Sunday, December 19, 2021

One track mind: knife making

I think I have a one-track mind. I can't seem to give equal attention to everything that interests me. You might've noticed that I haven't been blogging much lately. That's because I've been all wrapped up in knife making. I wanted to make a video of my most recent knife-making adventure. A bunch of YouTube knife makers decided to do a Bowie knife challenge where they all made a Bowie knife, posted the videos on the same day, and had people vote on the best one. I wasn't part of the challenge, but watching all the videos made me want to make a Bowie. Since I wasn't part of the challenge, I called this a Fan Film.

I'm pretty terrible at shooting videos, and I gave up on it part of the way through. I had accumulated over an hour of video I was going to have to edit, and I just lost my enthusiasm for it. Plus, the camera angles were terrible. So there's video at the beginning of this video, but then there's just pictures with me talking after that.

I have more pictures of knives and other things I've made on my Instagram.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Arguing over the meaning of words

There are two ways that words can come to have meaning--common use and stipulation.

Most words we use in every day life get their meaning through common use. Unless we invested our words with meaning by having an intention behind them when we use them, they would just be arbitrary sounds, scribblings, or gestures we made. It is because there is a thought or intention behind the words that they have meaning to us. Effective communication depends on everybody using words in the same ways. It's through interacting with people that common use takes place.

Language changes over time and can be different from place to place. That's because words can take on new meaning as people begin to use them in different ways. And if people are isolated from each other, they can take their language in a different direction. Eventually, they can become so different that they are different languages altogether.

Since language grows organically, it can be a rough process. It's inevitable that while a group of people are ironing out precise meanings to their words, there's going to be some conflict and misunderstanding along the way. If two people use the same words but with slightly different meanings, they will have a miscommunication. Sometimes miscommunication can happen without either person realizing it.

Sometimes, in the process of ironing out the meaning of words, we resolve conflict by accepting that each word can have more than one meaning. To understand each other in those situations, we have to rely on signs, the most important of which is context. The fact that words can have more than one meaning (since they are used in more than one way) can result in mistakes in reasoning. For example, if we use the same word with two different meanings, but treat them as if they refer to the same thing, then we can commit the fallacy of equivocation. People commit this fallacy sometimes on accident because they aren't thinking carefully enough about what they are dealing with. But people can also exploit equivocation to deceive and manipulate. People can also exploit equivocation to make a joke.

Dictionaries exist for the purpose of capturing the various uses of words. A good dictionary will put the most common use at the top. It's important to note that dictionaries don't give words their meaning; rather, they try to accurately capture the meaning they already have through common use. The definition a dictionary gives is only "correct" insofar as it accurately captures how people use words. A dictionary isn't right just because it's the dictionary. It's not right by definition, in other words. A dictionary can even be wrong if it fails to capture how words are used.

Words can also get their meaning through stipulation. We often use dictionaries in this way. While they are originally written to capture the common uses of words, a dictionary can carry authority if we're all willing to grant it authority. Then we can use the dictionary to settle disputes about the meaning of words. We treat the dictionary as if it's correct by definition. This can have some practical advantages.

When words get their meaning through stipulation, it most often happens when words are being used as terms of art. So, for example, if you're a physicist, an historian, a philosopher, a painter, or whatever, you might have particular words that are used in those fields with meanings that are peculiar to those fields. The meaning of those words in those contexts may be quite different than common use.

When somebody writes a paper in some specialized field or subject, they will sometimes either invent a word or use a word with some particular meaning that may differ from common use. If it's a good paper, and the author intends to use a word in a particular way that may be different than common use, they will be careful to define the word in their paper so the reader knows precisely what they mean by it. It could be that the definition they give is "wrong" according to common use, but that shouldn't matter. As a matter of praticality, all that should matter is that the reader knows what the author means.

The reason I'm belaboring all these points is because I see language causing a lot of unnecessary conflict between people, and I want to offer some suggestions for avoiding that conflict.

Conflict can happen when there's a misunderstanding between people. While most of us can agree that we should all define our terms so as to avoid miscommunication, we don't always know what terms need defining and which can just be taken for granted. So in spite of our best efforts at avoiding misunderstanding, it's still going to happen. The solution is not to accuse somebody of being deceptive or inconsistent, but to ask them what they mean. If it turns out that whatever meaning they tell you is not the most broadly accepted meaning of that word, the solution is not to correct them and tell them that's not what the word means. The solution, instead, is to interpret what they are saying in light of how they are using that word. That's the more amiable way of dealing with people.

If you treat language pragmatically, there's no reason to get up in arms with somebody over what you perceive to be the wrong use of a word. Arguing over the meaning of words is pointless if the bottom line is just to understand what each other are saying. The pragmatic approach is to listen to each other, ask each other what you mean, and interpret what they say in light of the definitions they give you.

There are times when it's useful to argue over the meaning of words, though. When two people are trying to interpret a third person (especially when that third person is long dead and left some writing behind), it's useful for the two people to argue over what the third person meant by their words since that deterimines the correct interpretation.

It can also be useful to argue over the meaning of words when it seems like they are being used in equivocal ways. This is especially the case when a word can carry a negative connotation but doesn't have to. Imagine this conversation:

Jim: Bob, you are a BLANK (used with a negative connotation).
Bob: Yes, I am a BLANK (used without a negative connotation).
Jim: Oh, did y'all hear that? Bob just admitted that he's a BLANK (used with a negative connotation).
Bob: Well, no, I'm not a BLANK like that. [picking up on Jim's negative meaning]
Jim: Oh, don't backpeddal now, you just admitted it. [Jim exploiting the equivocation in a dishonest way and treating Bob uncharitably].
Bob: When I said I was a BLANK, I didn't mean it the way you're using it.
Jim: But my definition is correct.

I suppose some people mean to engage in conflict when they try to stick somebody with whatever negative connotation a word might carry. If they can get the person to admit to owning that word, even if in a benign sense, then they exploit the opportunity to treat the person as if they've just admitted to something nefarious. In the cases like that, it makes good sense for a person to defend themselves by arguing over the meaning of a word. It's a shame one must do this, though.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

I can't answer every question or objection

The other day, I saw a comment somebody left on a YouTube channel saying that he went from being a Christian to an atheist because of the failure of Christians to answer all his questions. I suspect a lot of Christians saw that and thought, "We need to do a better job of educating ourselves so we can answer people's questions so this doesn't happen." I think it's great and all that being able to answer everybody's questions is the goal, but realistically, I don't think it's a goal that can ever be met or that we should even expect that it should ever be met.

After all, no matter what worldview you subscribe to, there are going to be questions you can't answer about that worldview. If anybody claims to have all the answers, we ought to be suspicious because it seems more likely that they're making stuff up than that they actually have all the answers.

I don't know specifically what questions this person had that didn't get answered, but I think when it comes to adopting a worldview, there are two things we ought to consider without having to answer every single question or every possible objection somebody might raise to that worldview. One thing is that given all the information we have, which worldview is the best fit? Which worldview has the least problems and explains the most information?

The second thing you should look at is the core essentials of that worldview. There are some aspects to a worldview that are more important than others, and you want to focus on the most important stuff. The fact that adopting a worldview raises all kinds of questions isn't a big problem for that worldview unless those questions raise serious doubt about the essential elements of that worldview.

I think that as an honest defender of any point of view, you ought to be comfortable saying you don't know when you don't know. What I like to do when somebody asks me a difficult question is first let the other person know that I'm not sure, but then to offer whatever thoughts I have on the subject. If you try to offer your speculations before letting the other person know that they are speculations, it's just going to come across as dishonest.

One more point I want to make is that not all questions amount to objections. Whenever you find out something new, it almost always raises new questions. But the mere existence of an unanswered question doesn't amount to an objection. Not knowing how something happens or why it happens is not enough to argue that it doesn't happen. Our lack of knowledge doesn't, by itself, imply that there's nothing to be known. Our ignorance doesn't imply that there's no answer to be found. Questions can amount to objections, but you need a little more than ignorance to make those objections go through.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Two arguments against the empty tomb

Most responses to the empty tomb are designed to undermine arguments for the empty tomb. If sound, they don't show that there was no empty tomb. They just show (if successful) that the arguments for the empty tomb are inadequate.

But there are two arguments that attempt to show, positively, that there was no empty tomb.

