Monday, September 14, 2015

Grounding Morality in Reason

Religious apologists often overlook secular reasons to be decent to our fellow man in order to make their arguments that morality can only be grounded in God. For them, I present these ten secular incentives to ground one's morality in reason.

Points one and two can be seen as a catch all and that all following points can be seen as subsets of one and two. The truth is, by making one and two so broad was the only way to cover all the ways people can come to what we consider good behavior. The rest are just some specifics that are probably obvious to all but the most religious of apologists.

1. To avoid negative consequences.

Try to kill, rape, or steal from someone and that someone will be pissed. If the person is able to hurt you, he or she is much more likely to hurt you as a punishment of your previous action. The motivation for the retaliation could be revenge or just to put you on notice that if you try that shit again then you’ll be hurt again. If that person is unable to hurt you directly, he or she may have allies who will. Even if the person has no allies, anyone else who witnesses your transgression may make an example out of you in order to discourage such transgressions in there future against them. This is part of the foundational reasoning for enforced laws in societies.

2. To claim positive rewards.

There are a variety of incentives to act positively toward others. Some speak to other items on this list. Safety, camaraderie, freedom, and charity are just some things we can enjoy in a mutually altruistic culture. Hell, even after you do wrong, good behavior may lessen your sentence.

3. To conform.

Conformity is sometimes colored as a negative, but not here. If most people are violent, you need to conform to violence to defend yourself. However, if most people are generally peaceful except toward violent defectors, you’d do well fit in with the generally peaceful majority.

4. To collaborate.

The division of labor allows for some people to specialize in certain tasks and other people to specialize in others. The result is that each task is performed using less resources and time. Trade comes from collaboration, which is why we can barter or buy food rather than needing to grow or hunt it ourselves-an activity that would otherwise take up most of our time with less net nourishment. All this is possible only if you don’t scare or alienate your community by doing what we consider immoral-especially in excess.

5. To not be alone.

There is a reason long-term solitary confinement is among the worst treatments of prisoners. Everyone I know values some amount of socialization.  It should be obvious that one needs to ingratiate themselves to others to avoid this treatment occurring. At the very least, your actions need to not offend others, as immoral actions often will.

6. To be left alone.

Even if you want solace, you will not find any by being immoral. Act against others and they will naturally act against you. To be alone you need to be neither moral or immoral. You need to be isolated.

7. To realize a winning game theory strategy.

Cooperation may seem like a bad idea when you can cheat to achieve a short-term win, but even if you ignore the other listed reasons, you’d still know that’s a bad idea with a little experience or foresight. Game theory shows that groups that don’t screw each other profit more than groups that defect from cooperation. Caring only for yourself as an individual means gaining less in the long run.

8. To protect oneself.

One, even the strongest one, will never be able to defend himself or herself from a group. I don’t care if you’re Batman, a large enough group will prevail. Being a dick to everyone ensures you will have no allies because everyone will either actively want you to fail or passively stand by while you do. Sure, you can be a dick to some and not others. That happens. In fact, that explains most of the world. Absolute dickishness, however, is a horrible life strategy.

9. To explore emotions.

If you resist acting immorally toward people long enough, you might start to like some of them. Love and other emotions are some of the most valued aspects of life, whether you want to say they are from chemicals in the brain or deities in the sky. Either way, a deity in the sky isn’t needed to explain why we might refrain from acting a fool in order to explore these emotions.

10. To live out one’s indoctrination.

How many of the beliefs that inform our behavior are taken for granted because their source was our first authority figures: our family. You probably know someone who acts in a way different from you because of their different upbringing. To that person, the same applies to you. The things my family told me to do and not do are informed by the other items on this list, but even if they weren’t, I would have still listened, at least when I was young.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

An Inconsistent Adherence to Informed Models

I find that the best premises used in apologetic arguments for God take something that is true for the things we observe then assumes it is true for everything that we don’t observe. An example used in the cosmological argument for God is “everything that begins to exist has a cause outside itself.” We obviously haven’t observed everything’s origin of existence to confirm the premise, but it is seen as true to apologists for the things they have observed and are willing to assume those observations apply to everything everywhere.

This isn’t a great way to know objective truth, but it is a reasonable model to say something is probable based on current information. Of course, they aren’t using this in a probability model, they are using this as a justification for what they believe is objectively true. Misattributing a model for truth is a problem, but that isn’t what bothers m most.

These same apologists are presented with similar models that all observations confirm and treat them very different when they go against what they want to believe. For example, very observation shows that all people who are dead and cold do not spontaneously return to the living. All data points to the sun rising and setting at a steady rate. Animals don’t talk. Despite the perfect record of observations confirming these statements, they are not assumed to apply to everything everywhere. On the contrary, they believe that these models have already been broken.

