Saturday, December 31, 2011

I getz mailz





UPDATE***


Although I am still on Holiday, I thought I would share this brief bit of excitement with you all.

On a friends blog, a person who shall remain anonymous, commented on how my friend (and atheists in general) ought to raise and educate their children. Upon finding out that this person had no kids of his own, I realized how condescending and arrogant it was to offer other parents advice on how to go about raising their own children.

So I called him condescending and arrogant (you know, since that is what he was technically being--a class A--well--you get the idea).

This is the reply he wrote:

"That Tristan D. Vick must resort to obscene name calling to lend credence to his criticism."

Yup. My criticism is all about the name calling. It wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that people who tell parents how to raise their own children (without ever having children of their own) are complete assholes.

Also, later on in his rant against my observation of his tactless and very much unwarranted advice, he mentioned something to the effect that my opinions didn't count because I live in Japan.

Which I thought... WTF?

Apparently, on top of being an asshole, the person is also an idiot.

Mind you, I could be mistaken, he may be a super genius. However, I somehow doubt it. If he were an official child care professional, then perhaps his opinion would carry some weight. I value the training and expertise of child care professionals, even if they haven't had children themselves. They do work with children everyday, as do I, an elementary and junior high school teacher.



Although it was never made explicit that this person was a child healthcare professional.


On top of all this, since the moderator of the blog refused to post his follow up rants, this guy decided to email me personally, just so I would know he was displeased with all my name calling. Cuz, you know... my comments are all about obscene name calling and what not.

Not that it matters though, because I live in Japan.

How is that not strange?

UPDATE***



I received a follow up letter from this anonymous know-it-all. 


"As predicted, JPDtyxx did not post my follow up email, so I have forwarded it to you.

Since he states your post could not have said it better, your post needs addressing.

My initial comments were intended for The Atheist Missionary, not his blog, and not you.

I was not interested in a dialogue, nor did I pretend to be. It was the utter hypocrisy with which he writes about particular subject matter that prompted my email. I am well justified in my remarks.

I am not interested in a dialogue with you. I only write to suggest that you may want to put forth more informed posts in the future. Keep in mind that vulgarity and name calling do not often strengthen a point."

Except, I might point out, the name calling was my point. Not that it matters... since he is not interested in a dialog. He is merely interested in telling people what to do and how to raise their own children apparently. 


The point being... this arrogant wanker doesn't simply get to remark on how me or anyone else should raise or educate their kids, then proceed to claim our opinions don't count, only to add that his remarks are all completely justified.


My friend commented, as mentioned in Mr. know-it-all's email, that he couldn't have put it better than I did when I stated in defense of my friend something to the tune of:

"[Mr. Know-it-all] assumes you have done bull-squat in real life to aid your community or help others (typical condescension). Among many other muddle headed misconceptions about how he can raise and educate your children better than you can (apparently). This is sheer arrogance on his part."

Since he seems to be so keen on offering advice, here is some of my own... until you actually start working toward justifying the claims you make, don't automatically assume your remarks are justified. I still haven't seen anything in terms of credentials or experience that would make me comfortable allowing this person to raise my child or anyone elses for that matter.


In the meantime...

Hope everyone has a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

America

I am headed to the States for Christmas. I will be off the blogosphere for about three weeks.

Have a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year everyone!


--Advocatus Atheist

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why the Death Penalty is Unethical and should be Abolished



I heard this quote blurted out the other day:

"If you go on a killing spree like Ted Bundy then you need to be killed."

I have also heard the more generic statement:

"If you murder someone you should be killed in return."

Here is the thing though--both of these eye for an eye sentiments are not only unjust but also immoral.



If somebody commits the heinous crime of murder, and you in turn murder them as "due punishment" for that murder, you are technically committing the *exact same crime as they have. You cannot claim you are about justice when you turn around and commit the very same crime the criminal committed as punishment against him/her. 


The reason, I hope, should be obvious. By this logic you too must be killed for the murder of the murderer. The person who kills you for having killed the murderer who killed someone else will also be forced to face the same inevitable fate. The cycle only perpetuates more murder--and justice is never had.


Since many are not willing to actually take someones life against their will (which is the very definition of murder, mind you) they will usually shirk the responsibility and push the dirty deed onto the State. As long as a higher authority does the deed, then their hands are clean. No damned spot to wash clean. 


This frees people up to espouse their emotional convictions, and say unethical and inane things like, "If you go on a killing spree like Ted Bundy then you need to be killed."


Aristotle called this type of emotional based reasoning "akrasia" where the person, despite their perceptions and habits concerning what they think is just and virtuous act on the basis of emotions, even though it is not what they choose. A person who would choose the virtuous option but does not follow it through, for either cowardice or lack of conviction, is sometimes called "incontinent."


It means that, although the person calling for the death penalty knows full well that killing another person against that person's will is morally wrong, instead of acting according to this moral fact, they instead call for the murder of the murderer. 


