Monday, December 21, 2015

Why Sam Harris is a moron, Part 2: Objective Morality

Someone actually gave Sam a PhD, for his moral landscape thesis. I hope all the universities aren't giving out PhDs for theses based on not knowing the definition of a word. The word Sam doesn't seem to know the definition of is "objective". 

I'm going to speak today about the relationship between science and human values. Now, it's generally understood that questions of morality -- questions of good and evil and right and wrong -- are questions about which science officially has no opinion. It's thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value. And, consequently, most people -- I think most people probably here -- think that science will never answer the most important questions in human life: questions like, "What is worth living for?" "What is worth dying for?" "What constitutes a good life?" 
So, I'm going to argue that this is an illusion -- that the separation between science and human values is an illusion -- and actually quite a dangerous one at this point in human history.
Some of Sam's fans have the strange notion that Sam has only ever argued that science can be used to help us reach moral decisions. But, as he clearly states here, Sam acknowledges that people already use science in such a way. I've never heard anyone argue that you can't use science in such a way. So, no, that is not the gist of Sam's argument. That would be a Captain Obvious line of argument, that would deserve little attention. What he is setting out to do, "the separation between science and human values is an illusion", is to argue that you can get an "ought" from an "is".  

In case you haven't heard of the is/ought problem before... 

How does Sam manage to bridge this gap? Through make believe, is how he does it. 

Well being is not new concept, but Sam likes to pretend that he has found the perfect objective definition for "well being". And, if you don't believe him, well then, you're an "imbecile". 
Now, many of you might worry that the notion of well-being is truly undefined, and seemingly perpetually open to be re-construed. And so, how therefore can there be an objective notion of well-being? Well, consider by analogy, the concept of physical health.
Okay, let's consider the concept of physical health. Science can show us that, if you do what is healthy, and avoid what is unhealthy, then you have a better chance of living longer.  So what? I also have a better chance of living longer if I never go sky diving. That doesn't mean I ought to never go sky diving. Science will also show us that, if we find a cure for all sickness, disease, and aging, that we will likely have a serious population problem on our hands. Nowhere does science tell us that we ought to prolong the lives of as many people for as long as possible. That's just something we decide to do, all on our own because we, as individuals, would like to live as long as possible.

Science doesn't actually care about you, or me, one little bit. While science can show that someone is riddled with cancer it, in no way, tells us what we ought to do about it. I could just as easily use facts to support putting them out of their misery immediately, as I could to support prolonging their lives as long as possible. It would reduce suffering and save money, if we just put them down, as quickly as possible.
Well think of how we talk about food: I would never be tempted to argue to you that there must be one right food to eat. There is clearly a range of materials that constitute healthy food. But there's nevertheless a clear distinction between food and poison.
Sam seems to be suggesting that we ought to avoid putting poisons into our bodies. This is a very strange notion. I'm glad he's not an actual medical doctor. I take it Sam has never heard of treatments for cancer, or that death due to over-dosing is listed as death due to poisoning, by the CDC. We put "poisons" into our bodies constantly. You are only actually "poisoned", if you take too much of something. Aside from drugs and alcohol, you can also "poison" yourself with things like caffeine, and black licorice. You can even "poison" yourself to death with too much water. I would hope Sam doesn't suggest that everyone avoids water.

At best, we can objectively state that, if you put X amount of substance A into your body, you will likely die. Now, if you don't want to die, then it might seem obvious that you ought not do that. But, what if dying, or killing, is exactly what you want to do? Some places that have deemed capital punishment a valid punishment for certain crimes, poison people to death. Sometimes we are in favour of compassionate assisted suicide and poison people to death. If we bend the rules for certain things, does it cancel out any objectiveness? I'd say yes. I'd say the end goal is relative to the situation.

According to Sam, the answer is no, you can bend "objectivity" all you want. Another very strange notion.
Consider, by analogy, the game of chess. Now, if you're going to play good chess, a principle like, "Don't lose your Queen," is very good to follow. But it clearly admits some exceptions. There are moments when losing your Queen is a brilliant thing to do. There are moments when it is the only good thing you can do. And yet, chess is a domain of perfect objectivity. The fact that there are exceptions here does not change that at all.
What is objective, about chess? The board is 8 squares by 8 squares. A certain piece is allowed to move in a certain way. If your king is captured, you lose the game. And, that's about it. A good principle is not objective, at all. What you ought to, and ought not, do is totally relative to your goal, and the situation you are in. Even winning being the goal isn't "objective". If you are playing your child, and want to let them win, then you ought to let your king be captured. If you're in a situation where you believe the best move is to lose your queen, then you ought to lose your queen. There is no "perfect objectivity" to chess. You make your move relative to the situation you are in, and relative to your end goal. 

Sam seems to have a serious problem understanding, exactly, what "objective" means. It should mean that something is true, independent of a mind. Something that is true should always remain true. If a mind is deciding that something is true sometimes, but false at other times, to suit them, then that something should not be considered "objective". 
Now, this brings us to the sorts of moves that people are apt to make in the moral sphere. Consider the great problem of women's bodies: What to do about them? Well this is one thing you can do about them: You can cover them up. Now, it is the position, generally speaking, of our intellectual community that while we may not like this, we might think of this as "wrong" in Boston or Palo Alto, who are we to say that the proud denizens of an ancient culture are wrong to force their wives and daughters to live in cloth bags? And who are we to say, even, that they're wrong to beat them with lengths of steel cable, or throw battery acid in their faces if they decline the privilege of being smothered in this way?
Sam likes thought experiments, so let us imagine that someone we love is doing something that almost anyone on the planet would consider immoral...something absolutely vile, disgusting, horrid. You can pick the worst think in your own mind. Now, would it be an "objective" fact that we ought not hurt said loved one, in an attempt to stop them? I don't know about anyone else, but I can think of a reasons why I might hurt, or even kill, someone I love, in an attempt to stop them for doing the unthinkable (molesting a child is my pick for the worst). So, I don't see the "objective" ought not beat, harm, or even kill someone you care about, should the worst be happening.

