Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Randy Replies

Almost every theist I've encountered and almost every theist I've heard defending their faith recognizes the problem of suffering as a real problem for theism. That is to say, they recognize that an omnibenevolent deity is incompatible with the existence of gratuitous suffering. That's why so many theists spend so much time trying to argue that gratuitous suffering doesn't really exist, but only seems apparent. The theist will find themselves is an arduous position if they try and defend this in light of evolution. That is because the evolutionary process requires suffering and death in order to work, and any god who would contingently chose to use evolution as the means to create one particular species when it could have done so by other less tormenting means needs to have a very good reason why - especially since it is argued that god cannot perform immoral or evil acts and can only choose morally good actions.

One theist who doesn't think there is a good reason to think gratuitous suffering and omnibenevolence are incompatible is Randy Everist. Recently we got into a bout on this very issue and he has made his case why he thinks they are compatible. My last post was a critic of our debate over on his blog, and he wrote a post further articulating his views. So here I'm going to critique his defense that there is no good reason to think that an omnibenevolent deity and gratuitous suffering are incompatible.

The first thing I noticed in his response to me as well as in our debate, is that he never defends or even claims the position that gratuitous suffering doesn't exist. Maybe he does, but he hasn't made this known in our dialogue. From the start, he tries to break down the logic of my argument so I will critique his claims line by line.

First he states the two propositions that are part of my argument, but not exactly in the way I would phrase them. Nonetheless, I will use his interpretation of my argument verbatim.

1. There is an omnibenevolent God.
2. There is gratuitous suffering.

He states that it's not clear why they are contradictory, even though it seems that the vast majority of his fellow theists recognize a problem. He further claims that I made no argument defending their incompatibility. I made an argument, and I posted that argument in my last post, but Randy's predicted response is always, "But why think this?" followed by a bad explanation. He tries to restate my argument saying:

3. If (1) and (2) are compatible, then it is indistinguishable from evil.*

Then he makes a fuss claiming that I wasn't clear as to what "it" means, saying it "has never been very clear". But I beg to differ. It's very obvious from what I wrote that I meant omnibenevolence. I wrote, "If omnibenevolence is compatible with the intentional creation of suffering that serves no purpose, well then how can we distinguish it from evil?" It's very obvious what "it" meant, but apparently it confused Randy and so he tries guessing "it" meant gratuitous suffering. Really? Would it really make any sense if I asked, "If omnibenevolence is compatible with the intentional creation of suffering that serves no purpose, well then how can we distinguish gratuitous suffering from evil?" Gratuitous suffering and evil are fully compatible; it needs no explanation. In fact, many people define evil as the infliction of gratuitous suffering.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Theist Who Just Won't Understand

The logical incompatibility of an omnibenevolent god with gratuitous suffering is very easy to understand for most people, yet over on the Possible Worlds blog, smug theist Randy Everist just could not grasp why there is any such conflict between the two. I suspect that he really does indeed recognize that this is an unsolvable problem and that it logically entails that the god of classical theism is impossible. But to avoid this becoming apparent, I think he's feigning ignorance, misunderstanding, and that there is any logical problem here at all. There are no plausible explanations to this problem. I know because I've refuted pretty much all of them. It's possible there are other theodicies that I haven't heard yet, but this is exactly why I like to challenge theists - I want to hear their best explanation.

I thought Randy Everist would be a good candidate as he is well familiar with the arguments for god but he subtly admitted that he doesn't really have an explanation. All he did was try really hard to play defense and falsely claim that I have not properly made the case that there is any logical conflict between gratuitous suffering and omnibenevolence. You can read our debate using the link above to be the judge.

Many atheists know that debating with theists is like talking to a brick wall. Randy is no exception. He exemplifies the core of what I think the problem with theism is. When cornered by a good argument, they special plead, or they'll claim that not having an answer doesn't mean the atheist is right by default, even if the problem is logical. Well, if that is so, then the same thing works for the atheist who may not be able to fully explain the origin of the universe. The atheist not having an answer doesn't mean the theist is right by default. I think we all understand this is correct.

I made my argument as easy to understand as one possibly can. I even made it into several different logical arguments. For example:

1. Omni-benevolence is incompatible with gratuitous suffering,
2. gratuitous suffering exists via evolution, 
3. therefore the god of classical theism cannot exist.

