Sunday, September 14, 2014

Response to Facebook Conversation

Just a few points that I really want to clear up.  I've edited the list down extremely and these are the most important things, I think.
"Unfortunately it seems to be impossible, either by intelligent design or evolution, to eliminate the possibility of evil choices."  
Please show your work.  Since you have exactly one (1) observable reality from which to draw your inferences and nothing to compare it to.  I'm curious as to how you came to this conclusion.  Also, and I know I've harped on this point, but Intelligent Design only suffers from that problem if the designer is not omnipotent.  An omnipotent designer would not be preventable from creating such a reality by definition, regardless of the way that things seem to be in the reality we're in.
'By definition "free will" includes the ability to want to do anything.'  
I think that you're right, that I focused a little too much on one particular part of the argument.  However, I think the spirit of my contention was still right as you are defining Free Will in a way which is not consistent with the evidence; that is, that Free Will it is not limited or influenced by anything.  This is patently false and I don't see how you could justify it.  At the very least, you have to concede that our capacity for choice is limited by our physical brains, as well as whatever physical laws happen to exist within this Universe.  I think that I can clear up one of the big sticking points between us.  In the example which I give for a Universe in which humans can not harm one another, I am referring to a different set of 'physical laws' in which this would be the case.  I hope that resolves the conflict.
"This is honestly why I have such a hard time continuing these discussions with you. You have the ability to key on a tiny part of the discussion, ignoring completely the discussion as a whole, and try to say that because I poorly worded one statement the entire discussion we just had is moot."
It appeared to me that the statement that I was focusing on was far too important and that the rest of your argument couldn't be addressed until it was clarified.    I apologize for not pointing it out right away, but that certainly does not make the point any less valid.
"No, as we have discussed over and over again the ability of humans to choose is not limited by logic, physical laws, or ability to accomplish the choice."
You asserted it, but you did not demonstrate it, and as a ludicrous claim I expect at least 'extraordinary' evidence for it.

Since it came up several times, let's take a second to talk about evidence.

Since the current scientific understanding is that the brain draws on the finite amount of information compiled over an individual's life (to date, of course) in order to make what appears to be a 'free' decision, I can already account for the idea that we have finite choice capability without appealing to anything which hasn't already been demonstrated sufficiently.  Furthermore, I can easily provide mountains of evidence to support this.

"If God limited our choices then the definition "free of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention" would not apply."

Since you cherry-picked one definition out of 4 which happens to contain the caviat that supports your argument, I don't accept that that is the best and most accurate defintion of Free Will, especially considering the fact that we wouldn't be able to determine the difference if it were influenced by a divine being.  Within the confines of the reality which I've defined, the humans of that reality would be capable of making every possible choice, just as we are.  It's just that those possibilities would be different.

"My claim is tested constantly, every day. ....... My proof are the real choices made trillions of times a minute."

Actually...  it isn't.  It's never been tested.  Those don't actually prove the claim that we can choose literally anything, nor are they inconsistent with the notion that Free Will may be an illusion (again, not claiming that it is, just that it's one of the possibilities).  These kinds of observations would only ever demonstrate the specific choices that people are capable of making.  By way of analogy, it is true that the 'Sun Rises' each and every day, and it would be correct to assume that this is likely to continue; however it would not follow that this must then continue into perpetuity.  As it turns out, it won't, even though it might appear that it potentially could based on all of the past observations of sunrises, especially if you are ignoring all of the other evidence which bears on this, such as orbital mechanics, gravitational attraction, nuclear forces, etc.

"I will turn your own requirement of proof back on you. Prove to me that our ability to choose is finite by giving me an example of something we can't conceive of."

The burden of proof does not shift from the claimant, no matter how badly they need it to.

However, even though I do not bear the burden of proof, it just so happens that I do have the example that you're looking for.  This is exactly why I brought up Graham's Number to begin with.  We know that it has to be a real number (because Math), but we cannot even conceive the number of digits in the number.  It doesn't matter that we can assign it a character or placeholder, it remains true that there is a real number which we cannot possibly conceive, and it is exactly because of physical limitations.

