Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Collateral Damage in the War on Christmas

Irony? When an atheist apologises to a theist for wishing her “Merry Christmas”

One afternoon a little over eleven months ago, a woman I know professionally told me, in passing, that she is a JW.  Mere minutes later, we parted ways and she said "Have a good weekend" as she walked out the door while I said to her "Have a Merry Christmas!"

Within seconds the penny dropped and I was able to catch up with her.  She confirmed when I asked that she doesn't "Do Christmas" and reassured me that she was not offended by my inappropriately seasonal greetings.  Phew!

I really don't seem to be taking this War on Christmas thing seriously enough ...

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Pre-Creation (How Good Can God Be?)

I want to consider whatever there was, in the theist conception, prior to creation.  Note: I use the term "prior to" deliberately rather than the term "before", because creation probably implies a beginning of time, in which case there would be no "before" (such as we could understand it).

The idea, as I understand it, is that it is impossible for there to be an infinitely long causal chain back into the past and that, within this universe, all effects (without exception) are preceded by a cause.  Note: I am not interested in Aristotelian "causes" here, which are presented as answers to a "why" question such that considering them would be equivocation.  I very much mean a cause as in the combination of pre-existing conditions and some sort of force acting on something.

The notion of pre-existing conditions and a force acting on something is taken to show that while there must have been some "first cause", that "first cause" could not have come from within this universe.  Note: I am not implying a "first cause" from "outside" the universe, since at this point, notionally, the universe does not (yet, see first note) exist.

This "first cause", it is then claimed, must be a creator god.  Note: I am not implying that this is a specific god, one that maybe has the name "God" or one that Adam and Moses chatted with, so I have no intention to capitalise the term when I use it.

It is further claimed, by most theists, that this creator god is extremely, maximally or all-: powerful, knowing and good.  Some go further, saying that this god is perfect.  I know that, when challenged, some theists suggest a less extreme version of a god, in order to avoid certain problems, but I strongly suspect that in private such theists relax back into believing the full deal.  Let's just say that this hypothetical creator god is, at a minimum, powerful and knowledgeable enough to create this universe and then consider how good such a creator god could be, given that it started with the most rasus of all possible tabulæ rasæ.  Note: This is a questionable metaphor because "rasus" indicates that the "tabula" [slate] has been "scraped" clean, implying that the slate had been in a different state earlier, but I'm just trying to say in an oblique way that this creator has the blankest of all blank canvases before it, that there is nothing before it but potential, and perhaps not even potential, since any potential that exists supposedly exists, as yet unmanifested, within the creator god and that creator god has not yet created anything yet that could be "before" it.

One final, or rather first, thing.  In our understanding of physics, time could have started just prior to the big bang, but it doesn't necessarily have to have started just then.  In the hypothetical that I am considering right now, however, to all extents and purposes time does start with “creation” - because otherwise the causal chain would extend further back, and we're specifically looking at when the chain starts.  I'm willing to accept that the creator god could create time first, with nothing else (so no matter or energy and no space in which to put it), and use the fruit of that initial creative act to "spend time" considering what move to make next.  I'm not saying that a creator god needs to do that, but we're going to consider decision making on the part of the creator god and, as far as we understand it, decision making takes time.

So, we have the creator god.  Nothing is created.  The creator god is sufficiently perfect as to make a universe of some kind.  Is this creator god good?

It seems that we can only tell by employing an awkward, circular definition of good, saying that this creator god is good because it does creator god stuff and creator god stuff (namely creation) is, by definition, good, or good by consideration of what actions this creator god takes - judging it by its fruits, you could say.

But then we come to suffering.  Suffering is, in itself, a bad thing.  I doubt that anyone would argue that suffering, in itself, is a good thing.  It is certainly possible that, if on balance there is more good than bad that accrues from a certain act, then that act can be considered "good" even if it resulted in suffering (in some sort of "the ends justify the means" sort of way).  However, at this point in our hypothetical history, there is nothing and there is, therefore, no suffering at all.

What justification would this creator god have for changing from that primordial, zero-suffering state to a state in which, inevitably, sentient creatures would emerge and suffer, some horribly?  Note: I am not saying here that it's necessarily the case that the creator god should not have created at all, but rather emphasising the (hypothetical) fact that the creator god had an entirely blank canvas (albeit an entirely metaphorical one).  Nothing had yet been created, not even the physical laws of this universe, and the creator god had almost entirely unlimited options (remember that this is a sufficiently powerful and knowledgeable creator god, not an omnipotent or omniscient one).  The creator god could have created, for example, a single intelligent being with which to interact.  It might be argued that loneliness of that being might be an issue, but that is a post hoc quibble.  A deliberately created being, created by a sufficiently powerful and knowledgeable creator god with the sole purpose of interacting perfectly with its creator, would not suffer loneliness - it'd be in (sufficiently) perfect communion with the (sufficiently) perfect creator god.

Some apologists might miss the point (intentionally or not) and suggest that the creator god does not need to justify itself to lowly mortals like myself.  That may well be true, but such a tyrant god is not an inherently good god.  And in any event, I'm not arguing here that this hypothetical creator god does not exist, I am merely pondering on how good it could possibly be.

So, how good can it be?


There's the common argument that this god wants to enter into a loving relationship with us all, and that this is a great gift, offered freely.  Nevertheless, this is satisfying a want on the part of the creator god, and any good that is associated with this offer comes only after our creation.  Therefore, we suffer (and I reckon we all suffer to a greater or lesser extent) to satisfy the wants of a creator god, even if we might subsequently get a boon that seems somewhat secondary (our happiness is subordinate to that of a vastly superior being, after all).  However, I am not considering the post-creation situation – I'm considering the pre-creation situation in which a creator god has the opportunity to decide between A) creation of sentient beings which would then be placed in a quandary, risking future eternal bliss or future eternal suffering (or permanent oblivion), while experiencing a poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives on the material plane; B); creation of sentient beings who would not then be placed in such a quandary and would not then experience poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives (on any plane) or, C) abstention from the creation of sentient beings altogether.

