Monday, May 30, 2016

Quote Of The Day: God Meets Science And Logic

Today's quote of the day is technically by me. Inspired by a previous tweet I made, I've decided to turn it into a meme.  Copy it and spread it to all your social media.

Have a happy Memorial Day weekend!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why So Many People Get The Big Bang Wrong (Including Atheists)

As an atheist I hear it all the time: NO ONE CREATED SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING? This is the name of the first chapter in Christian Apologist Frank Turok's book Stealing God. Other variations of the question go, "How do you get something from nothing?" or "How does nothing create everything?" or still yet, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" The popular view out there especially among theists is that atheists believe "nothing" somehow created everything. If you're an atheist in any kind of situation talking or debating with theists you can be sure some variation of these questions will come up at some point, and you've got to be prepared to give a response. Of course "I don't know" is always a respectable answer, but to me there is a short sound byte answer that can be given and it relies on refuting a common misunderstanding of the big bang that so many of us make, including many atheists.

First, some of these questions assume that the ontological default state should be nothing, and not something, and theists who ask these questions will almost certainly not have shown any justification why that should be so. I don't think one can even come up with an objective prior probability for such an assumption. Second, many of these questions usually rely on a faulty assumption about the big bang. Many people falsely assume the the big bang entails there there was a state of nothingness, and then *poof* you get a big bang. That's not what it says. That's not even what inflationary theory says. They both simply say that there was a first moment when t=0. There wasn't anything prior to that; there was no state of "nothing" from which everything came out of. And since space and time are tied together, as Einstein showed, with no space prior to t=0, there was no time. So you can say that the universe always existed in that at every moment of time the universe exists. In this sense, the universe is omnitemporal. That means there was always something. Somethingness might be the ontological default, and not nothingness.

So no atheist must be committed to the view that "nothing created everything." This is an absurd parody of the atheist position on cosmic origins, and far too many religious apologists and atheists alike believe this. Now of course it is always possible that there was spacetime prior to the big bang. If there's an infinite amount of spacetime prior to our universe's big bang, then most of these questions are mute anyway. And if there is a finite amount of spacetime prior to our universe's big bang, the same principle applies to the absolute origin.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Quote Of The Day: Sean Carroll On How Causality Isn't Fundamental

As shocking as it may seem, causality is not a fundamental concept but a derived one. When we speak of causality in everyday life, we're talking about an emergent phenomena. This is why all the "first cause" arguments for god fail. They make the mistake of taking the everyday experiences and phenomena we observe that don't really exist fundamentally and try to turn them into "metaphysical principles." From Carroll's paper Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists:

From the perspective of modern science, events don’t have purposes or causes; they simply conform to the laws of nature. In particular, there is no need to invoke any mechanism to “sustain” a physical system or to keep it going; it would require an additional layer of complexity for a system to cease following its patterns than for it to simply continue to do so. Believing otherwise is a relic of a certain metaphysical way of thinking; these notions are useful in an informal way for human beings, but are not a part of the rigorous scientific description of the world. Of course scientists do talk about “causality”, but this is a description of the relationship between patterns and boundary conditions; it is a derived concept, not a fundamental one. If we know the state of a system at one time, and the laws governing its dynamics, we can calculate the state of the system at some later time. You might be tempted to say that the particular state at the first time “caused” the state to be what it was at the second time; but it would be just as correct to say that the second state caused the first. According to the materialist worldview, then, structures and patterns are all there are — we don’t need any ancillary notions.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

George Carlin Was Wrong On Voting

I've been running into many people lately who say voting is a meaningless process when I bring up politics. One guy I was talking to recently brought up George Carlin who was very critical on the voting process (among other things). George Carlin said repeatedly in his standup gigs and on TV and other media outlets that voting is pointless because the game is rigged, the country's ruled by a small group of people who have all the real power, and they've set up a system to give you the illusion that you actually have a choice when you go out and vote, but you don't.

