Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why Pascal's Wager is IRRELEVANT

The Christian game theorist Jack Holgroth, whose OBJECTIVE: Ministries (an activist Christian site full of right wing propaganda) wrote this Game theory payoff matrix to show why Pascal's wager is such a... *heh-hem*... strong argument against atheism.

The matrix shows the atheist will lose infinitely while the believer in God will win infinitely.

If you think it sounds like the game might be rigged, then you'd be correct (for reasons I shall shortly explain). 

I was actually surprised to see this on an actual "Game theorists" page, because anyone who actually is calculating a payoff matrix, such as betting on a horse at a horse race, has to calculate the chances of all the horses in that race, not just the top rated and the least rated.

Also, if introducing infinitude into the wager also seems peculiar, again you'd be right.

Objection 1: Other Probable Gods
The above game wager payoff matrix fails to consider each and every possible contender in the race. That is, it fails to account for all the alternative god possibilities that exist or ever will exist. Because this game isn't about just one set of horses. It is a game which is betting against all the horses in existence, that have ever existed, or that will ever exist. That's the nature of the god-probability-game. Without accounting for all possible gods, the matrix will be incorrect and the results will therefore also be incorrect. 

Monotheism is not an assumption which can simply be made a priori. In order to get to monotheism, one has to demonstrate there are no other gods. If the demonstration isn't made, then belief in other gods is equal to belief in a monotheistic God since the a priori assumptions are equal. So the matrix needs to be revised to account for this.

The matrix should therefore read:

  • God Exists +1 infinity*(Believer) -1 infinity (atheist)
  • Other Gods Exist +1 infinity*(Believer) -1 infinity (atheist)
  • No God or god(s) Exist -1 infinity*(Believer)  +1  infinity (atheist)

Since the revised matrix properly includes other gods, as monotheism is not an assumption which can simply be made, and the probability of other gods existing is equal to the Christian God, it is an infinite gain to believe in other gods.

Being a monotheism, however, Christianity says there are no other gods. This claim needs to be validated otherwise the matrix is meaningless when other Gods are thrown into the mix. Why is it meaningless? Because a Christian cannot believe in the Christian God and other gods simultaneously, as this nullifies what it means to be a Christian--and Christian belief becomes irrelevant. Which is why objection one succeeds in demonstrating Pascal's wager to be erroneous. 

Thus when all other gods  (past, present, and still to come) are properly considered, the probability of the Christian god existing is negated by the equally probable existence of *other possible gods. 

This is why, logically speaking, Pascal's wager doesn't work.

Objection 2: Contradictions in Terms
Like most Christians, the author has misunderstood the nature of infinity as it applies to reality and not surreal numbers. It seems, as a game theorist, he was talking in terms of mathematics. That is, the theoretical framework by which infinity can be described. But the problem should, I hope, be obvious.

God is said to exist infinitely. Theologians typically mean that God exists without limit. Even so, let's not forget that infinity is really only a duration of time. How much time? An infinite amount. Time without limit, one could say. To say God exists as a limitless being (note: God's supposed existence is what distinguishes him apart from a surreal number) is to say he exists within the frame work of space time and not outside of it. Therefore to claim God is both infinite and transcendent is a contradiction. 

Let me explain.

As Albert Einstein showed us, nature is a little more complicated and less intuitive than we commonly are lead to believe. According to Einstein's theory of *special relativity, Einstein was able to show that time is relative and that infinity has a finite beginning at the beginning of all space and time, i.e. the big bang.

In Einstein's law of special relativity there was no dimension of *time before the big bang--as the big bang is what created time as we understand it. Time itself is merely the fourth dimension of physical reality.

An *infinite being cannot exist outside of space time because that would mean it would be existing outside of *infinity. 

You may want to read that last sentence again as it is vitally important to get clear.

Time cannot exists outside of time, as far as Einstein is concerned. Therefore, it makes no sense to designate infinitude to the property of belief in the Christian god. Why? Because the Christian god, according to those who believe in him, is a transcendent being. 

Why does objection 2 apply in the first place? If we are talking only about God's infinite nature, then why would God's transcendence haven any sway on the outcome of the wager?

It's like this. The payoff matrix states one will gain infinitely if they chose to believe in God and are right, while those who do not believe will lose finitely. 

Regardless, the only way to say one can gain infinitely by choosing God is to *assume God is infinite in nature. According to the assumptions of Christian theologians, we come into God, whatever that could mean, and our gains would be infinite as God is an infinite in being. This is what the assumption is making prior to the wager is made and before anything gets calculated.

But can we allow theologians to ignore God's other properties when describing the Christian God? I would argue no. Not when theologians are simply selecting from a priori assumptions. If you ignore God's specific attributes of God then you are not describing the *Christian God, but rather, you are talking about a generic deistic being. If so, then objection 1 is even more pertinent than I initially thought.

If Pascal's wager only describes God in generic terms, and all generic deistic entities are equally probable, then it is an infinite gain to believe in any or all of them. So in order to specify belief in the Christian God modifiers are used to differentiate him from other God. Modifiers like the Christian God being *infinite. The question becomes, why does the above matrix include one modifier and not another? 

Because when you get specific, as I have, you find contradictions in terms. A god that exists for an infinite duration of time outside of time itself does not make any sense. It is a negation of terms. The possibility of such a being is ZERO.

So even if you choose to write belief in God's existence as +1 infinity, it doesn't actually matter. We cannot ever get that far. The very belief in such a being is based on arbitrary selecting attributes which negate each other before the math can be done. 

If you persist on writing out Pascal's wager anyway, taking into account contradictory terms, then it's not +1 infinity for the existence of God. Rather, seeing as how the existence of such a being is equal to zero, the math should reflect this and be written as (+1 x 0) * infinity. I kept the +1 to keep with the format of the above math. However, it is simpler just to write 0 instead.

You cannot multiply infinity by zero. All you get is 
0 * ∞ = c. It's an undefined, or indeterminate, number. Limitless, sure. But also meaningless when attached to descriptions of God. The question becomes: what do you think you are betting on?

A contradiction in terms complicates Pascal's wager to the point of making it moot. Which is why certain terms are frequently ignored in favor of ones which suit the purpose of the theologian. This only goes to show that Pascal's wager is rigged from the start.

Objection 3: A Moral Conundrum
I mentioned briefly that according to Pascal's wager one could bet on God without actually believing in him. This problem arises when one overlooks objection 1 and simply agrees with the math as written. Although the math by itself is correct, it once again neglects to consider the other attributes of God. Why is this problematic? Because it is technically describing a different God than Christians actually believe. Which is why it is important to not overlook the properties of God when weighing the wager. 

The problem is like this, God being omniscient he would *know whether or not you were lying. Since the Christian God views lying as a sin, feigned belief would not likely do you any good. Therefore Pascal's wager, and this is kind of funny, only works for Christians as only true Christians *full of conviction could gain from it. If it only applies to Christians, then the wager becomes irrelevant.

It would be like taking bets on a Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees baseball game, only to say, it doesn't matter who you bet on because only those who are true Red Sox fans will win. Everyone else will lose--for no other reason than they are not genuine Red Sox fans. How is that not a rigged bet?

