Class Warfare Blog

June 4, 2020

It is Time for Intelligent Design Advocates to Pony Up

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:58 pm
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Let’s stop fooling around and take the ID advocates seriously. I have a series of questions I want the IDers to answer, so I can fully appreciate their theory.

  1. First, I would love to hear anyone supply a clear outline of ID theory, the complete theory. All I hear is arguments about design and complexity, but there are few other processes needed to make ID Theory complete.
  2. So, let’s say an Intelligent Designer exists and comes up with an intelligent design. That design is still “on the drawing board” as it were. How does this design get implemented?
  3. What are the processes by which the design is put “into production?”
  4. And who the heck is this intelligent designer, inquiring minds want to know? Are vastly superior aliens messing with us?
  5. How often are designs implemented?
  6. When did these design implementations first happen in the past and are they likely to continue into the future?
  7. If the Intelligent Designer just implemented his designs during a tiny window in time in the past, why did he limit himself so? How could he possibly know that other designs might not be needed (maybe advanced human fighters would be needed to fight aliens invading from outer space, for instance)? I mean how could this incredible designer know what will be needed millennia into the future?
  8. Provide a few dozen examples of designs and why they were needed to be the way they are to make the world work as it does. Please include a couple of virulent disease organisms, like the COVID-19 virus, on your list as that would be quite relevant at this time. Surely these are available if you have been studying this for decades as you insist.

C’mon now, fill out your “theory,” otherwise you are just whining about whether this or that was deliberately designed or not and not promoting an actual theory.

Why Science Hasn’t Stamped Out Religion

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:42 am
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I was reading a piece on the Vridar blog site and Neil Godfrey wrote this (in 2013): “Religion has not gone away since the end of the Europe’s religious wars and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, scientific advances and the rise of secularism may even be largely responsible for religious revivals.”

One part of the reasoning behind this statement jumped out at me. As opposed to science, religion puts no intellectual demands on its proponents. Scientists are asked to explain themselves, and argue, and think . . . really, really hard. Religionists, to the contrary, are given warm “There, theres” and are not asked to think. They are not expected to answer or ask questions. They do not have a final arbiter of what is right and wrong as natural scientists have in nature.

As a college professor, I saw a great many students over the years, almost all of whom had selected a major course of study. Since the science courses I taught were not something that other students took to meet a breadth requirement or “for fun,” I tended to see the same types of students. And didn’t encounter students who were majoring in far flung intellectual pursuits. But I did meet and work with colleagues from all over the college. And one could see clear divides in those folk according to their chosen fields of study.

For one, there is a simple dichotomy between scientists and non-scientists that breaks along the lines of, what should I call it . . . social skills (?). Science types, often referred to as “geeks,” often lacked social skills one could observe elsewhere and it is my opinion that science attracts people with poorer social skills because the topic addresses and studies things and not people. (Things can be pinned down, people are inconsistent, variable, and often cantankerous.) Study science and you have fewer people to deal with and more things/facts/etc. (Yes, I know these are broad characterizations. There are many, many exceptions. I myself am a scientist who is suave as hell and comfortable in the company of a wide strata of society. And I need a tongue-in-cheek emoji here.)

Another fault line between scientists and non-scientists is math. To learn math, you must master, to some extent, abstract thinking. This makes a clear line between those who faired well in math (I wasn’t that good, just persistent.) and those who did not.

So, to make an argument or address a problem scientifically, you have to pull non-science types into a realm in which complex arguments, math, and foundational knowledge all are involved in complicated fashions. (Look at how complex environmental issues are often described with simplistic and, at root, misleading explanations. Global atmospheric warming was attributed to the Greenhouse Effect and greenhouses work primarily by not allowing warm gases to escape the house. This is not the mechanism of climate change as we are experiencing it now.)

On the other side of this divide, the religionists are told “There, there . . . all will be well” and other nonsense like “The blood of Christ will protect you in the pandemic.” (The latter led me to wonder where I can get me some of that shit.) It may be nonsense, but it is simple nonsense, making no intellectual demands and offering many reassurances, albeit vacuous ones.

