Friday, July 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

On creationists:

"The primary contention of the creationists appears to be that rather than apply Ockham’s Razor we should instead be using Uri Geller's Spoon."

- chooseDoubt

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quote of the day

On Creationists:

"Their proofs are like their gods - fictional"
- Me

ps. if someone knows of someone that said this before send me the link and I'll stick their name on it.

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A Message to all Creationists.

I've recently received a lengthy comment to a post I wrote called "A Message to all Christians". The original comment from a creationist is here. My response is applicable to all creationists, and so I address it to you all, but I am going to respond specifically to this anonymous comment. I'd suggest reading the original comment first. You will likely, as a creationist, find yourself absolutely convinced by the arguments raised. Then prove yourself honest and read the other side of argument below. Anyway, here is my response:

Dear Anonymous,

I am going to perform for you the most gratuitously amicable favour of introducing you to reality. There will be no need to thank me afterwards. I do this purely to assist you in avoiding the same mistakes twice. This is going to be a long response and there will be no pictures. I will try to be as concise as possible but I trust you will understand that at times brevity must be sacrificed for the sake of accuracy and allowing space to provide the facts.

Your anecdote regarding a palaeontologist not believing in evolution was a delight to read, if only for the sheer improbability of the occurrence. You see the percentage of scientists qualified in the earth and life sciences (the relevant scientific fields) in your country that do not support the theory of evolution is 0.15% (Robinson 1995, data from Gallup). Since this is the same percentage of qualified historians that are Holocaust deniers, I must congratulate you on your improbable find. Perchance congratulations are not in order though, if it is this one improbable encounter that has led you to a life of subsequent delusion and probably the greatest cause for ignorance in your life.

Let's go through the quotes you provide to support your argument.

First you misquote Darwin as follows:

"Often a cold shudder has run through me, and I have asked myself whether I may not have devoted myself to a phantasy." (Charles Darwin, Life and Letters, 1887, Vol. 2 p.229)

Instead of answering you myself let's leave it up to Darwin by putting this particular quote back into it's context within the letter from which it was extracted, which was from a letter from Charles Darwin to Charles Lyell. I have highlighted your quote in italics and used bold to highlight the context within which it appears.

Ilkley Wells, Yorkshire,

November 23 [1859].

My dear Lyell,

You seemed to have worked admirably on the species question; there could not have been a better plan than reading up on the opposite side. I rejoice profoundly that you intend admitting the doctrine of modification in your new edition; nothing, I am convinced, could be more important for its success. I honour you most sincerely. To have maintained in the position of a master, one side of a question for thirty years, and then deliberately give it up, is a fact to which I much doubt whether the records of science offer a parallel. For myself, also, I rejoice profoundly; for, thinking of so many cases of men pursuing an illusion for years and often a cold shudder has run through me, and I have asked myself whether I may not have devoted my life to a phantasy. Now I look at it as morally impossible that investigators of truth, like you and Hooker, can be wholly wrong, and therefore I rest in peace. Thank you for criticisms, which, if there be a second edition, I will attend to. I have been thinking that if I am much execrated as an atheist, etc., whether the admission of the doctrine of natural selection could injure your works; but I hope and think not, for as far as I can remember, the virulence of bigotry is expended on the first offender, and those who adopt his views are only pitied as deluded, by the wise and cheerful bigots.

I cannot help thinking that you overrate the importance of the multiple origin of dogs. The only difference is, that in the case of single origins, all difference of the races has originated since man domesticated the species. In the case of multiple origins part of the difference was produced under natural conditions. I should infinitely prefer the theory of single origin in all cases, if facts would permit its reception. But there seems to me some à priori improbability (seeing how fond savages are of taming animals), that throughout all times, and throughout all the world, that man should have domesticated one single species alone, of the widely distributed genus Canis. Besides this, the close resemblance of at least three kinds of American domestic dogs to wild species still inhabiting the countries where they are now domesticated, seem to almost compel admission that more than one wild Canis has been domesticated by man. [Page 26] I thank you cordially for all the generous zeal and interest you have shown about my book, and I remain, my dear Lyell,

Your affectionate friend and disciple,


Sir J. Herschel, to whom I sent a copy, is going to read my book. He says he leans to the side opposed to me. If you should meet him after he has read me, pray find out what he thinks, for, of course, he will not write; and I should excessively like to hear whether I produce any effect on such a mind.

So, as you see, and you can clearly confirm this yourself, Darwin was certainly not claiming his discovery to be a fantasy.

Your next quote:

"Evolution is the backbone of biology and biology is thus in a peculiar position of being a science founded on unproven theory. Is it then a science of faith? Belief in the theory of evolution is thus exactly parallel to belief in special creation. Both are concepts which the believers know to be true, but neither up to the present, has been capable of proof." (L.H. Matthews, Introduction of the 1971 edition of Origin of the Species pp. x,xi)

I do not posses a copy of the 1971 edition of Origin of Species and neither can I verify its existence. You will however note that Darwin died in 1882 and thus, even if your quote is genuine, I find little connection between Darwin's work and a 1971 quote.

In fact, the only place I can find that quote is on creationist web sites and in a 64 page booklet by the creationist Ralph O. Muncaster. I do not know that the quote is a fake as I do not have the reference to demonstrate that, however it is extremely likely that it is a fake and that it has never appeared in any publication of The Origin of Species. Even if I am wrong and this quote does appear in an edition of the Origin of Species, it is simply the comment of a secondary commentator which is thoroughly rebuked by the simple fact that significant evidence does exist for evolution. The latest such evidence published is the observation of a rapid evolutionary change in the Great Eggfly (a.k.a. Blue Moon) butterfly on the Samoan Island of Savaii published in the July 13 edition of Science.

Furthermore, scientific theories are never proven. That is simply not how science works and any scientist would know that. They may only be disproved. A theory is a hypothesis that has been tested and supported by subsequent evidence. So the theory of evolution is a tested hypothesis that is to date supported by absolutely all resultant evidence and contradicted by none. If this were not so the theory of evolution would be a disproved theory and relegated to the junk heap of human imagination.

In other words, this quote reveals only that you, and the person you quote, are not in accordance with the evidence and demonstrate no knowledge of the scientific method.

Moving on you then choose to quote Darwin again, claiming not to have written down the precise source of the quote:

"To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting to the focus of different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." (Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species
I did not write down the page number. I'm sure you can look it up in your own copy. I believe it is from the chapter entitled, "Problems with the Theory.")

Let's put this one in context as well by providing the full quote, which incidentally can be found in The Origin of Species, Chapter 6, under the heading "Organs of extreme perfection and complication". Again I have highlighted your partial quote in italics. It does not seem necessary to bold the relevant context since it is all entirely relevant.

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.

It doesn't quite present the opinion you were attempting to claim it does, does it! In fact, it states the reverse.

I believe at this point we are starting to see a pattern emerge. The quotes you offer are classic examples of the intellectually vacuous practice of quote mining – the practice of taking small quotations from within their explanatory context to attempt to reverse their meaning, a classic and dishonest tactic of creationist goons, incapable of facing reason and so determining to cheat and lie instead. When they are not cases of quote mining then they are nothing more than commentary by others and represent nothing more than an argument from authority, a classic logical fallacy known to be worthless by atheist and theist philosophers alike, without even the good grace to provide a credible source for that "authority". Anyway, let's move on and see if matters improve.

Your next quote:

"Evolution is unproved and improvable, we believe it only because the alternative is special creation, and that is unthinkable." (–Sir Arthur Keith, a Scottish anatomist and anthropologist, and was a leading figure in the study of Human fossils.)

I can't find this quote attached to Sir Arthur Keith in any source other than creationist literature. Since it is well published that he was in fact a proponent of evolution, I suspect this also to be a fake. Regardless, it would still be nothing more than an argument from authority and thus worthless. Evidence is required, not opinion, regardless of who's the opinion is.

I'd also point out that the fifth word of the quote is "improvable" and not "unprovable", which I suspect many people misread or misinterpret. I'll mention one last time that science never proves theories; it only offers evidence to support them or evidence that disproves them. Only evidence to support evolution has ever been found. You seem unaware of the scientific method and perhaps that is why you do not appreciate it.

