Sunday, August 16, 2015

Poetic Naturalism And The Argument From Our Understanding Of Physics

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll part-times as a debater and defender for the naturalistic worldview. In recent talks, he has emphasized a point that I think only a physicist could sincerely make that as far as I know hasn't really gotten much traction: The laws of physics that govern the way matter behaves at the level of our everyday experience are fully understood. And even though there are still things within the universe that we don't know about, like dark matter and dark energy, black holes, and the origin of the universe - when those mysteries are eventually revealed to us by science they will not fundamentally change the equations that describe the everyday world. So nothing like a soul or an afterlife that has any interaction with the human body or anything made of atoms can exist because any such metaphysical substance would either be too weak to interact with the atoms or they would have already been detected. Therefore, souls, ghosts, astrology, psychokinesis, the afterlife, and almost every concept of god, except perhaps deism is ruled out.

That equation by the way is:

Is this a good overall argument? Does Carroll have a good case to be made?

Those are the questions I want to raise.  I have a strong leaning towards yes, it is a good argument, but I want to examine some potential problems it might have or could have.  The most obvious problem the argument could have is what if Carroll's wrong? That's always a possibility. After all, his argument is not an argument that tries to prove anything logically true. It's an argument that is a posterori, not a priori. It all depends on whether the laws of physics at our everyday experience really are known in such a way that no further physics will ever change them of their ontological implications. What if that's just not the case?

Well, then there is an opening for a believer in the things the argument attempts to falsify. But even if there is an opening, it could still be the case that any future physics that does change the equation in any way won't do so in a way that will make it any more favorable to a theist or spiritualist. It might just be more of the same kind of physics that is more favorable to naturalism. But going back to the original point, the certitude regarding our knowledge of these laws described in the equation must be high, or, to use a technical term, pretty high. It's a matter of probability that only someone with a large body of knowledge in physics and with the history of science can properly assess, and so that of course disqualifies me. I can only refer to the experts to help inform my view of the matter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Quote Of The Day

From Louise Antony's NY Times Opinionator piece, Good Minus God:

Think now about our personal relations — how we love our parents, our children, our life partners, our friends. To say that the moral worth of these individuals depends on the existence of God is to say that these people are, in themselves, worth nothing — that the concern we feel for their well being has no more ethical significance than the concern some people feel for their boats or their cars. It is to say that the historical connections we value, the traits of character and personality that we love — all count for nothing in themselves. Other people warrant our concern only because they are valued by someone else — in this case, God. (Imagine telling a child: "You are not inherently lovable. I love you only because I love your father, and it is my duty to love anything he loves.")


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lessons From Fascist Germany And Communist Russia

Source: Deviant Art 
To me, one of the greatest lessons from fascist Germany and communist Russia is that any system that allocates absolute power to an individual is ultimately doomed for failure and large scale atrocities. There must be a system of checks and balances in place to prevent supreme rule. Any time an individual, small group, church, or government has absolute power, trouble will ensue. It is the system of totalitarianism and the inability for a free press and free speech that is problematic.

Monday, August 3, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 2 Greeks Bearing Gifts)

All throughout the preface and the first chapter Feser made numerous extremely bold claims that he promises to back up in the later chapters. By chapter two, entitled Greeks Bearing Gifts, we start seeing some of those justifications come to light. The chapter starts out on a crash course through ancient Greek philosophy leading up to Plato and then Aristotle. I won't summarize Feser's teaching unless I think it is significant for his objective, which is to show that "a certain kind of" religion and god are not only reasonable to believe in, but that it's logically impossible that naturalism is true.

Plato and Aristotle are considered to be two of the greatest philosophers of all time, and I would largely agree. That's not to say that I agree with all of their ideas, especially their metaphysical ones, it's just to recognize the fact that they were both deeply analytic thinkers and widely influential. For example, I regard the Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato's Euthyphro, as one of the greatest pieces of moral insight. But, I digress. For Feser, he focuses first on Plato's Theory of Forms, which is one of the things I think Plato got wrong.

Take the triangle. Any triangle physically drawn or created will in some way be imperfect, if only by a tiny amount. They will all lack features that perfectly exemplify a triangle - that is, they will have features not part of a triangle's essence or nature. Plato argues from this that the essence or nature of triangularity is not material or known through our senses, and when we exemplify triangles physically they go in and out of existence, but its essence stays the same. The essential features of triangularity are therefore according to Plato, universal, and not particular, immaterial, and not material, and known through the intellect and not through the senses.

