Friday, September 4, 2015

Most Carefullest Thinker at Biola University

Thanks to Jeff Shallit's blog Recursivity for pointing out this gem.

In it, philosophy professor J. P. Moreland explains that "It's important that Christians be able to think very deeply and carefully". Which I find amusing, since his explanation for consciousness is that God has always been conscious, so He just gave us some of His. In other words, magic. Great, glad that's settled! Any other profound mysteries you want solved? Just send them to the deep and careful thinkers at Biola U.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Pascal Lectures: How to Arrive at the Conclusion You Want

I attended the second Pascal Lecture given by Dr. John Lennox. It was entitled, "Do Science and Miracles Mix?" I got very little out of this lecture. The best I can gather is this... The laws of nature are like the laws of the country; they don't always have to be obeyed. He repeated his joke about some money missing from his hotel-room bedside table, asking if the laws of nature were broken, or the laws of Canada.

He pointed out that inference doesn’t give us any certain knowledge. Moreover, if the human brain is a result of natural laws, then we can’t trust its conclusion that such natural laws cannot be broken. Too bad he didn't get around to answering the question I posed the previous night, "Just because the mind cannot be trusted (as it's a product of nature), why would one assume that it doesn't have ANY useful thoughts?" That would have helped a lot.

I was expecting to hear advice on how to weigh the evidence of miracles against alternative explanations. Instead, we were taught that once you see enough of what you want to see, that’s sufficient. To those who DO know about human psychology, this is called “confirmation bias”.

He demonstrated by example, illustrating some delusional contortions when he talked about the immaculate conception of John the Baptist, referring to Luke 1. Suppose you are given a story about immaculate conception.

Option 1: The explanation of adultery -- while unsavoury -- fits with our observations of pretty much every primate species, including humans. If you think of us as animals (as our common biology with the great apes would suggest) then it all makes sense. Discard this theory.

Option 2: Or, you can do like Dr. Lennox and take the wishful-thinking approach, latching onto "hints" that the immaculate conception is true. That is, you can suppose there is an imaginary line drawn in the roughly 5% of DNA that separates us from the chimps, and helpfully conclude that our motivations come from a magical man in the sky, while all other animals are simply meat robots. This theory is preferred.

If you ask me, option 2 is the ultimate in self-centred ignorance. But then again, not everyone wants to face the possibility that their wife might have cheated on them. Some would rather be deluded.

He said something to the effect of, "You can trust your reason, or use it. I prefer to trust my God, but use my reason." Too bad that using your reason about God would corner you into many logical contradictions.

The talk followed the familiar pattern of being front-loaded with technical-sounding content, but finished off with emotionally-laden stories and testimonies.

Dr. Lennox shared with us his own miracle. He was on a train, and gave a Russian Bible he happened to have to some Russian people. It turns out they appreciated it. Really?! That's IT?! He qualifies it with "I leave you to judge." Okay, if I'm the judge... major FAIL!

During the question period, he addressed the scary consequences of what society will be like without the influence of Christianity. He said, "Just wait a year, and we'll see." He said that new laws go against the law of God, and that you can get any morality you like by studying animals. This is just an empty scare tactic for the feeble-minded.

He said he's asked his scientist friends, "Why don't you believe in God." He claims it has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with experience. In other words, "Silly scientist friend, you can't just WILL yourself to believe in God. You have to hand control over to your emotions for that. Let your subcortical limbic system (common to all mammals) dictate your worldview, just like squirrels do."

We were invited to submit questions via SMS text messages. I submitted one,
Are you familiar with recent research on the fallibility of memory? How can we put so much weight on a form of testimony that has been shown to falsely convict many people, even over a time span of hours or days?
I'll take it as a miracle that neither of the questions I posed (over the two talks I attended) were addressed.

Full disclosure: My opinions here might have been amplified by the audiobook I'm currently listening to, "The Witness Wore Red" by Rebecca Musser. It exposes the patriarchal, dictatorial control tactics and abuses of the polygamous Mormons, the FLDS. Great book if you want to see how religion can distort and manipulate. If not... well, you know what to do.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Stephen C. Meyer has it wrong

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer is the director of the Discovery Institute's Centre for Science and Culture, and is a regular guest on the Michael Medved Show's weekly Science & Culture Update (that should probably be "weakly Science..."). It's a show where Michael proclaims that America is the "greatest country on God's green earth", and they moan about how big-science is bullying intelligent design (ID), and that science is closed-minded because it limits itself to only natural causes. People call in desperately trying to educate Dr. Meyer on why ID is not science. It amazes me that Dr. Meyer has a Ph.D. from Cambridge in Philosophy of Science, and yet can't see how allowing magic into the scientific discourse would cause problems.