Thus those who espouse that murderers should be killed are acting according to their emotions and not their reason. They are simply being incontinent--they have let their emotions get the better of them--therefore their rationale is impaired by their incontinence. Should we really let such people decide who lives and who dies?


Amnesty International, the global peace keeping organization, says this in their charter:


The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice.

It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner.

It is no secret. I fully support the abolition of capital punishment (i.e., the eradication of the death penalty). My reasons are many, but I will briefly touch upon just a few.

1. The eye for an eye mentality of so-called "justice" is actually a form of revenge. Such vengeful attitudes are predicated on an emotional response to the feeling of having been victimized, or sympathizing with those who have, but the question becomes: where does it all end?

2. Killing others against their will denies them their universal human right to life. Since capital punishment, and giving the death penalty to murderers or other criminals, is just a legalized form of murder it is part of the problem. Taking a human life against someones will is ALWAYS immoral. As such, capital punishment also must be considered an IMMORAL act. 

Although someone may have committed an evil act, such as murder, I do not believe that I (or anyone else for that matter) has a right to murder that person in return. There is no moral imperative which states I must commit a immoral act--i.e., murder--to get justice. This is not how justice is won.

3. Justice, it seems to me, is in vain if one uses immoral deeds to achieve their so-called desired justice. Justice--by it's very definition--means just behavior and treatment. That cannot be had by the eye for an eye mentality invoked by those who feel so entitled to pass judgement on behalf of some greater authority.

The goal should be to get justice for the victims, not simply punish the wrong doers. If the victim doesn't get their due justice, then no amount of punishment we could dole out even matters. 

4. The death penalty doesn't necessarily work to increase the safety or well-being of a society. In fact, statistically it doesn't deter crime at all. 

Rehabilitation of criminals, on the other hand, seems to work. Sweden is a good case example of this. Here's the thing to keep in mind, when criminals rehabilitate the horrendous crimes drop so much that they barely register. Of course, violent crime doesn't disappear completely, but it disappears enough that the death penalty isn't all that necessary.

Meanwhile, countries which continue to impose a death penalty rarely ever address the underlying problems which contribute to the rise of violent crime in the first place. Therefore violent crime freely persists even with the death penalty imposed. Consequently this makes the death penalty nothing more than a morbid, cruel and unusual, threat against people's lives and basic human rights but which does little to nothing to deter crime.

5. Where there is a strict death penalty there is always the chance that an innocent life will be accidentally taken instead of the actual offender.

Ruben Carter was on death row for a triple homicide which he never committed. For twenty-two years he lived with the threat that the State would terminate his life, twenty-two years he would never get back. Even though Ruben Carter was exonerated, there could potentially be countless innocent lives being terminated based on faulty information. Minus the death penalty, however, no such innocent lives would ever be taken. There would simply be no risk losing their lives due to mistaken identity or corrupt politics--which is incentive enough to abolish the death penalty.  

6. In most countries where the death penalty is enforced, there is no democratic legal system in place to safeguard the person's right to a trial (or the right to remain innocent until proved guilty). In fact, many of the deaths are for crimes that do not fit the punishment. In Africa old men and women or sickly children are killed for being "witches." In Saudi Arabia women can be killed for not adhering closely enough to strict religious rituals such as Sharia law. In Pakistan there are countless victims of arbitrary "honor killings" every year, as well as in many Islamic countries throughout the Middle East as well as in numerous Latin American countries too.

7. The government may become corrupted (e.g., North Korea), and the powers that be may kill you for no reason--or starve you to death--because their war regime policies override your right to live--but then when you protest they kill you anyway. Such Orwellian nightmares are another reason the death penalty is a bad idea.


Needless to say, worldwide, capital punishment is a grotesque abuse against human rights, well-being, and life.

I will wrap this up here--but the reasons for why capital punishment (i.e., the death penalty) should be abolished far outstrip any reasons one could possibly come up with for it.

Personally, I think morality has evolved enough in modern times that we can now get beyond the primitive ideas of vengeance masquerading as justice and start actively proposing methods and models for safeguarding society and her citizens without resorting to the same evils we seek to be free from.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Atheism Impossible to Argue Against?



In a formal argument, the opponent brings an objection to the proponent's position. Theists make the assertion there is a God, while Atheists make the opposite assertion. In this case, the theist is the proponent for the existence of God and the Atheist is opposed to this position for various reasons.


Yet what if the theist, or religious adherent, wishes to criticize the nonbeliever's position? I find this a horribly impossible task--because to claim the atheist is wrong the theist would first be required to validate their position that God exists. In other words, they would have to present us with God (exhibit A). Oddly, exhibit A seems to be missing. How can a theist presume to claim the atheist is wrong about the non-existence of exhibit A when the theist can't even provide physical evidence and, perhaps more importantly, any reliable evidence seems so elusive (illusive)?


Personally I find it amusing that theists would even try to argue against the atheistic position. Usually when an argument is made, the argument it is brought with evidence to justify the claims. After all, the goal is to prove the other side wrong. 


