Friday, January 31, 2014

Jon Stewart Grills Nancy Pelosi On Political Corruption

The other night on The Daily Show Jon Stewart had House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on and to my surprise, he grilled her pretty strong on the corruption systemic within Washington. Pelosi, being the typical politician gave circular answers and avoided the one thing Stewart kept pressing her on, and that is the undeniable fact that both parties in Washington have become tools for corporate America. Her reactions to Stewart's accusations are symbolic of what I hate so much about politics: She repeats her talking points over and over again to avoid answering the questions and pretends not to understand when she clearly does.

If we are going to do anything to resolve the problem of there being too much big moneyed interests in Washington, it won't be with politicians like Pelosi, it will be with reformers like Elizabeth Warren who hopefully will not be corrupted by the same things that corrupt all politicians. There must be an intensified effort on behalf of the American people to pressure our politicians to seek and enable real reform to end this system of corruption so that the American government will once again work on behalf of its citizens, and not its corporations.

I'd Be Scared To Be A Republican

The republicans are losing the American public on almost every front. They're clinging desperately to outdated morality from bygone eras in the wide-eyed hopes that they will one day become the cultural and political paradigms again. But here's a news flash: we are never going back to those "puritan" times that republicans fantasize about. Ever. The momentum of the culture is rapidly swinging against their favor and it's hopelessly naive to not recognize this. Younger Americans are even changing their mind on socialism, with almost half of 18-29 year olds viewing it favorably, according to a new Pew survey. So if you're a staunchly conservative republican who supports "traditional marriage," unfettered capitalism, and you're against contraception, abortion and secularism, your demographic is shriveling up like an old man with shrinkage.

If I were a conservative or a republican, I'd be really scared of these trends. The big money spent to brainwash the masses via the likes of Fox News and World Net Daily will only go so far. It seems that the only way the republican agenda will be able to survive this massive cultural paradigm shift away from their values will be through the support of a handful of wealthy donors like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson. But as the republican base of older, rural, white Americans begins to die off, all that big money spending will increasingly become less and less effective. And republicans know this. So what we've seen in response are increasingly unfair tactics employed by the republicans to try and win elections. Jerrymandering is a prime example, but eventually none of it will be enough. When generation Y and X are in power, liberal values will be the norm, and those who are in support of conservative values will be all but shut out. They will be left to certain rural districts of the country and could disappear from the radar altogether as this century marches onward. What we'd see would be the death of the far right, replaced by a moderate conservative wing, resembling something like today's libertarian party e.g. liberal social values coupled with conservative economic policies.

As a liberal, I of course see this all as something immensely positive, especially after surviving the hellish ordeal of the Bush years. But I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a republican today - that is to say, a republican who isn't insulated in the bubble and who thinks that the party is doing just fine and that any day now we'll just start repealing all the liberal advances society has made thus far. To be a republican who lives in reality must be a scary thing.

That said, the future looks good for liberalism, at least in the West, but we've still got plenty of struggle ahead.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Is Most Reliable Way To Truth?

I've made an outline of what I think are the most reliable ways to know something is true in descending order.

Consider what your reaction would be to a presuppositionalist who asked you if you could be wrong about everything you know. I've already written what I would say to this question in a post a while back that it's impossible for me to be wrong about everything I know. Some things I know for sure logically. But, the question now arises, what kind of knowledge am I most certain about? So here's a few considerations.

1. Logical truths about abstract objects and math. It seems to me that logical, or a priori truths about abstract objects would rank highest on the list of things I am most certain about. I know, for instance, that the three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. And even if the external world around me were somehow all an illusion, this would still have to be logically true.

2. Empirical truths about the external world. Scientific empiricism is the most reliable way to discover truth about the external, physical world and as such, when it comes to ontology, this is the preferred epistemology. The successful track record of science and empiricism is further evidence of this.

