Not Everyone Believes

This ridiculous proposal – that everyone, somehow, deep down, believes in god – came from a commentator on the previous posts who then linked to his blog on the topic to try and show that this was the case. OK, you want traffic, I like arguments. Let’s trade.

Here’s the blog: http://pastorjamesmiller.com/2013/06/27/everyone-believes/

Here’s me tearing it a new arsehole:

One of the things that fascinates me about modern defenders of the Christian faith is how casually they begin in the wrong place. They start with the assumption that their listeners are objective and analytical and can be persuaded by facts. I doubt this is true.

Well, it depends whom you’re trying to convince. Members of other religions are unlikely to be convinced by such arguments but the atheists who are also sceptics – like myself – are open to being persuaded by logic, reason and, most importantly, evidence. You doubt it is true we can be convinced by such, I doubt you have anything of that ilk to convince us with.

Then they assume their role is one of defense attorney who presents a reliable case sufficient to free God from the atheist’s accusations. I know this isn’t true. The Bible starts in a completely different place, saying we are “without excuse” for not believing (Romans 1:20). The atheist needs a defense attorney.

Here I’m going to pull a shocker and actually agree with the Pastor. The Christian IS in the position of the prosecution and the burden of proof is on them. Innocent until proven guilty (the prosecutor must show beyond any and all reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty) mirrors directly with non-existent until proven existent (the theist must show beyond any and all reasonable doubt that their god exists).

For the atheists all we have to do is show that there is enough reason to doubt what the theist is proposing. If they show up to court without any evidence, the case is going to be dismissed. So this is – as analogies go – a pretty good one.

And what’s most surprising about this to me is that the guy who says he doesn’t believe in God has already shown that he depends upon a world in which God does exist in three ways.

Nonsense.

First, when one says, “God does not exist,” that person is assuming that the purpose of communication is to tell the truth.

No, it’s to communicate ideas. The purpose of communication also includes lying, creating fiction, giving instructions, etc etc. Also, by and large, when an atheist says god does not exist, it is shorthand for: “There is absolutely no evidence for a god, no reason to believe in one and everything we do see suggests other, better explanations. So I don’t believe in a god.” That’s just a bit of a mouthful to squeeze into a Twitter conversation.

But this moral undergirding is suspicious. If God doesn’t exist, morality is at best a mistaken byproduct of blind evolution. So long as survival of the fittest is the only goal, there’s really no objective moral obligation. I can tell the truth if I want and not if I don’t. But when we say, “God does not exist,” we’re assuming that communication in general rests on a real obligation to tell the truth, which is a moral claim.

I think the problem here is a lack of understanding of what ‘the fittest’ means or the implications of ‘the selfish gene’ and group selection. There is positive survival utility to cooperation in a social species and that survival utility supports behaviours and instincts – like honesty, like guilt – that reinforce that societal benefit. Evolutionary psychology provides a basis for the only things that really begin to approach – even remotely – objective morality.

  • Altruism good.
  • Selfishness bad.

We humans complicate matters by developing other, less objective, more subjective moral systems and superimposing them over our instinctual base. Your religion being one of them.

Second, when you say, “God does not exist,” you are assuming that the thoughts in your head accurately reflect the world around you. You really think that in the universe, there is not a God, and that your perception of that world is accurate. But there’s a problem. In a godless universe, everything is simply matter. Everything is made up of colliding particles. Our brains in our heads are just a collection of particles that have come to function in certain ways. But there’s nothing objective that obligates the particles in our heads to give us an accurate picture of the real world (this is sort of the red pill here).

It is not an assumption that our senses provide an accurate picture but one shown to be true to ourselves and to others for… well, all of human existence. Science works no matter what you belief. Delusion doesn’t alter reality. If I throw a ball, someone else can catch it. In short, we have damn good reason to think that our perception of the world is at least reasonably accurate and in science we hone that through repeat experiment, peer review and practical applications (which wouldn’t work if our perception wasn’t correct). Misleading perceptions have obvious problems when it comes to survival,.

Third, when you say “God does not exist,” you are trusting that communication actually works. You are trusting that the ideas in one person’s head can be translated into language, perceived consistently, and received accurately… …Again, a material universe with no guiding conscience would not necessitate that words have meaning or that language is effective. These things require something more purposeful than the blind movements of particles.

Humans. Intentional agents with volition.

So when someone says “I don’t believe in God,” they are trusting that we are bound by the objective moral obligation to tell the truth, that our brains are bound to purposefully reveal accurate information, and that communication can be infused with objective meaning, none of which should necessarily exist in a godless universe. That person is acting like God is there at exactly the moment she says he isn’t. So ironically, the person who says “God does not exist” is actually proving that God does.

So, as shown above. No, this isn’t correct. You have really just engaged in a rather long-winded redefinition fallacy based around a peculiar notion of what ‘truth’ means.

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Not Such a Surprise Ending: Postscript

This was the reply from the group involved in making the book.

Thanks so much for taking our Atheist Challenge. You are quite an excellent wordsmith and we can see why your writings are so popular. Keep up the good work of debunking religion and standing up for reason and Science.

I will, but it seems a little odd for you guys to be saying this, given that – while you’ve made a little progress – you’re still twisting the science to try and fit your religious desires.

We’ve dealt with many atheists on this challenge — and without trying to sound too elitist — or arrogant — unfortunately, you’ve been the most desperate to declare yourself the winner. Totally understandable.

Not so much. Just rather disappointed that the promised evidence for your religious claims was not forthcoming. My lack of belief wasn’t even challenged at all! All rather disappointing.

But for us ( at this point in time) it is not too economical for us to engage with you at this level of the science/creation debate. You would be great debating creationist. Plus, we are way too busy taking on Creationists, debunking Creation Science and defending Science. There are lots of Creationists out there that we both need to acclimatize to reason and Science.

Trying to reconcile religion and science is not going to do the trick. You have taken only the smallest of steps towards any sort of progress and it is all based on just creating your own interpretation – as I intimated.

Still, we noticed that the phenomenology of losing our challenge seem unbearable — judging from responses. You have such fire! Awesome! Your responses and your lessons on science (like the Earth is not as old as the Universe blew us away) only demonstrated to us that we are either on different levels of the science/creation debate — or you simply cut and pasted your usual creationist comebacks (like the proper sequence of geological history).