I do not claim that all of this plays out consciously through free will. In general I think most of us drift in the currents of our lives (me, especially). But those unable to accept the complexity of real problems set in a real nature are subject to those more than willing to provide fantasy solutions set in a fantastic nature which are less demanding. All you need is faith and there are no real tests of that any more.

May 27, 2020

Evidence and Interpretation

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:42 am
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In the ongoing dialogue between young theists and atheists on sites like Quora, hordes of young theists seem to being educated by atheists about atheism. (Trust me, you don’t want them to be ask church officials such questions, as there is no upside, nor any good information to be had.)

Regarding the existence of god(s) questions, atheists are often asking for “evidence” for their existence and then having to explain what evidence is. I guess I only hope that the questioners are young, otherwise our education system has done a lousy job of establishing what objective evidence is.

In any case, I am reading a book by a respected archeologist of early Palestine and he is trying to make an argument for wider spread literacy than is usually assumed, for early in the first millennium BCE.

At one point he uses as evidence of widespread literacy, the labeling of storage jars with the name of the owner, and possibly use of the contents. So, labels like “Property of XYZ” in the form of “Belonging to Zadoc” were found. One such showing name and use comes from the 8th century and is “Belonging to Matanyāhū; wine for libation; one fourth.” Since archeological finds are more trustworthy than written stories, one is inclined to follow the clay shards, rather than follow the texts, but all archeological finds have to be interpreted.

Consider some far off future archeologist who is excavating places in Texas and finds a buried but well preserved mansion. In it he finds a room that looks much like a library with piles and piles of decayed books in it. From this the archeologist interprets the find as representing a mansion of a “learned, well-read man.” Apparently the archeologist hadn’t heard of rich assholes who build mansions with libraries, full of expensive and rare books as a sign of their wealth, yet hadn’t read a book in their life.

So, if a man had his name inscribed upon his wine jars (a process which turned out to be by using a chisel after the jar was fired, so a very delicate process), what can we hypothesize?
• the owner was worried about local theft
• the owner was vain and wanted everyone to know how much wine he owned
• it was a thing he heard other wealthy people did and he was a wannabe.
I am sure you can come up with more. But can we assume that the owner of said jug was literate? How about the carver of the jugs? I don’t think you can assume either was literate. The wealthy jug owner may have been shown what his name looked like when written, maybe he could even write his name. The carver may have been given the text on an ostracon for him to duplicate, much as he might carve a hand into a relief carving.

Can we assume all of the traders and merchants who might receive or buy these containers are literate? I can imagine many scenarios in which a merchant receiving a shipment of such wines, making a chalk mark on them identifying them in his mind without being able to read any labels.

The libation wine container . . . , well libations are performed by religious officials or people empowered to make them. Technically one could pour some wine on a home altar all by oneself, but this is a rather larger jug. So, would rural religious officials be readers and writers? Their training may have included this, so it is more likely. It is likely that a village prelate could be called upon to read and write for the people in his village. But that doesn’t equate to widespread literacy.

In this country, you were considered literate at one point of you could “make your mark.” So, if you were asked to sign a contract or sign a voters roll and you scrawl an “X” on the dotted line, you were considered literate. (And this is one of the reasons why we then and now have witnesses of such signings.) So, people who could not even write their own name were considered literate at one point. The definition of who was literate changed as the populace became better and better educated. The definition in the context of the book was roughly “could people read and/or write a simple letter.” There are enough of these letters that have been found to indicate a rather wider spread literacy than is often assumed, but still all of the evidence needs to be interpreted. A letter written by a soldier, is that evidence of widespread literacy, or was the writer the “company clerk” for his military unit? What about the elites? Were they literate or did they hire scribes to read and write for them.

We have enough stories from the business computer revolution in the 1980’s and 1990’s of company executives who were functionally illiterate. They couldn’t type. They couldn’t spell. They certainly couldn’t use computers. And some couldn’t read.. One exec who could barely read but who showed well-developed coping skills always asked a subordinate at meetings to “summarize” the issue for all of the people at the table. That memos and summaries had been circulated prior to the meeting were irrelevant and the boss was lauded for having a human touch. (Nice summary, Bill. Does everyone agree? Okay, what do we do now . . .”)

