Friday, May 31, 2019


The word, discrimination, has a negative connotation because it's mostly used when one person is unfairly denying another person some right that others have. When I was a kid, I thought discrimination was a synonym for racism.

But discrimination has a broader application than that, and it's morally neutral. To discriminate is to make a distinction and to prefer one thing over another. That can apply to races, and that's wrong, but it can apply to all sorts of other things, and it's not wrong.

When it comes to dating, we discriminate between people we're attracted to and people we're not attracted to or people we respect and people we don't respect. When it comes to hiring a contractor or an employee, we discriminate between people we think are competent and people we think are incompetent. When it comes to food, we discriminate between food we like or that's healthy and food we don't like or is unhealthy.

In some cases, it would be immoral not to discriminate against people. It would be immoral, for example, if you did not discriminate against a sexual predator when it came to hiring a baby sitter. Leaving your kid in the care of a sexual predator is immoral and irresponsible, so you have an obligation to discriminate when hiring a baby sitter.

I'm not saying all this just to be persnickety. If somebody asks me whether or not I approve of discrimination, what should I say? I know they are probably thinking about situations where I would probably agree with them that it's wrong to discriminate, but I can't just tell them I'm against discrimination because that wouldn't be entirely accurate. And I can't tell them I think discrimination is okay without giving them the wrong idea.

If somebody is race baiting, it probably doesn't help much to say, "It depends," but if somebody is race baiting (or baiting in general), they're probably not going to let you qualify your statements with explanations. They're going to interrupt you and pretend like you just said something awful before hearing you out.

"He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him" (Proverbs 18:13).

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How I seem to have fixed acid reflux, aka GERD

When I was a kid, my dad had GERD (aka Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease). This resulted in him burping a lot, having hiccups (not the ordinary kind, but it's hard to explain), and worst of all, acid reflux. I remember he used to always drink water with baking soda in it to ease his symptoms. Eventually, he got esophageal cancer and died two years later at the ripe old age of 57.

We always assumed he got cancer because he smoked, and I'm sure that was a contributing factor, but his acid reflux probably was, too. In my early 30's, I began having some of the same symptoms my dad did--the elongated hiccups (especially after drinking Sprite), and the burping. Acid reflux wasn't that common, but I'd get it sometimes after eating pizza and drinking Dr. Pepper. By the time I reached my 40's, it had gotten almost as bad as my dad had it. A year and a half ago, my acid reflux got so bad that it was an every day occurrence, and it was keeping me up at night. It got to where I could hardly eat anything without being in a lot of pain. I was convinced that I'd probably get esophageal cancer and die around the age of 60 just like my dad and his dad before him.

Then one day I was having lunch with two friends, and I told them about my troubles. They told me how one of them had the same problem a year earlier but he cured his acid reflux. They claimed the acid reflux is caused by low stomach acid, and to cure it, you just have to take hydrochloric acid capsules to increase your stomach acid. That made absolutely no sense to me because I seemed to get worse acid reflux when I eat acidic food and drink acidic drinks (especially lemonade).

I went home and began googling and watching YouTube videos, and through it all I was persuaded that my friends were right after all. The primary cause of acid reflux in most people is low stomach acid (aka hypochlorhydria).

I want to explain, as best I can, what I think the mechanism is and how it can be fixed. Before I do, let me give a disclaimer. I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist. I'm just a regular guy who did a lot of googling and had some personal success getting rid of acid reflux. Also, acid reflux has more than one cause. Low stomach acid is the primary cause for most people, but there are other causes, like the H-Pylori bacteria and hiatal hernias. If you have H-Pylori, the method I'm about to explain is probably not a good idea until you get rid of the H-Pylori. You'll have to google about that yourself because I'm not going to provide any information about it in this post. This post deals strictly with acid reflux caused by low stomach acid.

Let me explain the mechanism first. The lower esophageal valve is a sphincter type valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach. When the acid in your stomach gets too low the muscle that operates that valve relaxes, allowing the contents of your stomach to come up into your esophagus. It's still acidic, which is why it burns your esophagus, giving you that awful feeling of heartburn. Also, when your stomach acid is too low, you don't digest your food properly. This results in your food staying in your stomach longer, festering, causing you to burp a lot and feel bloated and uncomfortable. Moreover, your food doesn't get broken down as well as it should so when your food leaves your stomach, not as much of the nutrients in your food can be absorbed by your small intestine. You can actually have vitamin deficiencies because of having low stomach acid. So there's a cascading effect from having low stomach acid that affects the rest of your digestive system and your over all health.