The argument from Paul's silence

The earliest source we have about the death and resurrection of Jesus comes from the tradition Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. It reads:

that he died for our sins according to the scriptures, and
that he was buried, and
that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Paul mentions the death and burial of Jesus, but there's nothing about the empty tomb. And since this is our earliest source, it supposedly follows that the empty tomb was a later addition to the story. Paul failed to mention the empty tomb because he knew of no such thing.

This is the weaker of the two arguments. Consider a similar formulae:

I was exhausted from the day's hike
I went to bed
I got up the next morning
I rejoined my friends
Notice that although I got up the next morning, there's no mention of an empty bed. Would anybody conclude from a formulae like this that me getting out of bed did not imply that my bed was left empty? To say that my bed was empty would've been an awkward and unnecessary redundancy. It would sound weird if we included it.

Likewise, saying that Jesus' grave was empty would've been redundant. If Jesus was buried, then raised, of course his grave would be empty. As I argued in my series on Resurrection, a resurrection just is when a dead corpse comes back to life and rises from its grave. If the New Testament authors meant anything different than that, they would not have called it a resurrection.

But one mustn't press the point too far. While Paul's words clearly imply that there was an empty grave, they do not necessarily imply an empty tomb since although Paul said Jesus was buried, he did not say Jesus was buried in a tomb. William Lane Craig goes too far in some of his writings to claim that Paul implies an empty tomb.

But I'm not trying to defend the empty tomb from Paul's tradition. Rather, I'm just answering an argument against the empty tomb from Paul's silence on the matter. Paul's silence on the empty tomb tells us nothing at all about whether Paul knew about an empty tomb. That's my point.

The argument from standard procedure

Crucifixion was used by the Romans to maintain the Pax Romana (aka, the Peace of Rome). It was meant to discourage revolutionary type movements among other things. They did this by making them public spectacles of extreme torture. It was meant to be humiliating and horrific in order to discourage people from rebellions.

In keeping with this practice, most people did not receive honorable burials afterward. Instead, their bodies were either left on the crosses to rot, or else they were disposed of in mass graves or wherever people got rid of their garbage.

The argument from standard practice is that Jesus would not have been buried in a tomb in the first place since he was a crucifixion victim, and that's not how the bodies of crucifixion victims were typically treated.

This argument would carry some weight if we had no actual information about what happened to Jesus' body. In that case, we could surmise that Jesus was probably discarded in the usual way merely because it's the usual way. But you can't undermine specific evidence for an event merely on the basis of what usually happens. Specific evidence always trumps these kinds of probablistic arguments.

The argument might go through if one could establish that as a rule, crucifixion victims cannot be buried in tombs and must be gotten rid of some other way. If it could be estblished that dishonorable disposal was what always happened, then we could say there's a probability that our specific evidence in the case of Jesus is mistaken.

But it turns out we have evidence, not just in Jesus' case, but in the case of other crucifixion victims that some people did get decent burials. This was especially the case in Judea where the Jews were typically allowed to practice their religion (which required burying people hanged from a tree on the same day - Deuteronomy 21:22-23) even under Roman rule. Josephus, for example, writes that, "the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun" (Jewish Wars, Book 4, Chapter 5, Section 2). So, standard practice outside of Judea did not apply to crucified victims in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.

We also have archaeological evidence of a crucified victim in Judea who was buried in a tomb. The usual course was to bury somebody in a tomb until their bodies were decayed to the bones. Then the bones were taken out and put into ossuaries. A crucifixion victim named Jehohanan was found in one of these ossuaries with a nail through his heal and other evidence that he had been crucified.

There's more on this subject in one of InspiringPhilosophy's YouTube videos.

He won't last long in the Everglades

The more I hear about the search for Brian Laundrie, the more it sounds like "The Everglades" song by The Kingston Trio. There are just some minor differences, and I'm cutting out a few lines.

He was born and raised around Jacksonville
A nice young man, not the kind to kill
But a jealous fight and a flashing blade,
Sent him on a run through the Everglades.

The posse went in and they came back out
They said he'll die, and there ain't no doubt.
It's an eye for an eye, so the debt is paid.
He won't last long in the Everglades

Where a man can hide and never be found
And have no fear of the baying hounds,
But he better keep moving and don't stand still
If the skeeters don't get him then the gators will

The years went by, and his girl was wed.
His family gave him up for dead.
But now and then the natives would say,
They seen him running through the everglades.

Well, he never heard the news on the radio.
He ws deep in the 'glades, so he'll never know.
His running and hiding didn't make much sense,
For the jury had ruled it was self-defense.

By the way, has anybody ever noticed that the tune of "The Everglades" is the same tune as that old Louis the Lighteningbug commercial?

When your parents and you go to sail for the day
Make sure the power lines are far away.
When your daddy and you make the house look fine
Don't bring ladders or antennas near power lines.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Kyle Royer's plunge grinding jig

Since my cat won't let me sleep, I thought I'd look up Kyle Royer's plunge grinding jig. This jig is sheer elegance in its simplicity. Unfortunately, I can't use it because I don't have variable speed on my knife grinder, and my grinder goes too fast for this to work. But I'm going to put it right here for myself and anybody else who wants to have a look-see. Some day when I get a nicer knife grinder, I'll be able to use it. It sure would make it easier to get nice looking plunge lines.

EDIT: 9/18/2021 - I found a video on YouTube where somebody made one of these jigs. He called it a "waterfall platen." I think that's a great name. I hope it takes because that will make it easier to search and see how other people made theirs.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The interaction problem with substance dualism

The major difficulty with substance dualism is the interaction problem. This is the problem of accounting for how something physical and something non-physical could interact with each other. This problem is characterized in various different ways. If substance dualism is true, then the mind/soul has causal influence over the brain (which is how you are able to will your arm to move or act on any of your desires), and the brain has causal interaction with your mind/soul (which is how you are able to perceive through your sensory organs).

I came up with a solution one time that I have since then abandoned, but let me tell you about it. My solution was to say that maybe the mind has the unique ability to create energy ex-nihilo. Let me explain how I thought this could solve the interaction problem.

Imagine you've got some particle at rest, and you want it to move. Well, if that same object began to move, then it would have to have kinetic energy that it didn't have before, and that energy would have to come from somewhere. In the case of physical causation, energy is transferred to the particle by something else that has energy. Maybe something collided with it, or maybe it was pushed. But something that is non-physical doesn't have energy because energy is a physical thing. So it would appear to have no way to move the particle unless it had the ability to create energy ex-nihilo. So imagine that it could create another particle. All it would have to do is create the particle in proximity to the other particle, and the forces of nature could take over from there. If both particles were electrons, then there would be a force of repulsion between them. The direction of motion could be determined by the location of the created particle in relation to the already existing particle.

The causal interactions in the brain could be so subtle as to be unobservable or indistinguishable from random quantum events. One new electron could be sufficient to set of an avalanche of chemical reactions in the brain resulting in behavior. It might only require the release of potential energy through the pulling of a trigger.

I liked this solution when I first came up with it because it had a second use. In the Kalam cosmological argument, you get an immaterial cause of the universe, but then you need additional arguments to show that it's a person. William Lane Craig has two arguments for the personhood of the cause of the universe, and I don't think either one is all that persuasive.l But if it turned out that minds had the unique ability to create ex-nihilo, then we could argue for the personhood of the cause of the universe by saying something like this: Since minds are the only things we know of capable of creating ex-nihilo, it follows that a mind is the best candidate for an explanation for the beginning of the universe.

The only problem is that this solution only works when the direction of causation goes one way. It doesn't work as well when causation goes in the other direction. It explains how a mind could have causal interaction in the brain, but not how a brain could have causal interaction over the mind.

One possible solution was to imagine that the reverse happens. When the brain causes something in the mind, it does so by annihilation rather than creation. I don't think this works, though. It would require that matter has the ability to annihilate itself, but only when interacting with the mind. That just seems unlikely. You can't attribute the ability to the mind since that would require that the mind was doing the causing. We are trying to explain how the brain can do the causing, so it's the material of the brain that has to bring about the annihilation. Maybe somebody else can toy with that idea and make it work, but I don't see how it would work. It is for this reason that I've pretty much abandoned this whole solution to the interaction problem.

Currently, I have no good solution to the interaction problem. But the interaction problem isn't a major obstacle to my belief in substance dualism for a few reasons.

One reason is because in spite of the difficulty of solving the interaction problem, the arguments for substance dualism seem sound to me. If I were to give up substance dualism, I'd be trading one problem for even more problems. I think physicalism and idealism are even more problematic than substance dualism.