This doesn’t mean that there weren’t people who could read and write in many, many places but it also doesn’t establish that there was widespread literacy.

One such clue as to there being widespread literacy would be the discovery of schools that children or adults attended to learn how to read and write. Ostracons and tablets with what appear to be lessons performed upon them have been discovered but in most cases they were thought to represent the work of students in scribal schools, not widespread evidence of homework being done by the bulk of the population. (Would scribes be needed in places with widespread literacy? Probably as scribes did more than just “take dictation.”)

This is not the only evidence of wider spread literacy at that time and in that place, so I am not talking about his conclusion, but the mere fact that evidence has to be interpreted and that is a dicey thing. I think of some future archeologist excavating our “landfills,” aka dumps, to learn more about the people who lived in Chicago. He is puzzled to find millions upon millions of plastic bags with dog poop in them and speculated as to what sort of bizarre religion those Chicagoans must have had. Were they dog worshipers, preserving even the feces of their gods? Hmmm . . . is great puzzlement!

 

May 16, 2020

Oh, Boy, I Never Thought of This Before

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:31 am
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Like many of you I have been binge watching things available on cable TV services. I ran across a British series, Quark Science, on Amazon Prime that I have been enjoying, and even learned a thing or two. The episode I watched last night was on entropy and chaos theory and as they went into explaining chaos theory, I had quite a string of revelations.

For those of you who haven’t considered chaos theory it basically describes systems with multiple parts that contain feedback, which is basically all natural systems, and that such systems are inherently chaotic in that they cannot be predicted. The reason being is that they are very sensitive to the “initial conditions” and minor variations in those initial conditions affect substantially the final outcome. This is where the “Butterfly Effect” inherent in the question “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” comes from (and all of its other variants over the years).

In any case, I had a number of revelations from this excursion through science for the people.

#1 Chaos theory explains why determinism isn’t a possibility. In the centuries long free will debates there is often a road block in the form of the question as to whether we live in a deterministic universe, or not. If we actually live in a “clockwork universe” are all of our choices determine by stimuli and responses that are perfectly predictable? If we do live in a deterministic universe, then free will is an illusion. We are just robots responding to the stimuli we receive. Well, chaos theory shows us that we cannot live in a deterministic universe, because minor variations in any system can produced vastly different outcomes.

#2 Predicting the future is not possible. Since determinism isn’t possible, there is no basis, no cause-effect chain, that allows predicting of the future. As ancient people, we were obsessed with predicting the future. The reason was if you could predict what was going to happen, you could protect yourself from adverse changes and take advantage of the others. The Romans, for example, were very interested in Judaism because of their written records of prophecies (and their claims of accuracy). Chaos theory explains why weather prediction is about as good as it will get right now.

#3 Emergent properties make a lot more sense now. Emergent properties are properties that break any and all causal relationships established before then emerged. Chaos theory makes these more understandable.

#4 Chaos theory explains why the universe is the way it is. The laws of physics describe a transition during the Big Expansion of the universe, aka “The Big Bang,” from its initial almost all energy state to the formation of particles and then atoms. Those laws indicate that there should have been equal amounts of matter and anti-matter created. But our universe is almost all matter . . . where is all the antimatter? Why the asymmetry between the creation of matter and antimatter? The scenario goes like this: as the particles formed, there would be equal amounts of matter and anti-matter which would self-annihilate and produce light and so the universe would become an expanding sphere of light, The End. But the data show that a part per billion excess of matter over anti-matter would yield the universe we know now. In that scenario, the particles would form and the matter and anti-matter particles would annihilate, producing an immense flask of light (later to become the Cosmic Background Radiation) but a part per billion concentration of matter would be left over, enough to create all of the stars, planets and galaxies in the universe.

But where could a 1 ppb difference between the two forms of matter come from? Well, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and chaos theory almost guarantee these two forms would not be created in exactly equal amounts, and voila! (Note To grasp the size of a part per billion, take quite a large swimming pool and fill it with pinto beans. Then throw in one black bean. Stir. The concentration of black beans in the mixture is roughly 1 ppb.)

