Archive for December, 2010

Observations

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on December 27, 2010 by RWZero

It is central to my perspective that we may, in deciding how we feel about reality, look at the higher properties of the system.

By this, I mean that our understanding and interpretation of the parts should suffer serious modification based on the possibilities and actualities observed in the whole (or, the emergent properties). To observe the existence and behaviour of particles is one thing. But if I observe that human beings can be made out of such particles, and that I am one such human being, that tells me something new about the particles that I did not know before. Similarly, it is one thing to observe and quantify human nature. But if I observe what happens to nations full of people all behaving according to this nature, it tells me something about each individual’s nature that I did not know when I knew only a few of them.

I believe that the significance of emergent properties cascades all the way down to the fundamental levels, and cannot simply be dismissed as curious bearings-out of the properties that were “already there,” at the bottom.

Merry Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized on December 26, 2010 by RWZero

Spend some time with your family. They will appreciate it.

Extraordinary Claims

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on December 23, 2010 by RWZero

… do not actually require extraordinary evidence. This is easily demonstrated. Suppose that the phone rings one afternoon, and upon answering, you are informed by a deep and raspy voice that your wife (or husband) is being held at gunpoint on your front lawn. If you do not repay the money that you failed to repay the local loan shark, she (or he) will be summarily shot.

Suppose, also, that you have been having nightmares about your wife`s (or husband’s) safety for quite some time now, and are in constant expectation that something bad is going to happen to her (or him).

It does not matter that your wife (or husband) is supposed to be off in Mexico, that you have never borrowed money from a loan shark, and that your front lawn is an unlikely place to execute someone in broad daylight over such a petty dispute. It is nonetheless a real possibility, and you will be at your window rather quickly. It is an extraordinary claim, but it is weighted by extraordinary expectations, and extraordinary consequences.

Existence of Christianity

Posted in Humour etc., The Facts and Ideas on December 19, 2010 by RWZero

I would like to take a moment to comment (somewhat facetiously) on the claim that religious belief is not a “testable” hypothesis. Given the nature of the issues involved, I have always considered this a ridiculous way of avoiding the biggest and hardest questions that all of us are stuck with; however I believe critics of Christianity should realize that there are numerous ways in which Christianity could be proven false in the eyes of (most of) its adherents.

These items are examples of things that one could do to disprove Christianity, or at least seriously shake the convictions of most existing Christians. They are not recommendations. Please do not leave comments under this post chiding me for political incorrectness.

Dig up Jesus of Nazareth / Go Back in Time and Observe his Death

This is unlikely. However, it is possible. Solid evidence of Jesus’ permanent deadness would put an end to Christianity (although for whatever reason, nobody was possessed of the means of doing this when it first started out).

Destroy the Jewish People

Although it does not seem to cross people’s minds often, the existence of the Jewish people (whose genes actually do have remarkable contiguity extending back to some seemingly middle-eastern origin) is actually quite central to the existence of Christianity. If you were to destroy them, you would possibly destroy Christianity. Amazingly, and for reasons that I have never quite been able to understand, people keep trying to do this. In the last century alone, attempts at this have resulted in nothing less than the diaspora moving back into Palestine, resurrecting the Hebrew language, capturing Jerusalem, and cementing their identity as a nation state.

The casual observer should not underestimate the extent to which this has bolstered certain Christians’ convictions.

Nuke Jerusalem

While this would destroy the faith of a number of evangelicals, at least, who believe it is necessary for something to happen at this location, it would also destroy the Dome of the Rock, which would leave you with very serious problems on your hands.

Contact Aliens Having Alternative, or no, Religious Beliefs

There are a number of sophisticated theologians who would not be phased by this, but based on observations and discussions throughout my life, I can assure you that this would constitute an insurmountable obstacle for most people’s beliefs.

Eliminate the Christian Church

This is a trivial solution.

Create Sentient Robots or Artificially Evolve Modern-Day Chimpanzees into Rational Beings

While this is not guaranteed to have total effect, the confusion of these entities (and their attempts to cope with their own eventual demise) would probably get you most of the way there. Note that it is not sufficient to argue that these scenarios are possible, because unless they take place, they are counterfactual.

Destroy the Earth

This would, unfortunately, leave one without the satisfaction of being right.

Wait a Long Time

If human civilization continues stably for thousands of years hence without any End Times scenarios, and with a continual and widening gap between everyday human experience (as augmented by technology and intentional changes based on self-awareness of the root causes for human behaviour and natural inclinations) and the classical human experience recorded in the New Testament, Christianity in its present form will disappear.

Eliminate Poor People

Poor people are central to Christianity. It cannot exist without them.

Further Remarks

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on December 12, 2010 by RWZero

There are further objections to the existence of God, and to the Christian perspective in particular, that seem to shore up many of the atheistic conclusions among the laity. I am less certain of the prevalence of this thinking among academics, or people who consider themselves to have especially high stature in life. At the risk of being grossly misinterpreted on these matters, I nonetheless find myself compelled to summarily express my indifference towards these issues. At present I believe it is helpful, inasmuch as anything is helpful, for people to have an appropriate amount of diffidence injected into their lightly-examined views, and a strong amount of diffidence injected into their strongly-held views. As for strongly-held views that are presumed to apply to other human beings, these cannot be taken lightly at all; it is my belief that a person’s disposition is, at times, less significant than the reasons that underlie it.

There are variations on, and alternatives to, these objections that I consider very strong. However, it is not my intent to supply the reader with these.

There is no God, because I cannot see him. Humans invented God for psychological reasons.

I think logical positivism is awful. But even if you don’t, you should notice (as I am often inclined to point out) that you can’t see the vast majority of things you believe in. Even things that exist today (and could be seen by you) are believed primarily because you were told by a friend, or read about it on the Internet. Finally, people see a lot of things that you don’t believe in, such as ghosts, visions, UFOs, and so forth. To ridicule someone with the use of terms such as “sky daddy” or “imaginary friend” is really a testament to a lack of inquiry into one’s own existence. Belief in God (generically) arises naturally in human beings from the observation that the world exists, has no good explanation for existing, and contains human beings. Since the existence of all inanimate and living things is perceived only through a personal mind,  and since nobody else seems to have any idea what’s going on, it is natural for a person to posit that “somebody” (rather than some “thing”) does know what is going on, is the reason (for there must be a reason) and that this “somebody” will not be entirely alien to humans, since humans must derive their very essence from whoever, or whatever, is responsible for existence.

As for people having created God for “psychological reasons” (a statement that I have read on at least one blog), this is an extremely silly thing to say. The “psychological reasons for inventing God” are, by and large, still there, and they are unlikely to go away. We have invented scientific laws out of a psychological need for things to “make sense.” There is no evidence that laws actually exist, nor any reason why they should follow mathematical formulations (which themselves may or may not “exist”). Furthermore, the argument that God was necessary merely to explain certain natural phenomena is a terrible one. Would it not have been possible for the ancients to posit crude natural laws? Indeed, they did! We have answered all the questions that are in plain sight by raising thousands of questions that are hidden from plain sight. Why this should make any thinking person comfortable is completely beyond me.

I do not find it necessary to explain why God is “hiding” (or what he could possibly have been thinking) in order to believe that he exists, in much the same way that a man–waking up from an induced coma on a desert island–need not explain his belief in benevolent rescue parties, search planes, and so forth. Such a man may be interested in explaining his condition, but irrespective of his ability to do so, he must respond to it.

God would never let us suffer like this.

I have never understood this, nor have I heard it from the mouth of people who have genuinely suffered. On the contrary, I hear it from comfortable people who point their fingers at suffering people who happen to believe in God.

Suffering is a reason to hope that God exists. It is not necessary to know why it is happening. The fact remains that it is happening, and if there is a God, there may be at least some reason for it happening; it may at least get sorted.

God doesn’t seem to answer prayers

I do not have a problem with the idea that there exists a God who answers a handful of petitionary prayers in very strange and unexpected ways, and ignores all these requests for good weather on the wedding day, etc. Some people do claim to have had significant answered prayers; you can talk to them and see what you think. But just look at this world we’re in. The vast majority of people who believe in God are praying about things that absolutely do not, and cannot, matter. There is no reason to expect that prayer will slightly increase the luck or good fortune of a believing person during a finite life that eventually ends, and, in the case of a Christian conception of God, entails voluntary suffering and inconvenience. This is a terrible argument against the existence of God.

Religion is the opiate of the masses.

We tried communism, but it didn’t work, so many have switched back.

I do not have a problem with the idea that there exists a God who reveals himself to stupid, crippled, and disadvantaged people, and blinds all the well-dressed intelligent people. This is not a critique of the well-dressed, intelligent arguments for God’s non-existence, but a statement that it is an egregious error to presume that God, were he to exist, would be most evident to great minds and high society. Once again, this says nothing about the possibility that he does not exist, and that this fact is evident to great minds and high society. But I see no reason to expect a “top-down” God.

People believe in God because of death. This is a silly reason to believe in God.

No, it isn’t.

Belief in God wrecks some people’s lives.

Belief in God wrecks your life + no God exists = absolutely no ultimate consequence whatsoever.

If there is a God, he can’t be a mean one. There’s no way he would kill people. He wouldn’t ask us to die untimely deaths or give up our stuff.

I have absolutely no reservations about believing in a God who willingly ends people’s physical lives, or desires that people sacrifice all their material goods and well-being, since I find myself in a universe where everybody dies and everything physical disappears. This is the worst justification for disbelief in God that I have ever heard.

Hell.

This is actually a pretty good one… bar the fact that people have strong psychological motivations for explaining this away as their personal destination, but reviving it upon the death of some terrible individual. When Richard Dawkins can joke (one presumes) that he regrets that “there was no hell for those nuns to go to”those awful nuns who scared a young child with the idea of hell — it really does make one wonder.

To write off the existence of God because of the potential existence of hell is really quite a bad idea, if only because it would not be clear who goes there, it would not be clear what really happens to people who go there, it would be unlikely that they would be unclear as to why there were there, and there is not really a rosy alternative that is gained by disbelieving in God. Not to mention all the theological acrobatics that have gone into questioning the legitimacy of classical views of hell. In several more years, it will practically be a safe place to live.

The most apt rejoinder I have heard to Richard Dawkins’ “Hell-as-child-abuse” comment was a story about a girl who asked her father what happens when you die. Nothing, he told her. You’re worm food. This resulted in her having panic attacks into adulthood, and fear of having children lest they suffer the same distress.

Writing off a potentially just God may happen as a consequence of logic, reason, experience, and all those wonderful things, but certainly it should not–and cannot–happen in a quest for rosiness.

———————————————

The Indifference of Naturalism

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on December 5, 2010 by RWZero

Consider a basic fact about this existence: we find ourselves in it, for whatever reason, and we are vaguely aware, at all times, that we will eventually find ourselves out of it.

During this existence we suffer, some of us much more than others. Suffering may be nothing more than this thing that arises from the stimulation of nerves designed to preserve us from death for as long as possible. If our existence is a blind “accident” of sorts, then it is nothing more than a curious fact that our lives are finite, and that physical suffering cannot go on forever. I find this a noteworthy fact–that our physical existence is necessarily ended within a relatively short amount of time. The game is put away. It is not permitted to continue indefinitely.

If our existence is an accident, however, then there are no rules, no reasons why anything “should” or “must” be so. I find it important to take seriously the conclusions that follow from this:

In a universe without God, or anything resembling God, there is no reason for the truth to be benevolent. The truth is indifferent to humanity, and it might just as well harm us as enlighten us. Assertions that morality can exist without God are expected, since we require moral grounding, and surely attempts will be made to invent it–but there is no reason why an indifferent universe would not vomit up human beings who require, on the whole, a belief in God.

Furthermore, there is no reason why an indifferent universe might not preserve your consciousness beyond your physical death and torture you, by way of some kind of error, for a very long time. This seems admittedly unlikely, but if the pain you experience in life is the source of natural indifference, and if there is no absolute certainty regarding the potential for preservation of consciousness after physical death (however likely or unlikely it may be), it is possible that you could have a very long, negative experience after your death–or at the moment of your death–that has nothing to do with a God exacting judgment upon you for your actions.

Through the lens of pure naturalism, it is clear that the truth is not benevolent to human beings. Human beings are senselessly born, tortured, and destroyed, many of them without anything to hope for. Therefore, on naturalism, it is incorrect to presume benevolent conclusions (for humanity) when digging farther into the truth, and it is incorrect to assume that there exists functional human behaviour and belief that is compatible with the truth.