Friday, September 30, 2016

Quote Of The Day: The Self-Refuting Nature Of Libertarian Free Will

I've been a bit busy working on other projects and have not had the time to blog as much. I'm writing the script for a web series I plan on doing which should be good - god willing of course. Anyway, I found a quote from a person whose arguments I respect a lot on the incoherency of libertarian free will and I think he nails it in a very concise way. His name is Andy Schueler and he wrote this on Randal Rouser's blog a year ago*:

[L]ibertarian free-will is blatantly self-refuting and I'll add that it is so for any thinkable model of how causality works because it would always boil down to choices that are simultaneously caused (else they wouldn't be volitional - due to the agent´s will) and uncaused (else they wouldn't be "free" in a libertarian sense) - and something being "caused" while simultaneously being "uncaused" is a contradiction for any model of what "causality" is.

*I've fixed a few spelling/punctuation issues.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Importance Of Philosophy

Philosophy is absolutely essential to having a coherent outlook on the world that is more likelier to lead you to truthful beliefs. I don't know how I can emphasize that strong enough. In the Western tradition of philosophy there are two main camps: analytical and continental philosophy. Analytical philosophy is the dominant kind of philosophy in the English speaking world. It's mainly concerned with clarifying concepts, finding out what conclusions logically entail from what premises, what concepts are incompatible with one another, what assumptions are being made, and organizing concepts according to a taxonomic structure. Logic, ethics, and epistemology, for example, are all part of analytic philosophy. Continental philosophy on the other hand, named because it became popular in continental Europe, is mainly concerned with perception of the human experience, emotion, and emphasizing on seeing things a certain way. It tends to be more poetic. Existentialism, phenomenology, and German idealism are all a part of continental philosophy.

I'm definitely an analytics guy myself, although I think all of philosophy is useful. I'm obsessed with logical arguments and analyzing concepts and ideas to find out what's logical and illogical in the hope of finding the truth. This is exactly how I discovered many ideas that I took for granted for years were false, like perhaps most importantly, libertarian free will. While the dividing line between analytic and continental philosophy may blur at times, analytic philosophy is absolutely necessary for being rational.

I mention this because I hear it again and again from atheists: "We don't need philosophy anymore because we have science!" and "Philosophy may have helped us centuries ago, but it's outlived is usefulness." These atheists have no fucking idea what they're talking about and they don't even realize their view is self-refuting. Claiming that we don't need philosophy anymore because we have science is itself a philosophical claim. It's not a scientific claim. You can't scientifically prove that. On top of this, not all questions are scientific in nature. Some are purely logical, like in mathematics, and some just require some common sense and rational thinking. Others have to do with what we should value. All the scientific evidence in the world is not going to answer these kinds of questions. Philosophy is best equipped to answer them.

For example, imagine asking someone "What's the purpose of government?" How is science going to fully answer this question? What the purpose of government is, or whether we should even have one is a question for political philosophy, not science. Science may be able to give us answers to empirical questions that are relevant, but it's not going to tell us what style of government we should have, or if we should even have one at all.

In this sense, philosophy is more fundamental than science. Science is really a kind of philosophy; it's a particular set of methods for finding out truth. To go for science while claiming we don't need philosophy is to go for the branch while ignoring its roots. I try to tell this to many of my fellow atheist friends and it's difficult to get this message across. They tend to get hung up on semantics. They associate philosophy with theology, along with and many of the false ideas the ancient philosophers came up with. But if I asked them if they're against the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, language, and existence, almost none of them would say yes. And yet that's basically the definition of philosophy!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Happiest Countries Tend To Be The Least Religious Countries

The 2016 World Happiness Index report is out and it shows that 6 of the top 10 most happy countries on the list are also on the list of the top 10 least religious countries, as ranked by US News. There has been a strong correlation with happiness and low religiosity for years. Until not that long ago I used to think that low religiosity is what lead to happier, better off societies. That certainly can be the case to a degree, but what really happens, as the I've come to discover, is that when a country's standard of living goes up that tends to lead to religiosity going down.* So having a better economy, a better government, a better health care system, and lower crime tend to lead to religiosity declining. And this means that making the world a better place is one of the best ways to decrease religion, and by doing so, in effect, you can kill two birds with one stone.

*This is sometimes called the existential security thesis (EST) or the socioeconomic security hypothesis (SSH). For more information on the latter see Gregory Paul's paper The chronic dependence of popular religiosity upon dysfunctional social conditions.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Quote Of The Day: The Dalai Lama On Secular Ethics

Who would suspect that the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism himself, the Dalai Lama, would be in favor of secular ethics, but he appears to get it like most of us atheists do. This is probably why I'm much more sympathetic to Buddhism than most other religions. He's absolutely right: secular ethics is foundational for having a thriving world community where multicultural societies exist.

For all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, religion is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. Many people no longer follow any religion. In addition, in today’s secular and multicultural societies, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values could not be universal, and so would be inadequate. We need an approach to ethics that can be equally acceptable to those with religious faith and those without. We need a secular ethics.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Aquinas On Free Will

The metaphysical foundation of the traditional Catholic worldview is self refuting. It both requires and denies libertarian free will. This inconsistency becomes much more apparent to those who've came to see that libertarian free will itself is an inconsistent idea. However, most Catholics, or philosophical Thomists deny this charge, and the most prominent philosopher in the Catholic tradition, Thomas Aquinas, addressed this.

