By HonestDiscussioner

Religion, Philosophy, Politics, and anything else I'd like to talk about


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Arguments For Not God

Imagine that I were to argue that outside of your home has been repainted, currently without your knowledge.  For whatever reason, we cannot leave the home to check for ourselves, but I've come up with several arguments for this being the case. I point out how the color of the grass is slightly off, indicating that a different color light is bouncing off the house, giving it a different hue.  I point out that people feel a little different when near the windows, a clear sign that either the smell of the paint is moving through them.  Some of you find these arguments unconvincing, some of you think that I'm using faulty science and numerous fallacies along with cheap rhetoric in order to get my point across, but others think I'm on to something, and therefore declare that I have indeed proven that a highly trained ninja repainted the house with a specific express purpose relating to the inhabitants of the house. This leap in logic is similar to what I see in many of the theistic arguments for the existence of God.

Even if we were to ignore what many find to be convincing rebuttals to these arguments, many of them don't actually do what they claim to do, meaning that even if the arguments are valid, they don't actually prove a god exists at all.

Take the Cosmological argument for example. This "prime mover" argument essentially states that something other than the universe must have been responsible for its creation. Some force must have caused the universe, and some go as far to say that this cause must be a mind. There's so many reasons to consider especially the last one false, but putting that aside for the moment, how exactly have we shown that this entity which created the universe is something we would consider a god?

Imagine if whenever we split an atom, an entire universe is born, lives out its cycle, and dies in a heat death. For what is for us a blink of an eye could be thousands, millions, or billions of years. Would we then be considered gods? We're not omnipotent, nor are we omniscient, we have no way of actually affecting this universe let alone know what's going on within it.  For all we know, we do have a creator, but one that is entirely unaware of our existence, one who has yet to even know it created us. Or perhaps the opposite is true, perhaps we have a creator but our universe moves so slowly compare to its existence that it long since died out before the earth cooled enough for life to exist upon it. Nothing in the Cosmological argument gives us any reason to consider these less valid explanations than the theistic conclusion of some amorphous disembodied mind.

The same goes for the Teleological argument.  Even if we conclude that the universe was designed with a purpose, that the creator had life in mind, that this wasn't the 20,000th universe it has created for some bland purpose, or that the creator is anything more special than you or me does not follow from anything within the argument, nor do I see any way of getting to these conclusions through mere argument.

I don't want to give the impression that every argument has this problem. The moral argument, as much as I disagree with it, doesn't have this problem. Neither does the Ontological argument. However, any argument that trys to show that there exists a mind outside of our universe only shows just that: a mind. Unless care is taken, and it rarely ever is, then the argument is unjustified in saying it has anything to do with proving God.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Apologist's "Christmas Gift" to Atheists

The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of year, where the largest chunk of the population is geared towards making themselves and those around them happy.  For me, I like to buy people gifts, and I put a large amount of effort into finding the perfect thing for all of those in my life. Others give the gift of writing smug, half-assed, and pretentious articles for Fox News while mischaracterizing the alleged intended recipient of their "gift".  

In his article, A Christmas gift for atheists -- five reasons why God exists, William Lane Craig gives very brief summaries of his usual five arguments: Cosmological, Teleological, Moral, Historical, and Experiential. These have been gone over more times than humans can count, and will continue to do so, but what caught me most perturbed was how he chose to chastise, categorize, and describe atheists:

"However, most atheists, in my experience, have no good reasons for their disbelief. Rather they’ve learned to simply repeat the slogan, “There’s no good evidence for God’s existence!” 

"In the case of a Christian who has no good reasons for what he believes, this slogan serves as an effective conversation-stopper. But if we have good reasons for our beliefs, then this slogan serves rather as a conversation-starter. 

"The atheist who merely repeats this slogan after having been presented with arguments for God’s existence makes an empty assertion."

There are others who have been around the atheist block more than I have, but I'm still pretty familiar with atheism, both mainstream and alternative. I know of no atheist who could fit this description. A few might constantly harp on the fact that no good evidence exists, but they are all very familiar with arguments for the existence of God, especially Craig's, and have found them unconvincing throughout multiple presentations of said arguments.

. . . the intended recipients of [Craig's] "gift" are certain groups of believers,
and the gift is one of feeling a smug sense superiority over atheists.

Notice that Craig starts out his criticism by alluding to the "no evidence" mantra as "an effective conversation stopper" for those have no reasons. To me, this seems to insinuate (without directly saying) that atheists are doing this on purpose, as though the last thing we want to do is have a conversation about the existence of God. It's slimy; a way to bring about negative illustrations of atheists in the mind of the reader while not directly dictating the illustration.

Then he moves on to saying "Fear not fellow Christians, for I have way around this dastardly deed! I shall merely present them with evidence!" He regurgitates his terrible, long-ago refuted arguments and then finishes with this:

"The good thing is that atheists tend to be very passionate people and want to believe in something. If they would only put aside the slogans for a moment and reexamine their worldview in light of the best philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence we have today, then they, too, would find Christmas worth celebrating!"

I've seen backhanded compliments before, but this is a category all to itself. It's another use of the "atheists as " trope we see in most corners of Christian apologetics, and done so in a way to makes it seem as though Craig is actually complimenting atheists, when in reality the compliment is that they aren't really atheists, they're just people who let their passions get in the way of what they truly are and will one day recognize as the truth.  I'm reminded of the South Park movie when Cartman decides to be nice to Kyle by telling him "he's not really a Jew" and an offended Kyle has to continue insisting he is. It's further insulting as it asserts that atheists don't find Christmas worth celebrating. Some don't (same with some Christians), but most of us do. The things we find worthy of celebrating are the things most Christians find worthy of celebrating, that being all of the non-Christian things co-opted from other religions like exchanges of presents, kissing under the mistletoe, adorning trees with pretty ornaments, and most of all the special time you spend with your family and friends.  Craig is at least consistent; he always is sure to describe the atheist-theist comparison as far removed from reality as one can take it.

