Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Impossible Tasks in God Debate: Definitions Create Roadblocks

If I take a picture of Jesus sitting in my home tonight with an amazing glow around his head, showing me his scars, and telling me amazing stories and parables that would clearly identify him as having incredible brilliance and teaching skills, a naturalist would argue that this was great teaching, great acting, and doctored video to create the appearance of something supernatural.

If after careful analysis of the video, there was no doctoring, then it would be argued that there just wasn't enough science to discover how it was doctored, and that the illusions in the film had natural explanations. 

If I persuaded Jesus to come back on another evening, and invited 1000 folks to be there as well, and had five cameras with well know atheists manning all five cameras, and Jesus healed someone blind since birth by touching mud to his eyes, there would be claims of mass hysteria, the videos would be suspected of being altered before or after the fact, or replaced.  The fact of having 1000 folks agreeing on what happened would be further dismissed as a conspiracy by all in attendance.  And these would just be the contemporaneous skeptics.  100 years from now the skepticism would merely grow.  2000 years from now it would just be compared with other videos of the time. 

In other words, it doesn't really matter what kind or how much evidence is produced, the Bible cannot be proved to a naturalist to be supernatural, Jesus cannot have been other than man, and there is no afterlife, heaven, etc.

This also begs the question of what is natural.  If there is a God, then he would be the most natural thing of all.  If there is an afterlife, then it would merely be an extension of the natural.  The spiritual realm is certainly no more fantastic than quarks or black holes, just part of nature.

So I think we commonly end up with debates that can't be decided, much less won because the definitions of such things as truth, evidence, and natural differ between the debaters.

I come to all of these conclusions after spending 7 hours on Sunday reading about the shroud of Turin.  It cannot be explained by Science, and the historical evidence is that it really is the burial shroud of Christ.  That combination is pretty powerful.  However, the naturalists merely state, calmly, that they will eventually figure out how the image got there by some natural means, not by the transmutation of Christ.  So 1000 years from now, we could be no closer.  In the meantime, one "natural" explanation would be that this was the natural result of a man/God transitioning from human to spirit.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Shroud of Turin Adds One More Piece of Evidence of Supernatural Christ Jesus

I am confident that many in the atheistic community have had a chance to review some of the arguments back and forth regarding the Shroud of Turin.  Is it actually the burial shroud of Jesus or a 16th century fake?  In any case, how was it made?  The more recent work done by the history channel to reveal the three-dimensional aspect of the image, and the computer programming-like information stored on the cloth.   In case you missed all of that, here is a short documentary on the Shroud of Turin that talks about the longer History Channel Documentary.

Here is a 60 minute documentary that has a few variations from the History Channel, but does cover much of the same scientific and historical analysis.

Watch Shroud of Turin (Material Evidence) in Educational & How-To  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Christian vs Atheist Debate on YouTube - Bahnsen vs Stein

Youtube is the repository of many outstanding debates between various theists, primarily Christian apologists and naturalist, objectivists, and atheists.  For those in this audience who have been actively engaged in, reading, and listening to such debates for more than a few months, you might sometimes feel as if there is nothing much more to be said. 

Therefore, I was delighted to find this series.  I believe you will find new grist for the mill.  The online archive of videos starts with #2.  I suspect that this is because #1 was introductions and rule setting.  Whatever the case, enjoy #2 and then you might want to go to the channel and take in the rest.  I will likely post some of the others in future posts when they relate to some specific element of the debate on this blog.

Atheist Fallacy #2 - A Perfect Loving Good Would Not Allow Imperfection, Evil, or Suffering

There are many possible reasons why a perfect loving God would allow imperfection, evil, and suffering into his creation.  I have enumerated them elsewhere in this blog, but will list them briefly again:
  1. Difficult circumstances build character such as patience, perseverance, courage, resolve, and test our honesty.
  2. Difficult circumstances provide us with opportunities to exhibit charity, empathy, humility, and to embrace the different.
  3. Suffering prepares us for future tragedy and bonds us together in sympathy. 
  4. Pain creates a feedback mechanism for either avoiding or handling other pain in the future.
  5. Evil provides us with an appreciation for Good.  Our own evil nature makes us humble, and thus needy for a savior.
  6. Imperfection keeps us humble, often results in compensating factors that create greatness, and creates a longing for a better time.
  7. Evil creates a longing for justice and provides an opportunity to learn the character trait of forgiveness and longsuffering.
The list could be much, much longer, but all of this is contained in that old book of myths.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Any Sex OK Between Two Consenting Adults or God's Way?