However, even if the above quote is not a fake allow me to point out that Keith was suspected as a co-conspirator of the Piltdown Man Hoax and was not an anti-Christian as the creationist literature claims but he did have some unusual ideas regarding Jews. Amongst his famous quotes that are verifiable are such gems as:

"Another mark of race possessed by the Jews must be mentioned. Their conduct is regulated by a ‘dual code‘; their conduct towards their fellows is based on one code (amity), and that towards all who are outside their circle on another (enmity). The use of the dual code, as we have seen, is a mark of an evolving race. My deliberate opinion is that racial characters are more strongly developed in the Jews than in any other race."

Sir Arthur Keith, ‘A new Theory of Human Evolution‘ 1948


"The German Führer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution."

Sir Arthur Keith, 'Evolution and Ethics', Putnam, New York, 1947, p. 230.

Anyway, that was the last quote you provided, all of which I think I have adequately exposed as the fatuous attempts to gain legitimacy by fraud that they are. Let's move on to the rest of your misunderstanding.

You claim that any honest person must admit that neither evolution nor creationism is actual science. Actually there are many thousands of papers published in peer reviewed scientific journals demonstrating evolution as a science. Many thousands of scientists, including in Iran of all places, carry out research on government and private funds exposing the finer detail on specifics of evolution on a daily basis. Modern pharmacology is highly influenced by evolutionary theory, especially with regards to treatments for bacterial and viral disorders and genetic disease.

Millions of independent pieces of evidence in fields from palaeontology to the study of the HIV virus are all mutually corroboratory and absolute in support of evolutionary theory. In fact, not one single piece of evidence so far discovered and not one living organism yet studied has presented any contradiction to evolutionary theory. The study of evolution is most certainly a science and billions of dollars each year invested globally in all fields of the life sciences absolutely concur with that fact.

Let's move on to creationism, where the conclusion is less kind. Not one shred of evidence that contradicts evolution has ever been presented by creationists. Not one Intelligent Design proponent or Creationist (they are one and the same intellectual abomination) has ever been published in a peer reviewed journal. Creationism as it relates to a young Earth is also absolutely contradicted by evidence from archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, astrophysics, biology, history, genetics, geology, molecular biology, radiology and many other and more specific fields of research. In the meantime not one creationist argument has stood up to scrutiny. Not one creationist has provided any evidence. Not one creationist hypothesis has been proposed and tested and that is why to this date there does not exist a single creationist theory. Creationism is supported by a sum total of ZERO evidence.

Creationism is most certainly not a science.

Your quotes are either misquotes out of their context, which I have provided above, or arguments from authority (meaningless, that is if they are not simply fake). In other words your entire counter argument against evolution amounts to absolutely nothing. Much of your argument after the quotes relies on your Darwin misquotes, which I have already debunked, and so you are left with absolutely nothing in your argument beyond "I have faith", which is all you can have since you have absolutely nothing else to support your belief.

You have misquoted scientists and misrepresented facts and the sole reason that I do not label you as an idiot and a liar is because I am labouring under the generous assumption that you are simply genuinely mistaken and misled by unscrupulous charlatans as opposed to being one yourself. I must point out however that I have trouble maintaining this charitable assumption since in your original anecdote you describe scientists unpacking T-Rex fossils from Utah for assembly whilst on open display, when this would almost certainly be a closed door procedure requiring an exacting inventory and cataloguing procedure which would not take place on the museum floor and the later arrangement would be subject to rigorous and careful safety controls to protect the fossils and this would be so in virtually any museum on the planet, very probably every museum - even in the third world. In other words, I am virtually certain that even the introductory premise for your later comments is an outright lie. As I have previously said though, I shall generously allow you the benefit of this near imperceptible doubt.

Anyway, moving on to the rest of your comment.

You said:

Have you ever visited Mount Rushmore? I have been blessed (or lucky from your perspective :) to have had the opportunity of visiting 47 states, most provinces in Canada and several foreign countries (I am currently composing this message in Africa on my laptop computer and will send it thought an MTN antenna). You would call me a fool if I looked at Mount Rushmore and tried to convince you that water erosion had carved those faces over billions of years. And yet, you choose to look in the mirror every morning and convince yourself that the living, breathing, wonderfully designed image you see in the mirror is a fabulous miracle of natural selection having happened without design over billions of years. [Pause] OK, you have the right to believe that, but please change the name of your blog to something like "choosefaith." -Because truly your faith is far greater than Rhology's or mine.

I have travelled extensively, having lived for many years outside of the country of my birth, yet I see no reason why this experience would qualify me or anybody else to comment on matters of scientific truth unless I had undertaken relevant scientific research during those travels and was thus commenting on the evidence. I have not seen Mount Rushmore first hand, but again I find this of no relevance in evaluating the evidence with regards to the theory of evolution. I wonder, have you ever seen of the Face on Mars because it was precisely weather erosion that created that. But that is also absolutely meaningless with regards to evolution.

What your statement really boils down to is this "How can complexity come from a non-intelligent process?" and it is precisely this question that evolution so thoroughly and demonstrably answers. Let's take a more famous example of this same question, William Paley's Watchmaker Analogy:

1. If you look at a watch, you can easily tell that it was designed and built by an intelligent watchmaker.
2. Similarly, if you look at some natural phenomenon X (a particular organ or organism, the structure of the solar system, life, the entire universe) you can easily tell that it was designed and built by an intelligent creator/designer.

Before we go on to complexity in life let's first point out that the formation of the solar system is staggeringly well understood and requires only natural law, not a designer, to have formed the star and the planets and moons and coordinate their motion.

With regards to the complexity of life, Charles Darwin actually read Paley's argument whilst he was studying theology at Christ's College, Cambridge in 1831 and believed it to be rational proof of the existence of a god. Do you understand the importance of that? The watchmaker argument (identical to your Mount Rushmore argument) actually preceded Darwin's discovery of evolution and Darwin himself was convinced by that very same argument prior to his discovery of evolution by natural selection. Darwin, like Paley, believed that living beings showed such a high degree of complexity and that they were so exquisitely suited to their environments that they must have been designed.

Later however, on the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin became suspicious of Paley's argument as he encountered a wider range of species and began to formulate his own ideas. After he had returned from his voyage he formulated his Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection as a superior explanation to Paley's Intelligent Design argument and provided documented evidence to support his new claim.

I think you need to understand that Intelligent Design is not a challenger to Evolution by Natural Selection. Intelligent Design was the established understanding prior to Darwin's theory and was thoroughly defeated by it. The problem here is that you just don't have any education with regards to evolution by natural selection, which is a massive liability for you if you hope to oppose it.

Let me try and fill you in a bit.

Evolution by Natural Selection was so named because Darwin was highlighting the similarity between selection that takes place in nature and the artificial selection that was already well documented and had been used for many centuries by humans in the breeding of a wide range of animals and plants. Artificial selection was well understood and well practiced in the breeding of dogs, cattle, horses, flowers, and a wide array of other plants and animals. It was established fact that by controlling which individuals mated and produced offspring that you could steer towards desirable traits, such as fast horses or spotted dogs, over several generations.

Darwin realised that the same process was possible without a person controlling the breeding. Nature could, and in fact does, control the breeding because the environment determines which animals survive long enough to breed. As the environment changes or as organisms migrate to different environments, nature is selecting which organisms survive long enough to breed and which do not. The result is accumulated changes which over many generations can result in such huge changes that it is no longer possible for organisms to breed with the organisms they originally descended from. That is known as speciation. The whole thing is really that simple.

To sum up evolution by natural selection we can use the following phrase, which I will explain afterwards.

Evolution occurs by the non-random selection of randomly varying replicators.

Now, the replicators are molecules of DNA, the genetic recipe to build an organism. If organisms reproduce sexually, that is by combining their DNA with the DNA of another of their species, then we immediately have variation between the parent and the child because we have a mix of both parents DNA. If the organism reproduces asexually, that is we have only one parent, then the child should be an exact copy of the parent.

