Uncommon Sense

June 3, 2023

Free Will, Again . . . Again?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 11:58 am
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If you follow this blog, you will know I am somewhat addicted to this topic. So, I apologize if I am boring you, but I had a new insight that makes a lot of sense to me, and I find if I write it out it seems more understandable (to me if no one else).

The idea of “the freedom of the will” that characterizes the common conception of things basically states that in a universe where every atom follows its prescribed course, there can be no arbitrary capacity for action such as that which is commonly attributed to the free will.

So, the battle is waged between determinism, aka no free will, and free will.

But something is left out of the arguments which focus on examples involving the movements of atoms or billiard balls on a pool table. That thing is organization.

I am going to use an example to show what I mean; please bear with me. If you were to take a sheet of computer printer paper (somewhere along the line it got a promotion from being typewriter paper), and wad it up into a tight ball, then drop it, it will likely fall straight downward, due to gravity, etc. This scenario is quite determined. Now take another sheet of that paper, hold it flat and horizontal and then quickly remove your hand. It will also fall but not straight down. I might flutter as fall leaves do, or it might slide sideways a great deal. This is not so determined, but I imagine a sufficiently powerful computer might be able to predict the path the falling piece of paper would take, so maybe its path to the floor is determined, maybe not.

Now, if I fold the paper, skillfully, into the shape we refer to as a paper airplane and drop it, it might sail away quite a bit. Unlike the paper ball or the flat sheet, the paper airplane is quite directable. We could sail it off to the left, or the right, or up before falling down, etc.

So, let’s skip a few steps. I now direct you to the two rather small private airplanes off to my left. If I take one and grind it into small pieces, each of those pieces, if they were to be dropped, would fall in quite predictable, may I say determined, paths. But the one not so treated, which has a full tank of gas and an okay from the tower at this local airport, can motor down the runway and lift off into the air, then proceed to fly north or south or east or west or southwest, etc. It can climb to a higher altitude or stay low to the ground. Is its path determined? I think not.

What determines the path of the airplane (the one in the sky that is)? The pilot, no? Does the pilot have any measure of free will, that is can he/she steer the plane up-down, left-right, forward-back as they want? I think it is obvious they can. So, what is the difference between the fully functional plane and the box of ground up plane parts? They weigh the same. They have the same chemical compositions. They differ only in organization, what is attached to what and how.

Now, organization is not a thing, but it is clearly involved. If you want to make it more obvious (and less expensive), instead of grinding up the first plane into small bits we could just have separated all of the parts. I would wager that each of those separate parts would drop straight down if dropped from a height, the only exceptions would be those being light and having a small enough surface area to catch air and to flutter down, e.g. the pilot’s flight plan. Reassemble all of those deterministic parts and up, up, and away you could go.

So, free will, remember my favorite topic? Clearly atoms and billiard balls do not possess free will as they possess no will at all. Their behaviors in most circumstances (not all) are determined. But once something becomes so complicated that it possesses locomotion and any innate decision making powers, I think free will has to kick in. (Look out for robots in the near future.)

So, some of our behaviors are determined, I suspect, but others are not, I suspect. The reason is that all of our tiny, determined parts, when organized a great deal become capable of things that the parts are not.

The simplest example of this is your body, the body of a living animal, is comprised of myriad atoms that are not alive. The key is how those atoms are arranged, which means we still might get Star Trek-esque matter/people transporters! Beam me up!

June 1, 2023

Signs and Portents

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
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Christians believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god, an Omni god. At the same time they act as if they were promised signs and portents of this god’s existence and powers. At one point, in scripture, Jesus got short with his disciples because they keep asking for signs and portents.

Modern Christians seem to think that miracles (as they define them) are one manifestation of such signs.

But, if one stops to think, would an Omni god act this way?

Such a god is perfection in itself. All of its actions would be perfect in their construction and execution. So, is having a piece of toast pop up in you toaster with the face of Jesus on it worthy of such a god? How about a patch of light on a diner wall that looks like the Virgin Mary (who no one knows what she looks like, of course)? Are these the actions of an Omni god?