My thinking is that the creator god could be good.  But it would not be good if it chose option A.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

We Need to Talk about EAAN

(The title is a reference to "We need to talk about Kevin".  I'm using "EAAN" as if it sounded like "Ian".  I don't know if it does, but it's not relevant.  I’m just using a bit of a jokey title about the problems with the Evolutionary Argument Against Evolution.)

There is a relatively new take on Plantinga’s EAAN by Tyler McNabb.  While the original EAAN is certainly Plantinga's, there's not really too much between the two variants.  Fundamentally, the argument comes down to the claim that evolution doesn't "code" for truth or reality, that it only “codes” for survival.

In both variants, tigers are brought up as an example, so McNabb bravely continues to ignore the fact that tigers are from Asia (with a range that historically stretched as far as eastern Turkey) while humans are from Africa.  This is key, because while the illustrative use of tigers might be defended by saying "there were dangerous cats which would have taught humans to be wary of tigers" (particularly the cave lion which is thought to have been a species that specialised in killing humans, maybe more accurately hominids or perhaps just primates in general), this defence rips a hole in EEAN.

Both McNabb and Plantinga suggest that it is possible that an early human, let's call him Fred, might see a tiger and come up with all sorts of bizarre reasons for performing the adaptive behaviour necessary to avoid being eaten (McNabb adds the idea that Fred might think that the tiger is a witch and hence runs away because witches are dangerous).  Inherent in this idea is the presumption that any one of a wide range of cognitive processes (including patently faulty processes) might result in the adaptive behaviour.

What Plantinga and McNabb forget is that surviving once is not sufficient.  And having one generation survive is not sufficient.  For a genetic line to be successful, the carriers need to carry out the appropriate behaviour each and every time they come into close proximity with a tiger (or a lion, or a panther, or an elephant, or a hippopotamus, or a crocodile, or a snake, etc, etc).  At least until they've raised a child sufficiently long as to pass their genetic line on.

The most effective way for this to happen is not for random ideas to pop into the head of gene carriers when exposed to danger, but rather for the gene carriers to have the cognitive skills necessary to identify reality, understand the threats inherent in reality and the necessary action that, in reality, will optimise their survival chances (ie, like not jumping in a lake when chased by a tiger).

EAAN relies very heavily on both a misunderstanding about how important reality actually is to survival and a wild imagination as to how insane interpretations of reality might consistently lead to adaptive behaviour.  On the other hand, if the comprehension of reality is consistent with the survival of creatures that evolve, then it's no surprise that creatures that end up self-aware as a result of that process will be able to identify evolution as the mechanism that led to their success.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Time to Take WLC to Task (Again)

I initially wrote this on Craig-Land, in a post that I titled Is WLC anti-science or unscientific or ascientistic, or something else?  I must have just been riled up, because I’ve had to edit it quite a bit, removing extraneous words and trying to provide some context.

It might seem to be a little bit technical and esoteric for a forum inhabited by amateur apologists, but remember that they aspire to incorporate science into their endeavours and to bend the findings of science to serve their agenda.


My departure point here is WLC's Q&A response on relativity.

In short, WLC is not arguing against relativity per se, but he is arguing for one interpretation of relativity over the other (or, rather, the other two).

The first interpretation that WLC deals with is Einstein's, which WLC implies was from his 1905 paper.  The trouble is that the interpretation that WLC is talking about isn't in that paper.  There's nothing in there that implies that Einstein thought that "there is no over-arching way the world is".  The closest is perhaps this statement in Section 2 of Part I (The Kinematical Part) – On the Relativity of Lengths and Time:

So we see that we cannot attach any absolute signification to the concept of simultaneity, but that two events which, viewed from a system of co-ordinates, are simultaneous, can no longer be looked upon as simultaneous events when envisaged from a system which is in motion relatively to that system.

But this is true in all three interpretations.

I thought that maybe Einstein said something like that which WLC claims in his argument with Bergson in 1922, but even that doesn't seem to be so.  At best, Einstein indicated that he held that the time of the philosophers does not exist and that there remains only a psychological time that differs from the physicist’s.  Perhaps WLC extrapolated from this.

Anyways, WLC calls Einstein's interpretation (one which he may well never have held) "really kooky" and thus dismisses it, purportedly leaving only the interpretations of Minkowski and Lorentz.  However, suggesting that Einstein's conception was different to Minkowski's is ridiculous since Einstein incorporated Minkowski’s four-space into his work on General Relativity.  Sure, he didn't initially go along with it, but once he understood the principles, Einstein not only adopted them but showed that it all works.  The "really kooky" interpretation was no more than an intermediate thing, if even that.

The major problem comes in when WLC is trying to choose between Lorentz and Minkowski and I think that it is at this point that he (WLC) become profoundly unscientific or anti-science.

In order to make the choice, WLC relies on his belief that there is a god of a particular sort with particular characteristics, as his final paragraph shows:

For I claim that God’s timeless existence, given that there is a temporal world, is possible only if a tenseless view of time is correct; whereas if a tensed view is right, God exists temporally in absolute time. Since I am firmly convinced that a tensed view of time is correct, I think that Lorentz was, in fact, right, and that God accordingly exists in time

So, he plumps for Lorentz (which gives him a god existing temporally in absolute time).  Hopefully readers can see what WLC did there, he argued "the god of WLC -> Lorenz".

Furthermore, he's arguing that if Lorenz is wrong and space really is Minkowskian, then the god of WLC cannot exist.  I think this is a little short-sighted of him (WLC, that is).


WLC also presents a false dilemma between "tensed time" in which past and future are real (whatever "real" might mean in this context) and "tenseless time" which he characterises as "just an illusion of human consciousness".