I would call Craig's article insidious if it wasn't so obvious; Dr. Craig can't get past the title without using a falsehood. This piece was in no way written for atheists; the intended recipients of his "gift" are certain groups of believers, and the gift is one of feeling a smug sense superiority over atheists. It's so very blatant as well, not a single sentence is actually addressing atheists directly, it's always "atheists are this" or "atheists do that". He refers to us as "they", not "you". This is a hack job of the highest order.

I really would have liked to have written something more positive for my favorite holiday of the year, but instead I had to feel insulted by an apologist who misses the very spirit of the holiday. I never thought I'd say this, but I expected better from William Lane Craig.

Monday, September 9, 2013

S.E. Cupp is a Terrible Human Being

Reposted due to a Blogger error.
CuppI am generally somewhat reserved in my criticism of individuals as persons. I generally prefer to address their arguments and statements rather than their characters (though believe me, the former is coming as well). However there comes a time when an individuals actions become so clear, so regularly and uniformly exercised, that I find it fair and reasonable to draw a conclusion about their character. Sometimes it is a positive conclusion, and other times it is like the one I will attribute to Ms. Cupp throughout this post.

Thanks go to Kropotkin over at The Humble Empiricist blog for pointing this out (on Facebook, not her blog). Recently Ms. Cupp declared that an atheist would not have any chance of winning a presidential election. That, by itself, isn't too terrible of a statement on its own. It may even be an accurate statement in today's political climate, though I'd be remiss if I did not point out how many had similar beliefs towards a President of African American descent as recently as 2007. However she later goes on to say “And you know what? I would never vote for an atheist president. Ever,”.

Ms. Cupp herself identifies as an atheist, making the statement certainly worthy of note. She gained fame for claiming to hold this philosophical position while also advocating that the liberal media unfairly attacks Christianity, actively advocating that said media is consciously marginalizing and persecuting Christians. Her arguments were mostly cherry picked and her defense of them ineffective in my opinion, but that is for another blog post.

It should be rather surprising to someone that a person can identify with an intellectual and\or philosophical position and yet not want to see such a person in power under any circumstances. Perhaps this, by itself, wouldn't demand a direct accusation against such an individual's character, but certainly it would at least warrant some suspicions of their motives. She doesn't stop there, however, and gives two rationals. Let's go over them and see how they would lead to the conclusion that one should never vote for an atheist under any condition:
“Because I do not think that someone who represents 5 to 10 percent of the population should be representing and thinking that everyone else in the world is crazy, but me.”

“The other part of it — I like that there is a check, OK? That there‘s a person in the office that doesn’t think he’s bigger than the state . . . I like religion being a check and knowing that my president goes home every night addressing someone above him and not thinking all the power resides right here… Atheists don’t have that.”

I've heard some fairly terrible rationalizations for positions before, and while I can't say this wins the award for absolute worst, it's certainly worthy of a nomination. Take the first attempt at a justification, in which Ms. Cupp assumes anyone who is an atheist believes all theists are crazy. While I can certainly point to some example of atheists who do believe just that, to broad brush all of us in that way is completely unfair, not to mention demonstrably false. I certainly don't think all theists are crazy, perhaps mistaken on certain issues, but everyone (myself included) is going to be mistaken on one issues or another. Since everyone is going to be wrong about something, to argue elected officials must agree with the majority of the population on everything would disqualify every last person from office. Also, keep in mind that atheists may one day be the majority, so would Ms. Cupp then state that she could never vote for a religious person? Would the same people that agree with her now agree with her then? If so, then none of them could vote for anybody as her second statement would still apply to atheists.

Speaking of her second statement, where she claims she wants people in power that have a check on themselves and that she wants those that don't believe they are bigger than the state, my question would be to ask why is that something only a religious person can have? Why must an atheist believe they are bigger than the entire government? Ms. Cupp isn't describing an atheist at all. On top of that, there is a legal check on a President. The President is not a King, and while some may argue that certain presidents who have been in office over the past few decades have acted like one, they are certainly not omnipotent wielders of all government power. They have other elected and appointed officials to contend with, as well as popular opinion if they want to be re-elected (or they don't want their party to be harmed). Even without the legal check, there is nothing to say that an atheist could not truly believe that he or she answers to the people they govern rather than only to themselves.

Hopefully I've explained well enough why these are terrible rationalizations, but I've yet to defend or support the title of this post, namely that Ms. Cupp is a terrible human being. I would like to submit that Ms. Cupp is clearly attempting to do everything she can to put down atheists and marginalize them in society, which is ironic considering it is exactly what she accuses liberals of doing to Christians. As an atheist, it is likely expected that I will support these accusations with facts and evidence, and I will do just that. To that end, I have many options. I could cite the various quotes that attempt to argue that atheists need to step aside in favor of religious views. I could cite how she criticized President Obama for admitting that nonbelievers exist within the United States and how if you are referencing a group of believers it is entirely inappropriate to reference those that don't believe in the same breath. I could even point out how she claims that she one day hopes to be a person of faith despite being an atheist now. However I think the best evidence exists right in her first rationalization of why she'd never vote for an atheist. That line, that all atheists assume all theists are crazy, is a clear indicator that Ms. Cupp is entirely dishonest.  Think about the implications of what she is saying. She counts herself as an atheist, but would only vote for a theist, of whom by her own definition she believes are all crazy. If she doesn't believe all theists are crazy, then her entire point is undone because clearly atheists aren't forced to consider all believers crazy. This is exactly what someone would do if they claimed affiliation in a group for the express purpose of criticizing the group without being labeled biased or hateful. The only other explanation I can think of is that she has the highest level of tolerance for cognitive dissonance I've ever witnessed, but that seem to be an unlikely explanation from my vantage point.

Now let me be clear. I can't say for certain that Ms. Cupp is secretly a theist, at the very least because doing so would come dangerously close to the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. I see two possibilities, in either one she is pandering to a religiously conservative audience and doing what she can to bolster people of faith at the expense of atheists, and will likely publicly announce her conversion to Christianity in what is sure to be a lucrative deal for her (as Penn Jillette predicts). The only difference between the two possibilities is whether she truly does lack a belief in gods or not, and frankly that's the least relevant part of this. What is important, the reason I refer to her as a terrible human being is in either possibility she is actively undermining a specific group of individuals, many of whom are productive and helpful members of society, for personal gain. It is her motives, not her belief that draws my criticism. I'll take a person who honestly hates my guts over someone who pretends to dislike me to earn a buck.