If someone goes to hospital and is operated upon and is healed, is that a miracle you could chalk up to such a god? Why would such a god pick and choose who to save? In horrendous accidents, the parents of children not killed account their being saved to this god. But why would such a god save just one child and let many others perish when surely it could have saved all?

All of this Christian folderol is based upon a myth in which this god himself becomes human and walks upon Earth. (Apparently the rule that anyone who lays eyes on this god dies was set aside for the interim.) Then, the story goes, this god-man was sacrificed to pay the price of the sins of all of mankind. Pretty neat, right? But ask yourself—sacrificed to whom?

When Jesus was “sacrificed” he had been incarnated as a Jew. Many kinds of sacrifices are mandated in the Hebrew Bible, of which one type is animal sacrifice. The Hebrew term usually translated “sacrifice” is korban. Korban literally means “drawing near.” Sacrifices of all kinds are linked with an approach to divinity. The term korban primarily refers to sacrificial offerings given from humans to God for the purpose of doing homage, winning favor, or securing pardon. The object sacrificed was usually an animal that was ritually slaughtered and then transferred from the human to the divine realm by being burned on an altar. So, “doing homage, winning favor, or securing pardon” to whom, for what purpose?

Why did this god need a sacrifice of himself (?) to himself (?) in order to pull off what he wanted to happen? Is this the kind of behavior you expect from an Omni god? (I remind you that the curse being lifted was merely spoken into being by this selfsame god, so why was a sacrifice needed? I also note that human sacrifices had been banned by this same god.)

Signs and portents, even the reincarnation of individuals are just too miniscule to represent the actions of such a god. In the Old Testament, Moses has duels with the court magicians of the Egyptian King, and can barely hold his own. So, were the parlor tricks he was able to pull off that puny? Any idiot can figure out better signs. How about floating the Great Pyramid one hundred meters into the air and taking the King for a walk under it? How about having the Moon and Sun chase each other around the sky for an hour or two? How about putting everyone in Egypt, except Moses and the King, asleep so they can have a private chat?

And why would such a god limit his appearances to such a poor and small section of the Earth. Since it was omnipresent, why not appear everywhere, all at once. Then when people got together to talk about their experience, they would really have something to talk about.

Clearly, the exploits of this Omni god were made up by people of little imagination, then they bragged about their god until they reached a state of utter lunacy. So, why are people still buying into the nonsense? Is great puzzlement.

May 29, 2023

We Need to Get Rid of the Elites

What a mistake! In our pre-history we allowed certain people to assume authority over the rest of us. It wasn’t just as war band leaders, but that was part of it. We created priests and potentates and then they ruined our lives.

Those early elites established the pattern for those to follow them. They assumed an air of superiority and we, gullibly, accepted their superiority and therefore our inferiority.

Their first step was to absolve themselves from having to work for their living. Their efforts—to organize society, to interact with the gods, etc. meant that they had to be supported by the rest of the people. But their leisure and “important work” they adopted as their own lead them to feeling that they were special. From that point onward, these “elites” were driven by the sense that they were better than everyone else. And so thousands of years has passed and the same attitude has been in play. Today’s elites still think they are better than we are because their lives are provided with ease, wealth, opportunity, etc. In most cases that was inherited, not earned.

But what have they actually done for us?

They established the hereditary inheritance of power/money. So, their bairns became entitled little twats (see British royal family), learning the mantra of “We are better than the hoi polloi” with their mother’s milk (or at least their wet nurse’s).

They created caste systems/perpetual poverty. Since the castes act as cultural enforcement agencies, they made sure the poor stayed poor. In that way, the rich could ensure they stayed rich.

They even established a class system in the U.S. Americans assume they have a classless society, but that is just propaganda. Look around and you can see the classes of Americans quite easily (there are books available for more detail).

