Monday, April 25, 2011

Arithmetic fail

Looking through a book about 100 with Heather, we came across this page.

Let's recap.

3 + 7 = 10


30 + 80 = 100

Any questions?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Craig vs Harris debate: Does Good Come From God

I listened to this debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris. Here is the first of 9 YouTube installments...

My thoughts...

Dr. Craig is a good debater. However, I disagree with most of what he said. For example, he said that the existence of God guarantees objective morals. That's not at all obvious to me. God could have simply decided that he wouldn't bother making objective morals. The Deist outlook, for example, is that God set the universe in motion (with physical laws, etc), and simply stands back to watch what happens.

Most of Dr. Craig's arguments seemed to be based on semantics.
God is intrinsically good.
Thus, good must come from God.

That's a simplified version, but captures the circular nature of the argument. I'm not buying it.

The real question is does the absence of God necessarily mean that there are no objective morals. Dr. Craig says "no". I agree with that.

And this is where Dr. Harris and I disagree. He claims that objective morals CAN come from natural causes. His book, The Moral Landscape, tries to make that argument. While I agree with almost everything that he says in the book, I don't agree that there is a universal, absolute way to define good and bad, or right and wrong. One of his arguments asks us to consider the universe with the worst possible misery for everyone. To him, this establishes a global anchoring point, and any move from that universe will result in less misery, and therefor be good. Though I haven't nailed it down yet, I feel that there is something wrong with this line of reasoning. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that -- no matter how bad the universe is -- I can always imagine a universe that's worse.

I cringe when I hear Dr. Harris authoritatively state things like female genital mutilation is objectively and universally wrong. It's not that I think genital mutilation is a good idea... I don't. But my reasoning is not motivated by a universal moral; it's based on my emotions. I would hate to see anyone subjected to that kind of torture, but that doesn't make it objectively wrong. It just feels subjectively wrong to me.

I routinely mutilate the bodies of other living organisms when I eat. Does that make me bad? Should I stop eating? And the rightness or wrongness of killing someone always seems to depend on the circumstances; were you defending yourself? These questions of morals always seem to hinge on your point of view. To me, that suggests that there are no objective morals.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My first sermon

On Sunday morning, I gave a 20-minute talk during the service of the First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo. My talk was entitled "Beliefs on Trial". My main point was that we cannot trust our own subjective impressions. There are many cognitive traps that we fall into, and they can lead us to believe in things that just aren't true. I gave a number of examples, including optical illusions, confirmation bias, and change blindness. Here is a video I showed, courtesy of Prof. Richard Wiseman.

The people there were very nice, and I really enjoyed myself. If I were a church person, THIS is the congregation I would belong to.

It's kind of a strange thing... many of the members are atheists and agnostics. And yet the service starts out with "Call to Worship". Begging the question, worship who?!

My sense is that this kind of church is meant for those who have rejected the other supernatural forms of religion (ie. ones that explicitly worship a supernatural God). But not going to church left a hole, so the Unitarian church is a way to have the community of a church, but without the guilt, hell and blind faith of most religions.

I thought my talk went well, and many nice folks approached me afterward saying that they enjoyed it. I appreciate that.

I had some interesting discussions after the service. In particular, I ended up talking to a woman who said she was a physician and a therapist. We talked about beliefs and how science does not know everything. True enough. But when the conversation turned to homeopathy, it came out that she is a believer. I said that there is no known mechanism for water memory. She retorted that "water memory" was just a place-holder description for an as-of-yet undiscovered phenomenon. That may be true. But there's still no evidence that it does anything. She seemed convinced that homeopathy works. But I reminded her of the main point of my talk, that it's easy for us to fall into the psychological traps and believe in the untrue. I was happy that someone else in the conversation saw things from my perspective.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Looks like Johnny Depp to me

Check out this image of the face of Jesus that appeared in a cheese pizza in Brisbane.You can buy it on eBay. Though, you can probably get a slice of pizza and a better photo of Johnny Depp for less.