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.