Tag Archives: philosophy

Why Philosophical Arguments for God Fail

I’ve been having a debate with a theist who has been looking at William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument in detail and inviting reasons why it isn’t valid.  So I gave him some.  Because Kalam is an intellectual disaster, purporting to do things that it simply cannot do, to people who are emotionally invested in believing in something they cannot demonstrate.

I could just as easily construct a philosophical argument for dragons.  Does that mean dragons exist?  Of course not.  So these arguments entirely fail to do what they purport, by their followers, to do.

So what is so wrong with Kalam, you might ask?  Well, it fails on two fronts.  First off, Craig claims that “whatever begins to exist has a cause”.  We are unaware of anything whatsoever within our universe that doesn’t “begin to exist”, hence it’s a nonsensical statement.  We do not have a single example of anything that did not “begin to exist”.  To get around this, Craig invents something out of whole cloth, an uncaused cause, which does not exist in reality.  He just made it up and we all know, made up things do not actually exist.

The other problem, and this is a consequence of where Craig gets his argument, all the way back to Plato and Aristotle, and the fact that apologetic arguments don’t keep up with the times.  Back when Plato thought it up, he had no idea of modern cosmological thinking, he looked around him and formed ideas based on his limited understanding of the world.  Craig is doing the same thing.  Back in 1979 when he came up with the idea, we didn’t know as much about our wider universe as we do today and we certainly didn’t have any ideas about a multiverse. Craig asserts that his “solution” is the only possible solution, therefore true, but because we have no idea what the physical laws might be in a larger multiverse, it stops being the only possible solution and starts being yet another unsupported claim. Other universes might not have causality, hence infinite regress may not be a problem.  And since the whole of Kalam is based on infinite regress being supposedly impossible, once you remove that possibility, the whole thing crumbles.

Now Craig and his ilk are counting on his followers being ignorant of the facts and not smart enough to see through the lies, that’s why so many flock to see him and pay exorbitant fees to sit and listen to him speak.  But the fact is, philosophy doesn’t actually prove anything.  It doesn’t actually provide evidence of anything.  In almost all cases, it is just mental masturbation.  It is especially so in cases like this, where Craig and other apologists are trying to use it as “proof”.  It isn’t proof.  It cannot be proof.  The only way to prove that gods exist is through science and science doesn’t find a shred of evidence that they are real.

Kalam and other philosophical arguments don’t prove a thing.  They don’t provide objective evidence.  They don’t do anything but invent answers to questions that may not even be problems to help ignorant people feel better about the idiotic things they believe.  Ultimately, they are all identical and all equally useless in determining actual answers.  But what can you expect from people who have imaginary friends?

Methodological Naturalism and the Supernatural

Every once in a while, I get in the mood to be philosophical to a certain degree.  I never do so in the extreme and usually it’s at the behest of someone who either, religiously or politically, “starts it” but really doesn’t understand what they’re talking about.  This time, I ran into a religious moron who kept ranting that science is biased against the supernatural, almost to the point of entering conspiracy theorist territory, that science knows the supernatural is real, they’re just pretending it isn’t.

That’s ridiculous.

Science does have a methodological naturalistic bias, but it’s for a reason.  Naturalism is all that science, or anyone else, can actually objectively test for.  There is no means whatsoever to detect anything that falls outside of the natural world.  Last time I checked, the supernatural, by definition, falls outside of the natural world.

The problem is that the supernatural has no objective evidence, adherents can’t even really define what it is and because they cannot do so, they cannot explain to anyone how they actually know that it’s there.  That makes testing for it not only impossible, by definition, but a fool’s errand.  What objective test can we put the supernatural to?  What rigorous examination can we perform on the supernatural that can be verified through multiple independent  experiments?  Keep in mind that nothing that falls into the supernatural camp has ever been objectively verified to exist in the first place, nobody can be certain that the supernatural is even real, not one thing that can be defined as supernatural has ever been observed in any meaningful way.  And because there’s nothing anyone can point to and say “that’s supernatural”, the whole question is moot.  The supernatural doesn’t even have a demonstrable meaning.

But believers insist that somehow, naturalism is biased against the supernatural, which is about as ridiculous as saying that reality is biased against fantasy.  The best science can do, the best anyone can do, is stare blankly at the religious and say “what the hell are you talking about?”  Because they can’t actually come up with an example, they can’t come up with a credible explanation of what they’re talking about, the supernatural is defined by what it is not, it cannot be defined by what it is.  It’s not natural.  Okay, then what is it?  What are its defining characteristics?  Come on, religious people, throw us a bone here. Tell us what you’re talking about and show that you have any means of knowing anything about it.  Go ahead.  We’re waiting.

And I suspect we’ll be waiting a very, very, very long time.  Methodological naturalism isn’t a bias, it isn’t even a choice, it’s what has to be done in order to make any sense of the world around us. The supernatural just doesn’t make any sense.  It never has, it never will and until the religious actually come up with a workable definition or a single example of what they mean when they say “supernatural”, there’s no reason for science, or anyone else, to take them seriously.

The Problem With Skepticism

Allow me to wax philosophical for a moment.  I just had a discussion with someone who subscribes to some very general solipsist beliefs, that we don’t really exist and reality is an illusion.  This is something I refer to as skepticism on overdrive, where they are so completely and totally skeptical of absolutely everything, to the point that they don’t actually accomplish anything.

Essentially, the argument is that because you can never be absolutely certain of your knowledge, because there is nothing that you can know with absolute, perfect certainty that it’s true, then all knowledge is flawed and thus, in the minds of these extreme skeptics, virtually anything is possible.

This kind of skepticism has been around forever and has been attacked by everyone from Descartes to Bertrand Russell to G.E. Moore with different levels of success.  I’ve actually used the argument when I’ve suggested that an incredibly complex super computer might be feeding you all of the things that you think you experience in reality as a response to Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” argument.  In fact, that was part of his response to the skepticism argument, that you can actually be certain that you’re real because you can think.  I think that’s been pretty much done away with.  His other argument is that there must be a God because in order for you to be able to conceive of a perfect being, such a being must actually exist.  This is complete bullshit, but I won’t go into that here.  Then we grew up and we got to Russell, who argued that while we can’t ever know for certain, it is simpler to rely on our personal experiences of reality than to conjure up super computers or mad geniuses to explain what can be more easily explained by reality as it actually seems to be.  I’m not quite on board with Russell necessarily, but he’s a lot closer.  And then you get Moore, who simply says “screw the skeptics” and puts it all in their lap to prove that any of the things they claim are actually so.  It doesn’t actually prove anything, but I give him an “A” for effort.

Personally, I go for a much more logical approach.  No, we cannot ever know anything for absolutely certain.  It is impossible. Expecting the impossible is idiotic.  Move on.  Therefore, acknowledging that, we have to operate in a manner that actually accomplishes something.  If we just give in to extreme skepticism, where we know nothing and doubt everything, we don’t actually bring about anything meaningful.  We just sit there noodling our imaginary navels until our imaginary bodies starve to imaginary death because we didn’t bother getting any imaginary food.  It is a totally useless perspective to take.  Therefore, regardless of our absolute knowledge about anything, we still have no choice but to act as if our knowledge is reasonable and reliable, at least until we have some reason to think otherwise.  We have to act as though reality is actually real because if we don’t, we seemingly die and the whole question is moot anyhow.  The ultimate reality really isn’t relevant to our apparent existence, period.  Philosophers get the hell over yourselves and move on.

This doesn’t impress the solipsist crowd though, who want to think they’ve figured it all out and don’t like it when I point out that, no matter what solution they want to come up with, they are defeated by their own philosophy that they can’t possibly actually know anything, including that they are a brain in a vat, in a dream, being programmed by a computer or aliens or whatever delusional nonsense they come up with this week.  They haven’t figured out anything except how to look like idiots.

Libertarians: Getting it Ass-Backwards

I think I’ve finally realized what libertarians are doing wrong in their arguments about natural rights.  I don’t know if this is intentional or just a happy coincidence on their part, but I think this is why they have so many problems getting their ideas across.

See, at its core, natural rights is a philosophical position.  That’s perfectly fine.  But with all philosophical positions, you have to have an argument, you have to have support and be able to defend your views rationally.  That’s how philosophy works.  You can’t just make a pronouncement and pretend that everyone is going to take it seriously because you said it.  Now there have been plenty of books by famous philosophers who have put forth the idea of natural rights and spent lots of time trying to make an argument for them and that’s great.  I’m not convinced by those arguments and I’ve read Locke and Hobbes and Kant and Paine, but at least they tried.

But you have lots of modern libertarians who don’t have the mental wherewithal to put together a credible philosophical argument.  They know they like the idea of natural rights, they just don’t understand the ideological underpinnings. However, they desperately want these things to be real so they just claim that they are.  They claim that natural rights are a fact, but that brings with it other problems.  If you claim that something is an objective fact, you need to show how you came to that conclusion.  You need to produce objective evidence.  You need to show your work.  But, of course, they have no work, they have no evidence to present, they’re only claiming that it’s a fact because it seemed like an easier solution than having to put in the effort to defend a philosophical position.  So they’re left in this quasi-religious conundrum, where they have nothing to present, but they have a desperate need to believe.  All they can do is keep repeating their quasi-religious mantra over and over, hoping that repetition somehow makes it seem reasonable, but it doesn’t.

The problem is that both options require a defense but most of these libertarians just have no defense to provide.  They don’t understand the philosophy sufficiently to present credible arguments in support of their ideas and, because natural rights are not objectively real, they have no credible evidence to present that show them to be factually true.  All they can do is keep declaring that they’re “just true”.  No, they’re not.  They have to believe it though because it forms the basis of their entire political ideology and without the idea of natural rights, they’ve really got nothing.

You really can’t have an idea or make a claim and not have a defense.  Your say-so and  your desire for a thing to be true don’t make it true and it certainly won’t convince a skeptic that what you claim actually makes sense. You have to actually have a cohesive argument that convinces people that you have the slightest clue what you’re talking about.  And unfortunately, far too often, libertarians simply don’t.

You Think, Therefore You Are?

I think, therefore I am – René Descartes

Lots of people think that’s the end all be all of individual existence, we can know, for an absolute fact, that we actually exist as sentient beings because we are capable of asking the question at all.  But unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

Descartes believed that human thought was the ultimate sign that he was a real boy was that he could think and question his own existence.  But he couldn’t have foreseen the coming of omnipresent modern computers and intelligent machines.  Of course, to someone in Descartes’ time, that would have sounded like witchcraft, but today it’s commonplace.  We have video games all around us, all featuring characters that act as they are programmed to act, yet they are not sentient beings. It’s not at all hard to imagine that with a little more time and a little more computing power, we might be able to create an artificial intelligence that acts, for all intents and purposes, like it was alive, but is it really?  Does it really think or does it just do what it’s programmed to do?  And if it is a slave to its programming, how hard is it to imagine that we, too, might be the same?

Now I’m not saying that we are, we just have no evidence to support that contention, but we also cannot completely rule it out. So long as it is possible, it cannot be completely discounted.  If, in some ultra-advanced computer system, we are just ultra-advanced programs, designed to “act” as we “act” and “think” as we “think”, how would you be able to tell the difference between the program and the “real world”?  Or if you are just a character in someone’s extremely detailed dream, how would you know?  How could you test this hypothesis and how could you know the results are true?  It’s a question that Descartes couldn’t have even imagined, but unfortunately, far too many people never bother to question his conclusions in light of new experiences, they just blindly follow because that’s what they’ve been told has to be true.