So, is WLC anti-science, willing to toss science aside if it is inconvenient with respect to his god beliefs?  Or is he simply unscientific, which would possibly imply that he is pseudo-scientific willing to use science-like pronouncements with little if any scientific basis?  Or is he ascientistic, merely charting a difficult course which requires you to use the boat of philosophy here, then leap onto a scientific cart there, and finally ride the rhetorical slippery-dip to a presupposed conclusion (rather than the scientists who are plodding along in the cart the whole way, wondering who that crazy hitch-hiker was)?  Or maybe ... maybe he's a charlatan making it up as he goes along, using whatever tricks he thinks will convince the punters?  Or something else perhaps?


There is in fact a way to view fourspace (a form of "tenseless time") which is entirely compatible with a god, in fact it's a view that many physicists reject quite fervently perhaps because it opens the door to a Minskowian variant of a god.  I've talked previously about the expansion of space being time.  Implicit in that model is the idea that there is expansion and a rate of expansion.  This might still not leap out at the reader, but it should be more clear from what I wrote in On Time.  I talk there about an invariant space-time speed, including the speed of time (which would be c in a rest frame).  For this to be meaningful there would be some sort of meta-time against which time in our universe would be expanding and time in our universe would be passing.  (This might just be a metaphorical thing of course, but for a god to use it, it'd have to be real, we humans simply wouldn't have any access to it.)

From outside the universe, a god would notionally be able to observe everything simultaneously.  It could tweak events in the "past" and watch (in meta-time) how they play out in the "future".  This has the benefit of avoiding the horns of the predestination-free will dilemma.  Humans in a universe like this one could have absolute free will, but the god watching from outside would be able know the consequences nevertheless, since all of history (including future history) is there before its gaze, simultaneously in meta-time.  Theists could use this model to explain why there were far more interventions (miracles, visitations etc) in the past and none recently.  All the necessary tweaking, or at least major tweaking, has already been done.


Note that while I do think we all have an invariant space-time speed (c), meaning that I can agree with both Minkowski and Lorenz, I don't think that there's a god out there tweaking our universe.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Misuse of the Material Conditional

I'm going to start off easy.  First, check out the wikipedia entry on the Material Conditional.

Note that there are two usages:

Now, note that the truth table for one has p->q being true for all conditions except where p is true and q is false.

And then, note that the material conditional p->q as a formal connective:

can be considered as a symbol of a formal theory, taken as a set of sentences, satisfying all the classical inferences involving ->, in particular the following characteristic rules:

Modus ponens;
Conditional proof;
Classical contraposition;
Classical reductio ad absurdum.

Now, I take the use in a modus tollens to be precisely the same sort of use as in modus ponens.  You can try to argue differently, but that would put a bit of a hole into modus tollens, and how it is generally shown to relate to modus ponens.

Finally, note the truth table at the SEP entry on Conditionals.  In the Non-Truth-Functional Interpretation truth table, A->B is true when A is true and B is true, false when A is true and B is false and could be true or false when A is false (so we simply don't know).

This does not correlate with what WLC stated in his answer in his Q&A Formulating the Moral Argument (see my earlier take on this here).  He got it wrong because he tried to use the Material Conditional as a truth function when he clearly should have used it as a formal connective.  Anyone who has subsequently or coincidentally followed him on this is also wrong.


One of the objections I got to the argument above was a little confused.  The objector complained that 1) WLC “intends the argument to be interpreted subjunctively” and 2) “(t)he truth table (Craig) gives is for the indicative mood”.

So, which is it?  Why give a truth table for the indicative mood if WLC intends the argument to be taken subjunctively?  Why not present the argument subjunctively if he meant it to be taken subjunctively?  And what does he think he's doing changing what is claimed by some to be a material conditional (which I think it probably is, but not with the truth functionality interpretation) into a counterfactual (conditional)?

If he wants to be using a counterfactual condition, and to be using the subjunctive ... he should use the subjunctive.  It's not hard, even I could do it (although I think the major premise that follows is false, because the protasis is true while the apodosis is false):

  • If WLC's god were not to exist, then objective moral duties and values would not exist
  • But objective moral duties and values do exist
  • Therefore, WLC's god exists.

See the "were not to"?  This is a calling card of the counterfactual.

If WLC did intend to use the subjunctive mood and create a counterfactual conditional, then all talk about the material conditional as a truth function (the sin committed by the various people who thus motivated me to write this piece) is misguided. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Naughty Earth

One of the arguments that we are at the centre of the universe is that, when we use right sort of telescope, we can see that (almost) all the galaxies around us (the visible ones) are red-shifted, indicating that they are moving away from us at speeds equivalent to the current distance between us and them.  This "seems" (caveated enough?) to imply that we are in a privileged position because the speed of any galaxy that we can see is related to the distance of that galaxy from us, not from just any old galaxy, but from us.  The further away a galaxy is from us, the quicker it is running away from us.

So, what did we do?  Why is the rest of the universe doing its darnedest to get away from us as quickly as it can (with the notable exception of the Andromeda galaxy which is on its way towards us and will crash into our galaxy in approximately 4 billion years)?  Did they all get together and have a chat about it, perhaps deciding that Andromeda, the largest galaxy in our group (larger than ours), should sacrifice itself in its glacially slow destruction of us while the rest ran away?  Or did some creator god decide that the rest of the galaxies should move away from the bad boys of the Milky Way to ensure that there is no contamination from our sin and corruption, and since floods are out (thank you rainbows!) the next best thing is (possible, but frankly improbable) stellar catastrophe in 4 billion years or so.

Perhaps, taking as humble and non-arrogant position as possible, the facts are that we are so immensely central to the creator god's aeon-to-aeon thinking that using a galaxy that is about as twice as big as the Milky Way to destroy what remains of our civilisation in 4 billion years from now was a hugely pressing concern and the creator god absolutely wanted there to be no witnesses (move on all you other galaxies, there's nothing to see here).  Perhaps over the next 4 billion years, Andromeda will contract into some sort of divine sledgehammer or pile-driver (via a mechanism that will appear totally natural, but [wink, wink] actually isn't), and be aimed directly at us.  And one descendent of our species will be encouraged to build a space-ark ... for forty days and forty nights, stars shall fall upon the face of the Earth, but you, decendent of Noah, shall build a space-ark and collect all the animals that we can currently think of, confusingly numbered based on whether you can eat them or not, and sail above the destruction.  Now that would be story to tell your grandkids, right?


