Thursday, January 31, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 5, Addendum #3: Selecting specific processes to "prove" an argument

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   There is something I did not cover in my part II analysis that I was thinking could use more attention. This is in regards to the Rushmore and confetti arguments that the authors used. In my analysis, I noticed that the authors had contradicted themselves only paragraphs later, and I focused on this fact as well as presented counter-examples. What I did not do, though, is point out how their argument was flawed regardless of their contradiction and the existence of those counter-examples. (Also, they make a similarly flawed argument in Chapter 7 and Chapter 10 (maybe others I'm forgetting) so I'd have to address this eventually anyway!) First, let's recall what the arguments were:
Suppose we observe and repeat an experiment where we allow natural laws to work on rock for the next ten years. Will we ever get the faces on Mount Rushmore? Never. (p124)
Let's suppose you throw red, white, and blue confetti out of an airplane 1,000 feet above your house. What's the chance it's going to form the American flag on your front lawn? Very low. Why? Because natural laws will mix up or randomize the confetti. (p124)
   If you don't see the problem with these points, ask the question, "What natural laws?" More specifically, what natural laws are being applied? All of them?!? I think not! With the confetti, there are only about two processes at work — gravity to pull the confetti toward the ground and wind to blow it around. Similarly, with the rock, you'd be primarily looking at water and (again) wind. The flaw is that they are using only a few data points to back up their claim that "[nature] doesn't organize" (p124).

   I could make a similar argument about baseball players. Baseball players take performance enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds did. Mark McGuire did. Alex Rodriguez did. (OK, they allegedly did, but for the sake of argument, let's say they actually did.) Because a few baseball players take performance enhancing drugs, does that mean they all do?

   This would not have been a problem if the authors would have taken their own advice from Chapter 2.
Are you absolutely 100 percent certain that gravity makes all objects drop? No because you haven't observed all objects being dropped. Likewise, are you absolutely certain that all men are mortal? No, because you haven't observed all men die. (p64)
Likewise, are you absolutely certain that all natural processes do not order? I hope you can see the answer to this question.

   Worse, we have observed natural processes that do order/organize. That is why they ended up contradicting themselves shortly after providing those examples by saying, "[living things] grow and get more ordered" (p125). Is this not a natural process? Now, I have a suspicion that they may recognize the contradiction, so they do some handwaving about the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But in spite of this, the main point to take away from all of this is that just because one can present a number of examples to support their case, it only takes one counter example to refute it.

The two types of "questioning"

   In the few years I have been paying attention to religion, I have noticed the occasional Christian act like they have seriously questioned their religion. If that were true, they would no longer be Christian. I have also, as I have noted in another post, heard Christians use arguments that are seriously flawed. As I said in the one post that I have thus far written on that topic, "the goal is to find an argument that successfully defends the faith, not one that is logically sound." I do believe that these people who say they questioned their religion really did so, but my suspicion is that they were not out in search of the truth; they were out to resolve contradictions they had with their religion. (In a recent case, for example, I suspect the conflict was between how the Bible says homosexuals should be treated versus how this person personally thinks homosexuals should be treated.) The question(s), then, would deal with how they can resolve this conflict(s). (For the example I provided, the "answer" may very well be what I said in that other post was a dumb argument — that the "law no longer applies.") The first type of questioning, then, is a type of questioning that is in search of answers that appeal to the questioner's emotions...answers that, on the surface, make "sense." (As another example, if one were to question how they can be Christian when it is just another rel

   The second type of questioning is a robust form of questioning in which the questioner searches for the answer that is most likely to be true. This type of questioning should use methodological skepticism to evaluate answers.

   Allow me to provide a brief example of how these different types of questioning could play out in real life. It would seem that there are Christians out there who struggle with Christianity being a religion. My hunch is that they see a bunch of other religions out there that they reject as false and perhaps they realize that there really isn't a good reason for them to not reject Christianity as well. The solution? Christianity is not a religion! It's a personal relationship with Jesus!* If you engage in the first type of questioning, you will likely accept this as an answer. If you engage in the second type of questioning, however, you will come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a personal relationship with Jesus. Even if you did not go so far as to come to the conclusion that Jesus, if there even was such a person, is long dead and gone, you should at least be able to recognize that there are lots of people who make such a claim, yet many (strangely enough!) of them cannot agree on the character of Jesus. You should realize that questions like, "What would Jesus do?" make little sense in the way we frame such a question. It's asked in a way as though we can't just go ask Jesus himself. Well, if there are these millions of people who have a "personal relationship" with Jesus, why can't we? I wonder what type of answer the first type of questioner would except...

* Alternatively, I have seen a similar idea that one is not a Christian, but is rather a follower of Christ. If you use the first type of questioning, such a suggestion would likely be embraced. If you use the second type of questioning, you will come to the conclusion that there isn't an actual difference between the two — it is just a crafty way to reframe one's religious beliefs without actually changing the beliefs themselves.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Just wanted to leave a friendly, "Fuck you!"

   Just wanted to throw out a short post today. It's conservatives, doing what they do...acting like they don't actually discriminate against homosexuals. Only this time with more dog whistle. This time, Peter Sprigg is claiming, "Homosexuals already have all the same civil rights as anyone else." Yeah...sure they do. He continues: "But the fact that all people are created equal as individuals does not mean that all sexual behavior is equal or that personal relationships have an equal value to society at large, that serve the same public interests."

   And that earns the big, "Fuck you!" Society is not entitled to a say on my sexual behavior nor my personal relationships. But this is all part of the conservative dog whistle. To people like Sprigg, getting married (and producing a ton of babies) is not a right; it's an obligation to society. (Which makes me wonder just how big of a hypocrite is one of my conservative coworkers who seems to have no interest in ever having children.)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 5, Addendum #2: Define "Love"

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   For this Addendum, I want to cover in more detail the idea of love. I feel I covered this topic as much as necessary in the original analysis, so these are just additional thoughts on the topic for those who are interested. The ideas come from a post from another blog on the very topic. Part of what this post addresses is a common pitfall that atheists fall into when talking about love. That pitfall is oversimplifying love as a state of the brain. Proudly, I did not step into that pitfall! As I had said in my original analysis:
Now, once again, there is real material phenomena that produces things like love, hate, cold, etc, but that phenomena is more complex than the subjective terms used to describe said phenomena. So how much does love weigh? It'd be tough to determine, but I find it likely to be less than the weight of the person experiencing love. Just because love is a complex phenomena that is difficult to break down and explain in material terms does not mean that it is not the result of materials.

   The post that I am highlighting here goes into more detail on what, exactly, love is. The answer, in part, is that there is no exact thing as love.
Love is misunderstood, because it is behavior, and no two people have the same experience with the fuzzy class of behavior we call love. There are those whose examples of love have always been accompanied by abuse; there are those whose examples are idealized past the point of attainment; there are those for whom love is closest to a deep friendship, and those for whom it is closest to insanity. Cultures differ in their view of love, as we should expect.
This is a very important point to remember about love. I love my wife. I love my parents. I love my dogs. But in each of these cases, the word "love" means something different. There are more similarities, which is why I can get away with using the same word, but it is ridiculous for the authors of IDHEF to ask "How much does love weight?" (p129) when "love" doesn't even come close to referring to one thing. I could similarly ask, "How much does a car weigh?" Now, you could perhaps answer that by providing a range of weights from a typical compact car weight at the low end to maybe the weight of a limousine at the high end. But you aren't going to be able to provide a specific answer until I ask about a specific car. The same goes if you want to ask about love. You first need to be specific. But that itself is difficult because the word "love" is not meant to ever be specific, which is why I compared asking how much love weighs more closely to asking, "What is the temperature of cold."

IDHEF - Chapter 5, Addendum #1: Religious Experiences

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   One thing about Chapter 5 of IDHEF has been bothering me as of late. It comes from the section "Materialism Makes Reason Impossible" on page 129 of the book in regards to religious experiences. I covered this a little bit in my part II analysis, but I no longer feel I gave it its due diligence. In this section, the authors say the following:
While this is possible, given the vast number of spiritual experiences, it does not seem likely. It is difficult to believe that every great spiritual leader and thinker in the history of humanity—including some of the most rational, scientific, and critical minds ever—have all been completely wrong about their spiritual experience. (p129)
   The first thing that has been bothering me is what ever happened to their points from Chapter 2 about "using logic, evidence, and science seems to be the best way to get at truth" (p54)? If this part about "it being difficult to believe" (p129) is their idea of logic...I really just don't know what to say, other than to point out that this isn't logic. It used to be difficult for people (and still is for some) to believe that the earth rotates about an axis. If that were true, they say, then we should be thrown off the planet. Others cannot understand how, when they jump straight up, they end up landing in the same spot. Shouldn't the earth be rotating out from under their feet? The point to all of this is that something being difficult to believe does not mean it is not true.

   Something else I am noticing that is important to point out is the argument from authority. This comes from the part about calling some people "the most rational, scientific, and critical minds ever." First of all, is this really true? When I originally analyzed this part, I laughed at the fact that this list included Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Jesus. We can't even be sure any of these people existed, let alone evaluate how critical their minds supposedly were. But even if we look at someone like Newton, who apparently was quite bright, are we supposed to believe that since they were so smart that they must have been right about everything they said? Please.

   The second part that has been bothering me, though, is why they do find it difficult to believe that everyone would be wrong. As I said in the original analysis, "There is also a problem that many people come to different, and often contradictory, conclusions through those experiences. This tells us that many of those experiences must be mistaken. If most of them are mistaken, is it really much of a stretch to suggest that all of them are mistaken?" Worse than this, though, is what the authors want us to believe. They want us to believe that most people are right; yet, some are correct. This is apparently less difficult to believe than just believing that all of them are wrong. Why? If I believe all of them are wrong, it only takes one explanation for this. As I said before, it could be something that is common in human brains. The authors, however, need to explain why many people are wrong while there are people who get it right. They need essentially two explanations — a reason why people are wrong about their experiences and a reason why this first reason would not apply to everyone. Otherwise, why would believing everyone is wrong be so hard? Now, they sort of gave us the second reason, which seems to be that they believe there are people that are too smart to be fooled. I'm not convinced. And why should I be? Where is the evidence that this is true?

   The third part that has been bothering me is consistency. The following arguments are arguments I've heard in regards to eye-witness testimony, so it would seem they can apply here. One argument goes that if you believe eye-witness testimony to be reliable, then you must necessarily believe that people have been abducted by aliens. A similar argument that I just heard recently is in regards to witches. Many people have claimed to be abducted by aliens or to have been put under the curse of a witch. (And some people have even admitted to being witches!) Is it hard to believe that all of these people are mistaken*? If not, why is this different in regards to religious experiences?

* This point relies on the reader not believing in alien abductions nor witches. Sadly, though I do give them points for consistency, the authors of IDHEF do not deny the existence of witches. Spoiler alert, this appears in Chapter 7, where the authors say that "People no longer believe [that witches can really murder people by their curses]" (p183).

Saturday, January 5, 2013

When a Law is not a Law

   OK, so last month I was discussing the argument about the laws in the OT not applying. I pointed out that there are passages in Matthew that contradict this idea. I said then that there could very well be other verses in the NT that contradict Matthew. I should have known there would be. I was reminded of this when reading a blog post on Paul. I was reminded of how he was trying to convert the Gentiles who didn't want to have to get circumcised (which is part of the OT law). Paul, it would seem, came up with the idea that, since Jesus died for a people's sin, people could now sin as much as they want! It's not quite the same idea as this argument of the law not applying. It has the advantage of being more consistent with theology, but the end result really isn't different — either way, there is no law that Christians are required to follow.

   One question, though, is why would Christians go with this argument of the law not applying when they have an argument that's ready-made in the Bible? I think the answer to this is that the ready-made argument makes the consequences of not having a law to follow obvious. This leads me to a point I had not bothered making the last time: though OT law has a lot of absurdities, there are a few things that are good — most notably "don't steal" and "don't murder." Christians don't have to follow these laws, either, if they think the laws don't apply. With no law, there is nothing Christians can't do! Now, if you use the argument, "We don't have to obey the law" as opposed to "The law no longer applies," I think these consequences are more obvious as the former is an admittance to being a law breaker.