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 so...faith 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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sin or Die

Is incest a sin? If you are representative of my primary audience you are probably saying “no.” Nothing is a sin. Sin isn’t a thing. However, think about it from a believer’s perspective...is incest a sin? I did a small, informal poll and 9 out of 10 Christians believe incest is a sin. That means one of two things to the Christian faith in particular. Let’s look at the possibilities.


Either

God has set up at least two situations in which his creations had to sin in order to not go extinct. Of course, I’m referencing Adam and Eve giving birth to children who then had to have sex with either each other or their parents and Noah and his nuclear family who faced the same choice. The only moral thing to do for our ancestors, from the Christian perspective, was to let the species die off. In fact, since both times the need for incest applied to all but the most asexually reproducing creatures, they all had to sin or die.

Or

Incest is a sin now, but wasn’t in Adam’s and Noah’s time. This gets God out of the position of creating something that he either wanted to die or disobey, questionable motivations for a loving father, but it means that sin is variable. It means that morality is not always constant. This notion throws a wrench into the apologetic premise that moral facts are absolute and moral values are objective.

Christian apologists tell me that certain things are morally right while others are morally wrong not because society defines them as such or even that they conform to God’s whims--but because they are facts of the nature of things. To them, God’s nature informs reality’s nature and God is unchanging. Assuming Christianity is true, incest switching values is profound. Does it mean God’s nature changes? No, it logically cannot. A “nature” is the way one is, without the subject deciding to be that way. If God’s nature changed, who are we saying changed it? They aren’t likely to say a greater deity and if they did, it would move this conundrum to that God. No, it means that the Christian God really does arbitrarily decide good and evil and, at least in this case, flipped the script. Why? Mysterious ways, man. Mysterious ways.