I asked "How have you confirmed that our conceivable options aren't finite since, by definition, we wouldn't know it?"  Your response was "And we are getting completely bogged down in minutia here."   I don't think that was very fair since my whole point was that you were claiming something which you can't even know, much less assert.

Freedom of choice is perfectly fine without resorting to some crazy appeal to infinity.  It's that crazy (as in unjustified, extraordinary) appeal to infinty that I have a problem with, not the freedom of choice part.

"And your ignoring the fact that you do not, in fact, have all the facts and are proposing a scenario that is illogical and based on the ignorance of not knowing all that God knows."

I can only make determinations based on the information that I have available.  If I had to wait until I had literally 'all of the facts' before making a determination, I could never even decide to go to the bathroom.  I can only make determinations about 'Gods' based on the descriptions which believers in said 'Gods' have given me, or what I have read myself in the holy books which these mutually exclusive 'Gods' have allegedly inspired.  Please forgive me for basing all of my beliefs on the information that I have available.  What do you propose as a better solution?

"Limitless means beyond yours or my ability to comprehend."

If it does mean just that, then using such a defined God to explain anything is impossible, because you yourself cannot possibly construct an argument based on what 'God' can or cannot do.  Nor could you ever truly accept intelligent design, since you can't know if the proposed 'God' is even capable of such a thing.  Any claims about what the proposed 'God' has done, or could ever do, or wants, or needs, or hates, would be eternally without merit, regardlesss of the content.  For consistency's sake, you would have to withold any and all belief which relates to such a defined 'God', and since you can never hope to understand it (by definition), then you could never move beyond a position of non-acceptance, which is where I happen to be currently sitting.

"And of course you are judging His decisions"

I don't think my argument can be considered a 'judgement' on anyone's decisions except for yours (since it is literally just the non-acceptance of your claim), but even if I had - So what if I judge the decisions of what I perceive to be a fictional character?  Being consistent, I also negatively judge the decision of Emperor Palpatine to give Luke Skywalker a Convert or Die "choice".  It has nothing to do with the discussion, but I'll gladly 'own up' to that.

"Yet on this subject such proof, either way, does not exist. And I could tell you the same thing about your claim regarding free will."

... but my 'claim' regarding 'Free Will' is that your version of 'Free Will' has not been demonstrated as accurate, and that, perhaps more importantly, there is evidence which falsifies it.  Unless you are willing to actually learn what Science has discovered about the nature of our ability to make decisions, I doubt that I can never 'convince you' of anything different.  Again, I just said that I don't accept your claim, I did not make a claim of my own.  This wasn't a situation of 'No evidence for either side', it's a situation of 'Your assertion's burden of proof has not been met'.

As further justification for why I don't accept this - Asserting as truth something whose truth value cannot even be determined is patently dishonest, and in Advertising would be considered legally fraudulent.  Perhaps you will consider this the next time you are so incredulous about my skepticism.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Atheist / Christian T-Shirt Challenge - Given by The Atheist Advocate

I recently shared a link to a great little article by The Atheist Advocate on in which Christians are challenged to wear an Atheist t-shirt for one week, in order to learn about what persecution means, due to the apparent misunderstanding which is often spread by Christians.

Pretty good idea, no?

Now, I know that '____ Challenge' is currently extremely cliche, but would a good name for this be 'Persecution Challenge'?  Too emotive maybe?

I may have found a taker, and I think it would be a really great experience, probably for both of us.  You see, she's a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

I would be required to wear a Mormon t-shirt for one week, while she would be required to wear an Atheist t-shirt during the same time.  

If we both agree on this, how should we document everything?  I'm thinking that a livestreamed Skype chat would be a great way to hammer out the overall rules, and maybe another livestream at the end of the experiment to talk about our experience.  Maybe a quick daily post to Facebook with any interesting events of the day?