Did anyone get the point, carefully concealed in that satire?  Distant galaxies cannot be both affecting the solar system so as to make the Earth central (as argued by some geocentrists) and also receding at speeds that are ever greater the further from us they are.


Some context might be required here.  There’s a chap over in Craig-Land who is a serious geocentrist, as well as a bit of a literal fundamentalist.  His argument is that the universe is created just-so such that Earth is in a point of zero gravity at the centre (and is thus not pulled into any sort of motion).

It’s an entertaining enterprise to argue physics with someone who primarily bases his understanding of the universe on Genesis (the book of the bible, not the band).   A huge waste of time, of course, but entertaining.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

God as the Greatest Conceivable Being

It has been claimed that "God is the greatest conceivable being".  I usually interpret this to be a specific claim about the specific god held to exist by a specific claimant, but I note that it also applies more generally to the god of any WLC-affiliated theist, because WLC makes a similar claim in his variation on Plantinga's version of the ontological argument.

I put it to you though that I can conceive of a being that is greater than the god of any specific theist.  This being, for the sake of the argument, is the Grand Pixie, which has not only all the characteristics of the god of the theist, but also purpleness.  In fact, the Grand Pixie is purpleness so the Grand Pixie has "being purpleness" as one of his characteristics.

Now, I claim that "being purpleness" is a feature that improves on anything that has all the other characteristics, even if "being purpleness" is entirely neutral, because it's one more characteristic thus contributing to a greater grade of numerical greatness.

An argument that might be raised against my argument here is that no-one believes in the Grand Pixie, but I respond that the number of believers is not only irrelevant but also damaging to the "my god is the greatest conceivable" argument, since a conceivably greater god than anyone's god would be one that is believed in more people - since I don't believe in any god, then a conceivably greater one is the one that I too would believe in, being one more believer.

Another is that I myself am the person making claims about the Grand Pixie and I can't refer to someone back in history who made the claims.  True, but this is just context.  The same applies if a theist goes back to the original claimant with respect to the maximal conceivable greatness of her god, even if we don't know who that original claimant was.  The only way out of this regression is to arrive at the maximally great god and have it tell someone that it is maximally great, but this is a sort of thing that non-maximally great things are also capable of (demons for example, in the worldview of some theists, and the figments of insane people in the worldview of some atheists).  The point here being that the claim to maximal greatness made by a human on the part of her god is precisely that, a claim, and nothing more.

I can make a counterclaim that there is a conceivably greater being than anyone's god, the Grand Pixie where Grand Pixie =your god + "being purpleness"/some other feature absent from your god, say "grooviness" or "being paisleyness".  The theist can try to address that, by claiming that her god actually does have "being purpleness", "grooviness", "being paisleyness " or anything else that I might come up with, but then the theist’s conception of god is revealed to be ad hoc.

While some might accuse me here of being insulting to their conception of god, and there might be some truth to that although my intent is more towards light-heartedness (and I know that some people are insulted by people not talking about their god with anything other than utter seriousness), the central point remains.  No matter how great you make your god, someone else can come along, add even a neutral feature and conceive of something greater.

So how can anyone truly claim that their god is the greatest conceivable being?

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

This is a Necessary Post

Well, it's not really.  What we can say is that it is an existent post and we can then ponder on whether it is possible, necessary or contingent.

We could certainly equivocate in order to claim that it is a necessary post, because the title of it tells us that it is "a Necessary Post" - necessity is in its self-described nature.  But that would not make it necessary, would it?  Or you could rely on my word for it, telling you that it's necessary, but some readers would not be inclined to take my word for it.

And that's only when we know that the post exists.  What about if this was one of those special posts that no-one else can read, because I haven't the right privileges for general access?  Would a philosopher be able to work from the notion that there is a asserted necessary post (or the possibility of a necessary post) to the conclusion that there is an existent necessary post?

It seems to me that she couldn't, at least not without cheating, and that discussions about necessity (or mere contingency) follow existence, rather than the other way around.

Perhaps someone can explain why the attempt to logic something into existence via the presumption of necessity is something more than theatrics?  (see also here)


Is christianity contingent?

Of course, I think it is.  But I don't believe in the god of christian theists, so I see christianity as something largely made up by Paul, perhaps together with some advisors, partly based on a mythical or mythologised Jesus character.

My question pertains more to the world view of a christian theist.  There are problems on both sides, as I see it.

In short, if christianity is contingent, then the god of christian theists screwed up and created creatures that unexpectedly ran off the rails and had to be saved by the uncomfortable execution of the Jesus character.  The ability to screw up is not a recognised characteristic of the god of christian theists.

If christianity is not contingent, which seems to be the preferred position of christian theists, then either the Garden of Eden event was staged and the "Fall of Man" was a known outcome right from the start, which could have been prevented but wasn't (thus making the god of christian theists responsible for the event, since that god is so much more powerful and knowledgeable than its creations), or the god knew that there was "sin" built into humanity that would eventually require the uncomfortable execution event (which again could have been prevented, but wasn't, thus the god of the theists is responsible for the "sin" that is built into humanity is).

Personally, I so see christianity as contingent, even within the christian theist's paradigm.  Assuming Adam and Eve existed and had free-will, they could have chosen to ignore the serpent.  Assuming an old universe creation, events could have been different, due to small decisions anywhere in our history, such that the Jesus character never existed (or was never invented), or Paul could have decided to go to the pub for a few refreshing ales rather than head to Damascus the day that he fell over and had his vision.

