Saturday, July 7, 2012

Who would be evil enough to make Hell?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Salvation, too little too late

I think it was Easter last year, a cousin of mine commented that she was thankful that even though we lowly humans are unworthy or undeserving, we can be made clean by Jesus' sacrifice.  It's bad enough that christians generally believe this supernatural legend but they misunderstand what they're supposed to believe.

**Are christians made clean by the sacrifice of Jesus?
 Blood magic. Many christians erroneously believe the blood of the lamb (the crucifixion of the Jesus character) makes us clean. Ancient Israelites sprinkled the blood of sacrificial lambs on the top of the ark of the covenant to create a barrier between the judgment of YHWH (or more directly the ornamental angels) and the contents of the ark. The contents (either the stone tablets/remnants of the ten commandments OR Aaron’s staff, mana and the broken tablets, depending on which part of the bible you’re reading) represent the sins of man. But the ritual was to intervene and shield the Israelites from judgment. As Judaism doesn’t hold an afterlife component, this covenant was to prevent YHWH’s immediate wrath rather than his eternal wrath.

In christian mythology, Jesus is the new covenant. He does not make you clean. He makes you forgiven/un-judged. Or rather, his life/sacrifice is an offer of forgiveness.  But without acceptance that forgiveness is powerless. He does not make us so that we are sinless but he accepts the burden of our sin so that we are excused from judgment. He shields us from judgment just as the lamb’s blood on the ark shielded the Israelites from judgment.

As mortal, physical, subjective beings we cannot be perfect in the eyes of a perfect being. Even if we allow that YHWH is not a perfect being, we have to question the whole architecture of sinners striving to join the company of a being that cannot abide sin. Even the nature of sin must be questioned. Is it merely anything which separates us from YHWH, or YHWH’s will? Like most nonsense, it is so vaguely defined and unverifiable that it suits the whim of the user. Anyway, Grace does not make people perfect. It does not directly spiritually cleanse. It allows absolution and in so doing reduces the immediate burden of sin and consequently allows the sinner loosen the mutual embrace they have with sin. Absolution gives us hope. And the idea that a perfect being is trying to help us allows us to reach beyond the expectations we have made for ourselves. For some reason, it is almost universally easier for people to trust an unseen force than to trust themselves.

**Are humans worthy of salvation?
What about worth? Or worthiness? At least 1200 years after the amalgamation of the Israelites, YHWH instituted a policy change. I'm not against change, growth, improvement or correction.  I just expect there wouldn't be room for them from the timeless author of the universe.  Anyway, YHWH added an afterlife, or revealed that there is one. Why the change? The old plan wasn’t working, or wouldn’t work, with the afterlife component. And Judaism was for Israelites. Christianity was supposed to extend to gentiles as well. So before there was a messiah… those folks… well we are left guessing. Some interpret scripture in a way that everyone, including those who have never been exposed to the Jesus story, will be given the opportunity to recognize and accept the messiah on judgment day. Yeah, maybe. But it’s still pretty strange that YHWH would let things go on the way they did, as long as he did, and only cared about the Israelites before Rome captured Judea. Why is it that since that time it is important for people know about Jesus but before that time it was not? Were they less worthy? Looking at the Old Testament even the heroes were generally repugnant. Or maybe they didn’t need the good news as much as later humans. (I don’t think that’s it.) And oddly enough, it is YHWH’s chosen people that reject the supposed messiah. Shouldn’t they be most worthy?

YHWH has a history of being disappointed in humans. He had (even though he kinda makes the rules) to expel Adam and Eve from Eden. He killed everyone on Earth except the one good man and his family. But then that one good man, Noah, turned out to be a shameful sod. The one man worth saving from Sodom also turned out to be a drunk as well as incestuous. YHWH has a bad record of judging good character. Perhaps that explains televangelists. If we are worthy, from a divine perspective, the standard is very low, or very odd. But this all points to YHWH realizing late in the game that people are not good enough to serve the purpose for which they were created. Whose fault is that? Who made us the way we are, the way we’ve always been? Who made the world the way it is? The only way to hold YHWH innocent is to allow the deity to be omniscient about physics but a bit dim regarding psychology and sociology.

