Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Atheists Nightmare

Is a banana right?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

News Clippings

All kids must read the Bible, federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says

Tony Abbott is the Climate Change Denialist, Abortion denying, Catholic head of the right wing party of Australia. I used to be a fan of the Liberal party, but now this nut case is in charge I would rather (and would likely) vote for the Greens.

Herald Sun

We believe in miracles, and UFO's

This article confirms that most Australians are still supersitious and religious, even if they do not attend church. The statistics also show no decline in the level of atheism or skepticism in the community. I loved this quote "The surprising findings from a Nielsen poll for the Herald show Australia is a credulous nation, willing to mix and match religious faith with belief in other phenomena."

Sydney Morning Herald

Adversaries of piety and proof

I found this interesting article from Peter Slezak who teaches history and philosophy at the University of NSW. (Dated Novemeber 2008) It's good quality considering the target audience (newspaper readers).

The Australian

Pope declares second miracle, clearing way for Mary MacKillop Sainthood

After an exhaustive and highly scientific examination of all the evidence, the Pope has told God that Mary is now a saint. As ridiculous as this is, Australians are no doubt patting each other on the back over our first "saint". Not bad for a nation founded by convicts aye?

Perth Now

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Loftus vs D'Souza

This is an open letter/post to John W. Loftus who will soon (Feb 10, 2010) debate Dinesh D'Souza.

It seems (from Unreasonable Faith) D'Souza is into NDE's as evidenced by this YouTube clip where D'Souza goes on Fox to challenge atheists.

Here is a great article on from on NDE's, and I suspect D'Souza will (in a Gish Gallup way) bring this up during the debate. If John knows this or gets to know this, he should be able to come up with something meaty to counter him.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Believers: $4.5m; Atheists: nil

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Violinist

As a male I tend to not get involved in the pro/anti abortion debate except as ethical thought experiments and what-if scenarios.

I've never come across this before and I think its interesting. It's known as the "Violinist Thought Experiment" as a defense of abortion. Although the analogy is slightly flawed (it can be fixed) it does then raise a number of questions. I want to raise one particular objection from an anti-abortion point of view...

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation?
J.J Thomson
The flaw I see in this analogy lies mainly in the circumstances one finds oneself in. The analogy almost seems to take the view that "you are what?", and takes the action (sex) out of the equation.

So what then is the role of sex and does the act of sex, perhaps originally done for any purpose (such as for fun) entail one to accept any and all responsibility for the consequences of said action even if measures were taken to reduce the probability of said consequence occurring?

Or to put it more formally...
If person P performs action X, does it mean P has to take full responsibility for all consequences Y1, Y2, etc that may result from action X, where each consequence Y1, Y2, etc has an associated probability P(Y1), P(Y2), etc associated with said action? (Whether one is knowledgeable about the probabilities or not)

The intuitive answer is that one might be inclined to accept this and say that if one has sex and falls pregnant, one must take full responsibility for getting pregnant in the first place.

(1) X = Have sex

Y1 = Fall pregnant
P(Y1) = 0.1 (for example)
Y2 = Contract a STD
P(Y2) = 0.01 (for example)
Y3 = Have heart attack and die
P(Y3) = 0.0001 (for example)

But this does not hold for other examples and therefore it cannot be true that one ought to take responsibility for a "failed risk", highlighted in this example.

(2) X = In a bad neighborhood wearing revealing clothes

Y1 = Assaulted
P(Y1) = 0.2 (say...)
Y2 = Raped
P(Y2) = 0.1 (say...)
Y3 = Killed
P(Y3) = 0.001 (say...)

Is P fully responsible for getting assaulted or raped given she knew (intuitively or otherwise) the risks associated with the action? Is P fully responsible if she was unaware of the risks associated? (By say stumbling into the wrong area though no fault of her own or by being mentally handicapped)

Many callous people have suggested P is responsible however I believe that is wrong-headed.

I would say (1) and (2) cannot be compared because they deal with consequences in different categories.

In (2), the consequences Y1, Y2, Y3 all relate to actions done against P by other agents whereas (1) are natural/normal consequences related to the action itself.

Unless someone can see a flaw in my reasoning, I am forced to conclude the analogy does not work and therefore one can simultaneously be anti-"for social reasons" abortion and pro-violinist-choice. The only exceptions are rape and incest abortions (which belong in the same category as (2)), which, to be consistent, would be okay.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Disgustingly American

Southern State...Check
Mobile Home.....Check
No Insurance.....Check

This is perhaps the most disgustingly American story I've ever read.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Extraordinary Claims...

Some people have raised doubts about the validity of the saying "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

Here is a story where a historian uses this phrase to raise doubts about a 1st Century Church in Jordan.

Thomas Parker, a historian at the University of North Carolina-Raleigh, who led the team that discovered the church in Aqaba, said that while he hadn't seen the Rihab site, any such claim should be taken with a degree of caution.

"An extraordinary claim like this requires extraordinary evidence," he said. "We need to see the artifacts and dating evidence to suggest such an occupation in the 1st century A.D."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Religion Explained - Pascal Boyer

I'm working my way through this amazing book on the anthropology of religion. When I finish the book I plan on quote mining the book on my blog. Here is an example of a passage in the book I found particularly poignant.

Chapter 6: Why is religion about death?
"Displaced Terror and Cold Comfort" (Page 205)
In experimental studies, subjects are asked to read a story or magazine article that highlights the inevitability of death. They are then asked a set of apparently unrelated questions...Their reactions are compared to those of subjects who had read an innocuous piece of prose with no mention of morality. The difference between these two grounds is always striking.

Those who have read "mortality-salient" stories tend to be much harsher in their reactions to socially deviant behaviour. They are less tolerant of even minor misdemeanours and would demand longer sentences and higher bail. They react more strongly to offensive use of common cultural symbols such as the American flag or a crucifix. They also become more defensive toward members of other groups and more prone to stereotype them, to find an illusory correlation between being a member of another social ground and being a criminal.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Eucharistic Miracle??

Are credulous people attracted to religion, or does religion make people credulous?

Manchester Faith & Culture Examiner's Dyan Puma asked "Will Atheists accept this science" where she makes the case for a Eucharistic miracle occurring and how it has been "scientifically determined".

Well, I am an atheist and a scientist in training so I will examine this case and put forward my opinion.
I would further offer that if the Atheist has not found this truth, it is either because he or she has not accepted, or does not posses, the gift of faith. But, whoever sincerely seeks to believe, will find all the evidence necessary to believe.
So first of all this is offensive. She is blaming the atheist for not coming to the same conclusion as herself. What is this "gift of faith" she talks about? Why is this gift not available to everyone? It seems insulting to suggest God gives some this gift but not all, even those who did sincerely seek to believe. (She will no doubt claim the atheist never really truly wanted to believe)

When she says "sincerely seeks to believe", she is basically saying that we should remember all the good things and those things which confirm our beliefs and ignore those things which are bad and don't confirm what we want to believe. At all costs we must not question the validity of any of these "evidences", we should just accept that they are what we are looking for.

To turn the tables on her, I'm going to claim that as a religious person she has not found the truth because she has let her faith blind her to the evidence which goes against her religious beliefs. If only she would be more critical and skeptical of her religion, then she would see the truth. She has never sincerely wanted to seek the truth because she doesn't accept evidence which goes against her belief. If only she would be more open minded.

What is a Eucharistic Miracle?
Roman Catholics believe that when a priest says some hocus pocus over some bread and wine, it transforms into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Every Catholic must truly believe it is the literal body and blood or Jesus or they are committing a grave sin. They then eat Jesus' body and drink Jesus' blood. These beliefs were formulated before the days of DNA and before science could actually tell the difference between someone's flesh and bread. Basically they believe in magic.

If we were to take any sample of bread or wine and put it under the microscope, one would not be able to tell the difference between a consecrated or unconsecrated host. (That is, we could not tell which one had been changed by the priest and which one hasn't) Catholics have gotten around this by maintaining that it really does change but not in a physical sense, but it changes in essence. This is just a fancy way of saying their initial beliefs were wrong, but because they can never be wrong they change the definition of works so that science can't prove them wrong.

A Eucharistic miracle is when the bread and/or wine (or one of them) actually physically changes. You know, it does what Catholics believe it does...

The back story

Emphasis is intentional...
A Basilian monk, wise in the ways of the world, but not in the ways of faith, was having trouble with his belief in the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. He prayed constantly for relief from his doubts, and from the fear that he was losing his vocation. He suffered day after day as he went through the routine of his priesthood, as these doubts continued to gnaw at him.

The situation in the world did not help him. There were many heresies cropping up all the time, which kept chipping away at his faith; some were within the church as well as from the outside. This monk couldn't help but become more and more convinced by the logic of these heresies, especially the one concerning his particular problem - the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
And then...
One morning, during a very strong attack of doubt, he began the Consecration of the Mass. He used the same size host which is used in the Latin Rite masses today. What he beheld as he consecrated the bread and wine caused his hands to shake, indeed his whole body began to tremble. He stood for a long time with his back to the people, and finally turned to them slowly.

He said, "O fortunate witnesses to whom the Blessed God, to confound my disbelief, has wished to reveal Himself in the Most Blessed Sacrament and to render Himself visible to our eyes. Come brethren, and marvel at our God so close to us. Behold the Flesh and Blood of our most beloved Christ."

The host had turned into Flesh, and the wine, into Blood.
Now the final line is telling. The story goes that the host turned into flesh, but isn't this what happens every time? Well in this case it was an actual transformation, or at least that is the impression people got.

They tested the skin and blood and found, lo and behold, it was "real".
  • The Flesh is real flesh and the Blood is real blood.
  • Both the Flesh and the Blood belong to the human species.
  • The Flesh and the Blood have the same blood type, AB, which matches the blood that was identified on the Shroud of Turin. This type of blood is found in roughly 3% of human beings, but in 14-15% of those living in certain parts of Palestine and the Middle East.
  • The Flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart.
  • In the Flesh, the following body parts are present: the myocardium; the endocardium; the vagus nerve; and the left ventricle.
  • In the Blood there were found proteins in the same normal proportions as are found in the fresh blood of a living person.
  • In the Blood there were found the following minerals: chlorides, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium.
  • The five clots of Blood, though different in shape and size, are equal in weight. Also, one of the clots weighs as much as two, and two as much as three. Whether one clot, two clots or five clots are weighed, they always amount to 15.85 grams.
  • The preservation of the Flesh and the Blood, which were left in their natural state for twelve centuries and exposed to the action of atmospheric and biological agents, remains an extraordinary phenomenon.
Is this a miracle?

I have no doubt the flesh is really someone's heart. I have no doubt the blood is someone's blood. In fact if I never knew that "over 500 testes were conducted, all of which supported the conclusions listed above", I still would have been willing to concede that the flesh was really someone's heat and the blood is someone's blood.

Was it a miracle? No!

What I want to know is why the police were not involved. This was not a miracle. The monk decided to scam the credulous by stealing flesh from someone's heart (hopefully from a cadaver) and taking their blood. He did this to draw attention to himself, to quell the heresies and fool the credulous that his religion which he had doubts about was really true. This is a classic example of "lying for Jesus" (that is to say, for the common good, or for the glory of God).


Catholics believe bread and wine can magically turn into Jesus' body and blood when a priest mumbles some incantations over it. Of course we know that in reality this does not happen nor do Catholics really believe this because when it actually happens, it gets turned into a "miracle". It also follows that they are less likely to actually eat the flesh and blood if it was actually flesh and blood. To do so would be cannibalism and disgusting.

The fact that this so-called miracle happened when this monk was having doubts over whether or not the Eucharist actually turns into the body and blood of Jesus is sufficient reason to doubt anything special happened that day. He stole the flesh from someone's heart and took some blood to convince everyone and the heretics a miracle happened and the credulous fell for it. There is nothing scientific for the atheist to explain. It was a fraud and a scam.

How to Scientificallty Verify a Miracle

Can science say anything about miracles? Yes!

Get a priest into a room with say ten scientists. Make sure the scientists are impartial with a variety of religions and backgrounds. Make sure there are video recorders, microphones and viewers in another room to ensure impartiality.

Let the priest bring say a box of 100 wafers and say 100mL of wine. Make sure the priest does not have any blood or flesh with him. Get the scientists to verify the wafters are bread and the wine is wine.

Let the priest say his words over the wafer and wine making sure that at no time he touches anything (unless its part of the procedure) with the video recorders and observers watching him for any magic tricks.

Get the scientists to check to see if the wafters of wine have turned into flesh and blood.

Do this as many times as necessary. At any time, should the scientists verify that the bread and wine have turned into flesh and blood. It would be reasonable to conclude that a miracle occured.

Just like any supernatural test in the past - we know this will fail, and will always fail and the true believers will rationalise it and make up every excuse in the book. For those who think it will work, well James Randi will give you a million if you can prove it (why not give it to charity?).


David Hume would conclude that it is far more likely that this monk engaged in fraud than a miracle occurred. Given the back story, the probability of fraud is even higher. It doesn't matter how many times we study the flesh or blood.

Let me give an analogy. A magician appears to cut someone in half in a box, he spins the two halves of the box around, joins them together and the person exists the box unharmed. Studying the person who was apparently cut in half does not mean the person was really cut in half, no matter how many times you "scientifically" check them.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Response to the "New Atheists"

In 2002 Richard Dawkins presented a talk to TED called "An Atheist Call to Arms". Four years later, after Kitzmiller vs Dover (the famous evolution versus intelligent design court decision) "The God Delusion" represents the start of a movement known as "New Atheism" where atheists are called to unite under a common banner, to come out of the closet and to admit that they don't believe in any god's and everyone else should get used to it.

Four books by four authors stand as the benchmark for the tone and arguments set forth by the New Atheists.

"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
"The End of Faith" by Sam Harris
"god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens
"Breaking the Spell" by Daniel Dennett

Since then a number of other books have been published on Atheism on various specific topics including philosophy, science, New Testament scholarship, skepticism and deconversion stories/arguments.

Since then the Christian propaganda machine has been working overtime to discredit these New Atheists. I've compiled a list of books I've found on Amazon which are responses mainly directed at Dawkins, but also at the "new atheists". This list is not likely to be complete. As I find new books, I will add them to this list.

" The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting... " by Vox Day
" The reason for God: Belief in an age of skepticism " by Timothy Keller
" The Truth Behind the New Atheism " by David Marshall
" The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Science... " by David Berlinski
" The Dawkins Delusion? Atheism Fundamentalism " by Alister McGrath
" God's undertaker: Has science buried God? " by John Lennox
" The End of Reason: A response to the new atheists " by Ravi Zacharias
" God and the new atheism " by John Haught
" The Truth about Jesus and the "Lost Gospels" " by David Marshall
" The New Atheist Crusades and their unholy... " by Becky Garrison
" Answering the new atheism: Dismantling Dawkins... " by Scott Hahn
" God is no Delusion: A refutation of Richard Dawkins " by Thomas Crean
" The Twilight of Atheism: The rise and fall of... " by Alister McGrath
" Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the new atheists " by R. Albert Mohler
" The Dawkins Letters: Challenging the atheist myths " by David Robertson
" The Delusion of Disbelief: Why the new atheism is... " by David Aikman
" Atheism is false Richard Dawkins and the Impossible... " by Reuben Stone
" Letter to an atheist " by Michael Patrick Leahy
" I don't have enough faith to be an atheist " by Normal Geisler
" No One sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and... " by Michael Novak
" The New Atheists: The twilight of reason and the... " by Tina Beattie
" Atheist Delusions: The Christian revolution... " by David Bentley Hart
" Dawkins' GOD: Genes, memes and the meaning of life " by Alister McGrath
" The Real Face of Atheism " by Ravi Zacharias

Saturday, May 23, 2009


I've noticed lately that the number of blogs I have subscribed to has gone through the roof (in a variety of subjects from atheism to cartoons to finance and science, etc). The same could be said of the number of YouTube channels I have subscribed too as well. Add to this Slashdot and New Scientist and it takes me a couple of hours per day to get through the "news". Because of this, I'm going to have to cull some blogs from my list...

Anyway, here are the blogs about Atheism I frequently visit and a general review of them.

Continually Updated
Goes without saying really. PZ is an Internet star (is this an achievement?) and outspoken atheist in the mould of Richard Dawkins. This is atheist blog central. At first I found the blog to be annoying because there were so many posts each day - but now I enjoy the many musings and its the first stop in getting atheist news. PZ's character and intellect make this a good blog to visit. Plenty of Christian trolls to feed.

Friendly Atheist
The guy who sold his soul on EBay has a book and a blog. Hemant is an ex-Jain and has a unique perspective on atheism in America. Just like the name of the blog suggests - his posts are always cordial and friendly. Sometimes Friendly Atheist is ahead of PZ in news - sometimes he makes the news. Has become a favourite of mine. Not that many Christian trolls.

Unreasonable Faith
Daniel Florien's blog is similar to Friendly Atheist with news, videos, opinions, unique ways of looking at things, etc. Not that many Christian trolls but the comment section can have a lively discussion.

The Atheist Experience
The blog of the stars TV Show (Channel FFreeThinker on YouTube). There is usually an extensive post or two from ex-Christians and others who tackle the nuts and bots of the culture wars and Atheism versus Theism debate. Considering they are based in Texas, this is ground zero to the next Intelligent Design versus Evolution battle in the classroom.

Debunking Christianity
John W. Loftus's blog based on the book "Why I became an atheist" tackles many aspects of Christianity. The level of discourse is always intelligent and the guest bloggers always add something extra. Debunking Christianity is a troll magnet, thanks to John's personality, the title of the blog and presence on TheologyWeb.

Frequently Updated
Common Sense Atheism
Luke is a young athiest who goes to great lengths to provide respect to Christians, Christian Philosophers and Religious Studies and presents them to lay people in an accessible way. The most valuable resource on this blog are 400+ atheist/theist debates and his continual reminder that even atheists are prone to not using common sense or rationality. Christian trolls are generally respectful.

Evaluating Christianity
A lawyer evaluates Christianity. I find it always interesting to hear the viewpoints of different atheists in different professions and why they reject Christianity. As a scientist its interesting to hear an intelligent perspective from a lawyer. Has quickly become a favourite of mine.

Moderately Updated
Fellow Australian. The atheism movement isn't as prominent (or needed) here in Australia but its good to hear from a fellow Aussie who shares similar views and can express it intelligently.

Good Reason
Fellow West Aussie and member of the UWA Atheist and Agnostic society. Interestingly - an exmormon.

I found this blog when reading up on religious philosophy. I have found it to be a good source of philosophical arguments against theism.

Infrequently Updated
Failing the Insider Test
The guy who wrote this blog made a few posts on a Facebook Christian/Atheist discussion. I enjoyed his intelligent and thoughtful (although infrequent) ideas about how as a theist, Christianity didn't pass the "insider test". The quality of posts make up for the lack of posts!

Richard Carrier Blog
Richard Carrier rarely updates his blog. Can sometimes be a source of great gems, but otherwise few and far between. If you like the work of Carrier, you can find some of his early thoughts here.

Steven Carr's Blog
I like Steven's style and his writings. Usually says the same things over and over again because his critics cannot answer them.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Plantinga-Dennett Debate Review, Review

I may give my own take on the Plantinga - Dennett "debate" or exchange later, but for now I am going to review a review of this exchange. This review was what lead me to listen to the debate so I could judge for myself. By the way, this is going to be somewhat of a rant...

As a person with short hair, even I couldn't help pulling out my hair out at this debate review of the Plantinga - Dennett exchange which can be found HERE.
I prefer to remain anonymous for various reasons, in particular because I am inclined towards Plantinga's position over Dennett's and were this to become well-known it could damage or destroy my career in analytic philosophy. This is something I prefer not to put my family through. I almost didn't publish these comments at all, but as far as I could tell, this would be the only public record of the discussion.
Actually Sir, I can see why this review could destroy your career in analytic philosophy and it has nothing to do with the fact that you are a theist. (By the way, nice way to play the "persecuted" Christian card...) I would say it is because you have problems grasping simple comprehension and concepts which should be obvious to any philosopher. (Or heck, layperson!) You take great joy in attacking Dennett, yet seem oblivious to what he is actually saying. I would venture to say that people such as yourself and your fellow Christian well-poisoners are damaging American Philosophy (I say American because its an American phenomenon) because of your inability to consider the potential falsity of your position. (Yes I understand that you might feel the same way about us secularists, but at least we are "allowed" to consider positions which go against what we believe)
It is perhaps the first time in centuries that Christians have been such a high concentration of professional philosophers.
Am I surprised the well-poisoners are entering philosophy? No, because they tried and failed to get in the front door of science with the likes of Intelligent Design, so now they are going around the back to "destroy" methodological naturalism and the scientific method. As a scientist I must cackle (in a mad scientist kind of way) because science was founded on theistic beliefs and philosophy and has eroded them ever since. Modern theistic philosophy is required because of this and I see "professional" theistic philosophers such as Craig, Van Inwagen and Plantinga as being "science deniers", who pick and choose the bits of science (or pseudoscience in the case of Intelligent Design) which support their positions.
Dennett has arrived and is setting up his equipment. It seems appropriate somehow that Dennett would be using technological equipment where Plantinga gives a more traditional sort of talk.

2:20 pm - Plantinga enters. The tension between the titans fills the room.

2:21 pm - No immediate greeting between the two figures. Dennett stares at his computer. It is awkward.

2:25 pm - Still no eye contact. Both figures appear uncomfortable. I'm probably reading into their body language, but they seem to realize that something hangs on the match.

2:27 pm - Plantinga attempts to make eye contact with Dennett. Dennett still refuses.

2:29 pm - Dennett and Plantinga make awkward attempts at conversation. Dennett still seems uninterested. I wonder what this foreshadows.

Dennett notably doesn't clap for Plantinga.

2:35 pm - Plantinga begins to speak. He looks like Abraham Lincoln. Dennett looks like Santa Claus. Feel free to imagine these two as those characters.
Juvenile...This reviewer is clearly trying to paint Dennett as "hostile".
Plantinga seems more concerned with careful, methodical, clear philosophy, Dennett with exciting, compelling, shocking ideas.
Um...what? Plantinga is the one with shocking ideas, such as the next one...
He [Plantinga] even mentions that outrageous (to the naturalist) idea that the demons are part of the errors in human development. Dennett is clearly stunned and amused. He probably thinks Plantinga's claims are insane or at least silly. Plantinga's orthodoxy is completely unabashed. It is commendable that he is wholly without embarrassment, something rare for a modern Christian. Perhaps it signals an attitude to come.
Not being embarrassed about positing demons as part of the errors in human development?!?!
The Christian doesn't have to change her views according to current science.
If I could sum up Plantinga's argument in one sentence, it would be that.
Dennett is shaking his head and continues to appear amused. Imagine Santa with a sense for the absurd and ironic and a strong snarky streak. Less appealing, admittedly, but still an interesting character.
The lame insults continue...
Dennett claps!
If this doofus didn't include the exclamation mark, I wouldn't have complained, but I see this as indicative of the overall tone of this review. Dennett the snarky, mean spirited, atheist devil against warm, inviting Plantinga who stands up in the face of evil unabashed with his Christian orthodoxy. Style over substance, Aristotle over Plato. It gets worse...The next part takes place during Dennett's rebuttal/commentary.
Contemporary evolutionary theory can't rule out ID. "Except on grounds that it is an entirely gratuitous fantasy." Is the punchline an insult?!
Yes Sir, it is an insult - and the fact that you did not "get it" speaks volumes. As a follower of Plantinga, this does not surprise me! Dennett obviously explains this...
Sure, the intelligent theist can keep going on believing. He calls theistic belief a fairy tale. Now he's getting explicitly insulting. He thinks theistic belief can corrupt our common epistemological fabric and involve theism into politics.
He was correct and his examples were appropriate.
He shows a slide mocking the eschatological views of Christians.
What is not to be mocked about those who take the view that the world must end, and end in the most bloody and violent terms possible - AND - who seek to self-fulfill this prophecy?
He calls theism an unrespectable position, and compares it to astrology. He says it is irrational and doesn't deserve respect.
Yes he did "compare" but he didn't say they were equivalent. He was equating the effects of fantasies (such as astrology) on our epistemological fabric and noting that astrology is mild whereas public policy can be based on the fantasies of theism.
He compares theism to holocaust deniers and things have gone off the rails. This is outrageous.
He compared them because holocaust deniers do affect the epistemological fabric of society! The whole point he was trying to make is that there are many fantasies, some mild and can be tolerated (astrology) and others toxic (holocaust denialers, "Obama is the anti-Christ"ers) all of which can be entirely consistent with what we observe in reality...this does not make them true, nor beneficial to society. If we are to accept Plantinga's special plea for the acceptance of theism, the floodgates open to all sorts of unverifiable claims, some benign, some toxic. If the author spent less time being offended and more time understanding he would see that Dennett "won" this point by showing the absurdity of Plantinga's appeal.
All Plantinga must do to beat Dennett now is to reply with grace. For Plantingian dry wit, this is easy.
And there we have it ladies and gentleman...All you have to do to show Christianity is true when an argument has been shown to be fallacious - you just have to reply with grace...
"Is Plantinga's theism in any better position than these other fantasies?" He's going to create a Plantinga-guided natural selection. It is hard to explain, but the argument basically mocks Plantinga. I am incensed. The response is a long string of insults, and little more. This is pathetic. I had more faith in Dennett. He is just making the Flying Spaghetti Monster argument and getting laughs from real, intolerant jerks.
Now I can tell the reviewer has lost all sense of objectivity and his mind has closed up tight completely impervious to what Dennett was saying, and all he can hear are "insults". What Dennett did was to cleverly use Plantinga's argument and show that it is just as valid if we posit that the intelligent designer or intervener was Superman. Yes it was a "Flying Spaghetti Monster" argument, and yes, it is a valid counter-argument.
It is going on and on. Sigh. I wanted this to be interesting! Dennett does not understand what a disservice he does his cause by not taking his smartest opponents seriously. He will lose thoughtful acolytes as a result.
His "smartest" opponents are only working within a specific framework that they themselves have decided to snooker themselves into. Many secular philosophers understand this. If you cut one of your own legs off, don't be surprised if you cannot compete with the two legged runners. It is perhaps cruel of us to make fun of the one legged runners, but the one legged runners were arrogant and presumed they could run as faster and some even said they would be faster than the best two legged runners. (Think of one leg as "there is a God" and the other leg "there is no God", and that by working together they can be better than if one leg was removed - which goes for either side...)
Dennett has made himself extremely vulnerable because he is mocking Plantinga, who is arguably one of the finest epistemologists of the last fifty years.
I think the reviewer has placed Plantinga on a pedestal in his mind and is let down that Dennett doesn't want to play according to his rules.
Plantinga can't champion Behe and Dennett is going to mock him. I thought so.
And? What do you expect? Plantinga decided to base an argument on Behe's discredited work. What does that tell you about the effectiveness of this line of argumentation on someone who advocates science as a tool for knowledge? Any argument which involved the flatness of Earth would also be a ridiculous line of enquiry and would be concerned more with fantasy (some other world) than reality.
Dennett recounts Plantinga and Peter Van Inwagen's invitation to debate Behe in 1997. He is seriously mocking not only Plantinga but Van Inwagen as well. He thought the Behe book was a joke and this made Plantinga and Van Inwagen look bad.
The guys who cut their leg off found a wheelchair but were disqualified because it goes against the rules.
For those on the fence, they will likely think Dennett is being a serious jerk.
I agree that Dennett was going after Plantinga with all guns blazing. This isn't a tea party, its supposed to be a serious philosophical conference and discussion. Dennett however treated Plantinga's arguments as seriously as was warranted, and I have a feeling the reviewer has some left over hostility from the previous point.
Again, all he needs to do is judge that the probability of cell complexity is higher on theism than naturalism. It appears that Dennett's reply is that Plantinga has no justifiable method of making the relevant probability judgments. There's a subtle implication that because Plantinga isn't a scientist he should shut up.
Give the boy a prize he has finally figured it out. How can these theologians perform arm-chair navel-gazing science? Until they get their hands dirty in the lab, they are not in a position to judge these things. (Especially considering they are naturalism denialers) To make these proclamations still requires them to stand on the shoulders of scientific giants. Its one big argument from personal incredulity. "*I* don't see how its probable, therefore its not probable."

Just like no lay-person can estimate with high precision whether or not a bridge will fall down, under what conditions and when, no lay-person can judge the probability of the likelihood a cell could have resulted from naturalism. You need to get your hands dirty - ironically in a field where the majority are secularists. Picking the discredited work of a person who even has a disclaimer attached to the universities website is NOT how science is done, and supports Dennett's claim that Plantinga cannot base his probabilities on anything meaningful.
Dennett has effectively made the discussion ideological.
Science versus fantasy. How is Plantinga's work any less of an ideology? Remember the Wedge Strategy...
but I am still open, though a bit upset by Dennett's truly nasty comments.
Objectivity was lost a long time ago.
Dennett is ending with a joke. He is now going after the Christian fish. It is clear that something terrible is coming.
Cause Dennett is "teh Devil" right?
"Destroy the author of things to discover the nature of the universe."
Basically, he is talking about murdering God. Dennett has revealed a deep wickedness in his character. I will never take him seriously as a philosopher again.
Oh boy...Murdering God?? He is no more murdering God than Nietzsche when he said "God is dead". Dennett's point is crystal clear. If we want to move on to discovering the nature of the universe, either from a scientific or philosophical point of view, then we should discard the fantasies of the past. The fact that this reviewer thinks that it is a "wickedness" says something about the nature of the reviewer and their lack of ability to comprehend what someone is saying. I also wonder why whether someone is "wicked" or "nice" is a conditionality to taking them seriously?


I have a feeling this secret undercover reporter is not a philosopher at a secular university who must surpress his name for fear of losing his job. I actually think its more likely that this person is a random bible believing Christian who judges an argument based on the character of the person presenting it, rather than on the value of the truth itself. If this person is a philosopher, then I have nothing but contempt for them for losing their objectivity, missing many crucial points and getting emotional and substituting an argument with an appeal to authority. The obsession of the reviwer with the character of Dennett reveals that he wants any excuse to not listen and dismiss Dennett's arguments, like so many closed minded people who focus on anything other than the argument at hand.

Blog Comments
This was an honest and frank review of the debate by a Christian left in the blog comments.
If Plantinga can't defend the relevance of the arguments he's making for the whole discussion then what good is it to bother to make the argument.
Is Dennett really misrepresenting the project of scientific inquiry or are we Christians really unwilling to admit that the strictness of scientific method and practice makes us appear more like fideists by our own agendas to understand the universe?
I can't blame the atheists for their tactics if we're not going to make a choice between offering a solid defense or admitting and being willful participants in a brand of fideism.

- Blake

Reincarnation, Castes and Sin

I was reading through a Protestant versus Catholic debate over at the CARM discussion forum (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) when I found this quote from a Christian regarding original and generational sin.
Infants might not commit too many sins, but have inherited generational curses, which are judgements that are passed on to individuals because of sins perpetuated in a family in a number of generations. Generational curses are similar to original sin curses because they can be passed down on a generational basis. They differ in that generational curses do not impose eternal judgement. They bring judgement or bondage during an individual's life, reducing the quality of life, until that individual addresses the sin issues that put the curses into place.
This is similar in spirit to the beliefs of Buddhists (Tibetan or otherwise) who believe that if someone is born (reincarnation) into a lower caste, they deserve it because of some indiscretion in a previous life. Conversely if someone is born into a higher caste, they deserve it because they were wronged or were good in a previous life.

On the surface it appears to be a rather benign belief however behind these unprovable dogmas lies injustice and inequality. To compound the misery of being born into the lower class, one is subjected to extra punishment because they obviously deserve it...Thus gives slave masters the rite to beat their slaves should they try to escape or rebel.

One can see why these beliefs became influential - like many unfounded religious beliefs, they are good for the control of the populace and keeping the status quo in favour of those born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” - Seneca
Perhaps most disappointing, this isn't something that was left in the past but was present in Tibet circa 1950. This is what bothers me about the "Free Tibet" movement. Do they understand that it was actually really bad for the lower class before China "liberated" them? (Not that communistic China with religious intolerance is necessarily better) Are they just returning the power to those who never deserved it in the first place, those who believe they ought to be in power through divine rite? One can only hope that the Dalai Lama has used his time in exile to Westernise himself and strive for a progressive Tibet, should China ever allow secession. However I very much doubt China will relinquish Tibet unless a Soviet style collapse occured - in other words, very unlikely.

As a final note I don't find it surprising that those who hold onto these beliefs and vigorously defend them are the ones who were born on the right side of the ledger. Golden rule be damned!

Friday, May 15, 2009

True Scotsman?

I've noticed in discourses between ex-Christians and Christians the following sometimes takes place...
Ex: I used to be a Christian, but I no longer believe.
C: So you were never a true Christian?
Ex: I used to believe I was.
C: Clearly you were never a true Christian because true Christians are once saved, always saved.
Ex: But I used to believe I was.
C: But you are not now, hence you were never a true Christian.
Ex: That's an example of a "No True Scotsman" fallacy.
Is the ex-Christian right here or is there something he is missing?
I believe it depends on which type of Christianity we are talking about here.

For Calvinists the Christian is correct here but they are speaking a different language. For Calvinists if you are not a Calvinist at death, then you were never meant to be saved. If you are a Calvinist at death then you were always meant to be saved. The confusion comes about because Calvinists do not advocate Free Will, therefore before time, God had chosen who were the chosen ones and who were reprobate.

Therefore it is reasonable for the Calvinist to state that an ex-Christian was never saved because they fell away. This of course neglects the possibility that the ex-Christian might come back to their faith - in which case they were meant to be saved, etc ad nauseum.

So if someone pulls the "once saved, always saved line" or the No True Scotsman - chances are they might be a Baptist or any protestant sect which relies on the teachings of John Calvin.


Revelation 12:7,8
7 And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.
8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.
Based on Genesis 1:1, I could perhaps reasonably presume that the angels were created along with heaven (and the earth). If they were created earlier or later this would not invalidate my argument - but I believe its reasonable to presume they had to have been created. I would also like to presume that the devil was not created evil but became evil through his own free will. If the devil was created evil, this means God creates evil things.

Why then did the devil go against God and wage war in heaven? This question, when taken to its logical conclusion will form the thesis behind my belief that heaven is nonsensical.

What is heaven?

Despite heaven as being the goal for most Christians, not much is known about what to expect, what the rules are, etc. The bible is very vague on these matters, but it gives the overall impression that heaven is a "good thing" and worth aspiring to (as opposed to hell with its fire and distance from God, the latter being inconsequential to those who do not believe). The characteristics appeal to our emotions that we wish to meet those we love in the next life and there will be no suffering or injustice. Could the reason why the specifics of heaven are not known be because God doesn't exist and heaven is wishful thinking?

Like many other theological constructs, we have no physical or accessible evidence of heaven so one has to take these issues on faith. I have no reason to believe mere wishful thinking is enough to make something real, otherwise contradictory wishes could not be separated as true versus false. A Christian believes and wishes heaven exists, a Buddhist believes and wishes reincarnation occurs after death. Given this, I cannot believe in heaven as an atheist.

Can I Speculate?
Even though I do not believe in an actual heaven, I wish to speculate on some characteristics that it might have. Is it possible to discuss something one does not believe actually exists? I believe so, I can discuss an imaginary animal (say a dolphin which has evolved intelligence) and state its characteristics (DNA, large brain, ability to communicate) despite my knowledge that it does not exist. In my opinion these speculations are reasonable.

We know these games of speculation occur in works of fiction and fantasy. Many role players have guidelines associated with characters of which people agree are not real. I have even been witness to many heated conversations over these invented characters. Therefore I am justified in believing one can use logic and reasoning in speculating on fictional or fantasy worlds - including heaven (regardless of its existence).

Reasonable Assumptions
I would like to propose the following propositions associated with heaven which I believe are reasonable.
  1. Free will exists in heaven
  2. Humans have free will in heaven
  3. Heaven will last forever
  4. Hell is the opposite to heaven
  5. The devil cannot reenter heaven

Justifying These Assumptions

Free will exists in heaven
Free will must exist in heaven otherwise the angles and Satan could not have rebeled against God unless they were designed to rebel against God. So free will exists in heaven unless God creates evil beings - which goes against the common characteristics of God.

Humans have free will in heaven

If humans did not have free will in heaven, the following would follow.
  1. Free will would be contingent on the human body (it seems odd to give us free will in this life and deny it in the next).
  2. We would be merely robots in heaven.
  3. Free will is better than no free will, therefore heaven would be worse than this life.
I therefore believe free will in heaven is true.

Heaven will last forever
Hell is the opposite to heaven

I believe these to be obvious and does not require justification.

The devil cannot re-enter heaven

This one is harder to justify. It may be that the devil can choose to re-enter heaven but chooses not to. It could be "in the nature" of the devil to resist God. If the devil cannot choose to re-enter heaven, one might argue that he doesn't have free will (in the same way God cannot will to do evil). Given I don't find the Christian notion of evil to be correct - its hard to formulate this in a sensible way...

Using These Assumptions

It should be possible using simple statistically analysis to construct a model of the number of people in heaven at any given time. For a sufficiently large number of people or souls in heaven, we can approximate it as continuous rather than discrete.

N(t=0) = N0

For the non-scientists out there, this statement just says that the number of people in heaven at the start is some value N0

If we assume that when t=0, no more souls are created and all souls which have been created are either in Heaven or Hell, then

Ntotal = Nheaven + Nhell

Which is the law of conservation of souls.

After some time t, we expect some people to have used their free will in heaven to leave and follow Satan. Lets say there are L number of people who do this.

N(t) = N0 - L

Although it is not possible to estimate how many people this would be, based on a simple population dynamics argument, we can assume a proportion of people per unit time will leave or disobey God.

In mathematical terms, this represents a first order differential equation of the form

dN/N = - R dt

Where N is the number in heaven and R is the proportional rate loss of souls in heaven per unit time. For example, if there were one billion people in heaven, and one million souls left in one millenia, the rate would be R = 0.001 people per millennia.

Solving this differential equation with the initial conditions gives us the result

N(t) = N0 Exp(-R t)

Which is a simple exponential decay function. (Think radioactive decay)

Given heaven lasts forever, we can see from the population function that the population of people in heaven will tend to zero as the time t goes to infinity.

Potential "Outs"

Lukeprog over at "Common Sense Atheism" presents a four part series on "Escaping Hell"
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four


If heaven was one-way, which is to say, you may only enter once and it is possible to leave then it stands to reason, by simple population dynamics that over time, heaven will be devoid of all humans or any souls which have free will. I therefore conclude that this concept of heaven to be absurd and it would be more logical to allow people to re-enter heaven or escape hell.

Why Loftus Should NOT Debate Craig

I'm a huge fan of John W. Loftus and think he brings more to New Atheism than the four horseman combined. In fact I would like to see more of Loftus around the place. Why Loftus is not as big if not bigger than Hitchens is beyond me. However I am weary about his campaign to debate William Lane Craig.

I could be wrong about this but I see no indication that he is ready to debate Craig. I don't doubt he has the arguments, I doubt he has the most effective message delivery. The recent Carrier v Craig debate was a huge let down. I knew Carrier had good arguments but failed to deliver on the night and given that there was a lot of hype surrounding the debate, it was a disappointing affair. I wonder if Loftus v Craig will turn out the same way?

Has Loftus read every Craig debate? Has he formulated a response to all of his boilerplate arguments? Has he done so in a convincing fashion which will enable him to "win" the debate. Is Loftus even interested in winning the debate or just presenting a case (aka Carrier)? What in Loftus' own book or internet postings could be used against him?

Don't get me wrong - I wan't Loftus to win, just like I want my sports team to win, but if he's spent his winter sitting on the couch and snacking on fast food, I wont be expecting him to run a marathon come summer. Take Kagan v Craig, Kagan has spent his life learning and teaching secular ethics and spent the entire Q & A effectively "schooling" Craig. Is Loftus in the same league?

I also question the debate topic "Is Christianity more probable than atheism?". I can almost imagine it now. Loftus gets up there and presents a plausible and rational account for the reasonableness for atheism and Craig responds by using a multi-part Bayesian analysis of the probabilities involved (aka Ehrman v Craig). Loftus then wastes all his time picking apart the tortured logic, or avoids the issue, either way he will be on the back foot defending and playing into Craig's plan. Game over.

Mr Loftus, prove me wrong Sir.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Faithful Poor

From a recent Pew Forum survey:
Two thirds of Americans who earn under $30k per year pray daily, on the other hand just under half of rich people who earn under $100k per year pray daily. The correlation is consistent throughout the data. The poorer you are, the more you pray.

Shouldn't the rich thank God every day that they are rich? And shouldn't the poor to be annoyed at God that they are poor? Or perhaps one could equally make the case that the rich feel that they don't need God, whereas the poor are constantly hounding God hoping he will make things better for them. Considering that Church's get better attendance during recessions, I would favour the latter. Average people are likely to pray for selfish reasons - so that things are better in their own life. (I'm sure there are more plausible explanations too)

When I was younger and believed what I was taught about the Bible and God, I never prayed to God asking for things because I was taught that is not the way God works. Prayer was used for thanksgiving, and we were to "ride it out" until the end of time, or when we die, and after that we get a new Earth, a new Eden.

Why Christianity is Successful
I see the story of Jesus as a battle-of-the-classes story. Under the Jewish system, God was for the Jews and in particular the priests who were often wealthy, holier-than-thou people who had the keys to God. When Jesus died, he took God and gave it to everyone, Jew and Gentile. He also took the power away from the priestly class and gave it to the people. The irony being that hundreds of years later the Roman Catholic Church came along and resumed the class distinction. This is one of the (many) criticisms Protestants have against Catholics in that they have become that which Jesus taught against.

What made Jesus different is that he came from a lower class family (a carpenter), hung around with nobodies (fishermen, prostitutes, etc) and was persecuted by "the man" and later killed only to defeat them all by rising again after three days, giving God to all peoples. Couple this with the promise of everlasting life in heaven and one can see why those who suffer the most in this life (such as black female poor people - the group with the highest levels of faith) have a greater propensity to believe.

Moral Hazard
One of the goals of the "New Atheism" is to show the world that atheists are not inhuman monsters and are generally smart, normal people, the type who you would let you child marry or let run the country for you. By doing so there are going to be many who will be "atheist evangelists" who will actively try to "deconvert" Christians from their "delusions".

In "Breaking the Spell", Daniel Dennett asks the question whether we should study religion as a natural phenomenon. Considering anthropologists have already been studying religion one might forgive Daniel and assume he was talking about taking it mainstream and in the process knocking down the sacred cows, aka PZ Myers and anti-compatiblism. (Which is to say the results of science cannot be logically reconciled with religion).

So how can we white intelligent rich males (the main atheist demographic) encourage the black disadvantaged poor female (the main Christian demographic) to give up what might be their only crutch in life? One might argue that by doing this, we are doing her a disservice. On the other hand, perhaps this is the only way to stop the cycle of suffering? To the atheist its clear that Christianity has been a strong influence which has kept women's equality down all these years (although to be fair, the same goes for most religions) and which has fuelled the divide between races and the haves and have-nots. Yet on the other hand, it is Christianity which offers hope to those oppressed!

The Solution
I believe the easiest solution is to give everyone a decent secular education. A smart society is going to function better, will be richer, and will favour disbelief over belief. I don't mean that we should actively teach anti-religion, but instead we should do what Daniel Dennett advocates and teach religions in a fair way (that is to say, show the students the different beliefs of the world).

The great thing about this solution is that we are fairly confident it already works and does not require force, intimidation or brainwashing. The only people who would object to this are those who believe it's easier to control a population who do not think for themselves...

Friday, May 8, 2009

They Would Not Have Died For A Lie?

It is often claimed by Christians that the apostles of Jesus were martyred for their beliefs and because they did not recant, they truly believed what they were preaching, that is to say - they were not making it up, they did not lie.

There are a number of problems with this claim

1) There is very little evidence that Jesus' apostles were martyred.
2) If they were killed, we may not know why they were killed.
3) If we knew why they were killed, this doesn't tell us about which belief they died for.
4) There are numerous parallels with other people dying for their beliefs.
5) All we are left with is the impression that they really believed something, but that does not make it a physical reality.

There is very little evidence that Jesus' apostles were martyred.
It is generally accepted that the stories of Jesus' apostles being martyred are "traditions" with a few exceptions. Some of these traditions contradict each other with some apostles being killed in different locations. Many traditions only start to appear in the written record hundreds of years after the events with no contemporary or near contemporary accounts. This makes the reliability of the traditions suspect. Many Christians parrot these claims without understanding the lack of evidence for this belief and if they are to use it as an argument in favour of their belief, they are merely repeating legends thought up to make Christians feel good about being persecuted.

If they were killed, we may not know why they were killed.
Let us presume for the moment that some early Christians were killed of their beliefs. We may not know the circumstances behind their arrest, trial and execution. Christians were persecuted for going against Jewish and Roman laws and customs. We do not know if they had any opportunity to recant their beliefs before being killed. To say they were martyred for going against the laws of the land does in no way bolster the validity of their belief than does a political protester.

If we knew why they were killed, this doesn't tell us about what belief they died for.

Let us presume that they were killed for preaching Christianity. This doesn't tell us which version of Christianity they died for. Were they preaching a bodily risen Jesus as represented in the gospels and orthodox Christianity, or were they preaching a non-bodily risen Jesus as implied in the letters of Paul, or perhaps they were Gnostic's? For all we know they could have died preaching something which is completely different to what modern Christians now believe. This would render their death in vain and would give no validity to orthodox Christianity.

There are numerous parallels with other people dying for their beliefs.

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism was persecuted for his beliefs yet did not recant. Does that mean he was telling the truth? (I'm sure most Christians agree that he was a false prophet, some even believe he was intentionally dishonest) We also know people are willing to die for their beliefs about being abducted by UFOs. In most cases I have no doubt people really truly believe what they are spouting, but this gives no validity to the truth claims behind this belief.

All we are left with is the impression that they really believed something, but that does not make it a physical reality.
We know modern Catholics believe Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, yet there is no physical evidence this is the case. Given that, would a Catholic who is willing to die for their belief in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist lend validity to the actual presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? In fact, if an aspect of a religion requires faith, even faith in things believed but not seen, then we should expect that there are devout people who are willing to die, an ultimate test of their faith, which wouldn't be too much of an ordeal considering they are promised heaven on the other side.

Given the lack of evidence we have, we ought to be sceptical of the claims that Jesus' Apostles died for their belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus. As arguments for the validity of Jesus' resurrection go, this argument is one of the least arguments I find convincing - firstly because there is little foundation in evidence and secondly because it doesn't reveal to us anything other than establishing that they believed what they preached - which many people do not doubt. (Which would technically render this argument a straw man because people don't really believe they were liars)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wilful Ignorance

without understanding an opponent's position, you'll never learn anything. For all you ever get is confirmation of your own agenda.

- Kel on Pharynugla

People like to have opinions about everything - from politics to religion, philosophy, science, technology, parenting, etc. It's natural as humans to have opinions and to want those opinions validated, mostly by those close to us. We form groups of like minded people who share similar values and ostracise other groups. This of course can sterilise conversation, and ideas as a group becomes homogeneous, back-patting and dogmatic. Without a contrarian, without doubt, our ideas can never be challenged and we may never discover if we are ever wrong.

There are of course, some ideas which transcend opinion and are in the realm of facts and truths. The lack of (serious) flat earth societies is testament to the idea that peoples minds can be changed when it comes to issues of undeniable fact even if our basic intuitions (the earth looks flat) fail us. This doesn't work in all cases - to steal the ironic title of Ray Comfort's new book "You can bring a person to knowledge, but you can't make them think". The irony being that Ray has consistently been given the information, yet wilfully ignores it.

The difference between wilful ignorance and natural ignorance is the question of will. There are always going to be two sides (or more) to a story, and especially for controversial issues, the fact that a multitude of people exist on the other side means that you ought not to ignore it. Some people might be too scared to question their opinions or ideas they have for many reasons, including social ostricization, fear of hell, fear of being wrong, fearing the consequences, or an unhealthy belief that their position is indisputable - irrespective of what the other group has to say. Others are just arrogant and stubborn...

Natural ignorance is understandable. No one person knows everything, and some of us just go with our gut when it comes to things we do not know about. The question is, are you able to admit that you are not knowledgeable about something and that you might be wrong. If the answer is yes, then you are showing humility and an open mind. If you say no, you are probably closed minded and wilfully ignorant. Even if you believe you are knowledgeable about something, there is always a chance you might have missed something or new information has come to light. In either case, is there any justification for ever closing ones mind?

A novel idea I learned in high school when debating was to be put in *any* position. Which is to say, instead of just debating the side you already believe in, there is a chance you might need to defend the other point of view - even if you do not believe it. This is where debating becomes a game about convincing people you are right, or winning, even if you are in opposition to what is being proposed. This is the game lawyers play, especially in criminal cases where they know they are defending someone who really did commit the crime. Naturally there are bound to be sandbaggers who will present the case they do not believe in, in a negative light to convince people that point of view has no merit. This would make them fail the class or make their record look bad!

The easiest way to distinguish between someone who is wilfully ignorant and naturally ignorant is to ask them to argue for the other side. If they are unable to come up with even the basis of a cogent argument - they do not understand the other side. If someone claims they have "done the research" or presents themselves as an authority, yet does not present "common knowledge", it becomes trivial to identify those who have serious objections to those who are sandbagging for their cause. Sometimes it can be frustrating when you know someone is being wilfully ignorant - and you want to call them out on it.

I highly recommend Christians take the Debunking Christianity Challenge.
One of the next books on my list of books to read is "Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity" by John W. Loftus.
If there is one thing the "new atheists" cannot deal with, it's that fact that none of them were ever apologists for a faith and lost it, so they do not really understand the other point of view.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Belief and Faith

Belief and faith
A theist is one who believes and has faith in God.

Belief without faith
I've found that many say they lose faith but still believe in God.

Faith without belief
Is it possible to not believe in God but still have faith?

No belief and no faith
The atheist does not have belief, nor faith in God.

Question of the day: Could an atheist become a theist or religious without believing in God but having faith regardless?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Debating: Lose the Battle - Win the War

Want to formally debate the following?
9/11 Truthers
Global Warming Deniers
Moon Hoaxers

Well I take my hat off to you. You are clearly braver than I.
All those listed above have a material advantage in a debate and that is simply that they can rattle off a number of plausible sounding arguments in less than than it takes to debunk them.

Why they win.

Think about it. You enter a formal debate where each side has twenty minutes to open and say fifteen minute for the response. Those in the above category can make their simplistic case (eg Evolution is *just* a theory, as you can *clearly* see from this image the shadows are wrong, Al Gore was *discredited*) and it takes a good five minutes to refute each argument. Lets say it takes five minutes to disprove something which takes one minute to state. That's a 5:1 time advantage. This means someone can rattle off four arguments which take four minutes to state and twenty minutes to refute - going over the specified time limit for a response.

Why does it take so long?

Some may ask, why does it take so long to formulate a response? (eg. How come you can't distill a refutation of the Kalam Cosmological argument into a few sentences)

The easiest answer is that common sense is poor when it comes to truth-value, yet easy to manipulate for those who are not willing to do the leg work and actually research a topic. Confusing the common use of the term theory is an example of a case where one (who isn't a scientist or a knowledgeable person) takes use of the popular but misleading wrong definition and runs with it.

"If evolution is true, why is it just a theory?"
"You are mistaking the definition of theory. A scientific theory is powerful because it explains facts. As more facts emerge a theory is either disproved, refined or further backed up with evidence. You can never prove a theory but you can disprove it."

On the basis of word count alone, the refutation takes just over 4 times more words!

Countering Stupid with Stupid.

The success of the New Atheists when debating, in particular Christopher Hitchens, is testament to countering stupid with stupid. I'm not suggesting that Hitchens presents wrong arguments, but he does so in the same simplistic manner as his opposition. This is why he is good in debates, yet lacks thoroughness and can be seen to be simple minded by his opponents. Perhaps Hitchens in a debate gives the opposition gets a taste of their own medicine.

For example, how long might it take an atheist to formulate an argument for the "Problem of Evil" and think about how long it would take a theist to properly articulate a response. The problem of evil is a simplistic argument to make, one which can use emotional appeal to convey to the audience (eg. Why would a loving God allow suffering in the world) yet requires the theist to go into great deal. Any theist who can rattle off a simplistic answer clearly is doing a disservice to the vast amount of literature (as in books) on this subject.

What you cannot do.

Whatever you do, you cannot do the following
  • State that it has been refuted. This will then give the other person license to use the exact same argument against things which have not been refuted, but which they do not wish to address.
  • Attack the person for being stupid, simple minded or wrong without explaining why they are wrong. After all, there is a chance if there is this one stupid person you are debating there is likely at least one other stupid person like them in the audience.
  • Refuse to answer. By refusing to answer you are effectively giving up. This can be difficult when the opponent presents something you are not familiar with, and perhaps even see as being a good argument.
  • Say you don't know. There is no time for humility in debates. If you don't know, this gives your opponent ammunition that clearly they have made a valid argument if you cannot refute it.
What you can do.

All is not lost! There are a few things you can do to even the playing field. It might not make you win the battle, but it might help win the war against stupid.
  • Debate anyway. Just having a visible presence and presenting your arguments gives others the notion that there exists alternatives. It might even plant the seed of doubt in their mind.
  • Fight stupid with stupid. If its good enough for the opponent to rattle off a few one lines, its also good enough for you. It may be intellectually dishonest, but your opponent clear started it!
  • Find novel ways of answering the question instead of giving the same canned response.
  • Humour! Most Creationists/Christians/Conspiract Theoriests are deadly serious. Mixing some humour in shows a human touch.
  • Get under the skin of your opponent.
  • Stay knowledgeable about the subject area including common fallacies, common arguments and especially uncommon arguments. (Print out the friggin page on creationist arguments if need be)
Debates in General

Debates are not for determining truth value. This is something that people ought to be clear about. The format of a debate is such that a crappy defense does not make a poor argument. For example, Christianity isn't disproved if some random guy cannot defend his faith nor does Creationism become valid because a moron thinks theories are crazy ideas scientists come up with to deny God.

Debates are not won by content or the truth value of a position. It is won by the best debater, the person who strikes the right chord, the right set of words, plays to their strengths and their opponents weaknesses, and those who come across as human and approachable. Its the typical snake-oil saleman technique to get people to depart with their hard earned dollars, but in this case, to depart from their normal though process into one where they become right.

For the real argument, consult the literature, organise conferences, allow a continuous dialogue. If you look for bite-size truth, you will always end up intellectually starved.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Creationism and the Illuminati

For creationists the following maxim is usually true - the universe screams of design and intent, and the designer is God and we are the intent. Liberal Christians would say evolution intended for our existence and traditional Christians would say we were made fully formed some few thousand years ago. There are a few causes of this belief
a) The bible says and implies this - which therefore makes it a required belief.
b) Humans have evolved the ability to seek patterns, even if there isn't any.
c) Some sense of order exists in the world - and for some this requires explanation.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church
The world: starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and the end of the universe.
Without being able to find patterns in nature we would never have survived in the wild. Patterns in nature include the seasons, the moon, the stars, tracks in the sand, etc. Knowledge of these helped early crop growers, find water sources and develop primitive science such as tool making. The downside is finding patterns where none exist and giving wacky explanations to accompany them - whether we look into the clouds or stars and see images or hear things that go bump in the night. Some might say they are just harmless and are a healthy part of peoples imaginations, until they are taken seriously and we are required to consult the skies to know what kind of day we are to have or worship the sun.

Only since the advent of modern science have people been able to explain order, this time in terms of mathematics based on simple models. Seasons are easily explainable when one considers the Earth is tilted on its axis and orbits the Sun. There is no need to invoke imagery of death (winter) and re-birth (spring) which formed the basis of what today is known as Christmas, which was hijacked by the Christians.

God botherers like to evoke the supernatural as an explanation to order. For example they say that life cannot come from non-life - this implies God made life as there is no naturalistic explanation. Apart from being a logical fallacy, a false dichotomy, the truth of the matter is that there is no barrier to a naturalistic explanation for life coming from non-life.

When I was young and self taught myself chemistry in high school, I used to believe there was a difference between life-stuff and non-life-stuff. For example, the stuff wood (life) is made of is different to the stuff graphite (non-life) is made of. Learning that they are actually composed the same stuff - atoms, molecules, etc changed my perspective on things. Of course I never had an explanation for what this non-life stuff was...In some sense what I believed would have been little different to what the ancients might have believed about the nature of "stuff".

Arguments from design break down when one considers natural order which can be produced from chaos. This includes cyclones/hurricanes and crystals. We don't need to suppose a supernatural or even natural cyclone maker or crystal designer - we have nature and it's laws which are able to do it with no effort - just time. Emergence from chaos is a fascinating modern study in mathematics which has applications in ecology, quantum physics and artificial intelligence studies. These ideas in combination with the existing pieces of the puzzle (ie the creation of amino acids from basic elements) leads me to believe abiogenesis (life from non-life) is not simply plausible but has likely happened numerous times over the universe.