But how does one go about proving something someone doesn't believe in is (somehow) incorrect? Moreover, how does the theist propose to support their claim that the atheist is mistaken about the non-existent status of God when they can't even provide trustworthy, testable, falsifiable evidence for God? 


It seems a futile position, at least to me, to argue that somebody is mistaken without the evidence to prove why (or how) they are mistaken all the while realizing that you aren't actually disproving a belief--but rather trying to argue against a position which is, strangely enough, a statement of what one doesn't profess to believe. It is unreasonable to make a claim that someone else is mistaken then completely fail to provide a proper basis for that claim to be checked against. Yet this is the very thing which theists are doing when they attack atheism.


Sure, atheists may turn out to be gravely mistaken, but there is just no way to prove it. Not without the prerequisite verification of evidence and either the proof or falsification of the disputed claims. Meanwhile, atheists aren't under any particular obligation to disprove God, because minus the evidence for God, their claim that there is nothing to disprove happens to fall in line with the observable facts.

Therefore the burden is forever on the theist to provide valid evidence. Until then, their claims are without basis and without merit. For this very reason, it seems to me, atheism is an impossible position to argue against.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quote of the Day: Dan Dennett

"Most spokespeople for religion expect to be treated not just with respect but with a special deference that is supposedly their due because the cause they champion is so righteous. Then they often abuse that privilege by using their time on the stage to misrepresent both their own institutions and the criticisms of them being offered." --Dan Dennett


Quote of the Day: The Thinking Atheist

This one is for you Hitch!


In a pod cast on the life of Christopher Hitchens and what he meant to us, Seth (aka The Thinking Atheist) said something about Hitch that really resonated with me.

"Christopher [Hitchens] made me feel empowered and strong... and stupid... all at the same time."

Ditto. 



Christopher Hitchens will be sorely missed. 



Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Passes Away



Christopher Hitchens passed away on Thursday, December 15. He was 62. 


Of all the Gnu atheists I perhaps feel closest to Hitchens. I found his radicalism, his advocacy, and his contrarian outlook reminiscent of my own. Admittedly, however, his intellect far surpassed mine and his words were far more eloquent than anything I could ever possibly muster at a whims notice. His oration skills were second to none, in fact, I would go as far as to say he was the Ingersoll of our day. His whit was sharp, and his commentary always had a touch of that wry Anglo-American humor. Hitchens contained a sophisticated blend of cultural insights and bravado lending to a keen mind perfectly suited for his chosen profession as a journalist tackling the headline issues of his day.

Even with all this going for him, most people found Christopher Hitchens polarizing. You either loved him or hated him--strangely enough, usually for the same reasons. I for one admired the guy greatly. Perhaps what I respected most of all was the fact that he was honest--brutally honest--and never ducked a question. Even as many felt he was a tad arrogant, I felt Hitchens was confident in what he knew, but more importantly he wasn't above correcting himself, constantly taking great pains to reminds his captive audience of how little qualified he was to talk on specific matters far out of the reach of his expertise. 



Hitchens's writing could be found regularly in Vanity Fair, Slate, and elsewhere. I could only dream of writing half as well as he did. But it is no secret, his books were usually poorly researched and many of his historical claims were shrouded behind the veil of his overpowering rhetorical voice. Even so, he usually knew a thing or two about what he was talking about--especially when it came to politics and history. So regardless of his erudition, or whether or not his facts all lined up, his resonant voice and slightly British accent made anything he said completely captivating. Truly, his finesse with words and lightening quick mind truly made him impressive.


Hitchens verbal skills were bar to none. Coupled with a laser-like intellect he was fully equipped to carry the dialectic better than anyone. He was truly a force to be reckoned with. Hitch could stand his ground equally against pompus talking heads on various news networks, he could face down ignorant politicians, and he never retreated from a chance to interrupt a blathering theologian or holy man and correct them on an important historical fact. 


In fact, Hitchens would often keep on talking until he would be cut off by the host. Not because he loved to hear himself speak, mind you, but because he so despised allowing people who clearly knew nothing of what they were talking about the chance to pollute the world with their ignorance. If you wanted to go up against Hitchens--you had to be prepared. Something many of his debate rivals found out the hard way as they faced the onslaught of his verbal admonitions, among the most eloquent you'll ever have the pleasure of hearing, and sharp Ockham-razor like reasoning.

Hitchens was more than an just an atheist though. He was a self proclaimed anti-theist. He detested the idea of an all knowing, all watching, supreme being who would punish you for thought crimes. It should come to no surprise to us that Hitchens so despised this form of theocratic dominion, for he was a student of Orwell, and much of Orwell's voice could often be heard echoed in the words--and concerns--of his own. 



The very notion of policing people's thoughts was the ultimate offense to individual freedom--and Hitch realized this as an inherent danger woven throughout the religious schema, which he so vehemently opposed.