You didn’t really present anything new. You’re making slightly less common mistakes but they’re still plenty common and amply debunked. I long for the day when the arguments change and, as a consequence, the refutations do.

Or you hurried through the essay, cherry-picked little things to show your mastery of science and at debunking Christians, to declare to your audience: “I WIN.”

Presumptive.

But we must remind you — we told you from Square One ( several times) that we embrace the cosmological and biological history of our planet—and evolutionary biology. And we will actually be in a trial to defend Science — against Creation Science. Yet your entire review was to feverishly teach us Gr 3 science.

And yet the book does not really display such embracing. You have just presented your own version thereof using the post-hoc rationalisation I went into.

So, yes — We are a bit disappointed but still, thank you so much for participating and we will certainly love to refresh the page with you at a later date. Also we need your help. We are looking for professional scientists in California to be our witnesses in an important Trial to defend Science and defeat this Creationist guy in court in August — http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/joseph-mastropaolo-creationist-10000-disprove-genesis_n_2964801.html

I can’t see you as much better than them to be honest and I don’t think this hybrid approach is going to get much traction. I’m also unconvinced of the worth of engaging creationists in these sorts of arenas.

I was told there would be a challenge to my (lack of) belief and that there would be evidence to support your religious conclusions. That was not the case. If you ever feel like delivering, look me up.

Not Such a Surprise Ending: Part Three

MgezYB1368383028I’m going to skip over the Young Earth Creationism debunking in the book because that has already been done and because the debunking in the book is based not on the science but on the Bible. This is a bit like debunking a work of fiction by turning to the front and reading the passage that informs you that ‘any resemblance to any persons – living or dead – is purely coincidental’.

Moving on then, Chapter 2 is entitled:

‘Does Muhammed Have the Keys to Your Grave and to Eternity’.

A fight between Muslims and Christians (of any kind) is usually quite fun because if they were as sceptical about their own religions as they were other peoples’… well, neither would exist. Let’s see what it has to offer.

As a case in point of the kind of thing I mean, the book says this:

“At the end of the day, what do we have left? The claims of one man: Muhammad—a man who died and was buried over one thousand years ago.”

At the end of the day what does Christianity have left? The claims of one man: Saul of Tarsus – a man who died and was buried nearly two thousand years ago.

This is the pattern for the whole section. Upbraiding Muslims for the self-same failing and moral problems that exist within the Biblical texts. Murder, lies, paedophilia, rape, slaughter, all exist in both books but the reason to dismiss both Bible and Koran are their incorrect claims, fallacious claims and fictional nature. Not that they outrage our morals – though inconsistency is rife in both.

We can skip over this section.

Chapter Three is tearing down Mormonism, a worthy goal but when you’re coming from a Christian position, simply hypocritical. Again, a dose of self-scepticism to the degree shown to another faith (or faith variant) would be a pretty healthy thing to do. As with the Muslim section, this is the flaw and thus we can skip over it.

Chapter Four does the same for Jehovah’s Witnesses and yet again, the irony in tearing down one version of Christianity for beliefs no crazier than those found in the Bible is not lost on me. Again, we can skip over.

Chapter Five seems to move on, finally and is titled:

Do You Want Religion or Immortality?

Definitely not the first, unsure about the second.

There is a common phrase used by Christians that theirs is not a religion, but a relationship with Christ. What these non-denominational Christians fail to understand is that Christianity is the religion, the particular sect is just that, a sect, or Church. It should be a warning sign that they want to cast themselves adrift from the word ‘religion’ since it has become so toxic.

Lest we forget, the definition of a religion is this:

A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Christianity, even non-denominational Christianity, still fits this definition.

I’m an atheist, quibbling and arguing over interpretations of the Bible isn’t going to convince me otherwise, it merely cements the vagueness and fallibility of the text. While the actions of sects and Churches often outrage my moral sensibility, this is not the reason I reject the concept of god. Even arseholes can be right about things. I reject them because there is no evidence for god. That many of these people and organisations are doing great harm to the human species based on their faith and their teachings is a reason to fight theism, not to reject the god concept itself. That I do on its own merits, not on the basis that it is used (though it is so EASILY used) by charlatans, exploiters and pious liars.

Supposedly, according to the book, the keys to immortality are:

KEY: Death of Jesus—we repent (i.e., death to our old sinful ways)
KEY: The burial of Jesus—we must be buried in the name of Jesus Christ (i.e., be born of water)
KEY: The resurrection of Jesus—we must receive the Holy Spirit. (i.e., be born of Spirit)

I still haven’t been given any reason to believe in Jesus, god, the veracity of the Bible, any of the foundational assumptions that go into this and yet the book says this is the ‘meat’ of it and there’s only about forty pages to go. I skipped back to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, but I hadn’t.

After much of this, still without any evidence or anything for me to talk about, given the foundational assumptions haven’t been supported, we finally get to something testable.

Speaking in tongues.

While the writers seem to be a little coy about using that term, contextually it’s fairly obvious.

Here’s the problem though, speaking in tongues isn’t a language and whether people realise it or not, they’re fairly obviously making it up.

Here’s TWO good ARTICLES about it and why it isn’t what some would like to claim it to be.

The part that I find particularly interesting is that while the babbling is void of informational content or organisation it can induce – in some – a trance-like state and different congregations develop different ‘dialects’ where they mimic each other’s babble.

Anyway, moving on…

The section Deciphering Jesus of course, presumes Jesus’ existence which – as a provisional mythicist – I’m going to need evidence for.

Nor do I care about the Trinity, because again – I’m yet to be given any reason to believe in a god.

And that’s the end of the book.

Did it present any evidence for anything?

No.

Did it convince me to give up my wicked ways and no longer be an atheist?

No.

The constant references to the Bible do nothing for me as a non-believer because I don’t believe its claims and, as a sceptic, I recognise that you can’t use a claim to prove itself. Ultimately this book is just another, different interpretation and – if the authors are very ‘lucky’ – the emergence of yet another sect or grouping calling themselves non-denominational.