This creates a moral dilemma, for obvious reasons. You get forced into having to believe the Red Sox are the best, only true, baseball team worth believing in. Even when that is not what you can honestly believe. What if the Red Sox suck that year? What if the Yankees upset them to go on to win the World Series? There are always other factors which need to be considered before putting down on a wager.

In religious terms, then, these other factors are just as important to consider before betting on the existence of God.

Granted, Pascal's wager is designed to rationally convince the atheist that it is safer to err on the side of caution and bet on the existence of God than not to. But even though this appeals to our rational brain, the reasoning if flawed. There are many other, independent, reasons why it is impossible to believe in the Christian God. Yet none of these reasons are accounted for in Pascal's wager, which means, if an atheist has other reasons for not believing then they will not likely be convinced by the probability that they would gain anything in a false, or feigned, belief--given what we know about the nature of God. 

Like in real life, it is always good to have all the information available before you throw down on a wager--whether it is a Red Sox vs. Yankees game or belief in God vs. atheism. The thing is, however, in the case of God vs. atheism, once all the information is considered, the wager becomes erroneous. It's not so simple as Pascal would have us believe.

The objections I raise here are devastating to Pascal's wager. Objection 1 shows that any payoff matrix has to include other Gods as monotheism is not an assumption that can simply be made without a valid demonstration. When other gods are thrown into the mix the wager becomes absurd. 

Objection 2 shows that contradictory terms will seek to make Pascal's wager moot, and therefore Pascal's wager is designed to ignore the various properties of God in favor of a simplified math, proving the wager is rigged from the start. Consequently, it seems to be an over simplification as it renders the Christian God into a generic one. As such, objection 1 becomes all the more pertinent.

Objection 3 ignores the math but deals with the implications of the wager. If the wager is taken for granted, then it can be believed. But when it is properly scrutinized, however, it reveals itself to be an immoral proposition.

Taken together, all three objections reveal why Pascal's wager should be rejected.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Universe From Nothing book review plus Commentary

Review: Much Ado About Nothing 
I finished Lawrence Krauss' new book A Universe From Nothing this week. In it he addresses the philosophical, physical, and theoretical implications behind the question why there is something, namely a universe with the sort of matter and energy that we find ourselves living in, rather than nothing. Krauss goes into great detail to explain, in layman's terms, how nothingness gives rise to something like the universe.

Overall this was a very easy physics book to read--or maybe it should be categorized as a philosophy of science book because it is dealing with the philosophical implications of science instead of being a straight forward explication of science. However, if you're into heavier physics reading then this book may seem rather on the light end of the spectrum. Which is why I downloaded The Quantum Universe by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw to read along with this one. Luckily, I read Krauss' prior book on Richard Feynman Quantum Man, which is one part biography and one part introduction to the history of quantum mechanics, a good medium level read that helped prime me for the advanced physics concepts being discussed in Cox and Forshaw's new book.

At any rate, I feel like Krauss' book is a valuable addition to the ongoing debate between science and religion. I recommend religious believers read it and get updated as to the latest evidence based knowledge we have regarding the origins of the universe and why we observe something instead of nothing at all. One reason it is important is because it tackles an age old theological debate and really tears it apart with a current 21st century understanding of the world. I am certain most theologians and theists will simply not know how to defend their position after reading this book.

Commentary: A Theological Chestnut Cracked
The age old theological chestnut has been to claim that God created the universe from nothing. This, seemingly, fits with the Biblical account of creation. So, when faced with die hard empirically minded rationalists and those who deny the existence of God, the theologian has grinned wide, and fallen back on their trump card, the first cause argument, "Why is there something rather than nothing? What caused the big bang?"

Unable to answer such a question, the non-believer is then forced into having to accept the obvious truth of the matter--God did create the universe. For the theologian, all creation is a testament to God's existence. After all, it's the only explanation.

Or is it?

Lawrence Krauss, a renowned American physicist, begs to differ. There is another explanation. Once science can now provide us with. Of course, this has the theologians sweating bullets. Their trump-card argument has apparently become another God-of-the-gaps type argument. In other words, the first cause argument is a lame duck which will, in all likelihood, die off.

Krauss starts of by making the distinction that there are various conceptualizations of nothing. There is a physical nothingness which means the abscence of something, and their is a philosophical nothing which is an esoteric form of absolute nothingness--of non-being even. This type of nothingness, entirely void of being, is the one which theologians concern themselves with. But the problem is that such an esoteric concept is largely useless when it comes to talking about the nothing which has typically been thought of a an emptiness of physical space with literally nothing in it. For Krauss, the false vaccum, or quantum field, which makes up all space is as close to nothing you can get. On the other hand, the reason we find the philosophical question to be quite useless, Krauss observes, is that one of the reasons we have science is so that "we may supplement this understanding with reflection and call that philosophy."

Science reveals that absolute nothing akin to non-being only exists in the mind of theologians, because the properties of the universe are a lot more complex and cannot easily be reduced to an absolute nothingness. That's just not how it works. The surmising of theologians, in fact, has no sway on how the universe actually is. Perhaps if they studied their science a little better they would learn to ask the right sorts of questions. Highly doubtful, however, coming considering theology is a bankrupt institution that borrows it's knowledge from invented truths, unlike science which can only test the evidence and information we do have perchance to figure out which is true knowledge and which is not. Falsifiability, then, is the key that allows science to work wonders in explaining to us what is and isn't true. Theology can merely make assertions--most of which aren't even falsifiable.

Science informs us how reality really is whereas philosophy allows us to come to terms with understanding the our place in the natural world.

For this reason, Krauss largely ignores the purely esoteric concept of nothing. It is merely a fancy which isn't sustainable because it has no valid relationship with reality as we know it. We can't just erase quantum fields. They are proved to exist. So we must accept the evidence and let the chips fall where they may. I must caution though, that it seems reckless to me, to place God outside of reality, as an eternal, immutable, transcendent being (and often wrongly claimed infinite being--which is impossible since infinitude depends on special relativity. Basically there is no sense of time outside of time--which makes the theologian mistaken to call God infinite).

All these descriptions of God, as well as any others, are not based on any actual observation or evidence but are merely surmised. To place God outside reality, beyond all space and time, is the same as saying God exists in a non-reality. How is that possible? (Theologians will often make the statement that the problem isn't God's supposed ability to exist in a non-reality, but rather, us humans simply cannot fathom the true complexity of God; due to our finite minds. Finite minds, the theologian harps, cannot understand infinite minds. Again, they make the mistake of misunderstanding infinitude, but worse, the claim is a cop-out. There is no evidence to suggest a finite mind cannot detect and comprehend to X degree a infinite mind. It is just another baseless assertion. Besides, if the theologians are right, and we cannot truly comprehend God, wouldn't they be out of a job--theology being the study of God and all? How can you study something which is impossible to comprehend in the slightest?) As Krauss reminds us throughout the book, defining God as anything so platitudinous is simply a case of semantics.