Again, we're faced with a subjective and relative judgement. In my personal opinion, a wife or daughter going out whenever they want, wearing whatever they want, shouldn't be grounds for resorting to such extreme behaviour. Someone else might consider those things terrible. There is no "objective" truth, here. What I need to do is convince them of my truth. Or, we need to come to some kind of subjective consensus about what is, and isn't, acceptable, that we can both live with. That's how the democratic process works. If there were objective scientifically demonstrable moral truths, we wouldn't need democracies.
Now the irony, from my perspective, is that the only people who seem to generally agree with me and who think that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions are religious demagogues of one form or another. 
But the demagogues are right about one thing: We need a universal conception of human values.
The irony becomes somewhat less ironic the more Sam lands himself on the side of religious demagogues with his arguments. It's starting to become expected. While "we need" is a swell appeal to emotion, it won't make your argument any more true. Sam has provided zero evidence of any kind of objective morality. What we actually need to do is frame our arguments well, and convince others to our version of morality.
Now, what stands in the way of this? Well, one thing to notice is that we do something different when talking about morality -- especially secular, academic, scientist types. When talking about morality we value differences of opinion in a way that we don't in any other area of our lives. So, for instance the Dalai Lama gets up every morning meditating on compassion, and he thinks that helping other human beings is an integral component of human happiness. On the other hand, we have someone like Ted Bundy; Ted Bundy was very fond of abducting and raping and torturing and killing young women.
And, then Sam suggests we can just discard moral opinions that we don't agree with, just like we can discard the opinions of a scientist who wasn't a specialist in the field we're discussing. Now, is science going to tell us which voices we can discard? According to my science, we can discard the opinions of someone who justifies torture, justifies more guns, justifies financial support of the worst Islamist country in the world, justifies a nuclear first strike, justifies profiling, justifies fear mongering, etc. By Sam's own "logic", I say we can discard The Moral Landscape, presented by such a morally inept person.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Why Sam Harris is a moron, Part 1: Islamophobia

It is hard to know where to begin, with Sam Harris. He is so addled, that it's going to take multiple posts to describe just how addled he is. Let's start with Islamophobia.

When I recently asked Sam Harris what he thought of the word 'Islamophobia,' he directed me to a tweet that noted the following: “Islamophobia. A word created by fascists, & used by cowards, to manipulate morons.” 
“I don’t think [the tweet] overstates the case by much,” said Harris

You know, one thing I'd expect a neuroscientist to to have somewhat of an expert opinion on is phobias. Yet, Sam Harris constantly rejects Islamophobia as not a thing. To argue that it doesn't apply to you, and describing why it doesn't apply to you, or describing why it doesn't apply to certain criticisms, would be a valid line of argument. However, to just suggest it doesn't exist, is moronic nonsense.

Arachnophobia: In a basic sense, arachnophobia is an irrational fear, or hatred, of spiders. Yes, some spiders are very dangerous, and some will try to kill you. But, to have a fear of all spiders is quite irrational.

Islamophobia: Likewise, an irrational fear, or hatred, of Muslims, or anything Islamic. Yes, some Muslims are very dangerous, and some will try to kill you. But, to have a fear of all Muslims is quite irrational.

To argue that there are no people that have an irrational fear of all Muslims, or anything Islamic, is utter nonsense. Even if only one person in the world was afflicted with it, it would still be a thing. People standing outside a mosque with automatic weapons aren't doing it out of bravery. They're doing it out of fear. These tough guys, can actually be considered chicken shits. They're truly scared to death.

Another way to look at is that, like racism and sexism are specific kinds of bigotry, a number of phobias can be seen as specific kinds of xenophobia. Some specific things seem so strange, or foreign, to some people's minds, that they form an irrational fear, or hatred, of it.

Xenophobia: an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange

Homophobia: an unreasonable fear or hatred of homosexuals or of that which has to do with homosexuality

Judeophobia: an unreasonable fear or hatred of Jews or of that which has to do with Judaism or anything Jewish

Islamophobia: an unreasonable fear or hatred of Muslims or of that which has to do with Islam or anything Islamic

For Sam Harris to just outright deny the existence of Islamophobia indicates he's somewhat of a moron, who fails at his own speciality, neuroscience.

So, could Sam, himself, be considered to have an irrational fear of Muslims, or anything Islamic?

On the one hand, Sam does sometimes differentiate between Jihadists, Islamists, Muslims, etc., in some of his writing. Where Sam seems to have a problem, as many other people do, is differentiating between a religion and a holy book. A book is not a religion.

"My honest view is that Islam is not a religion of war or of peace - it's a religion. Its sacred scripture, like those of other religions, contains passages that many people would consider extremely problematic. Likewise, all scriptures contain passages that are innocuous. Religion doesn't inherently speak for itself; no scripture, no book, no piece of writing has its own voice. I subscribe to this view whether I'm interpreting Shakespeare or interpreting religious scripture." ~ Maajid Nawaz
A religion is something practised by an individual, or a group of individuals. To get from point A (book) to point B (religion), you need people. In this case, specifically Muslims. To say that "Islam is the mother load of bad ideas" amounts to saying that Muslims come up with "the mother load of bad ideas". For Islam, itself, to be "the mother load of bad ideas" would mean that no Muslim could be practising a religion that is not "the mother load of bad ideas".

It seems somewhat ironic that non-believers have been pointing out contradictions in religious texts, for centuries, yet now we have some coming along and claiming there is one correct way to interpret those religious writings. Even more ironic, is that he helps promote that the extremists' interpretation of Islam is the correct form of Islam, rather than promoting the most moderate interpretation possible. Sam just helps Islamists and Jihadists argue that theirs is the "true" Islam.