All I can really welcome from it is that this is another shuffling step towards defeat of religion by reason since it stands against YEC. That’s not really enough to be happy about though.

I was told there would be empirical evidence for god and Jesus and the claims – supposedly – thereof and as usual I cam away disappointed.

If the authors wish to continue the dialogue on this blog I invite them to do so.

Not Such a Surprise Ending: Part Two

the-big-bang-theory-12Section Two of the Book

The book represents The Big Bang as being the origin of:
1. Time
2. Space
3. Matter

Several corrections here.

a) Much like evolution isn’t about the origin of life, BBT isn’t about the origin of the universe. Just as evolution is with life development, so BBT is about the development of the universe.

b) Space and time are one and shouldn’t be listed separately. This becomes important.

c) Matter doesn’t originate with the first moments of the universe, it comes later. The early universe is too hot, too energetic for matter to exist. It is only as it expands and cools that matter – fundamental particles and later hydrogen and lithium and develop. Then from the deaths of the early stars you get the other kinds of matter.

Having got that somewhat wrong, the book then tries to draw parallels to Genesis.

1. In the beginning (time)
2. God created the heavens (space)
3. And the Earth (matter)

Again, several problems here. With spacetime coming into being at the same time there is no before time and no outside space in which anything can occur. There is no context in which an agent (such as god) could act. Nor have they accounted for the existence of this god in the first place.

There’s no reason to think any of this was created, as opposed to coming about naturally.

Lastly, the Earth is a latecomer. The Universe is something like 13.5 billion years old while the Earth is only around 4.54 billion years old (give or take around 200 million years).

The authors call this erroneous and demonstrably untrue account miraculous and in line with science, when it simply isn’t.

The problem we have here is one that you would usually run into more often arguing with Muslims.

Muslims are convinced that the Koran contains scientific truths and often try to draw parallels between verses of the Koran and the discoveries of modern science.

This is problematic for Christians (even those trying to reconcile it with science) just as it is for Muslims – and keep in mind that the Muslims had several centuries advantage when it came to accrued knowledge and cribbed a load of their ‘holy science’ from the ancient Greeks, who were pretty smart cookies.

Problem 1: This is post-hoc rationalisation of vague, poetic verses to try and get them to fit the modern understanding of science. This is an interpretation, just like the many other interpretations which is why there are so many sects of these religions based on different interpretations. The objective, outside observer has no reason to favour your interpretation over any others.
Problem 2: These many interpretations have changed over time in an attempt to catch up with or fit the expansion of scientific knowledge – or to oppose it.
Problem 3: This supposedly divine foreknowledge, if correct and useful, should lead us TO these discoveries, not get in the way of them. No significant advances in human knowledge have come from alleged prophecies or divine knowledge. It is always AFTER the discovery that someone goes back and tries to bend the holy book to fit it. It’s just like Nostradamus’ supposed prophecies.

What is the more parsimonious answer?
A: A bunch of bronze age goat herders, including one who almost certainly never existed (Moses) were given special knowledge by an unevidenced supernatural deity?
B: People are interpreting vague language to fit what they want to hear.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say B.

This problem of post-hoc rationalisation continues throughout the whole chapter. The cherry-picking is most egregious when making excuses for the two different versions of the creation story in Genesis.

Here’s the normally quoted version of Genesis:
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV

This is the order of events in Genesis.
1. God appears out of nothing.
2. God creates the heavens and the Earth.
3. God creates light, day and night.
4. God creates water and the sky.
5. God creates land.
6. God creates plants, on land.
7. God creates the sun and moon (oh, and the stars, as an afterthought).
8. God creates sea life – and birds.
9. God creates land life – including livestock, then man.

Here’s what actually happened so far as we can work out with evidence:
1. The universe begins.
2. The universe expands and cools.
3. Matter begins to form. Simple particles first, then hydrogen. The universe is so dense and compact that some of this fuses, so there’s some helium and lithium too.
4. The universe continues to expand and cool, the early stars form – primarily hydrogen.
5. The early stars die off and some explode, scattering denser matter.
6. More generations of stars form, planets form. Eventually one of these is the Earth.
7. The Earth is a dry, volcanic mess. It is bombarded with meteors and comets (bringing water). One early impact forms the Moon.
8. The Earth cools and stabilises, oceans form.
9. In the oceans – probably around volcanic vents – simple replicating molecules form from organic chemicals. The starting point of all life.
10. Life spreads throughout the oceans.
11. Life colonises the land.
12. Mankind evolves from his hominid forebears.
13. Man domesticates wild animals and starts using technology.

The order of events and their nature is wildly wrong, even with all the post-hoc rationalising in the world.

There’s a reference to The Flood, which one would not expect in a book trying to reconcile science and religion since there is no reason to think The Flood ever happened. No physical evidence, nothing.

There are excuses to try and get around The Problem of Evil, predictably moving to the Free Will argument. Needless to say this has massive problems which are well discussed elsewhere. A good deity setting up the universe would have no need to create evil and Free Will and divine omniscience are mutually incompatible.

There’s further problems with talking about Adam and Eve and the tree of knowledge. After all, they couldn’t know disobeying was wrong until after they had disobeyed. It is, of course, just a nonsensical myth but the book seems to treat it with undue gravity.

Satan? Also problematic.

This section is pretty clearly aimed at the religious, not me, none of these things mean a damn thing to me. I don’t believe in Satan and have been given no reason to. I don’t believe in a soul and have been given no reason to. The same goes for god, Jesus, Moses, Adam, Eve, Miracles, Eden or spirit. These things are just included here and no attempt is made to explain or justify their mention or to establish that they exist.

There is ample evidence for human development from precursor species and our relationship to the other primates. None for any divine human creation or Adam, or Eve.

Even more surprisingly this book seems to try to retain the idea of original sin – and, laughably, by appealing to justice.

  • Justice is an appropriate punishment to fit the crime.
  • If we accept the Bible account at face value Adam – and the whole human race everafter – was being punished for something he couldn’t have known was wrong until he did it.
  • His descendents were being punished for something they didn’t even do.
  • This is not moral, this is not justice. It is the very opposite.

This is then followed by a lot of stuff about Mary and Jesus and Luke. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’m a (provisional) mythicist and having been given no reason to believe the earlier establishing remarks I have no reason to believe any of this either. It is entirely irrelevant to me.

