It’s been a while…

I haven’t written a post here for a while. Over a year in fact. I guess the reasons for my neglecting this blog are many. First and foremost this blog has been focused on atheism—a subject that I feel I have little to talk about at this moment in time. There comes a point when you see little reason to carry on going around in circles with your arguments, and you decide focus your attention on other things—which I have been doing. Sad as it might sound for those few who enjoy my posts on these topics; I just don’t have much else left to say on the matter.

 

That being said, I don’t want to abandon my passion for writing and sharing my thoughts with the world, so I do want to resurrect this blog with the intention of doing so. I think what I shall do is use it as a space for writing anything and everything that I feel compelled to write about. Hopefully it will interest my existing followers and perhaps garner some new ones.

 

Maybe one of these days I will find a reason to post about atheism again, but for now I have nothing else to say on the matter. God is imaginary, the arguments have been done to death, going around in circles is boring and unproductive.

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More on William Lane Craig’s Morality

In the comments section of my last post on this topic, it was highlighted to me by Prayson Daniel that I may not have exactly presented Craig’s case accurately. Though I feel that many of the points I made were valid against his argument, I figured I would redo my rebuttal it, and some his others in a new post quoting only his words. I shall provide links for all quotations so that you can see the context. So here goes, I shall dive in:

 

This is Craig’s moral argument in his words:

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

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/moral-argument#ixzz2JP8r21DE

 

Let us begin with premise one; “if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist”. Lets see what he offers in support of this:

Consider first the question of objective moral values. If God does not exist, then what basis remains for the existence of objective moral values? In particular, why think that human beings would have objective moral worth? On the atheistic view human beings are just accidental byproducts of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth, and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. On atheism it’s hard to see any reason to think that human well-being is objectively good, anymore than insect well-being or rat well-being or hyena well-being. This is what Dr. Harris calls “The Value Problem”

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-foundation-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-harris#ixzz2JPCFI1EF

and

On a naturalistic view moral values are just the behavioral byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning. Just as a troop of baboons exhibit cooperative and even self-sacrificial behavior because natural selection has determined it to be advantageous in the struggle for survival, so their primate cousins homo sapiens have evolved a sort of herd morality for precisely the same reasons. As a result of socio-biological pressures there has evolved among homo sapiens a sort of herd morality which functions well in the perpetuation of our species. But on the atheistic view there doesn’t seem to be anything that makes this morality objectively binding and true.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-foundation-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-harris#ixzz2JPCgyOgm

 

I essentially agree with this point. On naturalism there is no independent, timeless, objective system of ethics that exists outside of our own consciousness. This does not mean that a rational account for morality cannot be advanced. Science has shown us that there is a neurological basis for empathy – we are literally hard-wired for compassion. Let me explain; when you observe a person drowning and crying out for help, there will be a certain set of neurons that fire to coordinate their movements and actions as the person struggles in the water. As you observe this a certain subset of those same neurons fire as though your brain were mirroring what that person were going through – hence the name of these brain cells: Mirror neurons.

 

During the course of our evolution, our brains grew larger and we developed a much more complex system of mirror neurons. This would provide an advantage because it allows us to imitate the actions of others, and would play a vital role in the development of tool use. It has also give our brains an intrinsic connection between our own minds and those of others. When we see someone suffering we can literally put ourselves in their shoes through the “mirroring” of their actions in our brains. Similarly when we someone overjoyed or relieved, we share this experience with them. It is in our nature to be empathetic, as neurologist V.S. Ramachandran states:

 

Within some of these regions [of the brain], there is a special class of nerve cells called mirror neurons. These neurons fire not only when you perform an action, but also when you watch someone else perform the same action. This sounds so simple that its huge implications are easy to miss. What these cells do is effectively allow you to empathise with the other person and “read” her intentions—figure out what she is really up to. You this by running a simulation of her using your own body image.

 

When you watch someone else reach for a glass of water, for example, your mirror neurons automatically simulate the same action in your (usually subconscious) imagination. Your mirror neurons will often go a step further and have you perform the action they anticipate the other person is about to take—say, to lift the water to her lips and take a drink. Thus you automatically form an assumption about her intentions and motivations—in this case, that she is thirsty and is taking steps to quench her thirst. Now, you could be wrong in this assumption—she might intend to use the water to douse a fire or to fling in the face of a boorish suitor—but usually your mirror neurons are reasonably accurate guessers of others’ intentions. As such, they are the closest thing to telepathy that nature was able to endow us with.”