The elites gave us snobbery. By establishing rules of behavior, often nonsensical ones (we call them etiquette or manners), they were able to signal who was in and who was not, easily. Eat with the wrong fork—clearly you are a barbarian. Not pass the salt when asked for the pepper, clearly you are uncultured. Wear white after Labor Day? Oh, my heavens, what a maroon!

Invented mythology of the “self-made man” and others.

Embraced and adopted capitalism, based upon the unbridled greed of rich people, and called it “good” for all. (They considered the fact that capitalism puts no limits upon greed as a feature, not a bug.)

Invented mass slavery, bondage, serfdom, and marriage as ways of labeling people as property that they might own them. Note that is not owning the right to their labor, but their actual bodies, too.

I am sure I could come up with a list of the services elites provide, but no matter—whatever they are they are just too expensive. We need to find another way.

I am not advocating exterminating the elites, but modernity gives us better, more humane ways to eliminating their influence. We need to stop paying homage, for one. They do not deserve the respect they claim they are due because of their valuable service, as job creators and other imaginary “good things.” Ignoring them instead of praising them is a good start. But we need to pay close attention to them because of the dangers they pose. For example, calling Elon Musk and Donald Trump paragons of business is not only untrue, but feeding their egos to get them to do more and more outlandish things. And then we need to tax away their fortunes. Money is power, they say, and we need to strip them of their power. There are other things we can do, but stripping them of their actual capital as well as their social capital would be a good start.

And, Ayn Rand fans, I am not worried about the collapse of society were we to do this. There are many examples of stupid actions taken, for example when the Chinese were expelled from Malaysia (twice). Each time the economy collapsed and they needed to invite the Chinese-Malaysians back. But then it was the elites (hoity-toity Malaysians) ejecting hard working Chinese, not the other way around. The Chinese-Malaysians were doing vital work that just stopped when they were given the boot. Were the Chinese to have expelled the Malaysian elites, there would have been no effect such as a collapsing economy because those elites performed no effective labors.

Postscript Yes, this is being posted on Memorial Day, a day to remember proles who gave their all to protect the wealth and power of their lords and masters. What better way to teach us to act self-sacrificingly. (And don’t get your panties in a twist. I am not denigrating the heroism of soldiers sent into war (voluntarily or not). I just point out that prior to WW2, in the U.S. the vast majority of citizens wanted no part of the wars being waged in Europe and the Pacific theater. A Japanese mistake (attacking Peral Harbor without declaring war) followed by a German mistake (Hitler declaring war with the U.S.) lead us into both situations. It was the elites causing all the trouble; the people don’t start wars.

May 19, 2023

Milch Madness

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 10:36 am
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This headline seems normal now: “This LA teen is suing her school district — and the USDA — to promote nondairy milk” (Source: Grist)

Granted, in this case, this teen is fighting back against government overreach. The dairy lobby got an exclusive contract to sell cow’s milk in the nation’s schools, through the usual route (bribing our representatives).

I notice this on top of a scene in a movie I was watching in which a teenager went upon a rant to her father about the evils of cow’s milk and ended with “Mom always bought me oat milk” with a smug look on her face. (I know this was supposed to make the character irritating . . . it worked.)

Oat milk, soy milk, almond milk . . . there are myriad brands of synthetic milk . . . why? No adult mammal needs milk. If you cannot digest cow’s milk or have some other problem with it, just stop drinking it. There is no need.

And while these “alternatives” to cow’s milk (or goat’s milk, or . . .) are touted as “healthy” alternatives whatever happened to the advice to avoid heavily processed foods? In drought-wracked California, huge amounts of precious water are used to grow almonds to make almond milk, for no good reason. And what happened to the complaint of hormone-like substances in fermented soy products?

This is what capitalism does, it takes a non-need and creates a market around it. Do you have celiac disease? If so, you can’t eat foods that contain grains with gluten in them, or you will pay the consequences. (Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.) But less than 1% (1 in 133) Americans have celiac disease, so why are so many people demanding gluten-free dishes on restaurant menus and gluten-free products in grocery stores, etc?

