Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quantum Jumping

Thanks to @Skepacabra , I now know about Quantum Jumping

I should be merry all afternoon!

Static or Dynamic world

Let's assume their are gradations of belief ala Dawkins

1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."

Editorial note: I particularly like seven point scales because it allows shading between the neutral 4 position and the extremes.

Ignore for now the infinitely fine gradations that exist between the major points, the "Strong theist" and "De facto theist" positions may argue for a more literal interpretation of the Bible, whereas the "Strong atheist" and "De facto atheist" will refute the same. Referring to these positions as 1,2,6 & 7 from here on, I presume that having a strong position on something exposes one to, or entails, a confirmation bias towards that position and anything resembling evidence that supports it. If a person is also outspoken about their position, it also makes sense that the person becomes entrenched, because there is now some ego tied up in having, and publicly espousing the position.

We all want to matter. we want to be important to one person (your spouse, for instance) - and usually you want to matter to your wider family, at work, in circles of friends, and sometimes outward into the community and the larger world.

Arguing vehemently for or against theism speaks to the arguer having and displaying that need to be important. It also, coincidentally, puts one in the position of adapting to the view that 1) the world is a static place where life, death, judgement, heaven and hell are real and inevitable; or contradictorily, the world is a dynamic place where what we know is replaced with more accurate knowledge when what was previously acknowledged is either falsified and replaced; or refined and elaborated upon.

This last little dichotomy, the apparent separation between a static and dynamic world view, is something I've observed over and over again as I engage in discourse about the Bible. It has opened a window into the "why" most 1s and some 2s are so resistant to the idea of evolution and express the need to "know" - and to criticize science because it doesn't know everything.

I don't know which comes first - the resistance to a dynamic world, or a belief in a world view that cannot accommodate change at the same rate that it occurs in real life.

Just sayin'.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


My weekend reading and podcasting revolved around

Presuppositionalism is
a school of apologetics that presumes Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought
Now, I'll be go-to-heck ... I thought that this was just a presumption that most literal believers have, not a specific strain of literal believer and apologist.

Into the fray...

Starting at the beginning, we must presuppose that the individual thinking the thoughts that you (or I) am having at least exists. Absent any sense experience, this individual is like a newborn infant ... possessing no sense or recollection of the world, and as yet having made no attempts to interact with the world. Certainly, communication is not yet on the table ... until that first primal scream.

I'm not qualified to say whether a newborn, without any sense experience or interaction with the world, is capable of reasoning about itself ... but I presume that, absent interaction with the world, it cannot know the world exists ... so only it only knows that its self exists.

Consequently, to discuss things about the world, we must presuppose that 1) we exist as an individual, and 2) the world exists. From there, we gather sense experience, initially interpreting it through the physical and emotional filters that we have at birth, and soon thereafter, adding additional filters that we ourselves build based on our previous experiences and interpretations of these experiences, combined with changes to our physical and emotional underpinnings. This sounds like it could become a pretty complicated business, so I'll stop there.

I must ask ... what would cause an adult to presuppose that "Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought"? I'll purposely overuse the word "presuppose" - and say that I must presuppose (without any prior sense experience of the presuppositionalist world view) that a presuppositionalist is capable of and in fact, does accept a world view that does not correspond with the sense experience that the vast majority of sentient Earth beings have. That is to say ... events and concepts in the Bible do not appear to exist in the real world. Presuppositionalists may think they do, but the existence of the supernatural has never been credibly recorded. God - presumably the epitome of a supernatural being - is thus less likely to exist than the simpler conception of just dimensions, forces, matter or beings outside of nature.

Cutting to the chase, I understand presuppositionalists dispense with, or ignore, other arguments for the existence of God, and simply employ the Transcendental Argument for God ... to wit:

1. If there is no god, knowledge is not possible.
2. Knowledge is possible (or some other statement pertaining to logic or morality).

Therefore God exists.