Krauss continues on to inform us that

"Implicit in the question of why there is something rather than nothing is the solipsistic expectation that "something" will persist--that somehow the universe has "progressed" to the point of our existence, as if we were the pinnacle of creation. Far more likely, based on everything we know about the universe, is the possibility that the future, perhaps the infinite future, is one in which nothingness will once again reign."

This quote really made my mind race. I, for one, have never actually thought of the question why something rather than nothing in this way: why nothing, then a flicker of something in the corner of one's eye, but then nothingness forever after that brief (barely perceptible) something? Why so much nothing before that blip, only to be followed by a never ending nothing?

To assume the question "Why something rather than nothing?" is important, as most theologians do, you have to make the assumption, as Krauss points out, that the universe was intended for us and not just a random quantum fluke. The science, however, suggests the fluke is much more likely. In fact, the entire filed of quantum mechanics practically guarantees it.

So the truth of the matter is, nothingness is headed our way with a vengeance (to paraphrase the late great Christopher Hitchens).

As for the decay of all matter and energy in the universe, Krauss points out, "our universe will then re-collapse inward to a point, returning to the quantum haze from which our own existence may have begun... our universe will then disappear as abruptly as it probably began."

Nothingness is inevitable.

"In this case, the answer to the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" will then simply be: "There won't be for long.""

So what of God? Does this prove that there wasn't any supreme deity outside of space and time that supposedly created the universe? Krauss says we can't rule it out, but it doesn't seem very likely given what we know. Of course, this shows the objectivity of the scientist, since you would never hear a theologian say the same about the competing claims made against his God--that God might be imagined, we just don't know. No theologian I know, at least, has admitted as much.

So what then is the role of science with respect to God? Krauss quotes physicist Steven Weinberg who emphasized, when it comes to science and religions, "[science] does not make it impossible to believe in God, but rather makes it possible to not believe in God."

Emphasis mine.

Richard Dawkins closes the book with an afterword which basically summarizes the key points of the book. The one point he makes worth repeating is this:

"We may not understand quantum theory... but a theory that predicts the real world to ten decimal places cannot in any straightforward sense be wrong. Theology not only lacks decimal places: it lacks even the smallest hint of a connection with the real world. As Thomas Jefferson said, when founding his University of Virginia, "A professorship of Theology should have no place in our institution."

That's just it though. If we really want to know the answer to the question "why something rather than nothing" it will not be the theologians who provide it. Their answer is--God did it. So much for understanding.

Rather, real knowledge comes from observation, evidence, testing, and applying science to weed out the bad theories and find the correct theories--always inching towards a better understanding of the universe. So far it seems the scientists are making good headway, while the theologians, well, they're sticking to the same fruitless, dead-end, answer they have stuck with for over two thousand years.

The question we must ask ourselves is, who do we really think will win this argument? I for one am placing my bet firmly in the camp of science.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is God Infinite? A Couple of Objections.

Objection 1: Disagreement Among Definitions
Theologians often claim that God is an infinite being.

I think one problem theologians have is that they seek to apply definitions to God without any referential validation for attaching the terms.

Basically, theologians and theists are merely dressing God up with fancy descriptors as they imagine him to be, but not actually describing something they have knowledge of--otherwise their definitions would match much more than they do and there would be a lot less confusion.

So theists who say God is love, or God is all knowing, or God is merciful, or God is just, or God is transcendent, immutable, beyond space and time, are simply supplying labels, or sets of labels, which "describe" God as they imagine him to be. 

This is why God almost always conforms to people's religious and cultural beliefs. If God actually existed, then it would be the other way around. All the cultures would conform to the same beliefs because all the properties of God would be described in the same way with little to no disagreement. But since there is no actual referent to provide adequate description of, all the definitions of God inevitably vary. They very so much, in fact, that the majority of them are incompatible.

As I have said time and time again, if there was something tangible, something real, informing people's experience then that experience would agree because it would be universally the same. Thus the descriptions of God would also be the same. But they are not.

Since what people are attempting to describe isn't based on anything real, anything self-evidence, everyone's experience of God is essentially different. Subsequently the terms they use to describe their individual experiences of god depend on their cultural world view so the way they interpret their experience(s) ultimately differs as well. Which is why, I think, most definitions of God are diffuse and differ so greatly.

Objection 2: God of the Gaps
In the past we (humans) created supernatural explanations for things we did not fully understand (indeed, we still do. See the book Supersense by Bruce M. Hood. It's a function of how the brain compensates for type 2 errors. Also see Michael Shermer's book The Believing Brain. I have discussed this elsewhere on this blog quite in depth so I shan't rehash it all here). 

When we attempt to explain things we don't fully comprehend we can only attach approximate, or analogous, meanings to these experiences. The more mysterious an event or experience, the more mystical, spiritual, or metaphysical the language we use to describe it becomes.

Religion is rife which such mystical terminology, mainly because many of the things in human experience happened before we had the refined tools of science to help us correct for the errors our brains are prone to make. 

So in a sense, all the god terminology is dated by the fact that many of the concepts of God, such as the angry Volcano god, or Thor, even the meteorological manipulations of the Christian God, can be explained naturally today with things like weather satellites and seismic activity readers. The technology of science has helped us to refine both our thinking and understanding of the world. And gradually the gaps of our ignorance are closing shut. This of course is known as the God of the Gaps problem.

Scientific explanations have usurped supernatural ones. Thus the supernatural terms have been revealed, for the most part, to be largely the misunderstanding of natural processes. The metaphysical thus loses all meaning in the wake of better scientific understanding and the gods become more and more irrelevant as scientific progress and understanding marches forward. This of course is known as the God of the Gaps problem.

One of the problems I have with those who apply *arbitrary descriptors to God, such as God being infinite, loving, immutable, etc. is that they do not do so because of any experience of God that constitutes any of these things, but because they lack the experience to say what God's nature might actually be should God exist. But their conviction that God is real compels them to supply meaning to the experiences they cannot fully comprehend, and anything they cannot comprehend becomes synonymous with their understanding of God. 

Another reason I protest descriptors being *arbitrarily applied to God is that theologians often imagine they are describing God as God really is when they claim he is such and such, e.g. infinite. Which is why I ask questions like, how do they know that? If I had the same evidence then I could confirm that. But there is NOTHING to confirm, therefore the claim cannot be assumed to be accurately describing anything *real.

As with the previous example of supernatural explanations being attached to natural events, such as being mistaken about Volcano gods and Thor as worthy explanations for volcanic eruptions or thunder storms, we do currently know a great deal about how time works. 

Describing God an an infinite being may have worked for Thomas Aquinas, and theologians before the dawning of science, who had no idea that time was actually a fourth dimension of space time. Einstein proved this with his theory of special relativity. What Einstein showed was that time is woven into the very fabric of space! Hence time is tied to the physical properties of the universe. Which means, time has a beginning at the big bang. Before that, time did not exist. At least it did not exist as we understand it.

The problem is, I think you'll find, is that theologians who continue to describe God as an infinite being are making a huge mistake. It implies that, like the universe, God could have a finite beginning. This would mean God is not outside space and time, because his infinitude would be tied to physical existence. God would therefore have to exist as part of, or because of, the universe. Which Transcendentalists are apt to deny. 

