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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Papercraft Pope



H/T to Science Punk

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Interesting Idea


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Sunday, April 12, 2009

I'll have the dog cake


I was going to just post the Happy Zombie Jesus Day poster and call it good, but I recalled a somewhat amusing story from HZJD a few years back. We always go to my mother-in-laws for Eostre, and she almost always makes a cake in the shape of a lamb, frosted in white frosting and covered in coconut to resemble wool (plus a few other dessert options). When my nephew was about 5 or 6, MIL asked what he wanted for dessert, he said "I would like a piece of the dog cake". Funny thing is, the cake actually does look more like a poodle or Bedlington Terrier.

Not that Eostre means much to me, other than a lovely mean of ham, scalloped potatoes and fixin's, but it's still amusing to me to think of it as a dog cake rather than a lamb.

Happy Zombie Jesus Day


That sums it up pretty well.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

In which I respond to Just Some Guy Thinking About Stuff.


About a week ago, I came across the blog of a theist where he posted about an essay by Edward Feser, about the new atheists

Since Feser claimed that his 12 year old daughter could "out-philosophize" Dawkins, I commented "You claim that Dawkins arguments are fallacious and his presentation of the theist arguments and positions are wrong, yet you fail to provide any examples or your own counter-arguments. What are your counter arguments?"

He has responded to that comment, and my response is below.

First, a false presentation of theism by Dawkins can be found in this caricature of faith in the context of belief in God:

Faith is belief in something without evidence.

Now the actual position of theism as noted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 36:

"Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason." Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God's revelation.

Actually, your response was not about faith, but the position of the Catholic Church on the existence of God. Faith, according to the second definition at dictionary.com, is "belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact." By definition, faith and knowledge are mutually exclusive. Once you have knowledge, it's no longer faith. Before having knowledge, the only way you can accept something is to do so without evidence.

You have not refuted Dawkins in any way. Your argument is not only a red herring, it commits the fallacy of appeal to authority. Fallacies alone do not necessarily invalidate an argument, so I'll also respond to your quote from the Church. The church claims that God can be known, but they provide no evidence for such knowledge. I can easily claim the same thing about UFOs, leprechauns or anything else, but in order to validate my claim, I need to provide evidence or a chain of logic which can be examined for validity. The Catholic Church has done no such thing-they've only made a bare assertion, which is a logical fallacy.

Next, we have Dawkins' fallacious summary in The God Delusion of the Cosmological Arguments put forth by St. Thomas Aquinas:

All three of these arguments [the first three of the 'five ways'] rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it . They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress. Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God. (The God Delusion, 77)

First I ask, what is worse: the errors or the fatuous insufficiency with which age-old and venerated arguments are temerariously dismissed...by one who reminds us at every other moment of the profound rationality of which he and his ilk are in full possession? (Really Dick, if religion is the Root of All Evil, then, by all means, take it a little more seriously.)

Poisoning the Well doesn't advance your argument here. You still haven't pointed out Dawkins errors, you just keep saying there are errors and then not advancing your own arguments. Dawkins doesn't need to take the Cosmological argument seriously, because theists have never been able to give a valid argument against it.

Here's Dr. Peter Kreeft's summary of the the Cosmological Arguments put forth by St. Thomas Aquinas (my emphasis in bold, my comments in blue):

Since you couldn't be bothered to actually think for yourself and come up with your own arguments, I guess I'll have to respond to Kreeft.

The most famous of all arguments for the existence of God are the "five ways" of Saint Thomas Aquinas... Four are versions of the first-cause argument, which we explore here.

The argument is basically very simple, natural, intuitive, and commonsensical. We have to become complex and clever in order to doubt or dispute it. It is based on an instinct of mind that we all share: the instinct that says everything needs an explanation. Nothing just is without a reason why it is. Everything that is has some adequate or sufficient reason why it is. [Ironically, atheists leave off God, saying that there is no sufficient explanation for His existence; and in so doing fail to give sufficient explanation for everything.]

"Common sense" is a very vague term and can mean anything the user wants it to mean. "Common sense" 400 years ago was that the earth was flat and at the center of the universe. 150 years ago, "common sense" was opposed to germ theory. Newton's First Law of Dynamics violates "common sense". When we set objects in motion, they stop fairly quickly. The existence of friction is not obvious, and until you understand the science, it doesn't make sense. The instinct of the mind is very often wrong and contrary to reality, and this statement alone nearly invalidates the rest of what Kreeft has to say.

