Friday, May 27, 2011

Hello Out There In Postapocalyptia

[Written for Skeptic Money]
Harold Camping’s Family Radio has gotten a great deal of unwarranted attention (and a pile of money, strangely) from its epically-failed May 21, 2011 prediction of the Rapture. (He now says it was “spiritual” in nature and says that we’re in for five months of judgment, culminating sometime in October.) The basis of his prediction was crazed–a concoction of speculation and numerology more like those spooky 19th-century extrapolations on the dimensions of Egyptian pyramids than any sort of recognizable Christian Eschatology.

The go-to counterargument, cited left, right and center, is Matthew 24:36, which claims no man knows the day or the hour. Even skeptics such as Phil Plait raise this point. Nobody seems to notice that this argument, that Camping has forgotten or ignored that particular verse, is simply flat wrong. Apparently, nobody actually went to the Family Radio web site (before it was taken down in a fit of pique), because Camping actually had a fairly extensive refutation of this claim, replete with scripture references.

I think it’s completely missing the point to criticize only Family Radio for supposedly ignoring scripture. We, as skeptics, ought to be pointing out that this is just one instance out of many where different groups of Christians pick and choose whatever verses suit their own individual fancies. Read more...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Calling a Spade a God Damned Shovel

Just this morning, I was reading Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, by John Scalzi, in which he says:
Ignorance does not imply stupidity; it merely implies lack of knowledge. Ignorance is correctable; stupidity, unfortunately, is typically irreversible. The good news is that rather more people are ignorant than stupid, which means there's hope. So if you're ignorant, congratulations! You can work on that.
This put me in mind of the latest pile of ignorance and stupidity that I’ve been meaning to dismantle. The antidote to ignorance is education. Religion causes any correct facts and sound reasoning to be edited out and rejected, if they contradict the prior belief. The end result of which process is this little diversion below that I’ve been enjoying: “Science and Philosophy Require the Existence of God,” from the blog "Apologia" by Tim Schaertel. (Fair warning, there’s a lot of [sic] to come.)