Constantly expressing his interpretation of the Qur'an as the more correct Islam would suggest that we should be afraid of every Muslim. Whether, or not, he has the phobia himself, he sure as hell does his best to help spread irrational fear.

Sam, himself, admits that anti-Muslim bigotry is a thing, while claiming Islamophobia isn't a thing. The problem here is that, if you take the Islam out of the Muslim, they're no longer Muslim. The actual irrational fear is that all Muslims follow the exact same, horrible, interpretation of Islam. Sam definitely helps spread that irrational fear.

Let's take a look at a few examples from history, as analogies.

Firstly, at a specific point in history, we could say that almost all Japanese people on the planet were following an ideology that wanted to see the fall of the Western world. Now, even though there was such a large percentage of Japanese people in the world against us, was it right to spread fear of all Japanese people? Was it right to start fearing the Japanese people living in our own countries? Even Dr. Seuss got into it.

Taking that path, down the road of fear, led to us treating Japanese citizens absolutely horribly. Now, I know Sam's version of utilitarian morality allows for torture, so he may think this was reasonable, but I think it was a deplorable way to treat our own citizens. Even if the majority of Japanese people in the world were against us, punishing those who did no wrong was, in my opinion, immoral. Of course, my morality is only subjective, or relative. I don't have science based "objective" morality, like Sam (that'll be Part 2).

Another point in history we can look at is the early years of the Cold War. Even if one could say that the USSR, and their brand of communism, were some kind of threat to the United States, an irrational fear of everything to do with socialism/communism led to treating people horribly. People were spied on by the government, encouraged to spy on each other, people were blacklisted, interrogated, imprisoned, banished, etc. It was a terrible way to treat people.

Not only did it lead to people turning on each other, but it led to bomb shelters, and a constant state of fear of nuclear war. It was emotional abuse, for the government to bombard people with so much fear, and hate, mongering.

I'll Godwin myself here, as I point to another example. The Nazi party took their fear of communism even further. Hitler blamed an entire religious group, Jews, for communism. This is very much comparable to blaming an entire religious group, Muslims, for religious extremism. Now, I'm not saying Sam is about to throw people into ovens, here. However, the 1920s and 1930s propaganda, put out by the Nazis, may not have seemed too bad to some people, at the time. They may have considered it rational criticism of the Jews. They may have considered some of it just harmless cartoons.

Those guys don't even look as threatening as the first guys, above. Just innocently boycotting Jewish establishments, expressing their freedom of speech, and handing out some flyers. No big deal.

So, what is Islam?

Islam is whatever the individual Muslim makes of it. If their version of Islam allows for other ideas, like secularism and democracy, to be incorporated into their interpretation, then their version of Islam is a more moderate interpretation. There are as many versions of Islam as there are Muslims.

Historically, Muslims have indeed allowed for other ideas to be incorporate into their beliefs, so have been practised a more moderate form of Islam. Many of the problems we're seeing today, in certain parts of the world, were results of our own (Western civilization) actions.

Syria, had a democratically elected government. They voted against an oil pipeline. The US backed a coup, to get them out. Iran, had a democratically elected Prime Minister. He wanted to nationalize Iran's oil. The US and UK backed a coup, to get him out. These people are demonstrating, in favour of nationalizing the oil, in 1953, before the coup.

Iraq had a populist leader, who had just overthrown the British puppet dictator. He was talking about nationalizing Iraq's oil. The US backed a coup, to take him out, and install the Ba'ath party. When Saddam later also decided to nationalize Iraq's oil, the US and Israel encouraged a Kurdish uprising. When their puppet Shah fell, the US then turned to help Saddam, who used Western weaponry against the Kurds, and then started a war with Iran.

In Afghanistan, a communist party, friendly to the USSR, ousted the Afghan King, and the US immediately started backing Jihadists, to help draw the USSR into their own Vietnam. Cabul, in the 1970s, before the Jihadists took over.

Western interference started even earlier, with the break up of the Ottoman Empire. There was a reason why most Jews felt safer in a Muslim empire, and many Muslim countries, than they did in many Christian countries. The Ottoman Empire, the last Islamic Caliphate, had legalized homosexuality. It provided women with many rights they didn't have in many Christian countries. The Ottoman Empire was fairly liberal, for its day, before it was carved up. It was on par with the rest of the world.

Now, imagine that you were trying to overthrow the United States and, in an effort to do that, you made a deal with a bunch of their ultra conservative, 2nd amendment preaching, gun-toating, evangelical Christian, private militia types, to get them to help you. Then, after the war, you carve up the US and put those people in charge of various smaller countries. That is, basically, what happened with parts of the Ottoman Empire.

And, of course, there is what was done in Palestine.

The point being, that a more conservative, Islamist form of Islam, coming to power in many places, is not entirely the fault of Islam itself. Now, so I don't get straw manned, as Harris, and his supporters, are oft to do, I'm not saying that more radical extremist Muslims didn't exist, before Western interventions. I'm saying that, if you're going to remove the moderates from power, and help suppress them when they're not in power, then you're helping make a more ultra-conservative form of Islam become more dominant.

Every situation should be evaluated on its own. Blanket statements about how horrible Islam is, aren't very helpful. It is not helpful to support women by telling any oppressive rulers that they are practising the correct form of Islam. It is not helpful to tell the women that any oppression or mistreatment they're experiencing is the fault of their own religious beliefs. Tossing groups like Hezbollah in with groups like Al Qaeda, and talking about them as if they're the same thing, also not helpful, and fairly dishonest. Especially in, and around, Israel, there are some valid grievances that need addressing.