Hitchens felt faith was the most overrated of all the virtues, and even then, he hesitated to even call it a virtue. Religion to him was a poison which slowly saturated everything and made people's lives worse off in the process. Religion was so distasteful in his eyes, that his life's preoccupation was to build up Thomas Jefferson's wall of separation between church and state. 


His detractors considered him petulant, but his supporters felt they had a champion in their corner. A man who would never back down from a fight--which he proved in 2009 when he got the living shit kicked out of him by SNPN skinheads in Lebanon. Of course, true to Hitch fashion, he bounced back, with a vengeance, determined to vanquish his enemies by showing them once and for all that the pen was truly mightier than the sword.


Soon enough, Christopher Hitchens's short rhetorical jabs and sarcastic quips became known as the infamous "Hitch-slap." If you got on his bad side he would be sure to inform you that only his friends were allowed to call him "Christopher."


Like his favorite brand of scotch whiskey, Johnnie Walker Black, Christopher Hitchens had a bite to him yet was smooth and sophisticated at the same time. Whether or not you could stomach him depended on how strong of a constitution you had. Whatever you feelings were with regard to Christopher Hitchens, hearing him lecture meant you were guaranteed an unforgettable time of it, and he certainly made a lasting impression wherever he went. There is no doubt about it--Hitchens will be missed.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Does Faith make you Retarded? [Warning: Explicit Language]





Around this time of year my Facebook lights up with people praising the Lord for all their blessings. Tis' the season, after all.


Over the past year I have been testing what appears to be an unabashed urge of religious people to blather whatever their beliefs are (for no apparent reason) on the web by countering it with a contrary point of view.


My prayers were answered, they will say. Prayer doesn't work, I inform.


I am an asshole, I know. But with good reason.


When someone cannot control their urge to thank God for a prayer, or feels they need to let the whole world that they are praying for you, I have taken the initiative time and again to remind people that prayer is not valid. It has been falsified. Scientifically.


I am not saying this to be offensive. There is no offense in simply holding a difference of opinion. But the reaction is always as if I have started World War III.


After gasps of pure horrified shock that somebody with a different opinion would have the audacity to share it in a forum dedicated to proclamations of faith and belief subside, I brace myself for the inevitable fallout. Like a loud buzzing, I can hear the vibrations of their wicked tongues warming up as they prepare a blitzkrieg attack aimed to sting the so-called naysayer.


(Note: Naysayer means a person who denies or opposes something. In that sense, yes, I am denying the person of faith to idly and mindlessly accept incorrect beliefs and tout these beliefs as something worthy of being shared and broadcast. By opposing their sacrosanct opinion that their faith should merely be respected--even when it is patently false--I am revealing their hypocrisy. In my defense, however, opposing a falsehood should never be viewed as wrong. If correcting our mistakes was wrong to do, we would forever be mistaken, forever ignorant of the truth. I feel that people who proclaim to have the truth cannot afford to be so naive as to deny others the right to correct their mistaken beliefs. I refuse to respect their faith for this very reason. If your faith cannot handle cordial disagreement, and you fly off the handlebars anytime someone disagrees, and feel it is somehow alright to put them in their place by viciously attacking them (simply because they think differently), then this is not alright. If you can't agree to disagree, then perhaps it would be best to simply keep your beliefs to yourself.)


Usually when I call someone on a belief I know is completely and totally invalid, I get people saying things like, "I don't attack your beliefs, why do feel that you need attack mine?"


This pisses me off to no end.


I urgently tell them I am not attacking their beliefs, merely correcting their mistaken information. After all, they wouldn't continue to believe things that are false if shown--beyond a reason of a doubt--that they were false, failed, erroneous beliefs, right?


Wrong.


They merely get defensive. They don't want to relinquish their wrong beliefs, because these beliefs make them feel good. So instead of taking the time to question their beliefs, or why they might be wrong, they instead call me "intolerant."


Yeah, the guy who shared his beliefs, because you felt you needed to share yours first, is intolerant simply because his beliefs do not agree with yours. What was I thinking? I must have forgot that only religious people have the right to share their stupid thoughts.


On the other hand, if I do happen to take the time to provide them with decades of research which show, under various conditions, that something like prayer never works... ever... not under any circumstances or conditions... I then get accused of being, not only intolerant, but also elitist. Why? Simply because I asked them to take like two minutes out of their busy schedule of going to church pot-lucks and bible study to, I don't know, read a ten page science article from a peer reviewed science journal.


Really? They guy who points out of the fact of the matter, that your beliefs are not merely wrong but they are sooo wrong that they are absurd, and in many cases borderline offensive, is the one being arrogant? Really?


The person humble enough to correct his mistaken views, who takes the time to review the evidence, and who pauses to reflect on the implications--and who doesn't make it a habit to broadcast his beliefs 24/7 is the one who is being arrogant? Because he refers to hard won evidence, and wants you to consult it too, instead of just barfing blind professions of faith based conviction everywhere, and merely asks you to take two minutes to think about what your saying and how this holds up against the evidence--is elitist? Do these people even know what the term elitist even means?