Even if those using the arguments were consistent, they would hardly be airtight. As it is, I can’t even take them seriously.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Monday, July 6, 2015

Don't Gotta Have Faith

Faith is a polarizing word in my circles. Depending on what side one comes down on regarding the existence of God, people have biased meanings for the concept. I know atheists who define it as “belief in something contrary to evidence” and theists who define it as “justified, true belief.” A working definition of faith for which I’ve had the most luck in finding agreement is “belief in something beyond what the evidence warrants.” Let’s plug this common term of “faith” into a few use cases for the word.

“I have faith that my wife will never cheat on me.” I think this works. My wife has never cheated on me in the past (as far as I know) and has never behaved in such a way that I think she would consider cheating. That said, I know relationship data shows that cheating is common. So in this case, I have a decent amount of evidence in the form of past experience that justifies a belief that she probably won’t cheat in the future, but a realist should still consider that it could happen more than I actually consider it. I’m willing to admit that I have faith in my wife’s fidelity. Thankfully, I don’t need as much faith as I would if I was aware that she cheated in the past.

“I have faith that the sun will rise in the morning.” I don’t think this is a good use of the term faith, even if the statement is understandable and technically accurate. Like the example with my wife, I have evidence in the form of past experience that the sun rises every morning. Not just decent evidence, but a perfect record of the sun rising every morning. One could argue that “morning” is defined by the sun rising. Depending on location and season, we can track exactly when sunrise will be and confirm that that fiery ball in the sky sticks to the schedule. Beyond personal experience, I know enough about astronomy to explain orbits and gravity doesn’t really come into play here. It is possible that the sun does not rise tomorrow at our expected time? Yes, but only if some catastrophic event with statistically insignificant odds--like earth being knocked off its axis--happens. To use the term more correctly, I have faith that some observatory or news outlet would give me notice before the night before such an event could occur.

“I have faith that God exists.” Okay, I don’t, but if I did, this is the best use case for the word so far. Even if we grant theists that there is some evidence for God’s existence, you know that I’d argue that it isn’t very good evidence. And since most religion requires belief to the degree of certainty, or at least an attempt for such belief, faith is what gets them the rest of the way from the perceived evidence available.

So is faith good or bad? It depends. The faith in my wife means that I don’t easily get jealous which is a positive in my relationship. However, that is but a bit of faith. If my wife cheated regularly or otherwise treated me poorly, having faith that tomorrow will be different would be a negative force for my well being. Faith can be good in small amounts, but should generally be avoided. Strive to have your beliefs reflect the evidence to the degree it merits and not far beyond, if any.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What Would I Do If I Were God?

It’s easy to say that I’d abolish pain and suffering. It’s easy to say I’d end death by making everyone immortal. Too easy to make everyday sunny and meet every desire, answer every prayer, but are any of these the best move?

Living life as I perceive it makes me think that taking away failures would lessen the satisfaction of successes. Making a universe in which all is given abolishes the journey because the destination is here. Nothing is learned because all is known and there is nothing to gain because all is possessed. Would such an existence be a blessing or a curse? I honestly don’t know.

You and I can only ponder such things from the perspective of how things are and I’m concerned that such an outlook limits my answer. History has shown us that if an individual knows of nothing else, what they know is acceptable. Enslaved groups do not revolt when indoctrinated into the belief that enslavement is all there can be for them. A battered wife stays in the relationship when they believe all relationships play out the same.

I’ll try my best to think outside the confines of my programming regardless. The best way to do this might be to forego the stimuli that activates the reward centers of my brain and go straight for the chemistry. Serotonin and dopamine are responsible for the positive feelings we have eating our favorite foods or falling in love for example. As God, I could just make brains that have a constant flow of such chemicals. Thinking, per se, would not be needed. Everyone would just feel the best they could feel. Already, I think I’ve one-upped the Garden of Eden. It’s a material fix, with brains and chemicals, but it doesn’t have to be. I could just as easily make disembodied feeling entities feel the best they could feel. If max-positive feeling is my goal, I would make the maximum quantity of these feeling entities.

Is universal, best-possible feeling the goal? I don’t know, maybe. One could argue whatever I deem as the goal, as God, is objectively the goal. The Christian might say their idea of heaven is better, but I don’t see how. If there is something better, I would just make that the universal state of the maximum amount of entities. This trumps the Christian God’s reward for the faithful twofold. One, I cut out the need for hardships before the reward and fast track everyone to the goods. Two, Jesus and/or his dad seemingly limits his creations’ numbers to those who existed on earth from Genesis to Revelations and I would simply bring the maximally best feelings to an infinitely larger number.