This sort of contingency is transferrable to other Abrahamic, if not all religions.


When I initially floated this argument (which I admit only hints at the problem), the primary defence seemed to be a total misunderstanding of what "contingent" means.   There was some variation in the lack of comprehension though, which was nice.  I took it to be a sign that some of the WLC fan-club were thinking for themselves rather than just following the party line.

The point that I was trying to make with this argument was that if the universe itself is contingent (per WLC), how could anything within the universe be fundamentally necessary?  If something in the universe is fundamentally necessary, then the universe itself would be necessary - so long as it's also essential to that universe and/or being in the universe is part of the inherent nature of that thing.

That might take some explaining.  Say we have a thing "P in a bucket", say that this "P in a bucket" is necessary, there is no world in which there is no "P in a bucket".  It would therefore follow that there is no world in which there is no bucket just as much as there is no world in which there is no P – because in any world that exists, there would be P and that P would be in a bucket.

The question that could be raised is whether, given our universe, is X necessary (is X like "P in a bucket" or is X like a different type of P, P that may be in the bucket, but might easily be somewhere else, like in a can, or lying on the floor)?  Note that X can be "something", "anything" or "a specific thing", like christianity for example.

The necessity or otherwise of X, given my caveat above (“given our universe”), would depend on the nature of the universe, would it not?  And what is responsible for the nature of the universe?  In a sense, what the objections to the argument revolved around was what could be called “the contingency of necessity”, because the theist’s god apparently gets to choose what is and what is not necessary.

On the grand scale, what that means is that what some theists consider as "necessary" is, in fact, contingent.  Unless, of course, their god is not omnipotent.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Statistical Argument for the Non-Existence of a God

Here’s a simple statistical argument as to why any given theist’s god probably doesn't exist.  The argument is possibly a variation on the problem of evil, but it's combined with the divine hiddenness issue and the inefficacy of prayer.

Let's suppose that theism was true and that scriptural instructions were true, but only applicable to those who are saved.  Let's further suppose that there is some necessary evil in the world, for whatever reasons a theist might posit and that suffering includes a certain number of children not being born (due to infertility, illness that kills a youth before being able to breed, death of children during childbirth and possibly even some number of abortions).  Say also that a theist takes the instruction from her god literally and "goes forth and multiplies", but not so literally as to become a mathematician.  Say also that non-theists don't have such an imposition and they therefore have fewer children than theists (this seems to be statistically accurate, given than christians have 2.2 children on average,atheists have 1.6).

What efficacy of prayer would we need for there to be a significant effect on populations?

I did a little spreadsheet on this, with the following assumptions:

Theists have 4.4 children per family (matching the average of 2.2 children per christian)
Atheists have 3.2 children per family (matching the average of 1.6 children per atheist
Start with a population of 100,000 evenly divided between theists and atheists
A generation is 25 years
Average lifespan is 75 years
The base probability of making it to maturity (and producing children) is 30%
A millennium is a good period to check out

Note that I assume a rather low base probability of making it to maturity to take into account wars, plagues and so on, and I picked that figure because if I go too far above that, the population after a mere 1000 years is ridiculous.  Note also that I am assuming no transfer from the atheist ranks to the theist ranks and vice versa.  I’m simplifying things by assuming even numbers of males and females make it to breeding age and assuming that all those who can couple up do so thus ignoring the possibility of non-breeding couples.

I'm aware that the 2.2 and 1.6 figures could possibly be per family, but I am thinking of pre-modern societies, like the ones that we have lived in for the vast majority of human history.  In the past, and even today in the third world, parents have more children as a sort of insurance policy against all the vectors of death pointing at them.  We need also to remember that the theist's god has told them to go forth and multiply, not to go forth and maintain something that is slightly above a steady population.

So, what was the outcome?  After 1000 years, there are a little over 5000 atheists and 1.5 billion theists if prayer is totally ineffective.  The atheists are, in fact, on their way to extinction – they do linger for a quite a while though, only disappearing entirely around Year 3600).  Note that this is assuming that prayer is totally ineffective, that theists are only benefitting from a tendency to produce more children.  If we introduce a very minor efficacy of prayer, making it so that 31% of children grow up to be parents, then after 1000 years, there’ll be 5.7 billion theists.  If we say that prayer is 25% effective, saving a quarter of the children who would otherwise have died, then there’d be 142 million billion theists compared to the 5000 atheists.

We can fiddle with the numbers in other ways.  We could assume, for example that all families, theist or atheist, had the same average number of children.  Let’s take the median, at 3.8.  If prayer is totally ineffective, then the numbers of atheists and theists will remain about equal – after 1000 years, there’ll be almost 5 million of each.  So, what happens if we make prayer effective in a minor way (30%->31%)?  After 1000 years, there will be 3.7 times more theists than atheists.  And if prayer is 25% effective (30%->48%), then there’ll be 647 thousand billion theists compared to the 5 million atheists, or 13.8 million times more theists than atheists.

There is, therefore, a very low-key way for a good god to not get too involved, still maintain plausible deniability (so as to remain hidden), not making prayer appear too effective (again perhaps to remain hidden) and still effectively wipe out the atheists over an extended period.  All the god needs to do is demotivate the atheists from breeding, decrease the base rate of survival to breeding age and bump up the effectiveness of prayer (from the current rate of 0%).  Note that I am not suggesting that theists want atheists to be effectively wiped out, but if atheists are going to suffer for eternity, then a good god would have some motivation for minimising the number of atheists.  For example, in the original scenario with prayer being very slightly effective, over the 1000 years, there be about 15 billion theists and only 370 thousand atheists, quite a good ratio of eternally saved to eternally damned at 41,500:1.)

Of course, this is just a simple model.  A good god could also touch some of the atheists to shift the balance.  Say that in each generation, there was a one-way defection rate of 10%.  That results not only in almost total eradication of atheists, who are now down to only 54 after 1000 years, but a quintupling the number of theists, to 7.25 billion, and a saved to damned ratio of more than 125,000:1 over the period!  Make prayer 25% effective and that ratio goes to 2,190,000,000,000:1.