Imagine if they thanked Jesus for all the blessings in their life, and I called them a whole bunch of  hate-filled names for no good reason. Instead, I may point them to a quote or snippet from a history book about the historical Jesus and the development of early Christianity--but I don't throw libelous hate and slander at them simply because we disagree. When they ask me, "Why do you feel you need to attack my beliefs, I don't attack yours..." I want to ask them, "Seriously, what's wrong with you people?"


I realize that a lot of the time I am wasting my breath on those crippled by the retarding powers of faith, but I am trying desperately to make a point.


If you can't accept someone else's opinion, and upon hearing their opinion become so enraged that you feel compelled to tell them that they are elitist, arrogant, intolerant, angry, and deserve to burn in hell, etc. then you are merely making unjustified personal attacks on someone because you don't agree with them. First off, this is immoral behavior. It's not okay. Second of all, it is bigoted.


Knock it the fuck off.


Now, some religious people might say I am being cruel by claiming their religion makes them stupid--or by saying that faith retards their mental faculties and makes them act like morons.


Actually, I am not being mean here. I am making a straight up observation. I am being honest.


If your faith compels you to do something, or say something, that is completely ABSURD... not to mention totally WRONG... and you are called on it... and your first reaction is to ATTACK that person, instead of being cordial and accepting that there are different opinions out there, then this is, in my estimation, INAPPROPRIATE behavior.


Once I gave up religion, and relinquished a three decade long faith, I realized how foolish I was acting a lot of the time. Needless to say, I felt horribly embarrassed for many of the things I said or did because of my religious beliefs. I felt like a fool for thinking my non-Christian friends would go to hell. I felt silly for believing in an imaginary place, for that matter. I felt guilty for having used small children's fear of this imaginary place against them just to blackmail them into believing the same thing I did. I felt stupid for believing this was the right thing to do, let alone at all okay. Terrifying children for no reason is NEVER okay. My faith often retarded me into a dogmatic conviction spewing moron.


Now, when I see other people doing the same, I feel the uncontrollable need to point out their mistake. I feel embarrassed for them. As an advocate for reason--I speak out. How can I not?


The thing that pisses me off, however, is the reaction I typically receive. In a backlash of hypersensitive, whiny-two-faced, religious defensiveness where I get called all sorts of horrible names--for no good reason.


I want to scream at the top of my longs--I am NOT attacking your beliefs. I am attacking BAD beliefs which are just flat out INCORRECT! Meaning: Un-fucking-true, you mindless-faithy-self righteous blowhards! Your choice to believe them is your own... but shut the fuck up about them if you don't want to fucking be called on their absurdity. For Christ's sake people.


A) nobody needs to hear your incorrect, absent-minded, and completely unjustified beliefs spewed all over the place, and B) even if (and it's a big if at that) you do have good reasons for what you believe--unless the beliefs are going toward a cause which will actively help others in the immediate future--then nobody wants to hear about it.


Just shut the fuck up about baby Jesus, why you're thankful to God, and what prayers came true this week--and go do something productive... like suck a dick. At least then you'd actually be productive and helping to make someone else happy.


If the Catholic Church really wanted to make the world a better place, they would turn their Cathedrals into elaborate brothels, where anyone could go at any time to get a good old fashioned fellatio from a priest. Yeah, stop fucking and raping children, and suck some adult cock. Christianity is full of cock-suckers anyway, why not incorporate that into the religion? Less kids would be getting raped and more people would be satisfied--sexually--everyone wins!


So am I an angry atheist? Well, not all year long. Just at the time of year when religious people think because it's the holidays and what not, they can barf out their faith based convictions all over the place for no goddamned reason other than it makes them feel good. It makes me angry when I get attacked for having different beliefs--in in the same instance get told I am being oppressive and intolerant of their beliefs. I am too nice to say, "You have it fucking backwards, mother-fuckers."


I am wayyy too nice of a person to actually tell religious people this directly. Other than the few times I have shared my differing points of view, I usually let people display their stupid all over the place like a dumb-ass peacock. I only hope that one day they will realize how horribly idiotic they were being, and in a bout of remorse for their relentless stupidity, turn about face and begin to actively seek to help correct the misinformation, the false beliefs, and set about trying to get a better hold on the truth while helping others to do so too.


[I realize not all Christians are bad people. Heck, I used to be one. My entire family is Christian. Not all Christians are loud mouthed bigots either. Although I used to be one. But before anyone gets offended and hits the unsubscribe button, just realize I am not so angry at other Christians as I am mainly angry at my own stupid behavior when I was a Christian. A retarded behavior I see reflected in other Christians daily.] 