Interestingly, we don’t really know which form of matter survived. We call the one that survived matter and the one that did not anti-matter, but since their properties are opposites of one another, we just really know they are opposites, not which one we have.

There is much, much more that the chaos theory helps clarify, such as the self-organization of matter and so on. All of these things fly, splat!, into the face of our limited thinking. Most of us, me included, are still immersed in the “clockwork universe” thinking we inherited from Victorians. We still think of the world around us as being mechanisms, complex mechanism for sure, but much like the gears and levers in a mechanical device. Scientists have passed beyond that previous view and moved on but many of the rest of us, me included, haven’t followed because thinking about such things is hard! Really hard.

But programs, or rather programmes, like Quark Science make them much, much easier to understand. I recommend the series to you.

And, since I am in speculation mode, I suspect that my clinging to the clockwork universe paradigm is an artifact of my education. As scientists we are taught classical sciences before we are taught “modern sciences.” Our early thinking patterns are determined by the paradigms of classical science. This is why we find the transition to modern science difficult. And, if one goes on to study ancient science, it is hard to learn also because they were thinking quite differently from how we think now.

October 4, 2019

More on the “Reality” of Our Senses

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:45 pm
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A recent magazine article in Quanta magazine addressed some fine points most of us are unaware of regarding our vision (Your Brain Chooses What to Let You See, <sub> Beneath our awareness, the brain lets certain kinds of stimuli automatically capture our attention by lowering the priority of the rest.).”

There are a number of fascinating limitations on our ability to “see,” that is to take in information through our eyes and process it. Consider these snippets from the article:

“Scientists have long known that our sensory processing must automatically screen out extraneous inputs — otherwise, we couldn’t experience the world as we do. When we look at our surroundings, for instance, our perceived field of view holds steady or moves smoothly with our gaze. But the eye is also constantly making small movements, or saccades; our visual system has to subtract that background jitter from what we see.

“Automatic suppressive types of mechanisms take place … through large swaths of the brain,” said Richard Krauzlis, a neuroscientist at the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. “Basically all over the place.”

“And automatic background subtraction, it turns out, can also manifest in intriguing, unexpected ways. Take a counterintuitive finding that Tadin and his colleagues made in 2003: We’re good at perceiving the movements of small objects, but if those objects are simply made bigger, we find it much more difficult to detect their motion.”

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the sheer amount of information available to our senses would swamp any brain, supercomputer, quantum computer, you name it. So, we necessarily must dump a very high percentage of the information (bits and bytes) coming in because we have neither a way to store it nor process it. (Read the book The User Illusion by Tor Norretranders if you are interested in this topic.)

Apparently there are many, many mechanisms used to sort and prune away superfluous information. One of those is that our eyes actually have a very small cone of focus (<10°) in which our vision is sharp and detailed. Visual acuity declines by about 50% every 2.5° from the center up to 30°, at which point visual acuity declines more steeply. Consequently, our visual sense flits about, usually caused by something moving. Our attention brings the moving thing center stage where we can see it clearly. This is why TV screens in a bar or another room keep pulling on our attention. The flashing lights simulate things moving, so our eyes flick there . . . over and over and over.

The light entering our eyes, as I have mentioned, is taking 3-D information and projecting it upon a 2-D surface (the retina) losing the information from the 3rd dimension. Well, and the optics of the eye flip the images upside down and . . . and . . . well, suffice it to say, a fair amount of “post capture” video processing needs to occur.

I recommend the article to you if you are interested in how our senses do not (and really, cannot) detect “reality.” And, those who are alarmed at how much our senses fail to detect “reality,’ well, I think they doth protest too much.

Our senses can be trusted to be what they are. In that they are quite trustworthy . . . flawed but trustworthy. And just because we are not immediately aware of what is going on, that doesn’t prevent us from actually learning what is going on, so as to appreciate it for what it is and not just what we think it is.