So, why does the theist’s god not do something like this?  Such a small effort could make a huge difference.  The theist could fiddle with the figures to make it less impressive, if they liked, but remember that their god is apparently in control, so it can choose to make the results even better than I have suggested.  But it doesn't, which is a very real problem for a world view that contains a god that is supposed to be even slightly good, slightly powerful and has the vaguest clue about what is going on in this universe.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Obligations of Non-Believers

Here’s an interesting quotation from WLC:

I think non-believers are absolutely obligated to take the Lord’s Supper and to tithe and so forth mainly because they are morally obligated to become Christians and so to do the things that God commands Christians to do.

This is scary stuff for anyone who is opposed to the idea of a theocracy.  I guess it won’t register as such for anyone who is a christian, but imagine the righteous furore from the favourite websites of islamophobes around the world (and those of the alt-right, the slightly more right-wing outlets such as Daily Stormer) if the scenario were slightly different.  Imagine an imam blithely saying something similar about how non-muslims are “absolutely obligated” to fall in line with islamic traditions and so on because everyone is “morally obligated to become Muslim and do what Allah commands”.

I wondered if the context made the comment more benign than it appears.  Here's that context (from a Reasonable Faith podcast):

KEVIN HARRIS: <snip> Skipping down to the last paragraph, Howe argued that there is a difference between biblical morality and a broader morality — though for Christians, observing the Lord’s Supper is important, non-believers are not obligated to follow such rituals.

DR. CRAIG: I disagree with that!


DR. CRAIG: I think non-believers are absolutely obligated to take the Lord’s Supper and to tithe and so forth mainly because they are morally obligated to become Christians and so to do the things that God commands Christians to do. They are disobedient in refusing to worship and submit to God as he calls us to do. It is not as though they are exempt from these moral duties and that these are laid solely upon Christians. These are moral duties that every human being has as a creature of God – to worship God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and so to carry out the obligations that God puts upon worshipers.

KEVIN HARRIS: Chase that just a little bit, Bill. We often hear from our atheist friends, skeptical writers, that faith doesn’t have a moral component to it. Faith in God – whether you believe in God or not – is not a moral thing. It is just a difference of opinion or something like that.

DR. CRAIG: I think that is profoundly wrong. I think that we have a moral obligation to believe in God. The first and greatest commandment that I just quoted is that we worship God with our whole being. Atheists are fundamentally in rebellion against God and are doing something that is deeply immoral that separates them from God and leaves them under his condemnation and wrath.

KEVIN HARRIS: Another thing that I would look at, if he is going to talk about what biblical morality is, what Christians would do to be moral and what a non-Christian would do (and you would disagree with that rightly), it brings up the issue suppose you encountered someone who was engaged in homosexual behavior. The temptation it seems in what we see today (particularly from Christians) is how they ought not do that, how it is wrong, how the Bible says it is wrong when if that person is not a Christian they are going to say I’m not going to follow your Bible. From that standpoint, telling them what Romans says or what Leviticus says would just fall on deaf ears. You are putting your biblical morality on me. In a sense they would be right, wouldn’t they? The issue is – your sexuality aside for a moment – what is your relationship with God? What is your relationship to Christ? That is what we should go to rather than be side-tracked on what a person is doing.

DR. CRAIG: I think that is true as evangelistic strategy that we ought to win people to Christ so that their lives would be transformed by Christ so that they can then avoid temptation and avoid sin rather than requiring them to reform their lives first and then come to Christ. But nevertheless, the truth is that insofar as they do these things as non-Christians they definitely are sinning. They are in rebellion against God. One has only to read the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans to realize that there is a whole litany of behaviors that are rampant among non-Christians which are noxious to God.  Paul says those who do such things deserve to die. They fall under God’s retributive justice and are justly condemned for doing those things. Of course, you and I are in there with them in that mass of sin. But one has fled to Christ for mercy and grace and pardon and cleansing. That is what the non-believer needs to do, too.

KEVIN HARRIS: Come as you are and then let God take care of all these things.


Nope, not any better in context.  Not at all.  WLC is implying here is that people disobeying Paul deserve to die, unless they have “fled to Christ”.  And this could easily be interpreted as “if you’re not a christian, you deserve to die”.  It's lucky that we don't have violent, fundamentalist christians out there ready to put WLC's and Paul's words into action, isn't it?

And yes, I do notice that WLC prefaces all of his multisyllabic statements with an indicator of opinion (“I disagree”, “I think”), but I think this is no more than an intellectual fig-leaf.  But I guess that’s just my opinion.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Problem with the FTA

Well, it's a problem.  There are other problems, and the problem I am about to describe might not even be the biggest problem that the fine-tuning argument has.  But it's snappy title for a post.  (Oh, and I mean the Fine Tuning Argument not the Free Trade Agreement ...)

When people like Luke Barnes go on and on about all the limitations on physics and cosmology that you'd be faced with if you were building a universe from scratch in order to ensure that (intelligent) life existed in it, they eventually reach a point in which their expertise is no longer relevant to the argument.  Basically, if we were wondering about the magnitude of the design problem, trying to come up with a figure that describes how unlikely it would be that a life permitting universe would be the result if we just threw the "randomise" switch, then Barnes has something to bring to the table.  But once we've arrived at a figure, say that there's only one chance in 10^240 that a universe like ours would result, then Barnes' training in astrophysics is no longer relevant, he's still a smart guy, but he can't wave his doctorate around anymore and pretend that it means anything.

In brief, what Barnes can do is help us focus in on whether the universe as it is unlikely, very unlikely or very very freaking unlikely.  He argues for something in the region of very very freaking unlikely.

Now, here's the problem.

To try to explain it, I am going to use an analogy.  It's not a perfect analogy and certain elements of it aren't strictly relevant, they are just there as part of the narrative to help explain the key point.