Another reason is because we don't have to know how something happens to know that it happens. There are mysteries in the physical world that we don't deny in spite of how strange they are. I'm thinking particularly about quantum entanglement. If two particles are entangled, then no matter how far apart they become, measuring the properties of one appears to determine the properties of the other. There appears to be instantaneous causation over large distances, or what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." We know that it happens, and it's very strange, but we have no idea how it happens. If the world is strange enough to contain phenomena like this, then the interaction problem shouldn't bother us.

Lastly, it isn't as clear to me as it is to others why the interaction problem is a problem in the first place. I mean I do see that there's a problem. I just don't think the problem is as formiddable as some people think it is. That may be due to my own lack of understanding, but I can't help that.

Monday, August 09, 2021

Fine tuning, the anthropic principle, and the puddle analogy

According to the fine-tuning argument, the fact that there's this universe in which various constants had to have very precise values in order to make life possible requires an explanation which can be found either in a cosmic engineer (which would pretty much have to be a god) or a multiverse (which expands our explanatory resources). Some people say that fine-tuning can be answered by appeal to the anthropic principle. The anthropic principle is a particular manifestation of the observer selection effect. In this case, we would have to find ourselves in a life-permitting universe since a universe would have to be life permitting in order to contain us. We couldn't very well observe ourselves in a universe incapable of supporting life. So there is an observer selection effect that makes it possible to only observe life-permitting universes.

Some people think this answers the fine-tuning problem. Since we could only observe a universe that is life-permitting, it shouldn't be any surprise that that's exactly what we observe. Therefore, there's nothing that requires explanation.

The problem, though, is that the anthropic principle only works if you also invoke a multiverse. If there were a multiverse, and we were asking why we observe a life-permitting universe instead of a life-prohibiting universe, the anthropic principle would answer that question. Even if life-permitting universes are rare in the multiverse, they are nevertheless the only kinds of universes that can be observed since they're the only kind that can support observers.

But the question raised by the fine-tuning argument isn't why we find ourselves in a life-permitting universe instead of a life-prohibiting universe. Rather, the question is why we find ourselves at all given how unlikely it is that a universe that could support us would exist.

Consider the firing squad analogy. I got this from somebody else, but I don't remember who. Sorry about that. Anyway, imagine you're in front of a firing squad, and after they all fired, you're still alive. That requires some explanation. Why are you still alive? It wouldn't do to say, "Well, there's nothing here that needs to be explained since I would have to be alive in order to be asking the question." That doesn't answer the question. The question isn't why you're in front of a missing firing squad instead of a hitting firing squad. The question is why you're still alive at all since the probability was against you.

The puddle analogy is kind of like the anthropic principle. The puddle finds itself in a hole that seems perfectly suited to it. We know, however, that it's actually the puddle that has conformed to the hole rather than the hole that just happens to be suited to the puddle. In the same way, a lot of people say the universe wasn't made for us; rather, we conform to the way the universe already was. We are the way we are because the universe was the way it was, so there shouldn't be any surprise that we find ourselves in a universe that's perfectly suited to our existence.

It's certainly true that we have come to conform to the way the universe actually is. But remember, the fine-tuning argument isn't about why life turned out one way rather than another way. Rather, it's about why there's life at all, or why the universe is life-permitting at all. In the puddle analogy, the question shouldn't be why the puddle and the hole are perfectly suited for each other, but why a hole should exist at all that could contain a puddle.

The puddle analogy is similar to another objection to fine-tuning which is just based on a misconception about the fine-tuning argument. Some people take the fine-tuning argument to be about life as we know it. The assumption behind this misconception appears to be that if we just tweak the constants a little, we'd get a different kind of life. But that isn't the claim. The claim, rather, is that without fine-tuning, no life whatsoever, be it ever so exotic, would be possible since life of any kind (or at least any physical kind) requires complex chemistry, and complex chemistry requires fine-tuning.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

What did Jesus say?

This morning (8/7/2021), I was talking to a couple of family members about houses on beaches. I asked how they built them or what they did for a foundation since they were on sand. One of them explained how they drive beams or poles deep into the ground until they hit some kind of solid foundation. The conversation reminded me of what Jesus said in Matthew 7 about building your house on the sand. He said,

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and its collapse was great. ~Matthew 7:24-27

I read this to the said family members as kind of a joke, inserting "tsunamis" along with the wind and rain. They were talking about buying a house on the beach, and the joke was that Jesus said only a fool would build a house on the sand. One of them wanted to challenge whether Jesus actually said it, so first he asked who wrote it, and then he asked when it was written. I didn't go into detail about that, and it's beside the point of this post anyway. This is just a preface to explain what got me to thinking about what I'm going to say in this post.

The point of this post is to talk a little bit of what I think about whether and to what degree the gospels accurately portray what Jesus said. I only want to speak in generalities here because otherwise this would be really long. Besides, I haven't done an in depth study on the sayings of Jesus, and I'm probably not qualified to do that anyway.

But I can talk in generalities, and I have just a handful of points I want to make. I want to talk a little about what we should expect of the gospels and also what the gospels actually show.

First, Jesus was an itinerant teacher. Like most traveling teachers we know of (e.g. Christian and atheist apologists), they give a lot of the same talks over and over again or they repeat the same things over and over again in their various talks. If you follow certain people, you begin to pick up on speech patterns, aphorisms, and one-liners they use. A person can be famous for a quote or two, and that quote gets repeated by their followers and even by people who don't follow them. We should expect that the same thing would be true of Jesus. Jesus likely had very devout followers--people who looked up to him in a way that nobody looks up to Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or William Lane Craig. So we should expect that many of them hung on his every word. They followed him from town to town, hearing him say the same things over and over again. Some were part of his inner circle who eventually became apostles who then repeated those teachings to other people. So we should expect that at least some of the sayings of Jesus in the gospels would be almost verbatim what Jesus said. This would be true even if people didn't intentionally commit their teacher's sayings to memory. It would just stick as a matter of course.

That is probably the case in some of the more pithy sayings of Jesus as opposed to the long monologues. But we also see certain speech patterns that are peculiar to Jesus, like how he says, "truly truly I say to you. . ." or how he talks about the Son of Man in the third person even though it appears he's always talking about himself in those sayings. Jesus has a certain voice. We recognize "voice" in people we know really well. So if somebody were to try to fake a letter from your wife to you, you might read the letter and think, "That doesn't sound like how my wife speaks or writes."

Contrast that, though, with John's gospel. In John's gospels, the voice of Jesus often sounds more like the narrator than like the Jesus of the synoptics. I'll come back to this point in a little bit.

There are other reasons besides having a peculiar voice to think some of the sayings of Jesus are nearly verbatim when recorded in the synoptics. One is that they are multiply attested. For example, sometimes when Jesus tells a parable, he'll preface it by saying, "The kingdom of God is like. . ."

If you look at the synoptic gospels in parallel, you notice that while he might say the same things in similar words, the exact wording is often altered. This can be attributed to a combination of two things--Jesus himself likely altered the way he said things in different places and in different contexts, and the authors themselves might've altered the way Jesus said something to fit the context.

That brings me to another point I wanted to make which is that I definitely don't think everything the gospels quote Jesus as saying is verbatim what he said. I think in a lot of cases, especially in the longer monologues, they are trying to capture the gist of what Jesus said or taught. Returning to what I said earlier about John's gospel, I think John does this more than the synoptics. If Jesus himself varied how he delivered certain teachings, there's no reason for why the gospels authors shouldn't do the same.

There is a question, though, of what they intended to accomplish. Were they attempting to capture Jesus' sayings as accurately as they could, were they happy to capture what they took Jesus' teachings to be, but put them in their own words? Or were they making stuff up, maybe to attribute things to Jesus that they themselves already believed?

This can be partially answered by looking at the genre of the gospels, which is Greco-Roman biograpy. I've become so convinced of this position over the last year that I've decided to just state it as a fact rather than hedging by saying, "According to most scholars," or citing Richard Burridge. Anyway, Greco-Roman biography covers a wide range of styles. According to some ancient historians, the goal ought to be to capture the essence of what somebody said in a speech, but you ought to do it in an artistic way. I think John took more artistic license than the synoptics, but I think John accurately conveyed what Jesus taught. I am an inerrantist after all.

