Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jesus in a sumo-suit?

Allow me to advertise for a local uni club for a moment before I give my thoughts:

If you could ask God one question...

You are invited to a relaxed evening of dinner and discussion. Guest Nick Brennan will speak briefly, and then the evening is yours to ask whatever questions you have about Christianity.

The aim of the evening is to get the issues out on the table, and discuss them honestly. Don't miss this opportunity!

Wednesday 22nd July
The White House - 26a Bowen St

JESUS in the Ring.

So that's the ad. It's on tonight if anyone is interested in attending.

I mentioned to a fellow student that I was considering going to it.
I had been thinking about it, I wasn't sure because I didn't know how "honestly" they intended people to ask "whatever questions" that they wanted. I mean, did the guest speaker expect people to ask Generic Christianity Lite(TM) controversies, where they can get pat Lee Strobelesque answers? Or maybe they'd reply to problematic questions using 'common sense' orthodox assertions with no supporting references to evidence. Perhaps. But they did call it "Jesus in the Ring"... it sure sounds like Jesus is gonna come in fighting! So, I thought, perhaps I should attend and bring along a couple of good questions that have been troubling me since digging under the Strobel-stratum.

I hadn't said any of these thoughts to the student I was talking to. I just said that I might go.

She apologised for not inviting me personally already, she explained, but it was because of a couple of reasons.
"One of the policies of C.U. this year," she continued, "is not to confuse people by giving them too many options."
"Huh?" I ask, "What do you mean?"
Perhaps she meant she didn't want to invite people to too many different types of events.
"Well, we really only want one main speaker doing the talking."
Hmm, I think to myself, so I can come along just as long as I don't talk?
"Ok," I tell her as I pretend to understand, unsure whether I didn't get her meaning or whether to be insulted.
I walk away to some work and she calls after me, "And I was worried that you might say something controversial."

Yes. There we have it. Prepare for Lite(TM).

I think I'll skip Jesus with a Nerf-bat.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Against William Lane Craig's Moral Argument for God

A Refutation of the Moral Argument for God
(as defended by William Lane Craig)

The Moral Argument, as outlined in Craig’s 18th of June, 2007 podcast, The Existence of God (Moral Argument), is as follows (found here):

1. If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Therefore, from 1 & 2, God exists.

There are several possible replies.

Premise 1. If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

This can be rephrased as, “Objective moral values come only from God.”
It depends what we mean as ‘objective’.
We could mean,
(i) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in representing facts.
(ii) not dependent on a mind for existence; actual.

The key here is that objectivity is the opposite to subjectivity. Objective morals are considered true independent of the relative values of a person. A common understanding pointing to the reality of objective morals is the belief that if all humans ceased to exist then objective moral values would still be true.

This argument presumes that moral values proceed from and are defined by God. God is not presumed to be slavishly subject to a greater, abstract moral law (or else God wouldn’t be the boss), but instead is the one from whom all moral values flow. However, because God is a personal (willful, mindful) agent, and not a platonic abstraction, this means that moral values are not objective even when they are defined by God. Craig tries to refute this notion of the subjectivity of God (especially as detailed in the Euthyphro dilemma) by saying that the divine commands stipulated according to the will of God (something that can be subjective) are in keeping with God's good nature (something that isn't subjective). However, one only needs to ask, "Why is God's nature good? Is it because God says so, or because it mindlessly conforms to a standard greater than God?"

The importance here may be that it is something beyond humans, rather than people themselves, that sets their own moral compass. But this is why lawful institutions and societies create laws; their products stretch beyond the relative moral compass of an individual and even across lifespans. This secular form of “objectivity” doesn’t claim to be metaphysically written into the universe, but it does exist outside the morality of individuals.

To concede the point slightly, there is some advantage to anchoring morality in God. For example, moral values determined by God may be unchanging, if God is unchanging (although the changing moral zeitgeist of the Bible doesn’t demonstrate this well).
What must be accepted by the Theist is that if God did choose to change his mind on what is morally allowed (e.g. to make genocide acceptable) then there is no way believers could complain: what was bad is now good, by definition, with no other justification needed.
If we were to say that “God wouldn’t change his mind and make murder okay, because God is good and murder is wrong,” then we are attempting to hold God to a moral standard beyond or independent to Himself.
If we were to require justifications for any seemingly immoral behaviour permitted by God, for example genocide and wartime sexual slavery in the Bible, then we are implicitly saying that it is the moral justification within us that makes the action good and not that it happens to stem from God.
It is true that God-based subjective morality is the “biggest” source of morals that we could find, but unless we agreed that might made right then this makes little difference. Either way, God-based subjective morality cannot be described as objective.

Premise 2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

If a person makes a statement, “P,” then, unless they are lying, this is logically the same as saying, “I believe P.”