So, if joy/happiness/love or any combination of positivity is the goal, it’s safe to say my divinity is preferable to the gods of the past. Let’s take a turn and say that instead accomplishment or the fulfillment of free will is the goal. Jesus’ and/or his dad gave us limited free will if he/they made things as they are. I am free to move forward, backward, left, right, at any angular degree really. I can go up a little by jumping, down a little by ducking. I can’t fly by will alone, but I can with will and modern technology. Still, for generations before me, they could not fly regardless of their will. The tech, hell, the materials, were not available. Today, my movement is still restricted. I can only move in or perceive of three spacial dimensions even though there could easily exist more. I am bound by the arrow of time forcing me to move into the future. As God, I would grant unlimited free will. Anything my creations will, they are able to do. Anything they wish to accomplish, they can. This circles back to my concern that the ability to accomplish anything with ease diminishes the value in the accomplishment, but if my creation wills itself to value the accomplishment more, they simply will.

After the maximal thought, emotion, and will has been granted, what else is there? If somehow I, as God, am still more perfect than my creations, then I will make them all God retroactively. That might be the final answer. If I was God, we would all be God. Take that, Yahweh.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Insights into an Apologetic Mind

They See Concepts As Transcendent

Over and over again I see believers talk about concepts as if they exist outside of the mind that conceptualizes them. Morals, meaning, purpose, values, emotions, and the like are most often understood by the secular as constructs created as part of the function of the brain. Without sufficiently intelligent creatures to come up with this stuff, they don’t exist.

I think, to the theist, the concepts are still conceptualized by a mind, but not our minds. They come from the same mind they believe created everything--God’s. For this reason they are understood to be eternal and unchanging because that’s how they see their deity. Concepts that are eternal and unchanging exist whether or not humans or any temporary mind exists and can rightly be seen as being more real than even the universe itself.

I thought believers talk about concepts as if they exist outside of the mind that conceptualizes them, but now I think I was mistaken. I wasn’t considering the mind I don’t believe in. I'm not saying that it's rational or justified, it's just where they are coming from.

They Like Telling Others How They Feel And What They Believe

Christians continue to equate disbelief in God with hate for God. Why do they only confuse these terms in regards to God? They never tell someone who hates ISIS that they don't believe in ISIS. They never tell me I hate Superman because I consider him fictional.

They Like Pretending To Have It Both Ways

Most apologists say God has free will yet does no wrong then say if God made a world without evil he would have to have made us without free will. Using their own reasoning about God, their claim about his inability to make a free, all-good humanity is untrue.

A Christian apologist told me that physical constants and the uniformity of natural laws are evidence for God. A Christian apologist told me that the "constants" varying and natural laws losing their uniformity, what they call miracles, are evidence for God. Imagine if an atheist presented them a similarly structured argument: if x, then God doesn't exist; if not x, then God doesn't exist. How many do you think would accept such an argument?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Truth Seeking

In a courtroom, neither the prosecution nor the defense are trying to discover the truth. They are trying to make their narrative of what happened as convincing as possible to the jury. Back when Serial was a thing, I remember an episode in which they broke down the location of the cell phone used by the guy who was later convicted of murder. They did this by looking at which cell towers the phone pinged throughout the day. This data was used by the prosecution, placing the phone at or near the crime scene when the crime was committed...but the data wasn’t used transparently. The phone pinged the tower near the crime scene, then it pinged a different location, then it pinged the first tower, then somewhere else. In reality the phone could have been there or not, since they weren’t sure exactly when the crime took place. The prosecution only presented the pings that helped their case and omitted the rest. The defense could have presented the rest, but I don’t think they did.

So why do I bring this up? Well, it’s how I see disagreements play out, especially on the Internet. One side looks up data they think helps their narrative and present it. If they find anything that goes against their narrative, they omit it. I don’t think this is ideal for a courtroom, but at least then there is a jury. In the case of these disagreements, the defense is actually trying to convince the prosecution and vice versa. Fat chance. In the case of public debate this becomes less asinine, as the public, if they are indeed watching, can be considered the jury. I still wish it was another way.

Instead of thinking we’re in a courtroom, let’s think we are in a lab. The scientific method was established in an effort to remove biases and discover how the world is independent of perspective. As peers we can review each other’s factual conclusions and leave opinion at the door. We should look at every tower pinged and work out their statistical significance.

...but maybe you already know the truth. What you believe is right.

That might be, but know that the other side of the argument is often just as convinced of this as you are--whether the topic be religion, politics, or the merits of country music. I can’t ask you to be open to everything, that would be hypocritical. There are things I’ve been exposed to hundreds of times, examined the evidence from all angles, and thought long and hard about; but when something new is brought up, even if it is just a new layer of something I already thought I knew, I try to consider it fairly. Don’t seek to confirm, seek to understand.