The counter apologetics segment at Reasonable Doubt - incomplete as of this blog post - assumes that some counter apologetics strategy is effective (or maybe they're just steering the uninitiated away from bad strategies - only completion of the series can tell me). I will take a stab at it, however.

It seems that TAG fails in these ways:
  • It asserts without evidence that knowledge is only accessible through the god which the argument attempts to conclude
  • It asserts the existence of god - which then fulfills the knowledge-enabling capability.
We have both a false dilemma in the first premise, and a bare assertion in the second premise. In fact, you can say the first premise is 1) a false dilemma, 2) circular, 3) affirms the consequent.

There is no reason to think other ways of achieving knowledge do not exist and aren't more simple, elegant and probable.

There is no reason to accept the assertion that god exists under any circumstances ... especially in the absence of 1) valid and true arguments for god's existence; and 2) credible physical evidence. The availability of other, better, more credible explanations for natural entities and phenomena eliminates the necessity of God or any other unnatural agent.

Oh ... and did I mention "Presuppositionalism"? ;-D

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Answers in Genesis

If you haven't read Genesis - you haven't gotten the foundation of the Jewish and Christian (and presumably Muslim) religions from the acknowledged source.

If you skip Genesis and read only Exodus through the later prophets, the Bible reads as if the central character - Yahweh - is nothing more than a human illusionist or scam artist. There are a lot of negative adjectives that can be used for Yahweh, but the most famous collection is found in this statement from Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion:

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

"Insecure, murderous punk" is my personal synopsis. Without some establishing some credentials, Yahweh is no more than a petty tyrant.

Claiming "God did it" - as millennia of appropriately skeptical observers have noted, is not adequate validation that he-who-done-it exists in the reality that we all share. The first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the Bible does nothing to establish the bona fides of Yahweh ... it simply presumes at the beginning of all things, God did it. It goes on to paint a picture that is well removed from modern understanding of the cosmos. Later, we get to the creation of man and woman, then propagation of their offspring - who amazingly meet other humans out in the world. These other humans are never explained. Then we get to the memorable, but supremely impossible story of Noah's ark - a boat which serves as a repository for examples of all life on earth for a whole year. When the flood dies down, Noah's family encounters "other humans" again, just like the post-Adam story. These folks aren't explained either. The book closes with the dying of Jacob, and the establishment of the twelve tribes of Israel, which sets the stage for the cultural history that follows in Exodus.

Apologists and "sophisticated theologists" have and do weave all sorts of convoluted, self-contradictory and illogical arguments and excuses that seek to 1) establish "proof" of God's existence; 2) clarify (or sell their personal spin on...) the Bible for the consumption of the faithful; 3) reinforce faith in current believers - or gain new converts; 4) defend the base stories and the layers of interpretation and spin against the data and understanding that have accrued throughout human history.

When will Apologists, "sophisticated theologists" and rank-and-file believers just grow tired and say "this is stupid, how could I ever have believed this?". Inquiring minds want to know.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The birth of religion

We have reason to believe the world is the way it looks.

I can see through the air and I can walk through it, I cannot see through the walls of my cave and I cannot walk through them. I extrapolate from this that other objects and media that I can see through can be walked through, and other objects that cannot be seen through cannot be walked through. Consequently, I can walk through water, but not on it. I can walk on solid ground, but not through it.

I then encounter situations that change my rules of thumb for dealing with the solid and the fluid. I encounter muddy water, or quicksand. I can not see through them, but I can walk through them with varying success, and can not walk on them. My new heuristics involve looking for clues on the solidity or fluidity of a substance before attempting a physical encounter.

Notice that these rules of thumb were established by trial-and error. I can (generally) perform this kind of trial and error using my five senses on anything that I can come into direct contact with.