Say you are given an urn.  In the urn you see there is a little pork sausage.  This means that you have in your hands an LSU or an LPU, Little pork Sausage Urn or Little Pork sausage Urn, depending on your point of view.  These acronyms might seem completely arbitrary to some readers, but they’re not.  LSU and LPU are common acronyms in the discussion of fine-tuning and mean “life supporting (or sustaining) universe” and “life-permitting universe”.  The latter seems more common, perhaps because LSU is also used by Louisiana State University.  Let’s avoid confusion and talk about the Little Pork sausage Urn.

What is the probability that you have, in your hands, an LPU?  You could think about all the things that could possibly be in the urn: a balls, a sock, a small beaver, a cat, an alarm clock, a stone, the list of potential items is literally endless (using "literally" in sense of "not literally").  Thinking of it that way, you could say it's one in a bazillion, or one in 2 gazillion, or something like that.

However, you have already looked in the urn, you know there was a little pork sausage in there, so you've got very good reason to believe that there's a one in one chance that you are holding an LPU.

Alternatively, you could be led into a warehouse containing bazillions or gazillions of urns.  At random (problems with the term "random"aside), you select an urn.  What are the chances that the urn you selected contains a little pork sausage?  We don't know, do we?  The warehouse might specialise in producing urns with sausages in them, urns with pork sausages in them, urns with pork products in them, urns with nothing in them, urns with something random in them, or who the hell knows what.  To match the FTA, we have to specify that some relatively small number of urns must contain little pork sausages (so that LPUs are possible).

Ok, so we have two scenarios.  One in which we are holding an urn with a pork sausage in it and the other in which we are in a warehouse and know that there are pork sausages in one or more of a very large number of urns, but we don't know which.

Which is the scenario in which we find ourselves, with regard to the FTA?

It must be that we are holding the urn, because we cannot be in a scenario in which an LPU (now talking about a life-permitting universe) is not available to us because we are alive).

Here is the problem:  The FTA is always argued as if we are in the warehouse and there is a possibility that we don't have an LPU available to us.  It doesn't matter if the urn we are holding with a little pork sausage in it is the only such urn in the whole history of the universe (past and future) or how unlikely it is that we happen to have it in our hands.  Without it, we are in a completely different scenario, in which we have no LPU and, switching seamlessly from analogy to the thesis of the FTA, if there were no LPU, we would not exist.

No amount of jiggering with the numbers will affect that brute fact.  So the involvement of people like Luke Barnes in the promotion of the FTA is, at the end of the day, without any real value.


That's not to say that the involvement of Barnes is without rhetorical value, or value for anyone wanting to make a fallacious appeal to authority.  But that's about tricking you into believing that the argument has merit, not about showing that you that argument has merit.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

On Intelligent Design and Penguins

Note: this has nothing to do with the Absence of Meaning.


I noticed, at one point during my stay in Craig-Land, that there had been quite a few threads on intelligent design (ID).  Oddly enough, all had all been generated by theists, so I thought I'd shake things up a little by having a non-theist start up a thread on the topic.

As said, there were already a few threads: one on ID and complexity, one on ID and simplicity becoming complexity, one on the trouble with Darwin, one containing challenge to debate formally on the topic of design (with a focus on "design" as implying something other than necessity), one on ID and the watch and a stupid question (those were the theist’s words, not mine).

The examples brought up as evidence of design in these various threads included: the eye, the cardiovascular system, DNA, the flagellum, sandcastles and teeth.  There seems to be a set pf specific staple examples that are brought up again and again in arguments for design - and even when a new item is brought up, such as teeth, which I don't recall being raised before, the shape of the argument always seems rather similar to all other versions: "this is a complex thing that appears to be useful only when fully constructed with no intermediate steps that I can identify, therefore design".  (Here's something on the evolution of teeth, so perhaps it's not such a new argument after all.)

What I wondered about was why the range of topics seemed (and continues to seem) so limited.  About that time, I had watched March of the Penguins (as narrated by god) and it occurred to me that there was an opportunity here for creationists (oops, I mean proponents of Intelligent Design [IDiots]) to argue for design via emperor penguins.  Think about it for a moment.

These birds mate and rear their young during winter in Antarctica.  To get to where they are going, they have to walk (despite being, primarily, aquatic birds that swim rather than flying) a very long distance.  When they have successfully navigated their way to their breeding ground, across largely featureless terrain, they have to survive the terrible cold of an Antarctic winter, without eating, for months on end.  When an egg is laid, it cannot touch the ice for more than the briefest moment or the chick within will die.  The penguin’s feet, therefore, must be able to not only withstand the cold of standing directly on ice and snow (for months!) but also to keep the egg warm.  The penguins must be able to transfer the egg from the mother's feet to the father's feet with sufficiently high probability of success that enough eggs survive to ensure that the next generation of penguins is viable.

All of these must line up.  The parents must have the capacity to store enough fat to last the winter, their feathers must be good enough insulation to allow the birds to survive the long dark, their feet must be able to withstand ice below, they must be able to travel 100km across a difficult land surface (despite being flightless, aquatic birds) and so on and so on.

Why is the amazing story of the emperor penguin almost never used to argue for intelligent design?  (Although, of course the story is occasionally used, as indicated in the wikipedia article on the film.)

Maybe because the habitation range of penguins, as a mirror image of that of creationists, is almost exclusively restricted to the Southern Hemisphere*?  (The exception there is the Galapagos penguin, and even then we’re only talking about those on the northernmost 20km of Isla Isabela, an island which is about 130km long north to south.  Occasionally there is a mix-up in the penguin version of GPS and some poor penguin ends up in the wrong hemisphere.)  The vast majority of creationists have never seen a penguin in the wild, not even the rare Australian ones like Ken Ham (from Queensland).  The few examples from New Zealand, like the Bananaman Ray Comfort, are likely to have seen them though.


