Friday, March 28, 2014

The OT explained

In the Old Testament, Yahweh is depicted as the hapless, ne'er-do-well younger neighbor kid to the cool gods like El.

A hapless, ne'er-do-well band of Canaanite outcasts adopts him as their mascot, and zany highjinks ensue.

I think that's the general theme.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Better Arguments

Keith Parsons tackled the question “Can the Arguments of the “New Atheists” be made Stronger?“ in response to criticisms of the same by Ed Feser. It subsequently lit off a loosely-related firestorm in the comments section that resulted in a series of posts by Feser and Parsons - but that’s not the point here - yet.

Parsons makes a real nice point that I quote in full:

...the gravamen of Dawkins’ contention [that “religious beliefs are based merely upon faith and not upon evidence”] can be re-stated as the charge that there is a great disparity between the assurance with which major religious claims are generally asserted and the actual epistemic credentials of those claims. Creedal claims are often presented as so manifestly true that those who willfully reject them are regarded as deserving of temporal or eternal punishment, or perhaps as invincibly ignorant. In this case we might expect that those creedal propositions are as well established, as irrefragable and apodictically certain as claims can be. Yet this seems not to be the case. Every such set of tenets is doubted by very many ostensibly rational, intelligent, and well-informed people. This alone is reason to think that the strength of the claims of religion is often overblown. Further, if creedal claims are manifestly true, it must be the case that each of the propositions constituting those claims is (a) clear, coherent, internally consistent, and compatible with other creedal claims, (b) either obviously true or established beyond a reasonable doubt, and (c) such that if established by reasons, those reasons should be readily apparent to any serious inquirer, since if the reasons for believing a proposition are too obscure, abstruse, or arcane, this could be a legitimate reason for not accepting it. However, it is highly doubtful that conditions a, b, and c are met with respect to the creedal claims of any religion.

No further comment from me is necessary, except to say that these three points are worth remembering when examining claims of any kind, no matter who makes them.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I use the word "miraculous" occasionally. It doesn't mean that I believe in miracles. It means that I find a phenomenon wonderful and unexpected, maybe inexplicable. Take the human brain, for instance. Thought is a wonder. It is amazing. I don't understand it, so I refer to it as "miraculous", but that doesn't mean that I think it's truly a miracle.

It's hard to give up words and idioms that carry supernatural connotations. I will probably not try very hard to give them up unless they cause problems in my life. In the case of human thought, I think it's miraculous, I just don't take an extra step and attribute it to a supernatural cause. That's all.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Nothing is simple

Jeffrey Jay Lowder quotes philosopher Richard Swinburne’s statement:

it is always simpler to postulate nothing rather than something

while making objections to Swinburne’s formulation of the Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God.

Since the question "why is there something rather than nothing" always interests me, my attention for the moment is on just this snippet of Swinburne’s argument.

I think Swinburne has ignored the forest while focusing on the trees, in an attempt to invoke Occam's Razor. To my eyes, he appears to have committed a false dichotomy.

When you’re asking the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”, you're asking a question about why one particular state of affairs - that of the absence of anything - is preferable to all other alternative states of affairs that might pertain. It's not a question of contrasting A with B, it's a question of contrasting A versus the set {B,C,D,E,F,G...} - where that set contains every logical state that could exist. Since we know our universe exists - time, space, matter, energy, predictable behaviors - we have good reason to believe that other possible states of existence could pertain as well. They could be less complex or more complex, with different attributes and behaviors in different quantities and relationships.

Since the set “every other possible state” contains a quantity of states that we don’t know the upper limit on, then we might be justified in saying that the quantity approaches infinity - although we don't know how closely. That makes the relative occurrence of a state of “nothing” in the set named “all possible states” equal to a number that approaches the infinitesimal - although here too we don't know how closely. Therefore a state of something is (nearly) infinitely more probable than a state of nothing.

Bonus thought: since “nothing” means the absence of anything - space, time, matter, energy, Miley Cyrus - whether “nothing” occurs is irrelevant to observers in an actual space-time like we enjoy because it “occurs” for zero duration. You could have some real absurdist fun telling people how nothing occurs infinitely many times all around us.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

Scientific American has a good article worth book-marking, called 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense. The first answer recaps what a scientist means when they use the term "theory". Worth getting familiar with.