Now look. I'm a huge Carlin fan. I love his stand up and his general philosophy. He's genuinely funny as fuck. But he's wrong on voting. First, let me say that I partially agree with him that there are people running the country who don't give a crap about regular working folks like me. This is not to say that there's some secret conspiracy, like the Bilderbergs, or the Illuminati. There is some truth to that but I'm not a conspiracy nut. There are various competing groups in various areas of the world in various sectors who have a disproportionate amount of power. That's always been the case. But aside from this partial truth, to not vote is not going to make the situation any better for thinking and working people who want rational policies. It will make it worse. Here's why.

We have to acknowledge that not all politicians are the same. No one in their right mind would seriously believe that a Ted Cruz presidency would've had the exact same laws and policies passed as a Bernie Sanders presidency. If you believe that you're insane. These two men couldn't be more ideologically different. The same is true of past elections. Do you really think that a John McCain presidency would've had the exact same laws passed that president Obama passed? Do you think universal healthcare, and same sex marriage, and the ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would've been passed under president McCain? Do you think McCain would've appointed the same Supreme Court Justices as Obama did? You know the same-sex marriage decision came down to just one vote don't you? A one vote difference would have made the country completely different. Elections matter, and presidents appoint Supreme Court judges and Congress votes them in, and you vote-in the president, the senators, and the congressmen and women.

If you don't think your vote counts, think again. The reason why Bernie Sanders didn't get more votes than Hillary Clinton is because his base is among young people and too many young people have bought this meme that all politicians are the same and the game is all rigged and so your vote doesn't matter, so don't vote. Nothing could be more insane. This guarantees that you will never get your way in the political system. In case you don't know, the people who are not buying this meme are the older religious white conservatives who often vote for religions Christian dominionists who want to turn the US into their Christian fantasy land. The religious right in this country wants to live in a very very different America than secular liberals like me.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

How To Think Rationally About Claims

I've recently encountered many people who are otherwise very intelligent, but who, for one reason or another, came to believe very foolish things, like libertarian free will, or that we have a soul. It's not that they're stupid or anything, it's mostly due to them just lacking information or having the wrong information in the subject matter, and/or are suffering from poor reasoning skills.

Knowing how to think critically is absolutely essential to being a rational person. We hear numerous claims everyday. But how do we make sense of them? How do we evaluate whether there is any truth to them or not? Well, the answer is long, and I'm in no position to give a full assessment of all the relevant factors. But I can outline a few very important things everyone should know when evaluating the validity of a claim.

Let's start with the claim that the soul exists. By 'soul' I don't mean anything in the metaphoric sense. I'm talking about the traditional notion of a soul, the kind that Descartes believed in: the invisible ghost that resides in our bodies, that animates us, and gives our intellect. This is a belief mostly left over from religion, but is still believed by a surprising number of educated people today. One way to evaluate a claim like this is to ask yourself, if it were true, what would have to be the case? In other words, if souls were real, what would have to be the case logically and scientifically? Let's explore this.

If souls were real, it would have to be the case that the immaterial substance that made up the soul—whatever it is—had to be able to overcome the natural forces in and between the atoms that make up your body. That means there would have to be extra forces at work that apply to the atoms in your body that do not apply to the atoms that make up inanimate matter, like rocks. This echos a view once popular among philosophers and biologists until the end of the 19th century known as vitalism. On vitalism there is something fundamentally different about living things and non-living things. Living things have a life energy that non-living things don't. This would have to be the case—at least for humans—if souls exist.