This all goes back to a previous post where I talked about absolute certainty and the impossibility that we can ever know, to any degree of absolute certainty, that anything is true. It just isn’t possible.  We can approximate truth through repeated testing and so long as the results come back consistent, we can assume that we have tentative truth, but to know, to really know, with no possibility of doubt or error, that is simply beyond us and as we advance technologically, it becomes less of a sure thing every day.  I’ve talked about this in the past, but it keeps coming up and sometimes, you just have to revisit the subject.  Sure, going down that rabbit hole leads to a bit of madness, but refusing to acknowledge the reality of the situation because the ramifications make you uncomfortable is irrational as well.  So maybe instead of playing along with Descartes, maybe we should go back to Socrates, who said “All I know is that I know nothing.”  We know nothing.  We think a lot of things. We believe a lot of things.  We cannot have absolute knowledge though, no matter how much that scares some people.

Of course, to a lot of people, this is a terrifying thought, one that they are entirely unwilling to entertain.  In a recent discussion on this subject, I had someone redefining their terminology to get around this uncertainty.  If you are just an ignorant automaton, then your “thoughts”, programmed as they might be, are sign that *SOMETHING* exists, in this case your creator. So it isn’t “I think, therefore I am”, it’s “I think, therefore something is”.  But what if you take it one step further?  What if some intelligent race creates a self-replicating machines that also create these artificial intelligences.  The machines are not intelligent, they are just following their programming, but they are also creating other non-sentient beings that are following similar programming, but those beings are totally unaware of their nature.  They are convinced that the things in their heads are their own thoughts, not programs running on their biological wetware computers.  But what does this say about thought? Even though some intelligent species ultimately created the machines, it may have been thousands or even millions of  generations since, that intelligent species might not even exist anymore, can you really say that your own “thought” now proves the existence of some sentient entity?  I don’t think so.

In the end, it’s just a brain bender and really doesn’t mean anything, but it’s something that a lot of people don’t even consider and, in fact, when faced with a reasoned argument, often refuse to consider because it might make them call into question their own self-concept as an intelligent, sentient being.  Maybe you are, maybe you’re not.  We certainly have to act as if we are regardless, but absolute certainty, being an impossibility, is something we should never pretend we have.

Why Don’t People Understand Philosophical Skepticism?

It seems like I stumble into a lot of these really bizarre conversations and I suppose I do, but more than weird discussions, I find weird people who honestly don’t have a clue what they’re talking about and apparently, they’re proud of it.  So here we go again with someone who doesn’t know a thing, they just pretend that they do.

Philosophical skepticism is a school of thought that, in layman’s terms, posits that knowledge requires rational justification.  Anyone who has read or listened to me at all knows this is the school of thought that I follow closely. Belief is not enough, you have to be able to justify your belief with objective evidence and logical argument.  Just wanting it to be true isn’t nearly enough.

But you get some people, particularly the religious, who want to poke fun at it because it gets in the way of their blind faith.  So someone recently popped up and asked if it was rational to question absolutely everything.  I, of course, said yes.  And then he broke into “do you question that it is impossible to have a perpetual motion machine?”  Well, yes I do. Because absolutely nothing is completely beyond the realm of possibilities, it just isn’t possible based on what we currently know.

And he proceeded to make fun of me.  Not because he had anything of substance to say, but because he thought it was endlessly hysterical to think that our knowledge is limited and possibly incorrect.  But the reality is, our knowledge of the universe is woefully incomplete and will likely always be so.  We learn new things every single day and for all I know, next week we’ll discover a new quantum particle that makes perpetual motion possible.  I have no way of knowing that we won’t, hence I can’t rule out the possibility.  That said though, we can only make judgements based upon current knowledge.  Today, based on what we know about physics, a perpetual motion machine isn’t possible, but I can’t say that will always be so and neither can you.

In fact, we can’t say anything to any real degree of absolute certainty.  We can’t even say we’re alive.  Even Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” isn’t certain because we could be hyper-complex artificial intelligences that are coded to make us think that we’re thinking, but it’s just an elaborate program.  We just can’t say for sure.

So does that mean we should just believe whatever we want?  Of course not.  We do have evidence available to us right now, even if it isn’t complete and possibly isn’t even correct.  We have to go by that evidence because without it, we have nothing. In practice, using our brains logically simply works, as far as we can tell.  It seems, based on observation, that gravity is a real thing, if you jump off of a tall building, you come crashing down.  All the believing that this isn’t so in the world hasn’t been demonstrated to change the result.  Things work a certain way, our explanations of those workings seems consistent, testable and predictable, therefore we assume that our explanations are viable.  Tomorrow, that might not be the case, but for the moment, it is.  Not to acknowledge this reality is foolish, something my erstwhile perpetual motion machine joker above apparently doesn’t understand.   But that lack of understanding often leads to foolish, irrational positions like religion, which is really why the question was asked in the first place, by someone who is an ardent Christian and wants to make the non-religious and pro-rational people look foolish.  They failed though and only revealed another facet of their own irrational thinking.  In trying to discredit the intelligent, he just made himself look even less intelligent.  There’s symmetry in that somewhere.

Philosophy Isn’t Reality

To be honest, I’ve been struggling recently to find a lot of religious topics to talk about.  It’s weird, over on my YouTube channel, there is plenty to cover religiously but I can’t find anything political, but here the opposite is true.  I talk about political subjects non-stop and outside of Horror Show Sunday, I have to fight to find anything religious to say.

But I’ve been involved in a discussion on atheism, with the tired old canard about atheism being faith that gods don’t exist, instead of the lack of belief in gods, being tossed around by the religious.  No matter what anyone says, they will never acknowledge that you can be an atheist and not have a strong, blind faith in the factual non-existence of gods.  I think it’s because they’re fighting against the word, not against the concept.  They hate the term.  If you call yourself an agnostic, they don’t care.  Heck, you can call yourself a tuna fish sandwich and they’ll be fine with it.  You’d just better not use the word “atheist” or they freak out.

So as the discussion has gone on, we’ve started to talk about why people are religious in the first place and we started discussing that people are afraid of things they don’t understand and therefore, simply make things up, or adopt ideas others have made up, to explain the things they can’t comprehend.  That’s the basis for religion.  I had a theist come back and attack me, with the following:

By the same token, atheists make up their own solutions to make themselves feel better when the say there are no gods…then run away from the origin of the universe discussion. I guess the origin of the universe isn’t an important enough philosophical discussion?

But that doesn’t describe any atheist I have ever seen.  Atheists don’t make up anything.  They wait until the objective evidence points to a credible solution.  If it doesn’t, they don’t simply invent an emotionally comforting belief system, they say “we don’t know”.  Apparently, admitting our current ignorance is the same as running away.  It is a fact that while we have a lot of good ideas on the origin of the universe, with a lot of solid mathematical support for those ideas, we just don’t know for sure.  We’ve hit a point in our current knowledge and current understanding of science beyond which we have not been able to travel. This is likely a temporary thing, but it doesn’t mean that there’s some imaginary god-figure in the sky, it means we just don’t have the kind of answers that theists seem to want.

Far too many theists want to go dancing down the philosophical primrose path on purely scientific matters, as though noodling their navels can somehow solve our lack of evidentiary answers.  It doesn’t.  Philosophy is not reality.  It does not give us the same kind of answers, in fact, I’d argue that in most cases, it doesn’t give us any credible answers at all.  It’s a way of thinking about things, not about discovering the factual truth about things.  You cannot get to real-world answers through philosophy. You cannot solve world hunger with philosophy.  You cannot heal someone with philosophy.  You cannot explore the stars with philosophy.  You can’t achieve any demonstrable, factual results with philosophy.  That’s not what philosophy is.  But when it comes to religion, that’s usually all they have in their tool bag.  They have no objective evidence.  They have no science.  The have no demonstrable facts.  All they have is hand-waving philosophical bullshit and they think that because that’s what they have to rely on, that everyone else ought to value that approach as well.

Well we don’t.  And we shouldn’t.  Because that kind of philosophical nonsense is all you have left when all of the credible methods fail.  Sure, philosophy has its uses, but scientific endeavors in the real world isn’t one of them.  It’s trying to hit a nail with a feather.  You’re going to get nowhere real fast.  And that’s exactly what I told this guy, we’ll have to see how he responds, or if he does, as I suspect, just throw around a bunch of insults and run away, doubling down on his own stupidity as usual. It’s the religious way, I guess.  That’s why I have no respect for them whatsoever, they haven’t earned it.

Opinions as Facts

This is one of those things that drives me nuts and in this particular case, it’s part of a long, ongoing discussion about rights, especially from a libertarian perspective, but it could be about lots of different subjects because it happens all the time.  In this instance, what set it off is someone who claimed that “natural rights”, that bizarre libertarian bugaboo, came from “universal social ideas”, meaning everyone thinks a particular way, therefore it’s true.

I trust I don’t have to point out that this is a logical fallacy to anyone, right?

But I pointed out that there are no “universal social ideas”.  Absolutely no social view is universal, in that it has been held by all people in all places at all times.  None.  The idea of the right to life is one example.  Well, depending on who you ask, some people just have no right to life at all.  If you asked people 200 years ago in America, most would say that blacks had no right to life.  According to a lot of Germans in Nazi Germany, the Jews had no right to life.  Heck, I’m sure you can find plenty of people in the Bible Belt who would tell you that gays have no right to life.  This is just not a universally held belief by any stretch of the imagination.

Ah, but my opponent said, anyone who doesn’t believe in the right to life, those people must have something wrong with them and they should all be locked up.  Uh… that’s his opinion and all, but what he’s really doing is just declaring that anyone who disagrees with him automatically doesn’t count, therefore he wins.

Do I have to describe how absurd this is?

Yeah, I think it’s about time to bow out and let the delusional revel in their delusions.  It isn’t like any amount of rational discussion is going to change their minds.  They think their opinions are facts and nothing anyone says, no amount of evidence presented, is ever going to change their minds.

I’m Right Because I’m Right

Lots of people out there who are actually offended that anyone disagrees with them, to the point of calling anyone who opposes their point of view abusive.  Disagreement isn’t abuse, it isn’t offensive and so long as it isn’t done in an insulting way, you shouldn’t feel bad about it.  In fact, if you do feel bad that someone challenges your beliefs, then your beliefs are pretty poorly supported out of the gate.  Saying “I’m right” doesn’t make you right.  You have to prove that you actually are.

Let’s be honest, you are only correct on any particular subject if you are actually correct and the only way to demonstrate that you are actually correct is to have some kind of objective evidence of critically evaluated reasoning to back you up. If you have that, you ought to be able to present it to all challengers in order to convince them that you’re actually correct in your assertions.  If you cannot, then you have no good reason to think you’re right in the first place.  If your evidence does not convince your detractors and they can point out logical fallacies and failures, then you need to go back to the drawing board. Of course, we all know this isn’t how it works in many cases.  People get emotionally attached to their opinions and really couldn’t care less if they are objectively correct or not.  It makes them feel good, therefore they have to be right.  There are any number of examples that I could give, of course, but I wanted to limit it to just a few.