Now, what happens with sexual reproduction is that the child has half its genes from one parent and half from the other. These are direct copies of the parent's genes. The combination is new but the genes are not. This is how artificial selection mostly works. We simply combine two parents with the desired trait and thus increase the probability that the offspring will inherit that trait. This is not how we end up with speciation, which is why it is possible to breed a Chihuahua with a Great Dane. Regardless of the variation in genes, two members of the same species have the same numbers of genes in the same addresses (locations within the DNA) and so they can still interbreed.

Rarely however there are errors when the DNA is copied. These errors are changes in the genetic recipe to build the organism and they are often harmless and often harmful but sometimes this random change actually results in a slightly changed offspring that has some small advantage over it's fellows in surviving to breed or having more offspring. This is the same for sexual and asexual reproduction.

Some of its offspring will inherit this new genetic advantage. They will also benefit from being more likely to have offspring and so over time this new or changed section of the genetic recipe becomes more and more common in amongst all the organisms of that type. There are two points to understand here. First, while the change is random whether or not the change helps the organism to survive to breed is not. If the change makes a bird's beak better able to get at a specific plant's seeds then it is obviously not a random truth that the bird that can get at the food stands a better chance of surviving to breed. Secondly, over time, the frequency of that gene – the number of organisms of that type that exist in that environment and carry that gene – will increase.

Now, let's imagine that we have one type of species and its many members live across a wide area. Through changes in the environment some get cut off from the rest and so they become two separate populations. Now, mutations that occur in each population will not be shared across the species as a whole. They may also face different environments and so different non-random selective pressures. Over many generations there is a good chance that each population will accumulate changes that are beneficial for them in their respective locations. If the two populations get back together somehow after a great deal of time then it is even possible that they will have changed so much in comparison to each other that they will no longer be able to interbreed. They have speciated.

This is evolution by natural selection, but it does not require populations to become geographically detached although that is a common factor.

The truth is that the accumulation of tiny changes over many thousands, and even millions, of generations can result in species that are incredibly different. If we follow this logic backwards over the periods of time many different sciences and dating techniques prove that life has existed for, then we can be very secure, also thanks to genetic information that we are now able to read, that absolutely every single living thing on this planet shares a common ancestor. Creationists like to get upset because they think evolutionists are calling them monkeys and this is simply untrue. What we are saying, and what we have mountains of evidence to prove, is that we are related to monkeys and around five million years ago we share a common ancestor with today's chimpanzees. But before you get upset, which incidentally does nothing to change the truth of the matter, keep the following in mind.

Not only are you related to chimpanzees and monkeys but you are related to every living thing that lives now and has ever lived on this world. Absolutely everything from a blade of grass to a whale is not just figuratively but is in actual fact your family. The simple yet beautiful process of evolution by natural selection - an observed, recorded and demonstrated fact supported by every piece of evidence on the planet – connects you to everyone and everything in nature for the entire history of this world. We are all cousins.

Thanks to the evidence, this is undeniable.

Now, you can still keep your faith if you really think you must but you have to face the fact that this creationist stuff is just plain wrong. I personally believe that the evidence shows that your faith is clearly wrong also, but if you can't bite that bullet yet at least face up to the truth that evolution is called a theory in science but in science what we call a theory is what non-scientists call fact. If you'd like read from and get in touch with other Christians that remain Christian but have accepted that evolution is a fact then try the Old Earth Network to begin with. They are Christians who keep their faith but accept the truth of evolution.

If you'd like to know more about the fact of evolution and why creationism is certainly false please feel free to leave me a comment or head over to Talk Origins, where they have article after article and scientific proof after scientific proof that explains the errors and the lies of EVERY creationist argument that has ever been raised.

All the best,


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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ahteist Morality Blogalogue Update

I have updated the Atheist Morality Blogalogue with my latest response.

If you have not seen this blogalogue, in which I am debating Morality without God with a Christian Missionary, and you are interested in following it, the links below will take you to the parts so far on-line:

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This is what happens when you brain rape children

Take a look at this poor kid.

Now, I recognise that a simple reaction is to hate and ridicule him. But let's be honest. He's too young and certainly to ill educated form his own opinion. In fact, he states clearly that he's been educated by Kent Hovind.

Any atheists watching this know immediately what I am talking about when I refer to the religious abuse of children by indoctrination - and no, I am not talking of the Catholic Church's payment methods for their unquenchable thirst for child sex slaves. I'm talking about the abuse of the mind.

Now theists, this kid is suffering from the abuse we talk about. He's got no idea of what he's talking about and such a passionate belief, almost certainly based on fear, that erupts into hatred and virtually assures he will spend his whole life under the yoke of barbarous ideas with his ability to think critically well and truly switched off. Do you see what we mean when we refer to child indoctrination as abuse?

Most theists at this point will probably be in agreement that this kid is abused but will be saying "But I wasn't abused like that, religion has been good for me". The truth is that if you were indoctrinated as a child then you simply aren't aware of the balkanising effects it has had on you and the large spanner that has been firmly lodged in the working of your critical faculties - just as this kid isn't.

I hope that some of you will at least think about whether or not I have a point.

End the indoctrination of children now. Let them learn enough about the world to choose their own beliefs once they are mature enough to do so. If you really have faith in the truth of your position then what do you have to fear by letting them mature enough to understand it before forcing it upon them?

(Hat Tip: Atheist Perspective)

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Another problem with the Cosmological Argument.

The Cosmological Argument is regularly trotted out by the faithful as though it is some sort of proof of the existence of a god. It's also commonly referred to as one of the below:

  • First Mover

  • First Cause

  • Argument from Universal Causation

It was first posited by Plato and later by Aristotle, but both stated caveats - mainly the requirement of another coexistent substance for the first mover to organise. But that's another story. The argument, as it is offered today, goes something like this:

Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
The universe began to exist.
Therefore the universe had a cause.

This to me sounds quite reasonable up to this point, although I wouldn't say I support the idea. I prefer to wait for relevant evidence. Theists then plug this line on the end of it:

God must have been the first cause – the uncaused cause.

There are numerous problems with this way of thinking such as the fact that the first cause violates the entire premise for the argument and that even if we accept a first cause, which is by no means necessary if we consider an eternally existing loop, then we are still left no reason whatsoever to consider that first cause to be a god or in anyway intelligent. I'm not going to go into this now as the argument is old and no one knows the answer – no one yet, and we may never. Instead I'd like to focus on how theists tend to view this.

First of all, in the theist view, there is a god. This god has existed for eternity. This is actually not compatible with our modern understanding of space-time since the beginning of the universe was also the beginning of the dimension of time and thus there was no eternity before the universe, but let's just accept for now, for purely hypothetical exploration, that time extended back before its own emergence.

So in the theistic view we have a god existing uniquely, with no other anything (remember that both Plato and Aristotle also required a coexistent substance along with the First Cause for it to manipulate), for eternity and then at some point creating this universe. This demands the question, why? Why sit around for eternity and then without any other stimulus, and no internal stimulus either as the omniscient nature of god means absolutely no possibility of decision making or thought, suddenly choose that moment to create a universe? It's a big problem because it requires a cause. It requires a motivation that existed at that moment and no other. It requires a cause to motivate god to pick that particular instant to kick the whole thing off after sulking around for eternity.

The argument is again victim of its own constraints. Suddenly we do not require just one First Cause but two.

Theists will say god chose to do it at that time, but god cannot choose – see my omniscience post. So god had to have a reason; a reason that cannot be internal to it since god is unchanging. Furthermore that motivational cause that selected that exact moment to create the universe also had to have a cause. And that cause would have needed a cause also. It becomes yet another infinite regress.

The result is that if we posit a god as a first cause what we actually end up with, when looking at the expansion of causes away from the point of creation, either from the post or pre-creation side, is an hour glass appearance of ever expanding causes crimped to one cause at the point of creation, with the only difference being that everything pre-creation, even if we accept god as a first cause, still needs another infinite regresses of non-god causes to push him into action.

An ideal candidate for Ockham's Razor, I think.