Your comment is not only a completely circular argument, but commits the burden of proof fallacy. You are the one claiming the existence of a god, therefore the burden of proof is upon you to provide sufficient explanation. If your god doesn't exist, why would we need to provide sufficient explanation for it?

I would agree that there is probably a cause for the existence of our universe, but there is no sufficient reason to assume that any deity is the cause. There are several pretty interesting theories about the origin of the universe, including a "big bounce" theory.

Philosophers call this the Principle of Sufficient Reason. We use it every day, in common sense and in science as well as in philosophy and theology. If we saw a rabbit suddenly appear on an empty table, we would not blandly say, "Hi, rabbit. You came from nowhere, didn't you?" No, we would look for a cause, assuming there has to be one. Did the rabbit fall from the ceiling? Did a magician put it there when we weren't looking? If there seems to be no physical cause, we look for a psychological cause: perhaps someone hypnotized us. As a last resort, we look for a supernatural cause, a miracle. But there must be some cause. We never deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason itself. No one believes the Pop Theory: that things just pop into existence for no reason at all. Perhaps we will never find the cause, but there must be a cause for everything that comes into existence...

Yet Christian theology, and the Cosmological Argument in particular, do assume that something "popped into existence. That's how you explain your God. We atheists, including Dawkins, say that you are being hypocritical when you engage in special pleading for your god.

Now the whole universe is a vast, interlocking chain of things that come into existence. Each of these things must therefore have a cause. My parents caused me, my grandparents caused them, et cetera. But it is not that simple. I would not be here without billions of causes, from the Big Bang through the cooling of the galaxies and the evolution of the protein molecule to the marriages of my ancestors. The universe is a vast and complex chain of causes.

So far, so good.

But does the universe as a whole have a cause? Is there a first cause, an uncaused cause, a transcendent cause of the whole chain of causes? If not, then there is an infinite regress of causes, with no first link in the great cosmic chain. If so, then there is an eternal, necessary, independent, self-explanatory being with nothing above it, before it, or supporting it. It would have to explain itself as well as everything else, for if it needed something else as its explanation, its reason, its cause, then it would not be the first and uncaused cause.

Can you say "non sequitur"? Kreeft makes a huge leap from "no first link in the great cosmic chain" to "there is an eternal, necessary, independent, self-explanatory being" without establishing why there must be such a being. If there can be a being that is self-explanatory and eternal, why is it that the universe can not be self-explanatory and eternal? Kreeft makes no argument for that, but simply says it's so.

Why must there be a first cause? Because if there isn't, then the whole universe is unexplained, and we have violated our Principle of Sufficient Reason for everything.

Not necessarily. As I pointed out, if a being can be eternal, then the universe can have that property as well, and it's a complete non sequitur to leap from there being a first cause to that first cause having to necessarily be a being.

If there is no first cause, each particular thing in the universe is explained in the short run, or proximately, by some other thing, but nothing is explained in the long run, or ultimately, and the universe as a whole is not explained. Everyone and everything says in turn, "Don't look to me for the final explanation. I'm just an instrument. Something else caused me." If that's all there is, then we have an endless passing of the buck. God is the one who says, "The buck stops here."

Wow, is that a weak analogy, as well as committing the composition fallacy. Of course, that doesn't automatically invalidate the argument, but we do have to be very cautious when applying the properties of part of something to the whole. Kreeft still doesn't provide a valid argument for why there has to be a being as the first cause.

If there is no first cause, then the universe is like a great chain with many links; each link is held up by the link above it, but the whole chain is held up by nothing. If there is no first cause, then the universe is like a railroad train moving without an engine. Each car's motion is explained proximately by the motion of the car in front of it: the caboose moves because the boxcar pulls it, the boxcar moves because the cattle car pulls it, et cetera. But there is no engine to pull the first car and the whole train. That would be impossible, of course. But that is what the universe is like if there is no first cause: impossible.

And still, Kreeft hasn't given a valid argument for how the universe requires a first cause and yet his God does not. Special pleading is not a valid argument.

[Dawkins, in effect, says that the engine is just another boxcar which theists arbitrarily conjure up to terminate the regress...and then make the unwarranted assumption that this boxcar (which we merely call an engine) is immune to regress, endowing it with properties normally ascribed to self-powered box-cars. But that is a mere caricature of classical theism, which says, in effect, that if we are to satisfy the Principle of Sufficient Reason and give a proper explanation of how one car has the power to pull another car, there must be a car who, necessarily, posesses its own power.

No, that's not a caricature of classical theism. Dawkins agrees with theists that if they can satisfy the Principle of Sufficient Reason and give a proper explanation for a "self-powered car" that such a car must exist. The problem is that theists have not satisfied the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

Some car must possess it's own power to give it to one car...so it can pull another...so it can pull another...and so on and so forth. Dawkins caricature of the Cosmological Argument in effect says, that it is sufficient for the regress to go on infinitely with one car recieving its pulling power from the one before. Theists would say that no one car would have pulling power to pull another car if one of the cars didn't necessarily have its own pulling power to start the whole process. And this all men speak of as an engine.]

Why must some car possess it's own power? You still haven't established why there must be a being, and why the universe can't be eternal and self-explanatory.

Here is one more analogy. Suppose I tell you there is a book that explains everything you want explained. You want that book very much. You ask me whether I have it. I say no, I have to get it from my wife. Does she have it? No, she has to get it from a neighbor. Does he have it? No, he has to get it from his teacher, who has to get it. . . et cetera, etcetera, ad infinitum. No one actually has the book. In that case, you will never get it. However long or short the chain of book borrowers may be, you will get the book only if someone actually has it and does not have to borrow it. Well, existence is like that book. Existence is handed down the chain of causes, from cause to effect. If there is no first cause, no being who is eternal and self-sufficient, no being who has existence by his own nature and does not have to borrow it from someone else, then the gift of existence can never be passed down the chain to others, and no one will ever get it. But we did get it. We exist. We got the gift of existence from our causes, down the chain, and so did every actual being in the universe, from atoms to archangels. Therefore there must be a first cause of existence, a God.

But the universe is not a book and cannot be borrowed or handed down. That analogy is incredibly weak. The properties of a book and the properties of the entire universe are very different. He's also assuming the existence of archangels without establishing that they exist.

If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on nothing and could not exist. [This one sentence refutes Dawkins, no?]

No, that sentence does not refute Dawkins, it merely restates the Cosmological Argument, and throws in a false dichotomy on top of it.

In more abstract philosophical language, the proof goes this way. Every being that exists either exists by itself, by its own essence or nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist, as a triangle cannot not have three sides. If, on the other hand, a being exists but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause, a reason outside itself for its existence. Because it does not explain itself, something else must explain it. Beings whose essence does not contain the reason for their existence, beings that need causes, are called contingent, or dependent, beings. A being whose essence is to exist is called a necessary being.
The universe contains only contingent beings. God would be the only necessary being—if God existed. Does he? Does a necessary being exist? Here is the proof that it does. Dependent beings cannot cause themselves. They are dependent on their causes. If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on nothing and could not exist. But they do exist. Therefore there is an independent being.

Restating the same non sequitur over and over does not make it true. The "something else must explain it" does not have to be a deity.

Saint Thomas has four versions of this basic argument.

* First, he argues that the chain of movers must have a first mover because nothing can move itself. (Moving here refers to any kind of change, not just change of place.) If the whole chain of moving things had no first mover, it could not now be moving, as it is. If there were an infinite regress of movers with no first mover, no motion could ever begin, and if it never began, it could not go on and exist now. But it does go on, it does exist now. Therefore it began, and therefore there is a first mover. [These two sentences, seem sufficient to refute Dawkins, who merely asserts that the first mover is subject to a mover before him, effectively denying the existence of a first mover and consequently forfeiting an explaination for why anything at all moves, violating the Principle of Sufficient Reason.]

Dawkins does not violate the Principle of Sufficent Reason, he merely points out that the explanation that "God Dit It" does violate the Principle of Sufficient Reason. He doesn't use the phrase "Principle of Sufficient Reason", he points out that claiming god does require a mover is special pleading.

* Second, he expands the proof from proving a cause of motion to proving a cause of existence, or efficient cause. He argues that if there were no first efficient cause, or cause of the universe's coming into being, then there could be no second causes because second causes (i.e., caused causes) are dependent on (i.e., caused by) a first cause (i.e., an uncaused cause). But there are second causes all around us. Therefore there must be a first cause.

I'll let Hume's response answer that for me:
In such a chain too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by that which preceded it, and causes which succeed it. Where then is the difficulty? But the whole, you say, wants a cause. I answer that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable should you afterwards ask me what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts.

Essentially, Aquinas has not provided a sufficient reason for us not being able to trace an infinite chain of events into the past.

* Third, he argues that if there were no eternal, necessary, and immortal being, if everything had a possibility of not being, of ceasing to be, then eventually this possibility of ceasing to be would be realized for everything. In other words, if everything could die, then, given infinite time, everything would eventually die. But in that case nothing could start up again. We would have universal death, for a being that has ceased to exist cannot cause itself or anything else to begin to exist again. And if there is no God, then there must have been infinite time, the universe must have been here always, with no beginning, no first cause. But this universal death has not happened; things do exist! Therefore there must be a necessary being that cannot not be, cannot possibly cease to be. That is a description of God.

There is a serious fallacy with this argument. First of all, it has not been established that everything won't eventually die. In fact, this directly contradicts what science tells us, that the universe will probably eventually suffer a heat death and turn cold. We don't know if there will be a Big Crunch, a Big Bounce, or some other event that will start the whole universe cycle over again, but to assume that a deity is involved is a non sequitur.

* Fourth, there must also be a first cause of perfection or goodness or value. We rank things as more or less perfect or good or valuable. Unless this ranking is false and meaningless, unless souls don't really have any more perfection than slugs, there must be a real standard of perfection to make such a hierarchy possible, for a thing is ranked higher on the hierarchy of perfection only insofar as it is closer to the standard, the ideal, the most perfect. Unless there is a most-perfect being to be that real standard of perfection, all our value judgments are meaningless and impossible. Such a most-perfect being, or real ideal standard of perfection, is another description of God.

This is a really weak argument by Aquinas. There is no standard definition of "perfection" or "goodness" that we can use as a meaningful yard stick, and Aquinas has not satisfied the Principle of Sufficient Reason for this premise. In addition, just because we can conceive of a perfect being does not mean that such a being exists or is necessary. I can conceive what a leprechaun looks like and what his properties are, but that does not mean that he exists.

There is a single common logical structure to all four proofs. Instead of proving God directly, they prove him indirectly, by refuting atheism. Either there is a first cause or not. The proofs look at "not" and refute it, leaving the only other possibility, that God is.

Wrong. Aquinas has been well-refuted by many philosophers and for a long, long time. His arguments are full of logical fallacies and assumptions. Kreeft's statement above is completely wrong. Even if Aquinas had managed to refute "not", that would not validate the possibility that a god exists, and would certainly not validate the existence of the Christian god or the truth of Christianity. Even if it did validate the existence of a creator or first cause, it does not follow that such a creator would be involved in our daily lives, or would need to still exist.

Each of the four ways makes the same point for four different kinds of cause: first, cause of motion; second, cause of a beginning to existence; third, cause of present existence; and fourth, cause of goodness or value. The common point is that if there were no first cause, there could be no second causes, and there are second causes (moved movers, caused causers, dependent and mortal beings, and less-than-wholly-perfect beings). Therefore there must be a first cause of motion, beginning, existence, and perfection.

Restating the arguments do no make them true.

How can anyone squirm out of this tight logic? Here are four ways in which different philosophers try.

* First, many say the proofs don't prove God but only some vague first cause or other. "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the God of philosophers and scholars", cries Pascal, who was a passionate Christian but did not believe you could logically prove God's existence. It is true that the proofs do not prove everything the Christian means by God, but they do prove a transcendent, eternal, uncaused, immortal, self-existing, independent, all-perfect being. That certainly sounds more like God than like Superman! It's a pretty thick slice of God, at any rate—much too much for any atheist to digest.

No, they do not prove that such a being exists, and they are easily refuted by the logic of the average 8 year old who would automatically ask "who made god"?

* Second, some philosophers, like Hume, say that the concept of cause is ambiguous and not applicable beyond the physical universe to God. How dare we use the same term for what clouds do to rain, what parents do to children, what authors do to books, and what God does to the universe? The answer is that the concept of cause is analogical—that is, it differs somewhat but not completely from one example to another. Human fatherhood is like divine fatherhood, and physical causality is like divine causality. The way an author conceives a book in his mind is not exactly the same as the way a woman conceives a baby in her body either, but we call both causes. (In fact, we also call both conceptions.) The objection is right to point out that we do not fully understand how God causes the universe, as we understand how parents cause children or clouds cause rain. But the term remains meaningful. A cause is the sine qua non for an effect: if no cause, no effect. If no creator, no creation; if no God, no universe.

Kreeft again makes false analogies such as comparing human fatherhood and divine fatherhood without satisfying your Principle of Sufficient Reason. He even points out how false his analogy is by pointing out that we know how parents create children and clouds create rain, but claims that the analogy is still meaningful without establishing how it's meaningful. While it might be true that every effect requires a cause, Kreeft has still not established that the cause must be a divine being. He just makes circular arguments and jumps to a conclusion that satisfies his belief.

* Third, it is sometimes argued (e.g., by Bertrand Russell) that there is a self-contradiction in the argument, for one of the premises is that everything needs a cause, but the conclusion is that there is something (God) which does not need a cause. The child who asks "Who made God?" is really thinking of this objection. The answer is very simple: the argument does not use the premise that everything needs a cause. Everything in motion needs a cause, everything dependent needs a cause, everything imperfect needs a cause. [Only non-powered box cars need a cause for them to move and in-turn pull another box-car. The ultimate cause is an engine. It is its own explanation and doesn't need a cause.]

Presumably, a divine being would have to move to create the universe, therefore the argument is still circular and one of infinite regression. You have not established that your "engine" has to be a god, much less your god.

* Fourth, it is often asked why there can't be infinite regress, with no first being. Infinite regress is perfectly acceptable in mathematics: negative numbers go on to infinity just as positive numbers do. So why can't time be like the number series, with no highest number either negatively (no first in the past) or positively (no last in the future)? The answer is that real beings are not like numbers: they need causes, for the chain of real beings moves in one direction only, from past to future, and the future is caused by the past. Positive numbers are not caused by negative numbers. There is, in fact, a parallel in the number series for a first cause: the number one. If there were no first positive integer, no unit one, there could be no subsequent addition of units. Two is two ones, three is three ones, and so on. If there were no first, there could be no second or third.

Real beings are not the universe-again with the weak analogies. How do you know that the universe is not more like numbers than it is like people? No, positive numbers are not cause by negative numbers, but they do follow negative numbers in a sequence. The position of zero, in regards to time, may be arbitrary. If we place zero at the instant of the Big Bang, we don't currently know, and my never know, what happened before. Perhaps the Big Bang that created our universe was only one in an infinite number of Big Bang/Big Crunch/Big Bounce cycles. We don't know. Using the Cosmological Argument is claiming to have such knowledge without any evidence, and contradicts much of what we know about the universe.

To sum up, your response leave me to believe that you haven't really read Dawkins and tried to understand what he was saying. Rather than think out your own responses, you've merely appealed to authority and presented the most convenient fallacious arguments that support what you want to believe. If you really want to refute Dawkins, or any other atheist, you're going to have to do better than that.

The 114th Carnival of the Godless


The 114th Carnival of the Godless is up at Deep Thoughts.

Saturday, April 4, 2009



It continues to amaze me how willfully ignorant people can be about atheism and science. This post is an all-too-common opinion of atheism and science, and it's this kind of ignorance that makes me fearful of the future of this country:

The belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned in dinosaurs ……..

Makes perfect sense.

Debaptism Certificates in the UK


There's been a bit of buzz lately, even in the mainstream media, in the UK about the National Secular Society debaptism certificates.

The certificate says:

I ________ having been subjected to the Rite of Christian Baptism in infancy (before reaching an age of consent), hereby publicly revoke any implications of that Rite and renounce the Church that carried it out. In the name of human reason, I reject all its Creeds and all other such superstition in particular, the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged ORIGINAL SIN, and the evil power of supposed demons. I wish to be excluded henceforth from enhanced claims of church membership numbers based on past baptismal statistics used, for example, for the purpose of securing legislative privilege.

I'm a bit of two minds about this. First, I kinda like the idea of making the deconversion process "official" and formalized, at least for some people. We humans like ceremony and formality at some level, and this makes a clean break.

On the other hand, it doesn't actually do anything for the deconverted, and it actually lends some sort of credibility to the baptism. Just ignoring the baptism, at least for me, is acknowledging the value and effect of the baptism, which is exactly none. Is it worth the £3? Perhaps, as a novelty item. It seems to mostly be done in fun, and I hope most people take it that way. I hate doing anything that lends legitimacy to religion.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy Atheist Day


Vjack over at Atheist Revolution has a good post about the whole "the fool hath said in his heart "there is no God".

My favorite part is his reminder that the bible also says:

Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. -Matthew 5:22