My suspicion is that once some saying of Jesus was committed to writing, authors who used that writing as a source took less artistic license than they would have if they were writing a completely fresh gospel. So Mark might have taken some artistic license in how he conveyed Jesus' teachings, but once he did, Matthew and Luke only altered them slightly. And I don't really know how much of that alteration is due to the artistry of Matthew and Luke or due to the fact that Jesus himself worded things differently from time to time. Even if Matthew and Luke were writing independently of each other about the same event, they might have worded things differently because nobody knows which way Jesus said a particular thing in one place as opposed to another place. If he said the same thing in slightly different words in Capernaum and Bethsaida, it could be that nobody remembered which way he said it in which place. But it doesn't matter unless the difference in wording fits the context better in one place than in another.

I suspect that in at least some Greco-Roman biography, authors made things up. In some cases, they might make up a speech to capture a moment that they think would've been appropriate for the occasion. Or maybe they went so far as making stuff up because it's what they wish the person had said. If I were looking at the gospels from a purely secular perspective, I wouldn't rule out that possibility in the case of Jesus either. But because I think the gospels are the word of God, I think that puts limits to how loosely they could have been written. I don't think, for example, that the authors would have Jesus saying something when Jesus never said any such thing, and I especially don't think they'd have Jesus saying something if it were actually contrary to something Jesus taught.

But even from a secular perspective, there's another reason to think the gospels accurately capture at least some of Jesus' teachings besides the fact that he was an itinerant teacher and is portrayed as having a peculiar voice. It's because it seems very unlikely that a religion that grew up around his memory would end up having nothing to do with the real Jesus. While a secular person might allow that legends grew up around Jesus, it's highly unlikely that the movement he started would diverge so thoroughly in such a short amount of time (especially during the lifetime of his apostles) that nothing of the real Jesus survived, and all of it was completely replaced by fiction. I wouldn't believe that no matter how anti-Christian I was. I would think the gospels must retain at least some of what Jesus said and did, especially the really important stuff, and I would think one could apply historical methods to discover at least some of the authentic teachings.

That is not to say it would be easy. If you look at the history of historical Jesus studies, you see that consensus is hard to come by. In spite of that, there is consensus on at least a handful of things. The Jesus Seminar attempted a few decades ago to see if they could reach a concensus, and they did reach a concensus on about 18% of the sayings of Jesus. They've been criticized as not being representative of scholarship as a whole, but if the critics had their way, that concensus would be higher, not lower, because the dispute wasn't in what the Jesus Seminar affirmed, but in what they denied.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Entropy, fine-tuning, multiverses, and Boltzmann brains

I got my car inspected this morning, and as I was waiting in the waiting room and looking at the TV, I got to thinking about the pixels and how one time I had looked at my iphone screen through a pocket microscope and seen a bunch of small squares coloured red, green, and blue. I imagined that the TV screen was built the same way and how any image you might see on the TV could be formed from just those three colours.

Then it hit me how this could be used as a perfect analogy to talk about entropy, probability, and one of the first objections I had to teleological arguments.

I was first introduced to "the" teleological argument in my freshman philosophy class in the spring of 1997. At the time, I thought the teleological argument was the weakest argument for God because whereas the other arguments were deductive, the teleological argument could only give you a probability. Supposedly, life was improbable because, like a watch, it required a specific arrangement of parts in order to function. My main objection to this argument was that any arrangement of parts you could think of was equally improbable. I remember using this analogy: If you were to toss up a handful of pennies, no matter how they land, that arrangement will be extremely improbable. Yet there's nothing remarkable to be explained since they had to land some way.

The mistake in my argument was in thinking of each possible arrangement in isolation. The reality of the matter is that there are different kinds of arrangements, and what's improbable is that any given arrangement will fall within a certain kind. I don't know why this wasn't more obvious to me back then because it's so plainly obvious to me now. Anyway, let me use the TV analogy to explain myself while it's fresh on my mind.

Let's imagine the TV screen has 1080 pixels, and each pixel can be either red, green, or blue. So there's three possibilities for each pixel, and we want to know how many possible arrangements there can be on the whole screen. To find that number, you'd have to multiply 3 by itself 1080 times. So, 3 x 3 x 3 x . . . equals 31080. That's an enormous number. I'm not sure how to convert it to base 10 because it's been too long since I took a math class.

[EDIT: I figured it out. You just set 31080 equal to 10x, and solve for x. You can take the natural log of both sides, which gives you 1080*ln(3) = x*ln(10), so x = [1080*ln(3)]/ln(10). If I did that right, then x = 515.29. That means 31080 = 10515.29, which is a big ole number. Somebody correct me if I did that wrong.]

[2nd EDIT: I guess it would've been simpler if I had used log instead of ln. It's just that I remember using ln to solve these kinds of problems back in the day. Anywho, carry on.]

Statistically, any arrangement is just as improbable as any other arrangement. If you were to randomly shuffle the screen, the probability of any given arrangement is 1 in 31080. Yet it has to land on some arrangement. So why think it's any more probable to get static noise than to get a recognizable picture of my cat?

The reason is because if you compare the number of arrangements that produce a picture to the number of arrangements that produce random noise, the noise-type arrangements vastly outnumber the picture-type arrangements. So it's far more probable that you will end up with random noise than that you will arrive at a picture. Never mind a picture of my cat. It's highly improbable that you'd end up with any picture.

So I was just looking at the wrong probability. The question isn't how probable it is that you'd get one particular arrangement instead of another, but how probable it is that whatever arrangement you got, it would fall within a certain kind. In the case of living beings, the question isn't how probable it is that you'd end up with a particular arrangement of molecules that makes a human being compared to any other arrangement. The question, rather, is whether you'll end up with the kind of arrangement the operates like a mechanical machine capable of performing some function instead of random noise or a puddle of homogeneous goo. There are certain kinds of arrangements that are special in some way, whether they produce a recognizable image on a screen, information, a machine, biological life, or whatever.

This applies to teleological arguments from biological life as well as fine-tuning. Of course in the case of biological life, there is a mechanism that makes it possible to arrive at improbable arrangements through a series of small steps. A lot of people hope that something similar will come along to explain fine-tuning.

One popular attempt to answer fine-tuning is to artificially increase our probablistic resources. Using the TV analogy, you can consider each shaking or random try as a probablistic resources. If you shook things up randomly 31080 times, you'd be practically guaranteed to get one of those special arrangements that produces an image of something. The more random tries, the more probable it is to get a special arrangement. In the same way, the more universes with randomly ordered constants there are, the more probable it is that you'd get one with just the right arrangement to make chemistry, and therefore life, possible.

The problem with taking this approach is that it creates the Boltzmann brain problem. This is where the TV analogy can be used to explain entropy. The second law of thermodynamics can be thought of in statistical terms. Given a fixed amount of energy (i.e. a closed system), there are many forms that energy can take and many different arrangements it can be in. Take heat energy, for example. If you have a room with a hot end and a cold end, heat will move from hot to cold until the room reaches a state of equilibrium. Once the heat is equally distributed, the temperature will be the same everywhere. And once that happens, heat will no longer flow. Well, for energy to be used to do work, it has to be transformed from one kind to another or from one thing to another. Heat energy can be converted into mechanical energy, for example, in a heat engine. Mechanical energy can be converted to electrical energy in a generator. Electrical energy can also be converted to mechanical energy in a motor, or into heat energy on your stove.

This process is never done with 100% efficiency, though. In the case of the room whose temperature equalizes, you have just as much energy at the end of the process as you have at the beginning because it's a closed system, and the energy remains constant. But once equilibrium is reached, none of that energy is available to do work anymore. In the same way, when you convert energy from one form to another, there will be a certain fraction of that energy that is no longer available to do work. This is the problem with perpetual motion matchines. If you had a motor that turned a generator, that created electrical power to the motor to keep turning the generator, eventually, the whole system would reach a state of equilibrium. None of the energy would be available to do work, and the machine would shut down. When I was in the nuclear power school in the navy, we were taught the rule: "A heat engine must reject heat." That's because there's always going to be a certain amount of energy that can no longer be used, and if you have a closed system, eventually none of the energy will be available to do work anymore.

The amount of energy that's no longer available to do work is called entropy. Entropy can be thought of as the amount of energy unavailable to do work or as the amount of homogeneity of energy, or the spreading out of energy, or the degree of equilibriunm, or randomness, or whatever. They all amount to basically the same thing. The second law of thermodyamics says that the total entropy in a closed system (i.e. a system in which energy neither increases nor decreases, leaves or enters the system, etc.) will increase with every process. Basically, when anything at all happens in the universe, the total entropy of the universe increases. This is true even when it appears as if entropy had gone down. The reason is because if something becomes more ordered or arranged in such a way that energy can be used, the entropy will increase somewhere else. For example, when ice crystals form, it does so by giving off heat, and that heat dissipates in the universe, increasing the over all entropy of the universe.