Very few theists disagree with premise 1, but Randy seemed to be saying that this wasn't so. He responded:

Why should we think that's true? Where have you defended the premise that an omnibenevolent God is incompatible? Where have you shown a premise set that is logically incoherent, and defended why?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What Is It With Christian Bloggers?

There's a recurring theme I've noticed on many Christian blogs: they're a bunch of pussies when it comes to debate. They like to assert claims about the existence of god without liking to defend them. They employ strict comment policies with gestapo-like authority and throw up defenses laced with esoteric terminology designed as a smoke screen to avoid having to address your challenges. Case in point, Randy Everest over on his Possible Worlds blog. I got into a debate with him over the Craig/Carroll debate and my evolutionary argument against god came up. He denied that it was even a problem and he denied that a perfect omni-benevolent being as god would be incompatible with the unnecessary suffering of evolution. And after several days of going back and forth and dealing with his smug attitude, he has still not made a reasonable case why. It is obvious to me, and I think anyone who reads our "debate" that he is trying to avoid that obvious conclusion in my argument with a smoke screen. I think he's afraid he will lose this debate badly, and so he's avoiding it at all costs by trying to throw up technicalities.

Christian debaters are wussies when they've got a real atheist to deal with. They want some naive kid who hasn't spent years studying Christian apologetics as I have.

I am actively searching for a theistic blogger who will debate me either here on my blog or anywhere else. I want a smart, knowledgeable theist who knows their religion, philosophy and science and who is as passionate about debate as I am. So this is a call out to any theists out there who want to debate me. Just comment here or tweet me @atheismnthecity and we can set it up.

Coming Out To Your Coworkers About Your Atheism

I try to be as open as I can with everyone around me about the fact that I'm an atheist, but the one area that I am most nervous about coming out is at work. Coming out to your coworkers about the fact that you don't believe in god could for some people be nerve racking, so much so that many atheists choose to keep their non belief in the closet when dealing with coworkers even though they might be out to their friends and family. The reason why this is so serious is obvious: at work our atheism might put our jobs on the line.

Now how serious this matter is all depends on your coworkers and work culture. In a perfect world, we'd all be able to be open about everything in our lives. But in the real world, some people live and work in areas where atheism is a dark and dirty word, and being labeled an atheist will immediately throw suspicion and distrust on you. Many people have been discriminated at work and fired over their atheism becoming known, and it is something that I'm sure many atheists keep in the back of their mind.

I happen to live in the secular metropolis. As a result, I don't work with deeply religious people. In my department at work, one of my coworkers is a secular Jew, another one is a non-religious theist who believes in god but is not religious about it, and another is a Hindu. None of them talk about religion all that much, but the other week I was asked bluntly by my manager if I was an atheist when I made a comment about bad reasons to be a vegetarian. It all started when I said that I respected vegetarianism but not if one does it for religious reasons. Then my vegetarian manager asked if I was an atheist and a lot of ears were listening to our conversation.

Normally, I'd be open about my atheism and perhaps even proud to announce it. But this was work, and a new job for me at that. The possibility of losing my job over my atheism crossed my mind for a split second. My answer came out but I forget my exact words. I was honest that I did not believe in god, but this kind of side tracked the conversation into the definition of atheism, which I educated my coworkers is merely the disbelief in any gods, not the certitude that no gods exist. Overall, it went down smoothly. I don't even think that my coworkers care at all whether I'm an atheist and so far it doesn't seem to have affected our relationship at all.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Second Law Of Thermodymanics and Evolution

Some really stupid creationists will sometimes try to argue that the 2nd law of thermodynamics proves that evolution cannot happen. The 2nd law states that in a closed system, entropy or disorder, always increases. And since evolution means that complexity will increase over time in organisms, this somehow violates the necessary increase in entropy - unless a god can intervene.

The argument is easy to refute and has been done so many times. Unfortunately, many unlearned creationists have never bothered to look up the evidence refuting the argument and they let their confirmation bias get the better of them.


First, the earth is clearly not a closed system. We are part of a solar system and we have a sun. The sun provides us energy, and that energy can allow complexity to increase without a violation of the 2nd law, which only applies to closed systems.

