Thursday, September 18, 2014

Quit Your Whying

I’ve been listening to comedian Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made It Weird recently. A point of interest relevant to this blog is that Pete ends each episode with an exploration of his guest’s religious or atheistic beliefs. Most often his guest is a fellow comedian, a trade that fosters atheism almost as readily as scientific fields. Speaking of which, he’s had on scientists like Brian Green and Bill Nye as well as less scientifically literate types such as Deepak Chopra (that was a hard episode for me to get through even though it was about half the usual two hour length.) Pete himself is a lapsed fundamental Christian who still holds various spiritual beliefs while being sympathetic to the secular. I tell you all this to both encourage you to check out his show and to introduce a concept Pete often brings up--that science answers the “what”s and “how”s of the universe but offers little in terms of “why.”

The big “why”s were the last related questions I found of value as I left theism--most notably “why is there something rather than nothing?” Atheists don’t have a definitive answer to this and perhaps never will. Theists can answer it, but only with their go-to guess. They essentially answer “because God.” They then immediately stop asking questions, considering “because God” becomes more absurd when the question is “why is there God rather than no God?”

The only thing more frustrating than an empirical God of the Gaps argument is a philosophical God of the Gaps argument, which is what we have here. Pete is filling a gap with an assumption, as he has been conditioned to by his upbringing. While we should try to discover answers to every “why,” the problem with the question is that it eventually creates an unknown in any body of knowledge. When a “why” question is answered, a new “why” question applies. The result? A gap that keeps on giving. The better question may be this: with what degree of reductionism are you comfortable?

To illustrate this, here is another favorite comedian of mine, Louis CK, talking about kids.

Monday, September 8, 2014

For Heaven to be Perfect, You Can’t be There

If heaven is defined as the best possible afterlife, there are at least as many concepts of heaven as there are religions in the world. I’d argued there are as many different concepts of heaven as there are people who have ever considered it. Perfection is seemingly a subjective idea as strange as that sounds. Be it virgins, streets of gold, reunions with family, or nirvana, most agree that the bad things we experience in life, do not occur in heaven. They don’t occur because they fundamentally can’t.

If I’m in heaven and a fellow worthy dead guy wants to do something I don’t like, they just can’t do it because it would conflict with my perfect world. Yet if they can’t act on their desires, then their experience is lacking and therefore not a fulfillment of their ideal. The only way around this is to say, despite appearances, perfection is not subjective. There is one perfect experience for all of us, we are just not yet able to know it. This still poses a problem--that person who knows this hypothetical objective perfection, isn’t you.

Even predicting you will become that person is folly. That person is so fundamentally not you that I’m completely justified in saying that aren’t going to heaven. Heaven, as understood by believers, is an infinite dimension after our finite life. That means any being that can experience things will experience an infinite amount of happiness there. That being will also experience an infinite amount of sadness, guilt, suffering, envy, ect. In fact, an eternal timeline for any of us will result in an infinite amount of every positive and negative emotion and response. If the being who goes on to such a place is anything like us, it really doesn’t matter whether we go to heaven or hell--the experience is functionally the same. For heaven to be devoid of the negative, we must be rendered incapable of experiencing everything from pain to boredom. By the time you are a being who is like that, that being won’t bare any resemblance to you.

Think about yourself at five years old. You are likely made up of entirely different atoms today. You think entirely different thoughts and have entirely different knowledge. Some memories may be shared, but chances are most only feel the same and are different from what actually happened. That child is the you of the past, but is only tangentially related to the you of the present. Imagine how much more different the you of the future would be divorced from most of the experiential ability, intelligence, and freedom of will we’re capable of now. It would be like a saying a computer that has had all it’s software and hardware replaced is the same computer. No, you’re not going to heaven. If heaven exists, that other guy is.

Come to terms with the fact that collectively we aren’t compatible with a universal perfection and work towards a best-case world in which everyone gets a fair shot at social happiness.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Deity Shmeity Quickies

Faith, as unsubstantiated belief to the degree of perceived certainty, is the most anti-intellectual concept ever created. When applied to religion, it's effectively ignorance worship.

Last month's PewResearch data that shows how atheists are viewed relative to religious groups. (Spoiler: not great)

I find that theists tend to project their beliefs onto reality. Concepts--like right and wrong, the mind, love, truth to some extent--are all more than abstractions, they are considered real in some way beyond the use of the people that conceive them. The support for this is always along the lines of "I feel it's true" or, my favorite, "we all know it, even those who put on a show of denying it." You can believe something, you can even really believe something, but you can't believe something into existence.

You Are Not So Smart is becoming one of my favorite podcasts. Each episode goes over a topic related to the human experience with a focus on thinking and biases. This episode is particularly relevant to those who spend probably too much time arguing on the Internet (or anywhere.)

Religious apologists have a problem with infinite regress, but considering they believe in a being who has always existed, I don't understand why. If we ask when an everlasting being existed before any given moment, the answer would be the moment before, ad infinitum. If we ask what caused any given effect in an infinite causal series, the answer is the cause before it, ad infinitum. So far, no one has showed what the essential difference is between the two claims or why infinite regress is logically inferior. If you know, let me know.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Teaching via Mockery

Religious apologists often confuse the word objective with words like absolute, transcendent, and universal--especially when talking about morality. To illustrate what objective means, I will now insult these people.

They are least in the subjective sense, which is a judgement I'm making influenced by personal feelings and opinions. However, in the recent past, I could test these people and state objectively that they are morons, imbeciles and idiots--each of these labels corresponding with an IQ score of 51–70, 21–50, and IQ of 0–20 respectively. A metric, like an IQ score, means that feelings and opinions can't factor in. Your IQ is your IQ regardless of what I personally think of you, and therefore objective.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Evolution of Nothing

“Nothing” is a concept that has meant different things at different points of humanity’s understanding of the universe. When our planet was effectively understood as the universe, empty air space was reasonably defined as “nothing.” Upon discovery that space exists beyond our atmosphere, the meaning shifted to exclude air as now the vacuum of space was a valid option. The march of scientific discovery theorized magnetic, gravitational and other fields were “something” that may even correspond to particles that clearly aren’t applicable to the concept of “nothing.” And finally it was realized that space and time itself were dimensions that could conceivably not exist, which they wouldn’t in the case of a hypothetical “nothing.”

One might think this speculative absence of everything would be the purest nothing to which both atheists and theists could agree, but of course it’s not. Modern physics has shown that quantum fluctuations can spawn temporary virtual particles out of even this “nothing.” There is no particle or field or dimension or anything to exclude at this point. It is entirely nothing, then something, then nothing again. The only way an apologist, motivated to believe in a nothing in which God is the only creative power, can define nothing at this point is arbitrarily. Nothing, to them, is that without the natural potential for something. A baseless, speculative meaning only used by a minority that special pleads in order to create the illusion that the arguments they insert this term into is valid.

“That without the nature potential for something.” The special pleading is apparent with the qualifier of “natural.” It allows for another baseless and speculative category of the supernatural which isn’t only without scientific evidence, but conveniently beyond the scope of scientific inquiry. Something coming from nothing in our reality is only permissible, in their minds, through magic in which the spell caster is their deity of choice and only their deity. This “nothing” is just another example of a term in the apologetic handbook that when applied to the handbook’s official syllogisms, makes them entirely fallacious.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Idealized Conservative on Church & State

After hearing more and more conservatives openly promoting the unity of Church and State (only their Church, or course) I found this quote from one of their favs ironic.