Defenders of the obviously fallible deity invoke the notion of freewill as the reason for everything that’s wrong with humans and humanity. But this falls apart for any of several reasons. Will we have free will in the afterlife? If so, then why is YHWH such an absentee deity now? If not, then why on Earth is it important now? We should also consider if we actually even have free will now? Sure we make choices but our choices are dependent on what we want and our understanding of circumstances. How much choice do we have over what we want? We may be able to prioritize but what do we base those priorities on? Calling this subjective feedback loop and algorithm “free will” may be a bit misleading.

So if we assume the Judeo-Christian creation myth and general Christian salvation belief is at all true, we find ourselves inadequate by design yet completely accountable for our shortcomings. If I design and make an airplane that won’t fly is it the airplane’s fault? That’s just ridiculous. Even if I give the plane intelligence and “free will” similar to our own: ridiculous. Even if I hold direct, verifiable correspondence with my creation it is still egregiously unjust for me to hold it accountable for the design flaws I conceived and implemented. Should I then decide that I have to destroy the failed airplane unless it believes I am my son and my son is the plane’s salvation? How does that make anything better? If I hadn’t screwed up (perhaps intentionally) the plane wouldn’t be in this predicament. If I hadn’t done such a bad job the plane wouldn’t need… forgiveness/un-judgment. Does it deserve salvation? I would say that more than salvation it unconditionally doesn’t deserve to be judged for its lack of flight. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Is acceptance of scientific knowledge a faith position?

Equivocation never sleeps. "Faith" covers a whole spectrum belief and acceptance.

When the roulette gambler places a chip on 24 Black, they know the odds are against the ball landing on their number, but they are putting their faith on 24. In this sense their thinking may be, "It's probably not going to be 24 but I'm going to trust 24 anyway." This trust in the face of obvious uncertainty may be called faith without straining the commonly accepted definition(s) of faith.

Or the gambler may genuinely believe they have some insight or revelation that 24 will be the winning number. In this case we have unfounded certainty, a trust/belief that ignores reason and evidence (perhaps selectively). Far along the opposite end of the spectrum, this too falls well within the commonly accepted definition(s) of faith.

For those who are more familiar with the way scientific inquiry works, "faith in science" challenges the definition(s) of faith. If our gambler believes that "if they play long enough they will lose their stake," is that faith? So too "faith in science" is the understanding that if we maintain discipline and objectivity eventually we will be less wrong in our understanding of reality. We will make blunders along the way. But when we play by the rules the house always wins in the end. We can call that "faith" but it is misguided or disingenuous to do so.

Scientific knowledge (as opposed to inquiry) is merely our best, most current understanding of reality. What we accepted as reality fifty or one hundred years ago was riddled with inaccuracies. What we accept as reality today will likely be found wanting in the next fifty or one hundred years. Knowing this, is it not faith to accept the current body of scientific knowledge as true? Given the breadth of scope of the definition(s) of faith we could certainly make such an argument. But there are some distinctions here to be made. (1) We know and accept that scientific knowledge is provisional. (2) The conditions that support the corrigible body of scientific knowledge are generally very concrete, consistent and offer testable predictions. (3) The breadth of scope of the definition(s) of faith is so unbound that any non-tautological, non-axiomatic belief or understanding may be described as faith. This infinite definition basically renders the word "faith" meaningless in regards to belief or trust. (4) "Faith" is also used to describe "devotion." While proponents of science are devoted to scientific inquiry, any devotion they have for the body of scientific knowledge (or parts thereof) is contingent on the quality of the inquiry supporting that knowledge.

The biggest detractors of Science (as they understand it) tend to have an alternate agenda. (1) Such detractors suggest their anti-scientific agenda is superior because it is immutable or timeless. (2) They rely on subjective interpretation (inescapably influenced by wishful thinking and/or fear) , ancient stories or modern prophets. They have texts of dubious divinity and questionable sources. And despite alleged supernatural authorship these texts are no better informed on the mechanics of nature than any other bronze age source. (3) They portray faith in science as bad but faith in religious doctrine as virtuous, noble and reliable. Actually, and suspiciously, faith in religious doctrine is less virtuous, noble and reliable if it's not their particular flavor of religious doctrine. (4) They want you to be devoted as well as trusting in regards to (their particular flavor of) religious doctrine. 