If you don't believe me, however, and think it is possible that Ms. Cupp honestly holds all of those beliefs about atheism, let me make an analogy. Imagine someone claims to be a Bible believing Evangelical Christian, but they also say:

1. Christians are actively marginalizing atheists
2. That they hope they can get away from Christianity someday
3. Their values are all atheistic
4. They'd never vote for a Christian.
5. Stating that you don't believe Gods exists is fine in a public forum, but it is uncalled for to state that a God does exist in that same open public forum.
6. They encourage the country to be more atheistic
7. It is an insult to atheists for the President to put Christians on the same plane as them, or mention them in same breath.
8. When they hear about stories of people losing their faith and becoming atheists, they say "I love those stories, those are great stories."

. . . if they say all of those things, would you not be at least a little bit skeptical of their motivations?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pointless: Solipsism

Solipsism is the belief that all that exists is the self, all else is illusion; it can also include the belief that the self is the only thing one can verify. Okay, it can in fact cover a wide range of ideas, theories, and beliefs, but I am as interested in those semantic games as I am spending a year reading nothing but Ayn Rand. For the purposes of this discussion, I only want to address those two ideas.

The thing is, solipsism actually makes an interesting and valid point. Our perceiving a "real" world, however you want to define what that means, could be indistinguishable from what we would experience if we were being fed an illusion. Thus, the world as we know it could be an illusion. There is no way to 100% verify our experiences as accurate. Okay. Interesting point. Yet beyond the initial "huh" moment, there is no "point" to the point.

The conclusion sought by this position, which usually involves a change in outlook in some capacity would, if extended to its logical conclusion, render us unable to live. Giving pause to all possibilities that we cannot verify causes an infinite set of pauses. Were we to somehow, through some advancement in philosophy, verify with 100% certainty the veracity of the senses, we would still be left with innumerable uncertainties, uncertainties that penetrate every aspect of existence. Can you "know", that there isn't someone around the corner, outside of your vision, waiting to kill you? Or behind you? Can you prove concealment technology does not exist and someone or something is monitoring you at all hours of the day? Should we garb ourselves in the bathroom in case this is true? Should we never eat again since we lack certainty that our next meal is not poisoned? You cannot utilize the lack of certainty in the senses without carrying along this very heavy baggage as well.

The usage of solipsism should also be given extra attention, for its use is even less consistent than I've already described. So frequent do I find it the case that solipsism is used against positions selectively. When one makes an observation grounded in empiricism, well that's circular as it assumes the senses are accurate. When one makes a claim of faith or personal experience, such points suddenly vanish.

I did admit quite freely that solipsism makes a valid point, and it does, yet that point extends far less than one might think. It does not, in fact, extend at all to our understanding of reality.

Up until now, I've mainly been addressing the "lack of verification" agreement, not the positive belief that all that exists is the self, because simply put, that argument is demonstrably false. True be it that we cannot verify *what* exists beyond the self, but we can verify that *something* exists beyond the self. While everything I see, hear, or otherwise sense may be in some regard an illusion, I am not consciously drawing this illusion. It is happening to me, largely against my will. Our actions are willed by us, but we don't will the sensory experience itself. When we type on a keyboard, we do not consciously think "and now I will make myself feel the plastic keys against my hand". The sensory experience is a consequence of our actions. Therefore *something*, other than myself, is causing me to feel that sensation. Whatever is doing the causing is no more "me" or part of myself than my shoes are.

Therefore even if we were to use the old standby of the Matrix, even if it was the case the universe as we experience it was a computer generated simulation, it wouldn't really change anything. We'd still be interacting with "the real" universe, just in a different way. Our perceptions and experiences are all already simulations anyway. We don't really "see" a painting, we interpret the light that reflects off of it and our mind builds a mental picture of it. Living in the matrix simply moves that back one step. It wouldn't even matter if the entity responsible for generating the simulation is itself the product of a simulation, we are actually still interacting with whatever the true basis for reality is.

The same could be said for dreams. What if this is all a dream? Allegedly, we if are dreaming then empiricism is useless. Our dream selves cannot rely on other people in the dream to, for example, verify the length of a table in that dream. So since we can't know this isn't a dream, empiricism is not a more valid way of ascertaining reality than any other form, such as faith or personal experience.

This line of reasoning just simply doesn't follow. Were we in a dream, the table we are trying to verify is a creation of our subconscious. So too would be the person we are asking. What better a source of information then, for the world we reside in for this case is a product of our own subconscious.

Maybe this is a dream. Maybe it's an illusion. It doesn't matter, for we are interacting with something real, just maybe not precisely in the way we imagined. Solipsism is a pointless exercise, and appealing to it should be considered as bad as a logical fallacy.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When Christianity is Evil

So. I went to church.

In my very early years, I attended a Greek Orthodox church. They are calm and generally unintrusive to one's personal life, so I have little issue with them. Once I turned eight, my family went to a new church. A pentacostal church. An Assembly of God Church.

That was the church I went to yesterday.

It was for my mother's birthday. I took her out for a nice breakfast, and since she is religious I thought it would please her. It did, however the sermon displeased me down to my core and gave a strong argument in favor of the proposition that Christianity can be downright evil.

This pastor joined the church just as I was transitioning into atheism. The previous pastor had sermons that I still remember fondly. He would generally start with a Bible passage or ten, and talk about what they meant and how it applied to people today. I can't say I really "like" this pastor. This "new" pastor, is a whole different animal. The most glaring difference is the energy level. Lots of shuffling back and forth across the stage, constant humorous asides, lots of motioning and over-emphasized inflection. Much more a spectacle than a sermon.

This makes it more hollow, but I made a claim that it was legitimately evil (insert Todd Akin joke here). That came in the message itself.