Like the Qur'an, there are many violent passages in both the Bible and the Tanakh. However, Quakers are Christians who practise Christianity. To argue that the real Christianity, itself, is inherently violent, would mean that Quakers couldn't be real Christians. The same goes for Islam. To argue that the real Islam, itself, is inherently violent, would mean that moderate Muslims couldn't be real Muslims. This makes for the No True Scotsman argument, put out by many. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015


"In its relation to religion, the century now drawing to 
its close is emphatically the Age of Agnosticism."

"If one were asked to name the two most characteristic intellectual attitudes of the latter half of the nineteenth century, one would probably be safe in answering - Evolutionism and Agnosticism."

"Establish the meaning of these without question, and we have principia from which we may deduce creeds and systems, the usefulness of which cannot be exaggerated, especiallyinan age of agnosticism."

"Seth went on to observe how noteworthy and surprising it was that an age which saw such remarkable achievements in science 'should be also the Age of Agnosticism, the epoch of the creed Ignoramus et ignorabimus'."

"The present philosophical situation has become simply intolerable"; "so far ... as the social and moral interests of mankind are concerned," the nineteenth century had become "the AGE OF AGNOSTICISM."

"The intellectual revolution caused by scientific findings had made, in relation to religion, the latter half of the nineteenth century the Age of Agnosticism."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Huxleyism: the theory of the anthropoid descent of man and its inevitable consequences.
Clarence Edwin Ayres, Huxley (1929) p. 242.

Darwin's bulldog was patently a man of almost puritanical uprightness.
Cyril Bibby in 'T.H. Huxley: Scientist, Humanist and Educator (1959) p. 56.

It was worth being born to have known Huxley.
Edward Clodd, biologist and biographer in Memories (1916), p. 40.

I think his tone is much too vehement.
Charles Darwin in letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker about Huxley's Royal Institution lecture in 1854.

My good and kind agent for the propagation of the Gospel; i.e. the Devil's gospel.
This humorous remark closes a letter by Charles Darwin, to Huxley (8 August 1860), but it can also be interpreted as referring to Louis Agassiz, rather than Huxley himself.

"Pope Huxley"
Richard Holt Hutton in the title of an article in which he accuses Huxley of too great a degree of certitude in some of his arguments. The Spectator (29 January 1870).

Huxley, I believe, was the greatest Englishman of the Nineteenth Century — perhaps the greatest Englishman of all time.
H. L. Mencken in "Thomas Henry Huxley" in the Baltimore Evening Sun (4 May 1925).

All of us owe a vast debt to Huxley, especially all of us of English speech, for it was he, more than any other man, who worked that great change in human thought which marked the Nineteenth Century.
H. L. Mencken in "Thomas Henry Huxley" in the Baltimore Evening Sun (4 May 1925).

The row was over Darwinism, but before it ended Darwinism was almost forgotten. What Huxley fought for was something far greater: the right of civilized men to think freely and speak freely, without asking leave of authority, clerical or lay. How new that right is! And yet how firmly held! Today it would be hard to imagine living without it. No man of self-respect, when he has a thought to utter, pauses to wonder what the bishops will have to say about it. The views of bishops are simply ignored. Yet only sixty years ago they were still so powerful that they gave Huxley the battle of his life.
H. L. Mencken in "Thomas Henry Huxley" in the Baltimore Evening Sun (4 May 1925).

From [1854] until 1885 Huxley's labours extended over the widest field of biology and philosophy ever covered by any naturalist with the single exception of Aristotle.
Henry Fairfield Osborn in Impressions of Great Naturalists (1924) p. 107-8.

Huxley gave the death-blow not only to Owen's theory of the skull but also to Owen's hitherto unchallenged prestige.
Henry Fairfield Osborn in Impressions of Great Naturalists. (1924) p. 113.

The illustrious comparative anatomist, Huxley, Darwin's great general in the battles that had to be fought, but not a naturalist, far less a student of living nature.
Edward Bagnall Poulton in Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species (1909) p. 58.

A man who was always taking two irons out of the fire and putting three in.
Herbert Spencer.

The papers are printed and circulated among the members, and begin to form a little volume. Among the contributors have been Archbishop Huxley and Professor Manning.
Bishop Connop Thirlwall Letters to a Friend (1881) p. 317.

I believed that he was the greatest man I was ever likely to meet, and I believe that all the more firmly today.
H. G. Wells in The Royal College of Science Magazine (1901).

If he has a fault it is... that like Caesar, he is ambitious... cutting up apes is his forté, cutting up men is his foible.
"A Devonshire Man" in the Pall Mall Gazette (18 January 1870).

I'm a good Christian woman — I'm not an infidel like you!
Huxley's cook Bridget, after being scolded for drunkenness, as quoted in Huxley : From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest (1997) by Adrian Desmond.

Oh, there goes Professor Huxley; faded but still fascinating.
Woman overheard at Dublin meeting of the British Association of 1878, quoted in The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1900) by Leonard Huxley, p. 80.

His voice was low, clear and distinct... Professor Huxley's method is slow, precise, and clear, and he guards the positions that he takes with astuteness and ability. He does not utter anything in reckless fashion which conviction sometimes countenances and excuses, but rather with the deliberation that research and close inquiry foster.
Newspaper account of speech at opening of Johns Hopkins University (13 September 1876), quoted in The Great Influenza : The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (2005) by John M. Barry, p. 13.

Monday, August 10, 2015


Confusion on people's views stems a lot on definitions. Using different definitions of labels causes confusion. Using different definitions of what it is we're supposed to be contemplating the existence of also causes much confusion.

So, what do I mean by "gods"? 

The starting point for almost all concepts of "gods", has one or more intelligent beings who exists beyond our known universe (beyond, because our known universe doesn't exist at the beginning of almost every creation story). That starting point is the bare bones concept of "god", described by deism. Deism (root "deos") is just Latin for Theism (root "theos"), so I consider it to be the most basic form of theism, without all the specific religions' or mythologies' attachments. This is somewhat similar to our concept of "aliens" as just some kind of intelligent beings who exist beyond our planet, or even solar system. 

