Sunday, February 21, 2016

Value Judgments On Human Life

I'm not trying to make an argument for abortion here, but as I see it, there is a very striking difference between someone who's lived and has been conscious and was able to contemplate life, have dreams, have thoughts of love and happiness, and someone who's never consciously experienced  any of those things, at all, ever. It is a qualitative difference and it seems to me a very natural distinction. There is something much more worse about killing the former and much less worse about killing the latter. I understand people disagree. But even if I were pro-choice, I think I'd still be able to tell that there was a significant difference between the two. There are not equally the same. And if forced to kill one or the other, one is clearly preferred over the other. I hope that is obvious.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Refuting William Lane Craig. Again.

I follow William Lane Craig on Twitter. Don't ask me why. I guess it's for laughs. Recently he linked a new podcast episode in which he critiques a conversation between Richard Dawkins and Ricki Gervais talking about science and god. The following is my critique of Craig's critique.

DR. CRAIG: The point was supposed to be that the world mediated to us by modern science is not bleak. But I don’t think that refutes the claim. When we talk about the bleakness of the world that is described solely by science, what one means is that this is a world which exists to no purpose, it will ultimately end in the heat death of the universe as the universe expands into a cold, lifeless, dark, and dilute condition from which it will never re-emerge. It puts a question mark behind the entire edifice of human civilization and accomplishment. All of the things that Gervais mentions as noble and good about humanity are all doomed to destruction in the heat death of the universe. That’s the bleakness of the worldview – of scientific naturalism. It has nothing to do with the fact that one can appreciate the beauty of a mountainside or art or music or something of that sort.

This is a point Craig brings up constantly. Why on earth should the heat death of the universe 10^100 years from now have any effect on me and my life now? Why should a pleasurable day I have with a loved one be at all diminished because a googol years from now the universe will reach maximum entropy? I've never understood this silly religious way of thinking. The edifice of human civilization and accomplishment is not effected one bit due to the heat death of the universe. It's completely and utterly irrelevant. And doing good and noble things only matters to sentient beings. There's no reason why it needs to last eternity to have value. This idea that what we do is meaningless if it doesn't last an eternity is assumed. It isn't a given truth. I see no logical reason why it must be the case. So this is really just Craig espousing his personal opinion of not liking the idea of an eventual universal heat death. It has no effect on me whatsoever and it shouldn't for you. A lot of this way of thinking has to do with Craig's early religious conversion sparked in part by his fear of death. I wasn't raised religious, and so to me, this way of thinking is totally alien. See my religion/heroin analogy and my religious dependence analogy.

DR. CRAIG: Dawkins himself has affirmed that we are just animated chunks of matter so on his own view (this demeaning view that we are just a bag of chemicals on bones) why is that troubling? Because it means that we are not rational free agents. We are just determined. There is no free will. There is no ability to reason rationally. We are just determined in everything that we do by our genetic makeup and the stimuli that we receive through our senses. That is, indeed, discouraging, I think. As Dawkins says in The God Delusion, there is no good, there is no evil, there is just pitiless indifference. We are machines for propagating DNA, and there isn’t anything more to our existence than that. I think that is a very depressing view of human existence.

Us being purely physical entities does not negate us being rational agents. We certainly can't be free in the libertarian sense, of course, but that's not dependent on physicalism at all. Libertarian free will is itself an incoherent concept, even if I grant you that we have non-physical souls for the sake of argument. And none of this, physicalism or not, negates our ability to reason rationally. Our ability to reason rationally is due to our complex evolved brains. Reasoning is dependent on the physical brain as all the evidence shows. And our brains and the thoughts it produces have to be caused by something. Without the brain having a causal relationship with its environment, it can't be rational. Our thoughts either have to have a cause or not. Those are our only two options we're stuck with. If they are caused they are determined. If they are uncaused they are spontaneous and it would only be a mere coincidence that they bore any resemblance to the external world. So far from negating rational thought, a determined universe is a rational one. I can't speak for Dawkins, but when he says the universe is pitiless, I think what he's saying is that from the universe's perspective, it's indifferent. The universe isn't a being; it doesn't care about us. The only thing that can care are living beings, like us. This means that goodness, evil, care, and neglect, are up to us. There is no need for the universe to be pitiful in order for goodness or evil to exist. This is yet another fallacy.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Language And Determinism