 

September 7, 2019

Beware of Throw Away Lines

I am working my way through Daniel Dennett’s book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking and I encountered this:

Live is amazing. When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly lifeless, it is amazing that there is any way of being alive at all. (Chapter 38)

Now, Daniel Dennett is my favorite philosopher, possibly because he eschews the normal jargon rich representations of philosophers for ordinary language, thereby becoming a public intellectual, with all of the negatives that are associated with that position. So, I am not sure why he was saying such a stupid thing.

He seems better educated and more knowledgeable than I, and I am sure he is aware of the basic facts. There are now estimated to be about two trillion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. This means that there are at least  200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 “solar systems” or thereabouts. Of these, we have explored exactly one and that one only partially. So far,

Solar Systems Explored = 1 (kinda sorta)
Solar Systems Which Contain Life =1

I call that a 100% hit rate. This means “not rare,’ “not uncommon,” “not unusual,” etc. so far anyway.

Will life prove to be rare elsewhere or not, that is whether life can be found in other solar systems, is entirely unknown. Not only that but we don’t have a way of expanding our knowledge much at all. Even were we to develop the technology to explore other solar systems in our neighborhood of our galaxy, we would still have a very parochial sampling. Other galaxies are, well, far, far away.

Q: So, is life rare? A: We do not know.

Q: Will we encounter life on other planets? A: We do not know.

Q: Will billions of solar systems found to be lifeless? A: We do not know.

We suspect that with 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 solar systems a few billion (0.00000000000000001% or so) might be lifeless, certainly, but that does not warrant “When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly lifeless it is amazing that there is any way of being alive at all.” because one could also, based upon probabilities, say “When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly full of life. . . .”

This was a throwaway line, a poor one at that, used to make life sound as if it were unusual (and, as always, us special).

Q: So, is life unusual? A: We do not know, but certainly not on this planet.

 

August 22, 2019

What’s the difference between science and the supernatural?

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:06 am
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The title of this post was a question asked on the Quora website which had, at the time of my viewing, 52 answers. I was shocked at how many of them implied that science was incapable of studying the “supernatural,” whatever the heck that is. Here is but one example:

“Take a look at the word supernatural. It means above or beyond the natural order. Science by its very nature deals only with the natural order, and cannot even directly detect or deal with the supernatural order. Science can only deal with the natural order, which is why scientists tend to be naturalists in their approach and worldview and treat the supernatural order as nonexistent, because science doesn’t have the tools to measure and test the supernatural order. Only recently with the advent of the field of quantum mechanics, some theoretical physicists have reason to believe there are higher dimensions in addition to the three dimensions we tend to think is the sum total of reality. These theorists being naturalists shy away from terms like supernatural because of its association with the ideas of the spooky or religion, but use similar and other terms to articulate their work.”

Since there were so many such comments, I have to accept that there are many who support claims that “the supernatural” exists. Some of the comments refer to the miracles of Jesus, others with just unexplained phenomena. (One was batshit crazy.)

I was expecting most of the responses to be similar to this one:

“Science explains the ways in which the things we see around us in nature work and behave.

It does this by examining closely the actual data in as much detail as is available, proposing some experiments and some theories and then testing those theories to see if they fit and explain and predict the phenomenon.

The theories are then reviewed by your colleagues around the world rigorously, who test the theory to see if there are holes, or better explanations – and to ensure that they too get the same results. It then becomes accepted scientific understanding which we then build on.

Science deals with what is actually happening.

The supernatural – is a what happens when people don’t do science. People instead ‘make up’ explanations for things that they can’t immediately explain.

The larva coming out of the ground becomes the gateway to hell, until science explains it and then it doesn’t. Old women who live on their own and who provide herbal remedies become witches to burn at the stake whenever something unusual happens in the village that can’t be explained. An old house which will naturally be creaky and have lots of drafty spaces, will become haunted at night, when people see and hear things move.

The supernatural is not real and it is how humans existed before we discovered how to do science right.”

But responses like these were not the majority.