But the relentless progress of science has shown that this is not the case. There are no special forces or energies that exist in living things that non-living things do not have. There is no life energy out there, despite what all the Deepak Chopras of the world insist. Vitalism has been utterly discredited as an accurate description of reality. All the particles that make up you and I and rocks and trees are made up of the same three things — protons, neutrons, and electrons, that's it. And all the forces that govern them are the electromagnetic force, and the strong and the weak nuclear forces. Gravity is the forth force but is really not a force, it's the curvature of spacetime. Those are the fundamental components that make up everything in your everyday experience and there is no room for anything else. This information has just not gotten out there into the popular understanding of science, but in time it will. The bottom line is this — we fully understand the particles and forces that make up you and I and rocks and trees and planets and there is no room for anything else that can have a causal impact on the atoms that make up your body, like a soul. That is one idea that science has falsified, and we know this through the proper way of reasoning about claims by philosophizing on what would have to be the case if the claim were true.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Big Picture Tour

Last week I saw physicist Sean Carroll again for the first stop on his book tour for The Big Picture: On the origins of life meaning and the universe itself at the Bell House in Brooklyn. His latest book is basically a defense of naturalism from a scientist's perspective on how we should see the "big picture" of existence, life, and meaning, in a way firmly grounded by, and compatible with science—but with lots of philosophy thrown in—which is definitely needed in public discourse of this nature. I've been waiting a long time for a book just like this to come out because I think it's very important for the naturalist to be able to have a coherent explanation of reality fully compatible with human experience and with science. I'm also very grateful that Carroll is not allergic to philosophy like Lawrence Krauss is. Philosophy is absolutely essential to having a coherent worldview and I personally am deeply invested in having a worldview as a naturalist from the most fundamental ontology all the way up to the higher level ontologies like sociology and politics. My goal is to eventually work my way to the higher level philosophies over time and I hope this book can significantly help me with rational thinking on how to tie them all in together.

One of the interesting points Carroll argues early on is that notions like "cause and effect" are nowhere to be found in the fundamental laws of physics, they are just a way of describing reality as we see them from our human perspectives. This is very important, because for one thing, if there is no cause and effect as is commonly understood in our experience, all the "first cause" arguments for the existence of god go out the window. I've been coming to the realization that cause and effect aren't really as they seem on my own through my study of Special Relativity. In a block universe, there are simply just worldtubes in spacetime, and one point on the worldtube doesn't really cause a later point on the worldtube. What causality really is would seem to have to be the relationships of intersecting worldtubes as they precede each other or intertwine with another. For example, asking "why do I exist now?" would be explained by the fact that at an earlier event in spacetime my parents had sex. That was the "cause" that resulted in my birth and existence now – but only in the sense that if you trace my worldtube back in spacetime to its origin it’s preceded by my parent’s worldtubes and thus that establishes the "causal" relationship. This is a profound insight that radically changes our notion of causality. The traditional notion we ascribe to our everyday experiences simply doesn't exist.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Special Relativity Lesson 1: Time Dilation Is Symmetric

I generated so many emails in my debate on Special Relativity that I have all this content about it sitting around. I just realized that it's best that I use it as material for short blog posts that can serve as educational lessons for learning some of the basic concepts in SR. It's possible to understand SR from a conceptual framework without knowing any of the math. The math certainly helps fully understand the theory, but I think that for the general public it's at least better to know the basic ontology of what entails from SR by understanding it conceptually rather than not understanding anything at all.

For this first lesson, I will explain how time dilation is symmetric. This lesson expects you to have some basic familiarity and understanding of the concepts in Special Relativity, like an inertial frame, a light clock, a spacetime diagram, and what a worldline is, etc. It is not intended to be a full lesson from which you can learn the theory in its entirely.

In Special Relativity, time dilation is symmetric. For two inertial observers in relative motion their clocks will slow down at a rate equal to each other. Using screenshots I've taken from this video, I will explain how this works.

We first start out with a 3D representation of time in a spacetime diagram showing the position of two light clocks held by two observers moving relative to one another. One is held by Albert Einstein who is standing on a train platform, and the other is held by Hendrik Lorentz who is standing on a train moving relative to Einstein.

Image 1

Image 1 above shows the relationship between the two. The zigzag pattern of the yellow lines are the worldlines of the light in their light clocks. They are the paths of the light through space and time, or spacetime.


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