The traditional treatment for acid reflux are things like proton pump inhibitors that are designed to lower your stomach acid even more. The problem with this approach is that it treats the symptoms but doesn't fix the problem. Of course if your stomach acid is much lower, you won't feel the burn when stuff gets up into your esophagus. So you may feel better, but you're still not digesting your food properly, and you have to keep using this treatment for the long haul to avoid having heartburn.

But there is a better way, and that's to increase your stomach acid. When you increase your stomach acid, your food digests better, it leaves your stomach faster, and you don't have all the burping and feeling bloated. You get more nutrition out of your food, too, and this fixes problems you didn't even know were related. I used to think I was lactose intolerant, for example, but discovered that wasn't the issue. Also, somehow or other, when you have good acid in your stomach, that causes your lower esophageal valve to close, preventing you from regurgitating your food, preventing acid reflux.

The acid in your stomach is HCl--hydrochloric acid. A good pH level is between 1.5 and 3.5 pH. That's really acidic!

They sell these dietary supplements called Betaine-HCL that you can use to increase your stomach acid. It's a capsule that's kind of big and hard to swallow. I couldn't find any locally, so I ordered mine on Amazon. But I was losing sleep, and I was impatient, so I went to the CVS and got some apple cider vinegar capsules to tide me over. Some people recommend diluting apple cider vinegar in water and drinking it, but that's unpleasant, so I used these capsules. They're not as acidic as HCL, but I noticed a big difference immediately after using them. I had my first good night's sleep in over a month after taking the first capsule.

The way the internet recommends doing it is taking one HCL capsule with each meal for the first day, and see how you feel. Then the next day, take two with each meal and see how you feel. Keep increasing your dosage every day until you start to feel a warm sensation in your stomach. That means you have too much acid in your stomach, and you're about to get an ulcer. Then you back off by one capsule. That's your dosage going forward. Supposedly, you don't need to keep taking HCL indefinitely. Your stomach somehow learns to produce its own acid, and you can wean yourself off of them. My friends told me it took three months, and he was completely cured. It had been a year since he had any problems with acid reflux.

I was too chicken to take so many capsules that my stomach would start to burn. After watching that guy on Downton Abby spew blood all over the dining table because he had an ulcer, I didn't want to push it. So I toyed with the dosage, only taking as many as required so I didn't have acid reflux.

Usually, I would just take one capsule right in the middle of the meal. Sometimes I would take an apple cider vinegar capsule just before going to bed to make sure my lower esophageal valve stayed closed while I slept. For the most part, my acid reflux went away, and I'd stop taking the capsules, and then it would come back. This went on for about a year. Then earlier this year I decided to go ahead and be more aggressive like the internet had recommended. I got my dosage up to three HCL capsules during each meal. I'd take one just before eating, one in the middle of the meal, and one at the end of the meal. I didn't dare go higher than that. This made the acid reflux go away, but I kept taking the capsules until one day I started feeling that warm feeling they said you'd feel when you took too many. I backed down to 1 capsule during each meal for a few weeks, then stopped taking them altogether. My acid reflux was gone for the most part, but if I ate pizza and Sprite together, I'd get a little acid reflux anyway. Or I'd get acid reflux if I ate a lot of bread. I love bread!

About a month ago, I decided to lose weight. I haven't changed the amount I eat. I've only changed what I eat. I gave up Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, pizza, Sprite, Rootbeer, ice cream, bread, pasta, and potatoes. Now I eat mostly meat (roast chicken, fish, shrimp, and steak), vegetables (salads and asparagus), and some fruit (apples and watermelon). Basically, I gave up all sugar and most carbohydrates. Besides the weight falling off of me, my acid reflux is completely gone. I haven't had any HCL capsules in two months or more, but I haven't had any symptoms at all of acid reflux during the last month. I'm not totally sure whether this is mostly attributable to the HCL capsules or the change in diet, but I suspect it's both.