The Tell-Tale Brain page 22

 

Thus we have good grounds to believe that it is in our nature to be empathetic and compassionate. We see a person drowning and we want to help them because we can visualise ourselves in that position. Thus, though there may not be a law of the universe that states ‘we should be good’ it is an intrinsic part of our consciousness to be kind, and that is one perfectly adequate reason to be good – its in our nature!

 

I am willing to grant Craig his assertion that on naturalism there is no truly objective grounding for morality, however I do think there are issues with Craig’s unstated assumption that God is the source of objective morality. I shall return to the dilemma I highlighted in my previous post on this topic. Here is the problem:

 

1. If something is good because God commands it then this is a subjective basis for morality

2. If God commands something because it is already good then objective moral values exist independent of God

3. Therefore God cannot be the source of objective morality and Craig’s first premise is false

 

Lets take an example of Biblical morality, perhaps the most obvious; “Thou shall not kill”. If this is an objective indictment then there would be no context in which killing is permissible. Yet we have another passage from the Bible (this is not an isolated instance either):

“If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.  Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you.  You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst.”

(Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

 

How can God’s commands be an objective basis for morality when in one instance he states; do not kill anyone, and in another he states; go out and kill? If killing is both okay and not okay in separate instances then it is not objectively wrong. It is determined by the subjective whims of God.

 

Prayson brought up the following point of contention with this in the comments to my previous post:

 

“[A] common reply offered in this literature is that objective moral values and duties base on God’s own nature. Plato called it The Good. Thus it cannot exist independent of God because God is The Good, they contended.

So what God commands reflects his nature. It is for that reason that he cannot command something against his nature.”

 

This does nothing to solve the confusion of the above dilemma. If God’s commands reflect his nature, then his nature must require that killing is both okay and not okay – his nature, according to scripture and this reasoning, is contradictory. So we still cannot arrive at the objective decision “killing is wrong” via this line of reasoning.

 

In conclusion, Craig’s first premise is flawed because an objective grounding morality requires that moral injunctions such as those against killing be true in all instances, yet this is contradicted by instances in scripture in which God endorses and encourages killing. Neither the divine command theory or the argument about God’s nature escapes this dilemma.

 

Let’s turn to premise 2: “Objective moral values and duties do exist.” And see what he offers in support of this assertion:

 

But the problem is that objective moral values and duties plausibly do exist. In moral experience we apprehend a realm of moral values and duties that impose themselves upon us. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior—they’re moral abominations. Some things, at least, are really wrong. Michael Ruse himself admits, “The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says 2+2=5.”2 Some things, at least, are really wrong.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-craig-krauss-debate-at-north-carolina-state-university#ixzz2JPerUoXk

 

The problem of this is that he does not provide any real reason to accept that we are actually apprehending a realm of moral values and duties that are an objective reality. He merely states that there is no reason to deny it. Yet there are reasons to deny it.

 

As I highlighted earlier in this post there are neurological groundings for empathy and compassion – we undoubtedly experience feelings of guilt and conscience. But this does not necessarily represent a realm that objectively exists outside of our consciousness. I explained that there are good evolutionary reasons for why we feel empathy and compassion.

 

Other morally guiding emotions such as shame and guilt, have equally sound evolutionary explanations. A short example of this would be, we may have evolved guilt and remorse as a defence against habitually dangerous behaviour – for example; adultery – the more our ancestors committed adultery the higher the frequency of getting caught and injured or killed. The unpleasant emotions of remorse and guilt prevent us from putting our lives at risk from “pissing too many people off” as it were. Likewise, friendship, cooperation etc. are advantageous, those who cooperate can survive much more efficiently than those who are constantly fighting with each other. There are many good naturalistic explanations for our moral experience that do not require the existence of moral principles that exist beyond the functioning of our brains.

 

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that most normal human beings experience what can be described as a ‘moral realm’ – however there is no reason to assume that this realm exists external to our consciousness. It is a part of who we are as a species, but it does not necessitate the existence of objective moral principles that exist in anything other than the internal realm of our experience.

 

Despite his assertion that there is ‘no good reason’ to deny the existence of an objective moral realm – I have shown that there are good reasons to. He offers nothing else in support of his argument. What Craig really needs to do is show us why there are no good reasons to deny his assertion, until he does so, I shall consider his point refuted.

 

Thus his conclusion “God exists” is not shown to be true due to the flaws in both of his premises that I’ve highlighted.