3. Observational truth about the external world. They say seeing is believing but that is not always so. We use non-scientific observation all the time in our daily lives as the means by which we know things to be true and it is often reliable. However, we do not always see things as they are and sometimes our minds can trick us. Memories can also be influenced and confabulated especially when we're under duress.

4. Logical truths about the external world. We sometimes infer what exists in the external world using the processes of deduction, induction and abduction. Although they are often reliable, pure logical reasoning alone is not always the best epistemology when inferring truths about physical reality. No logician for example, would ever be able to come up with the rules of quantum mechanics sitting in his armchair. Empirical evidence is needed to know many of the truths of the external world.

5. Intuition and faith based truths. Human intuition and faith based epistemologies are the most unreliable because they neither seek logic, reason or empirical evidence to discover anything about the external world. These epistemologies are what religions often rely on: using emotional to guide one towards truth. Arguably, something taken on faith that hasn't been logically or empirically verified cannot be said to be truth, and the failed track record of faith as an epistemology is proof positive of this.

Some might say that logical truths about abstract objects first involve input from empirical truths about the external world. I'm sympathetic to this argument. We learn about math as kids by using physical objects as representations of numbers before we learn that the numbers can operate abstractly. But I'm working here under the scenario in which the validity of our senses comes under question. In that case, it would seem to me that logical truths about abstract objects would offer the most reliable certainty since the negation of their truths would be impossible. But this doesn't allow the introduction of the concept of god as being a logical truth any more than it does ghosts, demons or leprechauns. The ontological argument to prove god's existence using pure logic fails on many levels, and we have good reasons to think the classical concept of god is illogical.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Few Questions About Heaven

No one, it seems, has ever been able to come up with a plausible description of what a heaven must be like, and ever since I was a kid I've had tons of questions about it. In conversations, sometimes I will hear people invoke the idea of heaven, but I don't think many of them have really thought about what it is they are talking about.

If a god exists and there is a heaven, you don't necessarily get to decide what heaven is going to be like. The popular notion of heaven is a place where you get to do all the things you want with no consequence. So those who are, say, addicted to sex, think that in heaven they'll be able to get to have sex as much as they want with no worry of STDs or pregnancy. And those who are addicted to eating think that in heaven they'll be able to eat anything they want and never get fat. These are the kinds of wild fantasies you'd expect many people to have. But in the traditional Christian notion of heaven there is no sex. There wouldn't be any reason for it. Sex in Christianity only has one purpose: to reproduce. And since no one is born in heaven, there is no reason anyone should be having sex. The same is true with eating. The only purpose eating has is to keep one alive. But since in heaven no one dies, there is no need to eat. The traditional Christian notion of heaven is a place with out sin. So that means no sex, no gambling, no drinking, no eating, and certainly no money or materialism.

So I came up with a few questions for the traditional Christian theist who thinks they're going to be happy forever in heaven.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Short Debate On God's Perfection

When I was bored a few nights ago I came across a Christian blog called "Rocket Philosophy" and a post called "A Defense of Classical Theism #8: God's Attributes" where the author made a case for god's perfect attributes. I couldn't resist the challenge. So below is a partial transcript from a discussion we had. You tell me who made the more rational position.

Me: [I]f god is declared perfect, and without flaw, who is that according to? Who makes that judgement and what standard is this flawlessness being judged by? I see many flaws with the god of the bible and Jesus. If my judgments don't count, then whose does and by what authority do they claim this right?

Theist: This philosophy includes essentialism, which you can read in part 1, #3 in the list here. So "perfection" means "being more like what it's supposed to be. For example, a more elephant-like elephant: both ears, intact trunk, etc.

Me: Saying god is more like what he's suppose to be, and therefore is perfect is still too vague. What is he supposed to be? And by what standard do we known and measure this by?

Theist: God is complete, not lacking in anything, because he has no potentials. This is what is meant by perfect.