As such with no foundation upon which to build and no reason to believe in even a mortal Jesus, the extra leap of faith to an afterlife existing has zero chance of being accepted by any rational human being examining this book.

There’s a section on answering the ‘tough’ questions. Here’s the questions and here’s my answers:

Is the Bible free of error?
No, it’s chock full of ’em.

Why did God create Adam and Eve if he knew that they would sin and bring about so much pain and suffering?
He didn’t because he doesn’t exist. If such a being did exist – and was good – why would it do such a thing? It would have to be cruel. Comparison to mortal parents is not valid because we lack the alleged powers and foresight of this supposed deity.

Where does the soul come from?
There doesn’t appear to be such a thing as a soul.

If an individual is in a coma, do they still have a soul?
No, they never had one in the first place. Whether their CONSCIOUSNESS is dormant or not depends on the injury and the coma. It is still quite hard to tell at this point but fMRI etc is helping us work it out.

Where did consciousness come from?
It’s an emergent quality of the complexity of the physical brain. An adaptation like any other. Self-awareness has good survival utility.

But didn’t the scientific community already prove that free will and morality, if they do exist at all, are probably by-products of the brain?
The book makes a rather typical appeal to ‘love’. Can we see or measure love? Actually we can. We can observe love in an fMRI scan of the human brain. We can also detect it in physiological reactions, hormone releases etc and see evidence of it in people’s actions. So it goes for all such claims. We can and do see them and measure them, though there’s been reluctance in the past due to religious interference.

How did God use the natural processes to form life and what role does Faith play in the physics of the universe?
He doesn’t, and none. Respectively.
Faith = (belief – evidence) or, as Mr Clemens put it: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
As such it is an incredibly dangerous mode of non-thinking that causes huge harm to humankind.

How does God’s Word program the quantum world?
It doesn’t and describing the quantum world as information flow is getting to the point of Chopran, new-age bullshit. Quantum level physics is counter-intuitive, but it is not magic. There are horrible misunderstandings of aspects of it such as the observer effect and indeterminacy that lead to people invoking it for their ‘woo’ ideas and this is no different, sadly!

Atheism Challenge Update: Still atheist.

Not such a Surprise Ending

This is a blog post about this book – Surprise Endings by ‘A bunch of fools and rejects’.

They have a challenge that you’re not supposed to be able to read this book and remain an atheist.

Having gotten into it on Twitter and being the lovely chap that I am I offered to go through it if they provided a copy. Which they have. So here I am.

http://surpriseendings.ca/

Introduction

Despite the ‘100% atheist-destroying’ claim the book is, apparently, more written to be aimed at Christians and other believers. This is made pretty obvious in the introduction when they talk about the ‘soul’.

I’m not sold (to put it mildly) on the idea that a soul exists anyway so being concerned about its wellbeing comes way, way down the league table of ‘Things I Care About’ compared to first establishing whether it exists or not. My position is that it doesn’t. All the evidence that we do have suggests otherwise and suggests that consciousness is the result of complex interactions and emergent behaviour in the physical brain. Mess with the brain, mess with the expression of consciousness. There’s just as little evidence for an incorporeal soul as there is for a god (none at all).

Chapter One: The Creation/Evolution Wars are Over

This chapter gives a brief overview of Young Earth Creationism and how it goes against all science – not just evolution. The summary of YEC issues is concise and amusing, but a quote at the beginning of the chapter gives me cause to worry:

How surprising it is that the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the universe should allow for the existence of beings who could observe it.” Steven Weinberg,

Nobel laureate, high-energy physicist

The chapter purports to be about evolution, but this is pretty obviously setting up to talk about ‘fine tuning’ and the physical constants of the universe. Which has, if you’ll excuse me, fuck and all to do with Evolution by Natural Selection. It suggests that the writers haven’t done their reading or study and are conflating a host of different theories into one great big ‘naturalism’.

When it gets into the scientific side, there’s a problem with trying to create a false equivalency between the crazy (nix that, crazier) end of the theistic spectrum with the new-atheism.

Underline this: just as leaders within the Creationist establishment gladly “speak” for all Christians and God, evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins, Victor Stinger, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett claim to speak for science. Their public position is that they are at war with religion in general, but don’t be fooled—it’s really Jesus Christ they’re after. ”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of these figures claim to speak for all science. They present their arguments – forcefully – but don’t claim to be speakers. The atheist ‘movement’ – for want of a better term – is not unified save in that we don’t believe in god. Many do have an admiration for science and its achievements but all atheism is, is: “I don’t believe in god/s.”

I do understand how it may seem that new-atheism’s beef is primarily with Christianity but you must understand the fact that new-atheism is largely a western phenomenon and from countries where Christianity is the biggest issue and problem. One need only look at the issues over abortion in Texas and the close vote to strike down DOMA to see that Christianity is very much a problem in the US and, to a lesser extent in Europe and elsewhere.

Islam is, of course, also a problem but there have been less direct conflicts with Islam until recently. The same goes for other faiths. Christianity is merely the one that we, as atheists, bump into more often and have more conflict with because of it.

Otherwise I agree with the summary there. Primitive superstition does indeed have to be gotten rid of and those of us on the anti-theistic side are pretty much agreed on that.

Darwin was right. There, we said it. Okay, he was mostly right. Scientific research has confirmed that life—all life—did evolve from a single bacterium that “woke up alone and probably quite happy”

I feel like I’m nit-picking, but first life wouldn’t have been anything remotely near to as complex as a bacterium. So it’s a bit eye-grating to see that said here.

Worse is this:

But who—or what—is driving this incredible train: God or chance? ”

Evolution by natural selection is not chance. Hence the term ‘selection’. The slower cat fails to catch the faster mouse and dies of starvation. The cat doesn’t pass on his slow-arse genes, the fast mouse lives and gets to reproduce. While there is some chance in mutations and encounters, the important part, the engine that drives evolution is the selection part.

The book then starts talking about The Big Bang and gets some things right and some things wrong. It’s not a burst of energy per se, but rather an inflation of spacetime. Right from the get-go the book is presupposing direction and purpose to the universe without establishing it to be true.