Gosh, do you think people want to avoid gluten to feel special, or avoid a possible risk, or . . . other reasons that have nothing to do with having that disease? With people who actually do have the disease, God forbid we ask them to give up pizza! Or that teenagers needing “alternative milk products” would be expected to bring them from home. No, they have to be able to buy them in the school cafeteria!

May 16, 2023

Attackers to the Right of Me, Attackers to the Left of Me (Science)

There are widespread attacks on science going on stretching from bizarre conspiracy theories along with legitimate philosophic enquiries.

Some philosophers have questioned science because science has not established where physical laws come from. Sean Carroll, a science popularizer, responded with “Why do the laws of physics take the form they do? It sounds like a reasonable question, if you don’t think about it very hard.” This, of course, was attacked as an arrogant attitude. I think not. (Full Disclosure—I am a fan of Dr. Carroll’s popularizing works. Oh, and Dr. Carroll holds a university chair in the philosophy of science.)

This question is loaded with philosophical detritus. Philosophers historically were always searching for the ultimate causes of what they observed because they were looking for gods. Today we find ultimate causes and absolutes to be nonexistent in nature.

This question is basically asking why things are the way they are. Good question, for a philosophy class in which students are being taught to think by being asked questions for which no answers exist. One might as well ask “Why is God such an asshole?” for all the good it will do you.

There is also some fundamental misunderstandings about physical laws. The general public from time to time confuses them with social laws. They ask, “Well if there are laws, there must be a law giver, no?” A physical law is merely a natural behavior that is so trustworthy that no (or sometimes very few) exceptions are known to exist. It is a physical behavior we can trust and even make predictions based upon them. For example, the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is fairly consistent. It does vary a little, but just a little and these variances are quite well known. As a consequence we can predict the location of the Moon in the night sky 20 years or even 200 years from now with accuracy. And sending spaceships to Mars requires us to have it attempting to land where the planet will be after the months it takes for the ship to travel there, not where it happens to be now.

So, why do these physical regularities exist? This is not a question that scientists ask; it is a question that Philosophers of Science ask, however. So, not knowing the source of physical laws is not a failing of science, it is a failing of the philosophy of science.

Scientists are criticized for having the attitude that when science provides no answer to a question, there is no reason to believe that any answer is possible or even necessary. This criticism is stupid, in the extreme. Here are some reasons science hasn’t answered a question (yet):
a. no one has tried to answer the question
b. the funding needed to answer the question is not available
c. the technology needed to answer the question hasn’t been invented yet
d. the question is not a scientific one (that is about the behaviors of nature)
e. the question is incoherent
f. etc.

And whether an answer is possible can only be answered by trying to answer the question over and over and over, and failing over and over and over, but then the question of possibility has still not been answered because some new technology might be invented enabling the question to be answered. This is why the criticism “well, science can’t answer that question, now can it?” in incoherent because all questions are open. Because of this all scientific answers are provisional because we do not know what data will be discovered in the future.

There are no absolutes in science . . . but there are some very good bets. For example, if you want to bet me the Sun will not come up tomorrow, I will empty my bank accounts to take that bet. There is no physical law ensuring the Sun will come up tomorrow (We’ll call it the Annie Law: The Sun will comer up tomorrow!) but it has every day for millions of years and so the odds are very much that it will tomorrow, also.

Finally science has been criticized for not having the answers to the “Big Questions,” like: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” This is not a Big Question in the first place, but it is prominent in philosophy circles because they have no answer. Please note that if there were nothing, the question could not exist because there would be no one to ask it. This question can only arise in universes that are made of somethings. So, the question is moot. But, there are some hints we are garnering from Nature that “nothing” does not exist. So, one possible answer is that “nothing” is impossible. This is another absolute so favored by philosophers and churchmen.