Religion is probably the biggest one that comes to mind.  The overwhelming majority of religious adherents are emotionally attached to their beliefs, such that even daring to question them results in a serious emotional reaction, not a rational one. Most religious people cannot step back and evaluate their beliefs critically, they are not able to doubt that what they believe is true, they just have to have blind faith because to do otherwise causes emotional pain and suffering.  That’s why you really can’t argue with the majority of religious believers because they cannot even imagine being wrong, it isn’t even a remote possibility for them, they are fundamentally convinced, not by reason or logic or evidence, but by feelings.  It makes them feel good. That’s all they care about.

Then we get to the other end of the spectrum with feminism.  Feminism is rarely associated with religion but it looks an awful lot like it.  Modern feminists, particularly third and fourth wave feminists, are really indistinguishable from the religious in their faith.  They believe the things they believe because they are emotionally invested in believing them.  It doesn’t matter if they are true or not, it doesn’t matter if they have any evidence to support the craziness like the patriarchy and the gender wage gap, they just have to be true because their entire ideology depends on it and there is no point in challenging them on it because disagreeing, to them, is the same as “raping” them, which is idiotic in and of itself.  The same is true of other fanatical beliefs, like some of the more extremist libertarians who follow essentially the same path, they believe what they believe and anyone who doesn’t agree is the enemy.

Just to show you that this is ridiculously widespread and not necessarily politically connected, I wrote a review on my other blog about this season of Dominion where I pretty much panned it, said I was done watching it and, if there’s any justice in the world, it would be cancelled (and it was).  I gave my reasons why I thought it was an actively bad show.  The responses I got were just mindless insults, both on the blog, on Facebook, on Google+, etc.  Nobody could be bothered to explain why they liked it, why they thought I was wrong, or to defend the show against my charges, they could only say “you suck” and “you’re a hater” and other mindless crap like that.  There’s no conversation to be had with people like that, they cannot be reasoned with, they are right and everyone else is wrong, so there, fuck you.

But how can anyone actually discuss their positions, regardless of what those positions are, if they are unwilling to even examine or think about what they already believe?  How can they find out if they are wrong if they won’t listen to the criticism leveled against them?  Simply put, they don’t care and in not caring, they have excused themselves from any form or rational conversation.  There was a time that I wasted a lot of time on debating abortion and creationism and all of that, but no longer, because it doesn’t actually accomplish anything.  Nobody will change their minds.  Nobody will listen to the arguments.  Nobody will look at the evidence.  In the end, you’ve just wasted your time and the other party leaves even more self-assured that they were right all along.  What’s the point in that?

A Necessarily Limited Audience

I know that I’ve talked about this before, but I was recently speaking with a friend who wanted to know why I didn’t have a massive following, either here, with my podcast, or with my new YouTube channel.  Certainly, all of them have a decent following, get a decent number of hits and are all growing over time, but none of them are remotely close to superstar ratings.

Well, the answer is simple, I actually hold what many consider to be contradictory positions that I insist on talking about all the time.  They’re not actually contradictory, they are just uncommon to put together and since I don’t focus entirely on one subject or another, but cover a wide spectrum, I end up appealing only to a very small audience who, like me, holds these so-called contradictory views.

I can’t remember where I saw it, but I once saw a statistic that said that 20% of atheists were also conservatives.  I have no idea how accurate that is, it seems a bit high to me, but if we take it with a grain of salt, that means that the majority of atheists out there will not want to pay any attention to me because I oppose their political views.  I really detest not only many things that liberals, and especially progressives, want, but the justification behind their desires, which I find overly emotional and almost entirely without rational cause.  So I speak out against liberalism all the time, but as I’m an equal opportunity offender, I’m more than happy to go after the far-right religious pseudo-conservative in the Republican party who absolutely does not represent my secular conservative views.  So I tend to piss off people in the GOP, even though they aren’t likely to be non-religious to begin with.

So where are these people?  A lot of them abandoned the Republicans and joined the Libertarians and I really don’t like libertarians either.  Well, I don’t like some libertarians because the Libertarian Party tends to be a very diverse and chaotic group.  You have the people who just want to be left alone to do drugs, who don’t want to pay taxes, etc.  You have the people who are really only there because they’re sick of the Republicans, and I share a lot of commonality with this group.  Then you have the real crazies who have a quasi-religious belief in imaginary rights and magical laws that apply to everyone whether they want them to or not, but which nobody can actually prove exist.  Those are the people I tend to go after, they are the most vocal and most crazy, but because it isn’t really possible to differentiate between a large number of groups all using the same label every time you open your mouth, I tend to offend libertarians too.  Of course, I always specify that if something I say doesn’t apply to you, don’t take it personally, but they always seem to.

So let’s see, I’ve pissed off the liberals, I’ve pissed off the religious conservatives, I’ve pissed off the libertarians, who else? Well the non-rational, of course!  While most of these people, the liberals, the religious conservatives and the libertarians, fit into that mold, I find an unfortunate number of self-professed atheists who are also non-rational, either with regard to their atheism or with regard to other beliefs they hold.  Out of everything I oppose, being irrational is probably the highest on my list because all else springs from it.  I cannot stand people who do not think rationally, who cannot examine a proposition to see if it is supported logically, who do not expect evidence before they accept something as factually true, etc.  I was reminded recently that the majority of “serious” flat-earthers are also atheists, which I find sad.

I guess I can never expect a large audience because all of the things I talk about seem contradictory to many people. How can I be politically conservative and irreligious at the same time?  How can I oppose irrationality and libertarianism at the same time?  But I do and I’m going to talk about all of it and those who want to listen will, those who do not, will not.  I’m fine with it. I’ve been doing this for 11 years now, at least on the blogging side, much, much longer than that when you count all of my time online.  I’d rather reach the right people because the people who are not right aren’t going to listen to reason anyhow, be they religious, political or social, they’re all set in their ways of irrationality and beyond the pale of reason.  I write what I write, I think what I think and I get to all of it through reason and rationality.  If you don’t, if you use emotion and wishful thinking, then clearly, we’re not only not on the same boat, we’re not even in the same ocean.

The Drifting Definition of Morality

I was recently having a discussion with an atheist over abortion and he was arguing against it, based on his own particular moral views.  He was convinced that society would eventually come around to his way of thinking, overturn RvW and the whole world would be rosy.  So I asked him how he justified his own views of morality, pointing out that the human species routinely changes our views on what is moral and what is not.

300 years ago, it was considered entirely moral to keep slaves, in fact, many argued that it was immoral to let the clearly inferior black people be responsible for themselves because they needed the guidance of clearly superior whites to live worthwhile lives.  Today, that has changed. 100 years ago, women were clearly thought of as inferior citizens, unable to vote, unable to make their own decisions, and in many places, unable to own property in their own name or control their own money.  Today, that has changed.  50 years ago, the idea of gays having the same rights to marry was an immoral idea because gays were thought of as immoral people.  Today, they are able to legally marry and are, at least in most places, thought of as completely equal to straight people.  Things have changed and they continue to change, we aren’t moving toward a moral singularity where everything is going to be moral and perfect and just because there just isn’t any agreement on what constitutes moral perfection.  Every generation thinks they’ve got it all figured out.  Every generation thereafter thinks they were wrong.  Today we think we’re right.  Our children and our children’s children will invariably think we’re immoral monsters.  That’s how the world actually works.

But no, for him, he’s convinced that we’re reaching some kind of moral perfection.  He doesn’t use that term but I think it fits. For him, mankind is achieving a more rational view of morality.  How he defines that in any objective manner is entirely beyond me.  When you can’t get people to agree on what constitutes moral behavior and what does not, how can you ever decide if we’re headed in the right direction?  And even if you could get a consensus, how do you test that that consensus is objectively correct?  And if you can’t do either of those things, we’re right back to where we started, with morality being subjective and nothing demonstrably getting “better” or “worse”.

Of course, none of that really matters because most people don’t like it when you don’t accept their closely held moral ideas, in fact, they get downright nasty about it.  I’m not  going to say that’s what this guy did because he didn’t, he just stopped responding when I wasn’t willing to buy into his beliefs about morality.  I just thought it was interesting that even self-professed atheists can have the same kind of emotional triggers when it comes to very subjective moral views.

Lies, Damn Lies and Making Stuff Up

dilbert14Even though this particular example is directed at a Christian, it seems to be a problem all over so I don’t want anyone to think this is a religious-only issue.  On an atheist forum, a Catholic member asserted that there were more male forum members on atheist forums and more female members on religious forums and was wondering why this might be.  Now, it’s an innocuous question but while other forum members were trying to provide possible answers, I took a step back and started wondering exactly how she came up with those statistics in the first place.  Having been a member of the atheist forum for a very long time and going to the religious forum she mentioned, there was nowhere that I could see where the members identified their real life genders and besides, even if they did, how would anyone know if they were telling the truth?

So I started asking questions about how this data was determined and how was it tested?  I would have actually been satisfied if she could point to anywhere on both forums where gender statistics were listed, but she couldn’t.  She said through “observation”. Well how the hell can you observe someone’s gender in an online forum?  Guess?  Still, she maintained that somehow she had that knowledge, just like she maintained that somehow she knew that God was real.  I guess delusion is an equal opportunity liar.

Certainly though, she’s not alone, there are plenty of people out there who claim that they have knowledge they cannot possibly have, there is no end to online debates and discussions where one side will say they know things they can’t conceivably know and when cornered, they will ignore any and all requests for their methodology.  They just know.  I guess it’s magic.  Everything from the feminist’s favorite whipping dog, the patriarchy, that thing they can’t prove exists but they’re sure is real, to various motivations ascribed to large groups of people without a shred of evidence to back it up,  This is a huge barrier to having intelligent discussions with people whose confirmation bias not only leads them to cherry picking data that agrees with them over that which does not, but to just make things up when they can’t find any actual data to trot out during the debate. And, of course, they can’t be honest about any of it because that gets in the way of feeling good about their positions.  They’re too busy just making stuff up to care about reality.

It’s sad that rationality is a lost art for so many.

8 Nonsensical Unsolvable Philosophical Questions

rodinI recently saw this list in a YouTube video and wanted to take a crack at these supposed philosophical questions that we will never solve.  Of course, that idea right there, that we simply can never come up with a solution to these ideas is problematic to begin with, it is an admission of failure for which people are not even going to attempt to recover from.  We can point to all kinds of ideas that people have assumed could never be solved, yet eventually were, such as Fermat’s Last Theorem.

We also find in a lot of these questions, the kind of navel-noodling philosophical masturbation that I think marks modern philosophical thought.  It is asking questions that really have no application and are of no import, but they sound kind of intellectual and philosophers want to get paid so they throw this absurd bullshit out there and scratch their chins thoughtfully.  It’s like asking what is the sound of one hand clapping, when by definition, clapping requires two hands and without two hands, the concept has no application whatsoever.  It’s a game by people who think that thinking for the sake of thinking ought to get them paid.  Maybe these people need to learn to be useful.

So here’s the list and seriously, none of them are really worthwhile to the thoughtful, rational and critical thinking individual. Let’s get started.

1. Why is there something rather than nothing?

I’m sure that you learned when you were young that there are five kinds of questions:  What, where, how, when and why.  Of those, only “why” has potential irrational, emotional implications because it assumes, often incorrectly, that there is a reason for a thing to happen.  It doesn’t ask for a time or a place or a mechanism, it demands a reason and sometimes, there just are no reasons that things happen, they simply do.  It seeks to answer an emotional need for purpose instead of an intellectual need for explanation.  It doesn’t mean that there are never good answers, it depends on the question being asked.  Why did person A kill person B?  There are probably reasons that can be provided.  Why is there something rather than nothing?  It’s ultimately a nonsensical question to ask because so far as we can tell, it just is.  There is no reason for it.  Stop pondering irrational imponderables.

