Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lrrr's Toothpick

I can’t remember what caused this to pop into my head, but it’s stuck. So I need to get it out.

Russell’s Teapot

is an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) to illustrate that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon a person making scientifically unfalsifiable claims rather than shifting the burden of proof to others, specifically in the case of religion.

It (kinda) takes the form “I claim there’s a china teapot orbiting the sun between the Earth and Mars. You can’t disprove it, therefore I expect you to accept that my assertion is true”.

Since claims of God and lesser supernatural things often take this general form, it surprised me to hear - not too long ago - a theistically-inclined correspondent claim that you could in principle prove that said teapot does not orbit the sun as described, thus the analogy does not apply to God (so if Russell's Teapot is your go-to rejoinder to the claim that God exists, well, you’ve failed, Mister Godless Heathen).


When Russell first brought this analogy into the public consciousness c. 1952, it was in practice impossible to disprove the existence of the teapot. The technology didn’t yet exist, and certainly the will and resources to undertake such a low reward endeavor didn’t (and still don’t) exist. But wait - there’s more!

The Russell's Teapot analogy is actually too narrow in scope, given what we know about the cosmos today, if you take it literally. Which you shouldn’t. Because it’s an analogy.

Scale the analogy up to fit the cosmos that we observe today, and you could claim that there’s a pure diamond toothpick that was once owned by Lrrr, Ruler of Omicron Persei 8, that now floats freely between the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy. In principle, it could be verified. In practice - extremely unlikely!

That crystallizes what I think is the point. You - Miss Straw Woman That I Constructed For This Exposition - want me to accept that God exists because I can’t prove she doesn’t. You - Miss SWTICFTE (for short) - present me with 2 equally fruitless options: believe in something that has never been verifiably observed in history, or commence my search of the cosmos to prove that it doesn't exist. That pisses me off. You're trying to get me to waste my life, and I won’t do it. There are other alternatives in life, and THAT is where I may find a fruitful path.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Investigating the World

Today, this blog is as good a place as any to jot down an idea that is probably in the foundation of any religious person's world view. I 'm presuming that to be religious in the way that I once was decades ago, one has to accept the following premises:
  1. There is a Supernatural component to reality
  2. The Supernatural contains entities that can affect our existence
  3. Humans have souls
  4. The Supernatural realm has some relationship to the soul.
  5. Supernatural entities have some effect on human souls
  6. Humans should think and behave in a way that is most likely to bring about the kind treatment of us in the physical world ... and/or ...
  7. Humans should think and behave in a way that is most likely to bring about the kind treatment of our souls in the supernatural world

Obviously, the religiously and/or philosophically inclined might find more or less about this brief brain dump that they'd include in the consideration of the world - whatever they conceive it to be - but it seems like a good place to start the investigation.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How's Your Soul?

I’m sure that there are other concepts of religion, but the ones that most of us think of (Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, etc) include some idea of a soul and an afterlife.

When was the last time you had a soul check-up?

I bet if you went to the doctor and asked for a soul check-up, you’d be told politely that they don't do that.

Try a chiropractor. Or a dentist. Don’t laugh - a dentist is a perfectly sensible choice to check your soul, given that we don’t know where a soul might reside. Maybe your opthamologist knows. Maybe not. A palm reader? Maybe they’d take your money. Your pastor? You never know, but he or she might offer to pray with you about the health of your soul.

Try an auto mechanic. Or a appliance repair man. I bet these guys don’t know soul from shinola. Nor do I. Which brings me to my point:

Shouldn’t we stop being touchy-feely-spiritual procrastinators and get that soul check up right away? And shouldn’t we stop worrying about it after the verdict comes back that souls are bronze-age fabrications?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

String Theory is what?

String Theory is - as a theory - a topic of controversy this week, as articles by Ethan Siegel and Sabine Hossenfelder attest. I recommend reading both posts and following links within them for a full morning's reading!

What does it mean for the working stiff?

Physics still explains all of the fundamental features of reality that affect us.

Do I care about features that are smaller than protons, electrons and neutrons? Intellectually I do, but practically, not so much.

Do I care about features that are larger than our galaxy? Intellectually I do, but practically, again it has little meaning.

So why do I even care enough to write a few words about it? Because I still think that experiencing life as fully as I am able is one of the driving forces of my human existence. And the work of the theoreticians and experimentalists helps me to expand the scope of what I consider conceivable, and thus expand the scope of what might be experienced.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Letter from God

I was musing about how we might react if we received a sign that God exists. Imagine that I send a letter to my sister. It’s hand-written, and signed “Love, Johnny”. My sister receives the letter in the mail, opens it up, reads it, recognizes my handwriting, sees my signature, and instantly knows that the letter came from me. After all, she knows that I exist (we DID grow up together!) and she knows I can write. She’s 99.999,999,999% sure that Johnny wrote her a letter. She has good reasons to.

In contrast, suppose my sister receives a letter, and it’s signed “Love, God". If God is the “uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power” that some theologians posit, then it would presumably be capable of writing and sending a letter to my sister. But how sure can she be that the supreme, no-lie, it's-really-her God actually did this?

If you’ve thought about this sort of thing before, then that last sentence is where it gets interesting. You see, Sis can know that Johnny sent her a letter signed “Love, Johnny” because she knows to a very high degree of certainty that I exist prior to any scenario involving a letter. She’s seen me. She’s yelled at me. She’s tried to hit me. She’s even kissed me. Unless her senses and intellect are unreliable, she knows I exist and that I am capable of writing letters. This should bolster her belief that she currently is in receipt of a letter from me. But she has no such experience with God. If God fell out of the sky and landed on her head, she wouldn’t know him/her/it from shinola. There’s nothing in her experience that demonstrates to her that an actual entity in this world is God. She has to rely on her ability to mentally picture what God might be, and to feel some certainty that he/she/it exists in the form she imagines, without having a concrete demonstration that it actually does. Is writing a letter that demonstration?

In fact, she can’t confidently associate this piece of evidence (no matter what it points to) with God unless God is either 1) a known entity with a propensity to write letters to pretty ladies, or 2) her conception of God is a better explanation for a letter that is signed “Love, God” than all competing explanations. The evidence points to a letter-writer. That’s all. And here is the crux of the problem for most arguments that God exists. That “uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power” that theologians posit cannot be established as a sensible concept in isolation from other concepts. There are no observations, hypotheses or theories that point to such a being existing as part of physical reality. Here in the twenty-first century, ideas such as “there must be a cause of the universe, or a designer, or a fine-tuner, or a being of greatest perfection” do not lead us to find an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power. In fact, finding a place where this thing might be situated is not even sensible. As cold as it sounds to people hoping there is a personal god behind the scenes, it appears that physical features are all there is. Space-time, matter, energy, the laws governing them and the attributes, behaviors and relationships that allow what we observe to be observed. There may always be that nagging question: “but what caused THAT?” - but the god-thingy doesn’t help us answer that question. It doesn’t stand on its own. Mankind continues to look for answers, and continues to find hypotheses such as the god-thingy useless in the search.

So, a letter signed “Love, God” ends up being better explained by a human letter-writer than an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power that also writes letters. It turns out that Sis has no good reason to believe she got a letter from God, because there’s no good reason to think God exists, based solely on this letter. I'm not suggesting that she can't believe in God, or have some other reasons to believe that don't rely on (weak) evidence like this. But this letter from God isn't a good reason. When you apply this type of thinking to the bigger questions - the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the existence of moral values, you find that those are not good reasons to think that God exists, either.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Was BlogPress for iPad finally fixed?

Yes, it was.
It's a miracle!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Incompetence of the Bible

I’m rewriting this post - “The Incompetence of the Bible” - because I was never happy with what it said, or how I said it. I can only remember withdrawing or rewriting a post once in my life, but it’s time to do it again.

While re-reading the New Testament, my focus this time around was 1) matches and gaps between the Gospels and 2) what Paul has to tell us about Jesus. The Gospels aren’t bad - this was (probably) my fifth time through them chapter-by-chapter. I took some time comparing them via the Gospel Parallels - good stuff. Then I get to Acts - ehh. I don’t know why, but I’ve already forgotten it after just a few months. Its just not that impressive to me. Now I’m into the Epistles, and for some reason I’m irritated. Paul just doesn’t know Jack about Jesus. And I let that irritation consume the original post. But my general idea still holds - that the Bible is full of incompetence.

When you read Genesis, its easy to see something’s wrong. The universe that we observe today has features that lead us to believe to a high degree of certainty that it was smaller, denser and hotter in the past. Projecting backward in time, approximately 13.8 billion years ago this model reaches maximum density and temperature, and minimum size. And that’s all we know for sure. What came “before” is a mystery, so much so that some physicists think using the word “before” is incoherent. But Genesis tells us a different story, and that’s where my claim of incompetence first finds an example. If God inspired or directed the authors of Genesis to write the account of the first appearance of the universe, it doesn’t appear that it made it to the twenty-first century correctly. And if God is the omni-bestest at everything - and our conceptions of God generally do assume this - then something is amiss. And without unpeeling what exactly is amiss, we must assume that if God is the inspiration or direction behind this account, then she failed to insure the story remained accurate down through the ages. And this is this first indication to us that God - again, if she exists - is not the omni-bestest that we might have thought. Other thinkers have suggested that God is a trickster, or God has a reason to allow this incongruity to persist, but I have (intemperately) decided to describe it as incompetence because Genesis was the ideal place to establish God’s bona fides. She could have even directed the author to end it with a caveat that admits that subsequent books are not inspired or directed by the great one, and we could still be confident that, in spite of what others subsequently said, that God does indeed exist in the form that was described in Genesis. But we don’t have that.

What we have us people trying to kill each other over supposedly God-inspired differences on how to worship and behave. And that tends to make one think that the concept of God as malicious, or a trickster, or negligent, or disinterested, or incompetent, applies.

I tend to think that the Bible was a combination of good-faith guessing about the universe, along with much borrowing from other traditions and some inventions to reach the concept of salvation as described in the New Testament. This is an oversimplification, of course, but it looks like they made a hash of it. Thus, every time I read it nowadays, I tend to see how hashed up it is, and think about how a supreme being could have prevented it, but didn’t. And it just looks like they did a bad job.

Or maybe God was never there.