So let's go back to the TV analogy. If you started off with a nice crisp image of a cat, and you shook it just a little, that image would be less crisp. And the more you shook it, the less you'd see an image, and the more you'd see randomness. The reason is because each time you shake it, it's going to end up in a less ordered state because disordered states are statistically far more probable than ordered states. Since the universe is in a constant state of change, the arrangement of particles is constantly changing. And since there are more disordered states than ordered state in all the possible configurations of particles in the universe, it follows that as the universe changes, its entropy increases. It would be mind-blowingly improbable for this process to ever reverse. And even if it did reverse for just a brief moment, it would immediately go back to increasing entropy.

Now let me explain how this applies to the multiverse solution to fine-tuning and how that creates the Boltzmann brain problem. Let's say that I shake the TV enough times that I create an image of a butterfly in some random place on the screen. The background remains random. Well, that is far more likely to happen than to have the entire background filled in with other butterflies and leaves, flowers, and stuff. So if we shook the TV, say 3100,000,000 times, you'd get far more screens with an image of just one butterfly and a random background than you would screens that were filled with butterflies, leaves, flowers, etc., and no random background.

Now, consider the universe. At the beginning of the universe, the total entropy was very low. It's been going up constantly for the last 13.8 billion years. The universe is approaching a state of equilibrium, and when it reaches that state, there won't be anymore life, stars, galaxies, etc. But we are far from there yet. There is still enough order in the universe to produce stars, galaxies, and biological life. But imagine if instead of an entire universe like ours filled with galaxies and containing as much life as there is on earth, you instead had just one sentient life form, and the rest of the universe was in equilibrium. Well, obviously, given the same amount of matter and energy, a universe with one life-form in a sea of equilibrium is statically far more probable than a universe full of stars, galaxies, and billions of life forms. It's just like how a screen with one butterfly in a sea of randomly ordered colours is more probable than a screen filled with images of butterflies and things. And just as shaking the screen a gazillion times would produce far more scenarios with just one butterfly and a random background than screens filled with butterflies and things, so also creating random universes would produce far more universes consisting of just one life form in a sea of thermodyamic equilibium than in universes like ours where the whole thing is full of order and consisting of billions of life forms.

What needs to be explained, though, is just the perception of a universe like ours. After all, it is from this perception that we draw all our conclusions about the universe. Presumably, if we want to assume physicalism, this perception is produced by our brains. So all you'd need to produce these images is a brain whose internal structure is exactly like the internal structure of a brain that is getting input from its sensory organs. And you really only need that brain to exist for a split second in order to explain your experience. After all, you only experience the present. It's possible you came into existence a split second ago complete with perceptions, beliefs, memories and everything, and if you really are just a brain floating in space, you're probably going to die in just a moment. The fact that you haven't already died only means you just now came into existence a split second ago.

Statistically, it is far more probable that a brain without a big well-ordered biologically complex body would spontaneously emerge in a sea of thermodynamic equilibrium than it would be that a whole universe like ours would spontaneously emerge if you were just producing random universes.

So if you appeal to a multiverse in order to explain fine-tuning, then you run up against the Boltzmann brain problem. A Boltzmann brain is an isolated brain that comes into existence complete with perceptions, beliefs, memories, etc., and it perceives a universe like ours. Since Boltzmann brains are vastly more probable than universes like ours, it follows that if we try to explain fine-tuning by appealing to the probablistic resources of a multiverse, there would be far more Boltzmann brains than there will be people living in universes like ours. With that being the case, it is far more probable that you are a Boltzmann brain than it is that you are living in a real universe that looks like ours appears to be.

You could respond to this by biting the bullet and saying, "Okay, so it's likely I'm a Boltzmann brain." After all, this argument is similar to the simulation hypothesis in the fact that we are comparing the number of sentient beings inside a simulation to the number of people in the real world. A lot of people think we are in a simulation because of this argument. If you click on the link, you'll see my reasons for thinking we are not in a simulation. One of those reasons is just an appeal to common sense realism--the view that we should take the world as it appears to be apart from any good reason to think otherwise. We have such a strong intuition that the world is real that we only pretend to take brain-in-vat type scenarios seriously. They're great thought experiments, but if we're totally honest with ourselves, hardly any of us really believe them. We have such a strong intuition that our senses are giving us true information about a real external world that we cannot bring ourselves to deny its reality even in the face of arguments (like Zeno's paradoxes) that we can't answer.

That's why Boltzmann brains are problems. If you have a model of reality that generates the Boltzmann brain problem, then that's a good reason to reject that model. You have to reject it on rational grounds because you probably don't think you're actually a Boltzmann brain. If we're going to be serious, we can't embrace models of the world that make it more likely that we are Boltzmann brains. So we have to reject any multiverse model that generates the Boltzmann brain problem.

There are multiverse models that don't generate the Boltzmann brain problem, but those models also don't answer the fine-tuninng problem. Maybe somebody will come up with a model that answers fine-tuning without generating the Boltzmann brain problem, but so far I don't know of such a model. Let me just mention a few I'm aware of.

First, there's the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. This one doesn't explain fine-tuning because each branching universe has exactly the same values to its constants.

Second, there's string theory (or M-theory). This doesn't explain fine-tuning for two reasons. First, it doesn't predict a multiverse. It only makes a multiverse possible. The possibilities are limited to about 10500 because there are 10500 different possible spacial geometries, each producing a different configuration of constants. Second, if string theory did predict a multiverse, it would generate the Boltzmann brain problem because while these 10500 different kinds of universes are possible, the actual constant configuration of each universe is still random. It's random which of the 10500 possibilities any given universe will turn out to have.

Third, there's a model that I think is called the ekpyrotic model. I'm not 100% sure, though, because there's also the "eternal inflation" model, which might be the same thing, or might be a feature of the ekpyrotic model, or might be a different thing altogether. Anyway, according to this model, the whole of space is in a state of constant rapid expansion, and every now and again, some small bubble will come out of this rapid expansion and coalesce into a bubble universe. Ours is just one of them, which is why our current big bang model has an inflationary period at the beginning of it. When inflation ends in some bubble universe, it takes on a set of values for its constants. This model, too, creates the Boltzmann brain problem. It may also run up against the Bord, Guth, Vilenkin theorem, but I'm not sure.

Fourth, there's another model that's almost just like the inflationary model above except that there's no inflation. There's just an infinite sea of equilibrium that exists for infinity. Given an infinite amount of time, it becomes statistically probable that in isolated regions, you'll get a state of low entropy just by random chance, and our big bang was just one such state. This model obviously creates the Boltzmann brain problem.

There are other models. Some of them don't create isolated universes. Some of them create sequential universes, so they're not really multiverses by the usual meaning of the term. Instead, they are cyclic universes in which the same universe gets a fresh start multiple times. In Roger Penrose's cyclic model, I don't think the constants are different in each cycle, so it doesn't answer the fine-tuning problem. But if they were different each time, then it would solve fine-tuning, but it would create the Boltzmann brain problem.

I guess that's about all I had to say today.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Don't lose your iPhone

The "find your phone" feature that exists in the iCloud used to serve a purpose. If you lost your phone, you could log in with your computer and locate your phone. I've used this feature before, and it was a big relief to have it.

But now they've rendered it useless by insisting on two-factor authentication. Now, if I want to log in to iCloud, they'll send a code to my phone which I can then enter on the web page to complete the log in. That doesn't help if I've lost my phone, which is why I was logging on in the first place.

I tried to shut it off, but I can't because it's mandatory. After googling around about the problem, I discovered that the only solution is to have a buddy who you can rely on in your time of need. You use their phone number in your iCloud so the code will go to them instead of you. Then they give you the code, and you can log in and find your phone.

Just one more reason to despise Apple. They giveth, and then they taketh away--like the mag safe charging port, the ordinary USB ports, and decent keyboards that work.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The ideal conversation

In most conversations I've seen, including the ones I've participated in, they don't go smoothly. There's lots of interrupting, people rarely ever complete a thought, the conversation meanders, nobody ever gets to the bottom of anything, and for me it's maddening. I remember sitting around the dinner table with some family marveling at how it didn't drive them all bonkers like it did me. Nobody seemed to mind being interrupted or not being able to get their point across. Nobody seemed very interested in what anybody else was saying. Nobody asked anybody a follow up question. I remember at one point jumping in there and saying, "Hold on, I want to hear what So & So was going to say." Most of the time, I sat there quietly and watched because I was curious how "normal" people conduct group conversations, and it was just bizzare. The whole conversation was nothing but a string of disconnected one-liners. Every now and then, somebody would initiate a topic that could have been interesting, but it never went beyond the initial statement, occasionally followed by a vaguely related statement from somebody else. This is the way my family usually interact when they get together in groups. It's mind-numbing to sit through. And that is how I see most conversations going, especially when there's more than two people.

