I had a conversation the other day with a fellow on twitter coming off of one of Ken Ham’s tweets. There was a lot of back and forth and I attempted to understand his position. I did employ some Street Epistemology in the conversation but I think that was done in vain. I just didn’t want to boil over into a flame war. That doesn’t do anything to further any conversation. We somewhat ended the discussion with him asking if I was a naturalist. I hadn’t heard the term before so I looked it up. It essentially is the belief that there is nothing beyond the natural world and everything can be explained with natural process. I’m not a huge fan of labels (that is different than check boxes, I friggen love check boxes) but agreed with that assertion. He then sent me this article talking about some things that naturalism can’t account for. I will spend this post refuting it’s points.
The first point this article makes points out that is that if there is no other plane than the natural then our minds (I’m assuming he means consciousnesses) are nothing other than a result of natural processes. The implication being that we have no true “free will.” My question is, so what? We as a species are excellent input/output machines. We’re also excellent at pattern recognition (even when there isn’t one there). There are even denominations of Christianity that believe we have no free will (Calvinism to name one). The fact that we can look at our selves introspectively can be easily explained by evolution. Once we evolved to the point where we were no longer living from meal to meal our brains suddenly had all this free time. It was freed up to do things like existential thinking. I am looking to do some more research into the entire notion of free will and what possible implications there are to not having it.
Next up is the topic of morality. I sometimes wonder at the nature of “morality” or ethics. I did take a class in college on the subject of ethics and found it fascinating. One thing that I was never really convinced of was moral absolutes. There is the old antic-dote about that goes something like this: You are in 1940’s Germany and are hiding a Jewish family in your house. One day the SS shows up and asks you if you are harboring any Jews in your home. Do you tell a lie and save the family or do you tell the truth and not lie. It’s a pretty easy decision, you lie. Now if you adhere to a strict rule of moral absolutes where no “sin” is greater than another then you have a pickle here. You’d have to tell the truth and in turn an entire family dies. YOU made that choice and would have to live with that the rest of your days. That doesn’t seem very “moral” to me.
The final point the argument presented is that of meaning. Essentially that with out god our lives are nothing more than what we have here while we’re alive. There’s no higher purpose to our existence. I fail to see how a deity give our lives any deeper value than that of a life devoid of such a being. Our life meaning is different for everyone. We aren’t designed to worship anything. Our meaning is self-defined. The author points to an example of a child thinking their meaning is to play video games all day. OK, what’s the problem. If this kid can grow up and support himself on playing video games more power to him (there is some serious money in that industry). If not, they will have to do what we all do and find a job they can tolerate to support that which he finds fulfilling (video games). Granted there are exceptions to this the biggest being if you find your meaning by infringing on someone else’s life (such as murder, rape, and the like).
As I stated before I was pointed to this article from a Twitter user and promised I would give my rebuttal. I don’t believe that anything else other than the natural order of things is needed to explain us. We aren’t special. We are just another animal on this planet that happens to have a higher intellect. Our ability to self-reflect, make moral decisions, and find fulfillment can all be explained by our evolutionary history. I now had the difficult task of finding that twitter string and sharing this article with that user…whose name has completely escaped me.
Definition: A fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or all people believe it; it alleges that “if many believe so, it is so”.
Have you ever had your parents say “If everyone else jumped off a bridge would you?” I’m sure that drove you nuts as a kid. I know I did for me. There is some truth to this as well. There is a bit of truth to this however. Just because a lot of people believe something to be true doesn’t make it true. First example I can think of is the shape of the earth. Up until about the time of the ancient Greeks people believed the earth was flat (sorry it was well established that the world was spherical when Columbus sailed). Everyone believed the earth to be a flat plane (because that’s how it appears to us from our perspective), that didn’t change the fact that the world was round.
This fallacy is easy to fall into because we want to belong. We want to be like other people so we can fit in. We’ll sometimes even believe things we know are wrong just so we don’t segregate ourselves from people. I know for me I did this for a long while. This is known as cognitive dissonance. It’s hard to break away from this mindset but in order to believe true things (which has become a new goal of mine) we need to watch for these types of mentalities. Logic and reason are some of the tools that I now use to decipher if what I’m believing is true or not.
How do you explain how the universe is so perfect for life?
This is another question I see a lot. There is this notion that the universe is set perfectly in motion and in no other way could life have formed. Some limit this just to life on earth but the same thoughts apply. Firstly the universe is definitely not perfectly tailored for life. In fact the opposite seems true. Most of the universe is space. And it’s huge. “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And there is a lot of nothing in there. Seriously there is of area where nothing can survive. If the universe were made to suit life there would be way more places for us to live. Even in our solar system with it’s 8 planets (sorry Pluto) only one of them has the ability to support human life.
Even looking a just earth there are problems with it being tailored for human life. Three quarters of the planet is covered in water. And then there are places like the poles which have such cold temperatures very little can survive there. Also vasts deserts of nothingness. There a very few places where humans can flourish without bringing in outside resources to sustain them. In fact we wage wars and kill each other for those resources, as they are limited and will eventually run out.
I do grant that there are certainly other places that may harbor life outside our solar system, they are relatively small in number. Yes we are finding more and more possible planets in what seems like everyday however, when you think about the scale of the universe this number is minuscule. In short, no I don’t see a universe being perfect for life. I see a universe where gravity and electromagnetic force control how and where things end up.
Side note: Sorry the late post. Time has gotten away from me this week after the holiday. I hope to get back to regular posts shortly!
So at the ripe and enlightened age of 17 I was expected to pick the course of the rest of my life. Settling on computer science, I began applying to school and really wanted to get into the Rochester Institute of Technology. I applied to a few other schools but this was my dream school. Anxiously I awaited and eventually received my acceptance letter. I was thrilled! My father reviewed the documents and was concerned about the cost. We took a trip to the school and spoke with the financial aide department. Essentially there wasn’t anything they would be able to do about the cost and would need to take out loans for it. When we got back, home my dad essentially told me there was no way I was going to this school and needed to spend two years at community college. I was heartbroken.
I came to call this thirteenth grade. There were a lot of people I went to high school with that went here. I became resentful and didn’t put much effort into school. Instead I spent that time working on trying to become a leader in the church. I started a bible study at the college. I made sure to reserve the room that had the big windows so people could see us in there and might stop and ask about it. Didn’t get a whole lot of response to that. It ended up just being a bible study for the people that went to my church and school. This was also about the same time that I started taking classes at church. They weren’t formal learning but more of a getting to know yourself type thing. I’m realizing now how ineffective it is. Part of it was taking a Myers-Briggs test. When I first took it I was an ENFJ. I took it again a few years ago it had changed drastically to INTJ. After leaving the church I found how unreliable these tests actually are.
Part of my college curriculum required us to take the philosophy of logic. It basically teaches logic gates and how to calculate true/false statements. I found a lot of these portions very interesting and lead me to take a few other philosophy classes, ethics and metaphysics. Ethics was a pretty great class. It got me thinking about how we arrive at what we deem right and wrong. However, I essentially just used it to fill in the gaps of things not directly stated in the bible. Metaphysics was a bit more eye opening. Metaphysics deals with the nature of reality. Things like how do we know we’re not just a brain in a vat being fed memories and sensory inputs. I liked to entertain these types of thought experiments but didn’t put much actual stock into it.
I’ve seen this one a few times out there. People like Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis like to tout this one. He takes it a step further in saying that atheism and those who believe in the theory of evolution are religious and want to kill Christianity by saying they aren’t a religion so they can be taught in schools…yeah so no. But to get back to people who genuinely think that atheism is a religion, no it’s not.
Atheism is an answer to a single question, “Do you believe in a god (or gods)?” There are no tenents of atheism. There are no rules, no dogma, no other unifying factor in it other than a lack of a belief in any god. We don’t meet weekly and study “The God Delusion” or watch old videos of Christopher Hitchens. I’ve heard it explained this way which may be helpful: Atheism is as much of a religion as not stamp collecting is a hobby. My lack of beliefs do not guide my actions, only my beliefs.
We atheists don’t have a club. Most of us disagree on a lot of things. We disagree on whether morality is subjective or objective. We disagree on whether there is free will. There are a lot of things that we don’t have in common. Literally the only idea we share is a lack of a belief in a god. I know I’m repeating this a lot here but this seems to be a huge point of confusion. There are other idea that atheists may gravitate towards such as Secular Humanism but again that’s also not a religion any more than a book club is. The confusion here might just be a paradigm issue. Theists just may not understand that one can live a life without religion.
I coasted through high school doing the least amount of work I could get away with. I began to resent school and wanted only to do “church stuff.” I was easier to me. There were few wrong answer do things and nearly no studying needed. When ever I came across a problem I didn’t know I could just answer “I feel like God is saying…” And that would be the end of it. I absolutely loved playing on the worship team. I replaced a lot of time studying school work with practicing playing guitar.
I think the first time I had any thought of doubt would have been freshman year. That’s the year, in my school, you took earth science. The age of the earth stuff never really bothered me, I hadn’t done the biblical math yet. He did say one thing that stuck with me though. He said “Sorry to break it to you but the water going off your back does so in the exact same pattern as a fish.” I never looked into this but it planted a small seed. In Sophomore year I had read up some on creationism and decided to debate my biology teacher on whether evolution was a real thing. I was indeed brought down from my high horse.
Being one that always enjoyed science,I began to shift my views on some of the teachings of the bible to what science had taught me. Instead of being a staunch “God did” christian, I decided that what ever science finds that “how” god did it. It was easier to maintain my cognitive dissonance that way. Not that I knew what that was before I left religion but I do now 🙂
An appeal to emotion fallacy is something that most people might already be aware of, with out being aware of it. Those Sarah Mclachlan commercials with the dogs. The ones that make you either cry or want to change the channel are a prime example of an appeal to emotion. What this does is to use imagery or stories that stir up an emotional response in people in order to “prove the point”. Sure these may be examples of what is being argued but just because something elicits and emotional response does not lend it to be a sound argument.
What I’m saying here isn’t that we shouldn’t change things because a fallacy is presented. There may be other arguments in there that are valid. In this example I believe we can agree that the mistreatment of animals is wrong. However it’s not wrong because of the images and stories told. It’s wrong because we shouldn’t cause undue suffering on them. There is a whole separate debate on whether or not it’s right to eat animals but that’s not the argument we’re having here.
If you’re looking for a good resource on logical fallacies I recommend YourLogicalFallacyIs.com It’s been great helping me understand what the difference fallacies are and how they are applied.