 

I hope this provides a more accurate and in depth analysis of his argument. Feel free to discuss in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

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William Lane Craig and his nonsense ethics

Christian apologist William Lane Craig, author of Reasonable Faith (the irony of this title will soon become apparent) argues that if objective moral values exist then God must also exist. Objective moral values do exist, he asserts, therefore God exists. One might be forgiven for thinking that someone with a Ph.D. In philosophy would be able to formulate a cohesive argument in favour of his assertion that objective moral values do indeed exist. One would be mistaken however. His reasoning is as follows; “objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it.” This is an utterly asinine philosophical argument that is almost too embarrassing to dignify with a refutation. Nonetheless I shall endeavour to persist.

His argument can, without parody, be translated thus; I have a gut feeling that something is wrong therefore it must be objectively wrong. But there are lots of things that human beings have strong aversions to; consider eating rotten meat for example. Most of us would wretch if we were presented with a platter of semi-decomposed carrion. Our strong abhorrence, or gut feeling that rancid flesh should not be consumed does not mean that it is objectively wrong to do so. There is no universal law that prohibits such an act – plenty of organisms do feed off fetid meat. Humans however, have evolved an innate sense of disgust in response to it as a defence against the potential diseases that we might contract from consuming it.

Similarly, our conscience doesn’t necessitate the existence of a universal code of ethics. It merely necessitates that we have evolved a defence against certain destructive modes of behaviour. If you imagine there are two populations; one in which the people have no qualms about murder, theft and other such detrimental behaviour, and another in which the people have a fully developed conscience that prevents them from committing such actions. It is easy to see how the first population would fail to prosper. Their socially destructive behaviour would prevent the necessary cohesion that is required to persist as a population with for any great length of time. The second population on the other hand would cooperate and trust one another with ease, their society and institutions would flourish and they would have the means to deal with the challenges that face any culture. Whilst the first population are too busy squabbling and killing each other to solve even the simple challenge of making sure everyone gets fed, the second population could gain the strength and resources necessary to form armies and conquer the first population with ease – thus eliminating them, and their destructive habits. It is clear to see why having an aversion towards certain behaviours is an advantage in evolutionary terms, without appealing to the existence of objective values.

 

In order to move on however, I shall be unusually generous and put all that aside. Lets assume for the moment that there is some substance to Craig’s claim that objective moral values do exist. Does it follow from this that God exists?
Craig’s reasoning is predicated upon the assumption that only God could provide the grounding for objective morality. If one subscribes to the ‘divine command theory’ – which states that an act is either good or evil depending on whether God commands it or prohibits it – then there are some problems with this assumption. If we take an act generally considered to be immoral, such as killing a child, for example. Is killing a child wrong because God prohibits it, or does God prohibit killing children because it is intrinsically wrong?

If God prohibits killing a child because it is intrinsically wrong, then it is wrong regardless of whether or not God exists – and thus objective moral values do not necessitate that God exists. If something is right simply because God commands it, and wrong simply because God prohibits it then anything can become right or wrong based upon the whim of God. Thus if God commands a person murder a child (a problem which is amplified by the fact that God does command exactly this in the Bible) then this would be the right thing to do by definition. This renders morality completely subjective, and arbitrary.

Some will respond to this problem by stating that goodness is derived from God’s nature. However this creates a very similar dilemma. Is helping a suffering individual good because it is in God’s nature, or is helping a suffering individual in God’s nature because it is already intrinsically good? The latter option again removes the necessity of God, and the former can be refuted with an example from the Bible. Consider Jeremiah 19 verse 9: “And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters”. Here God is causing people to cannibalise their own children – thus we can consider it to be in God’s nature to induce others to eat their own progeny, and as such we can conclude that doing so is good. If one protests that causing people to eat their own offspring is morally wicked then they are either appealing to a moral standard that is beyond the nature of God, or they are saying that God is capable of acting against his own nature. But if it is in God’s nature to be capable of acting against his own nature then the whole argument is rendered meaningless.

Either objective moral values do exist, but God is superfluous – which is contradictory to Craig’s argument. Or objective moral values do not exist, and morality is down to the subjective and arbitrary whims of God – which again, contradicts the original assertion that objective moral values do exist. Craig’s moral argument falls flat on its face.

William Lane Craig doesn’t stop his ethical embarrassment here by any means. In his debate with Arif Ahmed, he openly declared that: “The premise that pointless suffering exists, or gratuitous evil exists is extremely controversial. We are simply not in the position to make these kinds of inductive probability judgements”. What does he mean by this? He appears to be casting doubt on the existence of gratuitous evil, in other words, evil that is without reason, cause or justification. So, if we accept the implications of this, then we must accept that all evil and suffering exists to serve some kind of purpose. What might that purpose be? Well, God’s purpose of course, as Craig states on his website reasonablefaith.org:

“God may well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. We all know cases in which we permit suffering because we have morally sufficient reasons for doing so. What Law would have to prove is that it’s improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. But how could he possibly prove that? God’s justifying reasons might never appear in our lifetime or locale or even in this life. Suppose, for example, that God’s purpose for human life is not happiness in this life but the knowledge of God, which is an incommensurable good. It may be the case, for all we know, that only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the maximum number of people freely come to know God and find eternal life.”

So, if evil exists to serve a purpose, and that purpose is God’s supreme plan – which is ultimately good (unless you want to concede that God is evil), then it follows logically that all evil is ultimately good. Such a perfect way to commit moral suicide! Although to be fair on Craig, he doesn’t assert that gratuitous evil definitely does not exist. However, his doubtful stance does completely undermine his ability to make any moral judgements whatsoever. If, for example, the torture of a small child for fun cannot definitely be said to be gratuitously evil, and that it might be a part of God’s ultimately good plan, then there is no way to say for definite whether such an act is ultimately good or evil. Thus contrary to his laughably inane assertion that we can just know that something is right or wrong, Craig’s own position actually undermines his ability to make moral judgements.

 

From Craig’s asinine argument from objective morality, to the absurd conclusions that follow inevitably from his scepticism over the existence of gratuitous evil, it is evident that his theological beliefs do nothing to advance any real ethical philosophy. That is not to say that William Lane Craig, is himself devoid of coherent ethics, however I think it is safe to say that they stem from somewhere other than the whims of a supernatural law-giver.

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The Problem With The Fine Tuning Argument

For what reason is it necessary for us to finely tune an engine? The answer is simply that we have only a small range of ways in which matter can be arranged to produce a highly functioning engine. Fine tuning in necessitated by prior constraint. If I could do anything then there would be nothing to stop me from building an engine out of an amorphous lump of minerals. Physical constraint is the reason why I can’t do that.

What the fine tuning argument states is that there was a pre-existing constriction on God’s creation. That there was only a certain way he could arrange the universe in order to permit life. If we grant the fine tuning argument, then we must grant the following things: God could not have created the universe in any way he chose, in other words God is not omnipotent, and that a prior constraint in the laws of nature exists outside of God.

This creates problems because then one must ask where this law of nature came from that necessitated God’s fine tuning. What the fine tuning argument states is that some laws of physics existed prior to God. If there were no such laws, then there would be no parameters around which God would need to fine tune things, in which case the fine tuning argument would break down because without constraint, God could create a universe any which way he wanted, just as I could create an engine out of a lump of minerals. With constraint, one would have to ask from whence it came.

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Appreciating Nature

I eased myself down the steep bank gently, trying my best to avoid stumbling like a buffoon and tripping on the exposed roots that created an almost-staircase out of the slope. The initial stretch of woodland was largely deciduous, without much canopy overhead. A nutrient-rich layer of broad-leaf litter and dead wood crunched underfoot. The absence of canopy during the autumn and winter has several effects on this area of woodland, firstly it provides the soil with lots of organic matter as the leaves decay – which can provide nutrients to ground flora such as flowers and other shrubs. Another effect is the large amount of light that gets in during these months – which is also vital to the ground flora. A certain amount of precipitation (rain, mist, hail, snow etc.) is intercepted by the canopy during the summer, however the absence of cover throughout the winter months, allows a lot of water to enter the soil directly – which I noticed had made the ground rather boggy as I continued on my stroll.

A few Scots pines were looming tall over head – a species of coniferous tree with distinctive salmon pink bark. They were sparse at first, being surrounded mainly by the broad-leafed trees, however as I slowly traversed along the path, the woodland gradually became more coniferous, under which the pine needles had created a thick mat over the forest floor. Pine needles do not decay very fast, and create a layer that does not incorporate into the soil – because of this, the soil is less nutrient rich than in the deciduous area I had passed through previously (due to an absence of organic matter being incorporated). In coniferous woodland, the canopy stays overhead all year-round, so unlike the broad-leaf area, interception occurs constantly and there is always shade cover. The ground flora was distinctly less varied, I noted; mostly ferns (which can cope with the low light levels).

I spotted a number of Silver Birch trees dotted among the pines, there didn’t appear to be many other species of tree around. I wasn’t sure why this might be, but it seemed as though the Birches were quite capable of competing (height-wise) with the pines, and perhaps other species simply don’t have quite the same reach (or have never had the chance to). Many trees had violently collapsed in the wind, and were now crumbling and being slowly devoured by detritivores, mites and fungi. Two deer swiftly bounced through the ferns just ahead of where I was walking, and a pheasant was calling in the distance. I turned back and started to walk home in a rather blissful state.

There is nothing quite like surrounding oneself in nature. The experience is heightened immensely even after having acquired a rather rudimentary understanding of ecosystems, and forestry etc. I would advise anyone to spend as much time around nature as they possibly can, and to learn as much about it as they can. Its good medicine for your consciousness.

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Sam Harris is a Facile Moron

There are many reasons why I feel the need to distance myself from the “new atheist movement”, and Sam Harris has recently made me want to keep well away from it for good. His latest post: In Defense of Profiling does, well, just that. He argues that we should profile Muslims in our fight against terrorism, stopping people who ‘look like Muslims’ at airports in the interests of national security.

 

The first and most obvious problem with this notion is this; how the hell do you determine someone’s religion just from looking at them? Any educated person (apart from Mr. Harris apparently) can tell you that Islam is not a race, it’s a religion. He appears to be advocating for the profiling of bearded men in robes with turbans on alongside women dressed in hijabs, as though all Muslims conform to this caricature. It doesn’t appear to cross Sam’s mind that as soon as they started to profile for people who look Muslim (whatever the hell that means) those who want to sneak through this system incognito need only make a minimal effort not to look like a caricature of a Muslim (a quick shave and a trip to the local clothes shop and you’re done). I would hope Harris is not advocating the racist view that all Arab-looking individuals should be profiled, but I don’t see that there is any other logical conclusion to be drawn from his nonsensical position.

 

In his addendum responding to the rightful criticism he received he states that: “I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice). To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, travelling companions, behaviour in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest.” He doesn’t appear to grasp that behaviour, clothing, and other outward appearances can easily be changed. Any intelligent terrorist in Harris’ profiling scenario would simply make themselves appear as distant from the kind of thing they are looking for as possible. It won’t work. The only conceivable scenario in which we might catch an Islamic threat (with the insight not to make it obvious in their outward behaviour and appearance) via profiling is if we stopped any Arab-looking person and that is fucking racist. 

 

I do not wish to downplay the threat of radical Islam, I merely wish to point out that Harris’ proposed means of countering it are unutterably stupid. For someone who is qualified in neuroscience you would have thought Sam Harris would have two brain cells to rub together…

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Coltan, Electronics and Bloodshed

Coltan is a rare mineral used in the production of tantalum capacitors – a component of many electronic devices. An estimated 80% of the world’s coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 2003 a UN security council report condemned the illegal mining and smuggling of coltan ore by militias from neighbouring countries; Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

 

The FDLR rebels – comprising of members of the Hutu Interahamwe, who were responsible for the brutal butchering of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, having subsequently fled to the DRC – are reported to be using valuable minerals obtained in their territories in eastern DRC in exchange for weaponry. These minerals wind up in western electronic goods. Since their occupation of the DRC, the FDLR have been involved in killing government troops and civilians in Busurungi, as well as in many other villages, and have been reported to have carried out mass rape and sexual violence.

 

The FDLR are by no means the only group known to profit from the minerals of eastern Congo. Bosco Ntaganda otherwise known as “the Terminator”, is reported to control the Mungwe and Fungamwaka mines, and profits from mineral exploitation at Nyabibwe, and taxation at Rubaya (see here). Ntaganda has been indicted by the ICC for war crimes, including the use of child soldiers (KONY 2012 supporters might feel a twinge of painful irony here).

 

Furthermore, these mines have been reported to exploit children in slave-like conditions (See below):

 

Much of the coltan (one of the many minerals that these violent criminals profit from) is exported to China – which then goes into their electronic goods, which we in the West consume in blissful ignorance. The point of this post is not to make you feel guilty for possessing electronic goods, the demand for which is contributing to the territorial conflicts in the mineral rich eastern DRC. The point is to get you to think about what we as consumers can do about this. I think that we need to demand evidence that the coltan used in our mobile phones and other electronic devices is not being sourced from conflict regions. We need to do what we can to raise awareness about these issues, and need to make producers aware that their exploitation of bloody conflict ridden regions will not go unnoticed and unchallenged.

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