When it comes to determinism or materialism, if I'm hungry, should I say, "the atoms in my brain have rearranged themselves to produce the conscious sensation of hunger"? No. I simply say "I'm hungry." And when I want to do something like go on a bike ride, should I say, "the atoms in my brain have rearranged themselves to produce the conscious sensation of wanting to go on a bike ride"? No. I simply say "I want to go on a bike ride." Understanding and seeing the world from a deterministic, scientific perspective doesn't mean being so pedantically precise. We can still use the language of the self as a matter of practicality in everyday conversations.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"The Only Two Good Arguments for Atheism"

Over on the Catholic website the National Catholic Register a columnist wrote a piece on "The Only Two Good Arguments for Atheism" where in it, he criticizes atheism, by arguing that the New Atheists have no good arguments. Bare in mind now that New Atheism doesn't equal atheism. So whatever flaws the New Atheists have made in their reasoning or arguments doesn't necessarily say anything about atheism simpliciter. I've even said over and over that the New Atheists have not made the sharpest arguments for atheism.

But this piece is just terrible. As someone who's studied atheism, religion, philosophy, science, and the arguments in the god debate, it's so easy for me to spot ridiculous criticisms of atheism. Some people can fall for this stuff. I can't see why. I guess they're preaching to the choir mostly. I decided to leave a comment — just some quick thoughts on how wrong the piece is. I've included them below.

All the New Atheist need do is hope that his reader won't inquire too deeply into just how he arrives at certitude about what "good" or "evil" is without smuggling in all sorts of transcendent categories from a supernatural worldview.

Quite the opposite. All the New Atheist needs to do is inquire deeply into just how the theist arrives at certitude about what "good" or "evil" is without smuggling in all sorts of consequential and deontological categories. Most theists cannot even define what they mean by "goodness." They will see that if they use anything having to do with secular morality to define this (consequentialism, deontology, virtue ethics) they will be saying goodness is a secular concept. And making a circular argument that God is goodness and goodness is God obviously is a non-starter.

The problem is this: Trying to derive a moral universe -- any moral universe at all -- of Should from a purely materialistic universe of Is turns out to be impossible. The perfectly just outrage of a Hitchens at some crime by a theist turns out -- if you grant the New Atheists' materialism -- to be just one more biochemical reaction. And privileging a biochemical reaction merely because it is a lot more complex than, say, combustion is as crude a mystification as bowing down to a rock because it's really really big.

That "crime" by a theist that Hitchens was often pointing out was a mandated religious prescription, like circumcision, the subjugation of women, or the discrimination and/or killing of homosexuals, apostates, or atheists. So what do we do when just outrage conflicts with religious law and custom? Or is Hitchens's outrage in these situations not just? What determines what is just and what isn't? Citing a religious holy book like the Bible is going to open up problems for the theist.

Put briefly, you propose a huge metaphysical hypothesis that Absolutely Everything popped into existence 13 billion years ago with the help of Nobody, but loaves and fishes cannot pop into existence 2,000 years ago with the help of Jesus of Nazareth, despite the eyewitnesses who inexplicably chose to die in torments proclaiming He did. The trick to establishing this hypothesis as dogma -- when the odds currently stand at 10^137 to 1 against the fine tuning of the universe -- is to take a particular methodology that, by its nature, only looks at time, space, matter, and energy and have thousands of people repeat "Only what our methodology can measure is real!" for two centuries over millions of loudspeakers. Voila!

Thinking the world popped into existence out of nothing is not required for the atheist. In fact, science tells us the universe is eternal in what we call a block universe from special relativity. It didn't "pop" into existence because it always existed. And scientism is not required either. Logic can tell us that there is no time before spacetime, so the universe didn't "come from" nothing—as if nothing is a place where things can come from. Simply put, there is a first moment to the universe and nothing before it just like there is nothing north of the north pole. Or, the universe (or multiverse) can have an infinite past. No handwaving is required for a multiverse. It is implied by scientific hypothesis and theories - that's where the evidence is.

