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. 

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.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Bare Bones Secular Morality?

I've been doing a lot of thinking on morality and the Moral Argument apologetic argument lately.  Effectively the charge from apologists is that on atheism moral values have no ontological basis.  That means that on atheism, morality "doesn't exist" in the same way that say matter/energy exists. 

Conversely they argue that on theism, morality is as real a dimension of reality as matter/energy is.

There are a number of potential responses here, and a wide variety of secular moral systems that claim to provide an objective basis for moral realism - the idea that moral propositions are either true or false.

What I want to explore as one possible response is something very simple that could establish a very basic bare bones morality that would lead to at least a limited set of moral propositions being true or false - ie. moral realism.  At a minimum, my goal is to establish an objective basis to condemn a subset of actions we commonly deem to be morally wrong (murder, rape, theft, etc).

This system is not meant to preempt other ethical systems or theories, but rather it serves as a bedrock system that could serve as a basis for morality in an atheistic world view if we were led to reject other moral systems.

Request for Feedback

What I also want is to have people critique this idea, especially theists who defend the moral argument.  I'd still appreciate feedback from atheists who think that this account is false.  I'm going to send this post around to a few places and hopefully get substantive criticism.  When it comes to moral philosophy I fully admit that I'm at best an amateur, so I'm quite open to being shown the flaws in my reasoning here.  I may defend from some objections, but I'm honestly looking for weak points.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

An Educational Video and Ammo Against Cosmological Arguments

The couple behind the SkyDivePhil YouTube account have produced another awesome educational video on modern cosmology that's well worth watching (as are their other videos).

In this video they discuss Roger Penrose's Conformal Cyclic Cosmology (CCC) model, which is interesting for those of us in the counter apologetics area since it supports the view of an eternal universe.

The video is well worth watching in its entirety, but something of particular interest shows up at the 20:05 mark, where they ask Roger Penrose about William Lane Craig's interpretation of the CCC model.  Suffice it to say that Craig isn't much of a fan of the CCC given that it would contradict the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

The summary of it is that Craig represents the CCC model as some kind of multiverse theory, or one where there's a singular origin point of two parallel universes.  Sir Roger is very quick to point out that this is not a correct interpretation of his model, and that he is proposing a sequential series of cyclic universes.

A bit of egg, nothing more

I don't want to make much more of this than there is here.  Craig is eager to dismiss the CCC for obvious reasons, but it'd be more than a bit uncharitable to claim he was intentionally misleading people.  I honestly don't think he'd do that.

What's far more likely is that Craig was simply wrong in his interpretation of the CCC.

Now it's kind of embarrassing to be quite so wrong on this given that:
  1. One of the first papers on the CCC was titled "Before the big bang"
  2. The book Sir Roger wrote explaining the model is called "cycles of time"
  3. Sir Roger was on the Christian radio show "Unbelievable" which sponsored Dr Craig's debates and he was asked if the universes in his model could be eternal into the past, he said yes. 
  4. Sir Roger has been arguing that there are signals in the CMB form before the big bang, verifying his model. If the universes were not chronologically prior, how could such a claim make sense?
Note: A special thanks goes to SkyDivePhil for providing these four points to me in an email.
That last point is potentially very important, since the data is preliminary, but it is quite possible that there is experimental evidence that could confirm the CCC model.
That all aside, other than Craig possibly having some egg on his face here, there's a pretty important point.
The Point
The point isn't that the CCC is probably true, therefore the Kalam is false. We don't yet know if the CCC is completely accurate.  There are competing models by other cosmologists that very well could be correct.
The point is that apologists are so very quick to assert that the entire material universe must have had a beginning in order to try and drill out a god shaped hole to stick Yahweh in.   The problem for apologists is that there's no evidence that all of material reality must have had a beginning.  What we have is simply an unknown in our current understanding, with numerous competing theoretical models that could explain the data we have. 
Right now the best apologists can do is try to read their preferred metaphysical positions into the Big Bang and make arguments from those assumptions, but it's nothing more than that.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Peter Boghossian, Faith, and Religious Epistemology

I've recently finished Peter Boghossian's book "A Manual for Creating Atheists".  I listened to it on Audiobook, which helped immensely with being able to get through the book with the way my life is going right now between my work levels and trying to be a father and husband at home.  I can listen while doing mundane tasks at work and while doing chores/exercise/commuting.  If anyone can recommend good intellectual atheist books on Audible I'd be appreciative.

If you've been following my blog, you'll have seen my last post on Faith as "Belief without Evidence" where I engaged Tom Gilson of ThinkingChristian.net and his argument about that not being a valid definition of the word as Christians understand it.

I realize now that my post and approach was a mistake. There's no point in trying to show how the the Christian bible could be read to support Boghossian's definition.  You're playing the interpretation game which is going to be subjective and the Christians will almost always have a way to interpret their way out of hairy passages.

Eventually though, as I got through A Manual for Creating Atheists and thinking on the common thread of responses to it from Christian Apologists Tom and Phil Vischer, I realized something rather important.

The Definition of Faith is A Giant Red Herring

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Quick and Dirty: A potential defeater for the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

I wanted to throw up a quick post about an idea I have to try and refute Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.  This isn’t intended as a full rebuttal, but more of an idea for an approach to refute it. 
I’m actually looking for feedback on whether or not this approach works or is fundamentally flawed.
The thrust of his argument is that since evolution only selects based on adaptability we can't necessarily trust the reliability of our cognitive faculties on naturalism (the assumption that there is no god).
An example he uses is that of a human and a lion, the truth value of a human's belief's about lions is separate from whether or not those beliefs produce adaptable behavior.  On naturalism we have no reason to suppose our beliefs about a lion being dangerous and wanting to eat us, therefore we should run and hide from it. 
We similarly could have evolved the belief that we should run from the tiger because in order to make tigers happy you should run and hide from them.  The thought is that through the eyes of evolution, both sets of beliefs produce equivalent adaptability and so either could have been selected for.