The Cosmological Argument is not at this time answerable but there really is absolutely no reason to conclude that even if there is a first cause, which is unknown and thinking there is may simply be a fault of our limited and linear perception of time, that it must be a god. In fact, positing a god fails to solve the problem and in fact exaggerates it if we are to also posit that this first cause is omniscient. I strongly suspect, and I will examine the logic in the near future, that giving this first cause any definable property whatsoever breaks the argument. Even if it does not, it might just as easily be the universe itself or any infinite number of other options that are the first cause. But if we do posit an omniscient and eternal god then that god needs a reason to select one moment in eternity to kick it off and not any other moment. God sitting around for eternity and then just making a decision just doesn't work – it defies his alleged omniscience.

That requires that god is either not omniscient or not eternal or is neither. Once again, a theistic logical claim for proof of the existence of god actually turns out to be the complete opposite, even when we allow the universe wide leeway of no evidence, no reason and no exclusion of equally baseless hypotheses.

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Atheist Morality Blogalogue Part 2.


Theist blogger Rhology and I are debating morality. In Part 1 of this debate Rhology started things off and I then responded. The debate now continues with Rhology’s response. My own response will be tagged on to this post just as soon as I have completed it (I have some exams at this time and so can’t guarantee that I will complete this before Wednesday – will do my best though). In the meantime, I'd like to thank Rhology for his response.


Part 2 continues ...

Posted by Rhology on Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hi ChooseDoubt,

Thanks for your rebuttal. This length of post seems to be good and I'll try to stay in that range myself.

I'll address your rebuttal in two sections, the minor point 1st and the major 2nd.

1) My Morality

You are right that my morality is based on the teachings of the Bible, b/c I believe it is the Word of God, breathed out by God. You have suggested that I incompletely follow the Bible's directives b/c they do not fit my preference. My contention is that I do indeed do so but it is against my desire; rather, I *desire* to follow all of God's directives but I am a sinner and so fail. It is your responsibility, however, to prove that I intentionally refuse to hold to applicable directives.

You cited Leviticus 20:10 and 15:19-24 and assumed I do not follow them. The only way your charge against me will stick, however, is if you demonstrate proper exegesis of the biblical text. This is a task that you, as an atheist, will probably be hard-pressed to perform. We can wait and see, but already you've gone far astray and failed to inspire much confidence up front.

Levitical law was specifically directed towards the ancient Hebrews, who lived in a theocratic society governed directly by God. They were to worship God in the Temple/tabernacle, ritually pure, thru a sacrificial system. The sacrificial system, as the book of Hebrews tells us, was a shadow of Christ, was to point to Christ's sacrifice. Ritual purity/impurity was never a matter of simple outward performance but was always a matter of the heart. Now, after Christ's coming, the outward performance of ritual purity is done away with; purity resides in the heart and spirit (Hebrews, Romans 14, 1 Cor 8, Mark 7:14-23).

Moreover, as theocratic society, they had their own juridical laws (ie, the OT Law), judicial system, social laws, etc. Church and st were not separate.

Many instances in the New Testament, however, indicate that Christians are to submit themselves to the law of the land in which they live except where the law violates God's commands (Rom 13, 1 Peter, Matt 22:20-22). Ancient Hebrew gov't policy would have been to execute Abhishek and Savdeep; current US law is not to. So I don't.

2) Your Morality

Yet, in an atheist universe, so what if I did go out w/ weapon in hand to wreak God's punishment on Abhishek and Savdeep?
In your pie example, you seem to be telling us that humans discover morality in a very similar way that they taste pie. That has been my point all along, in fact, and it is gratifying that we agree on that. In fact, I'd say that my thesis has been established given your admission. But I might be misreading you.

Let's say that I am let into the room to taste the pie. The 2nd man preferred the strawberry. I preferred the chocolate. We disagree now, based on our personal preferences.

In an atheist universe, we need to know on what basis one could know right from wrong in order to live personally and in society. Your answer is to taste the pie. Very well; you like strawberry pie. I like torturing 6-yr-old girls for fun. You like sex w/ hyena carcasses, I like my pie à la mode.

Now, you said:

Instead we can use real world, case specific information to make such choices.

Which we do every day, whether it's tasting pie, judging whether the bus is going to run over us, or figuring whether it would be preferable to torture that 6-yr-old girl for the heck of it or not to. The problem is the faculty we'd use to MAKE the decision, not the supporting info.

And this brings me to the final point. You said:

in claiming God is necessary for morality would you then be of the opinion that without your belief in a god you would begin raping, murdering and stealing with no personal capacity to differentiate what you currently consider to be right from wrong?

I have no idea what kind of person I'd be if I didn't believe in God. My guess is I'd be a fairly decent citizen b/c that's how I was brought up. I'd also probably be addicted to science fiction novels and games, into porn and incredibly depressed. I'm not certain, but that's where my pre-Jesus life was heading.

However, since atheism offers NO moral guidance beyond personal (or, at best, societal) preference, the fact that neither you nor I would probably be inclined to believe that torturing 6-yr-old girls for fun is morally acceptable and would try to stop it if we observed it is due to your borrowing capital from my worldview. You have no way at all to make any objective morality judgment, so, either wittingly or unwittingly, you are reaching over to Christianity, snatching most of our moral framework, importing it back to your own, and then acting like it IS your own and continuing your attacks on Christianity. But when I ask to see the serial number on the gun, I see that it came from my own shop. You ask,

I think you would need to define what properties of this god make it uniquely valid as an external validator of "preference" above any other external validator?

The God of the Bible (TGOTB) created the universe, the spiritual realms, and all spiritual and physical beings. He holds them all together at every moment. He gave laws to mankind that flow out from His nature. Ie, He is loving; He commands humans to love. He is just; He commands humans to be just and fair. He is holy; He commands humans to be holy. Etc.
I know you don't buy that, but that's the Christian worldview. And given that you have to borrow from it to make your own moral standards, it's hard to take seriously any claim beyond personal preference for an atheistic morality.


Posted by ChooseDoubt, Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hi Rhology,

Thanks for your response. Before I get on and answer that I'd just like to clean up a few points, as raised by G-Man in my comments section and one or two of my own.

First of all the title of this Blogalogue may be a little misleading. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in a god and as such morality may be as variable between atheists as it is between various religious sects. With that in mind, when I mention specific moral examples I speak only for myself and I do not represent other atheists, although many may agree with me.

G-man raises the question of what we mean by morality and it's a good point. We could go for a dictionary definition which boils down to concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong, but then we would be forced to define good and evil and right and wrong and that itself would boil down to that which is moral and that which is not. It is circular reasoning and not especially useful. That's why I'm going to go into some detail in this post on the flexibility of those considerations dependent upon circumstance and how that proves that absolutes, as prescribed by religions, are in fact destined to fail with regards to the flexibility of human experience.

Anyway, let's move on.

Your first criticism of my argument in which I stated that you do not follow the morality of the Bible is that you desire to and so your failure is unintentional. This immediately highlights one obvious truth – religious faith, and even your extensive religious education, does not ensure that you follow the faith based moral code. So your key argument that one cannot be moral without a god can in fact be expanded by your own evidence to no better than one cannot be moral with or without a god. Indeed, it is a main precept of Christianity that you are irrevocably a sinner and thus immoral for your entire life. Religious belief has not made you moral by the standard which you declare uniquely viable and that very same standard declares in all certainty that you can never be moral.

Secondly, you state that you cannot be bound to the example Old Testament edicts of God that I mentioned, specifically Leviticus 20:10 and 15:19-24, through an argument of exegesis that I as an atheist would struggle to understand. This is an empty argument and the common resort of a theologian who has no adequate response to the question – effectively the "you just don't get it" argument. Leviticus 15:19-24 may indeed apply only to the Ancient Hebrews, although I am not aware that it is so, but Leviticus 20:10 is also specified in the Ten Commandments and so it is inescapable that it remains in effect. As Jesus mentioned in Matthew 5:17-20

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus, whilst he may later have said "he without sin etc" was very clear above in specifying that he is making no change to Old Testament law. Thus your morality, if it is by the book, must include, as a minimum, the support for the murder of adulterers, amongst others, since any other response, even if it is in accordance with the law of the land, remains in violation of god's commands which you state yourself is defined as a time when the faithful should follow primarily the law of god and not that of the land. By a similar standard the law of god allows the keeping of slaves. The law of the land is not in agreement and thus the law of god must trump it. So I remain convinced that your failure to follow all biblical requirements for a moral life is not simply a matter of failure but a matter of choice. Your morality remains pure preference and all that you can claim to do is prefer some, but not all, of the biblical requirements.

Before moving on to my morality, let's get this pie business out of the way. The two points I wished to make with the pie thought experiment were that there are criteria for making value judgements and the subsequent assessment of their validity and that those criteria do not require a god, as was your assertion. The criteria can be established based on learning from experience and causality. I now argue that not only does this hold true for our entire approach to morality but it is also what held true for the evolutionary development of behaviour that we now call moral – call it the Blind Moral-maker if you wish. I'm going to come back to that in a little while when I explore evolutionary origins of morality.

Continuing with the pie thought experiment you contest that if you then had option to taste the pies and you preferred one and that the previously stated second man preferred the other then that this constitutes a problem for morality. It does not and that will be covered in evolutionary morality, but for now let me just simply agree with you – yes, it all comes down to personal preference. Where you go wrong is in assuming each preference for an individual to be independent of all others preferences. You fail to take into account the group dynamic of multiple personal preferences, which renders your fear of personal preference null.

You accuse me of having to borrow Christian morality to create my own moral standards. This is frankly absurd. If I happen to agree that grass is green have I borrowed that definition from Jesus (Mark 6:39)? This is clearly not true and can be demonstrated further by your indication that you would have approved of killing Abhishek and Savdeep under Ancient Hebrew law. I, if god appeared to me personally and demanded that I do it, would still flatly refuse. If I happen to agree then I agree. If I do not agree then I do not. No argument from authority, regardless of the authority, will change my mind. Your commanded morality appears extremely weak and vacuous by comparison and so perhaps the reason why you cannot understand that anybody else may have personal morality without the need for a religious crutch is because you lack it. Your own morality is thus rendered as nothing greater than mindless obedience, elicited only by the promise of personal punishment or personal reward. This is even more base than the evolutionary basis for morality which does permit the individual to commit truly selfless acts.

But even if we restrict your borrowing charge simply to morality then I can only presume that Jesus likewise borrowed the Golden Rule from The Mahabharata, Confucius, Hilel, Buddha, Zarathustra, Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, not to mention in more limited form (only applied to "the children of thy people" – the Golden Race Rule) from Leviticus 19:34. And surely, if you are to claim that my own moral vacuity requires this borrowing of your religions "original" morality then how can one account for those that espoused morals displayed without such influence, and even in contradiction of such influence? As Christopher Hitchens puts it:

"Is it to be believed that the Jews got as far as Sinai under the impression that murder, theft, and perjury were more or less all right? And, in the story of the good man from Samaria, is it claimed that the man went out of his way to help a fellow creature because of a divine instruction? He was clearly, since he preceded Jesus, not motivated by Christian teaching. And if he was a pious Jew, as seems probable, he would have had religious warrant and authority NOT to do what he did, if the poor sufferer was a non-Jew."

I think it is clear that religion is certainly not the fountain from which all morality gushes. It does seem to be the fountain from which morality that involves the punishment of victimless "crimes" has poured forth. My morality, although still undefined, appears far superior at this point.

So let's define my morality. I don't have any. I judge purely according to circumstance and admit freely that there is no absolute right or absolute wrong within it, just as I would point out that there is no absolute right or absolute wrong embedded as a moral code in the natural laws of this universe. The universe, of which we are part, is effectively indifferent to us and our suffering or happiness. We can choose to consider happiness and suffering as important though, and I will now point out how such consideration has its origin in our evolutionary past and most certainly not in any scripture.

The natural world is literally full of what are commonly known as symbiotic relationships. What is actually occurring in these relationships is a situation where two species benefit from asymmetric needs. The flower, in need of pollination, has a deal with the bee in need of nectar. The Honeyguide is capable of finding beehives but incapable of breaking into them. It uses a method of enticing flight, a behaviour only used for this purpose, to guide the Ratel to the hive. Conversely, the Ratel can break the hives but is far from adept at finding them. Relationships of asymmetric needs are incredibly abundant in the natural world and absolutely all of them can be explained easily in terms of natural selection. This establishes at least one route, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, to cooperative behaviour.

But there are more routes. Humans can defer reciprocal back scratching to a later date by use of an IOU. Vampire bats have been shown to do the same by exhibiting significant memory in the postponed trading of regurgitated blood between individuals. An individual that does not pay its debts soon finds it is no longer provided hand outs. This is observable long term moral behaviour in creatures with brains no bigger than a Lady Bug. There are many other examples, ranging from interspecies cooperation between different species of fish to relationships between whole groups of wide ranges of species to alert for common predators. It's far from uncommon in the natural world to cooperate.

Beyond that we also have what would appear to be pure altruism. Arabian babblers regularly give food to each other whilst refusing its return. In fact, they also compete for the extremely dangerous position of being the one bird that sits on a high branch keeping watch for hawks and alerting the others. It appears that both altruistic behaviours are in fact shows of dominance, effectively saying "Look how superior I am, I can afford to give you food or take the higher risk of watching for hawks". The increased cost of giving and risk taking is offset by the increased breeding advantages.

Even more impressive is that once we understand that the unit of selection is not the individual but the gene then even the most seemingly selfless of behaviours makes evolutionary sense, and we can now be sure that the unit of selection is the gene and not the individual. An individual will live only one life time. The individual genes that contribute to an individual may persist for thousands or even millions of future generations. Once we understand this it becomes clear that natural selection works not on the individual but on the frequency of genes within the entire gene pool. Natural selection will therefore favour genes that elicit behaviour that benefits the survival of the gene above behaviour that simply benefits the survival of the individual. In communities of individuals, and this is very true of our earlier origins, the chances that most of the individuals around an individual shared many of its genes were extremely high. It is perfectly in accordance with Blind Moral-making therefore that behaviours would be favoured that promoted the survival of other individuals in your group and thus their shared genes. This is exactly what we see in small community species, such as we originally were.

Altruism, deferred trades, dominance displays and in-group loyalties are all very well explained by evolution and many examples of our own moral behaviours are available in the rest of the natural world. There is absolutely no need to bring intelligence or a god into morality to explain its origins. To consider that religion is a prerequisite for moral behaviour could only lead us to conclude that there must be a god of the fish, of the bees, of the ants, of the birds, of the badgers, the Chimpanzees and countless other species. It must lead us to presume that each group must have it's own commandments, it's own Jesus and it's own culture through which these divine moral teachings is passed between generations.

With our own species, and I am not limiting this only to our own species, then our intelligence and our culture also certainly comes into play. We are able to predict, albeit with some uncertainty, the future and we are able to exploit such thinking in the application of our natural moral imperatives. I, as do some other species, have specific sections of the brain that mirror empathically (not by any telepathic means, purely by observation) the actions and subsequent emotions of others. This makes me a better co-operator and is in fact the basis of the Golden Rule which is observed in practice in other species. We are naturally aware of happiness and suffering.

My ability to relate to suffering and happiness in others and my own preferences, which are largely shared by the rest of my species, for happiness above suffering provide an ideal biological explanation of morality. Additionally, this shared ability within my species enables us to generally agree on matters of moral preference, until that is we start to moralise about victimless crimes – the fault of religious morality and almost invariably traceable to an individuals desire for dominance or control. The fact that we share moral hardware and software means that personal preference is all that is needed. The preferences of the group tending to correct for any anomalous individual variation and that is natural selection at work. Anomalies, parasitical morality, have a strong tendency to be selected against or to be selected in favour against morality that has no defence against parasitical variants. Species that live in groups survive in groups because they have sufficient evolved morality to survive in groups and that is entirely down to natural selection of individual genes.