At one point he says that atheists “[are] not thinking things through.” To which I can only say, even at that it’s an improvement: religion prevents him from thinking at all.
When dealing with the universe we have only two options to explain how the universe came into being. We know that the universe itself is not eternal.
Now taking bets to see whether he actually presents two options, whether those options are a true dichotomy, and whether the whole thing boils down to an Argument from Ignorance. Already he’s wrong, because in fact we don't know that the universe isn't eternal, nor whether “eternal” is even a coherent concept when talking about cosmology, as we’ll see in a moment.
There is an abundance of evidence that supports the fact that at some point in time the universe did not exist and then did.
Wrong. The big bang was the origin of both space and time, so this sentence is nonsensical. There cannot be a point in time in which the universe does not exist. The word “eternal,” above, implicitly implies a duality between time and the universe, when in fact time is bound up into the structure of space itself, one not existing without the other.
The law of causality requires a deeper explanation for the genesis of the universe than the big bang theory. The big bang theory does not define a cause, but only a process.
Wrong. Firstly, there’s no “Law of Causality.” Commonsense interpretations of cause and effect break down when dealing with quantum events such as, to choose a relevant example, the birth of a universe. Our hypotheses about how that event unfolded are required to conform to observations, and it is based on these observations that we deduced that that the event occurred. It’s also plain to see that the writer doesn’t understand the difference between a scientific theory and a colloquial theory, which nobody has any excuse for at this late date.
If something like the big bang happened (which is a weak theory in and of itself)…
Wrong. The Big Bang is supported by every scrap of data; every observation scientists have made and is contradicted by none. The observation of the Cosmic Microwave Background, exactly as predicted, is (almost literally) the smoking gun.
…a cause is still required. This means a self existent, eternal designer is required.
Wrong. If “magical universe-creating pixies” fulfills your criteria, you haven’t discovered anything. We don’t know whether this event had a cause, at least not in any intuitively satisfactory sense. Science contradicts common sense all the time, obviously: if common sense worked, we wouldn’t need science. Stephen Hawking, in The Grand Design, raised the possibility that it may simply be that nonexistence is inherently unstable. Christians frequently ask “why is there something rather than nothing?” Hawking turns this around and says “why should there be nothing, rather than something?”
We can't just say this dependent universe came out of another dependent universe. At some point an eternal, self existent creative designer is required to explain the law and order we observe in our universe.
Wrong. There are two major logical fallacies that have been in play for quite some time now. First, he’s nakedly Begging the Question, asserting that universes are “dependent,” a scientifically meaningless term. Secondly, this entire edifice is a classic Argument from Ignorance—just because we may not know the cause of the Big Bang, it does not mean that one can simply declare victory and shoehorn in one’s own personal god-idea without actually demonstrating it exists.
We also observe a natural moral law that is common throughout creation. Several studies have determined that moral law is not a product of environment, but it is written in our genetic make up. [sic]
Wrong. There’s no moral law common throughout creation—that kind of naked assertion is unsupported and unsupportable. To the best of our knowledge, the entirety of the universe (except for one tiny, barely-even-there speck) wheels along according to inexorable laws of physics. There’s no moral law in black holes, in supernovae, in mutely spinning galaxies floating in the void. And as far as our pale blue dot, maybe he hasn’t heard of evolution, but if something is written into our genome, it’s ipso facto a product of our environment. Nonsocial species don’t evolve reciprocal altruism, they generally (though not always) draw the line at not eating their young.
Therefore not only do we have a creative designing force, but we have a personal creator who has shown there is an intention or a purpose for our existence.
Wrong: “therefore” nothing. The entire argument thus far has been nothing but fallacies and fantasies, and concluding his personal god is nothing but airy nothings.
The athiest [sic] is not thinking this issue through. The athiest [sic] is basically saying "Because I cannot see my thoughts, my thoughts must not exist."
Wrong. The very definition of a Straw Man Argument fallacy—he thinks up the stupidest thing he can imagine anyone saying, puts that into the mouth of his opponent, and then argues against that—mostly because he doesn’t understand what his opponents are really saying in the first place. Incidentally, I can see my thoughts on the screen of an FMRI machine, we know that they exist as measurable brain activity, so I’m tempted not even to dignify this as a straw man—it’s just a cynical lie.
This is no different than their approach to God. However the natural world has the fingerprints of a personal, moral, and creative designer all over it. To ignore this is called foolishness by the author of the Bible. The apostle Paul declared in Romans chapter one that we can know God exists through observing His creation.
Wrong. The “fingerprints” don’t exist. Not one thing about this entire vast cosmos gives the slightest hint that it results from anything other than the laws of the universe. The authors of the bible had no idea about relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, cosmology, astronomy, or any of the other vast fields of knowledge we have uncovered by refusing to accept “god did it” as an explanation.
It is actually quite simple. When we look at a painting, how do we know a painter exists. We look at the painting and know in our hearts that someone designed this painting personally and with a purpose. We can't prove scientifically that there was a painter but we know there was one, because paintings don't form themsleves [sic] by chance. How much more is this true when we look at the complexity and design of the natural universe.
Wrong. We already know a priori that there are such things as paintings and painters, and we can evaluate, based on that knowledge, that a painting is what it is. Demonstrate for me that Universe-creating designers exist, give me examples of universes which are designed as compared to those which are not, and then we can look at our own and be in the same position as one who beholds a painting hanging on the wall.
Once the so called athiest [sic] comes to terms with the fact the God exists we can move forward and start a discussion about how we can know the God of the Bible is the very God that created our universe.
What he means to say is “because the theist is convinced that God exists, the only discussion they can have is how their own God belief is the only acceptable explanation for the universe.” Wrong, wrong, fractally wrong: he's wrong on every conceivable level of resolution, from that of the individual facts, to the reasoning applied to those facts, to the presuppositions that dictate his reasoning.

He could, as Scalzi suggests, “work on that,” but unfortunately it’s highly doubtful he will, as a direct result of that doctrinal reality-filter. Tragically, this is an object lesson in how religion has taken a man who is merely ignorant, and has caused him to become stupid. If there’s any benefit, it’s that such profound examples of religiously-enforced ignorance will show others that “Religion Stops A Thinking Brain.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Such Thing as a Wrong Answer

I recently attended a lecture by George H. Smith, best known as the author of Atheism: The Case Against God, entitled “10 Questions about Atheism" in Bloomington, IL. He made a point later on during the Q & A that I want to expand on.

Smith described how, if you go to a professor of academic philosophy and tell him about a significant conclusion you’ve reached, he may ask you “oh really, how did you figure that out?” You go over your process, and he says “well, that’s interesting, but you’ve based it on unsound reasoning here, you’re working on a couple of fallacies at this point and this other point, and I think you probably want to fix these problems.” Philosophy professors, he said, are not so much concerned with your conclusion as they are with the process by which you got there. If you have fundamental problems, they’ll send you back to square one.

Now, contrast that with a Christian philosopher. Smith pointed out how, if you go to one of them and say you’ve accepted Christianity, they won’t question your reasons one bit. There’s no wrong answer you can give, Smith said, you might as well say you saw the face of the Virgin Mary on a potato chip. (I’ve seen others talk about songs they heard at apropos moments, religious bumper stickers that crossed their path, and other such coincidental agency-detection.) Smith asked the audience: can you think of any reason, any motivation, any process or evidence you could give that would cause a religious philosopher or apologist to say, “sorry, that’s no good, you need to go back to the drawing board?” Of course not. The baptismal font is right this way, we’re so glad to have you.

Read more at Skeptic Money...