Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sean Carroll's 10 Suggestions

Since naturalists aren't particularly fond of commandments, Sean Carroll offers 10 suggestions in his recent book, The Big Picture, "that might be useful to keep in mind as we shape and experience our own ways of valuing and caring about our lives."

  1. Life Isn't Forever
  2. Desire Is Built into Life
  3. What Matters Is What Matters to People
  4. We Can Always Do Better
  5. It Pays to Listen
  6. There Is No Natural Way to Be
  7. It Takes All Kinds
  8. The Universe Is in Our Hands
  9. We Can Do Better Than Happiness
  10. Reality Guides Us

No list of suggestions (or commandments) like this can go without explanation, but if you want to read his explanations for his suggestions, I highly recommend you read his book if you haven't already:


On Libertarianism

Something that I don't often write about is political libertarianism. I have a problem with it. I have a problem with the view that the free market approach works everywhere. But in order to talk about this stuff, one needs to bring in the fields of political philosophy and economics that I am much less acquainted with than with the relevant fields needed to have the religion debate.

In political philosophy, one of the major questions is "what is the purpose of government?" It's an interesting question few of us ask ourselves. We tend to grow up in cultures where government exists and its role is taken for granted. The US was founded by rebels who broke away from a theocratic king and set up a secular democracy. The preamble of the US Constitution reads that its purpose was "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". It was the first secular democracy in the world and quite revolutionary.

The purpose of the newly independent US government seemed quite clear. Or was it? What does it mean to "promote the general Welfare?" Libertarians generally believe that the purpose of government is to protect the rights of the citizens and perform a few basic functions like military, police, and the law: The military to protect the country from all enemies foreign and domestic, the police to provide security internally, and the law to provide judges and courts for legal matters. Other than that, most, if not all other areas of society will be handled by the private sector.

Libertarians disagree over exactly how far government should extend beyond the police, military, and the law. They also disagree on taxes. Some support a flat tax, others support no taxation at all and consider any form of taxation the moral equivalent of stealing. People would instead voluntarily donate money to the government in such a system. Voluntaryism, the philosophy that forms of human association should be voluntary is big among the "taxation is theft" wing of libertarians.

I've challenged many libertarians I know on whether an all voluntary taxation system would actually be able to pay for the government they think should exist and the answers I get don't sound too confident. I've asked them what should be done if voluntary tax donations weren't enough to cover the costs of the government functions, like for example, the police to secure the safety of the community, and I haven't gotten a good answer yet. Voluntaryism would also allow free riders to game the system. If your neighbors are voluntarily paying for the police and you're not, you're still going to get the same police protection they paid for. Also, who would build and maintain the roads, bridges, and tunnels? Would the private sector really be able to handle this with the level of coverage government could?

Libertarians are very anti-utilitarian. They are not focused on the end result, but rather the principle being held. So if an all voluntary taxation system failed to pay for the needs of the small libertarian government and it resulted in massive societal problems, like rising crime and civil unrest because of the lack of paid police officers, then so be it. All that matters is that government didn't tax, or "steal" anyone's earnings.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Does General Relativity Entail Eternalism?

Recently, a scientist by the name of Gustavo E. Romero wrote a paper where he gives an argument from General Relativity in favor of eternalism. The paper, called On the ontology of spacetime, offers a simple argument for eternalism based on the existence of gravitational waves:

P1. There are gravitational waves.
P2. Gravitational waves have non-zero Weyl curvature.
P3. Non-zero Weyl curvature is only possible in 4 or more dimensions.
P4. Presentism is incompatible with a 4 dimensional world.
Then, presentism is false.

A little less than a year ago gravitational waves were empirically verified by two teams of scientists in two independent tests in the US. So premise 1 is true. (At the time Romero wrote his paper, gravitational waves had not yet been confirmed; now they have.) The rest of the argument is a bit technical, but Romero writes:

Premises P2 and P3 are necessarily true. Gravitational waves propagate in empty space, where the Einstein’s field equations are reduced to: 
Rab = 0. 
This expression means that the 10 coefficients of the Ricci tensor are identically null. But the full Riemann tensor3 has 20 independent coefficients since is a rank 4 tensor. The remaining 10 components are expressed by the Weyl tensor. Then, since the gravitational waves are disturbances in the curvature, the Weyl tensor must be non-zero in their presence. If the dimensionality of the world were 3, as proposed by the presentists, the Riemann tensor would have only 6 independent components, and since in 3 dimensions the Einstein’s equations in vacuum are reduced to 6, the Weyl tensor must vanish. Only in 4 or more dimensions gravity can propagate through empty spacetime (see Hobson et al. 2006, p.184, and Romero and Vila 2014, p. 19). 