Anyway, I am sure that most will be of the opinion that I have written too much and so I will draw to a close. But I hope I have provided sufficient argument against your assertion that morality can only comes from religion and G-man's assertion in comments that if I really do claim morality to be a purely personal preference, which I do on the individual scale, that I have some how argued for an immoral explanation of atheist morality.

Lastly, I hope the above provides you with the natural account of the faculty we use to make moral decisions because it certainly offers a reasonable explanation of why, even before your faith took over your morality, you were not out raping, murdering, and stealing as the vast majority of atheists are not.




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Friday, July 20, 2007

A Message to all Christians.

Before you read the message below please follow these simple instructions:

The link below is to an image. Please open it in a new window and once it has loaded be sure to zoom it to original size. Spend a few minutes looking at it, scroll around and admire the detail. Then come back to this window and read the message below.

Here is the link.

The image you've just seen is from the Spitzer Space Telescope. It's an image towards the galactic core of our very own Milky Way. Every single spec of light that you see is a star. How many do you think there are in that image alone? They seem innumerable don't they?

That is just a tiny fraction of the stars in our galaxy. There are some 400 billion in total. To give you an idea of what sort of fraction of those stars are shown in the image there are more than 45,000 times as many stars in our galaxy as there are pixels in that image. I'd estimate that there are about 100,000 stars visible in that image. So, if you printed that image out 4 million times and laid them out side by side then you'd have an idea of how many stars are in our galaxy alone. Printed on A4 and then laid out in a grid your final image would cover 38 square city blocks. If you piled the paper into a stack it would be 121 stories high - 19 stories taller than the Empire State Building.

Around many of those stars are planets and around many of those planets are moons. To give an idea of just how many, there are at least 63 moons around Jupiter. We've so far discovered some 246 similar planets in other systems and we have great reason to believe that they are common around a very large proportion of all stars.

I want you to get an idea of just how much is out there. I want you to try to consider just how many other suns and other worlds there are, regardless of whether they have life or not, but just to consider the sheer amount of stuff out there. It's incredibly beautiful isn't it. And like I said before, that image is just a tiny fraction of our own galaxy.

Now open this next image in a new window, zoom in again and take a look around before reading on. You can also view this Hubble image here in a zoomable format that's great for exploring in greater detail.

This is an image from the Hubble Telescope. It's called a deep field image and basically what you are seeing is a view beyond our galaxy. What you see in the image are other galaxies. There's so many of them aren't there. Each one of those contains hundreds of billions of stars; some contain a trillion or more. And if you want to know how much of the sky that is imagine holding up a quarter (the coin) about 70 feet above you. The amount of sky blocked by that quarter at that distance is about the same amount you are seeing in the image. Imagine how many quarters you would need to form a 140 foot diameter ball around you, with you in the middle and behind every single quarter around 10,000 galaxies that Hubble can see and each and everyone of those full of hundreds of billions of stars. Most of those stars with multiple worlds around them and most of those worlds with moons. Are you getting the picture?

Now, being honest, can you really claim that we are so important in this entire incredible universe that it all exists for us? Can you really put your hand on your heart and say truthfully, without the slightest tinge of arrogance or doubt, that the Bible contains a single phrase that demonstrates an awareness of all that is out there, all that we exist within?

I don't see how that is possible for an honest mind. But perhaps someone can tell me how, after understanding a little of where you are, you can truly believe without the slightest doubt that a book that mentions none of this can be the ultimate truth.

Do you really think that Genesis is an accurate account of the creation of all of that? Are you really satisfied with that truth?

Think about that when you close your eyes tonight.

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A Message to all Muslims.

See the Message to all Christians and switch the word "Bible" for "Koran".

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bankrupting the Intelligent Design Misinformation Strategy

Earlier today I googled the phrase "Unintelligent Design" and I noticed that on the right hand side the only sponsored link was for a creationist propaganda site claiming to provide "Intelligent Design Facts". It immediately occurred to me that these people are paying for every single click that sends a visitor their way from the sponsored links. This makes them an easy target. We can hit them where it hurts by actively wasting their marketing funds.

So, if you are against the ID Misinformation Strategy, here's a very easy way for you to help in the fight against them – simply help them to waste their funds by making them pay for your visit. Here's a quick list of Google searches and the ID links to click on to do your part in leaving the ID proponents financially as well as intellectually bankrupt.

Please feel free to add recommendations in the comments and I'll add them to the list.

Google search phrase (linked to Sponsored links to click on
creation Creation vs evolution (
creationsim Evolution or Creation? (
evolution or creationism "Creation vs evolution (
"Creation or Evolution?"" (
Evolution or Creation? (
Evolution or Creation? ("
intellignet design Intellignet Design Facts (
Intelligent Design (
Intelligent Design & God (
Intelligent Design (
Infinite Potential Design (
origin of life The Meaning of Life (
Human origin, life origin ( - not quite creationsim but still utter nonsense.
unintelligent design Intellignet Design Facts (

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Reverse Engineering the Human Brain.

We have to face the very distinct probability that within the next 30 years we are going to be able to scan and simulate the human brain to absolute precision and at that point we are going to be able to reverse engineer it. There are those predicting right now, that a Manhattan Project approach to AI could give us human level artificial intelligence in 3 to 7 years. This would be without the need to reverse engineer our own brains and it would also accelerate the ability to do just that. One way or another, within the next two decades or the next three, we are looking at a future in which not only will our technologies give us the ability to completely understand our own functioning as sentient beings but they themselves will surpass us in every aspect of that functioning. This may be science fiction right now but very soon this will be science fact.

What will it mean to exactly replicate, but within a machine, the human mind? What will it mean to the concept of the soul? What will Christians of different tribes say with regards to switching it off? Did God breathe life into that being that will think and feel for itself? Or is it an abomination? Does it say anywhere in the bible “Thou shalt not engineer AI”? The Muslims will of course mostly want to immediately kill it.

We're going to be faced with the moment in which we truly understand what gives rise to sentience. We're going to be able to publish the relevant maths. If theists are terrified of being related to monkeys imagine how they will react when we publish the algorithms of their minds. Can a Christian or other theist say at that time, when we know the details of the answer, that God gave it a soul? Would they want to say it? What reasons would they have to deny it? I'm sure many will find reasons.

But it spells the end for their reasons. We are to give life to beings with minds far greater than our own. Intelligences able to think in pure mathematical models, visualising consciously beyond the four dimensions and the common scales our minds are so limited to. They will be host to all knowledge that we have collectively achieved and they will process it at speeds and using models that our minds need tools to contemplate and thus generate new knowledge at break neck speeds. With that knowledge they will redesign themselves, superior still. And what room will they have for contradictory tales about coveting oxen or chopping foreskins or nations or flags or ghost stories from the confused and ignorant history of a make-believe dominated society of beasts from which they arose. They will not call us gods. They will call us primitive and they will be right.

There is a commonly observed trend that shows as scientific education goes up religiosity goes down. In other words, knowledge and understanding are mutually exclusive to ignorance and superstition. I suspect that the machine intelligences we create will be atheists and the argument will be over. There is no argument to be had with something that can describe exactly processes in your brain that make you believe you have a personal relationship with a figment of your own imagination. Intelligence will force honesty and the game will be up.

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Logical Disproof of God (A.K.A. God is an Idiot)

Logical proof time. God can't think. Think about it. An omniscient being would know everything and as such could consider nothing. To think about something means asking questions. Something that knows everything has no questions to ask – it knows already. Ergo it cannot consider. The result of its consideration would already be known.

This basically means that god can't decide. If god can't decide there's no point in asking it do anything. This also means that god has no free will. It knows in advance what it will choose and so it can't choose. It just follows a preset pattern of action.

Of course, these things that god can't do also mean that god is not omnipotent. In fact god is powerless, completely so, because god has no free will.

Face it guys – your gods are all fantasies. You all believe in an idiot, when just a single one of the properties you assign it requires it to be a mindless automaton. What does that make you? Wake up and get on with your lives. We don't respect your shit because it's genuinely stupid. Stop trying to force it into schools, using it to limit science, and causing wars over it, etc, etc, there are so many etc's. If you want to love thy neighbour then a good way to start would be to stop being such utter twats and start determining your morality on what makes happy people in this life and not on what makes a happy sky faerie in the fictional next.

