Sunday, September 21, 2014

Countering the Kalam (5) - Responding to William Lane Craig



Note: What follows below is the transcript/script of the video. 

I have to admit being surprised when I found out Dr. Craig did a podcast response to my Countering the Kalam series.  I am extremely gratified to see that I’d garnered enough attention online that he felt it worth his time to put out a response.  For that, I'm extremely grateful. Given the other two YouTube personalities he’s put online responses to that I know of, and how instrumental their content was in my own deconversion, I see this as kind of a badge of honor.  I’m speaking here of YouTuber’s TheoreticalBullshit and SkyDivePhil.

Following their lead, I feel the need to respond in kind to clear the air.  I feel that Dr. Craig  has left the door open to allow me to express some flaws in his arguments, and to further critique the Kalam.  It’s also been a long time since I’ve done a proper YouTube video due to work and life just getting more demanding in the past year since I started this online atheism thing. Who knew being a dad would take so much time?

In case you’ve not seen it, I have a link to Craig’s post/podcast right here, but I will be quoting the relevant parts as we go through my rebuttal.  I also hope Craig, if he’s listening, and anyone following the exchange don’t mind if I respond a bit out of the order Craig used to present critiques to me.

So with all that, let’s begin.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Proving the Negative?



Like many of my latest (sporadic) blog posts this is spawned by Twitter.  Specifically I saw this amusing picture on twitter:



This was in a tweet which was a response to this article by internet Christian apologist WinteryKnight, who is largely citing William Lane Craig.

This is a topic that comes up every so often in atheism, about whether or not we can “prove” god does not exist.

I’ve personally gone back and forth on my views on this question, and I currently find myself putting a foot in both camps.  Lately, it’s become a position among a good number of people I greatly respect and converse with to say that “of course we can prove god does not exist”, which is usually followed with a sensible amount of words that go on to qualify that with something to the effect of “for any reasonable definition of prove”.  This typically involves pointing out that we don’t need something incoherent like “absolute certainty” in order to say “we know there is no god”.

In many respects, I find this kind of argument by my fellow atheists compelling.  On the other hand, I feel this kind of discussion is misused by many apologists, and it glosses over the very real problem underlying the argument behind the idea that we can’t prove a universal negative like “god does not exist”. 

Let me first state that the very simply “you can’t prove a universal negative” is strictly false.  Universal statements like this are very hard to get correct, which is a precursor into this sort of problem.  Let's look at exactly why this is the case, per the article.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Substance Dualism undercuts Fine Tuning

I wanted to throw this up as a quick blog post after a tweet this morning.

Here's the tweet:

 

"@CounterApologis: Thinking on the fine tuning argument, and substance dualism is an undercutting defeater of the idea the universe is fine tuned for life."

I can't claim to be the origin of this kind of thinking.  It just kind of follows from the "Fallacy of Understated Evidence"  That you can read about via Jeff Lowder's blog, where he largely draws from Philosopher of Religion Paul Draper.  If anyone reading this also follows Justin Schieber of Reasonable Doubts, then this kind of argument will be familiar. 

There's a few things to consider up front:

Substance Dualism - The idea that the "mind" is separate from the "brain", but that they interact with eachother at least while we're in our physical forms.  Theism entails that "mind" can indeed exist without a physical "brain", at least for the theist's god anyway.

The Interaction Problem - Substance dualism faces a defeater, at least for those of us who allow science to influence our metaphysics, in the interaction problem.  The problem is that we know there is corresponding brain activity for every conscious thought (and unconscious ones as well), and we know causal physical effects on the brain (alcohol, drugs, anti-depressants, etc) have causal effects on the "mind".

The problem is that there seems to be no way for a non-phyiscal mind to interact with a very physical brain.  We can be fairly certain of this given what we know about physical objects from one of our best physical theories (Quantum Field Theory).  The full argument for this is in an awesome video by Sean Carroll, but basically we can detect all sorts of physical energy fields, quite a lot of them.  In fact we're so good at it we've been able to map out the kinds of fields we know we can't detect yet.  The problem for dualists is that any field strong enough to interact with the stuff in our brains to cause the kinds of effects we see are in the range we can detect.  The only fields we can't detect are the ones that are too weak to have any kind of effect on our brains to cause the physical effects we do see (they're either too weak or they work over such short distances to have their effects be meaningful at even the neuron level).

Effectively, to maintain the Substance Dualism position, theists are forced to appeal to some kind of miraculous interface that otherwise defies the laws of physics as we understand them (and they've proven to be immensely successful at predicting things).

Forget how silly it may seem to require a miracle (or a set of supernatural-laws) every time any person has a thought, let's just go with the "Miraculous Interface" solution to the interaction problem.

Back to Fine Tuning

There are two major objections to the fine tuning argument that I think are relevant here (this isn't to say that there aren't other objections). I think they follow into one another once we consider the Miraculous Interface solution to dualism.

The first objection to the fine tuning problem is that we have no idea what other kinds of life could exist.  Changes to the constants we find in nature (if they are indeed ultimately constants) could indeed result in another kind of "life" that we are simply unaware of being able to exist in the vaious combinations of nature.  

One theistic response to this is that the fine tuning argument is not about life simpliciter.  It's trying to talk about specific kinds of life, namely ones like us.  It does no good to say that other forms of life like bateria or other microscopic forms of life could exist, it needs to be something akin to a human being.  

But what exactly does this mean? Does the fine tuning argument stay that the universe if finely tuned to produce a bipedal species that has all of the contingent properties that make up a human being? I don't really think so, I think it's appealing to the fact that human beings have mental lives. 

If that's the case, then the problem here is two fold, the first is the other major objection to the fine tuning argument:

The second objection is that the universe certainly doesn't appear to be finely tuned for life.  In the immense amount of the universe that we have now observed, Earth is the only place we've found that has any life on it at all.  This makes the percentage of the universe that is hospitible to "our kind of life" is somewhere well below the 1% range. 

The third problem is that given the "Miraculous Interface" between physical forms and "the mind/soul", there's nothing that would prevent "other forms of life" from being just as morally significant as we humans, or really from having as active a mental life as we do now. To be honest, I'm not even sure if the physical form would even have to qualify as "living" or "biological", the miraculous interface could provide consciousness to almost anything that has a limited life-span at the macro level (ie. stars, etc).  This hinges on the simple fact that given substance dualism and the miraculous interface, there is nothing specific about our kind of brain that is really required for a mental life. 

This robs the fine tuning of predicting much of anything, since given substance dualism any physical universe that has life would appear finely tuned for the kind of physical entity that the "miraculous interface" attached itself to in order for the mind to appear.  It seems to me that this fact undercuts any appeals to the fact that constants in nature must be "finely tuned" in order for beings with a mental life to appear.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Beyond an Absence of Faith - I'm in a book!

So there's this book that was just released that I'm particularly excited about - Beyond an Absence of Faith  It's a collection of stories about people who've left religion and the impacts that has had on their lives. It was edited by Jonathan MS Pearce and Tristan Vick, which I can tell you is a good sign of the quality!  It's even got a foreword by Jeremy Beahan of the Reasonable Doubts podcast, which is awesome considering how much that specific podcast helped me reground myself after deconverting. 

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Absence-Faith-Stories-Discovery-ebook/dp/B00K7BAAKC/ref=sr_sp-atf_title_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400528716&sr=1-1&keywords=Beyond+an+absence+of+faith

So why am I excited about it? Because Johno asked me to contribute my own deconversion story to the book!  I'm published in a book (though still using my pseudonym), which is something I never thought would happen.  The version here is similar to my video/post on the matter, but with a bit more detail on my life before apostasy and on some personal aspects of the fallout that happened after.

What's better is that there are 15 other stories in the book, including ones by other online atheists I admire like Vyckie Garrison who escaped the Quiverfull Movement. It includes stories of apostates of different religions, and all of the stories here are honestly moving. It's frankly amazing what some people have gone through on their journey to apostasy.  The book is less about arguing for atheism than it is about our respective journeys out of religion and finding ourselves again.

Kaveh Mousavi at On the Margin of Error wrote a very nice review of the book, and so far the reviews on Amazon have been quite kind as well. I'm a bit biased, but I highly recommend picking up a copy.  It's in paperback and on Kindle. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Debating the Resurrection on the Faith and Skepticism Podcast

On this Monday after Easter are you sick and tired of all the Christian postings on Facbook about "resurrection day" or did the news sites posting apologetic material for easy Easter Sunday filler content get annoying?

Well then, watch the latest episode of the Faith and Skepticism Podcast where we had a wonderful debate on the supposed resurrection of Jesus. I think Matthew O'Neil and myself did a pretty good job debating Callum Miller and Jonathan McLeod.  It was very civil and is definitely a good listen.




In retrospect, I really wish I had brought up the fact that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet, and the fact that Paul also believed that the end of the world would soon be on them.  I think that's something that largely goes unsaid in debates like this, and frankly it's a great opportunity to watch apologists "re-interpret" those passages or explain why it was a metaphors for something else.  I think contrasting that move with how say Jehovah's Witnesses rationalized how the world failed to end after repeated prophecies is a great way to show how ad-hoc and unbelievable such moves are.  This is critical since such moves always seem perfectly normal to people already in a belief system, but similar moves done by apologists for other religions would be rejected out of hand.

Additionally, I've watched some of the the Licona-Cavin Debate on the resurrection (you can look at Cavin's slides and some analysis here) after the podcast and I think Cavin makes some absolutely killer points on the idea that a supernatural resurrection should count as any kind of an "explanation" for the supposed "facts" apologists bring out.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Taking Classes with Dan Fincke

I'm extremely excited because this year I'm going to be able to take online philosophy classes taught by Dan Fincke.

Dan started teaching these last year, but since last year I had a newborn to take care of, I really didn't have the bandwidth to take classes. 

This year we've managed to get things nailed down enough that I can reliably attend one class a week, so I'm taking Dan's Philosophy for Atheists course.  It was tough to choose between that one and ethics, but I still feel like so much of an amateur that I really want to get a good course on philosophy to get myself somewhat settled.

Classes start next month, and if anyone is considering it then Dan is offering a $30 trial pass to sit in on some classes and an orientation.  I encourage people to check it out.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cheering for Sean Carroll

If you haven't already heard, Sean Carroll is going to be debating William Lane Craig.

There are a few things I want to say about this.

I've watched a lot of WLC debates over the years and at this point there are only a few people who would make me excited enough to watch another Craig debate.

Sean Carroll is one of those people.

I'm a huge fan of Dr. Carroll, primarily because he's a cosmologist that is philosophically informed.  He organized a Naturalism Workshop with some of the best naturalist scientists and philosophers alive and made it all available online for free (you should watch it).  He's an outspoken atheist and naturalist, but more importantly he's a great communicator.  I can watch the man give talks and afterwards I always feel like I'm better informed because of it.

If you clicked the link to Dr. Carroll's blog you'll see that most of the things he's read are predicting that he'll get clobbered.  Dr. Carroll has stated he isn't aiming to win the debate, but rather to "say things that are true and understandable, and establish a reasonable case for naturalism, especially focusing on issues related to cosmology".

I don't think Carroll is going to get clobbered and I think he should be optimistic.  I want to present a few reasons why I think Carroll will do great, some areas of concern, and some humble advice.