Furthermore, Brian Green in his first book The Elegant Universe notes, “Everything tends towards greater disorder. Even if you clean your cluttered desk, decreasing its entropy, the total entropy, including that of your body and the air in the room, actually increase. You see, to clean your desk you have to expend energy, you have to disrupt some of the orderly molecules of fat in your body to create this energy for your muscles, and as you clean, your body gives off heat, which jostles the surrounding air molecules into a higher state of agitation and disorder. When all of these effects are accounted for, they more than compensate for your desk’s decrease in entropy, and thus the total entropy increases.” (pp. 334-335)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Physicists Claim Mathematical Proof Universe Began Spontaneously From Nothing

I try to keep the content of this blog original, but every once in a while I like to report on interesting scientific findings. Recently over on I read a report that Chinese physicists claimed that they have mathematical proof that the universe could have spontaneously formed from nothing. When such incredible claims are made, even if they favor our position, we should always be reserved and examine the data with as much skepticism as we would data that contradicted our viewpoints.

From the site:

One of the great theories of modern cosmology is that the universe began in a Big Bang. This is not just an idea but a scientific theory backed up by numerous lines of evidence.

For a start, there is the cosmic microwave background, which is a kind of echo of the big bang; then there is the ongoing expansion of the cosmos, which when imagined backwards, hints at a Big Bang-type origin; and the abundance of the primordial elements, such as helium-4, helium-3, deuterium and so on, can all be calculated using the theory.

But that still leaves a huge puzzle. What caused the Big Bang itself? For many years, cosmologists have relied on the idea that the universe formed spontaneously, that the Big Bang was the result of quantum fluctuations in which the Universe came into existence from nothing.

That’s plausible, given what we know about quantum mechanics. But physicists really need more — a mathematical proof to give the idea flesh.

Today they get their wish thanks to the work of Dongshan He and buddies at the Wuhan Institute of Physics and Mathematics in China. These guys have come up with the first rigorous proof that the Big Bang could indeed have occurred spontaneously because of quantum fluctuations.

The new proof is based on a special set of solutions to a mathematical entity known as the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. In the first half of the 20th century, cosmologists struggled to combine the two pillars of modern physics— quantum mechanics and general relativity—in a way that reasonably described the universe. As far as they could tell, these theories were entirely at odds with each other.

The breakthrough came in the 1960s when the physicists John Wheeler and Bryce DeWitt combined these previously incompatible ideas in a mathematical framework now known as the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. The new work of Dongshan and co explores some new solutions to this equation.

At the heart of their thinking is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. This allows a small empty space to come into existence probabilistically due to fluctuations in what physicists call the metastable false vacuum.

When this happens, there are two possibilities. If this bubble of space does not expand rapidly, it disappears again almost instantly. But if the bubble can expand to a large enough size, then a universe is created in a way that is irreversible.

Arxiv paper:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maybe I'm Not Human

I'm going to get a little personal here for a moment.

I think I'm missing out on one of life's most amazing gifts: being in love. I'm in my early thirties and I have never once been in love before. By "being in love" I mean being in a loving relationship with someone who is also in love with you. I do not mean to say loving someone who does not love you back. I'm talking about the full package, the two-way street of mutual love. I have never had a relationship where I've been in love with the person I've dated where she loved me back. I thought I came close to it once, but in retrospect, I don't think I could call it true love. It may have been obsession masquerading around and fooling my brain into thinking it was love.

Some of you have been in love. Some of you maybe are in love. Some of you fell in love, got married and are still in love with your spouse. But love for me so far has never happened. I'm very picky about women. I need a girl with a certain look. I tend to fall in love with my eyes pretty easy, but that isn't really love, that's lust. True love means you have to be able to look past the surface to the inner core of a being. You have to accept them for all their flaws, you have to still be able to love them at their worst moment. That for me is the hardest thing to do. I have a really hard time loving the whole person and seeing past their flaws. The most beautiful woman are far from perfect.

I've been on many sides of the love dilemma. I've been in what I thought was love with women who didn't love me back. I've had women who were in love with me that I didn't love back. I've been in love with a woman's looks but hated their personality, and I've been in love with a woman's personality but wasn't attracted to their looks. It is not fun being in either of these situations and they all lead to emotional suffering for those involved.

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.


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