Therefore Premise 2 can be rephrased, “I believe that objective moral values and duties do exist.”
Already we see the problem. This premise is making an ontological statement, “X does exist,” but cannot be any more certain about this claim than their own epistemic limits (how I know things are true).

William Lane Craig talks frequently about our shared moral intuitions as proving this premise.

This premise wants to be able to assert the following:
(1) I feel certain moral intuitions.
(2) Those moral intuitions come from a source external to myself and other people.
(3) This external moral source is actual, factual, and reliable.
Therefore, my moral intuitions describe something objectively real.

However, assertions 2 and 3 are beliefs that lends weight and credence to the individual’s moral intuitions, they just might be misattributed.
Firstly, moral intuitions may be partly due to the process of socialisation and the internalisation of moral commands present in the individual’s upbringing. If so, they are internal to the individual, although the mechanism on behaviour feels like a pressure external to desire. This does not mean that such morality is wrong, but it does mean that it is not properly objective.
Secondly, the driving force of moral intuitions as a whole may be partly due to the evolutionary history of humans. Some evolutionary psychologists and philosophers believe that language and quality of mind evolved as competition gave way to cooperation between people. It doesn’t take much to see that a group of individuals competing will flourish less overall than if those individuals cooperate for shared benefit. Game theory shows that individuals who have regular contact with others will gain more benefit in the long term by cooperating with rather than betraying their contacts.
The brain and mind, and not just the body, are evolutionary products. If bite, gait, or finger use have clear evolutionary purposes, we also shouldn’t be surprised to think that the cognitive architecture of our brains also contributes towards thoughts, feelings, and behaviours conducive to our survival.

If so, the above argument changes as follows:
(1) I feel certain moral intuitions.
(2) Those moral intuitions are a ‘good trick’ passed down to me through evolutionary history.
(3) These moral intuitions provide directive force for social rules and evolutionarily beneficial behaviour.
Therefore, my moral intuitions describe things culturally mediated and other things that are cognitively embedded.

Conclusion: Therefore, from 1 & 2, God exists.

To restate the moral argument with corrections:
1. If God exists then moral values are subjective and contingent (or abstract and arbitrary).
2. What we feel to be forceful, external objective moral values and duties may come from our own minds.
Therefore, from 1 & 2, it is not clear from the moral argument whether God exists.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Refuting the Fine-Tuning Cosmological Argument for God

I. Fine-Tuning Argument (as stipulated by Richard Swinburne)

1. The universe is finely tuned for intelligent life.
2. If God existed, he would want to create Intelligent life.
3. The existence of Intelligent life is extremely improbable without God's existence.
4. Intelligent life exists.
5. Intelligent life is good and needs explanation.

Therefore, it is extremely probable (using Bayesian Probability) that God exists.

Swinburne uses Bayesian Probability (Hypothesis h being theism, evidence for theism e being intelligent life, and background knowledge k being facts of our natural universe) to compare to against the hypotheses of a universe suited to intelligent life with no god, as well as against the multiverse hypothesis.
One problem with this is that he presumes intelligent life needs explanation at all, thereby putting it into evidence for theism. A non-teleological explanation would simply say that it isn’t a logical necessity that anything needs explanation, thus denying there is any background information about our world that belongs in any sets of evidence for anything additional to its own existence.

In more detail:

II. My Criticisms of Swinburne

Swinburne sneaks in other arguments:

Argument from Design (teleological argument)
This is the argument that things around us look rich, complex, and in need of a designer. Referring to the various complexities of life, the particular way that human evolution historically occurred, and stating that these coincidences are both necessary and good as a product of cosmic formation, is befuddling the cosmological argument with the intuitions of an argument from design.

Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN)
This is the argument that evolutionary naturalism should find it hard or impossible to produce creatures with true beliefs.
Much like the previous part, to go into detail about the rich mental lives of humans, their purposes, and their beliefs, only stacks Swinburne’s deck using the presupposition that an omni-competent personal deity of an incredible likeness with our own mental lives would need to exist in order to bring about mental lives such as our own. It only confuses the issue at hand, being the cosmological argument.

Kalam Cosmological Argument (argument from first cause)
This is the argument that everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, and therefore the universe has a cause (and that cause is probably God). Swinburne tries to sneak in discussion about a finite age to the universe to conflate statistical intuitions of the Bayesian probability for his cosmological fine-tuning argument with other thoughts about the first cause argument for God. The singularity nicely addresses the first-cause argument, particularly as our intuitions about time and the causal chain may be wrong; science tells us that the universe is around 15 Billion years old but NOT that there is a time t=0 that requires causal explanation (I won't go into further detail here, but it involves the counter-intuitive nature of time as you near the singularity). Also, through modern physics we are aware of examples of paired matter and anti-matter that come into existence without a cause around our universe, the reason why black holes radiate (one half of the pair gets sucked inside, the other half escapes). Therefore not everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe could be of this same category of things.
Regardless, Swinburne should not conflate these arguments.