Not sure whether or not my partner on this site is alone in his thinking or if he would be joined by most or many atheists and naturalists.  If I understand his argument correctly, unless I can show a negative outcome resulting from consenting sex between adults, then the only restriction Bernardo would place on sex would be based on age.  Not sure what age, but I suspect that since this is a consent issue, society would have to decide what age to allow kids to consent.  Regarding sex, this has had some experimentation ranging from about 12 up. 

Leaving out sex with animals, since they can't consent, this would leave us to pairing off in any combinations of partners participating in any kind of behavior as long as everyone in the room was up for it.  Not sure how drugs fit into this, but we do know that various legal and illegal drugs can be used to heighten the experience, so potentially this would be a question of consent as well.

Providing evidence that this type of society would be an improvement on a society based on family, sex kept between a husband and wife after marriage, and a general societal proscription against all other forms of sexual expression would seem to be a stretch, but if there is evidence, I'd love to see it. There seems to be quite a lot of historical evidence that such licentiousness has led to the decline of other societies.  And there is huge amounts of evidence that almost all societies have had an expressed preference for the monogamous approach with commitment by the male to a spouse. 

So, the question is, should we as a society open the doors to a much wider expression of our sexual selves, and see what happens?  If not, where do we draw the line and why?

Atheist Fallacy #1 - Belief in God Limits Curiosity and Scientific Inquiry

The first in a series of at least 20 of Fallacies believed or at least used by some atheists and naturalists to either advance the notion that atheism/naturalism is better than Chrsitianity, or that Christianity is either not true or limiting.

I have started with this fallacy, because it is so demonstrably false, and because the only source of the hypothesis is the feelings of the atheist.  He has a hard time seeing how a committed theist or Christian could be open to finding species-to-species evolution as an atheist is, or exploring evidence of life on other planets, or the existence of strings or emotionally involved genes.  But this is false and provably so. 

The scientific movement was powered by Christians, underwritten by Christian Universities, and taught to students in Christian Churches and Schools.  The fact of some resistance to accepting some aspects of new ideas is not unique to Christians.  And often the rejection of the science by Christians turned out to be true.  I would be most curious indeed to hear from any among the atheist community who believes they can make a scientific case for this fallacy.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The 747-8 of morality

No one can argue that the 747 is one of the greatest airplanes ever made. It was the biggest and heaviest and longest-range airplane in the world when it was first introduced over 40 years ago (and even today is just a hair smaller than the other giants). It was the first twin-aisle passenger transport. It is currently the fastest airliner in operation. (The Concorde and the Convair 880/990 have been retired; Passengers thought that the cost of extra fuel for going fast just wasn't worth it). Over half the world’s air freight is transported by 747 cargo planes. The factory built to assemble the 747 is the biggest building in the world by volume. Most importantly for you and me, the efficiencies introduced by the 747 (primarily the very-large-bypass turbofan engine, and also the wider cabin) made international air travel affordable to the masses; No longer would “the jet set” refer only to the very rich. Its impact in the world cannot be overstated.

(You may by now be thinking that I took an entry meant for one of my aviation blogs/podcasts/publications, and mistakenly posted it here. That’s not the case. Bear with me).

If there’s one product that could be manufactured without changes or improvements, you’d think that the 747 could be it. I mean, it’s a fantastic machine! Why change it? Who in their right mind would take the risk, the cost, the time, and the inconvenience to change (and re-test, and re-certify) such a phenomenal design?

Well, Boeing is doing it. It turns out that we’ve learned a heck of a lot about airplane design in the past 40 years. New materials are lighter, stronger, less prone to corrosion or fatigue, and more durable. New turbofan engines have longer, curvier, more optimized blades, allowing for yet another drastic drop in fuel consumption, leading to even cheaper tickets and an even longer flight range. Aerodynamicists have figured out how to distribute lift over a wing in a way that allows it to create less drag, to give the pilot more control at a wider range of speeds, and to be bendy and flexible enough to absorb most turbulence. And all kinds of little things, from air conditioning pumps to hydraulic pistons, can be built much better today than in 1969. Boeing invested a lot of time and money to develop these technologies as much as currently possible for the 777 and 787, and then asked itself: If we were designing the 747 today, how would it be different from the 747 of 1969? Can we implement these new technologies, epitomized in the 787, into the 747? The result is the “747 dash 8”, a vast re-design of the classic jumbo jet, bringing it into the 21st century. It is currently in the middle of a several-month-long series of FAA-certification tests: 70% of the airplane has been modified from the previous version, including all-new engines and an all-new control system which are pretty much right out of the 787.