Looking back then, it’s not hard to see that the original energy that launched the cosmos began with a mission (if that’s the right word) to form stars that would eventually pressure-cook heavier elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen—which would then fuse to form our Solar System, where, on the third planet from the Sun, sentient primates would emerge from that same swirling dust.”

These are consequences, not plans in any way, shape or form.

When talking about scientific naturalism and materialism, they have this to say about our ‘No god, no soul, death is the end’ viewpoint:

Wait! Not so fast! There is absolutely no evidence to support this “when it’s over, it’s all over” view of reality. None. Zippo. This is still your good old- fashioned barn-burning, boogie-down leap of faith. They hope that when it’s over—it’s all over. ”

Hope? No. A nice jolly afterlife could be very pleasant and we don’t generally like the idea of ceasing to exist, even though it gives temporary existence meaning and value. Rather we accept that on the basis of the evidence this is how things seem to be. The point being that there is no evidence for the positive assertions, that there is a soul, a god or an afterlife and thus the only rational position to hold is that they do not. With this passage they’re trying to fallaciously shift the burden.

They try to describe scientific atheism as ascribing everything to chance. I’ve already addressed this with relation to evolution, but this is still repeating a strawman and, thus, as a criticism it fails because chance isn’t the important factor, or even the main one.

Science does not say the universe ‘popped’ into existence by chance.

It does not ascribe abiogenesis to chance.

It does not ascribe evolution to chance.

The Questions

The book posits three questions:

1. How did we get here?

2. Why are we here?

3. If there is an afterlife—how do we get there?

Of these, only number one is actually a legitimate question. ‘How did we get here?’ is a valid question to ask, and one that has – through science – largely been answered.

‘Why are we here?’ presupposes that there is a reason. ‘Why’ is a question that can only be asked of intentional agency – like humans – that have reasons for doing things. Before asking this question you would first need to establish that an intentional agent – one with volition – was responsible.

Number three is actually two questions. You would have to demonstrate the existence of an afterlife first, then ask the second question. We have no reason to suppose there is and I told hold out much hope of the book providing one.

Again the strawman of chance rears its head through selective cherry-picking, completely ignoring the important part – selection.

Yes, science paints a ‘grim’ picture of the ultimate fate of the universe (in many billions of years) but just because something is grim or makes you feel insignificant doesn’t mean that it isn’t also true.

The reader is asked what would convince an atheist of the existence of god.

The answer is, as always, evidence.

The book does not provide said evidence, rather it makes a peculiar argument that because our scientists with the resources of only a single planet and a mere 400 years or so of formal scientific investigation can’t create universes, god must have done it. A classic argument from ignorance/personal incredulity.

There’s just so much that’s wrong in this book it becomes hard to continue.

The idea that human evolution has ‘stopped’ since the advent of consciousness for example.

Consciousness is a continuum, not an ‘on off’. Earlier hominids than us had consciousness, certainly neanderthals whom we coexisted with. The other apes and many other animals show different degrees of consciousness. Not even tool-use is unique to humans, we have just taken it further and higher. While our tool use cushions us from raw natural selection there’s no reason to think it isn’t still going on. Lactose tolerance – for example – is still spreading through the human population as are some genetic mutations that lead to stronger muscles and bones.

We are cushioned from, but not immune to, evolution. Evolution also takes time. In a species with as long a reproduction cycle as us and with little selection pressure we wouldn’t expect to see the kind of rapid changes and instances of speciation or novel traits we see in bacteria, fruit-flies or other fast-reproducing species.

Nor is a moral sense unique to humans as recent studies on apes, monkeys and even rats have shown. Animals also display empathy, a sense of justice and so on. Most especially in social species like us. Why? These behaviours – and cooperation – have positive survival utility. It’s evolutionary psychology.

This evolutionary basis seems to supply the basic morality that we share but we’re also undermined, reinforced and supplemented by the memetic morality that our societies create. These can be good and useful so long as they’re not maladapted to our situation (that’s why we need to keep reassessing and overturning laws and moral judgements) but often they’re awful and counterproductive for humanity – but great for the survival of the meme. Evangelical, forceful religion for example.

These are not non-physical realities. They are the result of real, physical situations and are ultimately ‘written’ into the physical mind, conditioned, carved into the electrochemical pathways.

The First Question Again

1. Did the Universe come out of nothing?

This may not even be a valid question. Given that space and time are one and began at the same point you can’t have a ‘before’ the universe so it cannot meaningfully have been said to ‘come into existence’. It has ‘always’ been.

Evoking a prime mover or first cause doesn’t solve the false problem being presented, for if the universe needs a creator then so must the first cause. If the first cause doesn’t, then why would the universe?

2. Are we rocks/stars?

Yes. The same stuff, arranged in a different way by self-replicating mechanisms that have increased in complexity over time due to evolution.

3. Are we biological information systems?

No. Information is a name we ascribe to things. We make it up. We interpret it. We assign it to things.

Again with the arguments from ignorance/personal incredulity. I recommend that the authors read up on Szostak’s work on abiogenesis and that – coming the other way – of Spiegelman and his ‘monster’. Yes the complexities of DNA etc can arise naturally.

The Darwinian Paradigm

The book describes this as:

1. Time

2. Natural selection

3. Chance (random mutation)

It would be better described as:

1. Variation.

2. Natural selection.

3. Time.

Again the book fails to properly account for and address the ‘natural selection’ part of this. Preferring to concentrate on the strawman of ‘chance’.

Nature doesn’t anticipate changes in the environment. Evolution is reactive. The variable traits that better survive are passed on and sometimes you get novel mutations that help survival and are, similarly passed on. Accumulate enough change and you get a new species.

There’s an attempt to create an equivalence between ‘god of the gaps’ and ‘we don’t know yet’. This is, of course, patently false. ‘I don’t know’ is an honest answer, ‘god did it’, is not. Any answer requires evidence, not empty shouting.

I’m going to stop there.

This is a very, very disappointing exercise, stronger against the YEC viewpoint but failing to even understand the scientific or atheistic viewpoint. It repeatedly bangs the ‘chance’ drum, which is not evolution. It repeatedly mingles Darwinian evolution with cosmology, abiogenesis and various other matters. It constantly makes arguments from personal incredulity and ignorance. It is not up to date on the science – most notably vacuum fluctuations and virtual particles as well as evolutionary psychology.