Feser is making the case for Platonic realism, and makes arguments against nominalism, and conceptualism. Platonic realism is the view that universals (like triangles, squares, and other geometric patterns) and abstract objects (like numbers) exist independently of minds or physical space and time. Nominalism is the view that these objects do not exist, and conceptualism is the view that these objects exist, but only as concepts in our minds. Feser presents several arguments to try and show that realism is true and that nominalism and conceptualism are false. The reason why he's trying to do so starts becoming clear on page 36 where he writes:

A triangle is a triangle only because it participates in the Form of Trianglarity; a squirrel is a squirrel only because it participates in the Form of Squirrel; and so forth. By the same token, something is going to count as a better triangle the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates triangularity, and a squirrel would be a better squirrel the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates the Form of Squirrel.

This is all leading up to the natural law theory of ethics that many Catholics, like Feser, think forms the basis of our morality. Feser goes on:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Do Christians Realize That Jesus Never Pardoned Any Woman Accused Of Adultery?

I've blogged about this before, but I thought I'd add a quote from Bart Ehrman about how the story of Jesus letting the adulterer go free (which is one of the most famous stories in the New Testament), is a well known interpolation. From Misquoting Jesus:

The story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery is arguably the best-known story about Jesus in the Bible; it certainly has always been a favorite in Hollywood versions of his life. It even makes it into Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, although that movie focuses only on Jesus's last hours (the story is treated in one of the rare flashbacks). Despite its popularity, the account is found in only one passage of the New Testament, in John 7:53-8:12, and it appears not to have been original even there.


Despite the brilliance of the story, its captivating quality, and its inherent intrigue, there is one other enormous problem that it poses. As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John. In fact, it was not originally part of any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes.

How do we know this? In fact, scholars who work on the manuscript tradition have no doubts about this particular case. Later in this book we will be examining in greater depth the kinds of evidence that scholars adduce for making judgments of this sort. Here I can simply point out a few basic facts that have proved convincing to nearly all scholars of every persuasion: the story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John; 18 its writing style is very different from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. The conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel. (pp. 63-65)

The search feature on my blog sucks, and the previous post about this interpolation never comes up, so I'm hoping this post fixes that.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Boston, Seattle and San Francisco Have Relatively Few Christians

As reported by Pew.

Boston, Seattle and San Francisco Have Relatively Few Christians

Interesting. I can see why San Francisco's low, but I didn't really expect Boston to be so low because I associate it so strongly with Catholicism. But I guess its low rate of Christianity is because Catholicism is dropping so fast and it historically made up such a large percent of the population.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What Would I Do With 100 Million Dollars?

This should be an interesting post.

My coworkers play the lottery and dream of being millionaires, as we all have. I too entertain that fantasy but I never play the lottery. I know the odds of winning are so low that it's not worth playing. But suppose I won 100 million dollars. What would I do with it?

Here's what I'd do.

First, I'd quite my job. I like my job. I like my coworkers. It pays decent and it's relatively low stress, but it's only something I do for the money. If I had 100 million dollars, I'd have no need for it.

Second, I'd give some money to my family. I don't know exactly how much I'd give to each family member, but they'd get enough money to live comfortably for a while. I don't know about distant relatives though. I have some relatives I only see every ten years or so and I'm not sure if I'd give them any money. This would be an open question.

Third, I'd get a really nice apartment in Manhattan. I'm not sure where I'd live. Midtown is nice and full of luxurious apartments, but downtown in Greenwich Village has some beautiful brownstones and is closer to the party scene and the cultural attractions. Either way, I'd have a nice spacious bachelor pad.

Forth, after I settled on a nice apartment, since money wouldn't be an issue, I'd pursue my dream of becoming a philosopher. I'd study all the things I find fascinating: metaphysics, ethics, the philosophy of mind and science, logic, political philosophy. I'd study history, sociology, religion, and politics. I'd take writing classes. I'd study science and various different humanities. I'd study secularism, which is now a thing. Once I got a degree, I'd go back and get more degrees, over and over again. I'd be a perpetual student. As new interests develop, I'd go study them. I'd eventually amass several PhDs. I'd probably go to universities here in New York, like NYU or Columbia, but I'd consider travelling. And I'd write. I'd write books. I'd use my knowledge to lecture and talk and devote myself to activism. Most of what I'd do would be to support the secular community and the progressive politics I hold. I'd become an expert in all the relevant fields. It would be fucking awesome!


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