There are exceptions, though. I joined a meet up group a few years ago to talk about "hard questions," and while there is still a lot of interrupting, meandering, and people not being able to complete their thoughts, it's nowhere near as bad as with my family. I think the fact that there's a pre-defined topic as well as a moderator to keep us on topic helps a lot.

In a lot of youtube videos where I see two or three people discussing topics, I see a lot of the same thing, but usually it's not as bad as every day conversations. It helps to have a moderator, too, like Justin Brierly. But when you have a moderation, it ceases to really be a conversation. It becomes a panel discussion or a debate. I would love it if it were possible to have deep meaningful conversations with people that don't require moderators by where each person is interested in what the other person has to say, and each person wants to talk about stuff, speak their peace, interact with what the other is saying, etc. It's extremely rare that I see this happen.

But I saw it happen yesterday. It was the most amazing thing to witness. William Lane Craig and Jimmy Akin went on the Pints With Aquinas YouTube channel to talk about the philosophical arguments for a beginning of the universe, which is one of the premises in the kalam cosmological argument. The host (whose name I don't remember) was barely involved. Jimmy and Bill just went back and forth explaining their point of view and interact with what the other person was saying. There were occasions when you could tell one wanted to jump in, but they stopped shy of interrupting. It was such a beautiful conversation that it inspired this post. I wanted to share it with you.

I would absolutely love it if this was the way conversations normally happened. Look at the way each of them spoke until they were finished while the other listened. Then once they were finished, the other person responded. Each person respected the other. Each spoke their peace. Each listened. Each engaged with what the other was saying. It was wonderful. What a breath of fresh air this conversation was! Please watch this video, and please try to be like this. That will make the world a better place.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The wrong side of history

The last thing any Christian should be concerned about is being on the wrong side of history. This phrase, "the wrong side of history," is always used to refer to people who hold a point of view that is different than what culture has come to hold, and culture changes all the time. That is not to say culture is never correct in the positions it holds, but one shouldn't conform to a point of view just because it's the point of view their surrounding culture holds to. There is a lot of pressure for Christians to conform to their culture, and this pressure is increasing all the time. So I just want to remind you of a few things the Bible has to say about it.

John 15:18-19 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you."

Romans 12:2 "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

Galatians 1:10 "For am I now seeking the favor of people, or of God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ."

Colossians 3:2 "Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth."

James 4:4 "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

1 John 2:15-17 "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God continues to live forever."

Friday, July 16, 2021


I'm always surprised when a Christians says they are 100% certain of God's existence or that Christianity as a whole is true. I'm also surprised at their reaction when I tell them I don't share their certainty. They react as if I had said something impious.

To lack certainty about God isn't to say anything negative about God. Belief is something you do. So to lack certainty about God says something about you, not God. All one needs to lack certainty is a recognition of your own limitations.

Not even presuppositionalists can escape these limitations. Presuppositionalists think they can have certainty about God's existence because without God, nothing else makes sense, not even logic. But surely it was with their own minds that they reasoned their way into the belief that God is necessary for logic and reason. Could they not have made a mistake in coming to this conclusion? How is it any insult to God to have doubts about the soundness of the transcendental argument?

There are only a handful of things I have absolute certainty about. I have absolute certainty when it comes to the content of my present mental states (e.g. what I am experiencing right now, like my thoughts and sensations), and I also have absolute certainty about a handful of necessary truths because I can immediately recognize their necessity as soon as I reflect on them. But beyond that, it's a matter of thikning and reasoning. Since I am prone to make mistakes, and since most things I know are not necessary truths, it's possible that I'm wrong about everything else.

This mere possibility, of course, doesn't mean I have to entertain any serious doubt, of course. Although last Thursdayism is possible, I don't have any serious doubts about whether last Wednesday happened. But at the same time, I can't have absolute certainty about it. I can have even less certainty when it comes to other things.

In the case of Christianity, there are a bunch of statements that have to be true for Christianity to be true, one of which is that God must exist. The only way I can know about God is if God reveals himself to me directly, or if I reason my way to his existence through arguments. In both cases, I have to depend on the reliability of my belief-producing cognitive faculties. If God reveals himself to me in a subjective way, there's always the possibility that my mind is deluding me, just as it's possible my mind is deluding me when it comes to the external world, other minds, or the past. When it comes to arguments, there's always the possibility that I've made a mistake in thinking. In either case, I don't see how I could have 100% certainty. And I don't see how this is impious in any way.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Just answer: Yes or no?

Lately, I've been watching Christian/atheist youtube videos which I didn't used to do (at least not very much). In the process, I've discovered a lot of people I used to not know existed. One of them I discovered recently that I really like is called "Wise Disciple." But that's not what I wanted to tell you about.

What I wanted to tell you about is something I've noticed in some dialogues, whether in the videos or in the comment section. There'll be a situation where one person is asking another person questions, and they'll ask a yes/no question. The other person responds by giving some nuanced explanation of their view, but then they'll be interrupted by the questioner who will say, "It's a simple yes or no question. Just answer the question. Yes or no?" I saw a guy who goes by Pine Creek do that in one of his street epistemology episodes.

This kind of thing irks me because I don't think there is any excuse for anybody to behave that way. I'm pretty sure every single one of us has, at one time or another, been asked a yes or no question for which there was no simple yes or no answer. The answer might be, "Well, it depends. . ." followed by an explanation. Soemtimes, you have to give a nuanced response in order to avoid misunderstandings. Some yes/no question are based on misconceptions, after all.

Consider the question, "Is the Bible literal, yes or no?" Whether you say "yes" or "no," the answer is going to be misleading. If you are to respond accurately, you have to explain that some things in the Bible are literal and some are not. Just because a question seems simple to you doesn't mean there's a simple answer. It may seem simple to you because there's something you don't understand that the other person needs to explain to you. For example, my brother asked me one time if I believed in free will. Well, "free will," has a variety of different definitions, so rather than give him a yes/no response, I started to explain the different perspectives, but he interrupted me to insist on giving him a straight forward answer. Giving him a simple yes or no answer could've easily given him the wrong idea about what I believe, and I didn't want that to happen.

If you ever find yourself interrupting somebody who is trying to explain something to you by saying, "It's a simple yes or no question," it is you who is in the wrong. That's the sort of tactic you should use if you're just playing a game, being disingenuous, trying to score points, or be obnoxious. But if you want an honest and informative answer, you should listen. If after hearing them out, they still have not addressed what you wanted to know, then you have something to complain about. But it is foolishiness to interrupt somebody in order to complain that they are not answering your question. As it says in the Proverbs, "One who gives an answer before he hears, it is foolishness and shame to him" (Proverbs 18:13).

I can think of one exception, though, because this happened to me one time. I had some Jehovah's Witnesses over, and I asked a question. I don't remember what I asked, but I don't think it was a yes/no question. Anyway, the other guy started talking, and at first it didn't seem like he was addressing my question. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt and figured he would come around to it. But after listening to him monologue for a long time, I began to have doubts about whether he was even trying to answer my question. So eventually, I butted in and said something like, "Are you leading up to an answer to my question, or are you changing the subject?" I think in that case I had listened to him long enough. I had given him plenty of time to answer the question, but he was nowhere close to it. And as it turns out, he was changing the subject. So I guess there are limits, but in general, I think you should hear people out.

Wait, I just thought of one other exception. If you're in a timed debate, and it's the cross examination, and you're the one asking the questions, I think it's reasonable to interrupt to insist the person answer your question if it starts looking like they are engaging in a filibuster. It's appropriate in that scenario since you only have so much time to ask questions, and it isn't fair of the person to run out your clock by talking too much and not answering your question. I remember watching James White cross examine John Shelby Spong, and Spong kept filibustering, which limited the number of questions White could ask.

But I don't think you should ever interrupt a person just because the first thing out of their mouth when you asked a yes/no question wasn't, "Yes," or, "No." I mean if you're interested in the truth, you shouldn't want to do that. If there is a nuanced response, you should want to hear the other person out.