It’s always risky to apply new technologies to aviation. You think that you know how to design a fuselage to withstand the fatigue from repeated pressurization-depressurization cycles… and then you find out that you’re wrong, and people die. You think that you understand the forces of trans-sonic flight… and then you find out that you’re wrong, and people die. You think that as long as your structure is fail-safe, then it does not require regular inspections, since one part can fail and the others will carry that load… and then you find out that you’re wrong, and people die. You think that your cockpit displays do a good job of telling the pilot which way he’s going, and how much fuel he has left, and whether the runway is clear of other aircraft, and whether the weather at the destination airport has dropped safety margins below the minimums… You think that a quadruple-redundant hydraulic control system can withstand a failure at any one spot, or that your fancy computer-controlled fly-by-wire control system can prevent pilot-induced oscillations and inadvertent engine commands… You think that structure will have small stress hot-spots that can function as a canary in a coal mine since it will fail first, and fail safely, rather than a whole bunch of evenly-loaded structure all failing at the same time… You think that your computer simulations will accurately predict how and when a piece of carbon-fiber will start to break… You get the idea. Even updating as solid a design as the 747 brings about inevitable minor problems with aerodynamics, structures, etc.

In any company, government agency, or other group, be it Boeing or Toyota or Apple or Pfizer or NASA or the US Marine Corps, “new technology” is practically synonymous with “risk”.

But we develop new technologies, and we face the risks. Why? Because we have determined that, in the long run, the benefits outweigh the costs. Because where there is potential to make everyone’s lives better, we feel the imperative to investigate the possibility, to at least give it an honest shot before we decide that it’s not as beneficial as we thought.

Now I actually get to my point.

What could be more important to human well-being than our moral system? By that I mean: Our expectations of everyday behavior, our feelings about which behaviors are “good” and which behaviors are “bad”, our systems for encouraging good behavior and deterring against bad behavior, and so on.

Different societies have different moral systems. Each society has a moral zeitgeist that changes over time. And different people within a society will carry and defend different sets of moral values. Each country’s laws try to capture this moral system – this belief that certain actions are detrimental to justice and to everyone’s well-being – but the differences in moral preferences mean that no single legal code can capture all of the moral beliefs of all the citizens it applies to. (Besides, there's a difference between what things are right/wrong, and what things a government should have the power to regulate).

Most societies’ moral systems change over time. There exist many widespread social beliefs that such-and-such an action is detrimental to justice and to everyone’s well-being. Some of these beliefs get coded into law, some do not. Some of these beliefs are true, and some are not.

Here’s the interesting part: We’re still learning about ourselves. As different people experiment with different modes of behavior, as more data is gathered about the correlation of certain behaviors with certain consequences, as neuroscience reveals more about how we form our preferences and convictions, about what makes us happy and why… we are continuously in a better position to re-evaluate those moral beliefs.

Maybe the use of tobacco in public spaces is detrimental to most people’s well-being! Maybe state recognition of same-sex marriages isn’t detrimental to most people’s well-being. Maybe tough and strict gun-control laws don’t reduce (and actually increase) the rates of gun-related crimes! Maybe valuing kids’ self-esteem doesn’t help them become more successful! Maybe removing some traffic signs leads to an improvement in road safety! Maybe corporal punishment isn’t the best way to teach kids about discipline, or to reform criminals! Maybe drawing pictures of the prophet Mohammed, or naming a teddy bear after a boy named after the prophet, doesn’t hurt anyone other than angering some silly people.

Any issue – any proposed legislation, any decision made by an organization, any question about what everyday behavior is right or wrong – can be framed in these terms: When it comes to people’s well-being and to justice in a society, will [one of the alternatives in the issue] be beneficial or detrimental?

This is called consequentialism. You evaluate whether something (such as the adoption of a certain rule, or the choosing of a certain option) is right or wrong by evaluating the impact of its consequences in terms of justice and people’s well-being.

This is in contrast with absolutism. That’s when some things are “just wrong”, and some things are “the proper right way to behave”, whether or not these things are unjust and/or optimize people’s well-being.

Consequentialism involves always trying to get more data about people, about the impact of trying different things, so as to be able to make better choices in the future. You can only make data-driven choices, choices based on what actually works and what actually doesn’t, if you’ve observed how people actually behave. As you learn more about how people behave, you change your optimal choice-making systems accordingly, if your goal is to optimize well-being. Consequentialism is the moral equivalent (or, one might even say, the moral field) of science and engineering, which try to understand the mechanisms and processes of the world and to apply/harness them towards some goal (such as optimizing well-being).