On on P49, Section 2 and frankly there is no will (or need) to continue if the level of argumentation is this bad and riddled with fallacies.

Sorry guys.

A dialogue might work better, but based on what I’ve read so far this book will not be convincing to any serious atheist.

Mirror, Mirror

Sinfestfixed

Clicky for original

I’ve been weighing the point of making a post about the SFWA fuss over on Grim’s Tales but in the meantime I had a brief exchange on Twitter which I think illustrates the problem inherent in many of these sexism discussions. The responses of the other party (anonymous and somewhat paraphrased because I bear them no ill will) were almost exact mirror images of the kinds of replies that whip feminists into a frenzy of opprobrium when men reply to them or ask questions. They also show the problem will ‘call out culture’ and how debate is stifled rather than continued in a meaningful fashion.

The exchange began with a retweet:

“Thank god there are men to explain what sexism is to me because as a women I certainly would not know anything about that”

Now, I take offence at that. I’m not saying nobody should be able to say such things or that my offence has any special power to it – nobody has any right not to be offended. What I find ‘problematic’ though is the sexism inherent in the comment. If you are claiming to be against sexism or to be complaining about it, it strikes me as being rather unhelpful if you’re sexist yourself in so doing.

The reason I find this statement problematic is that, implicit within it, is the idea that men, somehow, can’t ‘grok’ sexism or that the experience of sexism is somehow something that only women suffer. I’ll spare you the details, but I find this to be bullshit through direct and indirect experience and through statistics on aspects of both men and women’s lives.

We’re told we should call out sexism when we see it. So I did. Not to the original source – I figured they wouldn’t be open to discussion based on past experience – but to the retweeter, someone fairly new to me but within the Venn diagram of a few of my interests which made me wonder why they retweeted it.

I kept it mild, to the effect that ‘Men suffer sexism too’.

In reply I was told:

“But I doubt you have it mansplained to you.”

‘Mansplained’ is a deeply sexist term and I’m sure there’s barely a man in existence who hasn’t had something ‘womansplained’ to them. When you’re discussing these topics it usually isn’t long before someone with a semester in gender studies pops up and starts telling you all about ‘patriarchy’ or something else. ‘Mansplaining’ is the equivalent of dismissing anything a woman might say as ‘chatter’ or ‘nagging’. It would not be considered acceptable the other way around and frankly I don’t see the problem in trying to understand and explain something in any case or to offer another point of view. It is through exchanges we get to truth.

I explained, as well as one can in a tweet, that this was a sexist term and that even worse, sexism against men is dismissed, explained, excused or even claimed not to exist.

“I hope I’m misinterpreting your intention, because it read as a dismissal of the OP as minor compared to UR suffering under sexism.

Which wasn’t what I said at all. That men can suffer sexism in no way diminishes the fact that women can suffer too. That someone has something worse doesn’t mean the other person isn’t also suffering. Dawkins was – rightly – called out on his ‘Dear  Muslima‘ comment to Rebecca Watson (though I must qualify that by saying I don’t think Watson had anything worthwhile to complain about) on this basis but it seems that isn’t the case the other way around, for some reason.

I pointed out that there is often outright hostility and open-mouthed disbelief when men treat any accusation of sexism, no matter how thin, with skepticism and asked how they would feel if the situation were reversed.

That wasn’t replied to. Though I got this:

“Interesting choice of things to be offended by. Your claim of victimhood is duly noted.”

Oddly enough, calling female sexism caller-outers professional victims is not even remotely tolerated or accepted, even if there’s past form.

Then I was accused of doing exactly what the OP was posting about:

“You have schooled me on what real sexism is, since I apparently don’t understand. Strangely enough, exactly what the OP was about.”

Of course, I did nothing of the sort. I assumed we both knew what sexism was and I called out the sexism I saw in the OP and the later replies. I hoped – rather than expected – to have my concerns treated with the same degree of respect as an accusation of sexism from a woman would be taken. It was not.

Now, I bear this person no ill will and unlike many I don’t think they’re being dishonest. I just think the attempt to have any debate at all on these issues is poisoned beyond virtually all hope of resolution. Discussion is, essentially, not permitted and neither MRAs nor feminists seem willing to accept that the other side may have any valid points whatsoever. As a guy stuck in the middle I seem to get it from both sides (though worse from the feminist side because I have a penis) and view the whole thing as exasperating.

In the wake of the SFWA nonsense this struck a particular nerve and I think it helps illustrate that both sides engage in similar, damn near identical, dismissal of each other.

Seven Refutations: Follow Up

WonkaSeven Refutations got some attention from the oxymoronically entitled ‘Reasonable Faith’ forum. Predictably the majority of replies are scoffing and misdirection but there’s a few bits and pieces there worth replying to, so this is a follow up. I don’t want to support WLC in any way as I think he’s a morally repugnant charlatan, so I won’t be posting in that forum but I’ll address what – few – pertinent points there are here.

1. Why is there something instead of nothing?

Objection: You don’t answer the question!
Counter: ‘I don’t know’ is an answer, you can substitute ‘we don’t know’ if you like. Saying ‘goddidit’ is still a god of the gaps and fallacious however you want to put it. The rest of this objection missed the point entirely.

Objection: False (WLC is making claims, not providing evidence), you’re currently trying to dispute part of his evidence.  To try to suggest that he therefore has no evidence either shows a deficient understand of what constitutes evidence, or disengenoussness (sic).
Counter: A claim (god did it) is not evidence, no matter how many times you claim it is. The deficiency in understanding of what words mean seems to be a big problem amongst apologists.

Objection: Further, isn’t “I don’t know” a tad bit antithetical to the truth? Do you actually care about the truth, or only about making yourself feel like you’re an intellectual?
Counter: It is honest and in pursuit of truth you can’t allow your preference or desire to shape what you think. I care enough about truth not to make things up or settle for shitty arguments.