It's an interesting argument using General Relativity, instead of Special Relativity—which is most often used, to make an argument for eternalism. Some have argued that General Relativity argues against eternalism, and this would seem to challenge that view. It further adds to the case that physics supports eternalism and negates presentism, and I think we should take the findings from science to inform our worldviews seriously.

Happy Labor Day weekend!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sam Harris On Racism And Police Brutality Asks A Tough Question

I just listened to Sam Harris's recent podcast with Brown University professor Glenn C. Loury on racism and police brutality. You can listen to that below if you haven't already. One interesting question Harris asks Loury is that given how African-Americans are about 13% of the total US population, yet in 2013 accounted for 52% of all Murders and nonnegligent manslaughter arrests, 56% of robbery arrests, 31% of rape arrests, and 33.9 % of aggravated assault arrests, and were less than 25% of those killed by the police according to The Guardian as of today in 2016 (and 26% for all of 2015), what should the number and percentage of African-Americans killed by the police be?

Now Harris didn't use these same exact statistics but they are in line with his point that African-Americans are over-represented in criminal arrests. It seems to me that African-Americans are under-represented in the percentage of them being killed by police when you factor in their arrest rates. In other words, we should expect at least 40 or 50% of those killed by the police to be African-American, not 25%. Is this true? What other relevant factors am I leaving out? It's an interesting question that I'm sure many on the left will find challenging. Professor Loury in the podcast said he didn't know the answer to that question, but it's worth an answer.

P.S. I still think Chris Rock got it right more than a decade ago when he made his video How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police. It's worth another watch in light of this increased focus on police brutality and killings.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Does Special Relativity Entail Eternalism? Part 3 - The Logical Argument

Can we make a deductive logical argument showing how eternalism is entailed from Special Relativity? Well, let's see if we can. It involves three parts. First there is the background knowledge, and that is Special Relativity itself, specifically its two postulates. Second, there is the train scenario that is used for the argument. And finally, there is the argument itself.

Background knowledge:

Given Special Relativity's two postulates:
  • (SR1) the laws of physics are invariant (i.e. identical) in all inertial systems (non-accelerating frames of reference).
  • (SR2) the speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of the motion of the light source.
…I will argue that the train scenario that was thought up by Einstein, logically entails eternalism. Here’s how:

The scenario:

In the train scenario, the man (M) and the woman (W) are both an equal distance from the two lights sources at the front and back of the train (events A and B, respectively). M is on the platform, and W is on the train. M receives the two light signals from events A and B at the same time, while W receives the light from event A first and event B second.

The argument:
P1. The only way to measure the simultaneity of two distant events is by measuring a signal coming from the events and calculating the time it takes to receive the signals and the distance from them to the measuring device.

P2. Since the speed of light doesn’t change from a change in motion (SR2) this entails that if two light signals are received at the same time from two equidistant objects that each sent at particular events (events A and B), then the time when those two objects sent those signals are simultaneous. Events A and B would have to have physically existed at the same time according to the frame of the measuring device.

P3. Likewise, if the two signals arrived at different times it must indicate that events A and B were not simultaneous and could not have physically existed at the same time according to the frame of the measuring device; otherwise we’d have to deny the two postulates above and hence deny the two fundamental principles of SR.

P4. Given SR1 above, M is at rest and is still relative to W, but it is also the case that W is at rest and is still relative to M. Neither can objectively say they are still or in motion.

P5. And given SR2, the speed of light is not affected by the movement of the light sources relative to M or W. Its speed and light cone will be the same from the perspective of M and W.
C1. Therefore, since M and W are both an equidistant space from events A and B, if M receives the two light signals at the same time, A and B must physically exist at the same time according to the frame of M (from P2 above). If W receives the two light signals at different times, A and B must not physically exist at the same time according to the frame of W (from P3 above).