To write an "alien" science fiction story, and prior to giving the beings descriptions, attributes, powers, etc., one would first have to have the bare bones "aliens" concept in their head. I apply the same principal to "gods". To write a "gods" fantasy story, and prior to giving the beings descriptions, attributes, powers, etc., one would first have to have the bare bones "gods" concept in their head.

I look upon the Bible and a Superman comic, in a similar light. If someone thinks the Bible is evidence of "gods" existing, I consider that as logical as someone thinking a Superman comic is evidence of "aliens" existing. On the flip side, if someone thinks they can scientifically show that "gods" or "aliens" don't exist with a copy of the Bible or Superman, then I think they are being quite illogical, as well. 

An added aspect to religious writings are claims of personal experiences. Unlike Superman, this is equivalent to people claiming to have personal "alien" experiences. That part of the equation leads to a chicken and egg question. Which came first, the concept of "aliens", or claims of "alien" experiences? Which came first, the concept of "gods", or claims of "god" experiences? With regards to "aliens", it seems that the concept came first. 

Does evidence suggest there are no other intelligent "alien" beings in the known universe, outside of planet Earth? No. The universe is vast, and we have barely begun to actually explore it. Then how can someone say there is evidence to suggest that no intelligent "god" beings exist in the known universe, outside of planet Earth? 

If we add the concept of "multi-verses", does evidence suggest there are no other individual universes existing beyond our known universe? No. We still haven't come to a consensus on whether, or not, there is a single-verse or there are multi-verses. Then how can someone say there is evidence to suggest "god" beings do, or don't, exist beyond our known universe? 

The first step in trying to scientifically disprove the existence of a Bible, Torah, Qur'an, etc., "God", is to accept that it's some kind of valid evidence, in the first place, that you can test and falsify. Again, that seems, to me, like accepting that a Superman comic is valid evidence for "Superman", that you can test and falsify. That sounds like pseudo-science. 

Added to the "gods" concept is that the "gods" then bring forth our known universe. Where they supposedly exist, though, is answered by where they are said to exist, before that happens.

The question then is, if creating universes is an ability that can't be separated from the concept of "gods", is creating universes possible? According to theoretical physicists, that answer is "yes". 

If we did create a universe, we would, by definition, be deistic "gods". There would also exist a universe potentially filled with trillions upon trillions of beings considering us "gods" and speculating as to whether we're "good" or "evil", what we look like, what abilities we have, etc., and maybe even having personal experiences that some of them think our interactions with us. They might write stories, based on those speculations and experiences.

The ironic part would be that, if we couldn't interact with our creation, we would be speculating about what exists within it, if anything (we could do a shit job and the whole thing could just explode into nothingness without our even knowing it), as much as they are speculating what exists beyond it, if anything.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

ADDLED ATHEIST #5: David Nicholls

"Agnostics of the planet are a very dangerous breed"

 What the...I'm dangerous? Yet another article by an atheist who stupidly thinks agnostics are trying to squeeze in somewhere between broad definition atheism and theism. An utter moron. And, this moron appears to have been the president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia.

"As adults it is difficult to modify or undo the infant indoctrination but it is possible"

What this supposedly has to do with agnostics, I have no clue. I don't know about other agnostics, but I was taught no religious beliefs. I ended up with no religious beliefs. Of course, the author would call this being "atheist". I don't. I don't like the broad definition "atheist" labelling.
"There are two distinct classes of agnostics: One is the Atheist, who, not wanting to upset family or friends or fearful of some genuine or presumed ostracism by society, is therefore reticent to openly admit that stand, and the other is the confused thinker."
Do I not like the broad definition "atheist" labelling because I'm fearful of something? No. That's stupid. Nothing like an atheist who thinks they have some kind of big balls, for doing nothing. Here, let me give this a try...

There are two distinct classes of atheists: One is the weak/negative atheist who is acting like they have big balls, just because their chosen label puts them in the same boat as strong/positive atheists, when in reality, their own belief is the same as the agnostic's, and the other is the strong/positive atheist cowardly hiding behind a broad definition, so they can pretend they don't have a burden of proof for their "gods do not exist" claim.

Now, I know that's not entirely, or even remotely, correct. So, let's get back to why I don't use the label "atheist". I think calling the middle "atheist" is stupid. Plain and simple. Simply renaming the middle "atheist" is, in fact, not excluding the middle. Anyone who thinks it does, is an idiot. See BINARY BULLSHIT
"While the confused thinker/agnostic can find no rational reason to believe in anything supernatural they maintain their deep survival yearning."
Ummm, no. Huxley's agnosticism is a form of demarcation. Popper was an agnostic, too. No evidence = untestable and unfalsifiable = unscientific and inconclusive. Inconclusive = no belief, either way.
"The confused thinker/agnostic is really just another religious person."
Ummm, no. I treat the concept of "gods" the same way I treat the concept of "aliens". I consider religious writings somewhat equivalent to sci-fi writing. Using some basic concept, the writer imagines stories, descriptions, abilities, etc. Religious texts may also add some parts that amount to personal "alien" encounters, or "god" encounters.
"the path of the confused thinker/agnostic is one far easier to travel than that chosen by an Atheist"
More perceived atheist bullshit.  Agnostics get treated as non-believers. Some theists will argue with and try to evangelize them. Some even think agnostics are closer to some stupid edge, and give some extra effort, thinking agnostics are close to becoming theists. No. Piss off evangelical theists, unless you have evidence. Plus, we get atheists acting like asshats, as well, insulting and trying to convert us. No. Piss off evangelical atheists, unless you have some evidence. Being neither is not "easier".
"The phrase, confused thinker, and the word agnostic, have always been and will forever remain, synonymous."
The phrase, "confused thinker", and "David Nicholls", will forever remain synonymous, to me.


There seem to be quite a few atheists who act like there is only one proposition, "gods exist", in play. They also separate questions of belief and knowledge, and then ask two binary questions. One, regarding belief, and the second, regarding knowledge. 

Do you believe "gods exist"?

"Yes" = theist
"No" = atheist

Do you "know" "gods exist"?

"Yes" = gnostic
"No" = agnostic 

The first problem is that this will only give you 3 possible answers: 

(YY) = gnostic theist
(YN) = agnostic theist
(NN) = agnostic atheist

Using just those 2 questions, the 4th option is an impossibility: 

(NY) = gnostic atheist

It's impossible to not believe "gods exist" but "know" "gods exist". Even if it were possible, it wouldn't be representing what we mean by "gnostic atheist". The "gnostic atheist" must have been asked an entirely different 3rd question: 

Do you "know" "gods don't exist"? 

"Yes" = gnostic (apparently)
"No" = agnostic (I assume)

The second problem is that we should have the "gnostic atheist"'s answer to the 2nd question, and everyone else should have been asked the same 3rd question, and their answers given. That gives us the 4 positions:

(YYN) = gnostic agnostic theist
(YNN) = agnostic agnostic theist
(NNN) = agnostic agnostic atheist
(NNY) = agnostic gnostic atheist

The third problem is that a belief question, regarding the "gods don't exist" proposition, should have been asked as well as the knowledge question, and it too should have been asked of everyone. 

Do you believe "gods don't exist"? 

"Yes" = ?
"No" = ? 

^Fourth problem...there aren't really any binary belief labels for this question. I'll use the "negative" and "positive" terms, even though those words don't really describe beliefs in answer to the question. Now we've got: 

(YYNN) = gnostic agnostic negative theist
(YNNN) = agnostic agnostic negative theist
(NNNN) = agnostic agnostic negative atheist
(NNNY) = agnostic agnostic positive atheist
(NNYY) = agnostic gnostic positive atheist

We arrive at this convoluted mess by attempting to assign labels to all the specific answers, rather than labelling the 5 different positions, at the end.

We'll clean that mess up a bit by saying all theists are "negative", so that's a redundancy. We'll also say that it's redundant to note that a gnostic is agnostic about the opposing question, and that the remaining "agnostic agnostic" positions are agnostic to both, so we'll clean that up too, with only one "agnostic". Now the broad definition "atheism" and narrow definition "agnosticism" looks like this: 

(YYNN) = gnostic theist
(YNNN) = agnostic theist
(NNNN) = agnostic negative atheist
(NNNY) = agnostic positive atheist
(NNYY) = gnostic positive atheist

Labelling, the final positions with broad definition "agnosticism" and narrow definition "atheism":

(YYNN) = theognostic
(YNNN) = theist
(NNNN) = agnostic
(NNNY) = atheist
(NNYY) = atheognostic

Monday, July 27, 2015


One of Huxley's heroes was David Hume, who's philosophy had quite an impact on Huxley. Rob Zaretsky describes an encounter between Hume, showing himself to be an agnostic, and Baron D'Holbach...

"Soon after his arrival, Hume was a dinner guest at the home of the libertine thinker Baron d'Holbach. Hume announced that he did not believe atheists existed for the simple reason that he had never met one. Holbach laughed. Look around you at your fellow dinner guests, "I can show you fifteen atheists right off. The other three haven't yet made up their minds."
Though Hume smiled at Holbach's remark, he was also saddened. Rational proofs against god's existence, after all, were as nonsensical and intolerant as were rational proofs for His existence. Indeed, in Hume's eyes, the three undecided guests at Holbach's table were the only reasonable men in the room. Reason and our sense faculties are simply too flawed to allow for what philosophers call absolute knowledge claims about the world.
Indeed, reason cannot even guarantee our most basic assumptions, like the belief that tomorrow will follow today. Such claims, Hume observed, are based uniquely on experience, which provides absolutely no proof for future events. As a result, how could we ever offer a rational proof for the existence (or non-existence) of a being whose reality falls, in a sense, outside the pale of our senses or reason?"

In that described encounter, D'Holbach appeared to be using a narrow definition "atheist". This was around the time of the French Revolution, when The Cult of Reason surfaced, and tried to violently wipe out religion in France. They too, were most definitely narrow definition atheists. 

In Good Sense, D'Holbach details that skeptics, like Hume, aren't atheists: 

It might be said with more truth, that men are either skeptics or atheists, than that they are convinced of the existence of God. How can we be assured of the existence of a being, whom we could never examine, and of whom it is impossible to conceive any permanent idea? How can we convince ourselves of the existence of a being, to whom we are every moment forced to attribute conduct, opposed to the ideas, we had endeavoured to form of him? Is it then possible to believe what we cannot conceive? Is not such a belief the opinions of others without having any of our own? Priests govern by faith; but do not priests themselves acknowledge that God is to them incomprehensible? Confess then, that a full and entire conviction of the existence of God is not so general, as is imagined.
Scepticism arises from a want of motives sufficient to form a judgment. Upon examining the proofs which seem to establish, and the arguments which combat, the existence of God, some persons have doubted and withheld their assent. But this uncertainty arises from not having sufficiently examined. Is it possible to doubt any thing evident? Sensible people ridicule an absolute scepticism, and think it even impossible. A man, who doubted his own existence, or that of the sun, would appear ridiculous. Is this more extravagant than to doubt the non-existence of an evidently impossible being? Is it more absurd to doubt one's own existence, than to hesitate upon the impossibility of a being, whose qualities reciprocally destroy one another? Do we find greater probability for believing the existence of a spiritual being, than the existence of a stick without two ends? Is the notion of an infinitely good and powerful being, who causes or permits an infinity of evils, less absurd or impossible, than that of a square triangle? Let us conclude then, that religious scepticism can result only from a superficial examination of theological principles, which are in perpetual contradiction with the most clear and demonstrative principles.
To doubt, is to deliberate. Scepticism is only a state of indetermination, resulting from an insufficient examination of things. Is it possible for any one to be sceptical in matters of religion, who will deign to revert to its principles, and closely examine the notion of God, who serves as its basis? Doubt generally arises either from indolence, weakness, indifference, or incapacity. With many people, to doubt is to fear the trouble of examining things, which are thought uninteresting. But religion being presented to men as their most important concern in this and the future world, skepticism and doubt on this subject must occasion perpetual anxiety and must really constitute a bed of thorns. Every man who has not courage to contemplate, without prejudice, the God upon whom all religion is founded, can never know for what religion to decide: he knows not what he should believe or not believe, admit or reject, hope or fear.
Indifference upon religion must not be confounded with scepticism. This indifference is founded upon the absolute assurance, or at any rate upon the probable belief, that religion is not interesting. A persuasion that a thing which is pretended to be important is not so, or is only indifferent, supposes a sufficient examination of the thing, without which it would be impossible to have this persuasion. Those who call themselves sceptics in the fundamental points of religion, are commonly either indolent or incapable of examining.