Absolutism, by contrast, does not change. Even after a certain action is shown over and over to be harmless, or even beneficial, an absolutist can keep considering it to be “just wrong”.

All but the most liberal religions contain absolutist moral beliefs. Many Muslims consider it “bad” (fit for corporal punishment or even execution) to draw an image of the prophet Mohammed, to name a teddy bear after a boy named after the prophet, to publicly display romantic affection, etc., even though these things cause no harm (other than angering the people who believe them to be “bad”). Many Christians consider it “bad” for people of the same gender to have romantic relationships, even though these relationships are no more likely to cause harm than any other romantic relationship. Many Jews consider it “bad” to eat meat and cheese together, to eat pork or shrimp, to cut the hair that grows on their temples, etc, even though those things can all be safely done today. Many Christians consider it “bad” to teach kids about sex and contraceptives, even though teaching kids about these things leads to lower rates of unwanted pregnancies and of STD infections. Some Christians think that, since sex cannot be 100% safe, the optimal course of action is to abstain from it entirely (although, for unknown reasons, they do not feel this way about driving cars, flying in airliners, etc). These people feel this way because their absolutist moral code was sketched out thousands of years ago by people living in tribal or feudal societies, then edited by power-hungry leaders of empires. When designing these moral systems, the writers sometimes had their own power as a higher design objective than justice or people’s well-being. And even when they DID aim to optimize people’s well-being (such as by observing that people who ate shellfish tended to get sick, and then telling people “God says; Don’t eat shellfish!”), their data set was very limited, and was gathered in an ancient world lacking many of today’s medical technologies and understanding of sanitation.

(To be fair, some Christians - like Randy - try to support their moral convictions in a consequentialist way. They point to studies about the supposedly-nonbiological causes and supposedly-detrimental consequences of homosexuality, about how the sexual revolution of the 1960s supposedly made women worse off and was supposedly a detriment to the well-being of most people, etc. I sincerely appreciate their efforts, and wish them the best of luck. Because, who knows, their moral beliefs might be right. And such consequentialist research is the only real way to find out).

Some Christians are proud of the fact that their moral system works, and has worked pretty much unchanged for thousands of years. They say that it’s better to not mess with a winning team. They say that any change to those systems could only be bad. They say that, when you observe the consequences of some behavior and make recommendations based on your observations (“People who do X Y and Z tend to be healthier/happier”, etc), there are unacceptable risks, because your observations might have missed some crucial subtle consequence that make the recommended behaviors actually be detrimental in the long run.

All the arguments in the paragraph above are the same arguments for continuing to build the 747 from 1969, unchanged. I believe they are not very good arguments.

Let’s try and learn more about human behavior and human happiness by observation. Let’s try and apply those observations, to use them to create and promote behaviors that seem to improve justice and well-being. We’ll make mistake sometimes. Those mistakes will be costly. But we will learn from them (something that absolutists refuse to do).

It certainly beats the alternative: Restraining ourselves to a moral system sketched 4000 years ago by tribal leaders, edited 2000 years ago in order for a power-hungry empire to keep its citizens under control, and tweaked 700 years ago by unjustly-powerful monarchs and religions to claim that their power was divinely ordained. A moral system that explicitly allows slavery, and calls for harsh and painful punishments to actions that we today know to be inconsequential (by which I mean: beneficial to those who engage in them, and not harmful in any way other than angering the people who mistakenly believe those actions to be “wrong”).

How do we figure out which behaviors are good and which are bad? How do we tweak and optimize our moral systems? The same way we tweak and optimize other systems: The scientific method! We gather tons of data about what is working and what is not working, we maybe run some experiments to see whether this behavior or that behavior leads to greater justice and well-being, we use this understanding to develop better moral codes, we make mistakes and learn from them to make even BETTER moral codes. This is how we create, develop, and continuously improve things like buildings, medicine, airplanes, and even systems of government.

How is this possible even though “happiness” and “well-being” cannot be precisely defined? Well, “health” cannot be precisely defined either, but we know it has to do with longevity, with physical strength and endurance, with the absence of pain, with a mind that can think and remember and have fun and express itself, with the ability to do certain things unassisted, and so on. This loose understanding of the ideals of health – one that is different from culture to culture and from person to person – has not kept doctors and researchers from coming up with recommendations for how people probably should take care of their bodies. Some of those recommendations have been tragically wrong on occasion, but those are far outweighed by the good ones. We all live much much longer than we did just a few centuries ago, are far less impacted by most physical conditions, and can cure or outright extinguish many diseases. Yes, sometimes a medical recommendation leads to disaster until people realize it, but no one would sacrifice all of modern medicine to prevent the occasional mistake. It just wouldn't be worth it.