[My frustrations seem to stem more from the anger I direct at myself--but at the same time, please realize, that after getting beat down every time I share my opinion--among so-called "friends"--who proceed to verbally harangue and assault me for simply having a different opinion, this is not something I feel I should just idly sit by and tolerate. Nobody likes taking it up that ass. Having to respect other people's stupid beliefs for not good reason is just like being asked to bend over for them. No, I am afraid that's not how it works. You want my respect--you have to earn it first. And since I can't reach through my Facebook and punch the idiots in their stupid faces for attacking me without justification, I vent my frustration here. Happy holidays!]





Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jesus Claus & Santa Christ


Student: Did the baby Jesus grow up to be Santa Claus?

Me: Yeah, sounds about right.

True conversation I had yesterday with my second graders at Elementary school. They have no idea who Jesus is. And this was after a class where I explained who he was! I explained that Christians believe Jesus died and became God. One girl asked, "What's a Christian?" 


Yup. I love Japan!


Quote of the Day: Louis C.K.


"I have a lot of beliefs, and I live by none of them - that's just the way I am… they make me feel good about who I am." --Louis CK 

Science and Truth: More Lisa Randall Quotes


"Scientists actively approach the door to knowledge--the boundary of the domain of what we know. We question and explore and we change our views when facts and logic force us to do so. We are confident only in what we can verify through experiments or in what we can deduce from experimentally confirmed hypotheses." --Lisa Randall (Knocking on Heaven's Door)

"Although there is much we don't yet know about the evolution of the universe, we have a spectacularly successful understanding of the universe's evolution based on the so-called Big Bang theory supplemented by a period of exponential expansion of the universe known as cosmological inflation... This theory has agreed with a range of observations, including observations of the microwave radiation in the sky--the microwave radiation left over from the time of the Big Bang.

"Originally the universe was a hot dense fireball. But during the 12.75 billion years of its existence it has diluted and cooled substantially, leaving this much cooler radiation that is a mere 2.7 degrees kelvin today--only a few degrees Celsius above absolute zero. Other evidence for the Big Bang theory of expansion can be found in detailed studies of the abundances of nuclei that were made during the universe's early evolution and in measurements of the universe's expansion itself." --Lisa Randall

"In some cases, we will understand the observations sufficiently well to know what they imply about the underlying nature of matter and physical laws. In other cases, we'll spend a lot of time unraveling the implications. Regardless of what happens, the interplay between theory and data will lead us to loftier interpretations of the universe around us and expand our knowledge into currently inaccessible domains.

"Some experiments might yield results soon. Others could take many years. As data come in, theorists will be forced to revisit and sometimes even abandon suggested explanations so we can improve our theories and apply them correctly... even when new results might require abandoning old ideas.

"Our hypotheses are initially rooted in theoretical consistency and elegance, but... ultimately it is experiment--not rigid belief--that determines what is correct." --Lisa Randall



Monday, December 12, 2011

Gravity follow up Question

I received a really great question concerning gravity after my previous article about Space-time, Quantum Mechanics, and the Cosmological argument for God.


The question was raised:


In addressing "why there is something rather than nothing" your article states:
"Likewise, the related question of why there is something rather than nothing (within the universe) can also be explained. The answer is gravity. Entropy x gravity = clumping. This clumping of matter is what creates stars and planets. Gravity, in other words, is why we have something rather than nothing in the universe."


Honest questions here:
*Why is there something available to be clumped? You say gravity is the reason for there being something rather than nothing, but if there was nothing for gravity to act upon, there would still be nothing.
*And isn't gravity a function of mass (mass of a something)?

Maybe you just shorthanded your treatment of this question. What am I missing in understanding this?


I don't think you're missing anything. As you correctly state, gravity is a function of mass, but let's not forget a function of energy also. 

Why is there something available to be clumped? Because of the big bang. At least that's how I have come to understand it from reading physics books. All the energy in the universe (as far as I can tell) spontaneously popped into existence via the quantum fluctuation, or singularity. Next, as the MIT physicist Alan Guth has posited, inflation takes over and this hot dense plasma is spread out across a great distance via inflation. Gravity then begins to collect the gas clouds of mainly helium and hydrogen and eventually the mass of this gas gets so dense that it ignites a nuclear reaction from the sheer pressure of the mass being compressed. This chain reaction creates a stellar furnace of super giant primordial stars.

Eventually, as any astrophysicist would tell you, these super stars go super nova and explode and create new elements baked in their fiery furnaces. All the natural elements we have identified thus far are known to come from stars. Every piece of matter that exists today was baked up in a star then distributed back out into space in that stars subsequent death. 

Gravity, meanwhile, continues to clump the stuff of stars together along with the other gases and dust swirling about. Soon after, gravity forms nebulae. Eventually the right type of star goes super nova and collapses in on itself forming a black hole. With enough nearby gas, dust, and debris a galaxy can form. Like our own Milky Way galaxy, eventually planetary systems are formed, and all of this spins around the massive black hole at the center.


Meanwhile, the with the recent discovery of dark energy, physicists have a good idea of what is driving the universe to expand exponentially. 