D'Holbach discusses atheism more, in his The System of Nature:

"But what is this man, who is so foully calumniated as an atheist? He is one who destroyeth chimeras prejudicial to the human race; who endeavours to re-conduct wandering mortals back to nature; who is desirous to place them upon the road of experience; who is anxious that they should actively employ their reason. He is a thinker, who, having meditated upon matter, its energies, its properties, its modes of acting, hath no occasion to invent ideal powers, to recur to imaginary systems, in order to explain the phenomena of the universe--to develope the operations of nature; who needs not creatures of the imagination, which far from making him better understand nature, do no more than render it wholly inexplicable, an unintelligible mass, useless to the happiness of mankind."

Describing theists as the "true deniers" (he does this throughout, flipping the tables on theists and calling them the true atheists, the true infidels, etc.):

 "Thus, to speak precisely, they are the partizans of imaginary theories, the advocates of contradictory beings, the defenders of creeds, impossible to be conceived, the contrivers of substances which the human mind cannot embrace on any side, who are either absurd or knavish; those enthusiasts, who offer us nothing but vague names, of which every thing is denied, of which nothing is affirmed, are the real Atheists; those, I say, who make such beings the authors of motion, the preservers of the universe, are either blind or irrational. Are not those dreamers, who are incapable of attaching any one positive idea to the causes of which they unceasingly speak, true deniers?"

Describing all of what theists attached to the word "atheism": 

 "Let us listen, however, to the imputations which the theologians lay upon those men they falsely denominate atheists; let us coolly, without any peevish humour, examine the calumnies which they vomit forth against them: it appears to them that atheism, (as they call differing in opinion from themselves,) is the highest degree of delirium that can assail the human mind; the greatest stretch of perversity that can infect the human heart; interested in blackening their adversaries, they make incredulity the undeniable offspring of folly; the absolute effect of crime. "We do not," say they to us, "see those men fall into the horrors of atheism, who have reason to hope the future state will be for them a state of happiness." In short, according to these metaphysical doctors, it is the interest of their passions which makes them seek to doubt systems, at whose tribunals they are accountable for the abuses of this life; it is the fear of punishment which is alone known to atheists; they are unceasingly repeating the words of a Hebrew prophet, who pretends that nothing but folly makes men deny these systems; perhaps, however, if he had suppressed his negation, he would have more closely approximated the truth. Doctor Bentley, in his Folly of Atheism, has let loose the whole Billingsgate of theological spleen, which he has scattered about with all the venom of the most filthy reptiles: if he and other expounders are to be believed, "nothing is blacker than the heart of an atheist; nothing is more false than his mind. Atheism," according to them, "can only be the offspring of a tortured conscience, that seeks to disengage itself from the cause of its trouble. We have a right", says Derham, "to look upon an atheist as a monster among rational beings; as one of those extraordinary productions which we hardly ever meet with in the whole human species; and who, opposing himself to all other men, revolts not only against reason and human nature, but against the Divinity himself."

Addressing theists tossing around their narrow definition:

"This granted, we shall be competent to fix the sense that ought to be attached to the name of atheist; which, notwithstanding, the theologians lavish on all those who deviate in any thing from their opinions. If, by atheist, be designated a man who denieth the existence of a power inherent in matter, without which we cannot conceive nature, and if it be to this power that the name of God is given, then there do not exist any atheists, and the word under which they are denominated would only announce fools."

Again addressing theists' use of the narrow definition:

"What has been said, proves that the theologians themselves, have not always known the sense which they would attach to the word atheist; they have vaguely culminated and combated them as persons, whose sentiments and principles were opposed to their own." 

 Again... "whose sentiments and principles were opposed to their own" ...the narrow definition atheist. 

There is too much to quote all of D'Holbach, but he, himself, was arguing that there was no God. He also mentioned a number of publications by theists, whom he considered influential, and who were a voice of the Christian majority, with regard to what they meant by "atheist" and "atheism". 

One such opponent was Buddaeus, and his Treatise On Atheism. Having a look at that, we get an idea of what the theists meant by "atheist", from their own mouths: 

"That a God exists, is a truth so clear and certain, that we cannot deny it without dealing cruelly with our mind, and without making great efforts on ourself. Nevertheless, experience, as well as history ancient and modern teach us that there have been in all ages men so unhappy, which have by force of study and application, finally triumphed  over themselves, or to doubt the existence of God (1), or to even make an open profession of atheism (2), or at least to advance some doctrines, from which a certain consequence is that there is no God (3)"

By Buddaeus' wording, either "doubt" is somewhat different from "atheism", or all 3 roads lead to the conclusion "no God".