He insists that ID is not just a negative case of pointing how evolution is an insufficient explanation, but that ID is a positive scientific statement, "based on what we know, not on what we don't know". He says,
there is a cause of which we know that is capable of building the kind of information that we see arising in the history of life, in the Cambrian period, for example. And that cause is intelligence.
Dr. Meyer likes to say that he bases his conclusions on a standard method of scientific reasoning, called "inference to the best explanation".
Darwin had a principle of reasoning that he also used which was called the vera causa principle. The idea is that when you're trying to explain an event in the remote past you should look for causes that are now in operation, causes that are known to produce the effect in question. Well, as I was studying that in graduate school I asked myself the question, What is the cause now in operation that produces digital code, that produces circuitry? And the answer from our uniform and repeated experience is intelligence.
From that, he concludes that an intelligent being created life and the universe.

Here's the problem. According to his logic, we should conclude that humans created life and the universe, since our uniform and repeated experience tells us that humans create digital code and circuitry. We certainly have no uniform and repeated experience of gods creating digital code. Nor do we have any uniform and repeated experience of unembodied intelligent agents designing circuits. Just humans.

So, by Dr. Meyer's logic, we should conclude that humans created life and the universe. Done.

You'll be relieved to hear that this logic is faulty. No, you are not responsible for creating yourself and all your friends.

Dr. Meyer implies that the best explanation of the order we see in the universe is intelligence. But why is that the best explanation? Who says? I admit that it's satisfying in an intuitive sense... we deal with intelligent agents all the time (other people), so what's the problem with adding just one more?

However, the universe is not there to satisfy our intuitions. It can contradict our intuitions quite happily, thank you very much. So, intuitions aside, how might we gauge a good vs. bad explanation? Probability. The most probable explanation could be considered the best explanation.

Question: What is the probability that an unembodied, timeless intelligent agent created the universe and designed the life therein?

Answer: Hard to say, since we really have no basis for comparison.

Question: What is the probability that humans mistakenly believe the universe was created by an intelligent agent?

Answer: Well, on this topic we have lots of data. Human psychology is full of examples of delusion, many of them clearly anthropomorphic in nature. Humans used to believe that thunder and lightning were the gods getting angry. Those who believe they've seen aliens usually draw them as humanoid. Look at all the different religions, each with its own human-like god (or gods). It's clear that humans are susceptible to anthropomorphic delusions.

Darwin showed us that information and design can emerge by natural causes.

So, what is your inference to the best explanation? A magic, invisible, unembodied, intelligent creator? Or the operation of natural causes, viewed through a distorted human lens?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Discovery Institute's Wet Dream

I've been listening to I, Charles Darwin on the podcast Intelligent Design the Future. It's a novella written by Nickell John Romjue. The premise is interesting, that Charles Darwin is magically brought back to the world to see how his theory changed history. He tours through space and time, and -- of course -- concludes that modern science has it all wrong.

I disagree with the book's portrayal of Darwin. It puts words in his mouth, words that he would never say, in my humble opinion.

For example, when he finds out about the Nazi holocaust, he's sad that his theory of evolution by natural selection has lead to eugenics.

Yah, his theory lead to eugenics in the same sense that particle physics lead to the atomic bomb. The science is not the problem. Sociopolitical policy is the problem. Science doesn't make bombs; people make bombs.

The whole series is a wet dream for those who don't want to believe in evolution. It's like me writing a book in which Jesus comes back to Earth and says, "Hey man, I was just joking! I'm not the son of God. There is no god!"

Based on his books, I would expect Darwin to be an atheist if he were alive today. He posited that because all living things are related, they differ only in degrees, not in fundament. His book The Descent of Man was even more direct, applying the theory of evolution to humans. It outlines the ways in which humans are animals, and how our evolutionary heritage shaped what we are today. This is a message that many religious people do NOT want to hear because it contradicts the explanations offered by holy books.