The pastor began with an anecdote about him playing golf at a driving range while testing out if his injury had healed. When the caged cart drove onto the field to pick up the balls, he decided to try to hit said cart, and got so swept up in his attempt that he didn't notice his injury had flared up again. He had gotten distracted.

Apparently, that's how it can be with God . . . more importantly, that's how people can be with God, meaning some of the relationships in a Christian's life can be a distraction. The prescription: drop these people.

However the way in which he went about preaching this says a lot. No specific description of when it is appropriate to cut someone out of your life, no prescription for understanding when that time should come. The most specific example was if a significant other isn't a Christian, you need to drop them. Other than that, transgressions as small as "a friend not understanding your faith", was enough. These are vague enough to allow each individual to interpret the message in the way that is most meaningful to them. If someone is having doubts, and those doubts are in reference to a person and points they bring up, then it puts the idea in their head to dump those individuals.

So when you aren't getting any resistance, press forward. If it appears that there could be something that could cause you to change your opinion about the religion, walk away. They are literally giving them strategies designed to maintain the status quo and avoid being exposed to any ideas that differ from the church.

In addition, they don't tell people to pray on it to ask God what his will is (which could result in the individual thinking they are meant to keep going despite the danger to maintaining their belief system), or to have faith that Jesus can help them see it through (despite earlier saying Jesus can get you through all of your problems if you let him). They inform them that it is totally acceptable to cut someone out of their lives if it is the more difficult spiritual path. This is apparently one area that God will never use a way to test your faith.

Lastly, this reinforces the idea in the minds of potential doubters that people will be willing to abandon them as friends and as a social support structure if they do not conform properly or begin to challenge established dogma in any way.

It isn't that this is evil because it is a religion doing it, it's evil because it would be an effective strategy to maintain any belief system, regardless of how true or false the belief system is. If it was implemented to protect a belief in the world being round or the belief that the world is flat, it would be an effective strategy to prevent people from doubting, but has the largest benefit to belief structures run by people who understand the weakness of their position. If you have a high level of faith in the truth of your belief, you would gain more by encouraging people to not back down when they have doubts, because they faith would entail a believe that there is an answer for said doubt. Organizers that think their position is weak, however, would benefit less for such a strategy, because they would understand that there is a high likelihood people would come across disconfirming or contradictory evidence. Therefore those that believe they have the weaker intellectual argument are more motivated to use such a tactic over the other group.

This sermon was evil, because it advocates that you break up friendships, romances, and even families if it means preventing doubt from ever crossing your mind. Truth is not important, conformity and listening to the church is.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ban Islamic Clothing?

My friend Monica, Little Kropotkin on her blog and Youtube, brought up a really interesting topic that I think warrants a discussion, and that is to ask what place in our society does religiously mandated clothing (especially gender-specific clothing) have? Specifically we're talking about clothing that is to be worn in public at all times, and so that limits it mostly to the religion of Islam. Technically it's called for in Christianity, but I don't know of any denomination which actually follows that verse.

There are two questions to be asked here. The first is simple while the latter more nuanced:

1. Do these types of clothing, such as the hijab on one end or the burqua on the other, contribute to the presence of oppression against women.

2. How should modern society respond if indeed it is oppressive?

As I said, the first question is answered quite simply: Yes. Clearly mandating women cover themselves up because they are women is something that has in the past been mandated for either the express purpose or with the incidental effect of oppressing women.  Even the hijab, which is basically just a head covering that leaves the entire face uncovered, sends the message that women need to cover themselves up because they are women.

What doesn't follow from that, however, is that legal action must take place to prevent this oppression.  This is because it isn't inherently a tool for oppression. In other words, women may genuinely want to cover themselves up. To try to use legal force to prevent these clothing options pits the freedom of expression against the freedom from oppression.

It is the paradox of freedom that granting it invariably will lead to oppression in some other aspect. Here, we grant the freedom to wear whatever you want, but that invites oppression by allowing men to push women to cover themselves up in certain religions. They will convince them that it is what is best for them, and so long as they aren't being physically forced into wearing whatever costume that particular brand of religion mandates, the woman is acting upon her freedom to in this case obey. In this way, she is agreeing to be oppressed, in some situations. The only way to grant her freedom from this oppression is remove her freedom of expression. Thus the paradox.

Our idea of freedom is one that plays the long game. We allow terrible and even evil opinions to be offered and heard, with the understanding that over time only the best ones will survive. We don't remove the Westboro Baptist Church from the face of the planet because we know they will die out and to take action against them would lead to the slightly less offensive language being censored, and so on until we become the oppressors. We allow for, as long as there is no intimidation or fraud, for people to use coercion and persuasion to convince people to act against their own interests, knowing that such phenomenon will be short lived on the historical time-scale.

Luckily, we've already decided against banning these forms of clothing as a society. Only France has gone ahead with a ban. Even though it's been decided, since I never put out my official position on the matter and since Monica mentioned it I thought I'd throw in my two cents and discuss why we allow such things.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

An Ironclad Proof of Dishonesty

AngryDrunkenTheist on Youtube posted an article from Huff Post entitled: "An Iron Clad Proof of God". Well he posted it on facebook, but since I'm not doc dropping him I'm referring to him as ADT. In it, Rabbi Adam Jacobs argues that, of course, the Cosmological Argument (or the Prime Mover argument) is so dreadfully fool proof that we can basically pack it in on the "god" question. The answer is "yes, there is a god" and now we can just focus on which one.

Well I regret to inform you, but this particular defense I find to be even worse than the "Kalam" Cosmological Argument proposed by Craig et. al. Maybe on a factual level it is no worse, but it is far more arrogant and includes what is an "Iron Clad" case of dishonesty. You can read the full article here, in case you want to follow along, but here is my response to the various points:

"For instance, inasmuch as there must be an ultimate non-contingent force, its non-contingency indicates that (as held in monotheism) it must be singular, for if there were more than one mover each would be limited----and hence contingent"

I see no reason to believe this follows. The idea of multiple space-times would seem to refute this statement.

"Such a force would also need to be immaterial as material things are changeable and therefore contingent."