Hence it is a contradiction to claim God is both infinite and transcendent. 

God cannot transcend time if he is bound to time. A timeless God, in other-words, cannot exist outside of time. An infinite God can exist infinitely within the framework of time, however. So it shows what we have here is merely a contradiction in terms which makes the theologians concept of God invalid. 

Whether there may or may not be a deity which has the capacity to exist outside of time, on the other hand, remains a complete mystery.

Given these objections, it seems philosophically untenable for God to be an infinite being.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Porn: Should Humanists Support Pornography?

[Note: A recent debate in the secular world on whether or not Humanists should support pornography compelled me repost my research on this very question in which I weigh the pros and cons of porn and the various cultural views of sexual conduct. I have updated the essay with new information.]

What is Pornography?
What is pornography? Even in the U.S., the land of free speech, the Supreme Court struggled to delineate a standard for pornography. While most definitions are vague or abstract, Justice Potter Stewart famously declared, “I know it when I see it.”

Dictionaries usually define pornography as material containing the explicit description or display of sexual activity. Although, many more describe anything as overtly explicit, such as violence, as worthy of being deemed pornography. In fact, the first cut of the 1980’s film Robocop was so violent that the MPAA didn’t know how to rate it and gave it an X rating (at that time NC-17 wasn’t an option). I feel that excessive violence purely for sport or entertainment, such as the NFL and the Starz television series Spartacus, could each be deemed (borderline) pornographic in the amount of gratuitous violence depicted. Spartacus goes one further than American football, however, by showing all the sex as well. If you want to read about the sex exploits of your favorite sports icons, such as the pimp daddy Tiger Woods, you’ll just have to watch the nightly news. Needless to say, it’s not just gratuitous T&A which constitutes pornography.

Personally, I’ve always found it an artificial dichotomy to view only explicitly sexual material as pornographic, when clearly, explicit violence saturates the entertainment industry. And when you stop to think about it, it sounds a little more than unhealthy that no-holds-barred violence is so often esteemed over unadulterated sex. Having the desire to watch the act of sex (something which comes naturally to us) seems more mentally healthy than having the desire to watch the relentless brutality and violence of men pummeling each other. Especially since studies have found that traditional (i.e., sex) pornography is not harmful to society.[i] 

I can speak only for myself when I say that I’d rather watch a beautiful man and a beautiful woman make sensual love to each other (or even gratuitous "love" like in mainstream porn) rather than see a bunch of sweaty, bloodied, men pummel each other to senselessness then end their big sweaty romp in a heaping dog-pile only to habitually repeat the senseless ritual all over again. Even a good old fashioned sweaty romp--of two going at it like it was the end of the world--is healthier than, say, the brutality depicted on any given pro wrestling show.

At the same time, to each his own, there is no reason that a sports fan shouldn’t be allotted the enjoyment they get watching their favorite sports team, and there is no reason a sex fan should be denied the same privilege (again—I stipulate—as long as the sex fan is of legal consenting age). But even if it's a rebellious teenager sneaking a peek of their uncle's porn collection, that, in my opinion, is better than them idolizing men who brutalize each other for a living or the violence they might see on any syndicated crime show or action film. 

I don't know what it is, but to me it's eerily wrong when a culture has a crippling phobia of penes and vaginae but sponsors a long term love affair with violence, serial killers, and characters like T-Bag from the hit show Prison Break. Sex is part of our natural make-up, it's built into our DNA, it's basic biology. As the American musical genius Cole Porter sang, even the birds and the bees do it. 

Gruesome murders carried out by Dexter, or the weekly torture of Jack Bauer on the Fox series 24, the endless violent rape cases of Law & Order SVU, and the saturation of non-stop violence we get bombarded with--from the nightly news to nightly television--seems to me horribly unnerving. But people would rather watch extreme violence than even venture for a minute to talk about sex. 

Think about that. It's unsettling.

Sex--and so too porn--is largely deemed taboo. Tuning in nightly to saturate yourself with scenes of murder and mayhem, blood and gore, reminiscent of the brain washing techniques in A Clock Work Orange, however, that's standard fair. That's normal.

Sad but true.

Sex is not evil. People who think consenting sexual activity is "sinful" have their priorities backwards. But sex, for many, is a personal and private matter. The question is, does porn infringe on their own personal and private sexual lives? Not in the least. Porn does not hurt their sexual relationships, although I have heard from many couples it can sometimes help enhance one's love life. Like I said though, to each his/her own. The bottom line is, porn is largely harmless. It employs more women than men, and not just the stars but the staff, as one woman in the industry put it:

I'm female and work at a porn company. It's the least sexist job I've ever had. More females than males work here. (And I'm in software development, not a star.) A few months ago I read somewhere that it's getting close to almost half of porn companies are owned by females... I don't understand why people think it's all this violence against women. The FBI checks our servers monthly and we have to abide by the 2257 law where we have to keep the paperwork on the age of every single person in every movie we offer... I just think most people don't really even know what the porn industry is even like. (link to quote)

According to this insider, the porn industry is *less* sexist than other jobs. Employs more women, thus giving women better job opportunities, and stresses the industry is legal and safe to work in.

I’m certain there are many who would strongly disagree with me on this point, perhaps not because they find pornography damaging in any sense, but may simply find sex embarrassing or too personal. Many more, who are extremely conservative and think sex is in some way immoral, would probably tell me that sex ought to be censored in any society. That's a good question we should ask ourselves. Should sexually explicit material, such as porn, be censored? If so, why?

I think you will find the idea of censoring sex, even to the extent that we censor the porn industry, isn’t so simple after all. Let’s consider this point, what does censoring sex entail exactly? What would compel a culture/society to censor or even seek to prohibit sexual conduct but not other forms of violence and iniquity? In order to discuss this issue, we have to look at what the fear of sex is all about.

Fear of Becoming Tainted: The Purity Myth
Back in 2008 Indonesia passed an anti-pornography bill. The bill stipulates that anybody implicated in the offense where there is pornographic material could spend up to twelve years in prison. Needless to say, the bill is (as usual) extremely vague. Basically anything that shows a sexually explicit image constitutes porn and can be cited as causing an offense.

It may come as no surprise, however, that this bill has seedy religious undertones. Many women’s rights groups fear that this is only the beginning of an Islamic implementation of Shiria law. In fact, rights activists are worried that it’s an Islamic attempt to “control people’s morality.”[ii] However, I would assert that such a law goes further than a mere simple moral guideline, rather, it is distinctly trying to control people’s sexual habits.

Islam, as with Christianity, both have extremely unhealthy virgin fetishes. Many religions and mystery cults over the course of history have been obsessed with the virginity concept. In conservative cultures, especially those dominated by religious modes of thought, it is no wonder that purity is so heavily emphasized and sexual relations looked down upon.  Just as Indonesia seeks to limit pornography, it’s basis is founded in the conservativism of religious thinking which is predicated on the notion of purity.