For me, I think it's a great opportunity to step in the shoes of someone who belongs to a largely ignored, if not outright decried, religious faction.  I don't know too terribly much about Mormonism, however the rules laid out by The Atheist Advocate take this into account - if asked anything, I can simply respond 'I don't really want to talk about it right now.'  The important thing is to watch people's reactions, observe their behavior in my presence, and see if they treat me differently just because of the shirt.

Now, if I still lived in my hometown in South Texas, I think this would be even more interesting still.  The Dallas / Forth Worth area is somewhat more progressive, but the vast majority of the people that I run into are still Christians.

What kinds of terms do you think we should discuss?  It has been suggested that we also each post a Facebook status update, presumably with a photo of the person wearing the shirt, declaring that we have embraced the respective religious stance.  Could be interesting, but for me at least I suspect that such a post would cause a good bit of ruckus which would require dealing with somehow.

Ideas, thoughts, or any other comments are very welcome!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Problem of Evil, Free Will, and God's Not Dead.

Just a quick addendum to my review of 'God's Not Dead', and also a comment about the current state of Apologetics.

The Problem of Evil, simply put, is the idea that an All-Powerful 'God' would be able to abolish evil and apparently has chosen not to do so. To many, this idea of a 'God' is evil itself. Imagine, if you will, a grown man raping a 2-year old toddler. Now imagine that an all-powerful bearded man in the sky is watching this unfold, yet doing nothing. For myself, I consider this being to be completely immoral. If it were a human watching this happen, with the power to stop it yet not doing so, we would never hesitate to call the person completely immoral. Why is it so different for a 'God'?

Well, according to the movie and to current Apologetics, the solution to the Problem of Evil is 'Free Will'. By abolishing evil in this world, such a being would be abrogating human 'Free Will'. This seems to make sense on the surface, but let's examine it for just a second.

First, would this abrogate 'Free Will' in the first place? If we had never been capable of harming one another intentionally, if murder, rape, and theft were NOT within 'human nature', would we have any 'less' 'Free Will'? I would argue that no, we absolutely would not. We would have different urges, but so what, because we don't currently have the urge to encompass a planet for the purpose of creating small amounts of red cheese, and I don't see that it has affected our ability to make 'Free' decisions, do you?

Secondly, I have to argue that we already DON'T HAVE FREE WILL, and never did. We are chemical machines which follow a complex set of rules which has been determined by a combination of our genetics, epigenetics, and our environment. When we make a 'decision', we are only peripherally aware of the factors which went into that decision, and we can't possibly take into account the factors which we aren't aware of, such as the influence of our genetics.

Third, and this point is pretty important, but if a Creator God created us with this version of 'Free Will', then such a being has ALREADY LIMITED IT. Certain people may claim that, by taking away our ability to rape one another, our 'Free Will' would be limited, but think of it this way: If we are Created, then that means that a Creator God consciously made the decision to create us exactly as we are. This means that, when faced with the decision whether or not to allow us to kill each other purely with the power of our own minds, this Creator God said, 'Naw, let's not.'. How is this any different from what I'm proposing, that such a God could easily have prevented everything that we consider to be 'evil'?

The short answer, of course, is it isn't any different. "Free Will" is NOT the solution to the Problem of Evil, because there isn't a solution to it. The Problem of Evil is always going to be a problem when people insist that there is an all-powerful, yet all-loving God out there. Sorry folks, but reality says otherwise.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Evolution: Theory, Law, or Fact?

Evolution is often decried as 'theoretical' because the term 'theory' is attached to it.  

Scientists use the word 'Theory' in a very different way than other people do.  It is much more similar to a mathematical 'Theorem' than it is to the traditional use of the word 'theory'.

Hopefully you remember high school geometry, but in case you don't, here is a refresher on the Pythagorean Theorem:

On any right triangle (a triangle with one 90 degree angle) the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, and this is reflected in the formula a² + b² = c².