Other stupid questions like “Where did the universe come from?” show the ignorance of the asker. The universe is everything. It can’t come from some other place without there being a section of the universe walled off from us it could some from. And, if it did exist then it would be part of the universe and the question would still be unanswered.

One of my favorites is “What is our purpose, what are we doing here?” Who said we have a purpose? Again, these are god-believers who desperately want such things to exist, all evidence to the contrary. Purposes are things we invent, for ourselves, that give direction to our efforts. They come from within; stop looking for them from without.

Just Making Shit Up

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:00 am
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I would like to free the science-loving public from small-minded scientific fideism that stifles creative imagination and spiritual development and often precipitates a loss of faith in science. I would like to free religion to make its impact — to fight its battles for human rights and dignity and a caring society and against illusion and despair — without having simultaneously to fight a rear-guard action against those who caricature it as standing to opposition to scientific knowledge and intellectual sophistication. I would like to wrest both science and religion from the dogmatists of scientific atheism and religious fundamentalism.” (Kitty Ferguson, Science Writer)

Hoo boy. A decorated science writer wants to loose the hounds of religion and spiritualism, by breaking the fetters of science. And I am a scientist and an atheist and I have never heard of scientific atheism. And dogma? Where do I find this. I would like to read about it.

Science is naturally atheistic because of a famous Franciscan monk, named William, who was from Ockham, so he is usually referred to as William of Ockham. His contribution to knowledge and understanding has come to be known as Ockham’s Razor, namely “that the simpler of two explanations is more probably true and that we should not needlessly assume the existence of additional entities.” In other words, with the razor we cut away the nonessential. We have been doing that since William’s time (ca. 1287–ca. 1347), and what has been cut away was all superstition including any influence by “gods.” So, ironic, isn’t it. The man responsible for science being atheistic was a Franciscan monk!

Science stifles creative imagination? Really? She hasn’t been paying attention to all of the really bizarre ideas put forward by scientists over the ages. Talk about imagination! Prior to the advent of science everything that happened was due to the actions of some god. That is a creative imagination that needed stifling.

Wait a minute . . . religion is fighting battles for human rights and dignity and a caring society and against illusion and despair? WTF? I have never heard of this religion. To which is she referring, I wonder. It certainly isn’t Christianity which teaches we are born corrupt and are destined to go to Hell. Oh, and you can’t save yourself, you need their help. So much for human rights and dignity.

I wonder what planet Ms. Ferguson is original from.

May 14, 2023

The Wrongheadedness of Christian Nationalism

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:33 am
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Christian nationalism is on the rise here in the U.S.  and that is drawing the ire of people like me who believe that the separation of church and state is a keystone of this republic.

But you know who should be dead set against declaring the U.S. a Christian nation? Christians.

Consider this tidbit:

Nilay Saiya, a researcher from the University of Singapore, has conducted an extensive statistical analysis spanning over ten years across more than 160 countries. His findings suggest a direct correlation between the dwindling popularity of Christianity in certain countries and the extent of support those countries’ governments provide to the religion via their legal and policy frameworks. In other words, the more the government endorses Christianity, the fewer people tend to follow the religion. (from Dan Foster on Medium.com/Backyard Church)

Think about that for a minute. That research also showed that Christianity thrived when it was forced to compete for believers!

The ironic thing about all of this is that these Christian nationalists are also staunch conservatives, massive supporters of capitalism. And what is a cornerstone of capitalism? Competition, no? And these idiots are say “We don’ need no stinkin’ religious competition!” and are committed to a path that will end up with Christianity weak and ripe to taken down by a more robust religion. And, of course, the Republican Party was chosen to carry the torch for the Christian nationalists, you know, the party of small government which wants to add governing a massive religion onto their to do list. Doesn’t anyone else see the flaming contradictions here?

If there is any greater evidence that religion fosters stupidity, this I think qualifies as the best evidence so far.

Christian nationalism is stupid, stupid, stupid, for Christians and more stupid for Republicans (as if they didn’t have enough people hating them). So, why is it growing in appeal? An Antifa plot? Woke ideology striking back? What?

May 7, 2023

Even Texans Don’t Believe the NRA Bullshit

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 8:08 am
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The National Rifle Association (NRA) proudly proclaims that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is, as we all know, self-serving bull shit. The NRA has only one goal and that is to increase sales of gun and ammunition, because those manufacturers are its largest financial supporters. The state of Texas has the loosest gun laws in the U.S., stopping just short of requiring its citizens to own a gun.

In the latest gun atrocity, a gunman opened fire in a shopping mall just outside of Dallas, TX, and killed at least six people, maybe more. And not one Texan “Good Guy” returned fire! Now I happen to know there are more than a few “Good Guys” in Texas, and not one of them was packing the day of this incident? Unbelievable . . . the NRA, that is.

May 2, 2023

WLC Proves God Does Not Exist

William Lane Craig, dubbed “Low Bar Bill” by Brian Keith Dalton, aka Mr. Deity, is a megastar Christian apologist. Recently WLC stated that “If God exists, miracles should be neither extraordinary nor infrequent.” Well, are miracles in your neighborhood ordinary and frequent?

Now in this case I define a miracle is an event that cannot be explained via natural causes, and by that I mean no one can explain them via natural causes, not just you. Such events must necessarily violate the laws of nature.

In my life I have seen a very few events for which I have no natural explanation, but it is a short list. If those things were miracles, then they were extraordinary (meaning outside or beyond the ordinary) and quite infrequent. My guess is the same thing is true for you.

Since, as WLC states “If God exists, then . . .” since the “then part” turns out to be far from true then the premise/supposition, “if God exists” is also not the case, no?

Note—The Low Bar Bill moniker stemmed from WLC claiming that when confronted with evidence to the contrary, his bar for the evidence confirming Christianity doesn’t go up, in fact it goes down. The reason: well, Christianity is so swell, so special, it just has to be true.

Another Proof of the Existence of God Bites the Dust

I collect these “proofs” and am often surprised at how many different versions there are of each one. Here is one version of the Argument from Miracles (e.g. miracles, therefore God).

The Argument from Miracles
1. A miracle is an event whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.
2. There are numerous well-attested miracles.
3. Therefore, there are numerous events whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.
4. Therefore God exists.

Do you see the sneaky part? These arguments are most often flawed because the premises, assumed to be true, are anything but.

Here is a dictionary definition of “miracle”:

miracle (noun) an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

Now a supernatural cause is not necessarily your god, it might be someone else’s god, or an alien entity such as “Q” from the STNG universe. But here, the person making the argument makes a supposition—it is His God. A miracle has a supernatural cause and the only supernatural cause he subscribes to is his god. He goes so far as to describe the cause “the direct intervention of his god.” And he includes that that intervention is the only “adequate explanation” for the event. That premise could be used to prove anything.

Look at what this argument would be if the arguer were being honest:

The Argument from Miracles
1. A miracle is an event that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. There are numerous well-attested miracles.
3. Therefore, there are numerous events proving the existence of supernatural causes.
4. Therefore supernatural causes exist.

To show what else could be proved using such a structure:

The Argument from Miracles
1. A miracle is an event whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of an alien superpower.
2. There are numerous well-attested miracles.
3. Therefore, there are numerous events whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of alien superpowers.
4. Therefore alien superpowers exist.

See how the argument turns on the false portions of that first premise?

And . . . well, Premise #2 isn’t true either. If he would have said “There are numerous claims of miracles occurring,” then maybe, . . . , naw, not even “well-attested” events suffice. Attestations are still just claims that say “I saw/experienced” something. Considering how many well-attested UFOs have been observed, are you ready to claim Little Green Men are real? (To be fair, I agree that UFOs are real. What they actual are isn’t at all clear, however. And, trust me, I am rooting for aliens. We really need aliens right now, and no, Republicans don’t count.)

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