August 19, 2010

GameFAQs: Proof for God Walkthroug

Okay so I stumbled upon this site while trying to look at at pharyngulated poll and found a 'test' that seems to double as a proof for God.

It's not really structured as a formal proof, it's structured more as an adventure story in which God exists only if you press all the buttons to show you believe what the author believes, which is a bit dishonest so (as you'll see) I had to lie just to see what the Logical structure of the argument looked like.

And now I'm going to share it with you. Woohoo!

Prologue: Absolute Truth

The proof/test starts out by asking what you believe. This is a structure that will continue throughout the argument but only this part sees you in an infinite loop unless you accept their opening premise. Your options are:

  1. Absolute truth exists
  2. Absolute truth does not exist
  3. I don't know if absolute truth exists
  4. I don't care if absolute truth exists
Clicking on (4) sends you away from the website completely, assuming if you don't care about absolute truth then you don't care to hear about proof for God. This is quite a big assumption, but as their entire argument rests on such concepts I guess the rest of the site with be meaningless for you anyway.

Clicking on (2) or (3) is the first infuriating moment in this whole shambolic layout formal argument. It sends you to a subset of questions thus:

Absolute Truth Does Not Exist:

  1. Absolutely True
  2. False
This forces you to accept absolute truths (or else it tells you to 'think about it' and sends you back to the beginning. Which is kind of fine in a way if you're talking about Logical absolutes (in which something is what it is and is not what it is not, etc). They are essentialy forcing you to accept that absolute truths do exist, but we'll see later they will change the scope as if you accepted that all truth is absolute.
So anyway, you're forced to accept absolute truth exists or you cannot continue.

Part 1 - Laws of Logic

We're now told we're entering the proper formal part of the argument, starting with Logical laws. it gives a very brief introduction to what Logic actually is before asking you if the 'laws of Logic' exist.

  1. The Laws of Logic Exist
  2. The Laws of Logic Don't Exist
Pay attention, because it's going to play fast and loose with the word 'law' for the rest of the argument. i'm a bit of a pedant so I wasn't quite happy with the term 'laws of Logic' so I chose (2) to see what would happen.

If you say you don't think these 'laws' exist it - in a roundabout way - defines the 'laws of Logic' as the tools we use to make decisions. I would argue we aren't limited to Logical reason to make all of our decision or people wouldn't make reckless or stupid decisions every single day. However, I will be flexible and say that yes, there 'exists' a system of reasoning called Logical by which we can make decisions. Let's see where this takes us.

Part 2 - Laws of Mathematics

Being a mathematician myself, I was prepared to be angered by this part but I had no problem with what they said. They basically described the system of mathematics and ask:

  1. The Laws of Mathematics Exist
  2. The Laws of Mathematics Don't Exist
I'll admit at this point, it's a bit worrying where they might go with the term 'exist'. Mathematics, as with logic exist in a transendental way that doesn't actually interact with the world. I would tend to use existence in a way that describes something that can interact with the world, but for now I'll see where the journey takes me.

Part 3 - Laws of Science

Right, now they are definitely starting to irk me. The laws of science are very different from the internal formal structure of a logical or mathematical law. The laws of science are descriptive models - they are often simplifications (to a degree) of reality used to make predictions about matter/energy/whatever. They can be changed and updated and (if inaccurate or limited) can be violated.

We're asked if they exist (as is becoming standard) and of course you can only continue if you accept that they do. This leads me to another bugbear: if you don't accept any of the premises, the wholething grinds to a halt and blames you, the reader, for not accepting them. This isn't how it works, especially if you can't back up your premises. If I don't accept your premise, you haven't done a good enough job at presenting it to me.

However, once again, I can be lenient and accept that yes there is a system of 'rules' in the universe that govern how its components behave and interacts and we can call them laws even if we don't know what they are, fully. I think that's probably what they meant even if they didn't do a good job of explaining it.

Part 4 - Absolute Moral Laws

This part reminds me of an old playground trick between 8-year-olds that goes thus:

Child 1: Are you a boy?
Child 2: Yes
Child 1: Are you 8?
Child 2: Yes
Child 1: Are you from England?
Child 2: Yes
Child 1: Are you a gay?
Child 2: Yes
Child 1: Ha ha!
Child 2: No, wait! Argh - fooled me again, fellow 8-year-old!

So here we go then with the sneak-attack from behind. Using Logic, science and maths as a springboard we now get to 'laws of morality'. never mind that we've gone from Intrinsic Laws to Descriptive Laws; they now want to throw Prescriptive Laws at us as if all of them are equivalent.