2. Is our universe real?

As opposed to what?  Being the Matrix?  While we don’t know the absolute state of the actual universe around us, at some point in time we have to simply accept what we collectively experience or there’s no point to doing anything else.  It’s function over form.  It’s interesting to note that people who claim that the universe isn’t real, who follow some sort of solipsistic beliefs, they still act in every regard like the universe is real.  They don’t go around shooting people at random because they’re not real. They still look both ways before crossing the street, even though they claim the cars are part of the illusion.  They make elaborate excuses for why they speak one way and act another.  That’s hypocrisy.

3. Do we have free will?

That all depends on what you mean by free will.  In virtually all debates I see on the existence of free will, the two sides are talking past each other, each having a completely different definition of the term and refusing to acknowledge the fundamental disconnect between the two sides.  Personally, I think it’s a rather pointless question because whether we have ultimate free will or not, we certainly have functional free will.  I suppose that if there were some way to know everything about everything in the universe all the time, we could predict what people are going to do with an amazingly high degree of accuracy, but since we can’t and almost certainly never will, it’s a pointless conundrum. I have the ability to make choices in the real world.  I’m going to call that free will.  If you want to sit at the top of a mountain and ponder the idea, feel free.

4. Does God exist?

There’s no evidence whatsoever to support such a claim, therefore it is asinine to believe that it is true.  The people who believe it are acting out of emotion, not intellect and while we will probably not be able to answer the question to any degree of absolute certainty, we don’t actually operate with absolute certainty in the real world.  It’s an unrealistic expectation.  I can’t say for absolutely certain that there are or are not gods, any more than I can say for absolutely certain that there are or are not unicorns.  However, I can reject belief in said entities until someone can both define them coherently and produce objective evidence that they actually do exist.  It hasn’t been done yet, therefore I do not believe.

5. Is there life after death?

Not as far as we can tell and we can only operate on the information that we have right now.  If some better evidence suggesting an afterlife comes along, we can evaluate that evidence and perhaps change our minds.  The only reason anyone believes in an afterlife now is because they are terrified of death.  An emotional reaction to demonstrable reality is not a good starting point for a valid belief.  This is another case where believers need to actually back up their claims in order to make it reasonable to take those claims seriously.  They have not done so.

6. Can you really experience anything objectively?

No, probably not because all of reality is filtered through our sensory organs and we know that our sensory organs are neither perfectly accurate, nor especially wide in scope.  We only see in a narrow band.  We only hear in a narrow band.  Our sense of touch is only so fine.  We may not even know our limitations because our ability to see beyond our limitations is by definition limited.  It’s like having a color blind person living on an island of other color blind people, being unable to tell that color exists because they have no experience with it and can only compare their observations to others with the same affliction.  Yes, eventually they might create a machine that can differentiate between colors that might lead them to the truth, but while they are lacking that technology, does that mean colors don’t really exist?  That doesn’t make anything that we do useless because again, we are not shooting for absolute certainty or absolute perfection, we are doing the best we can with what we have at the moment and continually refining our knowledge as time goes on.

7. What is the best moral system?

Who says there is one?  All morality is subjective, it is based on the wishes and desires of the particular society or community involved.  We know that morals and ethics change and shift over time, there is no best system because all systems require axioms and assumptions that are inherently subjective to begin with.

8. What are numbers?

Numbers are subjective conceptual representations of groups of objects.  Humans came up with mathematics as a means of representing observations made about reality.  They aren’t a thing.  They are an idea.  Numbers, like colors and many other definitive concepts, have no real world existence but exist to describe the characteristics of the real world.  Of course, plenty of philosophers want to navel gaze and pretend to be intellectual, but it’s a pretty pointless question to ask.

So there you go, these are good examples of why I don’t take a lot of modern philosophy seriously, they fail for the same reason the religious fail, because they’d rather drift through the abyss scratching their heads than actually do something useful for society.  Does anyone have any more philosophical questions they want an answer to? Send them my way.

More Philosophical Nonsense: Mary’s Room

maple treesI ran into this on a short podcast and honestly, I have no idea how philosophers can spout this crap and not see the obvious flaws in their “thought experiments” that I identified in mere seconds.  This is hardly the first time I’ve talked about the utter failure of much of modern philosophy, there are tons of examples of “thought experiments” where anyone with half a brain that looks at the set up can disassemble it quite quickly and easily because the assertions made by philosophers are just downright ridiculous.  Therefore, let’s go take a look at the philosophical argument called “Mary’s Room”.

The concept, thought up by Frank Jackson in 1982, proposes:

Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’. […] What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not?

Of course, the concept assumes that Mary is a super-genius scientist who is working with every bit of evidence and information possible in making her conclusions about vision.  They they introduce more information, in the form of a color monitor, and expect people not to recognize that all of a sudden, there is an increase in the amount of physical evidence that she’s now been exposed to!  They argue that suddenly, there’s some form of supernatural evidence that has made her see color for the very first time.  That’s absolutely ridiculous, nothing “beyond the physical” happened in this example, she thought she had all the data, she was wrong, she got more physical data and discovered something new!  If you think you have all knowledge, then you leave the room and gain more knowledge, then you didn’t have all knowledge to begin with.  Nothing magical happened!  It’s like saying if you take someone who has been colorblind their entire lives and then you surgically correct whatever the cause of their colorblindness might have been, you’ve done something mystical.  That’s ridiculous.

But this is par for the course for a lot of modern-day philosophers.  They come up with these bizarre ideas, completely fail to recognize what they’re saying and take a sharp left at Albuquerque when it comes to critically thinking about their ideas.  This is especially true of those who claim that somehow, this thought experiment proves physicalism false.  They say that if she learned something new by being exposed to a direct experience of  color, that suddenly, physicalism can’t explain it.  Why not?  It’s not my fault that the whole thing is set up very, very badly, as I’ve already pointed out.  In reality, if Mary walks out of her black and white world into a world of color, the particular wavelengths for color strike her retina, which is interpreted in the brain and experienced by the conscious mind.  All of that is a wholly physical process.  Where is the disproof of physicalism?  How have any of the mechanisms she’s worked out in her black and white room changed, just because she’s gone from seeing only black and white images to color images?  They haven’t!  The whole process works exactly the same, she’s just experiencing a different kind of image than she did before, she’s still experiencing it in the exact same physical way she did before.  There is nothing “beyond the physical” that’s been added.  Sorry, philosophy loses once again.  The kind of twisting and turning that philosophers have to do is absurd.  Even Jackson said:

It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then it is inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.

All of that is just bullshit spread on shit toast.  You cannot claim that she had all the information, then provide more information, and still hold that she always had all the information.  It’s crap, pure and simple.  It could be that this particular thought experiment is just very badly formulated, which may well be the case, but this is exactly the kind of thing that I see modern armchair philosophers noodling their navels over constantly, pretending that they are intellectually superior because they cannot see the clear and logical implications of the arguments.

Yet another reason why I think the vast majority of modern philosophy is shit.

Philosophy: You Think, Therefore You Are?

Descartes“I think, therefore I am” is one of the classical philosophical statements, first uttered by René Descartes in the 17th century and most people take it as presented without giving it a whole lot of thought.  However, anyone who stops to consider it rationally for a few moments will realize that it actually is a statement of opinion, not fact, and not even that defensible an opinion at that.  This demonstrates one more area where philosophy goes wrong.

Let’s break this down for a moment.  Descartes was arguing that the very act of thought and existence of internal argument was sufficient evidence to demonstrate independent existence.  Is that really true?  Well, from the perspective of someone living in Descartes’ time, it might have seemed to be a logical conclusion to make, after all, he had no clue that non-human entities might be able to be self-aware and consider propositions, that act alone was probably enough to make him conclude that just thinking was proof of independent existence.

However, today we know better.  We have computers, we’re developing rudimentary AI and it isn’t hard to imagine that sometime in the not too distant future, we could develop extremely advanced artificial intelligence that equals or even surpasses our own mental abilities.  Some have suggested that the way to determine whether an advanced AI was self-aware is if it can think and question it’s own existence.  But what happens if we take one of these hyper-advanced computers and simply program it to think that it is thinking?  What if we hard-code it to question it’s own existence?  Is it then alive? Or is it just mimicking the properties of life?  It isn’t hard to imagine at all that we could take an advanced computer system and program every possible response into it’s electronic brain, such that it thinks it is thinking, it thinks it is making decisions, but in reality, it is just responding to code.  Is this alive?  Is it thinking, therefore it is?  Or is it just responding and being programmed to think it is thinking?

This is a very valid quandary and one we need to consider.  Because it is impossible to solve the problem of hard solipsism, we can never know for certain if we’re actually real, or part of some hyper-complex program like the Matrix, we can only assume that we are actually thinking and not simply following lines of code.  We can only assume that we’re making our own decisions, asking our own questions and seeking out truths, all of that might be a lie, we might just be an electronic brain in a vat, doing what we’re told by faceless experimenters.  In fact, all of reality could be a complete illusion, only one computer-generated “mind” imagining a whole universe that doesn’t really exist and since none of us can ever know what’s really going on in the heads of those that we think surround us, all of their possible responses to our questions could actually be coming from us. Even worse, maybe the world is actually someone else’s fantasy and our own internal monologue is actually part of someone else’s hyper-realistic dream.  How would you know?

Therefore, “I think, therefore I am” really has no objective meaning.  It doesn’t prove anything.  Descartes couldn’t have foreseen the modern world, with the existence of computers performing trillions of operations per second that fit in the palm of your hand.  He couldn’t have had any idea that one day, artificial brains could become so advanced that they might even surpass humanity.  It was totally outside of his realm of experience and understanding.  Given the possibility that all of these things could come to pass, perhaps even in our own lifetimes, maybe it’s time to rethink “I think, therefore I am”.  It just doesn’t pass the rational test anymore.

What is Philosophy For?

Philosophy imageI’ve questioned a lot of “philosophers” over the years, asking what is modern philosophy good for and haven’t really gotten a lot of good answers.  Sure, they’ll toss out all the things that the ancient philosophers have done, but what has philosophy done for us lately?

Anyhow, I came across this short video on YouTube and wanted to address what it has to say.  I still find philosophy, at least as I see it practiced most often, to be entirely problematic.  I’m not saying that philosophy can’t be valid or useful, only that in practice, at least as I see it practiced, it just isn’t all people pretend it’s cracked up to be.

First, go watch the video.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIYdx6lDDhg#t=53′]

Let’s just go through this in order, shall we?  First, they say that philosophy is about asking the “big questions” and points out a couple of them.  “What is the meaning of life?”  “What’s a job for?”  “How should society be arranged?”  He argues that only with sound answers to these questions can we direct our energies meaningfully.  Unfortunately, he’s wrong.  Most of these questions have no good answers, and by that I mean that they have no answers that can be demonstrated to be actually valid or true.  Individual people might have personal answers that they find valuable, but these vary from person to person.  Philosophy has no means of actually finding objectively true solutions to these questions because no such thing actually exists.  He tries to pretend that philosophers are being brave in asking big questions because they’re likely to be ridiculed.  No, professional philosophers are desperately trying to find someone… anyone… who will pay them for sitting around and thinking and trying to pretend that what they think up is actually valuable.