The Supernatural—Real or Not?
So, are supernatural phenomena real or not? Seems a simple question, but of which I have more questions. For example: If someone claims that something is a supernatural phenomenon, how do they know this? Apparently something that cannot easily be explained is observed. The first thing I would challenge is my ability to explain, but. . . . We can rule out the common mis-identifications of old women collecting herbs being witches (would that they had not suffered from that label) and old ramshackle houses creaking in the wind at night being haunted (what else can a loose house do but creak, rot, and eventually fall down?). So, there seem to be many such phenomena that are clearly not supernatural, yet were claimed to be. Let us set those aside for now.

If someone says: “it was clearly a supernatural phenomenon” we have to ask “why do you think this?” If this phenomenon is “beyond nature” then how can we even perceive it as we are “in nature.” How does the supernatural impinge upon the natural? Some dodge this question by stating that supernatural phenomena are just those that do not obey the normal rules of nature. How they know this is also subject to question, but let’s ride with this for a minute, treating it as we would any other hypothesis. So, something is observed and that observation shows a violation of natural laws (the laws of physics, chemistry, etc.). How does the observer know this to be such a violation? Doesn’t one need to know what those laws are to claim the event violated them? How many advocates of supernaturalism know the laws of say, physics, for example.

It seems that people, like Deepak Chopra, are only too willing to claim support for their worldviews by plucking quantum mechanical events out of current theory and use them as justification for their beliefs. For example, the multiverse shows that there are “higher dimensions of existence.” No, it doesn’t. The existence of a multiverse is entirely hypothetical at the moment and thus cannot be used to prove anything. Another example is “quantum leaps.” These are leaps in energy (not space per se) which are incredibly tiny in size. They are grabbed by these folks to explain jumps of large scale objects through space and time. Cherry picking concepts out of a field of science, then misunderstanding and misrepresenting those concepts, seems to be rife in the “supernatural community.” But I diverge from my main point.

How does the observer of a “supernatural event” know this to be a violation of natural laws? Seeing, for example, a disembodied human head floating in front of you is a violation of the principles of gravity and wouldn’t need a theoretical understanding to recognize that fact. But how does one rule out other interpretations? We humans have become adept at showing all kinds of violations of physical laws in movies. These images, being entertaining and graphic, may just get stored away in our heads. Anyone who has ever seen the first Alien movie cannot get the image of the little beastie bursting out of the crewman’s chest. Can you? Could you erase that memory? (If you can, I want to know how you did it. I have a couple of ex-wives I wish to expunge.)

How do you know that you haven’t had a hallucination or a waking dream or even a sleeping dream that you had forgot but for some reason got triggered and you just recalled it (along with all of the associated emotions it evokes)?

It is interesting that these experiences are rarely shared (except, for obvious reasons, by crowds of the religious gathered at, say, a religious shrine, expecting a miraculous event and then after standing out in the hot sun getting dehydrated, someone shouts “I see it, do you?”). Since these experiences are rarely shared and, obviously, not repeatable, we end up discussing personal events which cannot be studied further, which supernaturalists turn around and claim is a weakness of science.

Scientists have studied supernatural claims scientifically many, many times. And nothing comes out of those studies, just <cricket, cricket, cricket>. Telekinesis studies, ESP studies, past life regression studies, on and on.

This is why supernaturalists are now claiming that science “cannot” study these events science is only suitable for studying nature. This is akin to the game of hide and seek played by god believers. Their gods start out walking around being sighted by people and interacting with them. (Consider how many times both Yahweh and Jesus are quoted (Quoted!) in the Bible. You can’t quote someone unless you have “heard” them. But these gods invariably end up in a locale such as “beyond all time and space” whatever that means. (Without space, nothing can move. Without time, nothing can change. Without space and time <cricket, cricket, cricket>.)

If supernatural events can affect people inside of nature, they aren’t supernatural. They could be evidence of advanced aliens invoking Clarke’s Third Law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.), and, gosh, don’t you know, that is being claimed right now, right here in River City, as I write this!

Supernatural claims are easy to make. One just opens one’s mouth and poof, out one comes. “I have a theory . . .” No, you don’t, you have an opinion.