The feminist author Jessica Valenti’s new book The Purity Myth goes into detail about the negative side effects of purity culture and its cultural ramifications. Valenti argues societal obsession with female virginity, abstinence-only education, and backlash against women’s rights have placed an unhealthy (and unrealistic) sexual expectation on women. By defining women’s worth chiefly through their virginity, purity culture objectifies women by reducing them to their sexuality (just as with pornography), while devaluing other traits such as honesty and compassion.[iii]

Unlike pornography, however, virginity culture does not trust women with their own sexuality. Whereas the sex industry can be liberating for a woman (which we’ll discuss more in-depth shortly) by allowing her the free choice to choose how she uses her body (mainly to express her sexual desires in a visual medium), virginity culture seeks to control the woman’s reproductive right, dictate how she ought to use her body, and relegates her to a sexual object against her will. She gets degraded to the status of an incubator for baring the husband's children--a stay at home baby factory. This idea that women are not as sexual as men, or for some reason shouldn't be allowed to be, is not only archaic but also outrageous. 

Like Valenti, I agree, in order to construct a healthy, egalitarian vision of human sexuality, we must leave the purity myth behind and update our thinking and learn to approach sex maturely and reasonably.

Even so, Indonesia’s law is not restricted only to women. Just this week, one of south-east Asia’s best known male pop-stars, Nazril Irham (aka Ariel), was sentences to three years in prison for leaked sex tapes of him and his ex-girlfriend and current girlfriend.[iv] Muslim protesters rallied outside the courthouse labeling pornography as the reason for “the nation’s moral decline.” Of course, and it’s just a hunch, but relegating women to an inferior status may be the bigger cause for concern.

At any rate, Indonesia’s anti-pornography bill is not just a prohibition against pornographically obscene material, since it inevitably goes further than the mere desire to abolish the sale, distribution, and viewing of such material. In fact, the law allows people to be fined and jailed for the offense of engaging in, or partaking in, sexual activity of any kind (sort of like a far reaching public indecency act). It’s one thing to abolish the material by making it illegal—it’s another thing entirely to demonize the human individual for simply engaging in adult sexual relations.

Indonesia's law is not an attack on porn, it's an attack on humanity and our basic rights to happiness, including privacy and the right to make love to whomever we choose. Instead of helping to spread decency, this law kills any decency a person could have by making it shameful just to engage in sex. Religion often forces its followers into shame for the very same reasons. Sex is somehow vice--a vice--a sin. The same sin Adam and Ever made after they ate of the fruit and became mature. But who has the right to dictate what mature consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home? No one. 

Any law which seeks to strip away or limit a persons right to engage in sexual activity is dehumanizing. First, if you did not want to view porn, then you could judiciously outlaw the sale and distribution of it, and so on. But to penalize those consenting adults who, in their Rabelaisian affairs, decide to document their own licentious behavior behind closed doors, then it seems this bill trespasses on their very right to engage in the most basic of human activities (e.g., sex), and for this reason the bill crosses a line. Secondly, once sexual activities or conduct is made illegal, and seeking to punish those who engage in such conduct, then it goes further than just a law against the viewing or spread of pornography. It becomes a law against prurient behavior and sexual activity. Instead of justice, it is a violation on people’s civil liberties and basic human rights.

Prosperity through Proliferation of Porn
First off, I should state that I am a proponent for adult entertainment (for reasons I will discuss below). I believe a consenting adult has the right to choose who they sleep with, what they watch—whether it is a rated R movie or a porno—and what they listen to. Moreover, I believe adults who wish to watch other consenting adults engage in sexually explicit behavior may do so, as long as there is the clear understanding that all parties involved are of age and have freely given their consent (and no one is in any real danger of being harmed). But I have sociopolitical and scientific reasons why pornography should be permitted also.

The Porn Report, published by Melbourne University Press, collected interesting statistics on porn. The researchers found that there is no difference between right wing or left wing constituents when it comes to viewing porn, and more surprising still, they found that over 60% of pornography viewers happened to be religious (interestingly enough only 32% of atheists view porn regularly). Also, worthy of note, is that women who view porn increased nearly two fold in just over a decade.[v]

Interestingly enough, societies with burgeoning adult entertainment industries tend to have less crime against women. In fact, it is well documented in modern countries like America and Japan where, it seems, the more prolific the porn industry the less violent sex crimes against women there are. Experts have stated that, “It is certainly clear from the data reviewed, and the new data and analysis presented, that a massive increase in available pornography in Japan, the United States and elsewhere has been correlated with a dramatic decrease in sexual crimes and most so among youngsters as perpetrators or victims.” [vi]

Milton Diamond, a sex specialist at the University of Hawaii in association with the John A Burns School of Medicine and Department of Anatomy, Biochemistry and Physiology has shown us that in countries with dense populations, such as Japan, an increase in pornography is closely tied to a decrease in sex crimes against women. Astonishingly enough, from 1975 to 1995 violent crimes against women in Japan decreased by a whopping 60%, as the porn industry nearly quadrupled in size during that same period.[vii] Although there are likely to be other mitigating factors, such statistics seem to suggest that pornography may have a larger role in maintaining women's overall safety and well being in modern societies.

On the other hand, in countries without an established porn industry, or which actively ban such forms of adult entertainment, sex crimes against women are higher than those with an established porn industry. I think conservatism is partially to blame for the belief that women are only good for child rearing, for the purpose of breeding, because often, in such cases, conservatism adheres to the aforementioned purity myth—thus objectifying women as “sexual objects.” Porn also “objectifies women” but for a couple key differences we must keep in mind.

First of all, in a virgin fetish based culture the woman has no choice, the social norms are in place, and she must conform. If not, she is often punished—and in many societies she could face serious injury and harm for simply being caught speaking to another man (let alone having any sort of physical relationship with him).[viii] In a free society a woman may choose the adult industry as a means to get ahead, or because she really does enjoy sex, and so her choice to sell her image, which then gets objectified, is a choice she makes.

Secondly, in a virgin fetish based society the woman cannot choose not to be objectified, but in a free society a porn star can decide to quit and pursue another career  such as the famous Sky Lopez did after she quit the industry. While other women, such as Jenna Jameson, maintain that making porn is not to be seen as disgusting (since what is disgusting about a beautiful woman having sex?), but rather, one should respect the right of the women to choose her own profession and what she does with her body is nobody’s business but her own.[ix]

Patriarchal Mentality vs. Exploitation for Benefit
In studying Japanese women's history, the area of focus for one of my degrees, I mainly focused on the ramifications of a largely patriarchal society and how this has impacted the role of women in Japan. I have spent considerable time studying idol culture (e.g., pop-idols, gravure idols, etc.) and the adult entertainment industry (e.g., AV idols, hostess, health, and snack courtesans, etc.).

Studying Japan has given me an interesting perspective on the objectification of women since, unfortunately, Japan remains deeply entrenched in its patriarchal history, which, as a consequence, lends to a booming idol craze. At the same time however, since there has never been any women's suffrage movement, Japanese women must either succumb to patriarchal cultural norms or else try to gain power over it in much more subtle ways.