But let’s move on.  He does make a good point about common sense being terribly uncommon, but what, exactly, is common sense anyhow?  It’s not something that is easy to define and therefore, demonstrate actually exists.  The video argues that people ought to think for themselves, but that’s what causes the error in the first place, isn’t it?  That’s why we have defined laws of logic and methodologies for locating irrationality.  It’s why we understand what logical fallacies are.  It’s like telling scientists to think for themselves and not bother with the scientific method.

Next, it says that we are mentally confused.  I’ll agree with that.  Philosophy is interested in self-knowledge, but we have to go beyond that, we need to be able to step back beyond the self and evaluate whether or not the things that we claim to know are actually knowledge, or simply belief and faith and wishful thinking.

Continuing on, he says we have muddled ideas about what makes us happy, but I find that to be entirely irrelevant.  If we’re going to use philosophy to come to actual conclusions about important question in the real world, what makes us happy has nothing to do with it.  Just like in science, how we feel about gravity has no bearing on the reality of gravity, what makes people feel good has nothing to do with philosophical truths.

Lastly, he says we panic and lose perspective.  I’d be in agreement with that until he throws it all out the window and claims that philosophers are really good at knowing what’s important and what is not.  Clearly that’s just not true, otherwise you wouldn’t have so much disagreement between philosophers.  The idea that Zeno’s losses somehow make unencumbering his life a philosophical concept is absurd.  If his leg got chopped off, would he conclude that hopping around on one foot was the better path of life?

There is a reason why we don’t have modern philosophers on the payroll, for the same reason that we try not to have priests and rabbis on the payroll.  They aren’t saying anything worth listening to by and large.  They aren’t solving problems in any way that’s demonstrable or effective.  In fact, they are more like theologians than they are like scientists and I think we need a lot more scientists, people who are more interested in demonstrable reality and objective evidence than in personal opinion and wishful thinking.

So that brings us back to those supposed big questions.  What is the meaning of life?  There isn’t one, at least not an inherent one. We all give our own lives meaning and no meaning is inherently better than any other.  You don’t need to sit on a mountain top and noodle your navel to come up with that one.  What’s a job for?  For making money so you can live and be a productive member of society.  How should society be arranged?  However society wishes, such that society operates as the majority of its members are comfortable living within this arrangement.  These are answers that we should ask, but not questions that can be demonstrated by the philosophers.  In fact that’s really the problem with modern philosophy, it’s just people using big words to express opinions that are wholly undefended and unsubstantiated.  Where philosophy might be useful is in pointing out irrational arguments and logical fallacies, but if they did that, they might have to “know themselves” and realize that they’re often engaging in exactly the same thing.

Where Philosophy Falls Apart

Philosopher ReasonI’ve been very critical of philosophy over the years and for very good reason because philosophy tends to get misused a lot. There are times where philosophy is useful, such as when it keeps debates and discussions on the proper, logical, non-fallacious path and keeps people from saying things that are simply unjustified and unjustifiable.  However, there are plenty of times when philosophy is pointless and a lot closer to religion than anything else.  When people start using philosophy as a means to describe reality, for instance, that’s pointless.  Philosophy doesn’t have the mechanisms to keep people objective, to test conclusions, etc. like science does.

That was the point that I made to someone who recently argued that reality didn’t exist without perception.  If there wasn’t an intelligent entity to experience reality, then reality, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist, it is the perception of an intelligent entity that gives reality form and thus makes it real.  This is, of course, complete and utter bullshit.  The universe was around for billions of years after the Big Bang before it is likely that any intelligent life developed anywhere, if indeed any intelligent life but us has ever existed.  Does this mean that, before that first human precursor evolved that very first  gleaning of intellect, nothing existed?  Well, very likely so according to this guy.

So I pointed out that we have objective evidence pointing all the way back to the Big Bang that yes, there was a real universe and unless he wants to suggest that human perception simply made it look like there was a previous existence, he was simply wrong.  He paused for a moment and then acknowledged that the universe did actually exist before intelligence, it just didn’t mean anything because perception gives reality “meaning”.

You just can’t win with these people.  In that, they are just like the religious and for pretty much the same reason.  They are desperately trying to justify what they already believe but they have no good reason for actually believing it.  It’s something that feels good to them and they think the emotion is good enough to think that it’s actually true.  This goes for all kinds of empty believers.  It goes for solipsists.  It goes for libertarians.  It goes for theists.  These are people who want to feel good about what they believe so they just lie to themselves and pretend that what they believe is true, even if it cannot be demonstrated to actually be so.  Philosophy, like religion, does a good job, to rationalize these unsupported belief systems and they build their entire worldviews on top of that rationalization.

I also find it sad that philosophy, again like religion, tends to rely heavily on that old, tired logical fallacy, the appeal to authority.  If you have a discussion with an armchair philosopher, they will almost always rely on “this philosopher said this” and “that philosopher said that”.  So what?  I’m not debating them, I’m debating you.  I want you to justify those beliefs and if you can’t attaching the name of some old philosopher to the argument doesn’t make it any better.  I’m no more impressed by saying “David Hume says…” than I am with “Josh McDowell says…”  So what?

Ultimately, it’s all just opinion and unjustified opinion at that.  There are questions that cannot be easily answered but just because you want an answer to an unanswered question doesn’t mean you get to make one up and be taken seriously.  This goes for the religious and the political and the social believers.  Just because you want a thing to be true doesn’t mean it actually is true unless you can rationally justify it.  Waving your arms around and pretending it means anything does not justify a damn thing.

Opinions vs. Statements of Fact

fact opinionThe recent discussion on natural rights has resulted in yet another concept that libertarians and others of their ilk don’t seem to get.  See, there was one libertarian who was honest and admitted that “natural rights” was just his opinion.  Well no, it’s really not because for every single natural-rights advocate I’ve ever come across, it’s never stated as an opinion, it’s stated as a fact.  There is a difference.

An opinion would be “it is my opinion that everyone has these particular rights”.  A statement of fact is “everyone has these particular rights”.  In close to 100% of cases that I’ve encountered, natural-rights advocates have said the latter and I’m only hedging because I’ve never seen anyone say the first, I’m just giving the benefit of the doubt.  Even our libertarian who admits that it’s his opinion, stated it as a fact and when I pointed this out to him, he didn’t correct his error.

What he did do, though, is declare that it was a “core value” and therefore, not open to debate.  Wrong.  Everything is open to debate.  Absolutely everything, without exception.  If you cannot provide a compelling case for your arguments, no matter what you want to call your position, you lose.  He says, though, that no core values can be defended, that’s the nature of a core value.  I call bullshit.  All of my “core values” are defensible, I can argue why I think they are important, why they have an important impact on society and why they ought to be in place.  I just don’t claim that any of them are necessarily true or that everyone actually respects or recognizes them because clearly, they do not.

The natural-rights crowd doesn’t do that though.  They pretend, and most are actually convinced, that these things are actually so and in that, it places them in the same camp as the religious, who are similarly supremely convinced of their own delusions.  In fact, I’ve run into plenty of theists who claim that they don’t have to defend their “faith”, just because it’s faith.  No, the only way to avoid having the burden of proof for your views is to not talk about your views.  The moment you bring them up, you’re automatically on the hook for defending them. That’s the way rational debate works, you don’t get to just opt out.

Maybe if both the libertarians, at least those who are natural rights advocates, and the religious figured that out, we might have more productive debates.  Instead, we’re just left with the religiously and politically faithful demanding things they cannot show to be true and the rest of us are left shaking our heads.

Why People Believe What They Believe Part 4


Welcome to part 4 of my series on cognitive biases and other irrational things that go on in our heads that we need to not only be aware of, but we need to know how to counter.  As in the past, I’ll give a short explanation of each and hope that you try to recognize these problems in  your own life and how they affect your rationality.  As critical thinking individuals, we have to be aware of potential problems that may arise in our thought processes.  Just wanting to be rational isn’t enough, we have to continually test our positions to make sure they are arrived at through rational means.

So on with the show!

Observer Expectancy Effect – Here, the observer can influence witnesses by holding and/or expressing an expectation of the witnesses.  One example of this was backmasking, the belief that Satanic messages are recorded backwards in songs.  Because people are told that there are messages in the songs, many people hear these messages where, before they were told what to listen for, they only heard random noises.  This is also common in irrational and undemonstrated practices like dowsing.

Omission Bias – When engaging the Omission Bias, people are likely to judge an action that is harmful as worse or more immoral than an equally harmful lack of action because it’s easier to see action than inaction.  A good example would be a politician who knows his political rival is allergic to a particular food.  If people are asked if it is worse that the politician gave his rival food that he knew his rival was allergic to, or if he purposely did not inform his rival that the food he was about to eat contained something he was allergic to, people tend to identify the first option as more immoral when they both lead to the same conclusion.

Ostrich Effect – Those guilty of the Ostrich Effect attempt to avoid risky or dangerous situations by simply pretending they do not exist.  While typically used in financial transactions, it does apply, for example, in faith healing cases, where the parents simply refuse to acknowledge the possibility that prayer doesn’t work and their child may die from lack of proper medical attention.

Outcome Bias – When considering a past decision where the ultimate outcome of the decision is known, individuals will often judge that decision, not on the basis of the decision itself, but on the outcome, positive or negative.  Data discovered after the decision is made should have no bearing on whether the decision was good or bad at the time.  A doctor, for instance, should decide whether a particular treatment option is warranted based on the prognosis at the time.  If an operation had a good chance of success for the particular ailment, it would have been a good decision to make, even if the patient ultimately died.

Overconfidence Effect – Some people are extremely confident of their abilities, even when their abilities are demonstrably faulty.  People tend to overestimate their own accuracy when the truth is notably less.  Someone who claims to be 99% confident in their ability to correctly answer questions, yet their answers are only 40% correct, has a problem with the calibration of their subjective probabilities.  We need to understand the reasonable limits of our abilities and not pretend, through ego or unwarranted confidence, that we are better than we actually are.

Overoptimism – Also called the Optimism Bias, this is the state of belief that one is less likely to suffer adverse effects because they are optimistic about the world around them.  For example, there are smokers who are convinced that they are less likely to contract lung cancer than other smokers, people who think that they are less likely to be victims of violent crime than others in similar situations, etc.  Much of this comes from self-presentation, the desire to present a specific image of oneself, whether that image is realistic or not.  It can also come from a desire to impose personal control on the world around them, whether or not that control is possible.  It really asserts that the individual is special and thus at less risk than anyone else, a demonstrably faulty assumption.

Pessimism Bias – This is the opposite of Overoptimism, it is the assumption that bad things are more likely to happen to an individual than to other similar individuals under similar conditions.  All of the things that I said about overoptimism apply here as well.

Placebo Effect – In medicine, the placebo effect is a demonstrable change in health or behavior that cannot be attributed to actual medication or treatment, only the assumption by the patient that such treatment has been given.  Our brains have a wonderful capacity to heal and sometimes, it only takes the assumption that we are being treated and the confidence that such treatments are effective, to trigger these healing properties and allow the body to fix itself without outside intervention.  Of course, this doesn’t just apply to medicine, people who believe, for instance, that they are being prayed for, can experience dramatic changes in attitude or experience if they believe prayer helps. It is important to recognize that outside of a desire to improve, placebo doesn’t actually do anything, it just provides a means for people to improve their own situation.

Planning Fallacy – People often have difficulty estimating how long it will take to complete a particular project, even if they have experience with the amount of time it may actually take.  Asked to estimate how long it would take to complete their thesis, only 30% of students actually accurately predicted the timetable.  Most vastly underestimated how much time it would take.

Post-Purchase Rationalization – Especially when it comes to expensive purchases, or perceived expensive decisions, the decision maker will attempt to build up their purchase or decision to rationalize the cost.  This isn’t just a matter of cars and boats, where a buyer may disregard any shortcomings because they paid a lot for the product.  People who make heavy decisions that have a lot of personal cost to them may ignore problems with their decision in order to make themselves feel better about having made it.  People tend to want to avoid admitting that they have made bad decisions for bad reasons.

Next Monday, ten more!  We’re coming down to the wire, I hope you’re enjoying this look at things we need to avoid to make good decisions.

Why People Believe What They Believe Part 3


Here’s part three of my 6-part Monday series on cognitive biases that we all should be aware of.  I got the idea from here, but it’s something we should all strive to understand and be careful with if we want to be as rational as we can.  Just because we’re programmed to believe certain things doesn’t mean those things are actually good to believe. And so, here’s my next set of ten biases to think about, things that come up all the time and that we need to consider before acting.

Hindsight Bias – I would argue that the tendency for Islam to declare that scientific discoveries are found in the Qur’an is an excellent example of this fallacy.  This deals with people “discovering” in retrospect that ideas are true and they knew it all along.  It springs from selective memory and is often associated with schizophrenia and PTSD.

Hyperbolic Discounting – When given a choice between two similar rewards, people tend to discount the later reward and give favor to the earlier, simply because it comes first.  Even if the reward is greater if one waits, people tend to place value on the smaller reward, just because it comes sooner.  As the amount of time the subject has to wait increases, their tolerance for slightly longer waits increases as well.  If they are told that they can get ten dollars today, or thirty dollars tomorrow, a significant number will choose the ten dollars today.  However, if you tell them that they can have ten dollars a month from now, or thirty dollars a month and a day from now, a smaller number will pick the ten dollars, preferring to wait the additional day for the larger amount.

Ideomoter Effect – The human body may sometimes take action, seemingly without being commanded by the brain.  This likely explains things like Ouija Boards and dowsing, where people are subconsciously maneuvering objects without being consciously aware they are doing it.  In fact, people are often so unaware that they utterly refuse to acknowledge the possibility that they are influencing the outcome of the experiment.

Illusion of Control – I’ve talked about people’s ability to under-estimate the control they might have over a particular situation, but the Illusion of Control addresses the opposite, people can vastly over-estimate how much control they have in a particular situation, to the point that they assert that they are actually responsible for things that they simply cannot be responsible for.  This is especially true with many superstitions and belief in extrasensory perception, etc.  People think that they have special powers that let them change the results on dice or that performing a ritual will help their sports team win the big game, etc.  Feedback loops play a particularly strong part in this, if a person takes a particular action and a favorable result comes about, they may link that action with that result and continue to perform one in order to get the other.  Of course, this is subject to confirmation bias, the ability to remember the hits and forget the misses, when things really operate no better than random chance.

Illusion of Validity – We find this commonly when people think that getting additional data points that provide no more actual evidence, will provide for a better result.  Essentially, it’s data for data’s sake.  If having 50 points of data is enough to come to a conclusion, having 100 points doesn’t make the conclusion any better.  However, there are some who insist on increasingly large data sets, just  because they don’t ever want to come to the conclusion that the data seems to indicate.  This is very true of the religious, especially creationists, who want an ever-increasing data set for evolution because they do not want evolution to be demonstrated, even though it’s absurdly clear that it has been.

Information Bias – Information bias results from an individual insisting that any data, even irrelevant data or potentially faulty data, is better to acquire before coming to a conclusion than less data, even if it is all relevant. This is similar to the Illusion of Validity, in that people who are guilty of it think that more data is better, just because there’s more of it.  In rational studies though, only valid data, data that directly speaks to the thing being studied, makes any difference at all.

Inter-Group Bias – Also called in-group favoritism, this is the tendency to give members of your own group, whether social, religious, sexual, racial or whatnot, more credence than people who fall outside of your  group. The reasons for this are numerous, through our evolution, competitive pressures between groups have been commonplace and those who are with you, typically aren’t against you, therefore you work harder to protect and defend those who are on your side of the conflict.  There is also a modicum of self-esteem involved, you tend to see yourself in those who are similar to yourself and therefore, feel better about supporting those who look most similar to yourself.  The lower one’s self-esteem, the more likely they are to rely on the group dynamic as a substitute for their own self-worth and be more likely to value in-group vs. out-group dynamics.

Irrational Escalation – This is sometimes referred to as Escalation of Commitment, or the Sunk-Cost Fallacy. As one becomes invested in a particular proposition, they become more strongly committed to their current position, even if it becomes clear that they’re wrong.  The more wrong it appears they are, the harder they cling to their current belief, doubling down on the losing side as it were.  In U.S. politics, many think that recent military actions owe much to the sunk-costs of building up the military during the Cold War era.  We’ve already spent the money, we might as well use the hardware!

Less-is-More Effect – Sometimes called the less-is-better effect, it results from people choosing a lesser option when presented in a certain way than a clearly better option.  Dan Ariely, whose book I reviewed recently, studied this effect.  People, for example, if offered two cups of ice cream, will often take the smaller amount of ice cream if offered in a small cup, over a larger amount of ice cream offered in a large cup.  The size of the cups makes them think that more is actually less than the lesser amount.

Negativity Bias – Many people will more easily or strongly recall negative experiences than positive experiences, thus attempt to avoid future negative consequences much more strongly than to re-experience future positive events.We do understand that there is more electrical activity in the cerebral cortex while viewing negative images than there is while viewing positive images.  We also know that learning takes place much faster in cases where a negative influence is used, compared to a positive influence.  We also know that when humans distinguish things or people from one another, it is the negative aspects that stand out, not the positive or neutral ones.  Your brain looks for things that are wrong with a person’s face to distinguish it from a different face.  We also find negative information to be more credible than positive information.  In marketing terms, a good experience may cause an individual to tell one or two friends about it.  A bad experience will cause an individual to tell upwards of ten people about it.

That’s it for this week.  I know that it’s difficult because a lot of these things are evolutionary relics of our human brains, they once fulfilled a purpose in our survival, but today, most are simply useless vestigial patterns in our heads.  However, we have the ability to over-ride these patterns and recognize them for what they are, so that we can make better, more rational decisions.


Why People Believe What They Believe Part 2

IRRATIONALWelcome to a 6-part series of articles detailing cognitive biases, based on an article I found here.  I’ll post one part every Monday between July 28 and September 1, hopefully informing people who actually care about accepting the factual truth and avoiding cognitive dissonance, 57 things to be aware of and careful to avoid.  I hope it will also be useful for understanding why the irrational believe what they believe and to help us show them the way out.

Let’s get started.

Curse of Knowledge – The curse of knowledge is something that a lot of atheists, particularly those atheists who regularly debate theists, know all about.  It is a difficulty for those who have lots of knowledge about a particular subject to look at the situation from the perspective of those with less knowledge.  It’s a fault of perspective, in some ways, a reverse of the Dunning-Krueger Effect.  Now that doesn’t mean that the more knowledgeable individuals may not be correct in their assessment of a given situation, they more than likely are, but they cannot assume it a priori because they feel superior to the lower-knowledge opponent.

Decoy Effect – When making a decision between two products or ideas and one criteria is important to the decision maker, that bias may cause the decision maker to come to an irrational conclusion by placing an undue importance on the specific criteria.  For instance, if a consumer is considering a new car and their criteria are cost and mileage, a mileage-conscious consumer may not consider the cost-per-mile of the vehicle if they see an expensive vehicle that gets more miles per gallon.  People who tend to focus on only a single criteria may be misled by marketers who try to hide other important criteria from the consumer.

Denomination Effect – While this may have limited application, the Denomination Effect refers to a tendency by consumers to be less likely to spend larger bills than their equivalent in smaller bills.  People tend to think they are saving money by transacting in small bills rather than large bills, even if they spend more in the small bills than they would in the large.  It is a cognitive bias in recognizing the difference between perceived value vs. actual value.

Duration Neglect – Individuals do not tend to take the duration of a bad experience into account when thinking back on it later.  This is likely because our brains tend to edit out pain or discomfort, we can remember having been in pain but we cannot remember the actual pain itself.  In one experiment, subjects were told to put their hands in uncomfortably cold water.  They were asked to take their hand out immediately first, then when the experiment was repeated, they were told to leave their hand in the water for several minutes while it was slowly warmed, although never to a comfortable level.  After a few days, the subjects were asked which of the two tests they wanted to repeat and most people chose the second, even though their discomfort lasted for much longer than the first.

Empathy Gap – This is the effect that a person in one state is unable to easily place themselves in, or imagine themselves in another state.  In an experiment on bullying, people who were not placed in the position of being a social outcast routinely underestimated the pain and unhappiness of those who were placed in the out-group position.  It may also serve to overestimate the pain if having pain is particular to the belief. For instance, Christians might assume that atheists are in a lot of “pain” and “suffer” from their disconnect from God because Christians want to think that belief in God is the optimal position.

Frequency Illusion – Also known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, this is the feeling that a recently encountered word or idea may come up an inordinate number of times in the short span that follows. It’s how we see coincidences.  For instance, when I bought a new car a couple of years ago, suddenly those cars were everywhere, I was seeing them wherever I went and I thought it was odd.  In reality, there were no more of them on the road after I bought mine, I was simply paying more attention to them because I was now driving one.  It is drawing additional significance of these newly-noticed events that makes them irrational.

Galatea Effect – The Galatea effect is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy.  People who are expected to do well tend to do well in tests and at work.  Those that are expected to do poorly tend to do poorly in the same situations.  I;m sure a lot of us have seen this in action in our work lives, where management who thinks their underlings are horrible and can never succeed are not surprised that it turns out to be true.  This can also be a factor for the rational individual where they can influence the outcome of an experiment with their expectations of the conclusion.  If they expect things to turn out well, things will usually turn out well, if they think they will turn out badly, they tend to turn out badly.

Halo Effect – The Halo effect, first described by psychologist Edward Thorndike, describes the influence that a person’s physical appearance might have on the overall reaction of the observer when discussing their character. We know this can have a strong impact in court cases, where the more attractive witness is taken more seriously than the less attractive witness, and in politics where the more telegenic politician is given more credence than the lesser telegenic politician.  In reality, physical attractiveness has nothing whatsoever to do with the character of the individual and it certainly has nothing to do with the arguments that individual makes.  Facts are facts, who delivers the facts is irrelevant.

Hard-Easy Bias – This relates to confidence when related to tasks that are easy or hard.  People tend to be more confident in their ability to perform difficult tasks and less confident in their ability to perform simple tasks.  This seems to be non-intuitive as we’d think that easy tasks and questions would elicit a much more confident response, but repeated studies show that this is not usually the case.