The supernatural began in human history as explanations for things not understood. Brooks, rivers, oceans, mountains, you name it, all had gods in them, controlling them. Later gods became more human-like, appearing as human figures (often modified to make sure those gods wouldn’t be mis-recognized as actually being human). We no longer have brook gods, river gods, tree gods, and angels who push the planets along on their heavenly paths. Why? Because we found out what really was happening and we gave up our fantasies. But thousands of years living with fantasies has made us adept . . . at living with fantasies. (Religions, of course, are teaching each new generation that fantasies are believable!) The fantasy of the supernatural is another zombie idea that won’t die, partly because of people wanting to believe that they understand what really is going on. (I do. You do. We all do.) But, at some point, if we want to mature intellectually, we have to ask questions like “How do we know that. . . ?”

March 22, 2019

So Smart and Yet … And Still Prone to Simple Mistakes

In the most recent Scientific American issue, there was an interview with a Brazilian physicist.

Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says
In conversation, the 2019 Templeton Prize winner does not pull punches on the limits of science, the value of humility and the irrationality of nonbelief
by Lee Billings (March 20, 2019)

According to that article “Marcelo Gleiser, a 60-year-old Brazil-born theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College and prolific science popularizer, has won this year’s Templeton Prize. Valued at just under $1.5 million, the award from the John Templeton Foundation annually recognizes an individual ‘who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.’”

“… And by doing that, by understanding how science advances, science really becomes a deeply spiritual conversation with the mysterious, about all the things we don’t know. So that’s one answer to your question. And that has nothing to do with organized religion, obviously, but it does inform my position against atheism. I consider myself an agnostic.

“I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. ‘I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.’ Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations.”

I can’t really tell whether this is willful ignorance or just Lying for Jesus. It is hard to tell, but really “What is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief.”

According to this convoluted definition if you do not accept the “proof” of the existence of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, then you really just believe in their nonexistence, for no reasons whatsoever.

So, all of the evidence that Santa isn’t real is not to be considered. If you do not think Santa is real, then you have a belief in the nonbelief in Santa.

What a crock of horse pucky.

Atheism is not a belief. Here is what atheism at its core is:
Theist God exists and loves you!
Atheist I don’t “believe” you.
Theist But the proof is obvious; it is all around you.
Atheist Yeah, like what?
Theist Blah, blah, blah, blah.
Atheist Your proofs make no sense. I am not convinced.

Atheists are not believers, nor are they unbelievers. We are the unconvinced. Being unconvinced is not a state built on a foundation of belief, it is built on a foundation of no evidence, bad arguments, special pleading, logical errors, and a great many facts to the contrary.

Compatabilist scientists notwithstanding, trying to turn atheism into a belief system to imbue it with all of the flaws of religious belief systems and put it on an equal footing with them is an old, old strategy … that still does not work. Why? Because we are not convinced that atheism is a belief.

December 21, 2018

Update on Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:29 am
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Currently I am reading two books by authors with similar names neither of which I had heard before. I have already commented on Sam Pizzagati’s The Rich Do Not Always Win, an history of the early twentieth century that resulted in the largest middle class in American history. I strongly recommend this book as the rhetoric on both sides of the “wealth inequality” debate is quite illuminating.

The second book is by Michael S. Gazziniga entitled Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. This book is fabulous as it is written by a neuroscientist, one who is taking his fellow scientists to task in the free will debate.

I have previously argued that it is far too early in the scientific investigation of free will to come to any conclusion, certainly not one with such large ramifications as whether we have free will or all of our decisions being determined by physical causes. This author provides a piece of this discussion that I had not heard before and it is a lollapalooza.

He starts with addressing free will in the context of responsibility, the primary question is “Can we hold people responsible for their decisions?” (If not our criminal justice system is far worse off than it already is.) This is enough of a foothold on free will to proceed. After going over the neurological research that seems to apply to the question he makes the following argument: consciousness is an emergent property of brains possessing enough connections. This is not a revelation, most people buy into this conclusion. He then goes on to claim that emergent properties represent a disconnect from the basic physical conditions that create the property in the first place! If this holds up, then determinism is done for, toast, kaput, won’t apply, because there are quite a few layers of emergent mental properties stacked up that the basic physical entities (atoms, molecules, DNA, genes, etc.) will not be able to get through.