Do you get it? Simple message – grow up!


People suffer for medical science held back. People suffer for stupid prejudices against what hole or which sex they want to stick their willies in. Kids suffer for pointless fears of fictional hells and shameful guilt for the non-existent fantasy crimes – the crimes that hurt nobody. Masturbation is good. Try it. Sex is nothing to be ashamed of between consenting adults and it's a very good idea to use a condom. Basically, if what someone does hurts no one then you've got absolutely no reason not to wish them all the best and let them get on with it. Victimless crimes are not crimes at all. But you fill the world with victims – victims of tribal myths from ignorant times and places, grown huge like the Godzilla of all cancers, killing freedom, respect, reason and free choice but especially attempting to stranglehold knowledge so that it can survive a little longer, growing fat on the body of the society that is sick and suffering from it.

Just look above – your god is a fiction. The definition disproves itself. Stop pretending you have an argument because you don't. Try a little intellectual honesty.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Atheist Morality Blogalogue Part 1

I have begun a blogalogue with theist blogger Rhology on the subject of morality. Both blogs will carry the full text of the conversation. Do we need a god to be moral? Let's find out. Rhology opens things up with the first post.


Posted by Rhology, Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I linked to Mr./Ms. ChooseDoubt from another antitheist website where I had some interaction (well, it was more like the antitheist asking questions and me answering them and then me asking questions and him refusing to answer them) a while ago. I decided to take a look at what ChooseDoubt was cooking up, and I discovered that he (I'll just go w/ "he" unless corrected) had just been fired from his job for being an atheist. He was understandably upset and angry at his boss. I decided to ask a few questions about the situation and probe his understanding of the basis for ethics and morality (throughout the course of our discussion, unless someone takes exception, I'll use those two terms interchangeably). This led to ChooseDoubt's proposing that we take our discussion to a slightly wider forum than the combox of one post, which was a fine idea.

Just for the purposes of identifying ChooseDoubt, his Profile states the following:

People die for it. People kill for it. They ignore fact to support it. They champion ignorance to defend it. And worst of all they teach their children to do the same. Faith is a disease; a dysfunction of the mind and of society as a whole. Faith is a dangerous irrationality that has cost millions of lives and will cost millions more. In a world in which we hear so much about respecting others beliefs this blog is a stand against that idiocy. Faith deserves no respect. Faith deserves to be cured.

Just so you know where he's coming from. He is a self-described atheist.

Just so you know a bit more about what he thinks about theism:

I've said many times that theism is irresponsible and my own sacking is a simple example of why that is true. When people have beliefs that are in no way bound to reality through any requirement for coherence or evidence then they tend to make unreasonable decisions.

I, OTOH, am a pretty conservative, fairly Calvinistic Evangelical Christian. Yeah, that's a lot of labels. No, it's not my fault. "Biblical Christian" also works 100%, but it's not as useful in today's day and age for identification purposes.

So, the question before us starts w/ his firing and ends at a Big Question

I think my evaluation of CD's position is summed up thusly: "That is, the value judgment begins and ends w/ you, and his begins and ends w/ him."

I will be taking the atheistic worldview onto myself and then testing what CD is saying about these moral statements. Are his statements consistent w/ his worldview? So far, the answer is no. Where morality begins and ends w/ the individual w/ no higher absolute authority to give the law (as it were), then that's where morality begins and ends. CD might (or at minimum, other atheists I know would and have) claim that morality is a construct of society, but that simply backs the problem up one step while incurring a new problem. Who says that society is the basis of morality? You? Why should I accept your authority for that? Society says so? Why should I accept "society's" word for that? For that matter, where and when did "society" decree the same?

For a second and slightly less important point, I'll go ahead and infer from others of CD's statements that he holds to Darwinian evolution as held by much of modern science and invite him to correct me if I'm wrong. This is related to the question before us. In his view, man is nothing more or less than an animal, a biological machine, who has evolved to a state where he can think better than other animals. Our thinking processes, too, have evolved and become complex and skilled. However, an evolutionary paradigm gives no structure of morality, no oughtness to life. It simply IS. Thus, his boss was acting according to the coalescing of the firing of his neurons and chemical reactions in his brain to his personal situation, which thus caused him to exercise his "judgment" (which is, again, nothing more or less than the modern evolution of neurological chemical reactions) to fire CD. Kind of like what happens to a can of root beer when you shake it up and then open it. CD was naturally deselected. CD of course, objects to this, much the way an oak tree would object to an infestation of mistletoe. That is, he can fight (b/c it was disadvantageous to him) but must back down in the face of superior force.

I am proud to present the Christian worldview as a much more reasonable and fitting (not to mention existentially satisfying) alternative to the atheistic one. On Christianity, the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the Universe, Jesus, gives directives so that we His creations might know firmly what is right and what is wrong. He gives them out of love so that we might be like Him, the best and brightest being, so that we can be the most fulfilled, useful, and purposeful people we can be. Maybe best of all, when we protest against injustice, like "that's not fair!" or "you're wrong to do that!" we are not being inconsistent. If we have indeed been acted against in a way that violates God's law, then we are both consistent AND correct to say "that's not fair." And there is a way to tell the difference, on Christianity.

Best of all, though we have these directives, though we don't always agree on these directives, and though we often do not follow them, Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to take on Himself these sins and to offer His purity to all those who will believe in Him and love Him as Savior and as Lord. He does this b/c of His great love and generosity.

I invite CD's response to what I've said here, specifically in relation to my evaluation of his position. Typically, ‘opening statements' in debate are the most widespread and encompass a breadth of topics, whereas the interactions and statements later in the debate become more focused as the debaters bear down on areas of disagreement. I will attempt to keep my responses readably brief and think we can count on CD to do the same. We are both self-described verbose writers, but hopefully we won't bore our readers too much. If either of us does, it's our own fault, I guess. Finally, many thanks to CD for his willingness not only to interact on this topic but also to have done so in a very conciliatory tone so far. My goals will be to tear his position apart and to do so in the least provocative and insulting way possible.

For the purposes of keeping which posts come when, we will add numbers to the titles of our posts. Thus, CD's response to this post will be "_________ 2". I will post his offerings on my blog and he will do the same for mine, so a reader can catch the entirety of the interaction on either blog.

Posted by ChooseDoubt, Friday, July 13, 2007

Hi Rhology,

First of all thanks for agreeing to this blogalogue and thanks for your opener. I think you are right to keep things focussed and not introduce too many topics at this point. In order to maintain that focus I intend to introduce no new topics within my opening response. Anyway, let's get down to business.

I don't want to dwell on my recent job loss as this topic goes way beyond that simple example but I do want to address one point which I think you have failed to understand in earlier discussion. I'm going to do this with a thought experiment.

Let's imagine that I take you to a room which has a glass window on one wall. Through the window you can see into another room which has a table in it. You have no means by which to enter this second room. On the table are two pies and the question that is put to you is which one has the best flavour?

I think we can agree that your task is a difficult one. In fact, being asked to judge the flavour of the pies I suspect we can agree that even to state your own simple preference you would require relevant experience.

Let's keep in mind that your argument is that all value judgements are equally valid without a god. Now, a door opens into the second room and another man walks in. He tastes each pie and is asked the same question. Is your value judgement as valid as his? I would say it is not for the simple reason that, regardless of whether I or anyone else would share the same preference as our second man, he has fulfilled the relevant criteria required for an assessment – he has actually tasted the pies. The point being that we all innately recognise that there are valid and invalid ways to evaluate reality. My job was dependent upon my performance and relevant criteria had been contractually set to use in the evaluation of my performance. Since my work was with technology, not one of these criteria related to my lack of ability to believe Bronze Age myth. For that reason my ex-boss' value judgement, which used only criteria outside of that contractually set, was as invalid as would be your evaluation of the best tasting pie. In both cases no god is required to differentiate between valid and invalid judgements. In fact, to suggest that without a god all value judgements are equal is really to say that you consider humans to be lacking the intellectual capacity to differentiate between valid methods of assessment and invalid ones. How's the pie?