One way this works is a woman will choose to exploit the adult entertainment industry knowing that she will partake in an entire industry of objectification, but unlike America, I should add, the pornography industry isn’t viewed with the same level of taboo. In fact, as the case with the news anchor Ann Nanba, she chose to become a porn star even though she already had a high salary job. She didn’t choose this line of work for the money, but because she was a sexual woman who genuinely liked the idea of having sex for a living. This thinking is not an alien concept. More recently, Rina Nakanishi left the popular Japanese pop band AKB48 in 2008 to make her debut as the adult porn sensation Riko Yamaguchi. Whereas in America teen idols like Britney Spears take a lot of flak for dressing down, girls in Japan can break the mold and go into the adult industry without being ridiculed as a slut. In a patriarchal culture as rigid as Japan’s, this allows new avenues of opportunity. In a way, it’s a win-win situation.

Other established porn actresses, such as the twenty-seven year old Sora Aoi, have branched out into music, television, and film while maintaining her status as a leading porn actress. Also, her success has allowed her to become an activist in another sense. In April 2010 she used her celebrity to raise funds to help the Yushu earthquake victims in the Qinghai Province of China. Meanwhile, the Japanese porn actress Hotaru Akane, now retired, devotes most of her time to AIDs education at male clinics around Japan and in 2007 was invited to speak at “Worlds AIDS Day” in Tokyo. In 2008 Akane made her debut as a singer in a celebrity compilation album called Melodic Lover.

My point is, that if women choose to make a living off of sex, the oldest profession there is, and enjoy the work—then I don’t see why we should deny them this right. As the above women have proven, they’re not merely one dimensional nymphomaniacs. Rather, they are hypersexual women, and ought to be respected for it, instead of admonished or shunned. Also, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that pornography isn’t just a cultural side effect wrought by a patriarchal society ending in the objectification of women, as this is not entirely true either. In fact, even if there were no patriarchal basis for such an industry, I’m confident that there would still be a porn industry (albeit somewhat diminished).

In 2003 a study revealed that nearly 10 million American women logged onto pornography websites each week.[x] What this means is, simply put, the demand for viewing porn is not merely coming from males. Even though males dominate the lion’s share of the consumer market, there are enough women, who enjoy watching porn, to sustain a small independent adult entertainment industry. There has long been a consensus that men are more sexually responsive to visual stimuli than women. But recent studies show that it is women who are more responsive to the viewing of sexual imagery. In his book How Sex Works Sharon Moalem refers to a 2004 report that showed women are aroused at the same rate as men, and usually to a larger variety of sexual images, whereas, in a 2007 study, found that men are more focused on faces than women. Moalem explains the reason for this being:

Much of the increased activity is centered in the amygdala, which is deeply involved in processing emotion. So the increased brain activity may be the result of all the time men spend looking at faces. Men may be more consciously responsive to visual sexual stimuli than women because they’re more emotional about it.[xi]

Contrary to popular belief, men aren’t just misogynistic, womanizing, bastards who want to watch sex, but rather, the viewing of sex pulls an emotional trigger in men which stimulates them beyond the mere physical arousal. Furthermore, it seems women are no different. So even if we were to live in a perfect world where the objectification of women was minimal, this doesn’t necessarily mean there wouldn’t be a booming porn industry.

A Controversial Conclusion
Although many will disagree with me, and I invite an informed discussion on the subject, it is my opinion that pornography currently serves a socio-cultural purpose. The sociology and science behind pornography suggests it provides a focus for male aggression and sexual tension, thus lowering the violent sex crimes (such as rape) against women, and the statistical data supports this conclusion. Meanwhile, women may choose to exploit the industry, or else do it for the love of sex, and in either case I have no objections—as long as they are aware of what they are getting into.

Basically, there is a logical conclusion hidden in all this information, whether or not you view pornography as distasteful or not, the fact of the matter is, it’s not harmful to society—but rather is beneficial in more ways than one. That is, quite simply, the more pornography there is—the better off we are.

The bottom line is, anyone who has spent adequate time to properly consider all the pros and cons of porn will understand that the statistics simply do not lie. Porn is good for society overall. It would be a bad idea to ban pornography outright. It would be a worse idea still to ban the act behind the deed, so to speak, since this only interferes with the sexual emancipation of women and infringes on our personal and private lives. Whether we like it or not, porn is beneficial to society and the world. Indeed, it seems pornography is here to stay--and I for one think that's a good thing.


               [i] James Ellias, Porn 101: Eroticism, Pornography, and the First Amendment, p.217 (Prometheus Books, 1999); also see:
"Pornography and rape: theory and practice? Evidence from crime data in four countries where pornography is easily available."
 Kutchinsky B. Available online:
               [iii] Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth, pp.17-41 (Seal Press, 2009). preview available on Google books at:
               [v] Alan McKee, Katherine Albury and Catharine Lumby, The Porn Report, p.28-30 (Melbourne University Press, 2008) Preview available on Google books:
               [vi] Milton Diamond, “The Effects of Pornography: An International Perspective,” originally published in Porn 101 (Prometheus Books). Refer back to endnote number 1.
               [vii] Milton Diamond and Ayako Uchiyama, “Pornography, Rape and Sex Crimes in Japan,” Published: International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 22(1): 1-22. 1999. Available online:
               [viii] —Most recently in Saudi Arabia where four women and eleven men were sentenced to be beaten and flogged simply for mingling. One of the females was a minor, a child, and was sentenced to 80 lashes. A child beaten for talking to another person all because of misguided thinking based on a superstitious purity myth. Of course, there are other factors at play, indeed, this happened in a country which follows a strict interpretation of Islam—one of the most purity fetish driven belief systems in the world. Still, beating men, women, and children simply for having a conversation is an assault on basic human values—and is immoral in the highest sense of the word. See:,7340,L-3909250,00.html
               [ix] Watch Jenna Jameson speak candidly on here carrier and on the topic of sex:
               [x] Milton Diamond, “Pornography, Public Acceptance and Sex Related Crime: A Review,” International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 32 (2009) 304-314; corrected with Corrigendum IJLP 33 (2010) 197-199. Available online:
               [xi] Sharon Moalem, How Sex Works, p.100 (Harper-Collins, 2010).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quote of the Day: Lawrence M. Krauss

"Occam's razor suggests that, if some event is physically plausible, we don't need recourse to more extraordinary claims for its being. Surely the requirement of an all-powerful deity who somehow exists outside of our universe, or multiverse, while at the same time governing what goes on inside it, is one such claim. It should thus be a claim of last, rather than first, resort." --Lawrence M. Krauss

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Scientific Theory vs. Opinion

Scientific Theory vs. Opinion
According to celebrity physicist Brian Cox, head of the ATLAS division of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, the largest and most advanced technology that science has ever developed, and his colleague Jeff Forshaw, a Professor at the School of Physics & Astronomy in Manchester and an expert in the phenomenology of elementary particle physics, they state that a good scientific theory is one that "specifies a set of rules that determine what can and cannot happen to some portion of the world."

Notice that they are dealing with things which occur in reality, i.e. are observable/testable, and thus can be understood according to the physical processes which underline all of reality. Continuing on they add that a good scientific theory must "allow for predictions to be made that can be tested by observation. If the predictions are shown to be false, the theory is wrong and must be replaced. If the predictions are in accord with observation, the theory survives."