* This is a bit of an exaggeration.  While Australia and New Zealand are not quite as heathen as, say, Sweden, they are at about the level of secularisation of France (slightly less heathen than the UK).  Other nations in the Southern Hemisphere however are significantly more religious (South Africa [more religious than the US], Chile and Argentina [about as religious as the US]) and are more likely to fall prey to creationism.  It’s odd that Australia and New Zealand should have produced so many creationists – and spawned not one, not two but three creationist behemoths (Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International from Australia and Living Waters/The Way of the Master from New Zealand [link there is actually to The Way of the Mister, from Mr Deity]).

Monday, 16 October 2017

The How Many Problem

The How Many Problem can be expressed like this:

How many individuals does god need (or want) to save?  How many sentient beings are justifiably cast into hell in order to achieve this goal?

I'll just clarify a few things:

It is standard christian theology that the god wants to save individuals, without this the sacrifice of Jesus would be meaningless.  Even in judaism  and islam you have the concept of prophets who are instructed by their god to pass on a message of salvation to the faithful.

The actual method of salvation is immaterial.  It could be via simple belief, rebirth baptism, grace or "coming to know and love god".  Whatever the mechanism, which could be far more subtle and complex than the examples given, this doesn't change the requirement to save individuals.

The nature of salvation is immaterial.  It could be floating around on clouds with a harp, it could be bodily resurrection, it could be something more ethereal, just not being hell or, again, something more subtle and complex than these.  What matters is that this salvation is apparently important - to the god.

We know that one individual saved does not appear to be sufficient - Adam and Eve could have sufficed, Jesus could have sufficed, Jesus' acolytes could have sufficed, thousands of early christians could have sufficed.  Even today, with billions of christians, there is still an apparent need to seek more converts (and presumably more saved).

The god in question is apparently omniscient and omnipotent and, in some readings, unchanging in its nature.  Therefore, the idea that anything is served by having billions upon billions of imperfect humans interacting with it is problematic.  Nevertheless, this is an aspect of the christian creed.  The question remains - how many is enough, what figure does the thinking theist settle on and why is this large number (at least in the billions) better than the number that immediately follows it?

The nature of hell is immaterial (as in it doesn’t matter what the nature is, I am not claiming here that hell has a particular nature).  Perhaps it is all fire and brimstone, perhaps it is a long cold dark time spent away from god, perhaps it's just like this earth with all the joy and happiness sucked out of it - forever - or perhaps it is something more subtle and complex than that.  The point I am alluding to here is that those sentient beings who are not saved are apparently destined for some sort of hell (and not simple oblivion) and they will suffer there, at least for some longish period of time if not literally for a future eternity.  This is an ultimate problem of evil that is not solved by appealing to the greater good of saving some maximal number of souls, because the souls in hell are already damned.

The theist, to respond to this problem must identify a number, or a possible mechanism for setting a number, of individuals to be saved.

If this cannot be done, then the conclusion is that the god would need (or want) an infinite number of saved individuals.  It would further follow that, with any percentage failure rate higher than zero as the god churns through the souls in attempt to save them, there would be an infinite number of damned individuals.

To avoid that, we arrive at theological zombies.  But theological zombies bring their own problems (deception on the part of god, an emptiness on the part of the soul in the process of being saved in a universe otherwise inhabited by theological zombies, the level of imperfection of the soul in the process of being saved if this world is the best possible world in which it would be saved).

So, again, I ask the question: how many?

Monday, 9 October 2017

Arguing for God as Utility Monster

A couple of people have objected that the god as utility monster concept relies on the notion that a god would want to maximise the number of saved souls.

Now, this isn't my notion.  It's WLC's notion (for example, when arguing against Stephen Law (see the First Rebuttal).  WLC defends against Stephen Law's version of the Problem of Evil (using the Evil God concept) by saying:

Maybe only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the maximum number of people come to freely know God and find eternal life.

That said, it isn't a good idea to rely on WLC to support my argument when it leads to the non-existence of god.  He might find some new evidence that invalidates his position and thus be forced to abandon it.  So, I'd like to independently support the contention that a god would want to maximise the number of saved souls.

Now, I don't mean only that god's happiness would be paramount and suck dry the font of happiness that would otherwise be available to the rest of us - which is true enough, but also that even vague inclinations on the part of an eternal, all-encompassing, all-powerful being like WLC's god would translate into absolutes.

Here are my assumptions:

(1) the god in question is thoroughly good
(2) from (1), anything that the god wants is thoroughly good
(3) the god wants more than one person to be saved (otherwise Adam could have sufficed)
(4) the god wants more than one person of each gender to be saved (otherwise Adam and Eve could have sufficed)
(5) there is no magic number between 1 and infinity, N, that is inherently better than all numbers higher than it, such that N good things are better than N+1 good things
(6) thoroughly good things cannot be saturated (meaning that "good in moderation" is not a term that one could reasonably apply to the god's wishes - if N+1 good things are no longer good, then they are not thoroughly good and a person trying to argue this point would be left trying to determine the value of N and attempting to defeat (5))
(7) therefore, there is no limit to the number of people that "should" be saved and made available to know and freely worship the god posthumously

To defeat this argument (at least in my opinion), the theist would have to:

A. Posit a limitation to the number of saveable souls that her god can create - therefore admitting that god is not omnipotent
B. Posit a value of N and provide a supporting argument as to why N+1 is less good than N
C. Argue that the god can want things that are not thoroughly good - therefore admitting that the god is not omnibenevolent
D. Argue that the god wants something other than saved souls and churning through humans, saving the souls of some and damning others is a mere side-effect that the god doesn't care about - thereby admitting that the god is not omnibenevolent

If there is a watertight argument that defeats this notion of "god as utility monster", then theological zombies do not follow.  But, at the moment, I don't see one that doesn't throw out the notion of the theist’s god in the process (or rely on a blatant appeal to ignorance, as is likely for an attempt to defeat via option B above).