He gives as an example the building of a car. A careful designer can create a car with its engine, transmission, differential, wheels, tires, electronics, etc. that will perform pretty much exactly as designed. (I have just finished reading a book on the design of the most recent iteration of the Ford GT race car. It was designed to win the 24 Hours at Le Mans race … and did. This is an example of determinism, the whole being the sum of its parts.) But … you knew that was coming, didn’t you? … but none of a car’s physical parameters, its specifications, can explain … traffic. When you take automobiles and roads, traffic shows up as an emergent property and traffic cannot be predicted from nor can it be determined by any car’s design! And if this weren’t enough, the author claims that the emergent properties affect the original vehicles through feedback. For example, this souped up race car might overheat badly in beep and creep traffic, so has to have to be modified or just garaged and not driven on normal roads. (I haven’t finished this second part of his argument but basically he argues “that the mind, which is somehow generated by the physical processes of the brain, constrains the brain.” The mind constrains the brain. Think about that. (There are many examples of this happening, but like I said I haven’t finished this part yet.)

This argument about emergent properties blocking deterministic causes seems to blow the argument of free will v. determinism out of the water with determinism the loser. We have to wait and see if it holds up.

So, what do you think? Is consciousness and therefore free will determined such that we actually have only the illusion of free will and making our own choices, or is making conscious choices an emergent ability not determined by physical inputs to our brains? (The author explains why we all have the perception of an “I” making decisions by the way, even though “I” does not exist.”

 

November 13, 2018

No, I Don’t Think So, Nope

I started reading the book The Evolution of God by Robert Wright last night and right from the start he declared himself to be an accommodationist.

There have been many such unsettling (from religion’s point of view) discoveries since then, but always some notion of the divine has survived the encounter with science. The notion has had to change, but that’s no indictment of religion. After all, science has changed relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories, and none of us think of that as an indictment of science. On the contrary, we think this ongoing adaptation is carrying science closer to the truth. Maybe the same thing is happening to religion.

He is even more explicit shortly thereafter:

“These two big “clash” questions can be put into one sentence: Can religions in the modern world reconcile themselves to one another, and can they reconcile themselves to science? I think their history points to affirmative answers.

I am interested to see how he pulls this off. He is hinted that the religious will need to modify their beliefs in the process, so I wish him luck with that.

Here I want to address the first quote above, specifically the part “After all, science has changed relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories, and none of us think of that as an indictment of science. On the contrary, we think this ongoing adaptation is carrying science closer to the truth. Maybe the same thing is happening to religion.”

Uh, no. In this he is overlooking a few small aspects of science that are completely missing from religion. First, scientists are looking for what works and allow that nature gets to decide. A good scientist follows wherever the evidence leads. If one’s thoughts are refuted, one changes one’s mind … period. (Some struggle at this more than others but a scientist hanging on to disproved ideas can expect only ridicule and pity at best from other scientists.)

Scientists arrive at their truths through criticism of their own ideas (it is required not just encouraged).

Religionists, on the other hand, claim to already know the truth, some claim that they are in possession of all of the truths and that there are no more. They do not systematically examine what they believe to weed out error and mistakes; they do not even encourage that. And they only change their minds when they absolutely have to, often never reaching this state. After all, who is going to change their mind for them. Even in the Catholic Church, whose leaders have accepted parts of evolution theory, there are some Catholics who accept no part of that theory. (In addition the Church’s leadership on artificial birth control has been ignored by 90+% of American women.)

So, the idea that “Maybe the same thing is happening to religion.” is impossible. Any change occurring in religions will not be based upon changing “relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories” so, while religion does change (the gaps that gods used to hide in have gotten smaller and smaller) it will not be due to the “same thing” as happens in science when it changes. Scientists want science to change, want it to get better, want it to work better. Religionists claim that there is nothing to change, nothing to get better, nothing to work better. It is all correct as is. Why would it want to get closer to the truth? They believe there is no “closer” possible.

 

 

 

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