Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Argument By Design

Recently, JP has had a long string of posts which in different ways state the same old argument: We see life on earth. Since life, and the conditions for allowing life, are so improbable, our presence here must have been by design. In JP's case the designer is god. His recent post is more of the same.

The refutations of this argument have been numerous. Basically, the design argument results from a fatal flaw in the understanding of chance and probability. This same error led to similar claims about the "Torah Codes", which have been repudiated by mathematicians. I would like to specifically focus on these fallacies.

1. The design argument ignores the fact that an improbable event will actually probably occur when there are a high number of trials or repetitions. We have to account for the entire field of possibilities. This is similar to the tossing of a coin. The chances of getting 10 heads in a row with tens tosses is slim. However, with a million tosses it becomes much more likely, and if a million different people do a million tosses it becomes even more likely-- and does not require any outside intervention or design. Thus, with life, with every microsecond of every day for hundreds of millions of years becoming a trial or coin toss, multiplied by every gene on the surface of the earth, we get an astronomical number of trials, or oppurtunities for mutations. The odds of favorable mutations and evolutionary changes becomes ever more likely, even highly probable.

2. Another flaw is that of the predetermined outcome. I would like to credit Second Son with this analogy. Basically, rarity is not proof of anything. My chances of winning the jackpot of the state lottery are exceeedingly small. So is everybody else's, before the lottery. However, somebody does win. If I then take the winner, and say: well, his chances were so low, say 1 in 50 million to win, and yet he won anyway, it most have been by design or divine intervention-- that would not be valid logic or appropriate use of probability. Similarly, when creationists absurdly behold the "after the fact" reality of an improbable event (like the earth and life on it), they are conceptually and cynically misusing the concepts of probability.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Natural Disasters and God

I know I'm not the first to ponder this subject, nor will I be the last.

But it seems that just when we can start to forget about the last disaster and beginning to enjoy "basking in god's light" as JP would say, disaster strikes again. The catastrophe in Haiti is a painful reminder of the fine, almost invisible line between normal, organized and happy life, and total chaos. 30 seconds seperated them.

Each time something like this happens, I think, "how can they really believe in god?". But they do. We humans have a tremendous ability to rationalize, deny, sublimate. We focus our energies on what needs to be done, and deceive ourselves in any way necessary in order to allow ourselves to go forward. So we choose the believe that the dead have gone to a better place. Or that the disaster happened for some good reason. Or, horrifyingly, that the victims deserved their fate. And then there's natural hypocrisy: when the disaster doesn't happen to us, when its far, far away, we don't even have to ask these uncomfortable questions. In that case we are satisfied with the naturalistic explanation. Shit happens. God doesn't really care about them anyway. Only when it happens to us, we search for an answer.

I think that on the Day of Reckoning, God will hold us accountable for having believed in Him. He'll say, "you idiots, I gave you all of the signs that I don't exist. Natural and man made disasters causing untold pointless suffering. A big brain which was able to unlock the secrets of nature and explain almost everything without the need for "miracles". I gave you "The Big Silent Treatment", refusing to communicate with you or answer your prayers. I even showed you that my Holy Book was a fraud.

Yet you stubbornly persisted in your irrational and evil beliefs, and used them to screw other people. Shame on you.

You go straight to Hell.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ten Discoveries that Pull the Carpet from Underneath Revealed Religion

As I commented on a recent post by Jewish Atheist about homosexuality, I had the idea of collecting in one post some of man's greatest recent discoveries and developments, which strike at the heart of revealed wisdom, and give intellectual underpinning to atheism. I won't go into the classic arguments and proofs (like the existence of evil, etc), but just stick to scientific and sociological developments. OK, here I go. In your comments feel free to add more.

1. The germ theory of infectious disease.

2. The neurochemical basis of mental illness

3. The discovery of fossils and evolution (I know thats a lot in one basket)

4. Cracking the genetic code.

5. The documentary hypothesis

6. The discovery of Ugaritic texts in Syria

7. The granting of equal rights to women

8. The acceptance of the ligitimacy and rights of homosexuals

9. The Big Bang

10. The acceptance of brain death as actual death

As I noted in my comment, 2 additional discoveries are "waiting to happen":

11. Discovering the neurophysiological basis of consciousness and the mind

12. Discovery of life on other planets.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Challenge to JP

Here is a thought experiment for the likes of JP:

We know that you believe that the Torah was written by God.
Theoretically speaking, what evidence could you think of, that would prove to you, that the Torah, AS WE KNOW IT, was conceived of and written by men?

I ask myself the same question in reverse-- what would prove to me unequivocally that the Torah, as is, was written by God?

Proofs for me would be the at least one of the following:

1. God explicitly revealing himself nowadays, unequivocally, and telling us that he wrote it.

2. That nature would somehow transform itself, so that the "supernatural" miracles described in the Torah would be seen nowadays.

3. That we would be provided unequivocal evidence of life after death, soul, or whatever.

4. As an alternative to #3--that nature changed such that justice is preserved in this world.

(Notice that all of these things are conditions described by some commentators as Messianic times)

I purposely omit arguments from the documentary hypothesis, since theoretically a God would write the book however he wants-anachronisms and all. This thought experiment deals with the text as is.

What do you say, JP? What would convince you? Remember: the more spectacular the claim, the stronger the evidence must be.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I'm on a break

JP's postings have been getting kind of repetitive and boring. I am finding it tedious to attempt to rebut the same things over and over.

Meanwhile I'll occasionally check in on his blog to see if he comes up with anything original or interesting. If so, I'll respond here.

Thanks for following my blog.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

JP's Anti-Zionist Rhetoric

The Heredi communities, in the US and Israel, are not monolithic. Some are less Zionist than others. For example, Israel's Sefardi heredi community is very zionistic and tends to be politically nationalistic. On the other hand, some Ashkenazi communities are not so enthusiastic about the State of Israel, to say the least. Some Hasidic sects, such as toldot aharon or neturei karta, and violently anti-zionist.

JP's self-righteous but wrong-headed approach to Israel is often heard by members of the ashkenazi ultra-orthodox community. As is well known, most of the ultra-orthodox world, as well as the reform movement, was opposed to the creation of a Jewish state, but for different reasons. The reform movement was busy assimilating and saw no point in promoting the zionist project which would separate Jews from the gentiles of the world. The orthodox were opposed for ideological and practical reasons.

JP, as we know, is in the business of making unprovable predictions and using them as evidence in his arguments. We read things like, "If atheists prevail, humans will self-destruct". Or, "skeptics and atheists will burn in hell", etc.

Now he makes a prediction about Israel.

"Without the support of the US in ignoring the UN, I don't think it has much chance."

People said that 60 years ago, and Israel is infinitely stronger militarily, economically and diplomatically than it was then. Current events are a blip on the screen. The Arabs have gotten stronger only with their terrorist weapons (ie rockets) and their oil wealth that can't militarily defeat a country.

Regarding Iran, even if they get a nuclear weapon, Israel can destroy them many times over, and therefore it is likely that they won't use it. (just as Saddam didn't use WMDs on Israel).

To be sure, the next war in Israel might be nasty, with civilians taking a big hit. But that doesn't defeat a country.

In the 21st century, assymetric guerilla warfare in urban areas is the norm, and defeats and victories are moral and psychological. This is what Israel and the West are dealing with now. No more pitched tank battles and aerial dogfights. Now its house to house combat, and rockets on civilians. Israeli is coping better with this threat than any other country.

Many people have predicted that a holocaust in America is only a matter of time. (I don't believe this prediction nor JP's). So I've given up on predictions, and I don't listen do anybody else's either.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More JP Idiocies

With breathtaking ignorance and idiocy, JP has declared the death of science.

The fallacy of his argument is that he picks and chooses what he considers to be progress, while ignoring all of the other inconvenient facts. This is typical of all of his arguments.

Sure, life expectancy increase has slowed. And with limited resources, scientists and governments have to prioritize. With remote technology there's no need to send a man to Mars, since we can learn more from robots. He totally ignores the change in human lifestyle as a result of communications and travel, which has increased man's mobility and wealth many fold since the 60s.

In the medical field many things are treatable now that were hopeless in the 60s, including certain cancers, deafness, blindness, paralysis, amputations etc. Doesn't he think that LASIK surgery is revolutionary? What about cochlear implants? The Internet?

Because information has exploded, it is less concentrated in the hands a few scientists than in the past. So while you have Nobel prize winners and leaders in many fields, it becomes difficult to identify intellectual giants like Einstein and Darwin.

JP, along with his fundamentalist friends, are truly afraid that science may make religion irrelevant one day.