Friday, January 30, 2015

Stranger than Fiction

In Warhammer 40,000, the space Ork technology works only because the Orks think it will work.  Their collective psychic energy as a race is literally what causes their technology to function.

There's a story in the game about human tech-priests trying to fire an ork gun and having it fail.  They inspect the weapon, only to find it has no firing mechanism, just parts welded & screwed together.  Unfortunately for the tech-priests, an ork was able to break into where they were conducting their experiment.  The ork promptly grabbed the gun, slapped it shut, and shoots everyone to death (much to the surprise of the tech-priests).

Why is this amusing story relevant to a Counter Apologetics blog?

Because Deepak Chopra denies that HIV causes AIDS.  More specifically, he claims that a persons belief in material causation - that HIV causes AIDS, is what actually makes them susceptible to the disease.  So when such a person contracts HIV, they get AIDS.  Like firing Ork technology.

"Chopra: HIV may be a precipitating agent in a susceptible host. The material agent is never the cause of the disease. It may be the final factor in inducing the full-blown syndrome in somebody who’s already susceptible.
Robbins: But what made them susceptible?
Chopra: Their own interpretations of the whole reality they’re participating in.
Robbins: Could that be translated into their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs, their lifestyle?
Chopra: Absolutely. . ."
Deepak Chopra is worth $80 million dollars. Games Workshop, the company that makes Warhammer 40k is worth about $38 million.

Personally, I think they should sue at this point.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Is Natural Theology Self Defeating?

Suffice it to say, if you're familiar with my blog, you'll know that I find natural theology to be a failure. I'm pretty dedicated to showing exactly how and why such arguments are false.

However, on thinking about the topic last night I was struck by a line of argument I've had on the periphery for a while.

Consider the definition of natural theology: "Natural theology is a program of inquiry into the existence and attributes of God without referring or appealing to any divine revelation."

Lets assume for a moment that if natural theology actually worked, that it was gods intention that it work. So it's not say, incidental to Christian theism being true.

Next, consider the direct implications of Christian focused natural theology: There is a god, and this god wants you to believe he both exists and has a specific set of properties.  This god wants you to be a Christian. More specifically wants there to be evidence for his existence, and for belief in him to be achievable through reason.

Lets also consider a less direct implication of being a Christian: This god wants you to believe the bible is his divinely inspired word which is, liberally interpreted, "true in all things it teaches".

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Before the Big Bang 3 by Skydivephil

I've been a bit late in posting this due to racing to finish my last post/video on the Kalam before going through a major two week project at work.

What I want to share is another great science education video by Phil and Monica who post on YouTube under the handle SkyDivePhil.

In this video they go through some more of the theories being worked on in modern physics to help us describe what could possibly be "before the big bang", with a focus on String Theory.

They both have a good knowledge on the subject and do a great job of helping to communicate it to a lay audience. What's more is that they have access to the scientists working in the field and got them to agree to an interview.  This is truly a gem of a series and the video is extremely dense with information that attempts to give a look at what would be entailed by the theories if we were ever able to prove them. Spoiler Alert: There's no god required.

I highly recommend giving it a look.

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.

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.