Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Conversations with God?

Over at the web site Belief Net they have a survey on peoples' conversations with God. http://www.beliefnet.com/story/200/story_20001_1.html

Then the responder is permitted to leave a comment to the question: In your conversation with God, what would you ask him? What follows are my questions to God.

Regarding the Old Testament. Why did you kill the innocent first born sons of Egypt for the wrong doing of their fathers? Why did you order and permit the Israelites to slaughter innocents in war, leaving only the virgins to live and be taken as captive wives? Wasn't that totally immoral?

Regarding the New Testament. Why does your son say that because I simply don't believe in you, I am morally equivalent to people who do some of the most immoral things, and that I will go to hell for my disbelief? Why do you tell me to honor my parents in the 10 commandments, but then your son Jesus says that I should hate my mother and father, and other family members?

Why don't you really make any coherent sense about anything?

Hello! Innocent children are suffering and dying of AIDS and malnutrition in places like Africa. If you are the perfectly good God that supposedly exists, why don't you do something about it? Are you really just a liar and an evil God? ANSWER ME DAMN IT!

To my dear readers, I will let you know if I get any response to these questions from God. Check back soon. Well, no, wait. If you are really curious about God's possible responses take your time. I don't anticipate a hasty response. However, do check back soon for new posts.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Prager’s God of the Gaps, A Plea for an Exemption

This post is in response to an "Ultimate Issues Hour" segment entitled "Who made God" on the Dennis Prager radio show, September 12th 2006, and can be listened to here.

Dear Mr. Prager,
Recently on your program during the "Ultimate Issues Hour" you took the position that because the universe exists, then a creator God must have "made it". You claim that this is a very powerful argument for the existence of God. You assert that the claim that "the universe made itself" is absurd. Furthermore, you characterized the objection in the form of a question "Who made God?" as a non-sensical one.

I have several objections. First, is the language employed. The word "made" implies active, creative, and conscious activity. To say that the universe "made itself" is indeed non-sensical. IF God exists, and it created the universe then the word "made" is appropriate. An atheist should not propose that the universe "made itself". Indeed, nothing can "make itself". But of course your use of these particular phrases is a way to stack the deck in your favor. Instead the atheist should propose that the universe came into being by natural processes, or that the universe is "self-caused".

If the theist argues that the existence of the universe requires a creator, why should the skeptic grant the theist an exemption for the explanation of God's existence? Simply because the theist defines God as something that "just is" and always has been, not requiring explanation? Why is this necessarily superior to the assumption that the universe "just-is", self-caused and came into being through natural processes? I argue that the only things exempt from explanation are imaginary things that do not actually exist. If you claim this, then the exemption is granted.

The concept of God is a total mystery. Theists typically claim that God is a non-material being, but a conscious "spirit" being. The word "spirit" is used to speak of disembodied (non-material) consciousness. Nobody has demonstrated the existence of "spirit" or given an adequate account of the possibility of its existence. There is only speculation of the existence of "spirit" in theology and other forms of religious thought.

On the other hand, as it now stands, cognitive sciences have revealed that consciousness, "the mind", is dependent on the material activity of the brain. Although it is not well understood exactly how consciousness arises from the electro-chemical activity of the material brain, scientists are working on this problem. We should not assume that they will never solve the problem of consciousness.

Is it possible that a special being (a God) with conciousness, a mind, but without a brain can exist? A disembodied mind? I think it is doubtful, and there is no reason to assume it true.

As to how the universe came into being, a simpler hypothesis with fewer assumptions is preferable to a more complex hypothesis with more assumptions. The hypothesis that the universe came into being by means of natural processes, without an external cause requires the universe, and the assumption that it is self-caused. The God hypothesis requires the universe, the assumption of God, and the assumption that God is self-caused. The latter hypotheses is obviously more complex, and assumes the existence of a mysterious entity not demonstrated to exist.

One often hears the argument that something cannot come from nothing. Therefore, a God must be the source of the something, the universe. But why should we permit the assumption that a God can come from nothing? Or that God has always been?

You, Dennis Prager, object that science does not have an answer to what proceeded and caused the Big-Bang which brought the universe into being. Indeed, science does not have the answers to every question that can be asked, and it may never have ALL the answers.

However, that does not mean that religious answers to these questions are by default correct. This is the "God of the gaps" argument that pretends to answer these questions. The theists should not be able to set up the rules that support their desired conclusion, and then declare that these rules are not relevant when the same rules can be used to question their premises and desired conclusion.

You, (Prager) claim that the question "Who made God?" is a non-sensical question. Perhaps so; but only to the extent that the concept of a God that is outside of time, space, and nature is equally non-sensical.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gore is a Hypocrite! So What? Fallacious Tricks of a Conservative Pundit

Peter Schweizer, Author of Do as I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, and a "research fellow at the Hoover Institution" recently had a column published in USA Today (8-10-06) entitled Gore Isn't Quite as Green as He's Led the World to Believe. The article is available here http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2006-08-09-gore-green_x.htm at least for the time being.