Why don’t we apply the scientific method to optimize our morals and our happiness, as we do for our health?

Because some absolutists think that they already have all the right answers, that their moral systems are either already-optimal or that the risk of change is too great.

They are wrong. Let us build the 747-8 of morality. Many people already are. The absolutists may win small victories, but it is only a matter of time before their mistakes are exposed by us consequentialists. The long arc of history favors us, and the absolutists will gradually be left in the dust.

How could we go about doing this deliberately scientifically, the way doctors and researchers do it for health? I'll let Sam Harris (video, article 1, article 2) take it from here.


Tuesday, July 6:

Before I write my much-anticipated ;] post on morality as continuously-improved happiness-optimization, a quick note:

I wrote a series of comments last night, in four parallel threads (How much do humans know, Brilliant minds are dumb or deceived, Do atheists do evil acts, and Why do humans act unnaturally), and they all disappeared. Vanished without a trace. A comment I wrote this morning (to clarify a comment from last night) has not vanished, though. A quick search of Blogger blogs' recent posts shows that many blogs have experienced this problem.

So I would recommend that no one posts any comments for now, until it becomes clear whether or not yesterday's vanished comments will ever reappear.

--- UPDATE ---

Wednesday, July 7:

I've tried posting a bunch of comments, starting yesterday morning, and those have not disappeared. So it's probably ok to comment now.

But before you post a comment, be sure to copy it and paste it somewhere else (e.g. an email to yourself or a Word doc, etc) in order to "back it up" in case it disappears.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Much Do Human's Know? How Much Do You Personally Know?

Taken as a percentage, what would you propose is the sum of man's knowledge of the known universe?  If I were to break that down a bit, what do we know about all things outside of earth's domain?  Of all the stars, planets, black holes and other things swirling around out there, what do we human's know?  1%?  Less than that?  .1%?  .0000000001%?  What would you suggest?

Closer to home - Of all that there might be to know about the things in the domain of earth above the ground, what % do we know of what there might be to know?  About clouds, whether patterns, things that might live 5 miles above the earth?  1%?  .1%?  .0001%?  What number would you put on that?

Still closer - Of the things that populate the earth's floor, like animals, plants, rocks, bugs, and other things that are neither in the air or under the earth or water, what % do we know?   .0001%?  more?  less?

What about the percent of our knowledge of things under the ground?  Then what percent of thing under the water?  What % of knowledge do we possess of all the things there are to know about human anatomy, especially the brain?  What % do we know about human psychology?  And what % do we know of human interaction with others, including other animals, plants, and our environment?

What % do we know about the microscopic and invisible things of life.  What % of knowledge do we have about the history of man, life, the planet, the universe?

If man's total knowledge of the things of his world and his universe amounts to some miniscule amount compared to all there is to know, then what percent of all human knowledge do you personally possess?  1%.  .01%.  Much less?  And of what you "KNOW" to be true and what gives credence to your unique understanding?  The ideas and opinions of other men who also know as much as you about all of this, but maybe a bit more about something you don't?  And what is the source of their knowledge?

And yet we are ready to fight, draw blood, destroy lives, and kill over our understanding of how things are or how we think they should be.  Personally, as I sit in my home office and stroke my new kitten, I know for sure that I know a very small fraction of the workings, thinkings, and ways to train and take care of this much studied little animal.  We are fools to think we have any real knowledge, and this is the Christian God's definition of pride.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Most Brilliant Minds Alive Today Are Either Horribly Dumb or Deceived - Atheist Thinking

In a corollary to my post yesterday on atheists believing they are basically very, very good.  There is also a kind of attitude in the blogs of intellectual atheists that is very derisive towards those who are believers.  Sometimes it borders on smugness or even bordering on snarkiness, but it is rarely very far from derisive.

Thus one is left wondering if this tiny minority of the population has arrived at some special knowledge or insight that is kept from the overwhelming majority of those who are the intellectual giants of, not merely the past, but of the present day. 

On the one hand, we have Christians who are curious as to how one looks around at nature and doesn't see design, and how one cannot feel the presence of God.  Thus some Christians or other believers are not kind towards atheists either, and inclined to see them as crackpots or worse.  It is well said by many atheists that it is unlikely that an atheist will ever be elected to high office.  But in this case a huge majority are experiencing something and intuiting something about the universe that is demonstrably proving itself in their lives to be true and valuable.

