyment. That's it. If you're fascinated by these topics as I am and spend a lot of time dwelling on them, then I consider you a thinker as well, even if I disagree with you.

Fun To Use Tools For Learning Physics

If you like physics like I do, check out for some interactive tools that help you visualize things like length contraction and time dilation in Special Relativity.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The EPR Paradox and Special Relativity

I'm in the middle of taking the free course on Special Relativity over on I've already taken the simple version that doesn't include any math, and now I've just started the technical version that has all the math. It's a challenge since I haven't done complex math in years.

One of the things that I was already familiar with in relativity is how the EPR paradox kind of throws a challenge to the notion of the relativity of simultaneity. The EPR paradox is basically quantum entanglement. When two quantum particles become entangled, they can be separated at great distances and when one of the particles is measured and it becomes known that it has a certain spin, the other particle instantly becomes affected and will spin in the opposite direction. That won't become known until the other particle is measured of course, and any information about the spin of the first particle that was measured won't be able to travel faster than the speed of light. This seems to preserve Einstein's Special Relativity (SR) very well that no information can travel though space faster than light.

But this is not what bugs me. What bugs me is how if two distant particles can "instantly" affect one another, and if according to SR our reference frame that determines what is "now" depends on our velocity relative to other objects, how can the two entangled particles instantly affect one another? Suppose one of the particles was on a space ship travelling at 80% the speed of light and moving towards the other entangled particle that is a million light years away. According to SR the reference frame of the particle on the ship would require that its "now" slice contain the future events of the other distant particle. So if the particle on the moving ship is measured, does the other distant particle's spin change "instantly" or does it change in the far future, according to the measured particle's reference frame on the moving ship?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Skeptical Theism: A Few Thoughts

Skeptical theism is view that we are not in a position to know god's reasons for acting or refraining from acting in particular situations. It is often invoked in response to the problem of evil, whereby it is argued that god has morally sufficient reasons for permitting or allowing moral evil or even causing suffering, but we are not in a position to know why.

There are several problems that many atheists have brought up to the skeptical theistic position. For example, if we are in no position to tell why god has allowed evil and suffering, then if someone were to see a person suffering, it's possible for one to reason that it's all part of god's plan that in the end will make sense and that they should not interfere. This, as we can imagine, could lead to indifference toward's human moral evil and suffering. Why should I stop a murderer, or help prevent suffering, if god is using it as a means to an end? The skeptical theist who says that we should never think in these terms, or that the purpose of the other person's plight was to motivate you to help or prevent it, presumes to know what god wants us to do in a particular situation, which is inconsistent with skeptical theism.

So why should we prevent suffering and evil? Wouldn't this thwart god's plan to draw people closer to him? And if we are to prevent suffering, as some theists argue we have a duty to do, it seems to have a long term affect of secularizing the population and increasing the number of atheists and agnostics. A look around the world at the richest and most advanced countries with the highest standards of living shows a correlation with decreased religious belief and worship. This further supports the view that if we grant the skeptical theistic approach, it could be argued that we are not in the position to know we have the duty to prevent suffering in particular instances; it could be part of god's plan.

It looks like this:

Skeptical Theist: God uses/allows suffering and evil to draw people closer to him.

Atheist: Then we shouldn't prevent suffering and evil.

Skeptical Theist: Oh no we should. It is a duty from god.

Atheist: Then it thwarts god's plan. And if we prevent it, it will help turn people away from god.

Skeptical Theist: God uses you to prevent the evil and suffering he allowed.

Atheist: It doesn't make sense. God uses suffering to draw people towards him, and that's his plan, but when I prevent the suffering, his plan is to inspire me to prevent it? It's as if god's plan changes on the fly.

Since suffering is the one of the most common reasons why people turn away from god, I'm not sure it even makes sense for the theist to argue that god uses suffering to drawn people towards him. I personally think skeptical theism is a one-size-fits-all excuse out of any situation or fact inconvenient to theism. The theist doesn't have to justify it with any data. All they have to do is insist that god has morally sufficient reasons for doing or allowing what he does. This is partly why I developed my evolutionary argument against god. It circumvents the usual skeptical theistic approach to human moral evil and suffering.


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