Again, doesn't follow. If it did, then one could not say that this universe is "part of god" in any way, nor could Jesus be allowed as this is a change in the form of God, or at addition to the form, and thus goes against this definition. Even the Jewish version of god seems to change, or at least change his mind. It's okay though, since it doesn't follow this doesn't disprove monotheism.

"Inasmuch as that would include all powers, we would conclude that this being is all powerful and all knowledgeable."

This guy's brain must have grown legs because his is quite adept at leaps in logic. There is no reason to conclude this entity, should it exist, is even conscious. All that requires of it is an ability to somehow enable a scenario in which this universe exists. That is it. It doesn't need "all powers" nor does it entail it contains any knowledge at all.

"The reality is that most versions of the argument do not depend on particular scientific claims in any way."

Of course they don't, because those scientific evidences refute the argument.

"It's not a "God of the Gaps" argument. It is not intended to plug a hole in our scientific knowledge or asserted as a "best explanation" for evidence."

Except it is. As I pointed out, there are possible conceptions that would allow for the universe to be created by itself. The concept alone shows that this is relying on their "being no other way" which is at the very least a variation on the "god of the gaps" argument.

"It seems to me that an open-minded thinker, free of biases and misconceptions, would have no choice but to acknowledge the veracity of this argument."

It seems to me that he's making an argument then running a victory lap without hearing any rebuttals, as if he couldn't have made any mistakes along the way. That's right, our Rabbi spends not merely a sentence, but an entire paragraph patting himself on the back at how awesome an irrefutable his logic is and how silly it seems that anyone could find a flaw in what he's said.

Oh but fear not! This Rabbi knows why people just don't accept his perfect logic. He'll prove it with an Iron Clad quote-mine! Yes, the final word is an out-of-context quote from Thomas Nagel, who in "The Last Word" is discussing the nature of reason itself, citing that he prefers the idea of empiricism to that which would, in his mind, lead to "platonic harmony" as an explanation for reason. Reason, he opines, makes people nervous to think that is has some sort of foundation in this manner. However, this is what the Rabbi pulls from it:

"I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I am right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."

Here's the preceding quote:

"The thought that the relation between mind and the world is something fundamental makes many people in this day and age nervous. I believe this is one manifestation of a fear of religion in which has large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life."

So Nagel is in no way discussing anything to do with the cosmological argument, and this Rabbi is attempting to make it seem as though he's simply afraid to admit the veracity of it by ending the quote at "I don't want the universe to be that way". I'll admit, it's not truly an iron clad case of dishonesty (hence putting "Iron Clad" in quotes). However Rabbi Jacobs's only refuge from the label "dishonest" is a choice between lazy and ignorance. I do tend to lean towards him being dishonest, as he should be aware he could have posted that quote in response to any argument he made to make it seem like atheists are just too scared to see reason. It's an underhanded move if I've ever seen one. Claim victory and then show the poor scared atheist who clearly is just denying God out of some childish emotional hang-up.

I am truly disgusted by this display.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Not Assuming Why

So I am here to accept a criticism. AngryDrunkenTheist, or ADT, argues what I am guilty of the "wife beating" fallacy when I ask why we choose things.

You see, ADT believes in a form of agent causation, that causation flows one way from our conscious minds. And so I asked, "why did they choose that". ADT argues that my questions assumes his premise is false, just like asking "are you still beating your wife" assumes that the individual has beat their wife in the past.

So this is a valid criticism and I withdraw the question.

However . . .

I will be replacing the question with, "Is there a reason for the choice"? Now I am no longer assuming there is a "why", I am merely asking if there is one. The answer, I submit to you, is yes, there is a why and thus no such thing as agent causation. ADT even illustrates some of his own "whys". This is why I brought up the "multiple goals". Agent causation proponents will cite actions that run contrary to goals as evidence for their position, since supposedly only through freedom of will could one do such a thing. What this neglects is that people only act against their own goals when in pursuit of a more important goal. Sometimes it is protecting a loved one, or protecting their code, or even just wanting to try something new. When someone does act against their entire self interest, we generally refer to that individual as clinically insane.

As for the study, ADT asks for it but I did link the study. In both my blog and video. To be fair, I could only find the follow-up study, but it actually wound up being better than the original. What the studies did was look at MRI's while people decided whether to lift their left or right hand. This is the perfect thing, for it does not require any pesky reason, but a true choice of will. If anything would flow from agent causation, it would be this. Now it is true that they didn't get it right 100% of the time, mind you we're basically just monitoring bloodflow, but what the follow-up study showed was that the prediction became more accurate the closer to the decision it was made. Cross this with the Libet study that also showed unconscious precursors that initiated so-called free decisions and we have empirical evidence that what appears to be free choices are in fact determined and even initiated by unconscious processes. Thus there is no such thing as agent causation, your actions are just as caused as the rotations of the planets.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Hiya James. We are a bit overdue for this discussion aren't we?

James, DasAmericanAtheist, made a response to my video on Free Will, and yes James, I talk about Free Will a lot but I haven't brought it up in over a year until my last video, so I think I'm only beating a semi-dead horse here.

James brings up two points against my argument. Minorly he states that soft determinism is, for all intents and purposes, unfalsifiable and I will agree with him that unfalsifiable claims have little place in discussions of what we should believe. However I think James and I might BOTH be mistaken about soft determinism. I always thought of soft determinism as hard determinism with accepting at least the possibility of quantum randomness, and random will would hardly be considered the same as free will. However when I double checked it seems that soft determinism is really compatiblism, which I am not a proponent of. My position is not only that Free Will does not  exist, but that the very concept closely resembles a logical contradiction.

Rather than appeal to any form of determinism, I merely need to appeal to basic causality to dispel the myth of Free Will. Things happen for a reason, even if part of the reason is the randomness of quantum mechanics, that does not take away from the fact that our mental thought are caused, or shall I say determined factors outside of our control.  Unless one is to deny the truth that our neuro-chemical brains are affected by everything from how much sugar we've had to our DNA, to just random hormonal changes then there isn't much room for Free Will as your eventual decision is affected by all of these factors generally outside of your control.