Objection: “But what about those that think the brute fact that anything exists may be evidence for something else?”
Counter: It may or may not be. If you want to say the universe is evidence for god/Nyx/enormous quantum computer you’ll need to provide evidence.  Asserting it is ‘god’ without such backing is pointless, bald assertion.

Objection: “If you truly knew the arguments for the cause of why anything exists at all (the universe, time, space, etc…) like the Kalam, or the argument from contingency, you’d know that eventually there has to be a first cause to all this stuff in order to avoid infinite regression.”
Counter: I do, I have – in particular – addressed the nonsensical Kalam argument several times before. I reject the assertion that there HAS to be a first cause to all this stuff in general and that it is god in particular. Evidence still required. Otherwise – again – it’s just assertion.

2. Cause and Effect

Objection: You’re not addressing the ‘actual‘ cosmological argument.
Counter: Fuck me that’s a long-winded way of saying nothing at all. Saying ‘contingent’ doesn’t alter the objections to the claim in any way it just means you’re now claiming the universe is contingent and god is not. Still no evidence for a god and you’re now making two claims about two things without evidence. The refutation stands unchallenged even by this long-winded article. In the end it comes down to this ‘Everything has a cause’ may be a simplification but it is the core of the argument that is universal from WLC to stupid creationists on social media. The objections to it apply to every form of the cosmological argument so far presented whether long-winded and pseudo-intellectual or not. Here’s a longer-winded way of saying the same thing from my POV.

Objection: There are no exceptions within the scientific literature.  If you’re refering to quatum (sic) events like the creation and annihilation of virtual particles, then you’re confusing indeterminacy with being uncaused (sic).
Counter: ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous things’. Virtual particle pairs are not to to with indeterminacy. Here’s a brief, accessible overview of how this applies.

Objection: Please address the actual Kalam cosmological argument, “everything has a cause,” is not a part of the Kalam cosmological argument.  Neither is, “everything has a cause, except God.”  These are not premises to the argument, and as such your criticism does not address the argument.
Counter: Not using your preferred phrasing is not the same as not addressing the argument. Also it is by no means clear that the universe ‘began to exist’ in any meaningful sense, spacetime being what it is.

Objection: This argument is flawed from the start. You are implying these are contingent “gods.” Of course, if you are arguing against someone that holds the position that their God is contingent, your argument is a very good one. Unfortunately, as a Christian, I hold that God is uncreated. An eternal, uncaused God. Or, as Aristotle would put it, the unmoved mover. A necessary being that exists by its own necessity. Therefore, your argument is null and void against a non-contingent God(s).
Counter: This is covered in the original refutation being replied to.

3. Design & Complexity

Objection: You’re not accounting for the universe being the way it is.
Counter: Missing the point again. I don’t have to – though there is a lot of science on this it would be besides the point of this post and this counter. This is not an argument from ignorance, ‘I don’t know, therefore goddidit’ is.

Objection: What does my perspective have anything to do with observing nature and seeing that they are finely tuned? My perspective does nothing to change the brute fact that the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, or that certain arbitrary quantities that were put in initial conditions for the laws of nature to run on were so precisely tuned, that it implies a designer like: the balance between matter and anti-matter, or the level of entropy.
Counter: This objection makes a good example of the problem of perspective. You are coming at it with the presupposition of design (still with no evidence, only fallacious argument from incredulity). That something can be described mathematically doesn’t make it designed, that qualities are what they are doesn’t mean they are designed. Fine tuning is ‘puddle thinking’ (ref: Douglas Adams) which is another example of distorting perspective.

Objection: What are you implying here? The oscillating model? The multiverse theorem? Even then, many of the multiverse models can’t account for fine-tunning.
Counter: No implication, just that things are as they are. If they were different they’d be different. We arose fitting the universe, not vice versa. There is no ‘fine tuning’.

4. Objective Morality

Objection: You say there’s no objective morality but you object to Craig on moral grounds!
Counter: No objective morality is not the same thing as no morality.

Objection: Saying there is a possible explanation, but not giving one, is the fallacy known as the Phantom Third Option.
Counter: The point is only that there are many possible explanations and zero reason to think, of this set, that yours is the one. At least not without evidence.

Objection: Also claiming that God rapes children? Have you actually read the bible?
Counter: Yes, and the history and observations thereof. This is why I say this. Mary would have been 12-14 (possibly even younger), too young to give meaningful consent. Furthermore she was not consulted or asked, but simply knocked up (at least according to your mythology). What else would we call this?

Objection: This seems like a rhetorical bluff, please provide information on what science investigates morality, and the relevant evidence.
Counter: For just one example, of many, check here. The objector has followed up in a manner that demonstrates they have no idea what they’re talking about. This – and other experiments like it – show that morality is not unique to humans and is determined by ev psych and conditions. It supports the point that there is no objective morality and that morality is ‘nothing more’ than a result of these things. Along with everything else it utterly destroys the idea that there’s anything objective about morality. The foundation and origin of morality is, like other traits, survival utility. In humans this is at the level of group selection and complicated by the separate evolution of social/moral systems and their exploitation by toxic memes (such as religion).

Objection: You then go on to accuse God of breaking his commandments. First, did he ever say that he was required to follow these commandments? I distinctly remember a “thou shalt” before each commandment.
Counter: If you’re arguing for an objective morality why would you make an exception for god? If the morality is truly universal and objective then it would also apply to god – how could it not? Entering into specific critique isn’t really relevant here save that WLC is trying to assert this one, particular, god. Point is there is no objective morality.

Objection: We really can’t point to anything that’s universally or objectively wrong? Really? What about torturing babies? Is that something that is “OK” at some point or another depending on the situation?
Counter: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb under New York and unless I torture the President’s newborn baby girl to death he will detonate it. The greater good is served by torturing the child to death. Perhaps a religious cult sacrifices a child once per year to ensure the harvest and has strong taboos about not doing this. Within their moral system this is not only the best option, but the only moral option, an honour and it would be immoral not to do it from their point of view. Morality is subjective, temporal, conditional. The closest we can seem to approach to objective morality – IMO – would be a combination of Utilitarianism and Epicureanism. The greatest good for the greatest number. That would still be subjective though – humanocentric if nothing else.

