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13 January 2009 @ 05:03 pm
Christians will often say, "The universe cannot possibly have been created in exactly this way without intelligent design."  The most common way to refute this is to trot out the anthropic principle, which essentially points out that our existence only proves that our existence is possible.  For whatever reason, this refutation, though perfectly sound logically, seems to come up short on emotional impact.
I want to look at this in a little bit more detail to give the reader a little bit more ammunition should the first round of refutation fail to convince interlocutors.  To begin with, let's look at the theist's claim a little more closely:
Without God, this particular incarnation of the universe is impossible.
This can be rewritten slightly to express the same idea with words that will be easier for us to work with:
Besides God, there are no other possible explanations for this particular incarnation of the universe.
Theists are not going to like it when you reword it this way -- at least not if they're smart.   In fact, maybe even you, gentle atheist reader, are bristling a little bit.  A brief perusal of the science aisle at Borders will tell you that there are most certainly other possible explanations for the universe besides God.  Is it really that simple to completely discard the argument?
In a word, yes.  It really is that astoundingly wrong.  However, let's keep looking at it to make sure we're not missing something really important.  First, let's make an important observation about the wordpossible.  I've been talking a lot about epistemological rights recently, and I want to begin with saying that I have absolutely no justification for making pronouncements about any of the current cosmological models.  That is the stuff of very highly advanced theoretical physics, and I always had problems figuring out those stupid problems with ramps and boxes and pulleys.  Physics is not my thing.  However, my inability to discuss physics has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to address this particular argument.
Notice that the theist argument relies completely on possibility, not accuracy.  The assertion is that there is no other possibility at all that could explain the universe existing as it does.  This is so astoundingly easy to refute that one has to wonder why anyone would bother, but for the sake of being thorough, I will do so:
Assertion:  It is possible that there is a multiverse, and that black holes are singularities, each spawning their own unique universe, each with random or at least highly variable universal constants.  If this is the case, we should expect that universes such as ours where black holes naturally form would be more common than universes in which black holes do not naturally form.  It is possible that time, whatever it might be, is infinite.  If that is the case, then we should be surprised if a universe such as ours did not come to exist, as it is within the set of possible universal constants.
(This is a very bad rendition of a real theory, by the way.)
I have no idea whether or not this is the way reality is.  I have no idea whether this is probable or staggeringly improbable.  This is not the point.  The point is, unless there's somebody out there with some startling empirical observations of the nature of reality, this theory is at least possible, even if the possibility is only one in trillions of trillions.
That's how incredibly weak the theist argument is!  It is disproven by just imagining anything at all that might have "created" the universe.  Of course, savvy theists will balk at this line of thinking.  They can't really argue the logic, but they can certainly argue the spirit of the argument.  "Possible" doesn't really mean possible in the absolute sense, they will say.  What they mean is that nothing else makes any good sense.  Sure, you can imagine that multidimensional ferrets shit singularities, and it's pretty much impossible to disprove, but how much stock should we put into that hypothesis.  No, the theist will aver, God is the only one with any reasonable possibility of being true.
At this point, a clever debater will insist that theists give up the charade of asserting that God is the only possible cause for the universe, and refuse to discuss the matter further until a new proposition has been put forward.
Having to give up the notion of God being the only possibility, a theist has now conceded that virtually anything could be the cause of the universe.  This is actually the death blow for the argument, though most theists don't realize why.  To illustrate the point, let's assume the theists are correct in fact.  That is, the universe was intelligently designed.  We'll concede for the sake of argument that there is an intelligent being who created the universe.  Imagine now a conversation between a theist and an atheist where the tables are turned.  Science has proven that the universe is most likely to have been intelligently designed, and it is now the atheist who is irrationally holding to the notion that everything began mindlessly, despite evidence to the contrary.
Would a theist, given the preponderance of evidence in his favor, continue to argue that God is the only  possible explanation for the universe?  Of course not!  He wouldn't have to, and any first year college student could point out the error in that position, so why would he?  He would happily admit that the atheist was clinging to a possibility, but that there was no rational reason to hold onto that possibility given the preponderance of evidence for intelligent design.
When we look at it from the other side of the fence, we realize that this is just so much emotional pandering.  There is literally no logical content worth considering, and when the tables are turned, we see just how ludicrous it is.  Once again, theism wants to play tennis with the net down and force atheism to play with the net up.  
07 January 2009 @ 05:20 pm
 In what has turned into a full fledged internet snit, I have been attempting to have a constructive dialog with John W Loftus. I have not been having much luck, I'm afraid to say. The gist of my criticism has been that John is not prepared to make substantive claims about Jesus' historicity or lack thereof. He has a very popular blog, and has been very cavalier about making pronouncements that in his professional opinion, Jesus most likely existed as a Doomsday Prophet, or something like that.

I submit that the question of Jesus' historicity is one for people who have devoted their lives to studying minutia, not for a former preacher who's read several books that sounded convincing to him. I am not a mythicist, but I find merit in many mythicist arguments. Nevertheless, I know my epistemological rights, so I simply comment on the logical validity of arguments. I don't presume to declare one side or the other the victor. The fact is, there is no clear winner, and it's an affront to good history to go about declaring that there is.