On the other hand, atheists are not, to my knowledge, experiencing anything or looking around at nature and seeing chaos or something that is obviously not designed.  Rather the atheist goes out of his way to find any explanation other than God to describe how things are and what things mean.  So how does one become smug believing in the absence of something?  Help me out.

Do Atheists and Agnostics Do Evil Acts or Think Evil Thoughts?

There is a thread of the atheist vs Christian debate that has both sides believing that Atheists don't wish to follow Jesus because they would need to give up their evils ways.  Honestly, most intellectual atheists don't seem to fit that pattern.  On the other hand, practical atheists or nominal believers would commonly fit that statement.  They may be hard party folks, given to sexual sin, desiring to keep lying, cheating on taxes, etc. 

In fact, I would go so far as to say, most atheists I have debated at length are more inclined to think that they are not sinners, and thus would have no need of a savior.  A very close friend of mine has stated that they never lie, cheat, steal, etc.  And from what I know of this person, he/she might be close to correct. 

So, I'm curious to hear from non-believers.  Do you do acts which you consider to be very inappropriate and worthy of judgment by somebody?  Do you fail to do things that you probably should do that if these failings were known would cause others to judge you harshly?  Or do you see yourself as being very, very nice, friendly, unselfish, law abiding, etc.  If yes, is it possible that you project your perfection onto others and believe that were it not for .... fill in the blank .... bad parenting, government, religion, poverty, bad luck, bad friends .... that everyone would be close to perfect like you.   I know this last bit seems a bit "nasty," but I can't think of another way to get the subject on the table.

If you spend a bit of time in the atheist websites, I think you will gather that most atheists see themselves as better than others, much smarter and certainly wiser.  But they also see themselves as not needing anyone to help them make wise decisions.  They would be the "good person" that many of liberal political thought think is the norm.

Where have I gone wrong?

Why Do Humans Act UnNaturally?

Assumption:  Humans are the highest order of all species.
Assumption:  In order to get to the top, humans would need to conduct themselves in a manner that was consistent with both nature and Darwin's evolutionary theories.
Assumption:  In a naturalistic word view, it is impossible for anything to act other than under the laws of nature
Assumption:  A very clear understanding of evolutionary theory is that species will act selfishly and want to replicate themselves.
Exception:  There seems to be an inclination on the part of some life to stop replicating or reduce this natural inclination when they are feeling squeezed by the density of population.
Humans who are not squeezed are purposely reducing replication.  The humans who have the least amount to fear from density, food shortage, shelter issues, are the ones who are most likely to "unselfishly" agree to reduce replication.
Thus this intentional decision to not reproduce would seem to be both unnatural and potentially devastating to the most highly advanced of the most highly advanced.  (Sorry for the eugenics).  The very most successful, regardless of race, or any other observable trait, are the very ones who are most inclined to forgo reproduction.

Separately, the question of why do humans act unnaturally with regard to unselfish behavior of any kind?  Why would very, very large percentages of the human population believe that the unselfish approaches to life offered by Jesus and others would be the "best" way to live.  Even atheists and followers of other religions point to the beatitudes as ideal.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Bayesian inference

One thing that we keep tripping over in these conversations is the nature of "evidence". When can you say that a certain observation is "evidence" for a certain hypothesis, for the superiority of one model over another?

I tend to promote the view that almost anything can be "evidence" for an a-priori belief. If you really want to believe in a kind of system, then anything you observe can be explained in terms of that system (or you can trust that your system will probably have a way to explain it, even if you can't come up with the explanation yourself) and this reinforces the completeness and explanatory power of your system. Now, I don't REALLY believe in this, not as extremely as I make it sound. I offer this position in part to play Devil's Advocate, and in part because it is a view that is woefully under-represented in the theism-atheism debate.

I do honestly believe that, when people say "I see evidence for God" or "There is no evidence for God but there's tons of evidence for naturalism", this shows that they haven't stopped to think about what "evidence" means, or about when it is that you can or can't say that an observation supports a claim.

Instead of deconstructing their argument, or constructing a logically rigorous method for evaluating this kind of thing mathematically, allow me to just give an example to get you thinking and to help us move forwards.


Say I put several hundred golf balls and ping-pong balls into a box. Some are white and the others are yellow. Say that 70% of the golf balls are white and 30% yellow, and 20% of the ping-pong balls are white and 80% yellow. So, most of the golf balls are white (and the rest of them are yellow), and most of the ping-pong balls are yellow (and the rest are white). With me so far?

Say I mix things around for a while, to make sure everything is evenly distributed. I then reach into the box blindly, and randomly pick up a ball. I tell you that it is yellow. And now I ask: Is it more likely to have been a golf ball or a ping-pong ball?

You might say it’s probably a ping-pong ball, since the chances of a ping-pong ball being yellow (80%) are greater than the chances of a golf ball being yellow (30%).

But that's not necessarily correct. In fact, you simply do not have enough data to answer my question, not even probabilistically. And I can prove it to you.

What if I now tell you that only a tiny fraction of the balls in the box are ping-pong balls? If the box contains a thousand golf balls but only ten ping-pong balls, then three hundred of the balls are yellow golf balls and only eight are yellow ping-pong balls.This means that (despite the fact that the probability of a ping-pong ball being yellow is higher than the probability of a golf ball being yellow) most of the yellow balls in the box are golf balls, since by far most of the balls in the box are golf balls.

So, in this case, my yellow ball is probably a golf ball.

And until I told you how many golf balls there are, compared with how few ping pong-balls there are, you could not have reached this answer. You would just have been guessing (maybe based on the unfounded [and in this case, incorrect] assumption that the total number of golf balls is similar to the total number of ping-pong balls).


When you understand the thought experiment I just described, we can move on to a more rigorous explanation, and to its implications in the God-vs-no-God debate.


Mathematically: Just because X-given-A has a higher probability than X-given-B, this does not mean that A-given-X is more likely than B-given-X.

Ok, maybe I skipped a step. Bear with me.

"A" means "It's a ping-pong ball" and "B" means "It's a golf ball". "X" means "It's yellow" and "Y" means "It's white".

Just because Yellow-given-PingPongBall has a higher probability (80%) than Yellow-given-GolfBall (30%), this says nothing about the relative likelihood of GolfBall and PingPongBall (which could be, say, 99% and 1%, or anything else). This is even true if we know that we have a Yellow ball. The relative probability of GolfBall and PingPongBall is determined by a totally different set of factors (how many of each kind of ball I put in the box) than the factors that determine the probability of the color of each ball (what fraction of each kind of ball is colored each color).

In summary:

Just because Yellow-given-PingPongBall has a higher probability than Yellow-given-GolfBall, this does not mean that PingPongBall-given-Yellow is more likely than GolfBall-given-Yellow.

If we substitute "A" for "It's a ping-pong ball" and "B" for "It's a golf ball", and "X" for "It's yellow" and "Y" for "It's white", we can generalize:

Just because X-given-A has a higher probability than X-given-B, this does not mean that A-given-X is more likely than B-given-X.

Unless you can prove that A is impossible, and unless you can prove that B is impossible, then both A and B are possible. I can't know what kind of ball I have (I can't even know what kind of ball I PROBABLY have) just from looking at its color. The relative probability of A and B simply cannot be learned by comparing the relative probabilities of X-given-A and X-given-B. They can only be learned by taking multiple samples and seeing whether A or B come up more often, or by observing that A is often associated with certain kinds of observations and B is associated with certain other observations (e.g. when I draw a golf ball from this box it tends to be white, and when I draw a ping pong ball from this box it tends to be yellow).

Here's the important part.

You might say "In a world guided by a God, it is probable that intelligent life would be created. In a world not guided by a God, it is extremely unlikely that intelligent life would form". I could dispute both of these assumptions, but let's assume that they are correct for now. (And you can feel free to insert anything you like instead of "intelligent life", such as "beings who believe in God", or "cosmological constants that allow for chemistry").

Saying that the probability of IntelligentLife-given-God is higher than the probability of IntelligentLife-given-NoGod DOES NOT allow you to logically infer that the probability of God-given-IntelligentLife is higher than the probability of NoGod-given-Intelligent life.

In other words, saying “The evolution of intelligence [or any other "evidence for God" you may wish to insert here] is unlikely in a world without God and likely in a world with God, and we see intelligence, therefore God is more likely than No God” is logically equivalent to saying "The ball is yellow, therefore it's probably a ping-pong, ball since most ping-pong balls are yellow". Both statements are fallacious: it's possible that most yellow balls are golf balls, even if most ping-pong balls are be yellow.

This should allow us to see that an evidence-based approach to this God debate is hopeless. No matter how much we learn about the world and the different ways it might have become as it currently is, this knowledge will never tell us about the relative probability of World-given-“God” versus that of World-given-“no God”. All that each person can say is “I don’t need God to satisfactorily explain what I see around me”, or “I need God to satisfactorily explain what I see around me”, both of which are valid depending on what questions you’re asking. (I think that the questions that require God to be satisfactorily explained are not particularly meaningful, but I can see that this is a matter of personal taste).

Holders of different axioms will interpret the evidence so as to make their axioms and models seem, to them, more likely than an opponent’s axioms and models. But as elementary Statistics reveal, this is a fallacy. Besides, the bottom line is, even if it were not a fallacy, it does not deny that the opponent’s set of axiomatic assumptions is still possible, though unlikely. So the opponents can still go on believing what they want.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Human Sexuality and the Evolution Debate

Why is it that other animals don't get sexually transmitted diseases from promiscuous behavior?  What possible explanation from survival theory would have man as the only species that faces the partner during sex?  What would the purpose of the Hyman be?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Campus Discourse Not Open and Free

If science is such a preferred way of doing things, why must it quash debate.  Global warming is decided.  Evolution is decided.  Can't discuss supernatural unless it is a natural kind of supernatural (other universes, other species from other planets.)  Opinions contrary to the current liberal and scientific politically correct way of thinking is booed and hissed and threatened with violence.  The haters of today are primarily unbelievers who hate believers or those who disagree with them and desire to shut them up.  Very likely much of this hate derives from the fear of the unknown, since they may be like my neighbor, who says I'm the only conservative he knows.

Not to say that there have never been haters or bigots in religious circles.  But you would have us believe that science is perfecting man.  Seems like the pride factor is creating a new kind of monster. 

Monday, May 31, 2010

Starting at the Beginning - How Did the Universe Begin?

Christians believe that God has always existed, and that he spoke everything else into existence.  This would suggest that intelligence, law, love, and some form of spiritual world existed prior to the creation of stuff, and probably outside of any space/time continuum. 

What do atheists believe exactly?  Not big bang, but how big bang?  Would you consider any such theory to be anything but raw conjecture?  Does anything about such an explanation provide us with an understanding of how immutable laws, evil, intellect, music came into existence?

Science and Belief in God - Can These Two Coexist?

 There is much discussion about the percentages of scientists that are atheists vs the general public and/or whether it is possible to be both a Christian and a scientist.  I found this speech by Henry F Schaefer III to be quite dispositive.  Here was his concluding paragraph and following that the link.

There is a tremendous tradition of distinguished scientists who were and are Christians. I hope that my work is considered sufficiently outstanding to fall into the distinguished among that category. I also hope I have given you enough evidence that you will never again believe that it is impossible to be a scientist and a Christian.


By the way, he cites one study showing the same % of PHD scientists in church each week as the general public.  (about 43%)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Is There Objective Truth?

If there is no objective truth, why seek it?
If there is objective truth, where did it come from, and why is it static?
If there is objective truth, those who hold that my truth can be different than yours would be following folly. 
If there is no objective truth, what can we know?  Wouldn't the very statement be self defeating.  In other words we couldn't know whether or not there was no objective truth.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Do Top Atheistic Scientists Encourage Us to Ignore Objective Reality

It appears that humans are wired to tell the difference between created objects and things that are random.  If I see a rock that is shaped a bit like something familiar, I'm likely to think it is random and amusing that it looks "something like" something else.  But, if the rock looks very much like the face of a human, there is generally a good chance I will know if it is by some other human's hand that it has become quite like a face.

So we look at flowers, eyeballs, humming birds, and universal laws like gravity, and our mind naturally thinks these are designed.  The starting point for science is to observe and then hypothesize.  But many scientists today specifically admonish us to turn our back on observation and ignore first principles.  Somehow in this one instance, we should suspend orr rational minds in order to come up with more complex solutions for how things happened to come into existence looking like design, but actually the result of random chance over millions of years. 

What is the Source of Energy for the Universe?

After a couple of years or so of struggling with personal matters, I am ready to revive the conversation.  Two new ideas (new to me anyway) have been brought to my attention while watching a series called "The Truth Project."  The first is this.  Assuming that one makes the leap of faith that the universe was created from nothing or from some very small compact bundle of matter and energy that exploded at the Big Bang, what source of energy is sustaining what was started?  Or will the universe wind down at some point?  If in fact the universe has been around for millions or billions of years, how is it possible that this massive amount of energy came into being?  Or is there some as yet undetermined energy production furnace that is refueling all of the billion star systems to keep them all in place and spinning and such?

I guess Hawking thinks that the Universe always existed.  If that is the case, one would pretty much have to assume that there is a generator somewhere producing an endless supply of energy.  Amazing to think about.