At least, this is how I understand the evolution of our universe to be like from reading physics books. However, I am by no means an authority on the subject.

My point about gravity being the answer to why there is something rather than nothing is this. If there was no gravity, then there would be nothing acted upon. No effect in other words on the stuff after the big bang. Basically the hot plasma after expansion, minus gravity, would never clump and dark energy would continue to force all that energy apart while entropy would erase it from existence. Nothing would ever come to be. 


This causes me to feel that theologians are asking the wrong question about the origin of something with regard to nothing. Because even with all the energy left over from the big bang, without gravity, we would still have nothing. We wouldn't even exist to ask the question. 

So the answer of why there is something rather than nothing is quite clearly: because gravity.

The answer of where did this something come from is: the big bang.


How did stuff form after the big bang? Physicists suppose it has something to do with Symmetry breaking.

The answer of what caused the big bang is currently unknown. Or, perhaps I should say, not fully understood. 


Most physicists think it was likely a quantum fluctuation (of some kind). Yet the field of quantum mechanics is fairly young and it is not completely understood either. Luckily this is why various branches of cosmology and physics exist--so we can continue to investigate the unknown elements of our universe perchance discover why it is the way it is and how it came to be. 

I feel that I must now point out that although we don't currently understand everything about the nature of reality, scientists are making steady progress at increasing our understanding of the over all picture of reality. 


Gradually they are pulling the curtain which veils reality and hides her from us further and further back revealing hitherto unforeseen truths. With each new discovery our understanding of the overall picture of reality grows ever more complete. 


Although I can only speak for myself, it seems to me that if religion were true, according to the claims religion makes for itself, then it would be the vehicle to revealing all the truths of reality. Since this is not the case, it makes me highly skeptical of anything religion has to say with regard to reality--the world--the universe--or myself.

Now, it stems to reason, that if you assume something "caused" the big bang--although this assumption is illogical knowing that causation cannot exist outside of temporal space-time--even if we wish to ignore the erroneous nature of the question and simply rephrase it--the question would probably have to push back to where did that initial energy fluctuation come from? 

That is still a question currently undergoing investigation. Physicists are currently working on figuring that out--from many different angles--so it is too early to tell with any certainty. 


Which brings me to the second part.

Many physicists, including Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku, posit that gravity exists multidemensionally. At least, the math seems to suggest it (as I am not a physicist I am inclined to take their word for it--esteemed as they are).


If so, then gravity would exist whether or not our particular universe did.


As I hopefully showed in the article, the logic behind the Cosmological argument is Newtonian. But modern physics and cosmology goes far above and beyond that type of reasoning. Especially where gravity is concerned. 


Modern cosmology suggests that there is a minute vacuum energy to the quantum foam of space. This vacuum energy has recently been tested by Swedish physicists who used a virtual mirror to push a virtual particle out of the vacuum energy and it immediately formed into a tangible light particle. That is amazing. They literally tapped on vacuum energy, the closest thing to nothing there is, with a oscillating magnetic field and got a light photon out of it. 

Basically they made light from nothing. That's just cool. Although it doesn't provide ready answers--it is a step in the right direction. Slowly, but surely, we are piecing together the puzzle of how the cosmos came to be.

I think I should mention that gravity is also mysterious. It may even be multi-demensional (according to several physics theories). We have only been able to measure it indirectly. But new instruments are being developed which will have the required sensitivity to measure gravitational radiation in the near future (see the Michio Kaku video below). As I understand it, its frequency will tell us a lot about the nature of gravity and how the universe functions/behaves. So I am eagerly anticipating that discovery.


It seems to me, and this gets back to my initial point, if there really were a theistic deity of a power and magnitude such as the type which theologians claim, then this power has to interact with reality (otherwise what good is such a power if it remains forever unknown? It might as well not even exist--if that's the case). If there is a God, such as the one theists posit, it can be assumed that it interacts with the universe and so should also have observable effects. The fact that we don't see any, would, it seems to me, suggest there is no such being.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Space-time, Quantum Mechanics, and the Cosmological Argument for God



While watching Brian Greene's excellent NOVA series "The Fabric of the Cosmos," I went back and opened up the book (still sitting unread on my shelf) and read it with interest.

Greene talks about space-time, hence the title "The Fabric of the Cosmos," and while thinking carefully on the subject of how space and time are interwoven, as proved by Einstein's theory of special relativity, I came to a very simple realization. Theologians who invoke the Cosmological Argument for God likely don't understand the first thing about cosmology.

A Christian asked me today whether or not it takes the same amount of faith to believe that the universe arose from a quantum singularity as it does to believe a God created it.

My answer was simply: no.


He then told me I should think more about the Kalam cosmological argument, and what the first premise entails, specifically that the universe began. Thus it was caused to begin. Therefore something outside of the universe must have caused it--and for the supernatural minded--this explanation is Goddidit.



I have several objections to the first premise.