C2. Since the perspectives of M and W are all legitimate given SR1, SR2, and P4 above, their ontologies must both physically exist.
C3. This logically entails eternalism. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Biblical Slavery For Foreigners Part III: The Micro Argument

I just wrote a lengthy follow up to my original post on biblical slavery for foreigners where I critiqued a popular Christian rebuttal but I realized that I needed a micro version of the argument that the Bible allows for conditions that meet the definition of slavery. I also want to list some of the most common responses I hear from Christians defending the view that the Bible doesn't condone slavery. So below is a micro argument that argues that the Bible does indeed condone slavery and it can be copied and pasted by anyone who wants to use it in an online debate. The agenda is as follows: (1) start with defining slavery, (2) show how the Bible allows for conditions that meet the definition of slavery, and (3) rebut a few common points and preempt as many common responses one often hears.

The Argument

The goal of this argument is to make the case that the Bible condoned conditions that amount to what we'd properly call slavery. Slavery can be generally defined as follows:

1. The condition in which one person is owned as property by another and is under the owner's control, especially in involuntary servitude.
2. (Law) the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune
3. The subjection of a person to another person, esp in being forced into work

So at least two conditions have to be met in order to properly be called slavery: (1) The person has to be forced into the position against their will, and (2) the person has to be made to perform some kind of labor, and paid nothing or next to nothing, for a certain amount of time, up to life. This would not generally include people punished for crimes in a just court of law. If anything meets these two conditions, it can be properly called slavery. I will argue that the Bible allowed for situations that meet these conditions.

In the Old Testament foreign slaves could be acquired by war, purchase, or birth. Deut. 20:12-14 says that the Israelites could force the inhabitants of the region they call their "Promised Land" as well as "all the cities that are at a distance from [them] and do not belong to the nations nearby" into forced servitude if they surrender their land and belongings. If they don't surrender, their towns will be besieged and their men will be killed and the women and children can be taken as booty. In Judges 1:28-34 it even says the Israelites forced the Canaanites, the Naphtalites, and the Amorites into servitude, all while the "LORD was with them." 1 Kings 9:21 tells of how King Solomon conscripted foreign tribes who the Israelites couldn't exterminate "to serve as slave labor" building temples, palaces, and the walls of towns. And to distinguish the rules between Hebrews and non-Hebrews, Leviticus 25:44-46 specifies that foreign slaves are not to be freed after the 7th year as a Hebrew servants do, they serve for life and can be inherited as property. This meets both of the conditions for slavery above in that under Old Testament law (1) persons could be forced into the position of subordination or property to another person against their will, or be born into that position, and (2) made to perform unpaid labor.

It is important to note that this argument is not trying to say that all conditions of servitude in the Bible meet the conditions of slavery. Much of it was what can properly be called indentured servitude. This argument is an in principle argument that resolves the question of whether any conditions allowed for under Old Testament Mosaic law meets the conditions for slavery. That is a very important point one has to be aware of when responding to this argument.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Quote Of The Day: William Lane Craig On The Use Of Reason

Today's quote comes from none other than Christian apologist extraordinaire William Lane Craig. In his apologetic handbook Reasonable Faith he writes about the "legitimate" use of reason:

The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence. The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel. In light of the Spirit's witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology. Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith; as Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding. A person who knows that Christianity is true on the basis of the witness of the Spirit may also have a sound apologetic which reinforces or confirms for him the Spirit's witness, but it does not serve as the basis of his belief. [1]

Let's briefly examine this. According to Craig, the only legitimate use of reason is in its ministerial sense of submitting to and serving the gospel. In other words, according to Craig, reason, argument, and evidence cannot exist outside of the gospel to judge the gospel on its veracity or to contradict it. Instead, reason, argument, and evidence only exist to serve the gospel's presupposed truth. The gospel basically determines what's reasonable. The basis of Christian belief according to Craig is not reason, argument, and evidence, it's the witness of the Spirit. That is, it's a warm fuzzy feeling one gets when they read the Bible, or "talk" or pray to Jesus and Yahweh. This is a horrible way to infer ontology, as I've written, and it goes to show you that all of Craig's evidentialist ramblings are really just a post hoc rationalization. 

[1] Craig, William Lane (2008-07-23). Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Kindle Location 686). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis mine)


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