Many people have the mistaken notion that if a theory is proved 'true' then it is concrete. That the theory becomes some kind of absolute law which undergirds the workings of the universe. This is not entirely the case. Cox and Shaw are keen to remind us that "No theory is 'true' in the sense that it must always be possible to falsify it."

This is an important point. One which many people who talk about proper theories tend to overlook. 

No single theory is, in principle, infallible. That is, all theories, in order to be scientifically viable, must be amenable to falsification as they are amenable to evidence which can overthrow their incorrect predictions and/or assumptions. 

Additionally, what this means is that all theories are merely tentative because we can never be certain that the theory represents a complete model with one hundred percent accuracy. There is a certain probability that we may wrong, a probability we need, in order for the theory to be falsifiable. 

Indeed, even the best theories, such as Newton's Law of Gravity, which works for large objects with large masses on a large scale was undermined, literally, by the more accurate model of Quantum theory. As Cox and Forshaw explain:

The laws of quantum theory replace Newton's laws and furnish a more accurate description of the world. Newton's physics emerges out of the quantum description, and it is important to realize that the situation is not 'Newton for big things and quantum for small': it is quantum all the way.

Additionally, our scientists drive the point home by asserting:

Any theory that is not amenable to falsification is not a scientific theory--indeed one might go as far as to say that it has no reliable information content at all. The reliance on falsification is why scientific theories are different from matters of opinion.

I find this last quote exceptionally well stated.

Now that we understand what a scientific theory is more clearly, the question becomes, is the God hypothesist, i.e. theistic belief in a God or gods, on par with that of a proper scientific theory?

The Oxford Dictionary of English states the definition of God is: n. the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being. 

Technically speaking, the standard definition of God is falsifiable, all but for the exception of the "creator" bit, which simply remains unknown. In fact, it may prove to be unkowalbe, in which case the claim is entirely baseless. The answer as to how or why the universe exists may simply require nothing more than the answer, "We don't know." The American philosopher Peter Boghossian, of Portland State University, has espoused, "Yeah, we don't know. And you know what? That's a wonderful answer. Not pretending to know things that you don't know is a virtue."

Personal Creator God or Dice Rolling Buffoon?
Personally, I find that science has ruled out any perceptible involvement of God or any interaction he may have on the physical universe, at least as far as we can determined that, as Einstein quipped, God does not play dice. For Einstein, the physical laws were both simple and elegant and there was no need for random or arbitrary events. A tinkering creator is merely a bumbling buffoon who failed to perfect his masterwork the first time around and so must continually tweak it to correct for his many oversights. Such a being could not represent the supreme being of religion for the very reason an imperfect creator's supremacy is called into question by his very bumbling nature. 

I suppose, there is the oft ignored possibility that God could be an idiot who accidentally created the universe, still a creator by any definition but simply an unintentional one. This, however, is not a theory religious people like to entertain because it would simultaneously mean they are both worshiping the wrong God and that the embarrassment of this astounding revelation would have them wishing the atheists were right.

Although Einstein was primarily concerned with the physical laws remaining fixed when he invoked, what the beloved Irish poet W.B. Yeats would call: the Grand Artificer, I would go one further and say that science has boldly determined that there are no random or arbitrary supernatural events effectively overriding the known physical laws of the universe. That is to say, no supernatural event has ever been observed and cataloged by science in the everyday functioning of the physical laws.

This seems to suggest, quite assuredly, that we have good reason to suspect that there is no God, or at the least, that post creation his supreme power as a so-called creator ceases to be relevant. One may argue that an irrelevant God is, perhaps, less desirable than no God at all. But I'll leave that up to you to decide.

Objective Morals--If they Exist
As for God being the source of all moral authority, the fact that there are good, kind-hearted, and compassionate atheists disproves the claim. But one might argue, as C.S. Lewis did, that moral laws underscore even an atheist's moral reasoning (whether they admit to it or not) and that the very existence of moral laws, then, denote a moral law-giver. 

Before you readily agree with such a proposition, however, I would suggest you familiarize your self with Kantian ethics (such as the categorical/hypothetical imperatives) and follow it up with a thorough reading of Hume (and his strict sense of empiricism). If Kant and Hume's analytic reasoning isn't enough to convince us that moral laws can and do arise from the minds of humans, and not supernatural entities such as a God or gods, then modern neuroscience puts the nail in God's coffin, so to speak. 

[Note: If you subscribe to the belief that Kant's categorical imperative, also known as an absolute moral law, is somehow evidence for the absolute laws we get from, ergo, an absolute law-giver then I'm afraid you are not following Kant's reasoning but instead are, ersatz, unintentionally following the trend of Neo-Kantianism. This distinction, however sublte, I think is necessary to make considering the amount of theologians which try and use Kant's categorical imperative to prove an objective and absolute moral law--and thereby prove their own metaphysical assumptions. At least this has been the case in my experience listening to the arguments of and debating with theists.]

Science Can't Prove Everything...Or Can It?
Modern anthropology, psychology, sociology, and neurology all point to man-made morals--a virtual Moral Landscape as the neuroscientist Sam Harris has called it. Regardless of whether or not objective morals actually exist, as much more research needs to be done first, it appears that the science driving this investigation leaves no room for superfluous metaphysical speculation. That is, human morals can, and are to a high degree, explained naturally. Everything from altruism to pacifism can be explained by naturalistic processes. Even love, once esteemed impossible for science to adequately explain, has now been extensively mapped out by modern neurologists. Even so, you will still hear the spiritual believer state, "Science can't explain everything. It can't explain love."

Actually, yes, it can. One's ignorance as to this fact doesn't make the fact any less true. 

Will science be able to explain everything? The remains to be seen. Some believe so, other's do not share their optimism. I for one think it is too early to tell. What we need to keep in mind though, is the areas which are still unfamiliar or mysterious to us will most likely follow the same path of discovery as all the rest, by being explained naturally. Science, we might say, has the potential ability to explain everything within the natural world--prepossessing that Naturalism is true. So far, all the evidence amassed thus far seems to indicate that this is the case, and even if the natural world isn't all there is, then science will surely have the power to detect what else there might possibly be. Thus far, however, science only points toward an all encompassing natural explanation for the universe and all that transpires within it.

This leaves no room for God, in my estimation. 

The theologian is free to safeguard his belief in God by claiming God is beyond this reality, but that is the same as saying that God is outside of reality, i.e. not a part of reality as we understand it. This is something we can neither confirm nor deny, so it, more or less, equates to saying that I imagine God existing some other way. Which is fine, as long as the theologian honestly admits that such a God only exists as an imaginary construct they created to explain God in a way which would continue to let them believe in him despite the fact that he remains completely hidden from our detection.

Returning to the Definition of God

The problem is, most theists do not agree on the definition of God. Most religions, in point of fact, each define God in their own way. Often times their definitions are incompatible. There is little in the way of irenic agreement within or among competing religious faiths and their *multifarious definitions of God. I have talked about the problem this brings in my series on Ignosticism (here's part 2), but today I wish to get at something more basic.