I read in one place that besides your stomach learning how to produce more HCL while you're taking the supplements, allowing you to wean yourself off of them, there's another mechanism for why it works. That value has to be able to open so you can get food into your stomach, but what makes it close is high stomach acid. Your stomach naturally produces more stomach acid when you eat, which is supposed to make that valve close. Well, if you've gone years with low stomach acid, resulting in that valve not closing, the muscle that closes the valve atrophies. When you start taking HCL and increasing your stomach acid, that causes the muscle to contract, closing the valve. But it takes time for the muscle to build up strength. After a while of taking HCL capsules, the muscle gains strength so it can close on its own without the need for the HCL capsules, and that helps you wean off of them.

Just thinking about it, I don't see how that can be the primary cause for how you're able to wean yourself off. After all, if your stomach acid were low, that muscle still wouldn't close the valve. So you'd need to have some way of keeping your stomach acid high in order to keep that valve closed. So I suspect the primary reason you're able to get off the capsules is because your stomach does start producing more acid naturally. I don't know why that works, but it seems like it does.

Let me make one more disclaimer before I end this post. If your low stomach acid is caused by H-Pylori, taking HCL capsules can cause you to have ulcers. So there is that risk. There are different ways to test for H-Pylori, some more effective than others, so google around about that if you want. There's a method for testing to see whether you have low stomach acid, too, that you might want to google. The test involves drinking some water with baking soda in it and waiting to see how long it takes you to burp. Google that one, too, because I don't remember the details. I never tested for low stomach acid before I started taking apple cider vinegar capsules. They're pretty safe anyway, and since they worked (and since HCL worked), I figured low stomach acid must be my problem.

I hope this helps. Since I've had so much success with dealing with my acid reflux, I'm a lot more confident about my longevity than I used to be. For a long time I was convinced I would die around the age of 60, but now there's no telling how long I'll live.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Alabama's abortion bill

I heard this morning that the Alabama senate had passed a bill prohibiting all abortions except to save the life of the mother. Since then, that's been the buzz all over the internet, so I wanted to chime in although I don't have a lot to say.

For people who want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, it makes sense to pass such a law. The law is in clear violation of Roe V. Wade, so it could easily create a court case in which somebody is denied a Constitutional right. If it went to the Supreme Court, which now has a conservative majority, Roe V. Wade could be overturned.

But from a pro-choice perspective, it would seem like madness to press the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. I mean if you didn't want Roe v. Wade to be overturned, it seems like you'd try to settle it in the lower courts, and if you couldn't, you should give up. Why should one person who can't get an abortion risk it for everybody else?

So it makes me wonder what will actually happen. Pro-lifers would love for some issue involving this law to go to the Supreme Court, but pro-choicers have every reason to avoid such a scenario. It'll be interesting to see if anybody will bring an issue to the Supreme Court.

I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know how it all works. But could a lower court declare Alabama's law unconstitutional? Does it have to go all the way to the Supreme Court before that could happen?

Friday, May 10, 2019

Scientism: It's out there.

Christian apologists often criticize what they call "scientism." I've seen a lot of people on the internet scoff whenever the subject of "scientism" comes up. I remember one person saying that whenever they hear the word, "scientism," they know they're about to hear a bunch of nonsense from a Christian. Another person thought it was just a boogey man and that nobody actually subscribed to scientism.

BTW and FYI, scientism is the view either that science is the only method for acquiring knowledge or that science is the best method for acquiring knowledge. The former can be called strong scientism while the latter can be called weak scientism.

Back when the one person said he doubted whether anybody actually subscribed to scientism, I quoted from a book I had only recently read by Peter Atkins called On Being. He said on p. xiii, "In short, I stand by my claim that the scientific method is the only means of discovering the nature of reality, and although its current views are open to revision, the approach, making observations and comparing notes, will forever survive as the only way of acquiring reliable knowledge." Clearly somebody subscribes to scientism.

Today, I came across this interesting video that talked about how published research can go awry and all the reasons why. I thought it was a pretty good explanation. Then I got to 11:25, and he said, "As flawed as our science may be, it is far and away more reliable than any other way of knowing we have." Egads! That's so wrong it's almost right again.1

I left this comment on the video:

11:25 "As flawed as our science may be, it is far and away more reliable than any other way of knowing we have."