No matter what, each and every right triangle abides by this theorem.  Every time it has been tested, it has given the correct result.  The theorem would be easily falsified (proven wrong) if a single right triangle was found that did not exhibit the dimensions predicted by the theorem.  Of course, this is entirely unlikely, if not impossible, so the formula has been added to the sum of human understanding and is considered a 'fact'.

While the definitions of 'Theory' and 'Theorem' are not identical, they are certainly more similar than the usage of 'theory' that Creationists like to use.  A brief Wikipedia search is all that is required for an outstanding definition of 'Theory' in the scientific sense:

"The word theory, when used by scientists, refers to an explanation of reality that has been thoroughly tested so that most scientists agree on it. It can be changed if new information is found. Theory is different from a working hypothesis, which is a theory that hasn't been fully tested; that is, a hypothesis is an unproven theory."

The following is a list of scientific theories which have been created and tested in exactly the same was that Evolution has.  Creationists, do you call these 'just theories' too?

Cell theory, germ theory, atomic theory, kinetic theory of gases, plate tectonics, acoustic theory, theory of relativity.

Bear in mind that ALL scientific theories must be supported by all of the available evidence, must be falsifiable, and be subject to repeatable experimentation.  Evolution has run the gauntlet just like every other accepted theory has, and it has passed every test.  

A theory can never 'graduate' to become a Law.  They are two different aspects of science and, while very similar, are used to describe different things.  A 'Law' is used to describe a specific action or phenomenon, whereas a 'Theory' is really just a proven hypothesis:  an explanation for observed events which is consistent with all of the available evidence.  Most of the time, a 'Theory' actually consists of many different observations and proofs.  In this case, Evolution is the observable fact, and the 'Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection' is what contains the best explanation for this fact.

... That all men are created equal.

"That all men are created equal."

I find this to be a fascinating sentence, don't you?

From the absolute beginning, the United States have built a country upon double-standards and racism.  The 'Founding Fathers' was a group of slave-owning white men who decided that they shouldn't have to abide by the laws and decisions handed down by a faceless tyrant from 3000 miles away because nobody asked them their opinion.  So what do they decide?  They decide to create a government where the only people who have any power are white male landowners, and they built this government on the rotting carcasses of the Indians, Blacks, and British who stood in their way.  What's worse is how they went about it - they made grand gestures and impassioned speeches about 'Freedom'.  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.."  The Declaration of Independence is drafted in order to try to justify the treason that was being committed (refusing to accept the rule of law from the Crown of England) by making the argument that 'all men are created equal'!  However, the MOMENT that Independence is won and the Founding Fathers begin to decide how they will run their new Government, the promises made in the Declaration of Independence are quietly and quickly forgotten.  They used Equal Rights as the 'Selling Point' for getting everyone on board for rebellion against the English Crown, and then once they won the Revolution, these same Equal Rights would be conveniently hidden under a stack of rocks.  You could almost say that the Declaration of Independence was the first 'Campaign Promise' made on American soil (and, therefore, the first to be broken).  The Constitution of the United States is then created as the structure and foundation of the newly born United States Government.

It is 2 years before any Americans are actually granted any of the 'rights' that the Declaration of Independence had promised 'All men are granted by their Creator' - apparently the 'self-evident' truths needed a little clarification, and it is decided that the brand spanking new Constitution already needs a little work - the first 10 Amendments are introduced and collectively called the 'Bill of Rights'.  I guess the 'Creator' which has the power to grant 'unalienable rights' must have been the United States Government. 

Apparently, the 'Powers' that are granted to the United States Government in the Constitution are so confusing and misunderstood, that the 10th Amendment has to be drafted and ratified, which LITERALLY declares that ANY power that the government has not been specifically granted, has not been specifically granted.  The Founding Fathers spend years and years discussing, deciding, and painstakingly specifying all of the exact wording for the specific powers that the Federal Government would be allowed to have, and the wordsmiths and the lawyers spend countless hours writing and rewriting the articles to make absolutely sure that there is no room for misunderstanding.  After carefully reading and re-reading what must have been stacks and stacks of legal papers, I guess someone must have asked "But we still get to do whatever we want, right?".