Admittedly, this only dispels a broad definition of Free Will more common to theistic belief, and likely is not the kind Das is arguing for, if he's even arguing for anything. Mainly his video is just a critique of my reasoning which is a perfectly acceptable approach, even if we agree we must test out our reasoning. To summarize though, I don't follow soft determinism but rather appeal to the various forces beyond our control which determine our thoughts and actions.

Now for the study I cited, we come to James's main critique, in which he accepts the study as valid and says he's only going off of what I said about it. What I said was that the scientists were able to predict what people would consciously choose up to five seconds ahead of time. James says that he finds this unconvincing, however what does perplex me is that he alludes to my point leading to the Carterisan Theater, which originally was an idea Dan Dennet had as a way to negatively caricature René Descartes idea of dualism. It's the idea that within our minds there is a sort of homunculus, another entity responsible for our conscious experience.

Now I at no point alluded to anything other than our brains being responsible for our conscious experience and I state quite strongly that our brains are entirely responsible for our conscious experience. Now rather than rely on or promote the idea of a dualism of any sort, the study I mentioned supports the opposite conclusion.  Rather than a single entity using our brain as a sort of processing machine, the various parts of the processing machine come together to form consciousness.  Our brains work sort of like committee, so for example you see someone you are sexually attracted. How do you respond to that? Part of your brain is working to achieve the goal or either companionship or sex, but another part of your brain is trying to prevent the pain of rejection while another part is factoring in the risk in approaching the person with their friends around, which affects the part of the brain avoiding rejection because rejection in front of a group lowers you status in the group and increases the risk of further rejection down the line. Now all of this information can manifest itself in nervousness, or the idea to check yourself to make sure you look right, or perhaps an abandonment of the attempt all together because the risk was considered too great. You're not aware of all of these processes, but you know they exist because you can hone in on them if you sit down and think about it for long enough. That's generally what happens in psychological sessions, you delve into your own behavior to better understand why you do the things you do. If your decisions were made entirely by the conscious  part of your mind this would be entirely unnecessary. You'd know exactly why you did but so often we really don't. Most of the time really we don't. Some people spend decades of their lives trying to uncover the source of their behavior, and this flies in the face of the idea that our behavior is generated by conscious experience somehow cut off from the whole of physics. The fact that we can predict a conscious choice based off of looking at an MRI of the brain means that there are unconscious determinants to our decisions.

To summarize, consciousness is the result of your brain processes which are themselves the result of physics.

A criticism I received in the chat was that it is ridiculous to ask "why" ad infinitum because you can do that with anything. Sure, but I'm not asking "why" ad infinitum.  We have good and valid explanations for our behavior, and to lead people to those good, valid explanations. Those explanations show that our decisions are effected by things outside of what we would consider our "will" and thus our wills are only the result of physical processes.

One last thing before I go. I thought this would best be handled in a video rather in 4 comments, but user DivergentMind asks why consciousness evolved if it is merely determined and therefore does not give any benefits.

After thinking about it I think the premise is flawed. Consciousness is the ability to recognize that you exist, and contemplate your own experiences. So when you still feel hungry after gorging yourself, you can think "if I wait 15 minutes I'll feel full, perhaps I shouldn't continue". Without that conscious experience, without that ability, we would continue to eat until our brains got the signal to stop. We see such things in the animal kingdom all the time. So rather than evolve a single mechanism for quickly knowing when you are satisfied, a separate mechanism for recognizing when you should ignore or listen to your pain, and a thousand other mechanism that would take thousands of generations to form, consciousness allows us to adapt more quickly to a scenario and understand why we're feeling the way we do and adapt that knowledge to make actions that are more likely to be beneficial.

A response to this might be that I'm describing free will; your will or conscious mind imposing itself on the unconscious portions. There are two problems to this:

1. Your conscious mind's ability to do so is determined by the sections of your unconscious mind.

2. At best this establishes a feedback loop in which both the conscious and unconscious affect each other and neither is totally responsible for the end product, and still you don't have freedom of will. Just like the processor in a computer isn't solely responsible for the program running, it requires cooperation from all portions to get the final result.

In summary, I'm not a compatiablist, I'm not a dualist, and conscious experience is caused by chemical reactions that are subjected to the laws of physics.

Have a nice day, and thank you for the response James.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Free Agency Only Exists in Sports

So someone I talk, argue, and debate with  frequently on facebook made a response to someone else I talk, argue, and debate with frequently on facebook. However, the response was on the topic of free will or free agency, so I have to butt in. On Youtube his name is AngryDrunkenTheist, but here I'll just call him ADT.

ADT defines Free Agency as, and I'm paraphrasing "the ability of an agent to choose between two actions that each satisfy the same goal". So the example ADT gives is one in which he has the goal of drinking something hot to satisfy him, and the available options are coffee and tea. His Free Agency lies in his ability to choose between the two.

This is, generally, an accurate representation of what most people think of when referencing Free Will. Unfortunately, among commonly held concepts is it one of the most painfully false ones I am aware of insofar as its application to humanity. There are two ways to dispel this notion, one is to ask a question, the other is to state a fact.

The question is simply "why". To fully dispel the Free Will notion we need only ask this one question, though several times. Why, in this instance, do you choose coffee over tea? You could try and beg the question "because I choose to", but then ask "why do you choose to"? Generally it is because you have deduced that coffee is that which satisfies your goals. Did you choose for coffee to satisfy your goals better, or did you think about it for a while, evaluate what your experience with coffee will be over tea, and logically deduce your goals would be better satisfied with coffee. Notice I say "goals" and not "goal".

That brings us to the fact: Brains don't work the way ADT believes. He cites this "highest goal" as though we only work out one problem at a time, in serial order. This couldn't be further from the truth. While you could possibly reduce our goals to the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, that isn't how they generally manifest. So when ADT says this:

"Why can't it just be that wanting to try something new was my highest goal". The answer is, because you have many goals. Here ADT gives a scenario in which he actually chooses tea over coffee, despite deducing that coffee was the best way to satisfy his desire for something hot to drink. He offers up *as an explanation for this decision*  that he *also* has a desire to try something new. Now it could be that his desire to try something new was greater than his desire to have something hot, however a more likely scenario is that tea satisfies your desire for something new *without* compromising your desire for something hot, therefore you deduce that tea is what will satisfy the most goals for you. You see, ADT's argument more often than not goes against his position, not for. Whenever he discusses a decision, he always does so within the context of a reason, or more accurately, a cause. Or as I like to call it, a determining factor.