They define 'moral laws' as the rules that describe how humans "ought to behave". They don't really describe 'abosolute moral laws' but give examples, like rape and child molestation. To be clear: an abolute moral law is a prescription of a behaviour that is always right or wrong. In effect, with the example, they are saying "rape is always wrong".

Having said that, I don't subscribe to the idea of absolute morality so I chose "Absolute Moral Laws Do Not Exist". This leads me to a difficult follow-up page in which they basically ask "Come on! Come onnnnn!"

The argument is thus: using the example that molesting children for fun is always wrong, they are the following:

  1. Molesting children for fun is absolutely morally wrong
  2. Molesting children for fun is not absolutely morally wrong
This does make you stop. It's meant to. Here is the thing though (and you might have to bear with me as I might not be able to phrase it eloquently enough to not make me look like a massive paedophile sympathiser): we have created a society in which it is wrong to molest children. I live in this society and I would agree that I cannot think of a single case in which it is okay for an adult to molest children, for fun or otherwise. However, we did not necessarily have to construct such a society. Our behaviours, interpersonal interactions, development from youth to adult, etc. are all part of a long period of social evolution which has culminated in it being wrong to molest children.

Now, I'm not saying we arbitrarily picked out molesting children as bad. I'm saying it's a product of our nature as humans, in which we've also decide that bashing people over the head is wrong. Why is it wrong? Because we don't like being bashed over the head. Why is molesting children wrong? It's an abuse upon their bodies at an age in which they are not mentally mature enough to cope with (there are lots of reasons for why it's wrong, in reality. Take yout pick).

In theory though, we could have developed into a society when molestation is a completely normal, non-distressing experience and, say, touching someone's ear is an absolute atrocity (for whatever reason). You see examples in animals (in my haste, I have not provided examples) that different animals have woldly different reactions to the same stimuli.

To summarise the above bit on molestation, it is not an "absolutely" immoral act because it is not demonstrably homogenous across the universe. It is not necessarily immoral. I know I'm treading a fine line here, but hopefully you know what I mean.

Therefore this premise is flawed and probably the rest of the argument is therefore unsound. But I have to pretend absolute morality exists to continue.

Part 5 - Laws of Nature A

For some reason, we're next asked if the laws of science/maths/logic/morality are material or immaterial. Immaterial. Agreed?

Part 6 - Laws of Nature B & C

We're next asked if we agree that all of the laws are universal and unchanging. That is, are they consistent across all space and time. The example is "is 2 2=4 true across all of the universe, or just because you say it does?"

I'm sorry but again I'm going to have to disgree with the answer they want me to give (that they are universal). Sure, the equation is univeral and logic is universal and we can ignore morality because I've already aired my beef with that (is that a phrase?). But the laws of science? I don't think i can say with much certainty that the laws of science are true across all time and all space. We have yet to unify quantum theory with general relativity. There are strong indications that the laws of physics were completely different before the Planck time (the time of the Big Bang expansion). There are laws of science we just don't know; if we don't know enough about science how can we declare them to be universal? This is clearly a flawed premise.

But I'm going to have to accept it anyway. This might all work out in the end. Here comes God!

The Pre-Proof

Right so now we've got all our premises down. We know the conclusion is "God Exists" so this part is the meat of the argument; the part that's going to say "having accepted all that (dodgy) stuff about those laws we spoke of, God exists because..."

Unfortunately we get a massive bold assertion and a quote from the Bible. This is worse than the Transcendental Argument for God (TAG).

Bold Assertion: "Universal, immaterial, unchanging laws cannot be accounted for if the universe was random or only material in nature."

Um, why? It doesn't say. Instead it says,
"there are 2 types of people in this world, those who profess the truth of God's existence and those who suppress the truth of God's existence."
which is a massive false dichotomy. I was impressive so far that they managed not to do this when guiding you though the premises but not only have they falsely dichotomised the entire human population, they've begged the question at the same time. And then:
"The options of 'seeking' God, or not believing in God are unavailable."
Wait, what? Yes they are - I so totally have taken one of these options.

We then get the old chestnut from Romans in which it states that God's existence and nature being written in the heart of every man (such that there is no excuse for denying Him). And then it makes another massive leap that you can't understand the universe if God doesn't exist.

Conclusion Arrrgghhhh! Why does it spend so much time spoonfeeding you through the premises and then not bother connecting them to the conclusion? Even if I had accepted all the premises we still wouldn't have got through this. SO FRUSTRATING.


May 20, 2010

Why Draw Mohammad?

Someone asked me what the point was of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day (EDM). It's deliberately provocative, insulting, offensive and ultimately what do I expect it to achieve? If I want to draw Mohammad, just draw Mohammad; why do we need to do it in this big massive song and dance style?

Well it's true that we don't need to draw Mohammad as a largely anonymous internet mob. We don't reallyneed to do anything. But it feels right to do something even if it doesn't immediately cause the dissolution of oppressive theologies.

This all started with the controversial South Park double-bill in which their ultimate big-reveal of Mohammad (an act they'd already done without batting an eyelid, in the pre-Dutch cartoon era) was censored by Comedy Central. A lot of people thought this was outrageous but in all honesty it was probably the right thing for Comedy Central to do, in my opinion. Bearing in mind the circumstances and bubbling furore, broadcasting the episode uncensored could well have resolved in an attack of some description. It's all very well for artists to be provocative, but Comedy Central is a corporation and an attack on its offices or its studios might have serious consequences for its employees, most of whom probably weren't ready to risk their safety for provocative television. So Comedy Central protected itself and its employees and I agree with that.

What I don't agree with is that there was such a risk in the first place. What on earth is going on where you cannot broadcast an animation of a crude cardboard(esque) depiction of an historical character without having to decide if it's worth the likelihood of being terrorised? It's utter nonsense.

There is a rule in an extra-Qur'anic text that states it is forbidden and blasphemous to depict the prophet Muhammad. Well who gives a shit? Most people aren't Muslims and if you're not a Muslim then the rule doesn't apply to you*. Why is this such a problem - everyone (and I mean everyone) commit blasphemous (or equivalent terminology) acts every day from the perspective of religions they are not part of. I personally have sworn, taken the Lord's name in vain, worked on the Sabbath, idolised, lusted, coveted, been unruly to my parents, mixed meat with its milk (though indirectly), had sex before marriage, used contraception, eaten beef, eaten pork, been drunk, spelled out and spoken 'Yahweh' and now drawn the image of Mohammad. And none of it matters because I they are all part of my personal freedom to do so and I don't adhere to any religion that considers the above sinful. In fact, I don't even believe in sin because the whole concept is ludicrous. But let us not get distracted.

The point is: a good chunk of the population does a heck of a lot of these things without much consideration as to their irreligious nature. And most people who are part of religions that find some of those acts offensive accept that others aren't bothered by these acts and conscript them to their lifestyle. Heck, a lot of people Muslim or otherwise find young promiscuity to be abominable but they don't firebomb the crap out of everyone who has casual sex. They don't try and stab people to death for not fasting during Ramadan. So why must we even hesitate before committing ink to the basic shape of another persons prophet?

But we do. It's an act loaded with potential violence. And because of that, individuals do not commit to making Mohammad imagery for fear some overzealous nutter with spade them into submission. A corporation or organisation has the same problem - it has central locations; it has population wells to focus violence on - it cannot realistically take risks - that's not its job. But a hive of like-minded, non-centralised people can break the taboo. And they break it for no other reason than to demonstrate their freedom to do it. It isn't a riot or a blockade; it is more along the lines of a sit-in, just to let you know we're all here and we're not just going to vanish away.



* 1) I am aware that if you are religious then you tend to believe your theology is the only true theology and therefore the rules apply to everyone. 2) I could argue that even if you are a Muslim you still should have the freedom to decide for yourself.


April 06, 2010

In which we go to church

Lauren and I popped down to Exeter for the Easter weekend, for a hoot. On the Saturday night we thought we'd wander into the cathedral for what we thought was some kind of choir service. Choirs are nice, so it would be cool to catch an actual Cathedral choir which would be... more nice, I guess. Anyway it turned we completely misunderstood and we walked into an Easter Vigil service which went on for two hours.

It was actually interesting. Well, apart from the massive bit in the middle where they did a bunch of baptisms and comfirmations, which is incredibly dull unless you're the family of those in the ceremony. I haven't been to a church service since I actually believed in God and Lauren hasn't ever been to a non-wedding service so we were able to appreciate the whole thing as observers. The one thing to stuck out to me (which occurred to Lauren also as she whispered it to me as I thought it) was just how cultish it all seemed when you're not taking part.

If you're unfamiliar to the way church services go, the whole service is written in a booklet for you. Every so often some of the text is highlighted to indicate that the congregation are meant to speak aloud. This spawns the bizarre natural drone of a melody that you'll often see in primary schools when an entire class chants, "Good Morning, Miss Gardner" (or whatever your teacher was called).

An example: Vicar: Let us give thanks to the Lord
Congregation: It is right to give him thanks and praise

After a couple of these you start to realise it's just like being a great big cult. Not that I've ever been in a big cult. The synchronised mumbling of the emboldened text makes it very clear that everyone is on some kind of autopilot, not really thinking about what they're saying, talking about "submission to this" and "praise to that" as they probably do every single week. The Easter Vigil has little extra bits you don't find in normal services like lighting the Easter candle and beginning of the service in the dark. Some people seemed a little out of their comfort zon with this and I'm not surprised - they probably haven't been concious in church for most of the year.

As an interesting aside, I couldn't help thumbing through the bible in the pew in front of me to Matthew Ch 6, verse... I don't know - 6ish ... to point out the part where Jesus specifically tells people not to bleat out meaningless, repititive words and to make your prayers personal and meaningful. I'm not sure why every church in all the land chose to ignore this part as I'm pretty sure the whole sermon on the mount (in which this tidbit is included) is an important part of Christian theology, despite its many contradictions.

Anyway, my thoughts during and following the whole service were how a lot of the everyday Christians seem more than a little passive, like sheep, not giving much thought to what are pretty important beliefs - whether true or not. I think a huge chunk of the British "Christian" population (I can't really speak for other nations or religions) would tick "Christian" on a census but haven't ever given any real thoughts to their beliefs at all. Maybe they should.


March 18, 2010

Sceptical Arguments

I was spectator recently to an argument Lauren had with a couple of people over the place of alternative medicines as an option and an industry. The argument meandered somewhat into the trustworthyness of science in general but Lauren generally kept the high ground throughout the disagreement and had more valid points to raise.

It was an interesting discussion to watch, because generally I find myself in the company of people who either generally agree with me on the validity of science-based medicine vs alternative options or who have differing opinions but don't fee so strongly that a conversation on the topic will turn into an argument. When faced with those of opposing views I have generally found it to be an experience of relaying information they previously hadn't been aware of.

What Lauren found, however, were people digging their heels in and defending the alt-med practice and industry. To be honest, I think they were just up for an argument, but the arguments presented were of a style I like to call, 'stuff I heard down the pub'. This is an interesting belief stance as it represents a memetic level of ignorance/knowledge, passed down through the wisdom of drinking buddies. A drinking buddy is a highly valued knowledge source and momumental perpetuater of bullshit.

So, the argument presented against Lauren (arguing that you shouldn't see an alternative practitioner) can be outlined as:

  • It worked for me
  • Global warming is fanciful
  • You're reading stuff by people trying to make money
  • What's the harm?
  • There are some things that can't be explained

This post isn't really about countering the argument, but a quick counterlist would look something like:

  • One anecdotal data point is poor evidence
  • Irrelevant to medicine
  • Hypocritical in the extreme
  • Time spent avoiding real medical care is time lost combating conditions
  • Explanations are irrelevant in this context; what's important is if evidence shows method xyz to work

What was most interesting, however, is that the people arguing for alt-med had absolutely no stake in it whatsoever. They had a personal bias in their existing opinion and for whatever reason they found the need to defend so aggressively that their arguments jumped all over the place in an attempt to gain the upper hand somehow. There is a base level, I think, of getting defensive if your point of view is challenged and this is a hurdle to overcome when trying to (... how to phrase it?) reveal certain facts about the world.

Furthermore, people don't take well to being 'educated' by people of 'lower standing' (e.g. people of a younger generation) or sometimes by equal peers. It can come across as somewhat condescending and people don't take well to that.

I think the lesson here is try to take a softly-softly approach when trying to change someone's mind; relaying information for others to digest, backing it up with evidence and weighting it with its importance. Richard Dawkins (despite the strange reputation he's got for being aggressive) is particularly good at this. If you watch (or read) his rebuttals, he spends a great deal of time going over the important points worthy of consideration.

When you're a sceptic or freethinking type (or whatever), you generally aren't supposed to have strong opinions about anything you haven't given a lot of thought to so you should (in theory) have a reservoir of evidence to tap into.

Having said that, I am appalling at verbal debate because I take a long time to ponder people's points so am just not quick enough to 'spar' with anyone. That's why I tend to make my points on paper.