Now, at some point, somebody decided that maybe Slavery isn't the BEST way to express the 'equality' that we're all supposed to share.  What is the result?  "Our bad" - the 13th Amendment declares Slavery illegal and abolishes all involuntary human servitude.  One thing, though - the Government doesn't bother to enforce this 'Equal Rights' measure, and Slavery continues for many Blacks (and others) in America for a long time to come.  The Amendment does not, however, make ALL Slavery illegal - the Government is still allowed to own slaves as 'Punishment for crimes".  I guess Slavery is only morally wrong sometimes.

While Slavery was abolished in 1865, the United States Government doesn't officially recognize Black People as 'human beings' until 1866.  Three years later, these newly-appointed 'human beings' are 'granted' the right to vote (because the 'right' to vote was apparently excluded from 'Equal Rights') by the 15th Amendment (Whatever happened to those 'self-evident' rights?).  Even with this legal and binding admission of guilt by the all-white United States Government, it would be 95 years before Blacks are actually allowed to exercise these rights.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 is enacted which declares that everyone born in the United States is an American Citizen, "without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude".  However, apparently nobody notices these sudden new rights, because in 1868 the 14th Amendment is enacted in order to protect the rights of white Males to vote, which implies that 'white males rights' must have been in mortal danger, a circumstance that I tend to find highly suspect.  To confuse matters even further, it also declares that anyone born in the United States is considered an American Citizen (does duplication of a law mean that you really, really mean it?).

So now, by 1870 we have legally declared to the entire nation that everyone has the exact same 'self-evident' rights as everyone else.  By 'everyone', of course, they mean 'white males'.  Blacks, Indians and Women are actively and aggressively prevented from exercising these 'rights' by contradictory laws, corrupt Government officials, and continued local racist and discriminatory policies.  Of course, the 12th Amendment ratified in 1804 effectively obsoletes voting rights anyway due to the Electoral College system, so any and all 'Voting Rights' movements from this point on are, effectively, meaningless.

In 1920, the United States Government finally deigns to add one more group to the accepted list of 'human beings' who have 'inalienable rights' - Women are 'granted' the right to vote by the 19th Amendment.  "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."  This would imply that, until now, the government has legally and rightfully had the power to 'deny or abridge the right of citizens of the United States to vote on account of sex'.  Of course, the existing Constitution and its Amendments grant NO SUCH POWER, and the 10th Amendment specifically PROHIBITS the Federal Government from exercising powers that had not been granted it, but I guess people must still have been confused by the explicitly written and specifically-granted powers.
So, to summarize our history up to this point, white male British Settlers tell the Colonists that we are all equals, and they declare war on the 'tyrannical British Crown'.  The United States Government is created and granted very limited and specific powers, and the Government declares that we are all equals.  Elections and voting are taken from the hands of the Citizens and placed in the Electoral College, and the Government declares that we are all equals.  Slavery is abolished (well, not really), and the Government declares that we are all equals.  Blacks are elevated to 'human being' status, and the Government declares that we are all equals.  Blacks aren't satisfied with freedom and 'equal rights' and they demand the right to vote as citizens of the United States.  The Government declares that we are all equals.  The Constitution is amended (for the 19th time) to elevate Women to an equal status with Men, and everyone is told that we are all equals.

Blacks, almost a hundred years after being granted 'equal rights', are finally allowed to vote, drink from water fountains, and ride in the front seats of buses.  The Government declares that we are all equals.

A note - I find it extremely frustrating that the 18th Amendment, the Prohibition of Alcohol, was on the books before women were even allowed to vote - It was more important to the US to demonize one of the oldest food products in the history of the world than it was to extend our 'unalienable equal rights' to women.