As I considered time and space being part of the same fabric of reality, I realized that theologians have the wrong impression of beginnings. Their thinking fits the Newtonian idea that things which begin have causes. But quantum mechanics has blown that rationale up showing that the classical model of physics and how it depicts reality is largely misleading. It has been discovered that fully actualized particles pop in and out of existence all the time in what are called quantum fluctuations. 



Where I feel theologians are getting hung up is not on the notion that time, and so reality and thus all existence--must have a definite beginning--because this is in tune with cosmological observations, but that they feel the beginning of space-time denotes a cause because all things that begin--according to Newtonian reasoning--have causes (e.g., causality).


The problem is this theological consideration that because the universe began it must have had a cause is only true within the confines of the physical universe in which the physical laws already dictate that causes have effects. Without the fabric of the space-time continuum, beginnings and ends make little to no sense, so it would technically be incorrect to assert that everything that begins to exist has a cause before you establish causation. 


The statement "anything which begins to exist has a cause" is true only within the confines of the physical laws of the universe as they are known to us. Beyond the confines of space-time, however, the statement makes no sense whatsoever. 


To complicate matters even more, we must be aware that the past, present, and future all seem to be relative. As Brian Greene reminds us, "there is nothing in the laws of classical physics that says this direction is time future and that direction is time past."


This being the case, how can theologians, who abide by the strict adherence to classical reasoning, say there is a beginning or end at all? 


Again, I is apparent to me that their Newtonian reasoning (which only applies to one small part of the picture) has caused them to jump to the wrong conclusions about the underlying reality of the universe (thereby causing them to miss the bigger picture).


Additionally, to answer the often asked question of why there appears to be order in the universe, this too can be explained by the the increase of entropy from a low to high state. As Greene informs, "The big bang started the universe off in a state of low entropy, and that state appears to be the source of the order we currently see."

Likewise, the related question of why there is something rather than nothing (within the universe) can also be explained. The answer is gravity. Entropy x gravity = clumping. According to physicists, this clumping of matter is what creates stars and planets. Gravity, in other words, is why we have something rather than nothing in the universe.



The Cosmological argument merely asks what sparked that initial fluctuation that caused the big bang? But see, that is, once again, the Newtonian reasoning which presumes all things that begin have causes. In other words, theologians are making a categorical mistake of attributing a metaphysical cause to a temporal effect wherein that reasoning only fits within the framework of a temporal reality. 


Thus, according to the theologians reasoning, things which are acted upon (either physically or metaphysically) have effects and therefor must have causes. There are no random accidents. As Einstein lamented, "God does not play dice."  


Niels Bohr, one of the early pioneers of quantum mechanics, replied to Einstein, "Stop telling God what to do."


The question theoretical physicists and cosmologists are currently investigating is: what, if anything, was there before the big bang?

Recently new theories have emerged which go a long ways toward helping to explain the conditions of the universe prior to its onset. The anthropic principle, eternal inflation, and string theory (for example) all predict a cosmic multiverse. Although it is yet unproved--the fact that three main fields of physics all stumble upon the same prediction, seems to me, to be a good sign that there might be something to this premise.


Although these cutting edge theories are not yet confirmed, they do predict the universe we see, and are based off of the cosmological pieces of the puzzle we have thus far collected and pieced together. What's more--they are testable--and so are falsifiable. Falsifiability is important--because if we are wrong--then being falsified lets us find out our mistakes so that we may correct them.



God theories, on the other hand, predict absolutely nothing (i.e., have zero utility), and in many cases cannot be adequately falsified. 

Being asked to even entertain the notion of the Cosmological argument for the existence of God is the same as being asked to ignore all the current cosmological evidence we do have which leaves no room for the existence of such a being.
 God theories merely make the a priori assumption that God exists. That's faith--not science. 


Do we know for sure what happened before the big bang? No. But that doesn't mean we can just substitute any answer we like in place of our ignorance. We aren't merely drawing straws here at what the most probable answer is. 


We are in the process of looking for testable evidence. When we find it--we will know. Even if we never find out for certain how the universe came to be, then the only answer we could possibly give to the question of what caused the universe to begin to exist is: I don't know.

God never even enters the equation.


Let me turn the question around, why would anyone put their faith in God having created the universe when God fails to explain anything about the universe, but current competing model of cosmology seem to explain everything fairly well without invoking useless God theories?

My point is this, although science cannot say whether or not it is possible for God to exist or not, it does a good job of showing that any effects of his causes are so far entirely absent. That is to say we can see no noticeable signs of his interaction with the universe or his effect upon it. Meanwhile physics explains things quite well without God. 



Without any evidence of God's interaction upon the universe, God becomes redundant for explanations which don't need to invoke God, and thus the God hypothesis is mainly irrelevant. Such a being might as well not even exist.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Quote of the Day x 2 Isaac Asimov x Bertrand Russell


"Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived." --Isaac Asimov

"And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence." --Bertrand Russell



Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist