Friday, October 23, 2009

The History of rational thought and atheism (part 1)

As a request from my reddit readers (in this case DB2) I'm working on this new series on the history of rational thought and atheism. Don't worry, my other series on the 'arguments for god' will still continue.

Strangely enough in almost every history of rational thought or atheism there is one person who almost everyone starts with. Epicurus. While I think Epicurus is a great philosopher and one of the first historically recorded atheist thinkers (though he might have not been an atheist...wait till part 2!). He is not, sadly, the father of rational inquiry. The man who takes that place is Democritus.

Democritus, "chosen of the people"

Why have I started with Democritus instead of Epicurus? Is it his idea of atomics that is eerily similar to our modern thinking? Or maybe it was his belief in equality (though it didn't include slaves and women)? Perhaps it was his ideas on mathematics? or geometry? Or his idea that the world was round? Maybe his generally correct assessment of how early human life was?


His ideas in epistemology though, ah now that reserves him the place in the history book of rational thought. Democritus's idea was that we had only a subjective view on an objective world. While we will never be sure that what we observes is actually real, our thoughts and logic can be used to determine what is real.

While I must disagree with his conclusion on logic (concluding that logic is proscriptive rather then descriptive is a no no!). He still holds an important place in the history of rational thinking. Until this time no one had actually pointed out that the world was objective and that our experience of it was subjective. This seems obvious to us now but even in that time people had argued, and apparently convincingly so, that reality itself could be subjective.

Democritus truly placed the foundational stone of rational thought, without this first steady(ish) concept to work from no skeptical rational inquiry can proceed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You did what now?

SOooooo, I've been gone for a while now. What exactly have I been working on?

Well I just started a new programming project at work. We all know how crazy that can get.

I just started to work on my Masters degree in computer science. Fun.

I'm hard at work on my (currently private soon to go public) open source emulator/debug framework called Anvil.

Lately I have been taking a bit of down time to improve my art (dorodango's), mine are good, but not THIS good.

I haven't forgotten my love of arguing with creationists and theists, oh no!
I've just been head butting on reddit and other sites a great deal.

Like here, or here and if you like LONG debates, well I got two for you: here oh and for a VERY long

I'm not gone. I'm just insane. Expect a new post here Friday night. My current plan is to 'enlist' the reddit community to decide my next rambling rant!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Kantian Argument Revisited

Previously I dissected the Kantian argument, and I got more then one response saying I had misrepresented what Kant had been trying to say. Fair enough, that is completely true. Kant was not trying to show that god existed, it was only later that people had modified his argument and used it in this way. So today I will dissect Kant's original argument, and why I think it is still less then satisfactory.

Kant and rational morality

In Kant's original argument he was not trying to show that god exists, oh no! instead Kant was trying to show that if your going to be moral AND rational you must also believe in god, or in other words, to be moral and an atheists is irrational.

so Kant's (roughly translated) original argument goes:

"The highest good is where moral virtue and happiness coincide, and morality is the pursuit of this highest good. In the world we inhabit it's not possible for this highest good to exist, because wicked people prosper and good people suffer, etc. If it's not possible for the highest good to exist, then it's not rational to pursue it - ie, morality is irrational. Therefore, in order for morality to be rational, we must believe in god"

Kant is basically saying that while god may not exist, we must act as if he does and that he will punish us for failure to act properly because only with this belief can we act morally and still be rational.

Note the direction of the argument's thrust. Notice it is not god Kant attempts to prove, nor that atheists are irrational, nor even that god is required for morality (an implied premise), instead he attempts to argue that if we wish to be moral and be rationaly consistent we must strive to believe in god as well. His reasoning is that unless we have punishment for our actions hanging over our heads the only rational choices are amoral ones, which leaves us either moral and irrational or amoral and rational. A devilish (false) dichotomy.

The problem is that it's easy enough to show that people are moral without god, this leads to one of two conclusions. Either people can be moral and rational when there is no god, or the vast majority of people will act morally even over rationality. As the second conclusion seems very unlikely (as rationality and morality has tended to go hand in hand), the first conclusions seems to be correct which means there is a problem in Kant's argument. It's easy to see where as well.


My behavior modifies the behaviors of others. if I wish the behaviors of others to be good towards me then I must act in such a way to modify their behavior to my benefit. We call this moral behavior. It is purely rational to act in such a way to cause others to act in a way I like. The 'moral behavior' to be used depends on the context of the society I live in but this doesn't hurt the argument, in fact it enhances it.

The argument misses intent, the intent of moral behavior is not to make your life a wonder and get everything you want...that is simply a fantasy that very few can achieve (even if they take the route of pure selfishness and attempt to lie and cheat and steal), SOME can...but by far the majority can not. Instead the majority of people take the rational moral route because that is the only route that will afford them gaining some of what they want...namely to be treated decently within the society.

Kant's mistake is that he attempts to disconnect my actions from your behavior. My actions modify your behavior. If you ignore this factor then of course not lying and not cheating and not stealing and the rest of morality will not work and the rational choice is to cheat and lie and steal...because as the argument is presented it makes sense to get what you can. With the factor of society it's easy to see how the entire interconnection works.

Think of it as comparing a child's morality to an adults.

A child needs to know that his actions have consequences. Those consequences are presented through an authority figure. The reason is simple. A child can't understand or even conceive of the complex interactions of give and take of moral behavior in a society. The child doesn't understand that being bad leads to bad results because others will be more likely to do the same to the child needs to know there is an authority figure that will hand down justice.

An adult has a more developed morality and does not need the authority figure to met out justice for crimes or proper behavior. Unfortunately because of the childhood past the mental authority figure model of morality is deeply entrenched mentally but only because that is the only formally presented moral structure. When someone talks about morality this is how a person actually thinks about it. But when we are forced to make a moral decision we rely more on our day to day experience. The schoolyard interactions. The daily 'tit for tat' of work and school. I'm good to others because they will be good to me if I am. If I am unfair to them they will be unfair to me (when they can).

Kant's argument devolves to more steps but it is still the same:

I can't see how you can understand morality in any way but with a moral figure, people are rational, it is irrational to be moral if there is no moral figure to enforce justice (or at least it's irrational to be moral if you do not BELIEVE in such a moral figure), therefore god exists (or at least it is rational to believe god exists).

Other parts to this series:
Arguments for god...kind of (Part 2) - The Kantian Moral Argument.
Arguments for god...kind of (Part 1) - Pascal's Wager.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Arguments for god...kind of (Part 2) - The Kantian Moral Argument

Besides the comment 'what if you are wrong' the next most common response to atheism is 'then why are you good?'. This is a laymen version of a moral argument, a class of god arguments that claim morality comes from god and hence god must exist.
The Kantian moral argument, named for Immanual Kant, argues that morality is only rational if there is a god, and since people are moral and rational there must be a god!

The Kant argument is as follows:
  1. Moral behavior is rational.
  2. Morality behavior is only rational if justice will be done.
  3. Justice will only be done if God exists.
  1. God exists.
There are some serious issues with this argument but I want to consider each of them in parts.

Moral behavior is only rational if justice will be done.

Rationality must be considered in relation to goals.
Is it rational to step in front of a bus?
Is it rational to step in front of a bus if you are trying to save a child?
without the goal the rationality of the action is in question. with the goal the rationality is clear. If the goal of your morals is to treat others with respect and courtesy and receive the same in kind then it is absolutely rational to behave morally, irrespective of if a god exists to enforce pain on those who reject that behavior themselves.

A moral code need not be perfect or always working, it only needs to work well enough to insure propagation of the moral code within the society it exists in.
All societies have a social norm that states that murder unrestrained is bad, the reason for this is simple. Societies which allow for unrestrained murder fail to propagate and die out.
Societies which have concepts of self ownership also have rules about theft. Even in cultures without a concept of self ownership there is the concept of communal ownership and the rights of the community over the individuals need. these moral codes develop because of the communities needs and previous cultural codes and mores.

Justice will only be done if God exists.

Notice the inherent argument from consequence in this statement. The statement is a blatant attempt to convince the listener that without god, or at least the belief in god, that morality will break down. but the question becomes, why hasn't it then? There are plenty of nonbelievers, and even non-believing majority countries. why are these countries still standing?
Worse then this though is the subtle implication in this whole argument. the implied consequence of 'without my god I would steal, rape, and murder' a claim more then one theist has actually made. This shows that the person making the argument is only as moral as the consequences require them to be. Without big daddy standing over them, without a stick they would break everyones toys.

That is not morality.

There are other issues with this argument, mainly the implied postulates which are either incorrect in part, unlikely, or false entirely.

Implied postulates:
  • There is an objective moral code.
  • Everyone knows what this moral code is.
  • This god is of religion X, of type Z.
The implication of an objective moral code is required because if there is no objective moral code, then god can't give it to us. There are a few problems with an objective moral code. I will touch on that in a later post.

The second implied postulate is worse then all of the rest because simple observation will show that not everyone has the same moral code, and even worse, that some people are physically and psychologically unable to know some of these moral codes. It is literally imposable for someone who is a psychopath by the clinical definition to have a conscious, they can pretend and act like everyone else, but they truly can not comprehend emotionally and viscerally why moral behavior is good.

Lastly, this argument even if it was correct says nothing about which god, or what this moral code is! Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

The only thing this would say is that some god, somewhere, of some type, with some properties of some type, will punish people for not following some moral code this god has provided. None of this tells you which moral codes are from humans and which from the god, none of this tells you if the god in question is informed before it makes said decision, etc etc.

If you accept the implied components then, sure it works to support your god....but wasn't the point supposed to be to convince ME?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Arguments for god....kind of (Part 1) - Pascal's Wager

One of the first things that happens when someone realizes you are an atheist is they usually try to argue about the existence of god. That is, of course, if you are living in a country where the result is not shunning, torture, or death. But in most modern first world countries the first reaction is an argument, most commonly Pascal's wager.

The simplest form of Pascal's, and by far the most often used, is the simple phrase 'what if you are wrong?', which is fair enough I suppose. It is after all a real true concern. If atheism is wrong, and Christianity is correct then the result is infinitely bad. the problem is that this argument can be assigned to Christianity as well, what if you are wrong and Judaism is right? or Hinduism? or Islam? or any other number of religions? What if Christianity is right, but you have the wrong sect? After all there are more then thirty two thousand different sects of Christianity alone, and most of them say every other kind is going to hell!

The reason this all sounds so bad is because of the conditions of the argument. When we measure the danger of something we consider two parts, the risk, and the hazard. Now the risk is the chance of something happening. The hazard is how dire the results are. The way Pascal's wager works is to first assume there is but one form of religion that is valid (though one would assume that would actually be the conclusion we where trying to reach, oh well), next we set the hazard to infinity. Once the hazard of something is infinite the risk can be infinitely small but as long as it's not zero then we should always err on the side of caution. Brilliant!

But of course one must first show that the hazard is infinite, as well as that the risk is not zero, and that the correct religion is selected. but the point of course was to show that god exists (or at least that it's smart to believe in him) in which case the hazard would be infinite and that....well you see the circle there.

and this is but the simplest form of the argument! the full form of the argument presented by pascal is:
  1. It is possible that the Christian God exists and it is possible that the Christian God does not exist.
  2. If one believes in the Christian God then if he exists then one receives an infinitely great reward and if he does not exist then one loses little or nothing.
  3. If one does not believe in the Christian God then if he exists then one receives an infinitely great punishment and if he does not exist then one gains little or nothing.
  4. It is better to either receive an infinitely great reward or lose little or nothing than it is to either receive an infinitely great punishment or gain little or nothing.
  1. It is better to believe in the Christian God than it is not to believe in the Christian God.
  2. If one course of action is better than another then it is rational to follow that course of action and irrational to follow the other.
  1. It is rational to believe in the Christian God and irrational not to believe in the Christian God.

This argument rests on some pretty strange grounds.

First, let us assume that an omnipotent, omniscient god exists just for the sake of argument. Do you think this god would like that you believe in him simply because you where playing the odds? Can you even believe simply because it is in your best interests? I can't believe I'm going to win the lottery just because I think it's in my best interests to win. But then maybe I'm lacking in imagination, or mental fortitude or something.

The next point that needs to be raised is that while there is really only two options, the Christian god exists, or the Christian god does not exists. this does not mean both options are equally likely! It would be just as silly to argue that there is only two ways to die, by train wreck or not by train wreck, so you should not take the train.
The point of Pascal's wager was to show that it is rational to believe in the Christian god simply because it is likely the results would be bad for you if you do not, but the premise of the argument requires you to give equal likely hood to god existing, which is what the conclusion needs to show!

Now I don't believe in strong atheism, that is to say, I don't believe that god doesn't exist, I think it's possible that god exists, I just think it's so insanely unlikely that we might as well be arguing that pink unicorns exist. they are possible also. It's just they are not probable. That is my view with god as well. it's just so unlikely that it's nearly laughable.

Given that I think that the risk here is insanely low but not zero, that part of the risk assessment is satisfied for me. I believe it is possible god could exist. which means that all that needs to be satisfied to hold Pascal's wager to be solid (for me) is that there is the one true faith and it's some form of Christianity, that the punishment for not believing is hell, and that hell is infinitely bad and lasts infinitely long. Now when someone provides evidence for hell and for a particular form of Christianity I will start to believe...but then again, I would start to believe if you had provided some form of evidence to show there is a one true faith of Christianity because god is a component of Christianity.

why then, did they need Pascal's wager again?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Chick tracts. evil? oh yes.

So I got back from another bus ride with a new chick tract in hand. I collect these silly bit of apologetics fluff. I think of them as apologetics lite, for those who can't be bothered to read the dumb down claims, we have the dumber version.

So I posted on Reddit about my new find and that I had this 'oh so brilliant' idea of pointing out the logical fallacies, the inconsistencies and basic sillyness in them....then someone posted a copy of 'Lisa'.

This. is. evil.

This is why I hate religion so much. below you will find a copy of 'Lisa', I plan to eventually do a full critiquing of this (and all the chick tracks I can get a hold of) but please notice that this one has a man committing an evil act, a 'wise older man' cliché explaining his error....and then nothing else happens to this man for his acts! thats it! the cliché older man must have not reported this!!?!?! This doesn't need satire or critique. This needs to be read, then simply let the horror flow into you.

I'm sorry for the bad quality of these, if anyone, anywhere, has a better version of this please email me and I will get it put up. but as it is it should be readable.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm closed minded because I....think?

It's a common claim every atheist who has ever spoken out about religion must eventually receive. I think it's actually in the theist hand book or something:

"You are closed minded!"

The real annoying part about this claim is the blatant hypocrisy of it.

I considered the claims of religion and have found the relevant claims either unlikely, impossible, or unsupported. That is not being closed minded. That is being the very definition of open minded!

I believe my beliefs are correct because if I did not, I wouldn't hold those beliefs, I would hold some other set of beliefs. I know my beliefs have been incorrect in the past, this means I could also be incorrect about my current beliefs.

Any other position is intellectual dishonesty.

But to change my beliefs you must provide evidence before I will accept it. Since I can be fooled I require real evidence before I will change my stance from the default of 'I do not believe the claim pending further evidence.' to 'I believe the claim pending further evidence.'

This is what it means to be open minded.

It doesn't mean you simply accept a claim without evidence, it means you consider it in light of the evidence.

The god claim is possible, but not probable.