Really? What scientific study demonstrated this to be true? And if it wasn't science that lead to this piece of knowledge, what method was used? On its face, this strikes me as being patently false. After all, we couldn't even do science if we didn't have scientific methods. So how do we know which methods to use? If you say science tells us which methods to use, then you're arguing in a circle. You're using scientific methods to prove the reliability of scientific methods. So if science can tell us anything at all, there must be at least some things we know apart from science. Well, no conclusion can be more certain than the premises upon which it is based. If our scientific conclusions are based on methods or items of knowledge that we got from some other source besides science, then the conclusions of science can't be more reliable than our knowledge of those methods and such. In spite of everything else valuable and true that was said in this video, this statement appears to be self-refuting and obviously false.

And it's not hard to think of things we know with more certainty than science can give us. We know, for example, that we are thinking, but it isn't science that tells us we're thinking. We know we're thinking merely by introspection. We can just think about our own thoughts and know directly and immediately that we're thinking. If you're thinking of a number between 1 and 10, you know directly and immediately which number you're thinking of, and you know it with absolute certainty. We know that if two statements contradict each other, they can't both be true. We know that two plus two is four. We know that if straight lines intersect, opposite angles will be equal. We know all these things merely by thinking about them. We can sit in a dark room with our eyes closed and merely reflect on these things and know with certainty that they are true without ever engaging in any scientific methods. Without our ability to know things by introspection, it would be impossible to ever do science in the first place.

I can kind of understand the sentiment, though. When people say that science is our most reliable way of knowing, they're usually not thinking about the basic fundamental tools or assumptions of science. They're thinking about our knowledge of how the physical world operates. If we want to know the boiling point of water, for example, the scientific method is the most reliable method we have. But to use it, we still have to know what the method is, that our senses are giving us true information, and that our memories are generally reliable.

The reason Christian apologists put up a stink about scientism is that it is often used as a way of dismissing philosophical arguments for theism, the existence of the soul, and various other things. A lot of the philosophical arguments that Christians use rely on presuppositions that are known in the same way that the presuppositions of science are known--rational intuition, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, memory, authority, etc.

In a way, I agree with the person who said nobody really subscribes to scientism. Peter Atkins may say he does, but if he were consistent with his claim, he'd have to admit that he doesn't know anything at all since he can't even know the methods and assumptions of science or that they are reliable. One would only need to question him on how he knows anything to show this. I think people who claim to subscribe to scientism (though they may not use that word) either are unreflective about their own epistemology or they're just posturing as a way to shield themselves against arguments for conclusions they don't want to deal with. I think there is value in addressing it, though. If you can show a person that it's self-refuting, that person will have to be open to different ways of knowing, and in turn to Christianity. If a person is merely being unreflective and actually does think they believe in scientism, it can be an obstacle to lots of apologetic arguments for Christianity.


1. I got this line from Dr. Cox on Scrubs.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Lewis' argument from reason and Plantinga's EAAN

This morning, I wrote up a quick and dirty response to somebody on the internet who said science had ruled out the Christian notion of free will and morality. I started with C.S. Lewis's argument from reason and segued into Alvin Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism. In the last version of Plantinga's argument that I read, which was in his book, Where The Conflict Really Lies, he pushed the argument from epiphenomenalism and dropped all his arguments about the semantic vs. syntactic content of beliefs as well as thought experiments involving tigers, so that's the direction I went as well. This is similar to a post I made: "the supernatural exists," except that there, I went on to argue as if epiphenomenalism did not follow from physicalism.

Without further ado, here's today's post.

Science studies how the physical world operates. If there is anything like spirits, souls, gods, angels, etc., science would have nothing to say about it. And if these beings interacted in the world, that isn't something you'd be able to tell through ordinary scientific experiments or observations because they would be one-off events. And it would be hard to recognize such events even if you observed them directly because they would only appear to be events in the physical world whose causes were unknown.

So science is not incompatible with there being spirits or souls that interact in the brain.

It could be that we have souls that animate our physical bodies and have causal influence over the brain. The only way to rule that out would be to exhaustively map all the causal interactions in the brain over some interval of time in which a mind/brain interaction occurred. If there are gaps in any causal chain, that could be where the soul interacted. Only if there are no gaps can you rule that out. But since we lack the technology to perform such an experiments, it follows that nobody ever has. So it follows that nobody, in science or otherwise, has ever ruled out the notion of a soul interacting in the brain. And that leaves room for free will.

There are problems with the suggestion that all we are is physical stuff without souls. If, as you say, the brain is all there is to account for conscious experience, and if the brain behaves deterministically according to the laws of physics and chemistry, then it would follow that even our beliefs are determined by blind, deterministic, causal interactions. This removes rationality since rationality can only occur when you hold your beliefs for good reasons. But if your beliefs are caused by antecedent conditions plus the laws of physics, then they occur independently of reasons. It follows that any denial of the existence of the soul is self-refuting because if you deny the existence of the soul and say the brain is all there is, you remove any rational basis for holding that belief. It is as much as to admit that the only reason you hold that belief and somebody else holds a different belief is because it just so happens that the chemical reactions in your brain fizzed in one way and the chemical reactions in somebody else's brain fizzed another way. They were both inevitable, and neither belief is held for reasons.

When C.S. Lewis first made this argument several decades ago, Elizabeth Anscombe responded by pointing out that a calculator behaves deterministically yet still arrives at the truth. The problem with this response is that calculators are not rational. They don't "see" or "reason" to the conclusion that 2+2=4. In fact, they have no idea what number they have come up with. They only arrive at the truth because they were programmed to do so by somebody with a mind.

It may be that our brains have been programmed in such a way that it can arrive at true beliefs most of the time, but if you rule out anything spiritual, there's no programmer like there is with a calculator. It would have to have done so through physical processes.

Maybe you could argue that evolution produced brains that come up with mostly true beliefs. Even if that were true, those beliefs still would not be rational any more than a calculator's results are rational. But let's leave that to the side and ponder this question of whether or not evolution could produce brains that come up with mostly true beliefs.

It doesn't seem like it could. Think about it. Let's suppose all our mental experience is the result of physical processes in the brain which happen deterministically according to the laws of physics and chemistry. It would follow that everything we think, feel, believe, desire, and more importantly for my argument, decide, will, choose, etc. emerges deterministically according to underlying blind physical causes. That means the mind is an emergent thing, and the direction of causation only goes in one direction.

What ever physical state your brain is in at any given moment is determined by the previous physical state of the brain, plus any outside causal interactions (especially sensory input). Brain state 1 causes brain state 2, which causes brain state 3, etc. Each of these brain states has a corresponding mental state (the sum total of everything that's going on in the mind at the time). Since the causation only happens at the level of the brain states, the mental states don't have any causal influence over each other or over brain states. There's just nowhere for them to fit into the causal chain since the physical causal chain exhaustively accounts for everything that happens.

That means, as I explained above, that reasoning doesn't actually occur. You don't draw conclusions by thinking thoughts about premises and their logical relationship to each other. You're simply caused to think one thought, then another, then another, and these thoughts are not connected to each other.

But this also means that your will isn't actually engaged when you act. This mental impression we have of acting on a desire or belief, or doing things on purpose, is just an illusion. The brain causes the illusion of willing, but our desires and beliefs do not affect our behavior at all. This is really important because it means that evolution has no way to produce brains that arrive at mostly true beliefs. Let me explain that a little further.

Natural selection works on our behavior. If you behave in such a way that your survive, then that kind of behavior will be selected for. But if your behavior is not being caused by your beliefs and desires, then natural selection is not selecting for true beliefs and desires. You'd think that a person who believed tigers were dangerous and broccoli was healthy would have a better chance of surviving than a person who believed the opposite, but if our beliefs don't influence our behavior, then they can have no survival value. So we should not expect that evolution would produce brains that reliably arrive at truths on the assumption that brains are all that's there.

This undermines the belief that there's no soul because it removes any rational basis for holding the belief. So if you are to suppose that our brains actually do reliably come up with mostly true beliefs, the only way to consistently hold that belief is to suppose that there's a soul that is the seat of the mind or self. That's the only way a mind can have causal influence on the brain, so that's the only way your desires and beliefs can influence your behavior.

And there are lots of other reasons to think we have souls, but not enough room. If we have souls, then our behavior and our beliefs are not solely determined by blind physical processes in the brain, and that leaves room for free will, morality, and rationality.