Me: If god has no potential then how does god become a creator? In order to be a creator, you must be create, until then you might be a potential creator, but you are not yet a creator. How can god be complete if without the universe, god is not yet a creator, and he gains the attribute of creator only after he creates? Seems that god is gaining, which is impossible for a complete being.

Theist: God does not need to become a creator; he already is. Finished.

I posted another comment after this but the author didn't publish it. I think it's a little dishonest to assert god is a creator before he created anything. This theist apparently likes to make illogical assertions and does not like debating it. I find that this is the tactic that many theists have when they're backed into a corner. They just assert their dogma and abandoned the discussion.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Christian Responses To The Problem Of Suffering

To me, one of the strongest pieces of evidence against theism is the fact that the evolution of life on earth involved millions of years of conscious suffering and numerous mass extinctions for no logically necessary reason, and looks like a haphazard, undirected process driven by chance, and not design. For the educated theist who rejects a literal interpretation of Genesis, reconciling the suffering required by the evolutionary process with the perfect god of Christianity is quite a challenge. Stepping up to the plate to try and make sense of this dilemma, the BioLogos foundation, which serves to encourage Christians to embrace evolution, has offered several answers which I will critique below.

The following is taken from a 4 part series of posts on the BioLogos site called Death and Pain in the Created Order by Keith Miller. In the series, Miller produces 5 common theodicies that Christians have came up with over the years to try and reconcile their faith in a divinely created universe with the millions of years of suffering required by evolution, and then he offers us his personal theodicy.

1. Creation Corrupted by an Angelic Fall

I've actually debated this theodicy once with a theist (see here). What this explanation of suffering tries to do is say that somehow an angel fell "before" god created the universe (which means before god "created" time) and rebelled against god and so god decided then to create a world with millions of years of suffering. It's utterly preposterous and even Miller admits this is an inadequate explanation. It can also lead to ludicrous conclusions. Within this theodicy some believe that the devil and his minions made the evolutionary process give rise to things like disease and predation which lead to much of the suffering. But mind you, it is this very process of death and suffering that lead to human evolution. If it didn't happen, we wouldn't have evolved. To take this position is to say that the devil caused our evolution and that we wouldn't have evolved without the devil's interference! It also flies in the face of standard Christian orthodoxy that god and god alone single handedly resided over creation. Thus this position is untenable to the Christian theist.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Coming To Grips With Determinism

Relatively recently, I accepted determinism as the way the universe works. It took me several years and I fought tooth and nail to hold onto some notion of free will, but in the end I've had to accept that we are all determined beings and that free will is an illusion. If one accepts a purely materialist universe, which is essentially what atheism is, then one pretty much has to accept the notion that there is no free will. This is an implication of atheism that even many atheists do not even consider.

But consider this:

(1) If the universe is fundamentally material and all material obeys the laws of physics, and
(2) If human beings are fundamentally material, then
(3) Human beings obey the laws of physics, and
(4) Therefore there is no free will

There is no way to squeeze free will into this picture if one accepts materialism. But how then can we reconcile this with our experiences and how can we call ourselves "freethinkers" if we really are just determined organic machines? I've recently been thinking about this after getting into an online debate with a dualist over the data we have from neuroscience and its interpretations.

The data from neuroscience is completely compatible with the idea of determinism. In fact, it is from the data of neuroscience that one can reasonably conclude that we are determined by the laws of physics. Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London says, "As a neuroscientist, you've got to be a determinist. There are physical laws, which the electrical and chemical events in the brain obey. Under identical circumstances, you couldn't have done otherwise; there's no 'I' which can say 'I want to do otherwise'. It's richness of the action that you do make, acting smart rather than acting dumb, which is free will."

The fields of neuroscience and physics are filled with materialists. Given the data we have about how our consciousness is the last thing to show up on a list of brain functionality, I find it hard to see how anyone can still be a dualist, especially since both Cartesian dualism and interactionist dualism do not correspond with the data and have failed to yield any predictive power.


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