Replying to the Fine-Tuning Argument:

1. The universe is finely tuned for intelligent life.
(1) The universe is highly hostile to all forms of life:
The hostile vacuum: Why don’t humans easily send a manned mission to mars and beyond? The cosmic radiation outside our atmosphere is incredibly fatal life as we know it after a relatively short duration of exposure.

The hostile past: The number of species that have ever existed but now have gone extinct is 99% of all life.

The barren whole: Proportion of the cosmos that is non-baryonic: 98%. That is, rather than being amazingly supportive and flourishing with “good” life, the universe is almost completely a barren void.

Our barren planet: the percentage of the earth that is actually biomass is only 0.00000000117%.

(2) In total reverse to Swinburne's above point, it is intelligent life that is finely adapted to the universe:
We fit the universe because we were formed by and within the universe. This is like Douglas Adam's sentient puddle who was amazed at how well he fit his hole. As far as the puddle is concerned, such a shapely fit must only be a miracle. If the laws of nature define our bounds and evolution formed our nature, we shouldn't be amazed at how necessary, desirable, or virtuous we find any of these things to be.
The cosmos bounded our only choice of feasible conditions for life, hence we formed within those guidelines.
Our biological environment literally shaped us to fit it, killing all non-adapted alternatives. It is no surprise that we find it to be so perfectly suited to us.
Lastly, our minds formed within the universe as it is, thereby ensuring that if we were to find anything intelligible then we (as intelligent observers) must find our universe intelligible. The alternative is creatures without working minds who find the universe unintelligible and die.

2. If God existed, he would want to create Intelligent life.
If humans really are the evidentiary product, e, of a personal God, h, then this might be fair. This is, however, an egocentric supposition rather than a necessary fact. As some say, it is no accident that people’s gods look like themselves. It is also no accident here that Swinburne defines himself as the evidence for a omni-Swinburnian god who would want to create things just like Swinburne.
After all, bats exist so why isn’t god a bat? You might argue that bats are more probable than humans. However, Apple iPods also require a cosmos that can support matter and life, human evolution to produce their inventors, and then a complex design tree of technological production plus the correct combination of sociobiological, cultural, economic, and marketing factors to produce them. They are at least as improbable and probably much more improbable than humans, therefore why isn’t god a Cosmic iPod?
Swinburne cannot presuppose that his hypothesis should assume the evidence for his own hypothesis without being circular.

3. The existence of Intelligent life is extremely improbable without God's existence.
This presumes:
(1) The combination of cosmological constants that we observe is the only one capable of sustaining life as we know it.
This isn’t the case: Victor Stenger’s “MonkeyGod” programme focuses on only four cosmological constants and shows that other life-sustaining universes are possible with other permutations of the constants.
Additionally, how many worlds even exist? Just our single cosmos? That would certainly provide the best sense of amazement at our fortuitous set of constants. If so, and if no other worlds can exist, then we have no other alternatives to our life-sustaining cosmos and the fact that we exist isn’t amazing at all. What is simply is what is.
However, it may be that other current cosmological theories are true, such as the oscillating universe, a higher-order multiverse, or “embedded” cosmoses. If so, then it is possible that the chance of a life-sustaining cosmos existing is very high. After all, if I have 99 boxes with dogs and one with a cat, then the chance of choosing a cat is only 1%. But if the number of boxes is infinite, then the number of boxes containing cats also tends towards infinity.
No matter how small the chances of getting a life-sustaining universe are, in a multiverse the chance of one existing is guaranteed.
Swinburne does not know how many possible worlds, if any, exist and therefore he cannot claim to know the relative probability of having a life sustaining universe without god.

(2) Similar to above, this argument assumes that other combinations of cosmological constants are possible.
We have no evidence for this. Cosmological constants may be non-contingent facts. The physical “laws” describing our universe simply mathematically describe what is and what happens, it doesn’t determine that which it describes. Equally, the constants are descriptions of what we observe and some of our values and constants are post-hoc fudged values that make our calculations work.
Simply because we can ascribe a number to a description that we have of our universe, that doesn't mean that it is feasible that this descriptive number value can change. It only means we can imagine it changing. However, just because something is imaginarily conceivable it doesn't mean that it is possible.
Who said the constants can change? Who said they could have been different to what they are now? How were they set in the first place?
To presume that they were ‘finely tuned’ as if by a purposive agent is a circular argument (from a theistic perspective) and an unwarranted presupposition that may actually be entirely imaginary and incoherent.