Herding – Humans maintain our herd instincts at some primal level and, even in the modern world, tend to want to act together in complex but unplanned social behaviors.  Many people are extremely concerned with fitting into the social structure around them and thus may unconsciously act as the group acts, wear the same clothes, profess the same beliefs, enjoy the same music, watch the same movies, etc.  From this, we can get many other irrational behaviors and beliefs, some of which I’ve already talked about.

It’s clear that a lot of these biases and effects are present in our every day life and, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves falling into them quite easily.  However, as rational people who have the intellectual ability to both understand and override our basic mental instincts, we have to be aware of these biases and how to overcome them, or at the very least lessen their effect in our daily lives.

Next Monday, another 10 cognitive biases that we should all be aware of.



Philosophy is Dead, Or It Should Be

neil degrasse tysonLawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson have both been very critical of philosophy lately, saying that it hasn’t kept pace with modern science and, at least according to Tyson, what has it done for science lately?  Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has responded, specifically to Tyson in an article, but I’m really not convinced.

Now I admit to being rather anti-philosophy myself, not about any specific field of philosophy, but about the practice in general.  I don’t think that, compared with other fields of inquiry, it has much to offer.  Sure, lots of ideas, but nothing demonstrable to do with them.

Anyhow, here’s one of the comments left by Pigliucci toward Tyson that I wanted to address before I got into a wholesale evaluation of the general state of philosophy today:

A common refrain I’ve heard from you (see direct quotes above) and others, is that scientific progress cannot be achieved by “mere armchair speculation.” And yet we give a whole category of Nobels to theoretical physicists, who use the deductive power of mathematics (yes, of course, informed by previously available empirical evidence) to do just that. Or — even better — take mathematics itself, a splendid example of how having one’s butt firmly planted on a chair (and nowhere near any laboratory) produces both interesting intellectual artifacts in their own right and an immense amount of very practical aid to science. No, I’m not saying that philosophy is just like mathematics or theoretical physics. I’m saying that one needs to do better than dismiss a field of inquiry on the grounds that it is not wedded to a laboratory setting, or that its practitioners like comfortable chairs.

Yes, but as Pigliucci admits, the work of theoretical physicists is informed by previously available empirical evidence.  Part of how science works is that it is predictive.  When Einstein predicted the existence of black holes, for example, we had no way of proving that they actually existed.  We didn’t get our first actual evidence for the existence of black holes until 1972 with the work of Louise Webster, Charles Thomas Bolton and Paul Murdin on Cygnus X-1, more than half a century after Einstein made the prediction and almost 20 years after Einstein died.

Pigliucci also says that nobody argues against history.  Yes, that’s because history only tells us what happened in the past, it doesn’t try to make a case for what we ought to do in the future.  History is also based on evidence, archaeology, anthropology, books that have been written, etc.  It doesn’t just surmise that something must have been true because they can construct an argument in the heads of historians that it might have.  There may be things to criticize about history from time to time, but the results it produces more often than not come from hard facts, not an unleashed imagination

So my question is, what has philosophy done, other than play watchdog over science?

So much of modern-day philosophy is little more than navel noodling nonsense, it is ideas without limit, but also without application.  It really is no different than religion.  It’s ideas that appeal to the individual philosopher expanded into positions that can be neither objectively verified or justified.  It is, in the purest sense of the term, mental masturbation.  It claims to be truth but gets nowhere near demonstrable fact.

In fact, let me address that for a moment.  Every single modern-day apologetic argument is philosophical in nature.  Every single one.  There are none that are based on evidence, they are all based on building a logical syllogism in it’s proper form and going to town, even if the argument itself doesn’t actually prove anything.  The Kalam Cosmological argument, the Ontological argument, the Teleological argument, all come from philosophy and not from reality.  They don’t prove a damn thing and that’s their problem.  They do not provide any evidence that their conclusion is factually accurate.  They just assert that it is!

That’s the biggest problem.  You can construct a syllogism that says anything you want.  Sure, looking at logical forms can help you to identify ideas that are bad, but it can’t help you identify ideas that are  good.  It can say that your argument fails here, but it can never say that your argument accurately reflects the way things actually happen in the real world.

Even when it comes to ethics, philosophy doesn’t actually prove one system is better than another, it just makes assertions, based largely on the individual philosopher’s presuppositions, that they can build into a system that they personally like.  If philosophy had anything substantive to say about ethics, then there wouldn’t be a million and one different ethical systems, each with their own philosophical proponents.  In that, philosophy is little more than opinions with college degrees.  It might propose solutions to problems but it doesn’t actually solve the problems.  It might set you on the path but it doesn’t actually get you anywhere.

Thinking is good. Thinking without any real-world application is not.  I’m all for a system which teaches us how to think rationally and critically about things, but not a system that does not produce demonstrable and verifiable results.  I’m entirely cool with certain disciplines of philosophy keeping an eye on science and keeping it honest. I think Tyson had it right when he observed that a lot of philosophy devolves into debating meanings and not about advancing knowledge.  That’s because there’s no actual knowledge to be had from philosophy, no knowledge generated by philosophy, just ideas and not necessarily good, useful or worthwhile ideas at that.  Maybe we ought to do away with the concept of thinking for a living in a bubble that produces no demonstrable results.

Not Predictably Irrational

irrational2It’s somewhat rare when I get to sit down and read a book, especially a heavy-duty, intellectual book.  I might manage to muddle through the latest Richard Dawkins tome, usually many months after it comes out, but that’s not a common occurrence.  I did have someone recommend to me that I pick up Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, specifically because I am often extremely critical of the ability of most people to act in rational, intellectual ways.  However, I don’t think I’m getting the lesson from it that I was expected to.  Please note, I’m writing this as I’m reading the book and therefore, it might feel a bit disconnected, but please try to muddle through.

Ariely notes that people’s reactions are typically not rational, they will make decisions based on emotional responses and social pressures that really, if they had stopped to think about it for a moment, make no sense at all and are often the worst choice of those available.  He describes numerous social experiments that have been performed that show that people will pay more money overall, buying things they don’t even want, to get “free shipping” than they would have paid just for the product they wanted and shipping alone.  I tested myself on every single example he gave and honestly, I’d be the guy who broke their test model because I do act rationally on every decision I make.  I would never have bought things I didn’t want in order to get free shipping.

In fact, I think there are some cases where he didn’t think out the test parameters very carefully.  In one, he offered an expensive brand of French chocolate vs. a Hershey’s Kiss and showed that the rational choice would have been to get the more expensive chocolate and bypass the cheaper (or even free) Kiss.  That’s not what would be going through my mind. I’m diabetic.  I can’t have either chocolate.  If I was going to be picking one, I’d be doing it to give to someone else, thus I’d choose something based on what I know they like, not any kind of financial motivation.  But to be honest, I think there is something he wasn’t considering at all in his free vs. pay scenarios. People are much more likely to take something for free, even if they have no interest in it, simply because it’s available.  That’s why people who hand out flyers and coupons get so many people taking them, even if they have no interest whatsoever in the subject matter and why most of those coupons end up deposited in trashcans nearby.  It’s a matter of convenience, not a matter of cost.  But I digress.

There was a bit on the division between social norms and financial norms, how the expectations and actions of people who are being paid for a task differ from the expectations and actions of people who are asked to do something in a social setting, “as a favor”.  The conclusions were that most people would work harder, the more money they got paid, but people doing it out of perceived social expectations would work harder still.  However, I don’t look at it that way at all.  If I give my word that I will do a thing, whether I get paid or not and no matter how much I get paid, I will give it my all and perform my best regardless.  Even with no financial gain and no potential for any social advance at all, after all, I’m almost certainly never going to see these people doing the test again, if I am willing to perform the task, it will be performed to the highest standard of which I am capable.  I am neither motivated by financial gain or social status.  I am motivated by dignity and self-respect.

Likewise, when he spoke of the “Running of the Brides”, where brides-to-be will fight each other over drastically discounted designer wedding gowns, I see no use in that at all either.  It’s like the Black Friday sales, where people will give up dinner with their families at Thanksgiving to stand in a line at a store and hopefully score some cheap booty.  I’d never do that.  I don’t care what’s being given away.  I simply don’t have that mentality.  I’d rather pay full price and maintain my dignity than run around like an animal, punching and kicking other people to save a couple of bucks.  He describes how most people in a given situation would screw over their neighbors in a heartbeat but I don’t understand that kind of thought process.  I pay the fair rate and I take no more than I need, regardless of the situation, because I am not an evil or cruel person.  In fact, I’m more likely to take less than I might want, just to leave things for others, even complete strangers.  I don’t get why so many people are dicks.

In another experiment, he told his class that they had to turn in three papers over the course of the semester, they could select any date they wanted for those papers to be due, but once chosen, they could not change the dates, nor be late. The most rational choice, of course, is to pick the last day of the semester for all of them since you could turn them in early without penalty, this was a study on people’s willingness to procrastinate.  I don’t procrastinate.  I get things done early, not just early in fact, but absurdly early.  The idea of leaving anything for the last minute is anathema to me.  I’ve been in situations like the above, where I could decide when my work was due and invariably, I turn it in virtually immediately.  Just knowing that I have work to do is enough to spur me to finish it right away.  I’d have had all three papers turned in within the first two weeks, had I been in his class.

Now it’s not my intention to go through this book, experiment by experiment, study by study, and say I have nothing in common with the conclusions because that much is true.  Whether you’re talking about self-control (I have it), the influence emotion has on decisions (it doesn’t affect me), etc., I simply do not line up with any of the test groups that he describes.  Why?  Because I’m a rational individual.  No matter how many experiments and studies Mr. Ariely describes, I always fall on the rational side.  I evaluate claims fairly, I neither fall for dishonest ideas, nor am unjustifiably critical.  I think logically about claims and do not allow emotion to run away with me. I see things as they actually are but apparently, I am virtually alone in this, if Ariely’s results are to be believed and I have no reason to doubt them.  It seems that when a person can get away with lying for a reward, far too many people will do it.  I will not.  For me, character counts.  I am an inherently honest person.  Even if nobody else knows I’m lying, I know and I simply won’t do it.  He argues that most people would steal a pencil from work but I won’t.  It’s not mine.  There are no circumstances whatsoever under which I would steal from my employer or take someone else’s food from a refrigerator or abscond with an abandoned piece of property.  It’s just  not right, yet his findings show that most people will do so without a second thought.  What’s wrong with people?

And before anyone says anything, I’m not trying to claim to be special.  I’m not.  I honestly don’t understand the actions of people in any of these studies.  I cannot relate to them at all.  Apparently, most people will happily steal, screw others over, rip off their employers, make bad decisions and do just about anything you ask them to if you get them horny first.  What the actual fuck?  Maybe the human species is more screwed up than even I thought.  I don’t think any of this comes from upbringing either.  While I think my parents were good people, I don’t think they had any special tricks or secrets to childrearing.  They taught me the importance of being honest and the importance of hard work.  They didn’t necessarily push me to be rational and critical, I grew up in a very religious household and asking questions, especially about religion, is frowned upon, yet I picked that up somewhere along the line and that’s what caused me to jettison religion.  So please, I don’t see how the people in most of Ariely’s studies qualify as decent human beings, at least not the ones who cheated, stole, etc.  These are not things to be lauded, they’re things to be punished and maybe, with the lax liberal ideals on punishment, that explains a lot of what we see, after all, the majority of the studies were conducted on college students.