It's even worse for ADT's position than that. The Haynes et. al study, and yes I always bring up this study because it is so relevant to this discussion, dispelled any notion of Free Will. Through looking at the unconscious parts of the brain, they were able to predict the conscious choices of the participants five seconds or more before the individual had made their decision. Through proving that our decisions are highly affected by unconscious forces within the brain, they effectively removed the possibility of our conscious agency being the primary force or even a significant force, behind our actions. Rather, our cognitive processes are broken down in parts of the brain, and different unconscious parts can be fighting to go in different directions. Eventually a consensus is built by which direction has the strongest voices pulling for it, and that's how the action or decision manifests itself.

Lastly, ADT anticipates an argument and attempts to respond to it in advance, that being what would happen if you turned back time to a choice you've made in the past. Could you choose differently? ADT rejects this argument claiming "How could I chose otherwise when I've already chosen?" Well, if we're rewinding time then no, you have NOT already chosen. This argument is done to illustrate the facts that your actions are determined by your determined logic and reasoning, not some ill-defined abstract "agency", for if you say that you would always make that decision the same way no matter what then your will doesn't control your actions and you can't "choose between two actions that each satisfy the same goal". If you say "yes", you could choose something different, then you'd have to describe your thought process coming to a different conclusion based off the same evidence, thus making any Free Will you assert indicative of irrationality.

However, if ADT really finds problems with the "going in the past" scenario, then I can merely extend it to the future. Instead of rewinding time, imagine a scenario in which someone with memory issues chooses coffee, walks outside and puts his coffee down to . . . tie his shoe. He gets up, forgets he already ordered coffee, and realizing he wants something hot, goes back into the store to order something. So he's back in the store, let's assume his mind forgot everything that happened to him and for all intents and purposes his mind and brain are exactly the same as they were when he ordered last time. Technically this is still a new choice now. Could he then choose tea, and if so, how do you explain that decision without appealing to changing circumstance, of which we've already ruled out?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Dramagate

Those who hold a level of familiarity with my channel would likely describe its relation to drama as virtually non-existent. Searching my memory of my Youtube experience has returned only a single instance of what could be considered a "pure drama" video, an instance in my career that has long been privated per request of the party concerned.

Yet here I find myself at the precipice of one of the largest pieces of drama to hit the Youtube atheist community since "Wafergate". That too I commented on, yet I tried to remove myself from the personal side of the drama and focus on the intellectual side of who was in the right. That will mostly remain my objective here, however the situation may cause me to take a step further and dip my toes in the proverbial waters of drama.

Why, you ask? If there is anything that all sides of "Dramagate" can tentatively agree on, it is that there is too much drama, so why would one of the few members of the community who routinely avoids drama cross the line over to the poor man's Broadway?

The answer is simple: Dramagate isn't really about who did what, but instead it concerns itself with the direction of the atheist community itself. There is no more important topic in a community than that, and thus this requires a deeper investigation, and a wider perspective than most commentators have given it credit.

It also concerns individuals that I (still) have a high level of respect for, most prominently that of DarkMatter2525 who remains at the center of the event. For those of you who have been patient enough to read up until this point without knowing what "Dramagate" is, you will be less than pleased to know that the aforementioned DarkMatter, along with a few co-conspirators such as BionicDance, generated false rumors than DarkMatter had done something reprehensible in the eyes of a few people. Many a vague video was made alluding to these rumors, which lead me to an early conclusion (along with many others) that the drama was indeed fake.

Once it was admitted to be fake, it was revealed that the purpose behind this ruse was to illustrate our level of addiction is to drama, to point out how views went up when people talked about it in comparison to the more intellectually driven material on the same channels. AtheismTV compared the lackluster views of my interview with James Randi with the views of an interview with the far more controversial Thunderf00t as further evidence of this problem.

The criticisms of this move were passionate and filled with conviction at the inherent problems within Dramagate, though to my knowledge only fell into two categories. Some found the entire exercise pointless, they claimed with great accuracy that it was obvious to any observer that the community was largely drama focused and therefore the effort expose it as such was unnecessary. Analogies to water being wet or simple references to the word "duh" could be heard from many mouths and read from many screens. Others were more hurt, feeling this attempt to deceive, regardless of its success, breached a form of trust.

It is my humble opinion that both of these criticisms fail.

It is true, little imaginative muscle is required to view Youtube as drenched and entrenched in drama. It is also true that proving that fact was unnecessary. The issue arises from detractors of this event having unintentionally glossed over one important detail: more than merely 'illustrating" the problem, the perpetrators of this particular farce attempted to do something about the problem. One could possibly accuse the attempt of a level of ineptitude, but that hardly comprises the main thrust of the argument being made, if it is even present at all. This is not a criticism of all those who have not made an attempt at bettering the situation. It is perfectly reasonable to chalk drama up to human nature and therefore not something that can be solved. However to declare the obviousness of the problem, while participating in its proliferation, leaves one without room to rebuke those who honestly seek to combat it, regardless of their effectiveness.

As for those left feeling hurt or betrayed, who claim they were lied to and deceived, I believe a brief lesson in history is in order. As strange as it is to say it, even Youtube now contains a level of history that helps us understand our own situation all the better. It was years ago when DasAmericanAtheist and AHughman08 decided to play a little April Fool's joke on their subscribers. They pretended that each had stolen the others' channels. At first they played it as a joke, which then turned more serious as they began deleting (or privating in real life) each others' better works, and eventually claiming the channel they stole for their own.

It was not a largely successful endeavor. Despite my intervention and attempt to lend credence to their story, the fact that it happened on April Fool's Day made few people buy the story as legitimate. The difference between this event and Dramagate is that the former was done as a joke, and the latter to benefit the community. The other difference is that the the fomer lacked any serious backlash. Individuals seemed amused at the attempt, but little anger came from it to my knowledge. If we are to have outrage, it should at least strive for consistency. If we can forgive a joke, we can forgive Dramagate. There is nothing immoral in deception if it be both temporary and intended for good, as was the case here.