Any thing that may be doubted may be considered a faith position.  And we may doubt the nose on our face.   If we may call belief in science a faith position it is only because "faith" is so indefinite and vague as to be meaningless. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

(followup) Theological "Fine Tuning" Fallacy

Quotes are from The Forgetful Apologist from comments made in response to

Theological "Fine Tuning" Fallacy at this blog. My response exceeded the 4000-ish character limitation so I am responding here instead.

"Of course God could have made things differently."

That's an assumption. But based on concept of the abrahamic god as generally accepted by believers, it's an assumption we can allow for argument's sake.

"Given the nature that exists, certain things are impossible."

"The nature that exists" does not preclude the possibility of alternate natures. The idea of alternates natures is similar to the general idea of a multiverse. Could one or more alternate universes come into existence with variations of or complete separation from the natural laws we observe? I submit that if it is possible for a mystical entity to create an alternate natural universe with alternatives to one or more of our natural laws then there is no reason to exclude the possibility that one or more alternate universes with alternate natures could come into existence without the aid of a mystical entity.

It's all purely speculative. Like gods, it only requires imagination. We could also speculate that neither a god nor proto-nature could create our known universe without also necessarily also creating an infinite multiverse. That would certainly tidy things up for some quantum physicists. But that's not quite enough to make it so.

It's not really necessary to tie oneself to one of the three perspectives included in the essay. To recap, in regards to whether God (or mystical entity(s)) or nature could have produced a different universe that would support life, it was (1) God no, nature no; (2) God yes, nature no; (3) God yes, nature yes. I left out (4) God no, nature yes; because who's really going to make that argument? The whole argument from fine tuning is predicated on the presumption that things could have been different.

It is an interesting supposition (that things could have been different.) But is there anything that could have caused it to be different? If the big bang was self sufficient at time zero how could it have taken a different course? I understand there's a lot of speculation about "gravity could have been a little weaker" or "initial expansion could have been slower." But no one has produced an explanation for what it would have taken in order for any of these or other things to have been different. It's pure "what-if," assuming the big bang was self contained and developed without external influences.

And we can further speculate that maybe there were external forces that influenced the early development of natural laws. If there was a cause then perhaps some of that cause could continue to leak in after inception? All speculation. I will agree that if things had been different then, then things would be different now. But the questions remain. Could things have been different and what could have caused things to be different?

And of course, some will want to attribute post-bang influence to mystical forces/entities or a hybrid of natural/mystical. Since we're all speculating we have little authority to turn away additional speculations.

I'm more than happy to entertain these notions for academic reasons. But where it gets us is roughly nowhere, zero progress. Imagination and wishful thinking allow us to take ourselves where we wish we already were.

"Now, back in those first few fractions of a second after the big bang, nature was not similarly constrained---at least not according to the evidence up to that point."

I'm tempted to challenge this but it may just be me misunderstanding what is meant. Regardless it has little or no influence on the overall weight of either side of the argument.

"So from that epistemic position we can run the argument. If God exists, then there is a fairly good chance that he is interested in moral agency and will ensure the constants permit such agency."

Without knowing why a theological god created this or any universe we are left to speculate "why." Without some indication as to why we are even more blind in our speculation about what such an entity would want in it's universe-like creation.

Are we asking what kind of god would make the universe the way it is? Since we have a fair idea about what and how the universe is, at least this question would be grounded in reality.

But that's not what the quoted question is asking. It assumes a mystical being wants to make something vaguely universe-like and further assumes that beings somewhat capable of distinguishing between right and wrong are also wanted. This speculation is not entirely consistent with genesis 1 and 2 but we can overlook that since we are only considering a generic theistic creator entity.

But let's go ahead and assume that a creator god is interested in creating or allowing moral agents and therefore an environment that is capable of supporting said agents. I'm taking a "moral agent" to be a conscious being that can make choices that are morally significant, on a case-by-case basis. And I'm taking morality to be a synthesis of intuitive predisposition for fairness and cooperation within one's group and a culturally developed ethical perspective. For purposes of this argument I hope we can share a workable common meaning for "moral/morality."