4. Intelligent life exists.
I wouldn’t argue with this. I would only qualify it with the fact that this need not necessarily be the case (except if we presuppose intelligent observers).

5. Intelligent life is good and needs explanation.
This teleologically presupposes that the big bang and evolution, if played through again, should re-produce humans. Otherwise, it is true that we are a unique fact of historical happenstance (Bayesian background knowledge k), but not evidence for anything (Bayesian evidence e for intelligence-creating theism, h).
If you don’t presuppose that we should exist, then you open yourself up to the fact that “history could have gone differently” and we simply wouldn’t have existed in an alternative situation. This robs the fact of our existence of anything that begs explanation, as we would simply be the one outcome of many possibilities that happened to occur.

A final self-refutation of Swinburne:
(credit for this self-refutation goes to Iron Chariots)
The initial premise of the argument is that in order for life to exist, the universe must have such properties that warrant a designer. However, in this line of reasoning, the designer of those properties would exist in a state where none of these properties were true. Therefore, any properties deemed to require a designer can't be necessary for existence in the first place, as the designer can exist without them. The argument is self-refuting.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Apologising for apologetics

I've recently churned through many most of William Lane Craig's podcasts from his "Reasonable Faith" series, found here.

While the topics are "hot button" and interesting, I find that Craig's answers range from frustrating to downright sneaky. As I have got specific personal and academic interest in many of Craig's apologetic areas I find that he puts his views across in a way that might mislead those uneducated in these particular topics. I probably plan to do a series on some of his main apologetic arguments. Based on the amount of forehead slapping induced by his material this will probably end up looking like a rebuttal series rather than a friendly review. This is a shame (for his ideological brethren) given that he is rated highly in Christian apologetic circles.

For those unfamiliar with Craig, he particularly likes the Kalam Cosmological Argument (a variant of first cause), followed by the Moral Argument and the Finely-Tuned Constants Argument.
I expect to cover at least those, if not more of his podcasted issues. His moral argument is just awful, his Kalam argument is logically vulnerable, and I'm currently examining the last.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Mental illness and religion

I work in mental health.

Many mental health workers and some NGO health providers are Christian.

One clinical study showed that the most intractable mental illness with the longest staying category of residents in our mental health service was males with schizophrenia. The most common general diagnosis by number was females with depression and sometimes PTSD or Borderline Personality, however stay was shorter and the recovery rate is higher for these.

So what should Christian mental health providers do with those schizophrenics who have religious delusions? What do we do if our residents are persecuted by their delusional religious beliefs? What do we do if they feel chased by demons? What do we do if they literally fear attack by Satan? What do we do if they think that they have made a detrimental pact with God and fear divine wrath if they break it? What do we do if they think that they are an incarnation of Jesus? What do we do...?

I know what some people do, even I am not innocent of these charges. They avoid the question. They don't challenge their ideas. They postpone confrontation until somebody "qualified" like a Pastor can talk to them (if that ever happens). They nibble around the edges with careful words. They pray with them / at them and hope that they take the hint. They give them Bible verses and inquire gently, which more often than not only implicitly strengthens their dangerous delusion by the unspoken agreement with their underlying religious paradigm.

What they don't say are things like, "that doesn't sound like realistic thinking to me", "I don't think that is right", "those things don't exist," or "I wouldn't worry about that."

They don't tell them that they're talking a load of nonsense.

Why? Because which parts can we criticise?
Oh, yes, Satan exists except he's just not really out to get you... well, perhaps, but only in a general sense.
Yes, the Creator of the Universe thinks that you are special and formed you in your mother's womb but your DNA isn't the divine template for humanity.
Sure, it's historically true that this guy Jesus incarnated as a man who was fully human and fully divine but you're just a regular bloke.
Ancient Israel made lots of promises to God and was punished for not keeping the commandments and the law but your secret pact with God just isn't realistic.

In April, after a tirade of mentally disturbed, religious, anti-atheist, and anti-evolution YouTube posts, Anthony Powell of Michigan randomly took a shotgun to 20-year-old College peer, Asia McGowan, and then killed himself.

What would I have done if Tony had been in my care? What COULD I have done?

"Yes, Tony, I know that it says vessels of wrath... but God actually loves atheists too."
"Yes, Tony, I know that it mentions 6 days and it sounds like Jesus refers to it literally, but it's really all just metaphors."
"No no, Tony, what you're saying doesn't sound like the God that I know. Trust me, your version isn't biblical."

But I know what I would have done. I would have spent the day hanging out with Tony, having some conversations and watching him get more and more annoyed and animated. I would have written an M by Tony's name in a folder, circled it, and then told the Staff on the next shift that "Tony is on Monitor for elevated mood and agitation."
Then I would have gone home and seen him on the evening news.