Many religions will try and protect God from the falsification process. That is, many theologians will define God in such a way as to make his very existence unfalsifiable. They will claim something along the lines that God is the highest conceivable being that exists beyond space and time, that he is transcendent and thereby tenable, he is immutable, eternal, and he exists external to the known universe but still interfaces with it (even as, I should point out, we have no direct or indirect evidence of such interaction). Such claims, and many more like them, are simply impervious to disproof. In other words, they are not defeasible. 

However, a defeasible position, impervious to disproof, albeit well protected from being falsified, simultaneously makes the hypothesis impossible to confirm as true. That is, if you cannot disprove it because you have obscured it so readily, it is just as likely that you will be unable to prove it for the same reasons.

In which case, we can confidently affirm that, belief in God and matters of theology are no more than matters of opinion.

Defeasibility is a Prerequisite of Justification
If religious people want their "beliefs" to be taken seriously they have to offer properly supported beliefs and not simply unfounded opinions. Moreover, if they want their beliefs to be true, then they have to start working diligently to justify those beliefs and not simply demand we give them the benefit of the doubt. Or worse, demand we respect their beliefs for the simple fact they hold them to be true without so much as an investigation into what that claim entails. If the claim cannot demonstrate itself, then it is likely to be false. 

What does this mean for the person of faith? 

It means they have to make their beliefs defeasible, and their claims and theories falsifiable, and then start working toward discovering the correct system of (religious) belief. To state it more precisely, all belief must be defeasible as defeasibility is a prerequisite of justification. Ultimately, if a belief isn't defeasible then it can never properly be justified. 

The problem is, as I see it, so far all religious believers have offered in the way of evidence for God is sophist opinion and baldfaced conjecture. Instead of sifting through false theories,  weeding out the fallacious ones perchance to discover the correct one(s), they instead make the a priori assumption that their knowledge is correct and so their belief true--and that everyone else is mistaken--without actually having considered any of the other competing claims. 

This is a cheap tactic which simply allows the believer to make their faith irrebuttable. Like the code of the immortal Highlander, "There can be only ONE!" For these dogmatically minded types, it is not a matter of debate. Which is why they promptly jump at the opportunity to remind everyone who does not share their beliefs how wrong they really are.

As long as this a priori assumption of 'one true faith' is made without checking it against other rival claims and competing assumptions and verifying the truth of the statement, however, it will remain unjustified and, consequently, will render one's faith completely erroneous. 

An Unquestioning Faith is Only a Desire to Believe
Sadly enough, even today in the post enlightenment era of the 21st century this uncritical, unreasoning, form of faith based belief is the very kind of faith most religious believers practice--especially when it comes to questions about God. 

Why would people feel compelled to announce they have the truth before actually learning the truth? I can't help but feel that for them it is simply easier to take it on faith that God exists. After all, this is what they have come to believe. This belief is reinforced by other unjustified beliefs, but it is less problematic to take it on faith than to have to go through the arduous and rigorous process of examining each little belief which lead to their conclusion that God exists. 

Here's the thing though, when most people honestly try to go back and approach this issue objectively, painstakingly examining each the minutiae of each belief they suddenly find, more often than not, their faith begins to erode all around them. Those that don't see their castle of faith sinking into the sands are not in the majority, but rather are an exception to the rule. Why we believe what we believe is another area modern neuroscience is explaining with informative results.

Currently, there is good empirical evidence to suggest people are reluctant to give up their beliefs because they are extremely good at rationalizing away discrepancies, not because they are the few who have been lucky enough to stumble upon the correct faith. Most of us know from experience, however, that a fellow person of like belief could have just as easily started out with the same process of examination yet ended up with an entirely different set of conclusions. This reveals that being uncritical of our beliefs is merely a desire to believe because we are too lazy, or too busy, to properly examine those beliefs. Even so, one who has not taken the appropriate time to thoroughly examine their core beliefs has no right claiming that anyone particular belief or set of beliefs they hold to be true is, in actuality, true. 

Usually you know how well a person has considered their respective beliefs after a minute of applying the Socratic method with them and then gauging their adeptness in answering common questions related to their professed system of belief. However much they do or don't stumble over themselves trying to think through questions they may have never seriously entertained before is a good indicator of how critical they have been with themselves in the past and how critical they are likely to be in the future. Believers who take things on a matter of faith, I find, are rarely ever all that critical. You can pinpoint them in two second flat by asking, "Well, why do you believe that?"

If they reply with something along the lines of, "I just do," or "Because I know deep down in my heart it's true," then, chances are, you are dealing with a bona fide person of faith. 

You're No True Scotsman!

Believers don't want to admit that their beliefs might be wrong. Yours might be, which is why if you happened to believe the exact same things as they did starting out, they will adamantly deny it. These types love nothing more than to invoke The No True Scotsman fallacy. 

It shouldn't surprise us that those with strong convictions will, undoubtedly, invoke this fallacy more than those open to reconsidering their position. As it goes, this fallacy, when used in a religious discourse, becomes a sort of defense mechanism which allows the person of pious conviction to bypass the consideration that they might be wrong. Instead of them squarely facing the possibility of being wrong, it's obvious you who were never a true believer. 

The logic behind this fallacy is so laughable it is a wonder it continues to even be brought up. The question those who invoke it need to ask themselves is, why on earth would an atheist pretend they were a Christian for thirty years just to, suddenly do an about face and claim they were mistaken? The believer's response if that the atheist merely was biding their time to, and try not to laugh, make religion look bad. 

I am sure the atheist needn't have bothered seeing as how most religions excel at making themselves look bad enough, even without the help of its detractors. There simply is no good explanation we can come up with as to why so many secret sleeper-cell atheists would chose to hide within the folds of religion for a nondescript amount of time (which is completely random for all we can tell)--unless, of course, we take them at their word--that they genuinely believed once upon a time. 

If anything is close to being certain it is that beliefs an amenable to change. After all, people can and do frequently change their minds. Just stand in line at any given Starbucks and listen to a dozen or so customer orders to see what I mean.

For high end rationalizers, cognitive dissonance has less of an impact for this reason. Rationalizers consist of people who want to believe--either because their faith comforts them or they are not smart enough to cope without their faith should it prove false. Even when the evidence is not in their favor they will continue to believe. They often make faith their bedrock and remind you of it by asserting they know because they know because they know. 

For the highly rational, however, rationalizations simply aren't enough to justify belief in God when there is reason enough to doubt. The question is, is their sufficient reason to doubt? I think science has given us more than enough sufficient reasons to start doubting the claims of religious belief which has for so long been taken for granted.

I firmly believe things will continue as they have since the dawn of modern science. Ever since Newton wrote down his equation that
F = (G x m1 x m2) / r2 and derived gravity, science has been on the steady path to enlightening our minds. Meanwhile, God will continue to pale into insignificance while science continues to gloriously expand our knowledge of, not only ourselves, but the world and the universe too. 

As long as God (or any genuine evidence of him) remains imperceptible, and as long as science continues to explain the universe with surprising accuracy, efficiency, and detail it seems the religious have only one thing going for them--their sheer tenacity to believe in opinions over facts.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist