Friday, November 5, 2010

Fine Tuning - A Brief Intro.

If there is one argument for the existence of God which stops and makes me pause it is the fine tuning argument. While I am not impressed with the logic of the conclusion, there are a number of things about this universe which seem to require an explanation.

That the universe has produced intelligent creatures which are able to figure it out (at least in a limited sense) seems highly implausible given our current present understanding of physics (those parts of physics which have currently been verified, as opposed to speculative M-theory, etc).

Some might say that the fact that the universe has produced intelligent creatures is of no more significance than a universe filled entirely with black holes - although this is technically true in a value-neutral sense, there is still something non-mundane about creatures which have the ability to create value. One might also say that the relative complexity of the human brain, which produces meaningful consciousness, is that which is to be valued. Regardless, I will assume that humans do have value.

That human brains have a level of complexity which can produce meaningful consciousness (higher level thought versus chimpanzees, etc) is a fairly uncontentious observation. The explanation of how humans arrived at this state however is contentious. Many would have us believe that only God can be responsible, while most scientists and atheists alike will say that evolution provides a satisfactory explanation.

Although humans have evolved their brain under evolution, it is not true that in all possible universes that evolution can even start. Under our current understanding of how the universe works, the universe needs the correct conditions to allow life to start at all. For example, some universes may only last millions of years instead of billions of years - which isn't enough time to allow life to form (life requires heavy elements which can only be formed in supernovae) and evolution to take hold all else being equal. Some universes may only consist of black holes (gravity too high) - such a universe would be unsuited for starting life, hence evolution cannot even start to produce complex beings.

Although there are many unitless constants which come up in different areas of fundamental physics, Marin Rees has come up with six constants which he deemed to be fundamental to the structure of the universe. These are generally the values/constants quoted by those who defend the fine tuning argument for theism and I will use them here.

Perhaps the most significant of these constants is the cosmological constant which is said to be fine-tuned to within 120 orders of magnitude. (Steven Weinberg 1989 "The Cosmological Constant Problem") That is to say that if the value were increased by 1 part in 10^120 the universe would have expanded too rapidly.

Unfounded Assumptions
1. That these six numbers are "dials" a designer/universe generator can play with (or degrees of freedom for possible universes).
2. That the laws of physics as we know them must apply to all possible universes.
3. That we know the possible probable range the six numbers can take.
4. That we understand physics enough to come to a reasonable conclusion (i.e. god-of-the-gaps)
5. That there is only one possible universe.

1. Currently there is no grand unification theory or any theory which is able to explain the laws of physics as we currently know them. Given this we cannot say whether these constants are actually constants or if they are based on more fundamental relationships, either mathematical or on some other "constant".

2. We only know the laws of physics given that which we see in this current universe. What reason do we have to suppose that the laws of physics are the same in all possible universes? Are the laws of the universe like Pi and a logical necessity or are they merely contingent.

3. Unless we have a defined probability of the range of values our fine tuned constants can take - our set of fine tuned constants are actually isomorphic to a coarsely tuned universe.

4. Our knowledge of physics isn't sufficient to come to grand conclusions about the nature of some yet-unknown unifying theory. In this sense, the fine tuning argument is merely a god-of-the gaps style of argument where it feeds on our current lack of knowledge.

5. Given that we only have one universe, we are unable to conclude anything about general possible universes based on purely empirical methods. That is to say we cannot say the possible ranges of these constants given only one universe without any other reason why. We cannot also rule out multiple universes outside of our detection abilities or current detection abilities.

Interesting Observation
Isn't it interesting how physics concludes that life is possible given the constants of nature as they are? God could have created the universe in such a way to make life impossible under pure naturalism (a 6000 year old earth, etc), yet apparently we are to believe that he did so in a way which still makes sense under naturalism. Wouldn't it be miraculous if the universe couldn't have possibly have created life - yet still did. THAT would require a serious explanation, however the fine-tuning argument as-is isn't a threat to the naturalists ontology.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Justification For Atheism - Critique

Kel over at Kelosophy has just posted a justification for his non-belief of theism. Here I am critiquing his post for two purposes - I wish to offer objections which an intelligent theist might raise as well as providing advice and challenges and a framework as to how I may answer the same question. I do not believe there are any fundamental epistemological problems with his defense, and hence his disbelief is justified.

The Ontology Of God
there's at least a general sense by which the concept [God] can be understood.
I'm not entirely sure I would be willing to concede this to the theist. In terms of the ontology of God we are never offered any positive or primary ontic properties, only relational or negative properties. I don't believe it's possible to discuss anything without positive/primary properties, (nor would we accept this in everyday situations) and hence we still don't know what God is. [1,2]

and strong agnostics who take such an entity as being unknowable
As an aside: isn't identifying God as "being unknowable" a truth claim?!

Logical Problem of Evil
When it comes to the conception of God as being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, the existence of such a concept is seen to be incompatible with the existence of evil. Such a conception of God can be ruled out, and indeed much time and effort has gone into addressing this concern. The problem of evil is justification for being a strong atheist, at least in respect to conceptions of God that involved absolute power and absolute goodness.
This is known as the logical problem of evil and it doesn't seem stand up in it's strongest form. Theists may be justified in their belief that all appearance of evil has a rational explanation (known as Skeptical Theism) that we may only understand if we too knew everything. We don't know everything therefore there might be good reasons for evil or apparent evil to exist.

A weaker form of this argument is to state that the level and amount of suffering makes much more sense under atheism than theism (argument to the best explanation) and the theist needs to demonstrate why evil can serve some greater purpose. [3] This is generally a good rhetorical trick because it makes otherwise intelligent Christians justify genocide, etc. [4]

The Ontology Of God
Likewise other traits are problematic.
I think the strongest is the impossibility of omniscience (it's impossible to know everything). [5] There is also the problem of omnipotence, being all-good and being free. If God can do everything and is free to do anything than that includes being evil. But it is metaphysically impossible for God to be evil. Also, as humans can be evil but God cannot - it stands to reason that we can do things God cannot. Hence he cannot be omnipotent. [6]

God vs Logic
can God make a rock so heavy that he can't lift?
An objection to this is to note that such a sentence is logically meaningless and hence the theist can modify the definition of omnipotent to mean "that whatever is logically possible". Such a concession may make some theists uncomfortable as it means that God is inferior to logic! If they do not concede this then logic is arbitrary and/or God is above/beyond logic and is therefore meaningless for humans to pontificate over.

Deductive vs Inductive Approaches
These kind of proofs though are at least to me unsatisfying because while they ground God in definition they don't capture the essence of what God is.
There are two ways to arrive at God. One is through pure reason (Anslem, Thomas, Scholastics), the other is through evidence (Natural Theology). Pure reason lead us to abominations such as the ontological argument for God! It's also a shaky edifice because to undermine any conclusion makes it almost impossible to patch one's argument. On the other hand natural theology sounds more like what the average person identifies with as God.

Boundaries/Scope of Explanatory Power
Can something supernatural act within the natural world?
I don't see how this is metaphysically impossible. I like to think of it this way - imagine we are in the matrix and those outside the matrix are "supernatural". Although those inside the matrix cannot interact with the matrix (unless there are built-in mechanisms), those on the outside can affect things inside the matrix.
If something is acting in the natural world what stops it being natural itself?
Supernaturalism has generally meant something along the lines of acausal will generating actions (i.e. uncaused causes, contra-causal free will, etc)
Can something simultaneously be in and outside of time? Can something outside of time experience or be said to have a thought?
There are serious coherency problems here in that humans, who are beings in-time, find it hard (if not impossible) to talk about these things. I try to stay away from it!
An undetected and undetectable deity is indistinguishable from there being no deity at all.
It's actually much worse than that! Even if there was some miracle, it is epistemically equivalent to highly advanced technology. It's impossible to tell the difference between a booming voice from the sky and aliens messing with us. [7]

Altering the brain alters conscious experience.
Have you heard of the split-brain patient where one half of his brain is an atheist and the other is a Christian? [8]

Tea Pot Skepticism
Nor could they disprove Santa for that matter, or an alleged china teapot orbiting between Earth and Mars too small to be detected by any instrument.
I'd be wary of taking this line of thinking too far just as a matter of principle - we don't just disbelieve these claims (Santa, tea-pot's) on the absence of evidence alone but because there are also good reasons to suppose they are not true.

First Cause Arguments
the notion of a clockwork universe, with notions like the arrow of time and causality probabilistic rather than definite
This one is a bit tricky depending on which QM interpretation you follow - there are currently at least 12. [9] In terms of the Kalam Cosmological Argument - it's foremost Christian proponent William Lane Craig says that it only works under A-theory of time (that time has a direction, etc) instead of B-theory of time (time is a 4D unchanging manifold). Despite Craig's defense of A-theory, many philosophers remain unconvinced over A or B (it's one of the most uncertain areas of philosophy) and the jury is still out. [10] Physicists would likely be more comfortable with B-theory. For example, in Hawking's new book [11] he advocates something which resembles B-theory. Not all A theorists are theists - you could still argue against Kalam with A-theory. [12]

Fine Tuning
There's no reason to assume that life, and more specifically us, is the focal point for the laws of physics. Evolutionarily so much owed to our existence is a product of contingency that it makes no sense to privilege us more than any other life-form.
Two problems with this. If there is only one universe then the existence of humans seems extremely improbable and very surprising. [13] Secondly evolutionary contingency can only exist when life is able to start existing - hence stars need to last a certain amount of time, the universe has to be a certain age, etc. While I could write for pages and pages about good ways to handle the fine tuning argument I can actually just point to Christian philosophers who actually argued that our "fine tuned" universe is equivalent to a "coarse tuned" universe if we do not have a probability distribution on what values the constants could have. [14]

Morality, evidentially, clearly is an evolved trait and requires no further explanation.
I recently debated a fellow atheist in our atheist club at university over the existence and nature of morality. My position is basically that objective morality doesn't exist (moral skepticism/nihilism) but that moral behaviour certainly does exist and must be evolutionary. I would say its very difficult if not impossible to get from moral behaviour to absolute morality without presupposing a miracle! (Then there is the issue of how the describe the ontology of absolute morality in a naturalistic framework. [15])

Cognitive Basis for Religion
We are wired for agency and in particular human agency.
Worse still we are wired to remember minimally counterintuitive ideas. Almost all supernatural entities can be reduced to singular ontological violations. Ghosts = People - Body's, Zombies = People - Soul, Magic Pendant = Object + Ability to listen, etc [16, 17]
In this respect, explaining God belief is just one of the many weird things that permeates in our species without good reason.
Our brains are still basically the same since when we left the Savannah some 100,000 years ago. We have stone age brains in a modern world with atomic weapons/global warming. This should alarm anyone! Even if you take God belief away, it transforms into New Age or any other metaphysical/existential crutch.


I find the quest for justifying belief to be difficult. At what point do you stop researching and just get on with your life? For most weak atheists it's just about simply pointing out that the traditional theistic arguments don't resonate with them and until they do, one is justified in not accepting them. Perhaps its just a case of doing what one usually does in cases where expertise is required - and that is to tentatively appeal to the authorities? So long as there is a vanguard of intelligent and sophisticated atheist philosophers of religion, we need not fear the development of some new fangeled attempt by Christian philosophers to bamboozle us into accepting some seductive sounding ontological argument.

All I know is that I learn the most when I push my atheistic brethren and see where it goes.


[1] George Smith "The Case Against God"
[2] Youtube, ProfMTH "What is God?"
[3] William Rowe "The Evidential Argument from Evil"
[4] William Lane Craig, "Slaughter of the Cannanites"
[5] Problems with Devine Omniscience
[6] For these and others (apparently there are PLENTY of incompatible properties of God), see Michael Martin.
[7] Gregory Dawes "Theism and Explanation"
[8] V.S. Ramachandran
[9] Interpretations of QM
[10] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Time
[11] Hawking, "The Grand Design"
[12] Quentin Smith (I think...)
[13] Luke Barnes presents a terrific introduction to this.
[14] Lydia/Timothy McGrew
[15] J.L. Mackie (Argument from Queerness)
[16] Pascal Boyer "Religion Explained"
[17] Scott Atran "In God's We Trust"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

BTB: What happened to Paul's Church?

Blogging the bible: 1 Corinthians 12

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
  • To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom
  • to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,
  • to another faith by the same Spirit,
  • to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,
  • to another miraculous powers,
  • to another prophecy,
  • to another distinguishing between spirits,
  • to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,
  • and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
And in the church God has appointed
  • first of all apostles,
  • second prophets,
  • third teachers,
  • then workers of miracles
  • those having gifts of healing,
  • those able to help others,
  • those with gifts of administration,
  • and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.
Does this sound anything like the Churches that exist today?
If not, why not?
What happened to Paul's Chruch?
Given that Paul was writing to the Corinthians around 50-60CE, doesn't this illustrate what a different world the ancients used to live in compared to today?
What happened to all these spiritual gifts?
Notice how many of these gifts are actually testable? (How many do you suppose would stand up to rational scrutiny)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Modern Theistic Arguments

Disclaimer: I am not a theist nor am I an accommodationist.

Larry Moran has issued the following challenge:
This brings me to my challenge. I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God.
Let me first begin by expanding the disclaimer...

I don't think any theistic argument succeeds rigorous or sceptical scrutiny however to deny that new argument exist seems to me to be ignorant. Some atheists seem to be of the opinion that the failure of these arguments and their non-existance are somehow equivalent. Nevertheless I will list some "sophisticated" arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity from modern proponents.

Evidentialists maintain that there exists positive evidence for not only the existence of God but also for the truth of Christianity. (Hereby known as G/C or God/Christianity)

Many modern "sophisticated" arguments take a Bayesian probabilistic approach by trying to quantify what many have called "converging lines of evidence". In plain speak this means that there exists many small pieces to the puzzle which, if taken in isolation mean very little however when taken together provide positive evidence for the truth of G/C, in a similar way as to how a detective might go about collecting evidence to build a case.

The most prominent defender of this view is Richard Swinburne.

The same technique can be used to justify the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. For example, in a debate between Craig and Ehrman, Craig uses Bayesian probability to prove the resurrection is historical.

Tangentially related to the evidentialists are those who believe certain facts of nature/modern science are more probable under theism than atheism.

These include
  • the insufficiency of evolution to explain some feature such as information/irreducible complexity, etc.
  • the inability to provide positive proof of abiogenesis. (Problems of chirality, etc)
  • the fine tuning of the constants of nature (using modern cosmology, hence this is a new argument).
  • the existence of the universality of belief in the supernatural.
Note: Ironically one of the best defeaters for the fine tuning argument come from Christian philosophers! (Tim and Lydia McGrew)

Many evidentialists are skeptical and critical of their non-evidentialist brethren.

Non-evidentialists don't believe any evidentialist claims succeed and so they resort to different tactics to prove the existence of G/C or to maintain that their beliefs are justified. Some may even claim that proving the truth of G/C is irrelevant.

The most popular proponent of a non-evidentialist epistemology is Alvin Plantinga who maintains that belief in God is properly basic (that is to say it doesn't depend on any other belief).

What is a properly basic belief in reformed epistemology? Well let's say I have a black can in front of me (which I do) then the belief of the colour of this can is a properly basic belief because it relies on accurate sense data (i.e. my eyes). Plantinga says that when he reads the bible he senses the holy spirit, and given that he believes this is accurate sense data, he can be confident that his belief in the holy spirit is properly basic. (This is a thumbnail sketch of a very complicated set of propositions, so don't critique Plantinga on my butchering!)

Plantinga is also famous for his warranted Christian belief which is the proposition that if Christianity is true than one is justified in believing Christianity. This may seem trivial but there were sceptical attacks which concluded that even if Christianity was true, one would not be justified in believing it.

Of less interest seem to be the presuppositionists who believe only Christian Theism provides a coherent world-view. I wouldn't call this sophisticated, but it seems to be modern.

So there we have it. Modern sophisticated justifications and arguments for the truth of G/C. If you want an atheists view on modern philosophy of religion, try someone respected like Graham Oppy (he's Aussie, he's awesome!) over say Richard Dawkins.

Meta Comment: I'm not surprised atheists usually get creamed in debates with professional Christian debaters. When the view is that there exists no new arguments in the last 200 years for G/C then it isn't surprising when they get shown up in a live debate and then are unable to even comprehend what the Christian is saying. This ignorance also flows through to the audience (both sides) who are far less educated in these things.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's a good time to be an atheist!

It's a good time to be an atheist - a really good time to be an atheist!

Science and Philosophy

God not needed to explain the origins of the universe - This provides scientific rationale against the cosmological and fine tuning arguments.

Synthetic Life - Craig Venter has shown that synthetic life is possible. This research, amongst others, will lead to a further understanding of abiogenesis.

Extrasolar Planets - Hundreds of extrasolar Earth-like planets have been discovered showing that the Earth-like planets are not rare in the universe and increases the probability of earth-like life elsewhere in the universe.

Scientific Morality - Although I don't necessarily buy this, Sam Harris thinks science can answer questions on morality.

Free will is an illusion - Some theistic traditions require free will to have moral culpability.

Majority of scientists/historians/psychologists/sociologists are atheistic - The more knowledgeable you are the less likely it is you believe in god.

Majority of philosophers are atheistic - Even the study of philosophy does not lead one to god, even though philosophy is the last great stand for the religious.

"God's Will" is our will - fMRI scans show that when people are asked what God wants, its equivalent to what they want.

Politics and Society

Australia has an openly atheistic Prime Minster - Not many people cared about this fact.

The fastest growing "religion" is none - People are no longer keeping their religious traditions.

Societies which are organically atheist are healthier - Contrary to the belief that without religion society would collapse.

2 Million books sold on one atheistic book - The God Delusion has sold over 2 million copies!

Christian Atheists and Atheist Clergy - Even some of the religious no longer really believe.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Love Shyness - A Bleak Future

This is part of a series on Love Shyness. The index can be found here.

Despite being heavily criticised, Maslow's hierarchy of needs serves a rough guide to the needs of the individual in an individualistic society. Love shy males by their very nature suffer physiologically through lack of sex, love and belonging due to the absence of sexual intimacy and also fail to reach self-actualisation due to their issues related to spontaneity, etc. If Maslow's hierarchy was to be believed, love shy males would therefore be at higher risk of personal failure than their non-shy counterparts. Let's see what Gilmartin discovered about the love-shy population and their success in life.


In a study of white, college educated males in 1982, Gilmartin discovered that 3.6% of the non-shy population was unemployed while 16% of the older love-shy males were unemployed at the time of the interview. Basically love-shy males are extremely prone to unemployment, prolonged under-employment and/or part-time employment.

Annual Income

The average income for the older love-shy males in 1979-1981 was only $14,782 despite 93% of these love-shy males having an undergraduate degree and 42% having at least one graduate degree. Despite not giving comparative figures for the non-shy population, Gilmartin states that this number is low and represents an unrewarded and ignored segment of the American population.


Of the 100 older love-shy males interviewed, all were living in small one-bedroom apartments. Gilmartin judges that 73% were living in less than desirable neighbourhoods and their living quarters were often cramped and cluttered.

Socioeconomic Mobility

Gilmartin noticed that based on the reports of the older love-shy males, their socioeconomic status had been reduced in relation to their upbringing. For example, a love-shy male who grew up in a middle class household (which is interestingly true of the majority of love-shy males) is more likely to drift into the lower class in adulthood. This seems counter-intuitive considering love-shy males are more likely to obtain higher education - a term which sociologists call "status inconsistent". These "status inconsistent" people are seldomly happy, content or productive.


If love-shyness leads to low income and career instability then this also has further implications in the ability for the love-shy to overcome their limitations. First of all, in terms of confidence, their financial condition does not allow them to feel in control of their lives. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, society looks down on those earning less, which affects their ability to attract women. For example, OkCupid has tracked the number of messages a man gets in relation to his age and his income and not surprisingly the lower the income, the less messages a man gets, particularly above the age of 23. Women are still attracted to men who bring home the bacon.

Basically, they are stuck in a downwards spiral. Their love-shyness leads to low income, which makes them unable to find a mate, which does not help their confidence, etc, leading to more career instability, and so on.

In a 1977 survey of happiness and income, 46% of people earning >$20,000 were "very happy", compared to 33% for $10,000 to $19,999, and 29% for those earning less than $10,000.

At Work

Those love-shy males who do obtain work often struggle with issues of confidence and social networking - critical areas for many jobs. This can lead to a stagnation in the advance of ones career and general distrust from their colleagues.

In a questionnaire developed to measure the attitudes of the love shy and their non love shy counterparts, the following results were obtained.

100% Non-Shy
32% Older Love-Shy

Easily discouraged:
0% Non-Shy
100% Older Love-Shy

Seldomly let ones-self down:
72% Non-Shy
4% Older Love-Shy

Enjoy making decisions:
88% Non-Shy
38% Older Love-Shy


Gilmartin offers the following advice.
[Yes, it appears as all-caps in the book]
Completion of a major in a technical field with only a "C" average will very likely get a love-shy man a much better career opportunity than will an "A" average in a non-technical discipline that is not clearly related to the job market.
Intellectual self-enlightenment or "insight" is now recognized by most psychologists as being quite useless from the standpoint of curing love-shyness.
It can be asserted with considerably certainty that love-shy men who major in technical fields and who develop salable, technical skills, adjust to their adult lives a great deal better than do love-shys who major in the liberal arts, social science, education and humanities disciplines.
This is something I have personally thought about over the past six months or more since I started reading this book. Doing a degree in physics is all well and good from an intellectual point of view, but it doesn't build a foreseeable stable and profitable future, things which most people require to feel confident within themselves. Another problem is the lack of females who are in the field, which decreases the probability of meeting someone who shares similar interests.

Despite my love of physics, I'm not sure I can exactly feel content with the picture of myself being 40 and living alone in a small flat in Germany...I've yet to come up with a reasonable picture as to where my future will take me. There are a million other ancillary issues which complicate things too. They all lead to me having a lack of motivation in finishing my PhD.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Dawkins Got Wrong

Last week I finally presented my talk on "What Dawkins Got Wrong" to the UWA Atheist and Agnostic Society, which was previously postponed due to my broken ankle. The talk was derived mainly from Wielenberg's paper titled "Dawkins's Gambit, Hume's Aroma, and God's Simplicity".

Previously I agreed with Dawkin's central argument in his book "The God Delusion" as I shared a similar, heavily scientific world-view. As time has gone and I've read a lot more in philosophy, I now no longer believe that Dawkin's presented the best possible case for atheism, which, in my opinion, is a shame. After I read the paper by Wielenberg, I agreed with the critics of Dawkins who argue that Dawkins attacks an almost straw-man like God.

My intention in giving the talk was to open people up to a different way of thinking and I can't say I succeeded in this task. I learned that not everyone shares an appreciation of philosophy and it was difficult to remember back to the time when I agreed with the masses. I wasn't able to elucidate the reasons why I changed my mind - at least not convincingly in my opinion.

Many of the counter-objections I faced were similar in nature to a discussion at Common Sense Atheism, which also provided another source for my case against Dawkins.

It's perhaps too harsh to suggest that Dawkins got things wrong (sensational headlines usually attract audiences), but he didn't present the best arguments as to why one should be an atheist, which of course gives his critics and detractors plenty of room to manoeuvre. It's also a particularly pernicious aspect of Dawkins argumentative style that he tends to over state his case. (Yes, my irony detector is buzzing like crazy)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Collision - Part 2 - The Discussion

I've broken my analysis of the Collision event into two posts. The first post covered the movie and the second post (this one) will cover the discussion between UWA's Ben Rae and Daniel Midgley which followed the movie (including their appearance on RTR earlier that day).

Ben Rae was the representative of the Christian Union at UWA. Ben has a degree in Science (neuroscience) and stated that he was raised Christian and surprise, surprise discovered that Christianity was true. How lucky of him to be born into the correct religion! (A good case for the outsider test for faith...)

Daniel Midgley was the representative of the UWA Atheist and Agnostic Society. Daniel is a lecturer in linguistics and an ex-Mormon. He also has the excellent blog Good Reason and a spot on local radio station RTR. He is the closest thing we have to a super-star atheist.

Earlier in the day, Ben and Daniel had a discussion on RTR which can be downloaded here. Many of the talking points were repeated in both the radio discussion and the post-movie discussion so I am going to treat them all together.

Many Christians and Atheists continually talk about "tone" and how the new atheist movement can be strident, snide, arrogant and uncivilised. I can report that both sides were pleasant to each other and the entire tone of the discussion was conductive to a fruitful discussion of ideas. There were times when both parties were talking past each other or going around in circles but these were stopped by Daniel and Ben by moving on to other questions. There was only one "uncivilised" moment in the event when a (probably atheist/agnostic) student interjected, but overall the audience sat captivated listening to the discussion. Props to Daniel and Ben for their professionalism, preparation and civility during the discussion. This is the nicest I am going to be towards Daniel and Ben...

Like most discussions there is a difference between matters of fact and matters of opinions. Facts are true irrespective or argumentation whereas opinions are backed by argumentation and are evaluated by third parties. Both sides engaged in an assertion-fest, that is they told us what their opinions were, but rarely supported them with argumentation and when they did, they were primarily weak.

Ben's Blunders

One of the most egregious factual errors by Ben Rae was his mischaracterisation of Buddhism. This drew gasps of disbelief and murmurs of discontent from the audience and rightly so. This of course is rather problematic for Ben. Imagine if someone claimed that Christianity was a religion where Paul was the Son of God - this person would clearly be ignorant of the teachings of Christianity, yet surely Ben would not claim this is sufficient justification for their disbelief in Christianity. When we are told Ben has evaluated Christianity and found it to be true, we could always ask why he hasn't studied Buddhism? (Clearly studying Buddhism from the words of fellow Christians is problematic) This would surely lead to an uncomfortable double standard. Ben seems to be justified in not understanding Buddhism yet a Buddhist would not be justified in not understanding Christianity.

I was also taken aback by Ben's repeated assertion that Christianity is an historical religion, and its claims (namely the resurrection) can be validated historically. When Daniel pressed him, Ben used the following historical criteria - Ben asked us to read the Gospels and ask ourselves if it made sense...Whoa...This made me cringe and had I been in Daniel's shoes I would have pounded him on this and the notion that Christianity is an historical religion.

In the category of "correct, but painful to admit" was Ben's response to Daniel quoting the end of Mark which tells believers that they can handle snakes. Ben stated that it shouldn't have been in the Bible. This amusing answer was scoffed at by the audience and rightly so. Apart from alienating the section of the audience which believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God, it made God look incompetent by letting generations and generations of people believe (including a whole denomination, namely Pentecostals) this was supposed to be in the Bible, yet Ben is one of the lucky ones to know it shouldn't be there. (How lucky is Ben - he clearly knows the truth better than 99.99% of all Christians who have ever lived and was born into it too!) Daniel didn't respond to this, and in discussion after the event, he revealed that he didn't need to say any more, Ben had said it all.

Ben made an interesting argument that the ability of humans to do science points to a God. The problem with this argument is that it's like a loaded coin - heads you win, tails I lose. It would also be true that the inability to perform science can also be argued to be compatible with theism. In fact some medieval Islamic theologians came to the conclusion that science was against God because you would be taking away God's will and sovereignty and effectively testing God. Ben's argument is nothing more than looking at the way things are - and contriving a just-so story to explain it, one which invokes God.

Many of Ben's other errors were perhaps not errors but looking at history with Christian glasses on. He conveniently ignores the reality of medieval Christianity, the fall of scholarship and the destruction of knowledge, the opposition of science by the Church and instead focuses on the post-reformation era where the falling Church hegemony coincided with intellectual freedom and curiosity.

Overall his argument was similar to Douglas Wilson - and to be honest - is the only thing worth asking. Whether Christianity has been good to this world is entirely dependent on whether it is true or not. If Christianity is true then it follows that it is good because it leads souls to heaven.

Daniel's Dodges

Now I turn my attention to the home team so-to-speak and look at where Daniel went wrong.

Ben's tactic was simple and effective. On what basis does Daniel have to declare Christianity either right or wrong and if Daniel can present a basis - why should anyone else care about it? Right and wrong being not just subjective (such as "I like strawberry icecream") but based on questions of morality.

Daniel - like so many intelligent atheists - failed to answer the Christians questions regarding morality satisfactorily. For example, Daniel kept reinforcing the notion that atheists can be as moral as Christians but this isn't necessarily relevant.

There are two categories of moral claims Christians generally make (there may be more - but I am simplifying it).

The strong claim is the biblical claim that non-believers are wicked, they lie and cannot be trusted. This view isn't taken as true by the vast majority of Christians because it is verifiable - and not surprisingly - is false.

The weaker claim is a theological claim, namely that moral ontology leads to the conclusion that the existence of objective morality can only be true if God exists. (As the argument continues, objective morality exists, therefore God exists). This is a standard argument that the majority of Christians hold to.

Daniel was effectively challenging the strong claims but did not address the weaker claim. In fact when Daniel scored a rhetorical victory by telling Ben not to give up his religion if he doesn't know why X is bad, he was again, still attacking the strong position instead of the general weaker claim.

In the world of the Christian - the atheist has no moral basis and is therefore acting inconsistently by being moral. This inconsistency is seen as a deeply help acceptance that moral truth exists, is objective, and grounded in a higher being. The garden variety atheist would reject this of course - but the job is to explain why.

I generally agree that atheism entails no moral position. Why? Because atheism is a position regarding the existence of God - and God alone. One must develop a positive moral ontology (instead of attacking one) - and this could take any form. For example, you could be a utilitarian or a deontologist. I personally have no defined morality because I have yet to be convinced of any moral system - I therefore divert most of my judgement to a socially neutral position.

Is morality even objective? Daniel didn't press this on Ben but seemed to take it as a given. Many standard responses include "we know X is wrong", therefore objective morality. This is false because we don't actually "know", we "feel" (emotional, intuition) or we "believe" or we have been lead to believe (via culture, etc), or we have the opinion that "X is wrong". Knowledge is a very strong claim in epistemology and there are many moral skeptics who would even go as far as to argue that moral knowledge qua knowledge is impossible.

Another standard response is "we all know murder is wrong". Of course this is a rather sneaky one because murder is defined to be illegal. Murder is a judgement on the action of killing - of which killing is in and of itself not intrinsically immoral. Human history can attest to the variability in how illegal killing is defined.

Another Christian classic is how can the atheist say that what Hitler (or any other tyrant) did was wrong. The easy answer is to merely ask the question, why did Hitler do what he did? In this case we see two problems with his moral reasoning. First he makes factual claims about Jews (and others) which are wrong and he bridges the is/ought gap with little to no justification. (i.e. it does not follow that because race X is inferior that they should be exterminated). I would question any tyrant on the basis that what they did was either factually questionable or contained faulty moral reasoning.

A serious problem for the Christian is not just their moral ontology but their moral epistemology. Is there any evidence from the history of Christianity that Christians know what this objective morality is? It is a problem to suppose that a devine God would on one hand let his people believe slavery is fine for an extended period of time only to later reveal to them that they were mistaken. How much suffering could have been averted if people knew that slavery was wrong all along? I generally take the view that people do what they do because they generally have compelling reasons (at least to themselves) as to why they do something. Many good people supported slavery because they believed it was sanctioned by God, and there is a clear biblical basis for this.

Ben claimed that Daniel (and other atheists) were merely using Christian morals to judge Christianity. This seems unlikely as it cannot be possible that one could use one standard to judge that same standard wrong unless one was applying it incorrectly. (For example, if Hexopoidian morality said cannibalism was okay - you could not be using this Hexopoidian standard if you conclude cannibalism is wrong. Note that I made up the word Hexopoidian.)

Ben also made an analogy to an apple tree in that atheists are chopping down the tree and expecting apples. (Namely getting rid of the basis for morality and expecting morality to exist) This is not necessarily true if the atheist position is correct. If it is true that there is no god then it follows that all morality - including Christian morality - was always just plain old human morality. The moon does not fly off into space if we discover tomorrow that Newton was wrong about his theory of Gravity. Therefore the atheist hasn't chopped down any tree - they are just looking at it a different way. Daniel was correct in asserting that Christian morality is merely human morality - but perhaps an argument to back up his assertion would have driven the point home more succinctly.

The drunken skeptic who yelled out from the audience about mirror neurons also failed to account for objective morality. If anything it makes the atheists position worse because he is claiming our moral guide is comprised of something irrational (i.e. emotion) and something evolved. These cannot be (and thankfully are not) the basis of a morality. The Christian would therefore have the upper hand by claiming that these mirror neurons don't merely produce morality but reflect it as God's mechanism to delivering moral truth. Ben was quite right in asking "so what?", however this isn't going to convince those on the other side that he is engaging with the statement.

I don't want to proclaim that I understand morality - because I don't. I admit that I have no moral system that I call my own but we need to be humble and admit that we are all in the same boat here. Even if the Christian is right - it still does not follow that he knows what is right and what is wrong. If people applied more moral skepticism instead of moral certainty when it is not warranted - a lot of suffering in this world could be prevented. There is nothing worse in my eyes than a good person doing something evil, when they believe it is good and they do so for faulty reasons.


Those Christians who understand my criticisms of Daniel will likely find their position has not changed after the discussion as Daniel did not mount any direct challenge to their faith.

For those on the fence, they are likely to find Daniel's position more reasonable, not because he was necessarily right but because his arguments were compelling. The average person knows in their heart that slavery is wrong - the Christian can tell us all they like they we are basing or borrowing our morality from them but when the average person picks up a bible and sees the condoning of slavery - we understand that the Christian is being inconsistent and picking and choosing their position.

The average person doesn't need a justification or feel as if they have to provide one as to why they believe slavery is wrong. The Christian may not like this but I doubt the average person will be swayed will appeals to a higher standard. Most people "know it" because they feel it, and that's it. This is why the New Atheists tactics have been so popular despite being riddled with logical errors. The Christian tactic of attempting to frame the debate in a Christian centric way is - in my opinion at least - doomed. Their best chance would be to actually defend what is written and show that peoples inner moral feeling just need a little bit of tweaking to be lined up with the bible.

For those on the fence who "get it", they will not be convinced by either person!

As for the die hard atheist - well I'm sure they go away from this feeling frustrated that the Christian didn't get it, and think that the Christian just needs to read some more books on evolution, etc. In reality it is the atheist who didn't get it, because they denigrated philosophy while championing reason.

I'm sure by this stage I've made everyone think that I'm a pompous, arrogant asshole who thinks he's better than both sides - either that or you are fuming at me because you think I didn't get it. If so then my job is complete.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Collision - Part 1 - The Movie

I'm going to be breaking my analysis of the Collision event into two posts. The first post (this one) will cover the movie and the second post will cover the discussion between UWA's Ben Rae and Daniel Midgley which followed the movie (including their appearance on RTR earlier that day).

According to Wikipedia, Douglas Wilson, who represented Christianity in this movie, is an evangelical theologian and pastor. Christopher Hitchens, on the other hand, who represented Atheism, is merely a gifted writer and reporter. Given this large discrepancy in the qualifications of these two candidates we should expect Wilson to demolish Hitchens and this is exactly what we find. No, that was not an error. Wilson outperformed Hitchens in terms of argumentation yet Hitchens was far more persuasive in his message - which, in my opinion, has been the strength of the New Atheist movement. Instead of getting bogged down in games of semantics and word definitions, the emphasis is more on persuading and getting others to agree.

The main question behind Collision was whether Christianity is good for the world or not. Douglas Wilson summed up this entire debate nicely when he stated
If Christianity is bad for the world, atheists can't consistently point this out, having no fixed way of defining "bad."
And I agree. At no stage did Hitchen actually point out a coherent rationale for determining that Christianity is not good for the world, hence why I believe Hitchens "lost" the argument. Hitchens on the other hand presented a more persuasive argument because he was able to rely on our common societal moral to critique Christianity. Given the strong persuasive value we put on this societal moral - Hitchens was more persuasive.

Why then wasn't Wilson's message persuasive?

Wilson's problem is that the message he is promoting is not a popular modern message. He isn't promoting a liberal style of Christianity which tries to promote good in the world (works based salvation) - he is promoting a conservative Christianity which preaches the "Good News" as the solution to making the world better (faith based salvation). The entire argument is moot considering they will never agree to this difference. Hitchens looks at the effect Christianity had/has in a secular sense, that is to say, apart from it's truth claims.

Hitchens continuously evaded Wilson's requests to provide an account of morality under atheism. In the "Christianity Today" article which contains the series of letters which sparked the movie Collision, Wilson summed it up nicely when he stated
I am simply saying that a good person needs to be able, at a minimum, to define what goodness is and tell us what the basis for it is. Your handwaving—"ordinary morality is innate"—does not even begin to meet the standard.
Without this basis, Wilson is quite right in concluding that Hitchens has merely his opinion, and what does this opinion matter anyway?

Wilson's made one argumentative mistake came when he tried to equate Atheism with mere molecules and chemical reactions (i.e. reductive naturalism). The reason this argumentation does not work is because Atheism is "only" a question of the existence of a god/gods. It is not necessarily a rejection of supernaturalism nor does it necessarily lead to nihilism or reductive naturalism despite the religious wish that it should. (One would have to make a positive argumentation to show god is required for supernaturalism, etc)

Another argumentative mistake Wilson made was to assume that if atheism cannot account for morality then this means that theism is correct. This, although being a seemingly popular and persuasive argument, does not hold water. The classic example I can think of is if we go back to 200 BC and ask the Greek's what caused thunder. The religious people would say "Zeus" and the non-religious people wouldn't have an answer. Does the non-religious answer mean that Zeus is the correct answer? No! It just means that the honest non-religious person just doesn't know, and as it turns out, neither did the person who believed in Zeus. The problem is that the answer Zeus would have been the much more persuasive answer (due to it's narrative).

Next post I will look at the post-movie discussion held between Rae and Midgley.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I Heart Scott Atran

I find it fascinating that brilliant scientists and philosophers have no clue how to deal with the basic irrationality of human life and society other than to insist against all reason and evidence that things ought to be rational and evidence based. Makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Love Shyness - Movies

This is part of a series on Love Shyness. The index can be found here.

Gilmartin's work has revealed that Love Shy men prefer a different genre of movie than their non-shy counterparts. When asked to list movies Love Shy men have watched at the theatre at least five times, some movies stood out.
For example, one 39-year old love-shy man had seen the 1973 film JEREMY 86 times, at least in part because he was so overwhelmed by the appearance of the star, Glynnis O'Connor.

The plot is more important to the Love Shy male than the actress involved.
On the other hand, "10" was one of the comparatively few films which a small number of the self-confident non-shys had seen multiple times. The non-shys had loved it whereas the love-shys hated it—despite the fact that both groups agreed with the premise that Bo Derek is an extremely beautiful woman.

Most of the loveshys had found it to be dreadfully boring because it contained an unstructured, highly confusing story with no love or romance. Simply put, it did not engross the emotions. It did not touch the heartstrings.

The top five movies were as follows (keeping in mind that this study was done in the 80's)

1. Jeremy (1973) 86 times.
2. David and Lisa (1962) 46 times.
3. Forbidden Games (1952) 44 times.
4. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1965) 37 times.
5. The Graduate (1967) 29 times.

Plot summaries of the movies have been sourced from IMDb and show a relatively consistent theme in the popular movies.

Jeremy Jones is learning Cello at an arts school in New York. At school he spots Susan Rollins, who practices for a ballet audition, and he falls in love on first sight. He's very diffident in nearing her, so he gets some help of his experienced friend Ralph. Susan's first impression isn't great, until she hears him play his Cello. The movie paints a quiet image of him winning her heart and the development of their relationship.

David and Lisa
The emotional story of a young man in a mental institution for teens who begins to understand his psychosis in the environment of others with mental and emotional problems. He finds intimacy with Lisa, a young woman suffering from schizophrenia.

Forbidden Games
A girl of perhaps five or six is orphaned in an air raid while fleeing a French city with her parents early in World War II. She is befriended by a pre-adolescent peasant boy after she wandered away from the other refugees, and is taken in for a few weeks by his family. The children become fast friends, and the film follows their attempt to assimilate the deaths they both face, and the religious rituals surrounding those deaths, through the construction of a cemetery for all sorts of animals. Child-like and adult activity are frequently at cross-purposes, however.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Geneviève, 17, lives with her widowed mother, who owns an umbrella shop in Cherbourg. She and Guy, a twenty-year-old auto mechanic, are secretly in love and want to marry, but when she reveals this to her mother, her mother objects on the grounds that Geneviève is too young and Guy is not mature or well-established enough, particularly since he has not yet done his required military service. Shortly after this, Guy is drafted to serve in the war in Algeria. Before he leaves, he and Geneviève consummate their love for each other, which results in her becoming pregnant. While Guy is away they drift apart, and Geneviève, strongly encouraged by her mother, accepts a marriage proposal from a well-to-do gem dealer named Roland Cassard, who has fallen in love with her at first sight and has promised to bring up her child as his own. (The character of Cassard is continued from Demy's earlier film [i]Lola[/i] (1961).) Guy is wounded and is discharged before his two-year term is up, but when he returns to Cherbourg Geneviève has already married and moved away. He struggles with depression and anger, but eventually is healed by falling in love with and marrying Madeleine, a young woman who had been caring for his now-deceased aunt Élise. Using an inheritance from his aunt, Guy fulfills his ambition of opening a service station. Years later, the now conspicuously wealthy Geneviève, traveling with her daughter, Guy's child, accidentally meet Guy at his service station. While the two have only a brief conversation about the state of their respective lives, the conversation is clearly fraught with unspoken fondness and regret.

The Graduate
Benjamin Braddock returns home to California after successfully completing college. He gets a hero's welcome from his parents but Ben isn't quite sure what to do with the rest of his life. He is soon seduced by Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's partner, who methodically pursues the inexperienced young man. Soon, they are meeting regularly in hotel rooms. Warned by her to stay away from her daughter Elaine, his father goads him into taking her out on a date. He finds he quite likes Elaine but when she learns he's been having an affair with her own mother, she'll have nothing to do with him. He's smitten however and pursues her.

Love Shyness - Beauty and the love-shy

This is part of a series on Love Shyness. The index can be found here.

Gilmartin spends an entire chapter on beauty, as he believes its a crucial element in the creation and continuation of love-shyness.
Chronically love-shy men have an unusually strong penchant for physical beauty. To be sure, virtually everyone loves beauty. However, one of the most significant findings of the study upon which this book is based is that beauty is quite a bit more important to the love-shy than it is to the non-shy.

This need for beauty which the love-shy feel is very strong as well as highly generalized. And it extends to such things as dogs, automobiles, music, natural scenery, as well as to women. And it clearly suggests a major reason as to why most love-shy men could never be really well satisfied—particularly since their own level of physical attractiveness tends to be at least somewhat below average.

I had to laugh at the last sentence given that I've accepted for a long time that I am of below average attractiveness.

The Need for Beauty
As I have indicated, the love-shy men studied for this research very seldom or never dated. They were all far too shy to assert themselves with women, and particularly with women whom they found attractive. However, they desperately wanted to date and to spend all of their time with just one opposite sexed partner whom they could love.
This desperation leads to fantasising and day dreaming about the object of their desires. Day dreaming constitutes a vicarious form of wish-fulfilment and gives unrealistic expectations.
I asked each respondent: "Compared to other teenagers at the time you were a teenager, were fantasies and daydreams more OR less important to you?" And zero percent (nobody) of the non-shys indicated that daydreams and fantasies were more important, compared to fully 87 percent of the older love-shys and 61 percent of the younger love-shys.
Who knows how many years I have spent day dreaming, something I do even to this day.

What do these day dreams consist of?
The fantasies enjoyed by these men typically entailed being warmly loved by very feminine, nurturant, non-assertive but liberal-minded women with long hair, beautiful faces, and very little or no make-up. They tended to fantasize women with a rather delicate, ethereal beauty, and with a gentleness and vulnerability that is not realistically likely to be found in today's world.
Its kind of scary to realise that these private fantasises of mine are actually rather universal for love shy individuals.

How bad is the delusion?
But curiously, most of the younger love-shy men seemed to maintain a sense of optimism that they could or would somehow one day magically be able to win such a specimen without taking any positive steps on their own initiative.
I'm not sure I've ever been this delusional. Although it was always a dream for this to happen, I knew the odds of it happening were next to none. Having said that, without taking any positive steps of my own initiative, I was able to "win" much inferior specimens. (Keeping with the language employed). Therefore its not intrinsically impossible.
Their fantasies and daydreams revolved almost exclusively around the imagery of already having such a beautiful woman. Virtually none of the shy men ever spent any time visualizing themselves taking positive steps to introduce themselves or to otherwise allow themselves to become acquainted with available and accessible women.
This doesn't seem that surprising. Considering the former is something positive and locked-in, whereas the latter scenario is uncertain and potentially negative, its easy to understand why someone would rather think about something pleasant rather than something which could stress them out.
Clinical psychologists often recommend that shy people engage in mental rehersals in their mind's eye.
Looking back - I highly recommend this tactic!
A key theme of this chapter is to suggest that "real, live, accessible women" are not beautiful enough to meet the unrealistically stringent demands and needs of the love-shy. Simply put, the love-shy will not fantasize a female face that is not sufficiently beautiful to constitute a wish fulfillment.
I would say this conclusion is perhaps a little too harsh, however given the next piece of data - it's perhaps warranted.
A further illustration of this uncompromisingly romantic attitude of the love-shy can be seen in the pattern of response to this statement: "I would not want to date anyone to whom I could not visualize (fantasize) myself as being married." Fully 64 percent of the older love-shys together with 46 percent of the younger ones agreed. In contrast, only 4 percent of the self-confident non-shy men saw fit to agree.
I somewhat agree with this sentiment...
Again, most love-shy men would like to somehow magically bypass what many of them perceive as the cruel indignity of dating, and just somehow wake up one morning married to the esthetically lovely, beautiful girl of their dreams.
Well yeah...

What about the "average" woman?
The love-shy tend to feel more comfortable and they tend to converse more fluently when they are in the company of a less-than-beautiful girl than when they are with the type of girl who is so attractive that marriage to her is immediately visualized and envisioned. In essence, the closer a girl comes toward meeting a love-shy man's tastes and predilections in the physical (especially facial) attractiveness department, the more shy and inhibited he is likely to be in his efforts to converse with her.
To finish this section, I would like to highlight something rather curious that I never knew about.
Psychologists have known since the late 1960s that introverts tend to prefer small-breasted women, whereas extroverts tend to prefer those with large breasts. In fact, there appears to be a rather strong statistical relationship between how extroverted (outgoing) a man is, and how large he wants the breasts of his female partner to be.

Love Shyness - Medical Symptoms

This is part of a series on Love Shyness. The index can be found here.

Gilmartin's survey of the love-shy also delved into the medical histories of the love-shy to determine whether there were any common medical conditions the love-shy shared in greater or lesser proportion to the average population. He also speculates on the potential origin of such differences.

Headaches - No statistically significant deviation

Back Aches - Slightly less amongst older love shy, much less amongst younger love shy than the population. Gilmartin speculates the lack of rough sports may be a contributing factor.
Bedwetting - Slight less likely to have wet their bed after the age of 4.

Weight Problems - No statistical difference. Weight problems ruled out as a potential cause of love-shyness.
Constipation and Diarrhea - No statistical difference. Gilmartin tries to establish a link between nervousness and digestive problems.
Flatulence - No statistical difference.

Height - No statistical difference.

Eyeglasses - Three to four times the number of love shy males to their non-shy counterparts started to wear glasses after their 16th birthday. Gilmartin suggests this is due to the love-shy pursuing academic qualifications (i.e. heavy reading). Gilmartin also suggests that the love-shy should not wear "dark and heavy plastic frames", but this book was written in the 80's...

Acne - 53% of the younger love shy males and 63% of the older love shy males reported "moderate to severe" acne, compared to 26% of the self-confident non-shy men. Acne can. as Gilmartin says, leave emotional scars during adolescence.

Insomnia - 19% of the older love shy males and 16% of the younger love shy males suffered insomnia. This compared starkly to the zero number of non-shy men who were insomniacs. (Phrased as "difficulty in falling asleep")

Stuttering - 97% of the non-shy men had never had problems stuttering. On the other hand the love shy men had more problems stuttering, with only around 45% claiming stuttering was never a problem in some time of their life.

Buck teeth - Three to four times more prevalent in love shy males than their non-shy counterparts.

Hypocondria -

Handling Door Knobs: 10-16% of love shy males have problems handling door knobs compared to 0% of non-shy males.

Touching the Floor: 31-46% of the love shy males are compelled to wash their hands after touching the floor (for example doing push-ups), compared to 0% of non-shy males.

Bananas: 52-65% of the love shy males would not eat a banana until all back or grey spots were removed. This compares to 33% of non-shy males.

Bowel Movements: 25-31% of the love shy males were fascinated by their own bowel movements. This was true for only 4% of the non-shy males.

Garbage Removal: 52-68% of the love shy males were compelled to wash their hands immediately after taking the garbage out, compared to 35% of non-shy males.

Physchotherapy - All of the older love shy males had at some time in their life sought help from a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. On the other hand, just over one third of younger love shy males, and a measly 3% of non-shy males have done the same thing. Despite the high prevalence of love shy males seeking help, they find they are unable to be helped with their love shy problems through these "conventional" means and many had major complaints about their experiences.

Next I will discuss two vital findings from the research. The statistically significant link between nasal problems and love-shyness and the link between love-shyness and those with reactive hypoglycaemia.

Love Shyness - Love as a Drug

This is part of a series on Love Shyness. The index can be found here.

Most people have been in love at one time or another. Gilmartin discusses the biochemistry of falling in love.
The available data indicate that romantic love feelings commence in the region of the lower brain that is known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is composed of a dense cluster of nerves which controls hundreds of bodily functions and impacts in a large host of ways the entire nervous system. Whenever a person subjectively perceives another human being as romantically appealing a portion of the hypothalamus transmits a message by way of various chemicals to the pituitary gland. And in turn the pituatary releases a host of its own hormones which rapidly suffuse the entire bloodstream. The sex glands respond to these hormones by rapidly releasing into the bloodstream their own hormones which have the effect, even among preadolescent children, of creating a more rapid heartbeat and a feeling of lightness in the head. Simultaneously the nerve pathways in and around the hypothalamus produce chemicals
that induce—provided that these chemicals continued to be produced over a long period of time—what people refer to as "falling in love".
Gilmartin tries to link the hypothalamus to the love shy.
Simply put, for severely love-shy men the "love nucleus" portion of the hypothalamus may "awaken to full operation" seven or eight or nine years prematurely, long before adolescence is arrived at with its normal surge of sex hormones. The prepubescent child who does not have any awareness of sex or of erotic feelings (as these do not usually occur prior to adolescence) interprets the powerful feelings he does feel as being those of overhwelming romantic love.
Do you remember the last time you started to fall in love with someone?
Among the first signs of "falling in love" is a giddy high similar to what might be obtained as a result of an amphetamine boost. This "high" is a sign that the brain has entered a distinct neurochemical state. This occurs as a result of the hypothalamus releasing a chemical substance (probably phenylethylamine) that is very much like an amphetamine and which, like any "upper", makes the heart beat faster and confers energy.
This high is enough to give the average person the motivation to act on their feelings. The love shy on the other hand are incapable of harnessing this energy through flirting and winning the attention of the loved person. Should the love not be reciprocated, this high usually quickly fades.
In not being able to make the approach to the love object the biochemical "high" remains endemic in the love-shy child's brain for an indefinite, usually quite lengthy period of time. And the elementary school boy (or man as the case might be) becomes "hooked" on his own brain biochemicals.
I remember during high school having long term crushes on girls, lasting anywhere from half a year to years on end. Despite this, it was extremely rare for me to do anything about it and when I did - and usually failed - I would quickly move on to another person. Looking back, I can appreciate the love as a drug analogy. The high was a period of happiness, whereas "coming down" always left me morose.

Gilmartin suggests that "the ability to share many experiences with the love object would operate to remove the "rosy colored smokescreen" of infatuation, thus preventing this addiction." This is something that I can appreciate, despite never having spent any length of time with any object of my affections.

On the effects of withdrawl, Gilmartin notes:
A key consideration for anyone who gets hooked on drugs is that of withdrawal. Whether a person gets hooked on pills or on natural drugs that the brain produces, the "crash" of withdrawal can be highly distracting and debilitating for a person of any age.
Gilmartin also discusses the role of chocolate - something which should be familiar to lonely single women...
But of especial interest here is the finding that people who "crash" after having been deeply in love tend to have an unusually strong craving for chocolate. Very noteworthy is the fact that chocolate is high into phenylethylamine—the very substance that is released by the brain into the bloodstream as a concomitant of falling in love. When the love-feelings cease the body craves chocolate because it has developed a tolerance to the phenylethylamines which it is no longer getting—because the brain has stopped secreting them.
I can say that I usually have strong cravings for chocolate. Now I know why!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Teenage Jehovah's Witness 'died after refusing blood'

I often wonder if I would have died for my religion if put in such a position. I suspect I would have, and would have done so without hesitation. This person will never get the opportunity to change their mind despite the high probability he might not have remained in this religion.


A teenage Jehovah's Witness crushed by a car as it crashed into a West Midlands shop is thought to have died after refusing a blood transfusion.

Joshua McAuley, 15, was airlifted to hospital from the incident in Smethwick on Saturday but died later that day.

Elder at Smethwick's Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses Clive Parker said Joshua, who worshipped there, had "made a stand on the blood issue".

A post-mortem examination is due to be carried out on Thursday.

Joshua is believed to have told doctors at Selly Oak Hospital not to give him a blood transfusion on religious grounds.

Jehovah's Witnesses refuse transfusions because they believe the use of products derived from blood is forbidden by God.

A spokesman for West Midlands Police said Joshua's family, who live in Smethwick, did not wish to comment.

Mr Parker said Joshua was conscious after the accident in Cape Hill. He added the family worshipped at Smethwick's Kingdom Hall.

He said: "A mother has lost her son, and Joshua had a brother. He has lost his brother, he was there in the morning and then gone by the afternoon. They are terribly distressed."

A spokesman for Selly Oak Hospital would not comment on the individual case but described the issue as an "extraordinarily complex area" with no set rules.

"There is no automatic right to override parental wishes or that of a minor. It is a very complex area that has to be approached on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Two other adults were injured in the crash, which happened in the Cape Hill area at 1114 BST.

Police said a 24-year-old woman was in a serious but stable condition in hospital and a 32-year-old man sustained a suspected broken arm and leg.

A 28-year-old man from the Winson Green area of Birmingham was arrested after the crash and bailed pending further inquiries.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Draw Mohammed Day - Other Contrarians

In a previous post I defended the rationale behind my contrarian stance as to why I would not be supporting the Draw Mohammed Day. The UWA Atheist and Agnostic Society wisely decided not to officially sanction this event although members were free to partake on their own behalf. Despite the "official" stance the vast majority participated during the "Atheists In The Tav" weekly event. Efforts to reason with my friends and colleagues fell flat - but that's okay, we are all free to disagree. (That's not to say I wasn't disappointed with my ability to defend my position!)

Since this time there have been some reasoned responses put out by some prominent YouTube atheists and agnostics. In particular Richard "the dick" Coughlan (coughlan666 on YouTube) and LiberalViewer (on YouTube - not sure what his real name is).

These are the main points I took from their reservations behind supporting this event.

coughlan666 (3.35 ratio up to down votes) - The protest was a failure as there was less freedom after the event (referring to the Facebook ban by Pakistan).

LiberalViewer (11.8 ratio up to down votes) - There is a risk of alienating those we should be working with - the moderate Muslims who renounce terrorism. It also gave Fox News a way to spin the event.

I'm glad I wasn't the only person pissing in the wind. We as rationalists must not succumb to group-think. I can accept there are times when many members of a group can synchronise on their conclusions based on sound reasoning, but when the argumentation takes on an emotional characteristic, it's important to stop and think. The first sign of a movement which could turn toxic is when no one questions the "leaders" or prominent members (in this case the likes of Thunderf00t and PZ Myers, etc.) I didn't renounce a "cult" to join another!!

One great resource I've heard about which does exactly this is "You're Not Helping"

To give one example of a wonderful contrarian response to the recent brouhaha concerning the New Atheists not given a seat at a Vatican sponsored faith conference - read this post.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Love Shyness - Stalking

This is part of a series on Love Shyness. The index can be found here.

As I have mentioned before in "What to look for in others", love shy males may stare at or stalk girls without ever intending to do anything about it.

Why do love shy males, who are relatively timid and shy engage in such behaviour?
At this point the reader may be somewhat confused because it obviously requires some amount of "nerve" or non-shyness in order to engage in this sort of compulsive behavior. Of course, most non-shy men never had any need to engage in this sort of compulsive behavior; they could interact and communicate face-to-face with the women of their choosing.
What is it that the love-shy think about when staring?

they would fantasize and daydream very deeply and long about the particular girl with whom they were uncontrollably infatuated and towards whom they had felt impelled to stare. Their fantasies made her out to be a sort of "saint"—someone who would somehow understand them and their love-shyness problems.
Many of the love-shys had fantasized about how this girl of their dreams would really like to meet them, and about how this "angel" of a girl would one day find a way to assume the assertive role in opening up a friendship with them.

Do they ever give up this delusion?
Many of the love-shys had remained incredibly "innocent" in this regard until their early 30s, when some of them started to become quite cynical.
I became cynical in my early to mid-20's that's for sure!

What would happen if a girl ever looked back?
Of course, the problem was that any time the girl actually looked as though she might be ready to make an actual move towards the love-shy man doing the staring, that love-shy man would instantly become overwhelmed with fright. And he would either very quickly walk or run away, or he would turn his head in a different direction.
An all too familiar tale really...

Gilmartin goes into some personal testimony of males who have been beaten up (by friends or cousins etc) or arrested because of this stalking. Some love shy males write love letters to unsuspecting females which can get them in trouble.
After receiving the love letters these shy men had written, the women often became very nervous and upset. Often they would respond by going to the police or the dean or to some other legal source about the matter.
I admit I did this once, which caused great distress to all concerned. Looking back I can somewhat laugh it off because nothing official came of it. Although I was lucky to "get away with it", many do not. Of course the inevitable trouble associated with such actions can be devastating to the love shy male.
This outcome served to further disillusion many of the love-shy men about women. Indeed, this type of (to them) hostile response caused many of the love-shy men to become all the more lethargic about doing anything constructive to remedy their love-shyness situation.
The problem is that the love shy males does not have the correct methods available to him to solve the situation he is in. Instead he does things which makes his situation worse, which leads to a downwards spiral. Later I will discuss positive ways in which the love shy male can begin to make progress with this problem.

Love Shyness - What to look for in others

This is part of a series on Love Shyness. The index can be found here.

Love Shyness is problematic both for the sufferers and for the friends and families of those affected. We all want our friends and family members to be happy and to do this we need to know what is wrong with them and what we can do for them. Without help and support, love shy males can live a long, lonely and depressed life without ever getting what it is they really want.

Love Shyness is, at least in my opinion, embarrassing. Admitting any abnormality comes with potential social cost, especially when confirming to certain norms is expected. It's also embarrassing because it can be seen as a personal failure, as if somehow the person who is Love Shy is weak or inferior, especially compared to their friends who can get their act together.

Love Shy males may do or be seen to do the following...
1) They do not date or rarely talk to members of the opposite sex
2) They do not participate in mixed-sex events
3) They spend a lot of time looking at pictures of attractive unobtainable women
4) They obsess about sex, but never make any advances towards satisfying their demand
5) They stare or stalk girls without ever intending to do anything about it

I would like to elaborate on number 5 because it is perhaps the most serious and can carry important legal ramifications.

It's important to remember that the Love Shy male is on average much less likely to engage in ANY crime (except stalking).

From Gilmartin:
As a case in point I asked each man to respond to this statement:

"There have been times when I have stared for long periods at a girl whom I have found very attractive; but as soon as she would look in my direction I would immediately look away."

Fully 97 percent of the older love-shy men together with 71 percent of the younger love-shys indicated that this had been "true" for them. In stark contrast, only 11 percent of the self-confident non-shy men indicated that this statement was true for themselves.
This obsessive behaviour can lead to stalking.
I asked each respondent to react to the statement:

"There have been times when I have followed a girl whom I have found attractive all over campus or town; but I have looked away whenever she looked in my direction, and I have not said anything to her because of my extreme shyness."

Zero percent (nobody) of the self-confident non-shys indicated "yes" to this statement. On the other hand, 44 percent of the older love-shys along with 35 percent of the younger love-shys indicated that the statement was "true" for themselves.

Moreover, fully 19 percent (almost one-fifth) of the older love-shys together with 13 percent of the younger love-shys agreed that they had "gotten into trouble" at one time or another as a result of an uncontrollable urge to follow a girl all over campus or all over town without ever saying anything to her.
Although I have never followed someone around, I must admit that I have found myself "planning" on being where "she" might be just so I could see her. Always in the back of my mind was the worry that I was stalking - yet there was always a certain hard-to-shake compulsion...
Needless to say, this sort of behavior had been very unnerving and upsetting to most of the women who had been victimized by it. Most people tend to fear that which they do not understand. And most of the victimized women found this staring (then looking or running away) behavior to be exceedingly strange. And they did not know how to respond to it.
It is my desire that people who may have been harassed or stalked by someone with love shyness to understand that these people are not dangerous and actually require help. This of course should not be confused with general warnings over the dangers caused by real stalkers and psychopaths who are out to hurt people.

If you suspect someone is love shy, then you should engage in positive measures, which may or may not be covert (depending on the sensitivity of the person) to help them become less love shy. Love shyness should be nipped in the bud in childhood (I will discuss this later) however there is still going to be a certain percentage who fall through the cracks. In future posts I will look at positive ways in which the love shy can turn their life around.

Love Shyness - Common Symptoms

This is part of a series on Love Shyness. The index can be found here.

As I mentioned in the previous post - normality can exist in groups where otherwise the individual might be considered abnormal. The following characteristics are shared by many Love Shy individuals. Gilmartin suggests that love-shy males should satisfy all these criteria, however personally it does not seem entirely reasonable to be disqualified over one or two criteria. Those which I have put in bold are, I believe, key to love shyness.
(1) He is a virgin; in other words, he has never had sexual intercourse.
(2) He is a person who very rarely goes out socially with women. None of the love-shys studied for this book had dated more than four times during the year prior to being interviewed.
(3) He is a person without a past history of any emotionally close, meaningful relationships of a romantic and/or sexual nature with any member of the opposite sex.
(4) He is a person who has suffered and is continuing to suffer emotionally because of a lack of meaningful female companionship. In short, he is a person who desperately wishes to have a relationship with a woman, but does not have one because of shyness.
(5) He is a man who becomes extremely anxiety-ridden over so much as the mere thought of asserting himself vis-a-vis a woman in a casual, friendly way. This is the essence of "love-shyness".
(6) He is a man who is strictly heterosexual in his romantic and erotic
orientations. In other words, he is a person who is in no way a homosexual.
(7) He is male. No female love-shys were studied for this research.

Personally I no longer qualify for many of these symptoms yet I still believe it is still relevent.
1) I was fortunate enough to lose my virginity to a strong girl who "took care of me". Although I could equally imagine this still being relevant today had I not been that fortunate. Given that I have been fortunate enough to meet quite a few strong ladies, is this perhaps a sea-change brought about by the sexual revolution?

2) I make continual efforts to spend time with strong women friends, but dating (particularly online dating) is still problematic.

3) Still relevant. Being 26 and without having dated anyone longer than a couple of weeks troubles me immensely.

4) Still relevant. It is perhaps not surprising that deprivation can lead to obsession, initiating a downward spiral to depression.

5) Somewhat relevant. I've developed immensely in the confidence department over the past few years thanks to many different techniques.

6,7) Relevant. Although it is still possible to be female or homosexual and love-shy, it is much more problematic for heterosexual males who are often culturally expected to "make the first move". Females and homosexual males are (generally) fortunate enough that they can rely on others to take the lead. This was more of a problem in previous eras however some cultural norms are hard to shake.

Before the age of 20 I would have satisfied all the above criteria. Suffice to say there is hope out there to change ones fate. Even if one cannot "solve" love-shyness, it should still be possible to progress out of the depths of despair to a level where one can function as a human being.

It's important to note that love-shy males are not the following...

1) Closet homosexuals - Love shy males are not attracted to members of the same sex. Many love shy males may be confused by others with homosexuals as they are less likely to interact with females. Indeed, my father has noted this many times, somewhat jokingly, somewhat seriously.

2) Male lesbians - Love shy males are not males who feel they were born in the wrong body yet are only attracted to females.

3) Asexual - Despite the lack of sexual activity, love shy males are not asexual, some in fact may be hypersexual, that is they may have an unhealthy preoccupation with sex coupled with a lack of release valve. This leads to a negative perception of their sex lives contrasted with asexuals who aren't obsessed.

Could most nerds be considered love-shy?
I don't believe that anyone can be correctly classified as "love-shy" unless he truly craves emotionally meaningful female companionship. Deprivation is never enough by itself to cause mental anguish, pain and suffering. A person cannot feel deprived of something unless and until he actually wants the thing of which he is being deprived. A person who truly feels deprived of something he very dearly wants will necessarily suffer a very great deal (1) from anxiety, and (2) from very painful and highly distracting feelings of preoccupation.
What's the difference between those who are deprived and those who are love-shy?

If the deprived person is accorded an opportunity to work towards the thing he so strongly desires, his energy-wasting preoccupation and distractability will rapidly dissipate. However, the love-shy man cannot do this. The love-shy man is prevented from working towards his female companionship goal by his intractable shyness and inhibition, and by the inordinately strong fears of interpersonal anxiety that accompany love-shyness and which are intrinsic to it. Simply put, the mere thought of asserting himself in a friendly way vis-a-vis a girl whom he finds attractive fills a love-shy man with overwhelmingly painful (and forbidding) anxiety feelings. Hence, he can only continue to feel preoccupied and painfully distracted.
By now most people should be able to recognise themselves in this as love-shy or not.

Not a day went by from the age of at least 10 to my early 20's when I did not think about "someone" constantly. The first thing I thought about when I woke up was them and the last thing I thought about before going to sleep was them. Some crushes continued for years without anything happening. School was always a battle of attention between my work and the object of my desires. Yet the mere thought of acting on those feelings was enough to freeze me on the spot. Saying a friendly "Hi." was out of the question - so too maintaining any eye contact despite desiring to look at them all the time.

Do you have a friend or family member who seems to be love shy? Next post I will look at the symptoms you can look for in others which may indicate that they might be suffering (and it really is suffering) from love-shyness.