I just remember watching Matt Dillahunty do that to Trent Horn. Matt asked Trent something like, "Do you think testimony can establish the truth of the resurrection?" Answering "yes," or "no" to that would be highly misleading. Suppose Trent said, "No." Then it would look as if historical records couldn't establish a miracle since historical records are nothing but testimony. But that obviously isn't Trent's position. But if he said, "Yes," then that, too, would be misleading because then the audience would be left with the impression that Trent's whole case for the resurrection boiled down to somebody giving their word on it, and that doesn't accurately represent Trent's position either. So if Trent wanted to give Matt and the audience an accurate understading of his actual position, then he should have responded by giving a nuanced response rather than saying, "Yes," or, "No." And that's what Trent tried to do, but Matt wouldn't have it. Over and over, Matt kept interrupting him, even raising his voice, insisting it's a simple yes or no question. Matt wasn't interested in the truth or he would've heard Trent out. Instead, Matt was doing everything he could to silence Trent. Surely this showed weakness of Matt's part, not Trent's. After being interrupted multiple times, Trent caved to Matt's request and said, "Yes." You'd think, at the very least, that Matt would want Trent to exlain his point of view after that, but of course not. Matt was happy to let the misconception stand. He said something like, "I have no further questions." Then the people in the comment section mocked Trent becasue he believed in the resurrection merely because somebody said so, which is an obvious distortion of Trent's view. The audience had the exact misconception Matt hoped they would have. Truth did not prevail because neither Matt nor his fans were interested in the truth.

Don't be that person.

On the flip side, some yes or no questions are simple. You may want to explain yourself in more detail after giving a yes or no answer, but I don't think you should avoid giving a yes or no answer if you actually can give one.

The bottom line is that we should all be genuine, honest, and amiable in our interactions with other people. When it comes to conflicts and disagreements, we need to keep our cool, be fair-minded, listen to each other, and genuinely be interested in arriving at the truth. If you're playing games, trying to score points, or just being a douche bag, then you're doing it wrong.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

The Calvinist joke

Last year when the Presidential race was all the buzz, I noticed that on every single video featuring Joe Biden, the same jokes kept coming up. For example, it was inevitable that somebody would say, "The only thing progressive about Biden is his dementia." A joke like that is funny the first few times somebody says it, but when it comes up a gazillion times every single time Joe Biden pops up, it's not funny anymore. It's unoriginal, and the person who makes the joke isn't contributing anything to the discussion. They're just being a lazy mindless drone.

Well, the same thing happens whenever Calvinism gets brought up. There's a joke that gets made every single time. No matter what a Calvinist says, a non-Calvinist will say, "Well, God determined it to be that way." For example just today I accused Leighton Flowers of being uncharitable (which I'm starting to notice is a habit of his), and somebody came along and said, "On the upside White and his folk, cant get upset because in their worldview God decreed from eternity past that Flowers would be seen as uncharitable." That was a cute and witty come back the first dozen or so times this joke was made, but I'm pretty sure we're in the millions by now. It isn't clever or witty anymore, and it doesn't contribute anything. It's just a gnat that enters the discussion and makes a buzzing sound. How can even a non-Calvinist still chuckle at it after all this time? Shouldn't we all collectively groan?

The joke is based on the faulty notion that if some action or belief is determined, then that removes all rationality and clupability for it. I've already argued multiple times on my blog and elsewhere why this is a faulty notion, so I won't repeat my arguments here. I'll just provide a few links where I've discussed it elsewhere.

William Lane Craig against Calvinism, part 2 of 5 In this post, I responded to Craig's claim that determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. His argunment was that if your belief is determined, then it can't be rational, which means that belief in determinism is self-refuting because if the belief is true, then the belief is determined and therefore not rational. Craig's point of view is often used in "the Calvinist joke." Whenever a Calvinist enters a debate, somebody will say, "Well, I'm just determined to reject Calvinism."

William Lane Craig against Calvinism, part 3B of 5 In this post, I respond to Craig's claim that determinism removes human responsibility. The argument is that if your behavior is determined, then you can't be responsible for it since you couldn't have done otherwise. With that being the case, there is supposedly no basis from which to criticize anybody's behavior. No Calvinist has anything to complain about.

Calvinism and Evangelism In this post, I argue that under theistic determinism, means are not superfluous. It's just the opposite. As long as X is in the causal chain leading to Y, it follows that X is not superfluous. Many people wrongly think that if God decrees everything that comes to pass, then all of our efforts are in vain since the outcome is determined and can't be otherwise. That's what many manifestations of "the Calvinist joke" are based on.

People should stop making the Calvinist joke for two reasons. One reason is because it's old, tired, over-used, unproductive, and not funny anymore. The other reason is because it's based on bad reasoning and incorrect philosophical assumptions.

And I know what you're going to say. "But I was determined to make the Calvinist joke." There, I said it for you. Now let's move on.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

What is the unborn?

There's really only three things you have to show to establish that the unborn is a living human being. You have to show (1) that it's alive, (2) that it's human, and (3) that it's a whole distinct organism.

Believe it or not, I've run into pro-choice people who deny all three. I remember going back and forth with somebody on reddit about whether the unborn is alive. I was all involved in making arguments about growth, metabolism, cellular structures, miscarriages, and still births until I took a step back and thought, "Wait a minute." I had been taking this person seriously, trying to reason with him, when the fact of the matter is that it's absolutely absurd to deny that whatever the unborn are, they obviously are at least something that's alive. It made me question whether the person I was talking to was being serious or not. Was this one of those situations where somebody was embracing an absurdity just to win a debate or avoid conceding a point? As I thought about that, it all of a sudden seemed silly for me to be going into detail about the scientific understanding of what it means for something to be living as opposed to non-living. Nobody in their right mind ought to deny that the unborn are at least living things.

I have also run into people who deny that it's human. I can't remember a personal anecdote at the moment, but I do remember listening to . . . Oh wait, I just remembered a personal anecdote. This happened before class in one of my history classes in college. I don't remember the details of the conversation, but I was talking to two people, and one of them was saying either that the unborn were not human or that we couldn't know if they were human, and I remember saying something like, "Well, it's not a lizard or a bird. It's a human." . . . Anyway, I remember listening to a debate between Scott Klusendorf and a couple of Canadians on abortion. Durng the cross examination, Scott kept pressing them on this question of what the unborn were. He was trying to get them to admit it was human, but they kept saying, "It's a fetus." Scott wasn't getting anywhere with them, and in his frustration, he accused them of not understanding his question. But it was obvious they understood his question and were just being evasive. He was asking them what species the unborn belonged to. I wish he had used the word, "species," but it was obvious that's what he meant. They were talking about a stage of development as if it were a species.

It seem to me that no reasonable person ought to question whether the unborn are human and whether they are alive. Any reasonable debate ought to be over that third thing--whether the unborn is a whole distinct organism. After all, even a fingernail can be human, but it's not a whole distinct organism. Something is human as long as it is organic and comes from a human and/or shares human DNA and proteins and stuff. If a paleontologist found a bone, they could probably tell you whether it was a human bone, a dinosaur bone, or whatever. Any organ you have or any piece of hair or fingernail that falls off of you is human, but it's not a whole organism. So one might argue that the unborn are human since they are growing inside of a human, and it's alive since it isn't dead or inorganic, but they might also argue that the unborn is not a whole distinct organism. They might argue this on the basis that it isn't fully developed and that it isn't independent of its mother. It still gets it nuitrients from its mother. While I think this argument is wrong, it's not as unreasonable as denyhing that it's alive or human.

So why think it's a whole distinct organism if it isn't fully developed, and it's still living inside of and off of its mother? There's a few things. First, something doesn't have to be fully developed to be a complete organism. We are not fully developed when we're born. A caterpillar isn't fully developed. Some people never do fully develop.

Second, whole distinct organisms are things that undergo development, so you have to be a whole distinct orgnism before you can go through different stages of development in the first place. You don't become a whole distinct organism through a process of development. A hand, foot, organ, or whatever is incapable of going through every stage of human development because they are not whole distinct organisms. As long as the unborn aren't killed or die of natural causes, they will go through every stage of human development--embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent, adult. You have to be a full distinct human to do that. I like what Francis Beckweth said one time: "You didn't come from a zygote; you once were a zygote."

Third, the unborn have their own distinct DNA. If I cut off a hand or foot, that hand or foot will have the same DNA that I have since it came from me and used to be a part of me. But the unborn have DNA that is distinct from both of their parents, and they will have that same DNA from conception until adulthood. If they were mere parts or appendages of a whole distinct organism, then there would have to be a whole distinct organism that shared their DNA. Otherwise, what are they a part of? Not their mother since she has a different DNA.