There are certainly more than two good arguments for atheism. There are plenty. Consider this bibliography on arguments for atheism from Secular Outpost. And consider some of the arguments I made in my post Why I'm an Atheist.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 4) Economics 101


I MET UP WITH STEVE A HALF HOUR LATER. He was a first generation Korean immigrant who came to the US when he was three. As is typical of many Koreans, he excelled in school, especially math, and had decided to go into a career in finance. We met in my first year in college in economics class. He was studying business and I was studying tech. We soon started partying together. I still remember the day when I first introduced him to cocaine at a house party. He liked it so much that doing coke soon became our thing, and for the rest of college, me, Steve, and our other friend Mario, got together virtually every weekend to drink beer, snort coke, and then go bar hopping in the city. Eventually it started getting out of hand. Doing coke had initially started out as a side thing, a little extra something something to make our nights a little more interesting. We’d pregame it at someone's house, usually Mario's. We'd drink, do a little coke, and then head out to a bar or club for the real fun. But before long, coke had become the main dish. It started replacing everything else in importance. We eventually got to the point where we were spending all our money on coke, and we didn’t even want to go out to the bars anymore. We began thinking like total cokeheads, with each of us reinforcing the worst ideas of drug addiction in the others. Why go out to a bar and spend ten dollars on a drink if we could just spend that money on more coke? It seemed logical. And so we did. Mario especially got out of hand, so much so that I eventually had to stop hanging out with him altogether. At some point, when my tolerance got so high to where I had to spend at least fifty dollars on coke just to sustain a decent buzz, a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that the coke was using me and I wasn’t using the coke anymore. It was working against me and not for me. So I gradually stopped doing it until I didn't need it anymore, which is the way George Carlin quit. Neither Steve nor Mario were able to have this epiphany, and they both spiraled further down the hole. Eventually I managed to get Steve off of it for the most part, but Mario was a goner.
     Being in finance, Steve could never kick the habit entirely, as it generally goes with the lifestyle. But for the most part he kept it under control. He was a diehard capitalist, a true free market proponent. Over the years we had many heated discussions on economics. And so when I met up with him that day I wanted to talk to him about my situation and whether he thought there was anything wrong with our current state of affairs. We went to one of those Irish pubs you see all over Manhattan. I liked those places. I could go in an anonymously drink among strangers and feel like I could fit right in. Steve knew the bartender it seemed from the way he greeted him, although it was hard to tell since he always acted like he was everybody’s best friend. He kindly ordered me a beer and we sat down in one of the booths in the back, away from the rowdy patrons at the bar.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Does Special Relativity Entail Eternalism? Part 2

Continuing the arguments for why Einstein's theory of Special Relativity entails eternalism, I have a four dimensional representation of the train scenario mentioned in my last post to help illustrate this.

Below is a block representation of the train scenario. The lines are not all perfectly straight or angled correctly so don't fault me for that. This is just a crude representation. Blue is the person on the train, and green is the person on the platform. Locations A and B are the two lightening strikes, or generic flashes of light for simplicity. A is at the front of the train, B is at the back. The thick blue line is the length of the train and the green and blue dots are the two people. They travel along their worldlines according to the arrowed lines.

For blue, since A happens first, the light from it hits her at her event C (which is a different event than blue's event C and might even happen before event B, depending on her speed). Since B happens later, the light from it hits her at event D. This can only be the case if it really is true that events A and B are relative to the reference frame and there is no objective frame, since in blue's reference frame, she is still, and the person on the platform is moving.

The events A and B are equidistant from both observers, and so light travelling from them that's simultaneous must hit them at the same time. For green, this is the case. The lights hit him at the same time and since he knows he's equidistant from the two sources, he knows they must be simultaneous. A and B are on green's "now" slice no matter what perspective we're looking at. Whereas for blue, A happens before B. This must be the case because blue is also equidistant from events A and B, and so if they were objectively simultaneous, they must hit him at the same time.