If we make those assumptions and check our universe to see if it supports moral agents, surprise surprise, it does. Well, kind of. Earth does. Or at least parts of Earth do. Mercury doesn't. Mars doesn't. I'm going to go out on a limb and say none of the other planets in our system do. That seems true of all the moons too. And the vast majority of the solar system which is essentially vacuum, does not support moral agents. The second nearest star is over three light-years away, and that's pretty close by interstellar standards. I'm going to go further out on my limb and say there are no moral agents in interstellar space. I'm definitely not willing to concede that potential interstellar moral agents are big fans of Jesus or Muhammad. And then there's all that intergalactic space. Moral agents? Limb: no moral agents. Moral agency seems to be at best an afterthought and more likely a happy accident. But there I go again, assuming it could have been different.

"However, if only nature exists, then since nature has no preferences, we must apply the principle of indifference, whereby we find that the probability of the constants permitting moral agency on naturalism is extremely low---extremely!"

The principle of indifference does not apply here. There may be a principle of indifference in apologist jargon that I'm not aware of. But in regards to matters of statistics and probability, the principle of indifference does not apply. I'm under no obligation to make a counter-case against the lack of case presented in the quote, but I'll explain anyway why it doesn't apply. We do have two mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive possibilities, mystical entity versus non-mystical non-entity. We could even say that the two possibilities are indistinguishable except for their names. I don't suppose you're crediting the authorship of the universe to a deist god? But if we want to apply the principle of indifference we have to agree the possibilities are indistinguishable. But the reason the principle of indifference does not apply is because you are making a qualitative comparison versus a quantitative comparison.

Quantitatively each possibility has a 1/2 chance of being right. But you are saying that because the universe is indifferent to the presence of moral agency and a theist deity probably would nor be indifferent to agency, a theist deity is more likely to have created a universe which includes (at least the possibility) of moral agency. That is not the principle of indifference.

It would actually be a decent, albeit non-conclusive, argument if it could be shown that a theistic deity is more likely to exist than either a deistic deity or no deity. Using the principle of indifference we can assign each possibility a probability of 1/3 and see that a theistic deity is less likely to exist than one of the other two possibilities. (There is a 2/3 likelihood that either no deity exists or a deistic deity exists.) It could also be interpreted that it is more likely that some kind of deity exists. But hopefully it is already clear that this is the wrong tool for the job. Bottom line: the principle of indifference does not support the likelihood of a creator deity.

"Of course we now know that the physical constants are all quite friendly to moral agency in the universe, and so it is a simple matter of applying the likelihood principle to infer the existence of God."

I think I already covered this. The universe shows only a hint of friendliness to moral agency in one remote infinitesimal corner of all known existence. There may be moral agents out on other remote infinitesimal corners of existence. Or maybe not. Either way, the ratio of moral agency to universe is so small as to undermine any attempt to claim moral agency was even intended (leave alone important) in the "design" of the universe.

Also, you didn't show your work (or even define or quantify your variables) so we are free to ignore or accept your claim that the likelihood principle in any way supports probability of existence. If you do intend to show your work then you should probably go ahead and do a full Bayesian workup. I'm looking forward to the "given what we know about..." portions regarding gods.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Theological "Fine Tuning" Fallacy

The are a lot of problems with the "argument from fine tuning" but here is one I haven't seen before.

If we assume there is/was a creator god, could it only have created potential worshipers in a universe that relies on natural forces with the values we currently observe?

The argument from fine tuning suggests that because life as we know it could not exist if the fundamental forces of nature were slightly different, then the most likely cause that the values came to be what they are, was an intelligent tuner. But this also suggest that a creator god could not have done things differently. Why not? That certainly cramps the meaning of omnipotent. Or if a god could have done things differently then why couldn't an alternative nature also have done things differently?

There are better, more direct refutations out there. But it seems odd to suggest that
(1) neither a creator god nor nature could have produced a different universe that would support life therefore a creator god is more likely ...or
(2) a creator god could have produced a different universe that would support life but an alternative nature could not have produced a different universe that would support life, therefore a creator god is more likely ...or
(3)both a creator god or an alternative nature could have produced a different universe that would support life therefore a creator god is more likely.

None of these arguments is particularly persuasive on their own. And when the alternatives are also considered each seems even weaker.