Now that I've exposed myself as shill for DarkMatter and his co-conspirators, hopelessly biased in their favor and unable to admit any wrong-doing on their part, let me begin my own criticism of their work. I do not disagree with their actions insomuch that I found their execution to be lacking, and largely responsible for the backlash that occurred.

For example, AtheismTV confesses that the overly vague set-up was intentional, and that those that recognized it as fake drama should be lauded. While exhibiting a healthy dose of skepticism is justifiably an important and advantageous trait in the atheist community, it has little to do with the prevalence and overpowering presence of drama. By allowing the ruse to be largely detectable, it shifted focus from the actual issue of drama to whether or not this instance was real, creating a legitimate instance of drama that distracted from the fake drama and thus weakening the overall case. The discussion of the legitimacy of a claim is integral to our community, and thus not something you can criticize one for getting involved in like you could for the personal life of DarkMatter.

By intending for some people to see through the facade, the creators of Dramagate forced themselves, unknowingly of course, into a no-win situation. There were three possibilities as far as reaction to the event. Either it was ignored as drama, focused on as drama, or it was understood to be a sham. Those that ignored the drama as it did not concern them are still to be congratulated, but other than providing a metaphorical pat on the back this group gains no benefit from Dramagate as they were not the intended targets. Now among the ranks of those that saw the hoax for what it was, perhaps there exist a portion of the intended targets. Perhaps though they may have passed the test of skepticism with flying colors, they would have failed the drama test had the story been legitimate. Sadly, we can never know from this experiment who these individuals are, and without evidence they can boldly assert the contrary and we have no recourse to disagree with them. Their beliefs in their resistance to drama strengthens, regardless of the reality they live.

Surely though, you argue, between those members taken in by the deception they will see the light and perhaps even benefit enough to not feed the fires of drama within the community, or at least feed it with less fervor. Perhaps some, but unlikely many. Most certainly the list is scant compared to one in which the majority fell for the deception. With the safety of numbers, with a common experience among a large group, there is no shame attached. Compare the experience of being the only one naked in crowded room with one in which all are naked and of the same body type. The former elicits feelings of embarrassment and shame, while the latter allows for contemplation of the shared experience. How does that compare to our current state of affairs? In a community which prides itself on intellect and skepticism, we now have a group that has failed tests for both, in a very public way. Rather than encourage awareness of how they react to and proliferate drama, we instead encourage an intense session of social self-preservation. Rather than look at how to change, efforts to explain away their now public failings abound, excuses rain down from sky, and ways to shift the metaphorical mountain of shame onto a proper scapegoat for all to witness are processed and implemented. Here the scapegoat can only be those who started it all, those individuals who dare lie to us and violate our trust. What gives them the right to police the community and declare there's too much drama? They're acting like the gods of atheism with their high and might message about how we're all wrong. I was concerned about DarkMatter for nothing. Pay no attention to my reaction behind the curtain! These reactions are as understandable as they are human. It is part of our human psychology to do these things, do not think of what I say in regards to those that fell for it a criticism. We've all fallen for tricks before, and we all rationalize and divert attention when we do.

I think Dramagate was a mistake, but a mistake blown out of proportion. One that at most deserves an eyeroll and at least deserves forgiveness for any negative repercussions. We all make mistakes, and to stay upset at this one goes above and beyond. We are better than this, and even if this was something to be taken more seriously than I advocate, clearly it must be tempered with the significant contribution that DarkMatter has made to the community. Let's learn from this and get past it. Unless of course, we'd rather dramatize it further.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Thunderf00t & "Feminism"

So, a review of TF's video, wherein I breakdown where I agree and disagree with him.

Agree: It's probably not a good idea to strictly moderate your channel or any forum. My personal rules is that banning\deletion of comments only comes when breaking the law, or spamming content not related to the discussion. Based on that metric, I have a total of zero people banned, and only one comment deleted (unless you count the blog, where I've had to delete dozens of spam comments). So yes, if someone threatens rape that's certainly a good reason to ban them. It is also my personal opinion that offensive speech should not be censored, lest the listing of what is offensive grows ever larger to the point where valid opinions are silenced. I am also not a very big fan of Atheism+ for similar reasons.

Disagree: While Youtube is a public forum, comparing it to a public park is non-sense. If you wanted the analogy to hold, Youtube is a public park where you are allowed to stake out your own little corner in which you are in charge and responsible for what goes on. While I ask people to *not* moderate their channel, I believe they have the right to do so, the same goes for conferences.

Further disagreement: The idea that a harassment policy is unnecessary because it is already covered under the law is . . . well I wouldn't call it "ludicrous" but certainly false. It is false for two reasons, best as I can tell. The first is that the law can only be applied when there is a large level of evidence. What if an individual is threatening women, or anyone really, in ways that cannot be confirmed? It's clear to everyone around that he is harassing people, but they couldn't prove it in the court of law. Establishing rules of conduct for such things gives the ones in charge of the convention a level of leeway to decide when a person is being disruptive. Will this ever be necessary? Perhaps not, but it does set precedent that I think is helpful. The second way in which TF's argument is false, is when the "I'm joking" excuse it being used. Some people may in reality only attempting some innocent fun or chiding, but for such topics that would in fact be unacceptable and placing rules against those types of statements is therefore understandable.

Still Further Disagreement: I don't think this whole thing was generated entirely be one single incident, here "ElevatorGate". My own thoughts on that matter are many and nuanced, but that's not really under the purview of this discussion. What's important is that in such a large group, it is unlikely that this is the only instance of men stepping over some sexual bounds or making women feel uncomfortable. To say that you are aware of every last instance and there is only one would require you to claim some sort of supernatural god-like status or make you guilty of several illegal wiretapping offenses.

So, there you have it.

Due to a problem with my blog theme, my recommended pages disappeared. Please go check out The Humble Empiricist, as her most recent entry from January 1st, 2013 is quite excellent.