Neither perspective can be said to be objective, so if you were to try and pick one it would be completely arbitrary. So, this means that no one can objectively say whether A and B happened at the same time or not. Since their now slices each cut the block at a different angle, the past, present and future must exist. Right as they pass by each other, green considers event B to be happening, whereas for blue, B is a future event that hasn't yet happened. That means that blue's future must already exist. Similarly, for green, A is an event that's happening, but for blue it's a past event that already happened. That means that blue's past must still exist. And if we chose two simultaneous events for blue, the same logic would apply to green. This is impossible on presentism and possibilism, as it would lead to a paradox, and only possible and coherent with eternalism by everyone's past, present, and future existing.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Does Special Relativity Entail Eternalism?

One of the most fascinating concepts in all of science and philosophy is the idea of eternalism. Eternalism is "a philosophical approach to the ontological nature of time, which takes the view that all points in time are equally "real", as opposed to the presentist idea that only the present is real." This view on time can be traced back to Herman Minkowski who took Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity (STR) to its logical conclusion. STR entailed that there cannot be a universal present—a "now" which all observers can agree upon that's simultaneous. Instead, two events that are simultaneous to you, might not be for me depending on our motion relative to one another. It utterly destroyed Newton's notion absolute simultaneity.

For over a hundred years this has been debated by scientists, philosophers, and theologians alike. One common view against eternalism is the idea that the relativity of simultaneity isn't ontologically real, but is actually just an illusion resulting from the amount of time it takes it light to reach an observer. So is this the case? Is the relativity of simultaneity just a subjective illusion?

Well no, it isn't. Here is a scenario that can show that the relativity of simultaneity must be ontic and not just an illusion resulting from the time it takes light to reach you from different events. That scenrio is show in this video here:

The person on the train is equidistant from the front and back of the train. If the two flashes were objectively simultaneous, for her the light would reach her at the same time. The light in the back wouldn't take longer because the train is moving — the train's movement is relative. That's why it's called relativity. All movement is relative to other things. In the woman on the train's reference frame, she is still and the man on the platform is moving. So it would be incorrect to think that the person on the ground's view is somehow the "correct" one.

Consider this. If you were on a spaceship travelling at 1 million miles an hour and you measure light in any direction, you would always measure it at the same speed. If the ship was 100 feet long and you were sitting at the 50 foot mark, two lights flashing simultaneous in the front and back of ship would hit you at the same time, regardless of the ship's movement or speed relative to other things. The light from the front wouldn't hit you first and light from the back wouldn't hit you latter due to the ship's motion. So the person on the train must conclude that the two lights happened at a different time ontologically in her reference frame, disagreeing with the person on the platform. This is a true ontic relativity of simultaneity. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

I Took A Short (Unintended) Break From Blogging

I took a short break from blogging recently. This wasn't exactly a planned event. It kind of just happened. It's mainly due to two reasons. The most important one is that I've been immersed in debates on various different platforms. One of them is via email. I'm currently debating someone on theories of time and whether Special Relativity entails eternalism. It's a fascinating debate to have, especially if you're into the science and the philosophical implications of it. I'm an ardent eternalist. I want to spread the word on the truth of eternalism in much the same way many people want to spread the word on the truth that evolution is true, or that libertarian free will is false. And as such, I love defending it. The debate did produce some nice emails that I think I can reblog in the future. The other reason is that I've been hanging out a lot more and when I'm out I can't blog. It's that simple. And I've also been following the election very closely of late. I LOVE presidential politics and every election year is an exciting time for me because the issues are rigorously debated. Plus there's antics. I love antics.

So, I plan on blogging again. This time, about science and why it entails eternalism. I took a break from reading and reviewing Feser's book The Last Superstition. I got busy with lots of stuff and time hasn't been on my side. I always need more of it. Reading his book also gets so irritating. Feser's cocky prose on the "truth" of his version of theism via A-T metaphysics gets tiresome because he's so wrong on so much. But, I do enjoy reading his criticism of secularism and liberalism because it does make you reflect, even though much of it is such utter bullshit. We all must seek out the best criticism of our views in order to be well educated people. I'm told that his best argument is near the end, and that's his argument regarding the aboutness of conscious experience. So I will eventually continue.

For now I'm going to prepare some posts about eternalism, and maybe squeeze in some politics as well. Most will be short rants. Damn if only I didn't have a job or a social life, I'd have so much more time to blog about what I'm obsessed with.


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