Wednesday, 29 November 2017

SSMD Down Under



There is one English speaking nation in the OECD which has not (yet) legalised same-sex marriage, at all.  (I use the term nation to include the UK, which is a union of four countries, of which one has not legalised same sex marriage.)  In that nation, Australia, there has been a protracted debate, or discussion (the SSMD of the title) and, most recently, a voluntary, non-binding postal survey on whether or not the law should be changed to permit same-sex marriage (SSM).

This was quite odd because the primary argument against legalising SSM seemed to be fundamentally religious – it’s just not the way things should be.  The old chestnut – “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” – encapsulates the notion.  But of the English speaking OECD nations, Australia is the second least religious (after the UK).  So, perhaps it wasn't a religious thing after all.

However, the Australian parliament seems to have a high proportion of god botherers and dyed-in-the-wool conservatives than the average population and some of them were getting desperate in their attempts to stave off the inevitable (polls consistently indicated that majority of Australians, and the vast majority of younger Australians, are in favour of legalising SSM).

For example, one member – Senator Paterson, was the front man for a bill that would legalise SSM, but would enshrine protections for religious freedom.  It seemed like Australia might well be heading towards its own version of the gay wedding cake debacle, depending on how you interpret the right of people to “refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding”.

Oddly enough, I find myself in the position of partially agreeing with the idea of protecting the freedoms of people with religious belief.  I am very much opposed to the idea that a priest should be forced to conduct a same-sex wedding against his convictions (I’m going with the percentages here and making the priest a “he”).  If religious people object to a same-sex wedding being conducted in their church, then those people should be able to shop around for a priest or pastor who shares their prejudices.  If a religious person doesn’t want to attend a homosexual marriage ceremony, then nobody should be forcing them to attend.

I find it a little odd that homosexual people (men in particular) would want to get married by an organisation that is guided by a book in which it is clearly stated that men who lie with men should be put to death.  But if a particular church is going gloss over that minor detail and put their god’s seal of approval on an SSM, then I suppose that’s fine.  And if a deeply (or indeed shallowly) religious person doesn’t want to attend a homosexual marriage ceremony, then nobody should be forcing them to attend.  (Were I planning to get married, I would prefer not to have people there who want to kill me.  It’d rather put a damper on things.)

But outside of that, it starts getting a little more complicated.  Should an artisan be required to produce a work of art celebrating an event that they have religious objections to, if asked to?  Should a more mundane craftsperson (like a baker) be required to produce some product for such an event?  Should the owner of an events locale be required to host the reception of newly wed homosexuals, despite religious misgivings?

Probably no.

I don’t agree that people necessarily should be stupid enough to believe that there’s some sort of god who was the ghost writer of a poorly-written instruction manual that is, in parts, thoroughly homophobic, but the fact is that we still have such people in our world.

My suggested solution is quite simple.  Private organisations should be permitted to discriminate when offering services for payment.  But only if they make it perfectly clear that this is their policy, including in any and all marketing they conduct.  If they don’t make it clear or make it insufficiently clear that they are prejudiced, then they must accept all comers.  And if their objections are religious, then they should have the courage of their convictions and be consistent in their prejudice.

So, for example, a reception hall who are discriminating on the basis of their religion would be required to have a prominent sign outside saying that they don’t permit receptions for anyone who has broken the laws of their god.  So no receptions for homosexuals, no receptions for brides who are not virgins, no receptions for people who work on the sabbath, no receptions for people who wear clothes of mixed fabric.

If a baker was discriminating on the basis of his conservatism, the same would apply, although the sign (and associated marketing) would probably have to make clear the full range of his prejudices: no homosexuals, no mixed-race unions, no drifters, no Irish, no atheists, no muslims, no gypsies and no jews.

Sometimes it will just be a single issue, non-affiliated prejudice.  But if a provider of products or service wants to systematically discriminate, why not let them – so long as they clearly indicate that they are carrying out that discrimination?

The result should be that the significant percentage of us who are not so prejudiced would then know where to not spend our money and whose weddings to not attend (because they are holding their reception at the Fifth Reich Resort which clearly advertises its “whites only” policy).  If the more reasonable among us are indeed in the majority, then market forces will come into play and the prejudiced will be dealt with via a form of economic Darwinism.  If we are not, then we need to do some more work and should not be resting on our laurels.

Barely hidden prejudice is, after all, still prejudice.

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Note: I am not being entirely serious here.  A little bit, but not entirely.  If the powers that be in Australia are going to permit discrimination against anyone on religious grounds, then I do believe that those who intend to take advantage of it should be willing to pay the price of being open about their prejudice.  And I reckon that they should be consistent, even if that were to mean that in future my atheism might exclude me from enjoying the fruits of certain bakeries … but consistency has never really been a strong point with the average religious bigot. 

Note also that the wording of a store's prejudiced objection should still be respectful, I am not suggesting a return to days when shops hung out signs blandly saying "No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs".  Perhaps something more honest like:

"The proprietor of this store is legally airing his prejudices in accordance with the Bigoted Bastard Act (BBA 2017) and wishes all patrons to be aware that he is prejudiced against the following groups of people: [strike out all not applicable]

Women/Men/Children/Teenagers/Old People/Single People/Married People/People Living Together in Sin/Heterosexuals/Homosexuals/Metrosexuals/Whites/Blacks/Asians/Orientals/Hispanics/Indigenous/Canadians/Red Necks/Intellectuals/Geeks/Jocks/Feminists/Manpriders/Liberals/Conservatives/Football Fans/Hockey Fans/Soccer Fans/Baseball Fans/Star Wars Fans/Grammar Nazis/Plain Old Nazis/Conspiracy Nuts/Others (as listed below)

Furthermore, this prejudice will take the form of [strike out all not applicable]: No Soup For You/No Drink For You/No Cake For You/No Food For You/No Accounting For You/Other (as listed below)"

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I wrote this a week or so ago, and have thought further on the risks of forcing an artisan to create a piece of art against his or her religious beliefs.  I suspect the artist was not forced to take on this commission, but the artwork below hints at some sort of disagreement about the values involved:




The statue was commissioned for a Catholic school with some, ahem, shall we say "history".  Amusingly, the statue is now covered - with the child still in there, snuggled up to the saint's loaf, but now hidden under the cassock (well, it looks more like a burka than a cassock, but hopefully the allusion isn't entirely lost).

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?

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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.

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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).

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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".

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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)

Contingency

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.

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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.