If you want to see the whole thing play out in its gory detail, here's the link:

Full Recap on my other blog
Projection is the psychological defense mechanism of assigning one's own bad qualities to someone else, usually the opposition. For instance, a hypothetical football player (cough... cough... T.O.) who is well known for selfishly wanting all of the spotlight for himself might suggest that his team is somehow conspiring to keep him from his just rewards by selfishly not throwing the ball to him enough. By assigning the quality of selfishness to the quarterback, he absolves himself of his own selfishness.

Christians are particularly good at this. I read an interesting post this afternoon, in which a Christian said that he thinks consumerism at Christmas is due to a secular materialist worldview. I admit, I almost choked on my iced tea when I read that. A short trip through Googleland produced 387,000 hits for "Christian Merchandise." Curiously, "Secular Merchandise" spawned only 171 hits.

Ok, I know, that's not fair. Nobody labels their stuff "secular merchandise" but the point is still quite valid. Christianity is big business, and anybody who doubts it needs to have their head examined. The point I want to make, however, is not that Christians are particularly evil in their consumerism. As I mentioned in my blog about scary atheist morality, Christians operate on the same principles as everyone else. They just think they're different.

We're all materialists. We have to be. We live in a material universe, and our only way of staying alive is to consume. We must have clothes, shelter, and food. We accumulate resources because we recognize our own fragile mortality. We want to have enough tomorrow.

The fact of the matter is that the only thing separating one person from another is the degree of materialism. Some people want "stuff" more than others. This goes for Christians, atheists, Muslims, and Buddhists. Some versions of Christianity preach a much more materialist worldview than others. TV evangelists promise that if we just send in enough money, God will give us so much money that we'll never want for anything again. Other churches preach the value of an almost ascetic life, eschewing the trappings of the material world. It's the same with non-Christians. Some people think the one who dies with the most toys wins. Others think we have an obligation to preserve the earth for future generations.

The point is that the distinction between "secular materialism" and "Christian ethics" is a non-distinction. It simply doesn't exist. We're all people, and we all have our own values. Once again, Christianity proves divisive for no good reason. It's not us and them. It's just us.
01 July 2008 @ 06:53 pm
One of the myths that permeates human society in almost all cultures is the belief that humans are special or different in kind from other animals. We believe that our intelligence (or worse, our “soul") makes us separate from – and higher than – the animals. In fact, the very language we use betrays our belief that we are better than them. We say that someone is acting like an animal, and we don't mean it in a good way. We urge our fellow humans to give up the base animal instincts and pursue something higher. In so many religions, we hear admonitions against giving in to our “base instincts.” By this, most religions mean lust, sex, and desire.

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01 July 2008 @ 06:51 pm
Sexual Selection

Of all the topics related to sex, this one is perhaps the most emotionally charged. We have lots of polite ways of handling the topic, and it is illustrative to notice how angry listeners get when someone breaks the rules. We have many deep seated fears about sexual selection precisely because we recognize an inherent truth. No matter how smart, good looking, or talented we are, the list of people who don't want to have sex with us is much longer than the list of people who do.

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Are We Really Monogamous?

Most of what I've written so far about human sexuality has been rather erudite, and certainly doesn't answer many questions of what makes us go on dates and cheat on our spouse, or why we want so badly to get married when we're twenty-five. I promise things will be looking up very soon. In this very essay, we'll even talk about orgasms and the size of men's testicles. There's still a bit of science we need to deal with, but we're done with all the biology terminology. From here on out, it's all about when we have sex, why we have sex, and with whom.

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01 July 2008 @ 06:49 pm
What's So Great About Sex?

One of the great puzzles in biology is the origin of sexuality. Not all organisms reproduce sexually, but pretty much all of the big animals do. Many creationists, skeptical of any evolutionary explanation for the emergence of sex, argue that sex is an irreducibly complex mechanism. They say that there is no way to get from asexual reproduction to sexual reproduction, since it would take two organisms, each evolving randomly and separately into compatible sexual partners. The odds against this are so staggeringly bad, they say, that we can know for certain that sex did not evolve.

I do not intend to refute all of the creationist arguments here, nor do I intend to propose a complete theory of sexual reproduction. Frankly, if creationist arguments seem convincing to you, it would be best for you not to waste your time. Stop reading now. There's a certain level of credulity with which I cannot compete. For those of you still with me, what I intend to do is give you an introductory understanding of many of the biological mechanisms involved with sexual reproduction. Once we have a basic understanding of what sex does for us biologically, we can begin to build up to understanding what it does for us as complex cultural organisms. I promise that we'll get around to talking about dating and making out and getting laid, but not until we're better prepared.

If you're especially interested in the current theories about the cause of sex, see the list of recommended reading at the end of this chapter. In order to keep things on a layman's level, I'm going to avoid the topic. It's rather esoteric, and is not especially pertinent to my end goal, which is examining human nature and human sexuality as objectively as possible.

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01 July 2008 @ 06:49 pm
"Why are all atheists so angry?"

I hear this question all the time. In fact, my Rambo-Kitty avatar is partially inspired by the question. Anyway, today I was reading an article about the debate between Sam Harris and Rick Warren, and was struck by Warren's statement, "I've never met an atheist who wasn't angry."

My first reaction was denial. Many atheists, myself included, are happy most of the time. My atheist friends are great fun to hang out with. We laugh and joke and drink beer, and hardly ever mention religion.

My second reaction, I confess, was anger. How dishonest of him to try to discount atheism by labeling us all as angry malcontents! This is exactly why people like him make me angry!

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