What about clouds? Clouds are a more difficult concept to deal with because, upon sighting my first cloud, I can only use the frames of reference that I have established previously. Additionally, I cannot touch, smell, taste or hear a cloud, so I am limited in what my senses can tell me. So ... clouds look solid, except that I can sometimes see through them. I may then consider them solid or fluid, as my observations dictate.

Then I encounter fog. I can kind-of see through it, kind-of can't. It varies. I can walk through it though, so my rules of thumb broaden to include fog. I may also have made the connection between fog and clouds - if I don't, someone eventually will. Clouds and fog may be the same kind of entity.

What about rain? Every time I've encountered it, it's fallen from the sky. 99.9% of the time there are clouds directly overhead, 100% of the time there were clouds in the sky, very nearly overhead. Sooner or later, I may be able to infer that rain comes from clouds, and clouds somehow contain water. Much later, maybe tens of millennia, someone confirms that clouds are made of water vapor. We have learned more about the world.

What about the sun and moon? Similar to the problem of clouds, celestial objects are an even more abstract concept, especially since they have no fog-like analogues that I can inspect directly with senses other than sight. Understanding the nature of the sun, moon, stars, planets, comets, meteors, novae and other celestial phenomena are, if I am the first human to inquire of their nature, beyond my ability to understand. If I have millennia of records that I can study, I can form some hypotheses about them. As better tools are built, telescopes, compasses, sextants, clocks, calendars and the like, I can make predictions that can be verified, and then even better hypothesize about the nature of the universe above the clouds.

Not once, in this contrived narrative, was there a need to posit something non-natural as the explanation, cause or effect of a phenomena that I observed.

Imagine that I was alone in the world, with no modern tools and no prior knowledge. I do not, I can not, know what I might conclude about phenomena that are beyond my reach - phenomena that I can only see, and then possibly only rarely. I can imagine, however, that in a family or tribal setting, around a campfire at night - five, ten or twenty millennia ago, being able to provide an explanation and being able to supply predictions about these phenomena might bring me advantages within the family or tribe - and I might be encouraged to produce more explanations and predictions about these phenomena as my fame grows, and the less imaginative tribe members express their desire for my more imaginative words.

Over time, my stories are spread. If they have explanatory or predictive or even comforting power, they persist through the generations. As the generations pass, and my stories are melded with the stories of other imaginative humans, they change, become more elaborate, and sometimes vanish as the tribes change and grow into larger social structures or die off completely.

One day, when the tools and techniques for observing natural phenomena are sufficiently advanced, and the body of knowledge is sufficiently large, the need for my primitive stories will wane, but will not die because of the massive industry that was built up to promulgate my stories and those of similar imaginative minds - incidentally providing jobs and influence to the industry workers.

There will eventually, down the millennia, be conflict between what is real and what is imagined. My stories will eventually vanish from daily life - hopefully to be resigned to a back corner in the loft of an ancient library. Reality will win. And it all started because I liked the feeling I got when I told stories and people liked the way they felt when I told my stories to them.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Truth is ...

A common bone of contention between non-believers and believers is the subject of "truth".

I understand truth as a declaration about the world that matches the way the world is.

Deacon Duncan at Freethought Blogs - Alethian Worldview and Evangelical Realism is having just this discussion with a commenter.

I won't repeat Deacon's words here, but I agree with him. If it can't be detected in the world, it doesn't qualify as "truth". This disqualifies claims that cannot be detected in any way - the invisible, the immaterial, the supernatural, the imaginary - a personal god, for instance.

It can be said - over, and over, and over again - that allowing claims for which the claimant is unwilling or unable to provide the slightest indication of its existence, opens the floodgates for all claims that lack evidence. The claim that I have a herd of wild elephants in my spare shower stall must then be met with the same seriousness and respect as the claims of a personal god, if claims of a personal god are allowed to be entered into public discourse. This doesn't disallow discussion of a personal god or a herd of shower-stall-based wild elephants when held among like-minded individuals - in private, you can discuss any whacky proposition you wish. Just don't let this whackiness pollute the world outside your home.