Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Energy and Survival

Many are unsatisfied with the afterlife being a religious dogma, held without empirical evidence. Those of a more scientific bent have dubbed the belief in some afterlife "the survival hypothesis", hoping to give it such evidence.

One tack is to claim that Conservation of Energy supports the idea that some part of us remains alive eternally. The scientific principle says that energy is neither created nor destroyed, and the soul thus may be preserved.

However, this argument has many problems. First of all, claiming the soul (however that may be defined) is "energy" in this regard makes little sense. Many so misuse the term "energy", to find confusion is not surprising.

In science, energy means the capacity to do work. Now, some may define the soul as something like this (for instance the "life force") but most mean the mind or personality. To call this "energy" then does not follow. How is the sum of our thoughts, feelings etc. the "capacity to do work"?

However, as I said, the term "energy" is often used for something entirely different, more like the "life force" that was mentioned. We see this reflected even in popular culture like Star Wars, where the Force has been defined to be "an energy field created by all living things". The latter is just nonsense scientifically, though the Force is essentially like the chi or prana of the East, unsurprisingly as the Jedi are very Eastern influenced.

If by "energy" then the "life force" is meant, though, science called no longer be called to aid the hypothesis. Science long ago discarded this concept of the life force. Life is not a simple force, but a sum of many biochemical processes. In the same way, the soul as our mind is not a scientific idea either. The scientific consensus is that the mind comes from or is a part of the brain that dies along with it.

Assuming we granted that the mind is energy, however, that still does not mean it would survive death, because proponents of this idea neglect an important fact. Conservation of Energy does say that energy is not created or destroyed, true. It is, however, transformed. Death means that our energy is transformed from something animate to inanimate.

The search for an afterlife will have to rest on something else. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

An Examination of Poor Atheist Arguments

I've spent a lot of time on this blog criticizing theism and the arguments offered for its validity. That said, some arguments in favor of atheism that also deserve criticism. Poor arguments in favor of a position I hold are still fallacious. A higher caliber of arguments can be made.

The first is what might be called the "single proof" fallacy. If a theist makes a cosmological argument (for instance, from causality) many atheists will respond that even if true, it really doesn't prove that the God they believe in exist. At best it proves some kind of First Cause.

Though true, unless the theist rests their case solely on this argument, the criticism is off the mark. Every case must start somewhere. To do that with where everything came from is a logical starting point. It is a rare theist that doesn't make other arguments as well in favor of the argument, assuming they actually want to convince anyone.

Many atheists, moreover, appear to be strict empiricists, even positivists, claiming that only empirical data has any weight. Therefore, they will then triumphantly declare there is no empirical data for any gods' existence, and thus atheism is validated by that alone.

However, as has long been known, this view has no ability to support itself. For how can any person use empirical data to determine that only empirical data has any validity? Moreover, theists do cite empirical data in favor of God's existence. Fine tuning is one obvious example, but also causality as mentioned earlier. This does mean one must accept it, but we can't claim none is offered either.

It has also been claimed than an argument is not evidence. Even a sound argument for God does not prove he really does. While it's true that a sound argument can still be false, this is usually related to the empiricist claim up above. Only scientific evidence is held to be valid. Yet not every issue can be a subject of scientific investigation. In any case, many arguments are indeed based on scientific and empirical evidence, for instance both fine tuning or causality as mentioned previously.

There are more still that could be dissected, and they may be yet in a future post. At this time, though, it seems enough to caution against these sorts of fallacious arguments. Even a correct position, which I believe atheism to be, can have poor arguments made for it which should be discarded.

Eternity and Existence

Similarly to the claim of materialism being unable to support meaning, so too a finite existence is claimed as lacking this. Without eternal life, it has been said, there is no point. Everything we are will one day vanish at death, and eventually not even memory or relics of what has been made remain.

To begin with, it seems more than a bit much for anyone of us to expect an eternal life for ourselves, or that our works will last forever. All things we see decay and disappear in time. Why should we find ourselves an exception? 

Even apart from that, however, this claim that a finite existence is pointless strikes me as very odd. To take an analogy, does the fact that a play which moves people, stirring up heights of emotion, become pointless by the fact that it inevitably ends? I don't see how. Nor has anyone explained why this should be the case that I've ever seen. 

In fact, if anything the opposite seems to be true. Something lasting forever could be very bad. This is something that has been shown in many fictional depictions of immortals. They may become utterly bored by this existence, as eventually every experience has been had. Life can become a burden even to mortals. How much more could it be for those that never die? 

It is true of course that existence can be very painful, and people fail to find happiness or suffer from wrongs in this life that seem clearly quite unjust. However, eternal life, whether of reward or punishment as is taught by most religions, does not seem proportionate with our mortal existence. If our life here is finite, any eternal reward or punishment is more than any deserves. 

The very notion of any eternal reward or punishment is problematic when scrutinized. No matter how inventive people get in imagining heavens or hells, at some point every possible reward or punishment will be done. Some are far more simple, as the Bible portrays it, either praising God or burning eternally. Both of those things seem rather pointless. 

How can we appreciate something that has no end in our experience? Even in this life, it is far too easy to take things for granted. Imagine how then it would become if immortal, until as posited above we are bored to death. An eternal joy or suffering can only be a mindless state over time. 

Even an artificial immortality as some believe science promises also seems doubtful. How is any mind capable of holding the memories which would be stored up so long a time? A mind enhanced enough to overcome this would probably leave us so changed we are no longer ourselves. In any case, all the problems with boredom remain. 

So, it appears that eternal life would itself be pointless in the end. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Evolution and Reason

It is often claimed by theists that if our reason is a result of evolution, we have no reason to trust its veracity. However, this is not at all obvious. A reasoning capacity has clear adaptive usefulness, such as solving problems like finding food, determining dangers, even winning mates.

It may be argued that this does not account for its usefulness in more abstract areas like philosophy. We must remember however that most people do not turn it to such lofty areas. In any case, side effects of things can outstrip their original functions.

It seems that reason is actually more understandable on atheism. For if, as theists claim, reason is a gift of God, why make it this faulty? I do not think anyone would deny how we can be mislead. This argument against reason having a natural origin turns on the theist. For if they are right, then this is exactly what we would expect to see-an imperfect reason.

One obvious use for reason, on theism, is knowing God. This the purpose of natural theology. While some theists deny that God can be known by reason alone, many concede it has usefulness, or natural theology would not still be a field of study. Even if they do not, it must be a tool given by God. Why, in either case, give a faulty one?

The question becomes particularly pressing with the first probable use on theism, knowing God. From the vast diversity of belief regarding God, even within Christianity, it becomes clear that our reason is not a sure guide. On the second use, the faultiness is less problematic, but even so why give us a defective gift?

Possible responses have been that reason does tell us God exists, but we deny because we desire sin. Another is that the differences in regards to religious belief are less than I have made out. On the first, it does not seem to be well supported. What evidence has there been given for this? Many people by all appearances sincerely believe in God and wish to serve him, yet their conclusions about this still can differ greatly. The second is far weaker I believe. We need simply note that polytheism is far more common historically than monetheism.

In conclusion, I believe that far from being evidence for theism, our reason and its flawed nature are far better explained on atheism.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Matter and Meaning

I came across an article on the Huffington Post expressing a view I've often seen, and want to address. Briefly, in it the author, Rabbi Adam Jacobs, claims "nonbelievers" must really at heart believe in something more than matter as their belief system isn't consistent.

Of course, saying all nonbelievers (I don't know whether he includes others besides atheists under that term) are materialists isn't true, but I'll simply ignore that, since it isn't the point of this post. Rather, even if we accepted materialism, what he claims isn't necessarily the case.

Jacobs claims that "nonbelievers" (here meaning materialists) must believe that nothing they ever do will matter, since none has any more significance than another. He says he's awaiting the person who admits this is the case. Well, there are some materialists who think this, but not all. Has he shown they must? I don't see it. How is "everything is matter" equal to "nothing means anything"?

Naturally, he suggests materialists that deny it are deluded. What follows is a brief series of basically "gotcha" questions for materialists. These include asking why materialists won't use the corpse of a loved one for dog food and suchlike. He claims any who said they wouldn't based on respect is simply in denial, with their notion being nothing more than a "subjective, non-intellectual whim" because they are simply "electrical blips in the skull". This again is not argued for, only assumed.

I'm not going to address every question, since they are much the same, but one he raises about art is good for illustrating the problem. He asks what significance on materialism a painting has, as it isn't good for food, etc. This assumes, of course, that only the most basic human urges would make sense on materialism, yet that is not shown. In any case, whether or not we accept materialism is true, aren't all paintings the arrangements of matter? Paint, wood, etc.? We might well ask where this significance comes in for it regardless. Some don't find much significance in many of the paintings out there. It is generally held to be a subjective quality.

There is also the assumption he makes that materialism is arbitrary, blind, random, etc. Again, this is not (at least entirely) the case for all materialists. There is also no reason things (like paintings) can't be composed of various matter which isn't meaningful itself, but has it over and above that, due to the specifics. After all, we can still tell the difference between a painting and jars of paint. Is that not a meaningful difference?

His article closes by saying anyone that rejects this view "may be more of a believer than you think". Assuming, of course, that only a "believer" can find meaning. What believers he does not say, but his religion would presumably be included, plus probably Christianity. So, is any religion sufficient? Even if they disagree about what the meaning is? He does not say.

This method of argument not only commits the strawman fallacy, but also an ad hominem, accusing anybody who rejects his conclusion of being in denial. Yet, as I hope I've shown, he hasn't made clear that his is the only logical conclusion on the philosophy being attacked. To make an analogy, if some gentile claimed he was in denial because his holy book commanded certain laws and Jacobs didn't act on them, I don't think he would agree that is right or fair.

In sum, be courteous to opponents. No one will be convinced by things like this. Unfortunately, it is about what I've come to expect at Huffington Post, from believers and nonbelievers alike. No doubt this is because controversy draws views. Sadly, any real depth is often lost or nonexistent.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Toward A Strong Atheism

For modern atheists in America, most take "atheism" to mean simply lack of belief in gods. This may be distinguished as "weak" atheism here, with the "strong" atheism being belief that no gods exist. However, in philosophy, atheism is defined solely as the "strong" variety. "Weak" atheism would be classed as a type of skepticism. Regardless, in this post I will refer to the view as strong atheism so it can be distinguished from the more common view of American atheists.

The reason for atheism to be defined as lack of belief in gods, and not belief gods do not exist, is said to be either (from atheists) because disbelief is the default position, or null hypothesis or (by theists) to escape any burden of proof. No matter who is right (and both can be correct in different cases) it seems to me a "strong" atheism is viable. Many philosophers have of course defended this since, as I said, atheism is defined that way in philosophy. More specifically, the belief God (as defined by classical theism-a being that is all powerful, all good, all wise and so on) does not exist.

It may surprise many atheists that there are many arguments against the existence of God. They are generally only familiar with arguments for God's existence. Yet while the strategy of only making counterarguments and thus declaring the case for God unproven can suffice, sound arguments that show God does not exist have an even stronger effect. For if the attributes given to God are more than just unproven, but also logically incompatible, then God cannot exist.

I do not think that atheists (for whatever reason) should shy away from holding the position that not only is God not proven, but he does not exist. The philosophical case for this can be and has been made. Philosophical or "strong" atheism is a better position to take, given its firmer and more solid approach. There is no need to settle for God simply being unproven. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence

Carl Sagan claimed that "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". From what I gather, it was in reply to people who claimed that lacking evidence for alien life meant this didn't exist. Much as I respect Sagan, however, his claim is wrong. Lack of evidence is evidence that something is not there, it is just not proof. This may seem to be a semantic issue regarding what evidence and proof mean. Nonetheless, it seems to me that being clear in our terminology is very important. Much as in the similar slogan "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" which I examined in my last post (one Sagan also used) a confusion in our terms renders these hopelessly subjective and thus useless.

Evidence means something that tends to prove or disprove, or that grounds a belief. Proof on the other hand is evidence sufficient to establish that something is true, or produce such a belief. Thus, lack of evidence for aliens doesn't prove they don't exist. It does however tend in the direction. Of course a believer in aliens may certainly have some evidence for them as well. We must weigh any evidence for or against this. Often we do not have proof, or at least none which is strong. Therefore, though absence of evidence is not proof of absence, it is evidence of absence. A difference between these is real, and as is said, makes all the difference. They should not be confused in this way.