Fourth, it would be absurd to think the unborn were mere appendages of their mother rather than being distinct oganisms because if they were part of their mothers, then there would be women with four arms, four legs, two heads, and in the case of boys, you'd have a woman with a penis.

I guess that's about all I have to say about that. Oh wait. I argued in this post that there's three things you have to establish in order to show that the unborn is a living human being. But as far as the abortion debate goes, there's a fourth thing that is relevant--whether the unborn is a person. I've met lots of pro-choice people will concede everything I've argued in this post, but then deny the personhood of the unborn. Maybe I'll talk about that another time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Sean Carroll, the arrow of time, and the beginning of the universe

I've been trying for a while now to understand Sean Carroll's explanation of time and how it fits into his model of the universe. I think I have a better understanding of what he's saying now than I used to, but there are still some gaps. And I may still have a misunderstanding. But I thought I'd explain it as best I can in hopes that maybe somebody else will leave a comment correcting what needs to be corrected or telling me I'm on the right track or something.

If time is static, in other words, if eternalism is true, it raises the question of why it seems like time has a direction. After all, on a spacetime block, moments of time are analoguous to places in space. Space doesn't have a direction in which we can only travel one way. But it does seem like time has a direction since we can only go in the future direction. Why is this the case if time is not dynamic?

Carroll's answer is that the arrow of time is determined by the direction of increasing entropy. The problem I have with this answer is that it strikes me as being backward. It isn't increasing entropy that determines the arrow of time; rather, it's the arrow of time that determines increasing entropy. Let me explain that.

For any configuration of stuff (matter, energy, legos, or whatever) there are far more random or chaotic configurations than there are ordered configurations. For example, if you have a bowl of Alphabet cereal, there are far more possible arrangements of individual pieces of cereal that don't spell any words or sentences than there are configurations that spell words or sentences. So if you were to shake the bowl, it's far more probable that you'd end up with a random ordering of letters than an ordering that spells words and makes sentences. Since disorder is more probable than order, we should expect that as a system changes, it will tend toward less order, more homogeneity, etc.

There are endless examples of this in our experience. If you have a hot cup of coffee in a cold box, heat will flow from the cup to the rest of the box until it's evenly spread out, but you wouldn't expect the process to reverse. If you put folded clothes in a dryer and turn it on, you'd expect the clothes to become a jumbled mess, but you wouldn't expect them to end up folded again. If you drop a wine glass, you'd expect it to shatter into a bunch of random pieces on the floor, but you wouldn't expect those pieces to randomly come together in the form of a wine glass again.

And that's basically the second law of thermodynamics. Heat and energy tend to spread out. Nature tends toward equilibrium. While the total energy in a system may remain constant, energy can only be used as it is converted from an ordered state to a disordered state. The amount of energy that is no longer available to do work is called entropy. So entropy can be thought of as the amount of disorder, or randomness, or homogeneity, or equilibrium, or whatever. It always increases in a closed system where energy is not added to or taken away from the system.

It seems to me that it is because time has a direction that entropy increases. In the next moment of time, it is far more probable that we will end up with a more random configuration of stuff than that we will end up with a more ordered configuration of stuff. So I don't understand why Carroll thinks it's the other way around. If we assume time has a certain direction, it's easy to see why entropy will increase in that direction. But if, as Carroll thinks, time is static, there's no explanation for why entropy increases in any particular direction. He appears to simply define the arrow of time as pointing in the direction that entropy just happens to be increasing. Somebody please correct me if I've got this wrong.

Carroll's definition of the arrow of time leads to another mistake that I think William Lane Craig misunderstood in their debate. Since the second law of thermodynamics is based on statistics (disordered states are vastly more probable than ordered states), it is not an absolute law. It is possible for entropy to spontaneously decrease in a closed system.

Let me digress for a minute. Of course we see it decrease in open systems all the time. When water freezes, it forms crystals which have a lower entropy than liquid water. But this happens because it gives off heat. So while the entropy of the water decreases, the total entropy of the universe still increases since the increase of entropy surrounding the ice is always greater than the decrease in the entropy of the ice.

Okay, so it is possible, though unlikely, that in a closed system, the total entropy of that system will spontaneously decrease. This improbability can be overcome with enough time. Currently, the entropy of our universe is increasing. Eventually, the universe will undergo "heat death" or "thermodynamic equilibrium," which both amount to the same thing. But given enough time, it should spontaneously become ordered again, resulting in another big bang.

In some models of the universe, space is infinite, and there's an infinite amount of stuff out there. It's all in thermodynamic equilibrium, and always has been. But statistics being what they are, there are localized areas of low entropy that spontaneously emerge, and our big bang was just one of them.

In Carroll's model of the universe, entropy had to have decreased from a disordered state prior to the big bang. Since he defines the arrow of time in terms of the direction of increasing entropy, the fact that entropy was decreasing immediately prior to the big bang means that time was running backward prior to the big bang. This is the part that seemed to confuse William Lane Craig in their debate. Craig looked at Carroll's diagram which had an arrow of time drawn in opposite directions on either side of the big bang, and this lead him to think Carroll's model implied an absolute beginning at the big bang. But that was a mistake.

But Caroll's position still strikes me as being nonsense. The only reason he says time was moving backward prior to the big bang is because that's how he has defined the direction of time. In reality, time was moving forward like it always does, and it just happened, by a statistical fluke, that entropy was spontaneously decreasing. This is inevitable given infinite time and an infinite universe.

This can be seen just by looking at how entropy decreases in local areas of our own space. Entropy decreases whenever crystals form, but we don't say time is moving forward in the space surrounding the crystals while moving backward inside the space where the crystals are forming. In the same way, we shouldn't say time is moving backwards in a localized region of space that's getting ready for a big bang while moving forward in the rest of the infinite ocean of space. And this shouldn't change if we suppose that there is no infinite ocean of space and that our local universe is all the universe there is. The fact that entropy decreases prior to the big bang does not entail that time is literally moving backwards.

It strikes me as being nonsense to say that time is moving backwards in the first place. The direction of time is the same thing as the way time is flowing. So to say time is flowing backward is to state what seems to me to be a contradiction.

So it strikes me as being mere semantics for Carroll to say that time is flowing backward prior to the big bang since he only says that because he's defining the arrow of time in terms of the direction of increasing entropy. What's really and literally going on is that entropy happens to be decreasing as time moves forward, and this isn't impossible since there is a tiny but non-zero probability of that happening. If time always flows in the direction of increasing entropy, then it would be impossible for entropy to ever decrease.

I think all Carroll's model does as far as undermining the Kalam Cosmological Argument, is that it weakens the argument for an absolute beginning of the universe from the second law of thermodynamics. The argument for an absolute beginning of the universe from the second law of thermodynamics is that if the past is infinite, then the universe should've already reached thermodynamic equilibrium, but since it hasn't, then the past is not infinite. But since the second law of thermodynamics is statistical, and it's possible, though unlikely, for entropy to spontaneously decrease, then it's possible the universe has reached thermodynamic equilibrium, but then given an infinite amount of time, it spontaneously reached a state of low entropy again, resulting in the big bang. (Of course Carroll's model runs up against the Boltzmann Brain problem, but that's beyond the scope of this post.)

The argument from the second law of thermodynamics still carries some weight, though, since Carroll's model is a mere possibility. Not everybody agrees with the statistical explanation of the second law of thermodynamics either. Consider a situation in which you've got a pipe with high pressure air on one end and low pressure air on the other end. We should expect air to flow from the high pressure end to the low pressure end until the pressure in the pipe is evenly distributed. The statistical model tells us that it improbable but not impossible for all the molecules of the air to randomly accumulate on one end of the pipe again, creating a high pressure region at one end and a low pressure region on the other end. But this may not be possible since to do so would require the air molecules to move against the pressure they create as they get closer together. It's the pressure that keeps them spread out. In the same way, the tendency of energy to spread out in the universe and become homogeneous may not be reversible.

It could be that the statistical model of the second law applies to some situations but not to others.

Anywho, I thought I'd leaves some links to some videos on one of my favourite YouTube channels, PBS Space Time, about the second law of thermodynamics for your edification.

The Misunderstood Nature of Entropy

Reversing Entropy with Maxwell's Demon

The Arrow of Time and How to Reverse It

The Impossibility of Perpetual Motion Machines