Article 1. Whether man has free-will?
Objection 3. Further, what is "free is cause of itself," as the Philosopher says (Metaph. i, 2). Therefore what is moved by another is not free. But God moves the will, for it is written (Proverbs 21:1): "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; whithersoever He will He shall turn it" and (Philippians 2:13): "It is God Who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish." Therefore man has not free-will.
Reply to Objection 3. Free-will is the cause of its own movement, because by his free-will man moves himself to act. But it does not of necessity belong to liberty that what is free should be the first cause of itself, as neither for one thing to be cause of another need it be the first cause. God, therefore, is the first cause, Who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature.[1]

A Catholic mentioned this to me as an argument to show it demonstrates Thomism is compatible with libertarian free will. I'm going to argue now that this in no way demonstrates that.

The 50 year old virgin
First, the problem is obvious: If god is the first cause of everything because he sustains everything in the universe at all times, then he is ultimately the cause of your will, and therefore you have no free will.

Aquinas' objection states that man's will moves him to act. This is technically in fact wrong. The will doesn't move a person to act, that is actually done by a physical process, which determines the will. So it's technically the other way around. He also states that what is free shouldn't be the first cause itself. I disagree. "Free" in this sense would have to be uncaused. Then he just states that man's voluntary actions aren't involuntary just because god really caused them. That makes no sense. It's like saying a puppet being controlled by a ventriloquist is still free, even though the puppet's every action is caused by the puppeteer. Saying god operates each thing according to its own nature doesn't negate this. The nature is caused by god and controlled by god, as everything else is. Basically, if the causal chain terminates in god, and each and every step in the chain is caused by god, at no point does libertarian free will enter the picture, which logically requires the will be uncaused. The Aristotelian principle, that "Whatever is changed is changed by another" negates the metaphysical possibility of a first cause that isn't god, which of course negates libertarian free will itself.

So, Aquinas hasn't made a logical case for libertarian free will being compatible from within the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysic.

[1] Source: Summa Theologica (Prima Part, Q83) (Emphasis mine)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Causality Is A Useful Word But It Doesn't Really Exist

One of the problems with human language is that it sometimes doesn't capture the true nature of reality, and one word where this is the case is the word cause. Fundamentally speaking, there are no causes in the way we traditionally speak of them. There are simply just worldtubes or particles in spacetime and one point on the worldtube doesn't really "cause" a later point on the worldtube to exist. What causality really is would seem to have to be the relationships of intersecting worldtubes as they precede or intertwine with one another in spacetime; they're a description of the relationship between patterns and boundary conditions. At the fundamental level, the word "cause" really should be replaced by the word "explanation" or "relationship."

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. But even the terms "earlier" and "preceded" here are a bit misleading because they imply that there's an intrinsic directionality of time. However, no good data backs that up. Instead, the data strongly suggests the directionality of time is dependent on the increase in entropy. These are profound insights that radically changes our notion of causality.

So when it comes to our language, what should we do? Well, I'm not saying we jettison the word "cause" anymore than we jettison the word "solid," even though solidity is not found in the fundamental nature of reality either. It's an emergent phenomenon that exists at higher (non-fundamental) levels. Causality exists in much the same way: "cause" is a useful word to describe an emergent phenomenon that makes sense when talking about our human-level experience, but we shouldn't confuse language with reality. Human language is far better at capturing human experience than at expressing deep physical laws. We need to be aware of what causality really is, apart from its everyday usage. This of course is much easier said than done.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Rise And The (Ostensible) Fall Of The Religious Conservatives In The U.S.

In 2014, Pew showed that 72% of Americans think religion is losing its influence in public life and that there's been a recent slight uptick of Americans who say religious institutions should express views on political matters (49%). It further showed that a growing minority (32%) say religious institutions should come out and support political candidates, and 59% think it's important for members of Congress to have religious beliefs.  As expected, Republicans lean more towards wanting more religion in public life.

Furthermore, 56% of Americans who think religion is losing its influence think it's a bad thing, and only 12% think it's a good thing. I'm definitely one of those 12 percenters who think it's a bad thing. I think religion needs to recede from American cultural and political influence and the faster that happens the better the nation will be as a whole.

But the main question I want to address is whether or not opinion of the majority of Americans is correct: Is religion losing its influence in cultural and political matters?

To answer that we have to look at the recent presidential election as well as demographic data and polls on social issues. The largest and most powerful religious influence in the US has without a doubt been that of white evangelical Christians. Almost all US presidents have been Protestant with just a few exceptions. Even so, and despite a recent uptick of those who think religious institutions should get more political, data indicates that the influence of this large and mostly Republican demographic is shrinking and losing influence.

When it comes to demographics, the first and most important factor in the decline of white evangelical Christians is that the country is getting less white. The US is only 63% white, down from 69% in 2000, and 80% in 1980. As the white population shrinks, the white evangelical population shrinks. Second, the country is getting less Christian. The US is only 70% Christian, down from 78% in 2007, and 90% in 1963. In just the past 20 years the percentage of both Christians and the religiously affiliated began to rapidly decline. And just like with the white population, as the Christian population shrinks, the white evangelical population shrinks—along with their influence. Protestants now make up less than half (46%) the US population. Thirdly, there is a large generational gap with respect to Christian religiosity indicating what's to come. Only 56% of millennials are Christian, whereas 70% of generation X, and 78% of baby boomers are Christian.


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