"Atheism is a malicious and perverse disposition of spirit (1), by which, without paying heed to conscience, one stifles inspirations and remorse, and sets out to persuade oneself that there is no God (2), or or one approves and obstinately defends certain opinions, from which naturally follow a natural and necessary consequence that cannot be ignored, that there is no God (3)."

 "No God".

"Theoretical Atheism is either ignorant and vulgar, or very philosophical. The former is for those who are guided purely by the stirrings of a blind passion, and are persuaded, or at least claim to be persuaded that there is no God, without taking the trouble to make sense of the phenomena of nature, which otherwise announce the existence of their Creator to us."

"No God".

Another opponent, is one Bentley, and what D'Holbach shortens to Folly Of Atheism

"Psalm XIV. v. 1.
The Fool hath said in his Heart, There is no God; they are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doth good.
I Shall not now make any enquiry about the time and occasion and other circumstances of composing this Psalm: nor how it comes to pass, that with very little variation we have it twice over, both here the 14th. and again number the 53d."

 Bentley tells us all of that which theists attach to the word "atheism", and where they get it from. He repeats the premise throughout, ad nauseum.

"For I believe that the Royal Psalmist in this comprehensive brevity of speech, There is no God, hath concluded all the various Forms of Impiety; whether of such as excludes the Deity from governing the World by his Providence, or judging it by his Righteousness, or creating it by his Wisdom and Power. Because the consequence and result of all these Opinions is terminated in down∣right Atheism. For the Divine Inspection into the Affairs of the World doth necessarily follow from the Nature and Being of God. And he that denies this, doth implicitly deny his Existence: he may acknowledg what he will with his mouth, but in his heart he hath said, There is no God."

All roads lead to "no God". 

"They cannot be said to be of the Atheist's opinion; because they have no opinion at all in the matter: They do not say in their hearts, There is no God; for they never once deliberated, if there was one or no."

What modern atheists might call broad definition atheism is not considered atheism, at all, in the 17th century, at least not by Bentley.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

ADDLED ATHEIST #4: John L. Ateo, and Rachel C.

Contrary to what we suspect she intended to convey with her statement — "I'm not an atheist. I'm an agnostic" — it actually translates to, "I believe in God, although I don't think we can ever prove that he exists".
This is a straw man. The authors, John L. Ateo, and Rachel C., apparently don't comprehend English. They quote Helen Clark, who used some specific language..."no religious convictions", "no opinion to offer", "do not affirm", "leave the question open", and "why bother". Even with all that descriptive language, the moronic authors get tripped up in comprehension, simply because she says "I'm not an atheist" and "I'm an agnostic". It seems fairly obvious that, like many people, Helen Clark is using a narrow definition of "atheism" and a broad definition of "agnosticism". She even clearly told them what definition of "atheism" she was using, by stating "deny flatly the existence of God, or that supernatural forces play any part in the universe".

No doubt some will claim that we have given too broad a definition of atheism, one that only appears to provide two options. This is because a large proportion of the population, especially those of a religious persuasion, believe that atheism really means:
"The belief that God or gods do not exist".
Unfortunately a large proportion of the population are mistaken.
Oh, I see, the authors are tripped up because they are dogmatic in their belief that there is only one definition for "atheism", and that everyone else is using the word improperly. Well, a couple of somebodies need to read some dictionaries: 

1. a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.

someone who believes that God does not exist

someone who believes that God does not exist

a person who believes that God does not exist

a person who believes that God does not exist

Apparently, unbeknownst to the authors, the word "atheist" does have more than one definition. Anyone using the narrow definition, is NOT using the word improperly. The only improperness going on is them misleading their readers. That they're arguing an easily verifiable error, with such absolute certainty, makes them look like absolute idiots.

They are known as 'implicit' or 'weak' atheists, those at the other end are known as 'explicit' or 'strong' atheists.

Again these authors are showing a complete ignorance of definitions. George H Smith came up with the terms "implicit" and "explicit". Implicit atheists are ones that have never heard of, or contemplated, the question of gods. Although all implicit atheists are weak atheists, not all weak atheists are implicit atheists. The terms are not interchangeable. Explicit atheists have heard of, and contemplated, the question of gods. Although all strong atheists are explicit atheists, not all explicit atheists are strong atheists. There are explicit weak atheists. They are the ones who have contemplated the question of gods and simply don't believe it's true. Or, as I prefer to label that position...agnostics.

Move towards the middle of the spectrum and you have atheists who definitely understand the concept of gods but quickly decide that they don't believe in them.
Here, the idiots then somewhat acknowledge the existence of explicit weak atheists, without calling them such, and somehow come to the conclusion that their lack of belief is somehow stronger than the implicit weak atheist's lack of belief. How can you have a stronger absence of belief than someone else? 
The real meaning of Agnosticism

Now the authors finally decide to break out a dictionary...just one provide a single narrow definition of "agnosticism". Let's see if we check multiple sources:

a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic

broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.

a person who does not have a definite belief about whether God exists or not

And, of course, we actually have the primary source for agnosticism...Huxley's own writings. Apparently, unbeknownst to the authors, the word "agnosticism" also has more than one definition.

To show how totally ignorant they are about agnosticism, the authors conclude...

We have tried to show that on the belief spectrum there are only theists and atheists, believers and non-believers. Thus the concept of agnosticism, a mythical land between the two is just that, mythical.

Only complete idiots would think that people are trying to squeeze themselves in between theism and broad definition atheism. Self described agnostics (nothing else) tend to use the broad definition of "agnostic" and the narrow definition of "atheist". Many atheists use a broad definition of "atheist" and a narrow definition of "agnostic". Broad definition weak/negative atheists = broad definition agnostics. It's one thing to argue that you prefer your use of definitions, that the ones you're using are better, but to act like yours is the one and only definition, and to argue against straw men of your own creation, is total garbage.