The novella, I, Charles Darwin is simply a wishful-thinking propaganda tool for the religious right-wing. It's pure fiction.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Debunking Douglas Groothuis' Argument

On April 5, 2013, Jeff Shallit pointed out a blog post by Douglas Groothuis, a Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. Prof. Groothuis' post was entitled "A Moral Case Against Darwinism". Here is an executive summary of Prof. Groothuis' argument.
  1. If evolution is true, then there is no philosophical basis for objective and universal human rights
Admittedly, the full argument is longer, but unnecessarily so, in my opinion. I actually agree with that statement.

But then he continues, asserting that statement (1) above is false. What I think he means is that the conclusion is false, since he says there IS a philosophical basis for objective and universal human rights.

And according to the rules of logic,
Given A->B
And ~B
We conclude ~A
In other words, the premise evolution is true is incorrect, and we conclude that evolution is false.

His rationale for rejecting the conclusion is that
Our moral intuitions and the history of Western law treat every human being, irrespective of race, as possessing intrinsic human dignity and must be treated as such.
It's true, we tend to have such intuitions and laws. But it does not negate the conclusion. Laws about equality are not a definitive philosophical basis for objective and universal human rights. Such laws can exist despite there being no philosophical basis.

And that leads me to my second point. Prof. Groothuis actually claims that an if-then statement is false. The logical negation of an if-then statement A->B is (A and ~B). That is, A is true, but B is false. This is basic logic.

Negating statement (1) means that evolution is true and there IS a philosophical basis for human rights.

However, I highly doubt that's what Groothuis means, since he's trying to show that evolution is false.

I submitted a comment to his blog, but unfortunately Prof. Groothuis said he "can't find the comments to post them". I guess things have changed since January 17th when he did post the comments on his blog.

So I thought I'd help him out by posting my own critique on my own blog. I wonder if Prof. Groothuis will respond on his blog?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Intelligent Design - Is it science?

I'm so excited about this talk scheduled for Thursday March 28, 5:30pm. The lecture is organized by AAFW, the Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers of Waterloo.

Prof. Jonathan Witt will be speaking. He is a professor in biology.

You can find out more on the facebook event page.

Will I see you there?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

God and Reason part 8: "The Next Step"

I attended the 8th, and last lecture of the God and Reason course. This one was focussed on "The Next Step". Prof. John North spoke again, and his talk was very easy to listen to, very engaging.

The talk was really a bunch of stories tied together with a few concepts. That's a great way to get a message across... I really want to learn from these. But the appropriateness of that style depends, perhaps, on what your message is. If your goal is to outline a sequence of facts in the derivation of a proof, then the stories -- while entertaining -- will slow you down too much. But if your goal is to convey a more intuitive message, stories are the way to go.

And that leads me to my overall impression of this lecture series.

It seems obvious now that the series was not meant as a scientific or critical appraisal of Christianity, but rather as an exercise in persuasion. The talks tended to be short statements of opinion interleaved with emotionally-charged stories, sprinkled with scant cherry-picked facts thrown in for good measure. This is not how we discover truth, but rather an effective way to sway opinion. In many respects, they might as well have been up there extolling the virtues of Coca Cola over Pepsi. Really! Just swap out any reference to the Bible or God, and replace each with something about secret recipes and personal taste.

Here is an example of the persuasive argument. Prof. North started to push our guilt button in this talk. He made everyone feel guilty for having so much opportunity (yes, we are lucky to live in Canada). He told a story about Ethiopian Christians trying to escape through Sudan, some being caught in Egypt and sent to be tortured. He said that we are all guilty of sin and that without forgiveness guilt will destroy us. He offered no evidence for that assertion, but merely stated it as incontrovertible fact. The solution, according to Prof. North, is to give yourself to Jesus, since the only punishment big enough for our sins is Jesus' death on the cross.

The Ethiopian story is very scary, true. But what does it have to do with the question of God's existence? If anything, that story tells me that we need to stop people from seeing the world through the lens of their own religion. We all share a common humanity. We do NOT all share the same religion.

It is my understanding that a public university like Waterloo should exercise critical thinking in all of its sanctioned activities. This course did not achieve that standard. Instead, it was an exercise in persuasion, promoting a single ideology. This is a course I'd happily fail.