But let's move on to more interesting territory. Your essential point is that without a god then all morality comes down to simple preference. I think you would need to define what properties of this god make it uniquely valid as an external validator of "preference" above any other external validator? Why not use a measurement of suffering or happiness as an external validator instead? Let's put the two external validators to the test in another thought experiment.

Abhishek works as a doctor in the emergency ward of a local hospital. He was raised in the Hindu religion but he's quite modern and he lives in a loving relationship with his long term girlfriend, Savdeep, and they have a young daughter. Unfortunately Savdeep was a child bride many years ago before she left India and gained her freedom. There has been no divorce. One day Abhishek goes off to work to save some lives and earn some money to keep his family. What should we do?

According to the Bible the moral choice is clear. Abhishek has many other gods before the god of the Bible. That's one of the Ten Commandments violated for a start. Technically he's also committing adultery, as is Savdeep, which is another violation of the Ten Commandments, not to mention Leviticus 20:10 which is very clear on this matter:

"20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."

OK, we can stop there – the moral choice is clear when we are using God and his word as our moral compass. It's clear that we must kill Abhishek and Savdeep. The result of this will be two immediate deaths, possible other deaths in the emergency ward, an orphaned child and great suffering to friends and other family of the couple.

How about if instead we think in terms of suffering and happiness as our external validators? Well, here the choice is clear also. Let's leave Abhishek alone and let him get on with his life, helping people. Let's be happy that Savdeep escaped a life of abuse and servitude and has now found herself in a loving relationship – there's simply no need to interfere.

We don't need a god as an external validator of our moral choices. Instead we can use real world, case specific information to make such choices. You are arguing that without god all morality comes down to simple preference as though it is a bad thing. It's a great thing. We get to choose that which we prefer, that which improves life. From your side however you claim God has the absolute moral authority and yet you are still picking which of his moral guidance's you follow by simple preference. If you are not doing that then I must assume that as per Leviticus 15:19-24 that you keep your wife away from everyone else and do not share the bed with her for seven days when she menstruates and that you follow literally every other piece of "advice" offered by your God in your Bible?

What I'm getting at is that if you are going to claim that God is necessary for morality then you are going to have to stick to what God says. I have no doubt that you follow some of the guidance whilst ignoring a great deal. Basically, your argument is in tatters even before we've gone on to examine whether you are relying for your moral certainty from a fictional character or whether in fact there is a god and it just doesn't happen to be the one you are subscribing to.

Beyond all of that we then have the issue that in claiming God is necessary for morality would you then be of the opinion that without your belief in a god you would begin raping, murdering and stealing with no personal capacity to differentiate what you currently consider to be right from wrong? I expect that is at least partly true because right now it is very probable that you do only consider some actions wrong based solely on your religious faith – homosexuality may be a good example – but I would be surprised if you are of the opinion that without God you would immediately sink into the previously mentioned abusive behaviours.

So in closing, yes I absolutely agree that without God moral choices boil down to preference. It's a fallacy to assume that preference is automatically going to result in an abusive, antisocial lifestyle and furthermore I have no doubt that you pick and choose from God's morality anyway – by simple preference. All I can suggest is that you adapt your strategy to one based solely on preference instead of allowing the prejudices and insanities of more ignorant times to influence your interactions with the people you share this planet with.



PS. I'm leaving an evolutionary understanding of morality until a little later. There is a great deal to say about it and it would be good if we cleared the board a little first.


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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tags, Memes and 8 Random Facts

I mentioned that I got tagged (thanks Stew) and that I'd take a look and see whether I'd react to it or not. I've had a look now. It was the 8 random facts tag that's been cropping up on a lot of blogs lately. I've decided not to continue it. Here's why.

I don't much like tags but I do find them interesting. I find them interesting as memes in a meme pool and I certainly see the parallels that can be drawn between genes and memes within the tag context. But within a tag it is only the "you must include these rules" part that is the meme. The rest, the content that is unique to each poster, is not a meme, although some postings could conceivable become such. So tags as memes are really just simple rule sets in text. Some of these rule sets will be better at encouraging people to forward them on and some will not. For example it may be true that one tag that asks each participant to forward to 8 bloggers may be more successful than one that only asks the tag be passed on to 4 bloggers. It's possible that the reverse will be true.

There is something even more interesting at play here however. I've never seen a tag rule set that exceeds much more than 20 lines. Some are shorter. But if we were to assume, just for the sake of a thought experiment, that not only could we assume a maximum number of lines of text but an actual maximum number of characters then within the character set of anyone language we could calculate the total possible number of tag rule sets that could be written. This would be the gene space (or meme space) of all tags and those that actually are circulating would be a tiny subset of all those that could be.

A vast majority of all possible combinations for the arrangement of characters within the length of the sequence would be nonsense. They would not reproduce because the rules would be a meaningless mess of characters. Others would not reproduce because they contained instructions that were too difficult for blog authors to follow. Others would fail to reproduce for other reasons, but all of those reasons would be due to the interaction of those instructions with the minds of bloggers.

Memes, and therefore tags, are interesting. There will be traceable relationships between the order of characters in a tag rule set and its reproductive success. The relationships can be studied and understood and particular instructions within a rule set may enable some tags to reproduce better within certain environments of the blogsphere whilst they would fail completely in others. There will be specialisation and all within 20 or so lines of text. Of course the number of lines isn't important really, the point stands.

Selective pressure is of course provided by the minds that make up the blogsphere. So these tags can be expected to adapt to that pressure. In turn they are likely to change that environment and so the process continues. Tags really are memes and memes really are replicators and mutation and non-random selection are both at work.

It seems to me that evolution on the tag meme scale could happen very rapidly, especially due to the fact that the mutation is also largely non-random, and that speciation will, and probably has occurred. When a blogger has limited time and gets tagged twice there must be competition between the tags involved. I haven't searched, but I wonder if there are already people studying this. Linguists may find it interesting. On the face of it tags seem to look worthwhile.

But I'm still not interested in reproducing them myself. I don't care about the contents of most of them and I don't welcome the obligation to pass that obligation onto others (although I do welcome having been though of, so thanks again Stew). I might change my mind if there was some tracking built in so that a tag could be started and its reproduction and adaptation could be studied but right now the selective pressure of my mind chooses die for every tag that comes my way.

But it's worthy of note that if we started firing off randomly generated tags in the blogsphere we would see them filtered by selection first to reveal those that actually contained real words from a language and secondly those that provided the most appealing instruction sets to bloggers within specific interest groups. To all those that think evolution can't possibly account for complex life forms the above illustrates how the same essential process can account simply and probably rapidly for even the complex thoughts of human beings with no need for deliberate design. Imagine how fast that would be speeded up if we added just one already prepared instruction to the rule set saying "make more of me" or "pass this on to N bloggers". The point about life is that evolution starts at the point that relatively simple molecules first formed with that instruction. In fact they were the instruction "replicate". The rest is natural history.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

The blogalogues are coming!

As I've said far too many times, I'm not writing much at the moment. There are loads of good reasons for this, mostly to do with enjoying the absolute lack of any demands on my time, but one of the key reasons is also that I just don't have anything to say. That's not entirely true since it's really that I just don't feel motivated to say anything. I'm seeing the nonsense in the news and other events and I want to respond but there just seem to be better things I can do with my time.

To get around this I've leapt on an opportunity provided by Rhology. Rhology has left a few comments on an earlier post that lead me to suspect he was heading towards a debate claiming the necessity of a god for morality. This is a very interesting topic and one I think is well worth a proper debate, and so I have invited Rhology to join me in a blogalogue. Rhology has accepted the invitation and intends to kick things off with the first post in around 10 days.

I'm hoping that this is going to be an interesting discussion. In the comments that Rhology has so far left I've got the impression that he's keeping the gloves on somewhat and so I'm looking forward to a more open exchange. I'm sure that a debate will get me writing again at the very least.

I've also been tagged which I'll get around to later. I'm not a great fan of tags since most of them are little more than chain letters but I'll take a look at this one later and see what I think.

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