So what does this have to do with the Illuminati?

Well I'm not actually talking about the group of people known as the Illuminati, but those who believe there exists groups of people who are in control of this world. (ie Conspiracy Theorists) To me they are suffering the same kind of delusion the creationists are - they are perceiving order in the world when in actual fact there are just blind natural forces at play or just patterns in the noise.

What makes people who believe in the Illuminati different is that they are seeing order and intent in groups of humans and across groups of humans and claiming there are people "behind the scenes" pulling the strings and conspiring (perhaps to take over the world). This is similar to what Adam Smith's claimed drove the efficiency of capitalism, the "invisible hand" which controls free markets. Interestingly these patters are suppose to have come from independent humans with different wills but still results in patterns people want to make a story to.

There is a fine line between seeing patterns in a scientific, objective sense - and combining it with another powerful mind trick the confirmation bias...

Personally I see no evidence of agency or intent in the universe or within groups of people. The burden of proof has not been met. This is not a positive claim, but a dismissal of those who claim otherwise. Those who make the case of agency in the universe, and this agency is Jesus have the burden of proof - one which I believe has not been sufficiently met. Similarly those who make the case that the Illuminati are trying to set up a New World Order also have the burden of proof - one which I reject. It's perhaps no coincidence that many who believe in the Illuminati also evoke Christian apocolyptic themes.

What would the world look like without Jesus or the Illuminati? Well - exactly the same!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rick Santelli - Will Atlas Shrug?

Rick Santelli is a self-professed Ayn Randian libertarian who believes the free market should be left to work things out and the more the government fiddles, the worse things may become. He is the bond reporter for CNBC and is well known for his opposition for all the bailouts and in this video he is speaking against President Obama's plan to bail out home owners who got themselves in too deep who shouldn't have. This video has unleashed a tremendous reaction from Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and average Joe's who feel their voice has been silenced.

As much as I hate the Republican's for taking on the loony social Christian right (perhaps as a convenience rather than for ideological reasons) I do favour the traditional Republican economic values. In the enlightenment they fought for the separation of Church and State. I believe in the separation of Economics and State. Given states will always have budgets and will always collect taxes, the most optimal scenario is to have low taxes with small governments who provide necessities the free market cannot reasonably be asked to own (ie health care, education, defence, etc).

Ayn Randian "objectivist" philosophy states that its a good thing for man to be selfish - but not selfish in the traditional sense of the word. Traditionally selfish would mean someone who stole or leeched off someone. In objectivism, a leech cannot be selfish because they are not helping themselves. By relying on others all it takes is for the other person to leave the picture and the leech is screwed! This philosophy has been the backbone of modern capitalism despite its obvious antagonistic view with traditional Christian values. (An irony I find amusing considering the links between the Republican Party and their Christian affiliation)

When Rick talks about people "carrying the water" he is talking about all the Ayn Randian selfish people who are generating the GDP, creating jobs and working hard - the people who are "Real Americans". On the other hand those who "drink the water" are those members of society who do not help themselves (I'm only talking about those who can, not those who cannot) and rely on the hard work of others to get by. The classic example of a water drinker is the single woman who recently had eight more IVF children despite having no job and six more at home.

I remember an anecdote from someone who explains why hippy communes did not succeed. It was simple - there were too many people doing too little, too few people doing too much, and those resented those who did little. It works against the human spirit of "fairness", but does not go against the will of humans to help others who are truly at need.

The question Ayn Rand posed in Atlas Shrugged was that, what if those who carried the world on their shoulders (mirroring the Greek God Atlas) were to give up (shrug). Well clearly society would cease to function and the basis on to which capitalism has been so successful (the drive to better oneself) is removed. The unintended consequence or "moral hazard" of communism is the reduction in desire to work hard.

So what are these important "moral hazards"? They are an interesting pair of words which explains what happens when one party loses its incentive to proceed as it would if something wasn't done. Would you still lock your car if you had car insurance? Well perhaps, but there is less incentive to. A moral hazard would exist when one takings out insurance, doesn't lock their car and relies on the insurance company to give them a new car. Their behaviour has changed, to the detriment of the insurer. Would you act with less risk if the government will bail you out if you are "too big to fall"?

Moral hazard is perhaps the best explanation as to the current failure of the markets. There was no risk with writing or taking peoples mortgages because they were passed on like a game of "pass the parcel" until the music stopped and people were left with rubbish. The mortgage brokers had the benefits of the commissions with no risk - giving them carte-blanch to falsify information. The banks didn't care because they would pass the mortgage on (taking a commission with them) and so on and so forth.

All these hyper-inflated house prices were artificial. Those who bought high should shoulder the burden of their mistake. The government is taking pity on them and giving them money to reduce the principle so they can refinance away from their stupid decision to get a loan which starts off low in repayments and resets to normal after a few years. (An ARM loan) Let me put this in another way. Should the government compensate those who lost money in the tech bubble which burst because it was unseen and dramatic for those involved?

There are plenty of people (myself included) who did not jump in the red hot market - or missed the opportunity to get in. Now that the markets are bound to reduce to their pre-hyper-inflated values, why can't people like myself jump into the market and pick up a bargain thanks to the bad decisions made by people who shouldn't have gotten a loan in the first place? This is the way the free market works and this is what Rick Santelli and most people want! The more the prices are kept artificially high, the less affordable they are.

Larry Kudlow (who I do not agree with on his Keynesian policies) noted that in California where prices have fallen, sales are rising! This is exactly the free market working. The same free market others are claiming is not working. Rick at another time noticed correctly "the market isn't working the way the government wants it to work".

The average Joe's are highly supportive of Santelli - why? Because they have had enough of those people in society who "drink the water" - and they all know who they are. Too many irresponsible people were treating their houses like a bank, getting second mortgages, a second car, spending their money on crap (thanks to Bush's spend your way out of a recession) and many of those who didn't do that - who were responsible are not having to foot the bill. Let's not forget the moral hazard!!

Those "water drinkers" include all the CEO's and bankers who got money for nothing or money for risk and high leverage. They aren't the Ayn Randian selfish people - they are just simply morons! Rick was there from day one saying no to the bank bailouts, no to reckless government spending on his (and others - including his kid's kid's) dime.

Many nay-sayers think its a bit rich for Santelli and his trading buddy's to be rallying against this cause. They believe those traders are either highly paid or speculators, the people who got us into this mess. Are they right? No! Those traders (in the pits in Chicago trading treasuries, eurodollars, etc) are simply the cogs in the wheel of capitalism. The role of speculators is highly controversial. Those traders certainly weren't the ones who were buying up houses on the premise that "house prices would never go down". No one complains about speculators in oil when the prices are driven down (if one can even say the role of speculators is anything other than marginal price movements - supply and demand is far more of a factor).

The democrats who have gone in to bat for Obama have said that this plan helps those whose equity is negative or low to refinance! The problems with this is
a) If their equity is negative - too bad - you bought too high.
b) If they cannot repay now - why did they get the bad contract to start with? (ARM's etc...)
c) Many of those people will not be able to repay regardless - these are the liars and fools who should never had gotten a loan to start with.

Obama's supporters say we need this to get the markets going again. The only problem is - the stock market has spoken and today we broke below a twelve year low! (If you invested twelve years ago you might have lost money today) Things are getting worse and the market is not confident with these plans. Some say we need to do something - but its worse to do something quick without thinking and make things worse. Santelli and co can see this is a bad idea. I won't pretend I have the answers, but there are thousands of intelligent people out there - doesn't one of them have an idea and a voice?

So I ask the question - Will Atlas shrug? Will we get to July and Santelli's Tea (or T-bill) Party comes where millions of American's speak their voice and say "NO" - we will not support the slackers in society - this is America where we value hard work over handouts - investing over speculation. The good news is...Obama IS listening Santelli. I have hope Obama will converge on the "right" idea - even if we go through ten or more bad ones. If you do not have hope - what else do you have?

On behalf of all hard working, penny saving libertarians - I raise a cup of tea to Santelli and his courage.

PS - As an Australian I find this fascinating. It's a completely different culture and ethic, one which I am not sure would work worldwide. Heartless capitalism, in my opinion, yields far more heart in the long run than heartful socialism.