Oh, there are a few things that I had to question in general of course.  He wrote of an experience he had at Burning Man, where no one exchanged money, they just traded gifts and services as payment for everything they needed and he seemed genuinely surprised how it worked.  Why?  The barter system is how every economy gets started.  If you have a goat and you want grain, you trade your goat to the farmer and he milks the goat or slaughters it for meat.  Money is simply a unit of transfer that represents some undefined barter property.  It has an agreed upon value so that when deciding whether or not to trade, you can weigh the intrinsic value of the property against the artificial value of the paper to see if it makes sense.  This isn’t something new, this is something tremendously old. It’s just an observation that I thought should be pointed out.

Now I honestly don’t know what to think.  This was an interesting books, I’m neither telling people to go buy it or not, it’s available from the Amazon link at the top if you want to check it out but I get nothing one way or the other.  Clearly, people don’t have to be the dicks that I see in these studies.  People can choose to be moral, rational, intellectual individuals.  I did it.  I know others who have done it.  Why can’t everyone?  That’s the real question and we need a good answer to it.  Why has humanity failed so miserably?  Chime in if you think you know.

Presuppositionalism and Philosophy

Philosophy is StupidWith the recent news that Matt Dillahunty will be debating Sye ten Bruggencate on presuppositional apologetics, I took a look at some of the recent debates and discussions around Sye’s claims and found Sye, perhaps even more than before, a laughing stock.  AronRa recently ripped him a new one on a Dogma Debate where Sye was just floundering pathetically, unable to answer any of AronRa’s questions without trying to change the subject.  In fact, Sye refuses to discuss evidence or debate the Bible with non-Christians who don’t share his views, making any possible debate with him utterly pointless.

As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that matters is the evidence.  If the theist has none, the debate is over.  I don’t care how they hem and haw about the Bible and their faith or any of that nonsense, I care if they can produce objective evidence to support their claims or not.  Failure to do so means they have nothing worth talking about left.  That’s exactly why I turned down the invitation from Matt Slick to come on his radio show, I know he’s got jack shit, he’s proven that in every debate I’ve ever seen him in, all he can do is wave his hands around and vomit word salad and pretend that it actually proves a thing.  It  doesn’t.  Saying you talk to God means no more to me than if the Raelians are saying they talk to their alien overlords telepathically.  Both are nonsensical claims until they are backed up by objective evidence and I reject both of them entirely until they are proven correct.

As I thought about it more though, isn’t that what a lot of modern philosophy does?  Is it really any better than presuppositional apologetics when it comes to trying to reason one’s way to reality?  In fact, isn’t presuppositional apologetics just a particularly idiotic form of philosophy?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about all philosophy, just the forms that try to argue for or against things that actually exist in reality.  A thing does not come into existence because you can string together logical arguments in their proper syllogistic forms.  It either exists or it doesn’t exist, you can’t define it into being, yet that’s largely what every religious debate these days is about.  It’s theists making up characteristics for their gods that they simply cannot independently verify and when asked how they actually know any of these things, they say they have faith.  Sorry, faith is not a synonym for knowledge.  It’s sad that so many people view philosophy as a means to get a conclusion, simply because they want a conclusion, but without actually going through the steps to get to an actual conclusion.  Sye ten Bruggencate and Matt Slick and all of their ilk won’t actually prove a god exists by making presuppositional claims and those claims are no better than if I stated, with no evidence given, that the only way to reason is to accept the existence of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.  There is no fundamental difference between the two, or any other god you can think of or make up.  Logic requires belief in Thor!  You can’t reason without Krishna!  You cannot have a debate unless you have faith in Mickey Mouse! That’s actually the best response to these presuppositional idiots, just pick a god at random and repeat every argument verbatim with your god’s name inserted instead of God.  It works just as well for you as it does for them.

I really wish people would stop thinking that lots of long and complicated words are a substitute for evidence.  It isn’t.  It never will be.  I’m tired of going around and around and around with idiots.  Show me the evidence.  Put up or shut up.  That’s the only thing that’s going to be acceptable.

More Objective Morality Stupidity


I know I bring this up time and time again but that’s because it comes up time and time again and, at least in my view, it just keeps getting more and more absurd.  On an episode of The Atheist Experience, I can’t say the most recent anymore because by the time this actually posts, it will be a distant memory, but people called in challenging Matt Dillahunty’s view of morality and, as shocking as it might be, I think the people who challenged him were a lot more correct than Matt is!  I’ve talked about it before, you can go read my fundamental disagreements of his position

The problem is, Matt is choosing a view to look at morality and then imposing it on everyone.  He is adopting a standard, in this case “suffering” and expecting that it is the only standard that anyone ought to deal with. Take his personal bugaboo, slavery, for a moment.  He is personally choosing a criteria by which he is evaluating morality and then declaring anyone who chooses a different criteria to be objectively wrong.  However, take a look at it from the perspective of a slave owner.  Their own criteria, I would assume, would make Matt wrong in their eyes. I suspect Matt doesn’t care, but to watch him rant and not even recognize that his own choice of a criteria is subjective is really absurd. Matt picks a criteria that matches his personal views, just like the slave owner would pick a criteria that matches his personal views.  It’s all opinion and while I’m certain that Matt thinks his opinion is best, that doesn’t mean it actually is, it’s just the one he favors.

The fact remains, there is no objective morality at all!  That doesn’t mean that there is a relative morality, that everyone is right in whatever moral view they choose, simply because it appeals to them, but that *NOBODY* is right! Right and wrong don’t even enter into it.  There is no single correct moral standard on any question you can ask.  Unfortunately, this makes a lot of people uncomfortable for reasons I’ve detailed in the past.  Most people don’t want to constantly re-evaluate their morality.  They don’t want to constantly re-evaluate their beliefs.  They just want something that they can cling to for the long term that they don’t have to think about on a daily or weekly basis.  They desperately want to believe that they’ve got the truth all locked up and never have to worry about it again.  That’s not a rational position to hold.

MosesMoralityWhat Matt doesn’t seem to recognize is that he’s doing the exact same thing as the theists.  They select a moral criteria that appeals to them.  He did so himself when he was a Christian.  When he stopped being a Christian, he selected a different criteria, probably several of them as he transitioned from a Southern Baptist to an atheist.  I am sure that, during each and every phase of that transition, his moral views were absolutely correct and true, but clearly that wasn’t the case as he ended up rejecting each of them in turn for something that he thought, at the time, was better.  Theists believe that whatever moral standards that are laid down by their deity are true.  If they are ever convinced to change religions, say from Christianity to Islam or Buddhism or whatever, those moral standards will change.  Does that mean that they didn’t think that the moral standards they believed at the time were true?  Of course not.  It just means that they changed their mind.  Matt can also change his mind, he’s already proven that.  Does that mean that, when he was a Southern Baptist, he knew that the morals he was following at that time were false?  Certainly not, I doubt he would have followed them if he did.

Ultimately, rights and morals only come out of the collective decision-making of a culture or society.  There was a time in America where owning slaves was perfectly fine, it was legal and moral and slaves had few if any rights.  Times changed.  Society stopped accepting one view and started accepting another view.  Today, we have a diametrically opposite moral opinion than we did several hundred years ago.  Does that make the old view inherently wrong?  Absolutely not, any more than if, in the future, American society again adopts slavery, that makes our views today inherently wrong.  There was a time when women had no rights.  The fact that they do today does not mean that the people in the past were wrong all along, it just means that we have different views. There was a time when Jews were hated in Germany, among other places, and that went on for hundreds of years, leading up to the Holocaust.  Today, we find that abhorrent but that doesn’t change the views of the past, nor make them objectively wrong.  The reality is that morals evolve and change constantly as the whims of society change.  When it change, it doesn’t alter the reality of the old views, it just means we don’t think that way anymore and, unfortunately, people are supremely convinced that what they think right this second is automatically what everyone ought to have always thought everywhere.

This really comes into play when you have two societies with entirely different views on morality that come into conflict.  Who is right?  Who is wrong?  It doesn’t matter.  There have been plenty of wars fought over morality, from the Civil War in America to World War II and in both cases, the bigger guns won the war but didn’t really prove that the losing morals were actually any worse.  Bigger guns do not have anything to say about objective morality.

In the end, these debates on morality only work if people are willing to accept each other’s basic premises.  If not, people need to be willing to debate which, if either, premises is correct.  The whole point of The Atheist Experience is “what do you believe and why”, but apparently that doesn’t apply to Matt’s views on morality because he’s shown himself to be unwilling to debate the “why” behind his moral position.  In fact, he’s proven himself to get entirely and irrationally emotional whenever someone questions is views.  He hangs up on people. That’s not how you debate.  If you cannot support your views with something better than “I like this”, is it really a rational view to have?

The Problem of Absolutes

Certainty vs_ UncertaintyIn debates with theists, you will often see them demand absolute certainty for any particular claim and, barring that absolute certainty, they dismiss the claim as invalid.  That’s something they and probably everyone else needs to understand and that is absolute certainty isn’t a reasonable measure of confidence in any proposition.

Stephen Jay Gould once said that in science  ‘fact’ can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.’  Absolutely everything in science is up for revision and reassessment constantly.  There is nothing that is true to any degree of absolute certainty, only that which matches the data and evidence we have on hand today.

So why do theists ask for it?  Mostly because they do not arrive at their positions rationally, nor believe it logically, thus they are really comparing apples and Toyotas.  They confuse knowledge and belief and think that just having blind faith that a position is true is the same as coming to a position through logic, reason and evidence.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  When a theist says they absolutely know that God is real, not only are they factually wrong, they can present no basis for claiming to have such knowledge, but that’s entirely different from a scientist accepting a claim.  Further, they are taking the colloquial usage of the word (“I’m absolutely certain I fed the dogs this morning.”) and trying to apply that to a measurably precise usage, where you have no measure of doubt and cannot possibly be wrong about a given proposition.

Even Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” isn’t actually demonstrable.  Just because you are convinced that you are thinking, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t be an incredibly complex AI program that is designed to give the illusion of thought.  How would you ever know for sure?  You can’t.  It’s likewise true that there is no absolute means for defeating hard solipsism, for many of the same reasons, but that really brings me to the point of this entire article, that claiming anything to any degree of absolute certainty, no matter what it is, is absurd, just as requiring absolute certainty for any position is absurd.

And before you play that foolish “you just  claimed that there are absolutely no absolutes so there are absolutes” card, forget it.  I didn’t say anywhere that there are absolutely no absolutes.  So far as we can determine, there are no absolutes.  It is a falsifiable statement.  If you think there are demonstrable absolutes, feel free to produce one. Prove me wrong.  Otherwise, stop pretending you’re clever.

So what does this all mean?  That absolute certainty, as a claim about knowledge, has to be thrown out the window, down the hill and into the lake.  There is no absolute certainty and even that isn’t absolutely certain.  It’s just a means of messing with your opponent, it’s not a reasonable requirement and once you understand it, it’s not even a rational one.    It’s based on emotion and it’s a quick and easy safety hatch for the religious who believe on an entirely emotional basis, not an intellectual one.  All one has to do is ask how theists *KNOW* the things they claim to know and invariably, their answers will include words like “faith” and “belief”.  That’s not knowledge. Knowledge requires a demonstrable basis in evidence or logic, which they do not have.

Please, the next time a theist tells you that you cannot absolutely prove that anything science accepts is true, smack them in the face and tell them that they cannot be absolutely sure of anything they believe either. Absolutes are absolutely ridiculous.