As might be expected from the titles of Schweizer's book and column, the piece is devoted to exposing Gore for being an environmental hypocrite. Schweizer opens with paraphrases and quotes from the web site and film An Inconvenient Truth. (I have yet to see the film so I can't comment on their veracity). Apparently Gore is imploring his fellow U.S. and world citizen's to embrace a "carbon-neutral lifestyle" like he has allegedly done himself, so as to help slow down and hopefully reverse the trend of global warming. That is we should drive less, drive more fuel efficient cars, use less energy in the home etc..

Citing public records Schweizer goes on to claim that Gore is not living up to his recommendations. He has three homes, and has not signed up to pay a few extra pennies to use and support wind generated power. Gore also owns large stock holdings in Occidental Petroleum and receives royalties from a zinc mine. So there you have it, Gore is an environmentalist hypocrite. And maybe he is.

Schweizer states, "The issue here is not simply Gore's hypocrisy; its a question of his credibility". If he believes that global warming is the threat he says it is, why has he not taken the measures he recommends to the rest of us?

Perhaps he is a little to set in his ways? While yes, it would be better if Al Gore followed his own recommendations, it really doesn't matter.

To illustrate, imagine you are a 40-50 year old overweight male. You smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, eat donuts for breakfast, fast-food for lunch, and for dinner frequent your favorite steak house for a thick juicy T-bone, baked potato, and you don't skimp on the butter and sour cream. You don't exercise and are out of breath after one flight of stairs.

You go to your doctor for a check-up. He alerts you to the fact that you are in big trouble and on the road to a heart attack. He advises you to quit smoking ASAP, urges you to go on one of those "heart healthy" diets, and to start a very light exercise regimen. Anything more strenuous would likely provoke the heart attack you hope to avoid.

That evening over dinner at the steak house you tell your friend what your doctor told you. Coincidentally, you spy your doctor at the other side of the room. He sits there reclining while taking a long drag from his after dinner cigarette. Your friend, whose name is Peter Schweizer, exclaims, "that doctor is a hypocrite and his credibility is in question, if he thinks that your diet and smoking are slowly killing you, why does he do the same? I wouldn't worry too much about your health".

Now you should ask yourself, did your doctor base his assessment of your health, and recommendations for improvement on the best available medical science? Probably so. Is your doctor a hypocrite? Does it even matter? No it does not. I would worry more about both the moral integrity or reasoning skills of your nay-saying friend.

As for the case of Al Gore and the film An Inconvenient Truth we should ask the following questions. Are the claims of the film an honest portrayal of the consensus of the scientific community who study climate change? Is global warming an empirical fact? If it is, does the theory offered by climatologists to explain this global warming seem plausible. That is, has the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities within the last one-hundred and fifty years produced excessive green house gasses, that have in turn raised average global temperatures? What are the predicted consequences of global warming? How grave are they? Are they serious enough that we should take measures to slow down and hopefully reverse the global warming trend?

It is true that there are scientists, apparently a minority, who claim that it is uncertain the extent to which human actions are causing global warming. They may also be skeptical of the predicted consequences. There may be uncertainty around various issues of global warming, but that is a poor excuse for not taking action. In fact, the existence of uncertainty gives more weight to the argument for action on global warming.

There are many questions that we need to ask about global warming and its consequences. We should not be distracted by the issue of Gore's hypocrisy. It simply doesn't matter. If you can't stomach Al Gore, and even if you can, better to further investigate the issue from popular science magazines like Scientific American, American Scientist, Discover; or read books written by climatologists, or ones by science journalists who interview these specialists. And if you're really hardcore, go to the peer reviewed journal literature. Allegedly this is what Al Gore has done. His arguments should not simply be dismissed because he does not live up to the standard of a "carbon-nuetral lifestyle" that he promotes. Furthermore, while individual lifestyle choices may help to address the problem of global warming, what is needed are changes in national and international policy.

This dirty rhetorical trick by Schweizer is one of the informal fallacies called "poisoning the well." http://www.fallacyfiles.org/poiswell.html Arguments should be assessed on their merits regardless of the personal faults of the person making them. And Schweizer should know better. Schweizer is a "research fellow" http://www.hoover.org/bios/schweizer at the Hoover Institution. On his biography page it states he received his Master of Philosophy from Oxford University. It is astounding that a person with a background in philosophy from any university, let alone Oxford, would openly employ such elementary fallacies such as these. This is evidence of a complete lack of intellectual integrity and honesty.

The Hoover Institution is a well known conservative think tank, and allegedly a scholarly one http://www.hoover.org/about/ which is based at the very prestigious Stanford University. It appears that what the Hoover Institution at least in part does is support trivial research for use as propaganda. Further investigation of their web site reveals that they sponsor "media fellows" http://www.hoover.org/bios/mediafellows. These "media fellows" are from a broad range of news media institutions, including those characterized by the right as "the liberal media." Is this further evidence of the Hoover Institutions support and education of propagandists?