5. Ontological Argument

Objection: This does not answer the ontological argument. For one, a perfect roast beef sandwitch can be eaten, and so cannot be perfect. It also relies upon the existence of all the ingredients it is composed of, and so cannot be necessary. Making a mock version of an argument does not refute that argument, it simply refutes your understanding of the argument.
Counter: Reductio absurdum is a valid technique for exposing problems in the argument. A sandwich would not be perfect if it could NOT be eaten and why should there be only one, why shouldn’t it be a regenerating sandwich? For someone who has an imaginary friend you have a shockingly limited imagination. Stop limiting the OmNOMipotence of the ontological sandwich. The ingredients are intrinsic to the sandwich as the various qualities claimed for the god would be. This objection is absolutely groundless.

Objection: Please address the actual ontological argument.  Dr. Craig uses the argument formulated by Dr. Alvin Plantinga; the most charitable I can be of your above criticism is that it might invalidate Saint Anselm’s ontological argument, but the argument used by Dr. Craig is different.
Counter: It does. The rephrasings of the argument don’t invalidate the criticism which can be rephrased to meet every incarnation.
EG: 1.  It is possible that a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists.
2.  If it is possible for a maximally great roast beef sandwich to exist, then a Maximally Great roast beef sandwich exists in some possible world.
3.  If a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in some possible world, then a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in every possible world.
4.  If a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in every possible world then a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in the actual world.
5.  If a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in the actual world then a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists.
6.  Therefore a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists.
7. Furthermore this is MY maximally great roast beef sandwich and therefore cannot be maximally great for me if it isn’t here for me to eat it.
8. Where the fuck is my roast beef sandwich?

Objection: You are using an outdated one so there are newer versions. Nonetheless, your argument still fails because it is talking about ontologically great properties of which a sandwich would not participate. Thus, the parody fails.
Counter: I’ve not seen any better ones and the basic problem is that the concept of a thing is not a thing. We can even imagine things which are logically and physically impossible (like various god definitions). The sandwich does not have to be an active participant. It must just be concievable.

6. Resurrection

Objection: JESUS MYTH! LOL! R U SRS?!?

Counter: Before I actually looked into it I assumed, as many do, that Jesus was a real person, just calcified in accrued myth over time. When I actually looked for evidence and applied historical and scientific method though, I found there was absolutely no evidence for him whatsoever. Now, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence but it is suspicious, especially given the contemporaneous historians, diarists etc make no mention and there’s no Roman record. Add that to analysis of the mystery cults of the period and the themes (Ref: Carrier, even though he’s a bit of a dickhead sometimes) and given the mythological nature of every single other religion – including modern ones – it seems a far more reasonable position that this Jesus character is pure fiction. Anyone who wants to claim otherwise is welcome to present evidence (NEW evidence please) that he existed. I cover this problem briefly here.

Objection: You can’t just wave your flag around and say “there’s no evidence” and act like you just refuted an argument. You have to refute the following facts about Jesus’ resurrection by merely naturalistic explanations- 1- Jesus’ tomb was found empty 3 days after his crucifixion. 2- On multiple occasions and in multiple settings, individuals and large GROUPS of people saw appearances of Jesus after He had died. 3- The disciples suddenly went from sheer doubt and depression about Jesus being who He says he was after He was killed to complete and utter confidence that Jesus was who He said he was, even to the point of death. People don’t die for things they know not to be true, and the disciples had the prime position to know whether or not Jesus’ resurrection was indeed true or not.
Counter: That you strongly believe your mythological events happened does not mean that they did. Until you can show that these supposed events did actually happen and were not simply stories, there is no case to answer.

7. Experiential

Objection: For the believer that has the inner-witness of the Holy Spirit, God’s existence is merely an axiomatic truth.
Counter: The same can be said for true believers of any and all religions. None of whom have any evidence. All of whom claim a unique handle on truth. Diax’s Rake applies.

8. Additional

Objection: “I don’t know” isn’t an answer.
Counter: It is an honest one. Having ‘an’ answer doesn’t make it a valid or reasonable answer. Insisting, loudly and at length, that 2+2=6.2759 doesn’t make it any more true. Point is ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t try to cram in an unsupported answer, as theism does.

Objection: Don’t mock us!
Counter: ‘Ridicule is the only weapon which may be used against unintelligable propositions…’ – Jefferson

Objection: You’re so angry!
Counter: Of course I fucking am. Look at all the harm religion does in the world. My anger has fuck all to do with the content of my points.

Objection: You’re a troll!
Counter: No, trolls don’t really engage other than to wind people up but it’s a typical gambit to smear someone who doesn’t agree with you as a troll.

Objection: You just want traffic to your site!
Counter: I don’t gain anything from it. Really, genuinely, I think WLC is a huge wanker and don’t want to support him.

Objection: You’re not using the biblical meaning of faith!
Counter: I disagree. I define it thus: Faith=(belief-evidence) in the religio-spiritual context. Why? Because that is what it is in this context. See number 2 here. This differentiates religious faith from trust or belief, which can be based on evidence while faith is not. Your supposed biblical definition is Hebrews 11:1
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
This is not inconsistent with my definition, indeed, it meets it. Hope is not substantial, hope is a wish that things will turn out in a particular way. Faith then is substituted for substance in this instance, it is not substance itself. The ‘evidence of things unseen’. Things that are not sensed, detected, confirmable are not evidence. Again, this is a substitution.
So faith is a substitute for substance and a substitute for evidence – things that would rationally support a belief.
As I said then, Faith=(belief-evidence)

Objection: WLC is a scholar with impeccable credentials!
Counter: This doesn’t stop him being a wanker or being wrong. As to the things he holds qualifications in, I refer you to Mr Wonka above. Even if he wasn’t an irredeemable tosspot, charlatan and terrible human being none of these ‘accomplishments’ would make him correct. It is possible for someone to be clever in one regard (in this one, selling people on sub-Chopra bullshit) while an idiot in another (logical and rational thought). Lest we forget, one of the most Brilliant scientists in history, Newton, was also a ceremonial magician and an alchemist.

Summary

None of these objections undermine or remove the refutations in any way. We still have claims without any evidence to back them up by the bucketload along with various strawmen. Craig’s arguments are child’s play to dismantle and nothing in these objections has done anything to bolster them.