Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Intelligent Design - the pitfalls

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I see this argument as an over-simplification or context-dropping if you prefer. Actually there is no definition of God since God does not exist. What people take to accept as God is really just a repudiation of what is 'real''. For instance God is 'supernatural' (= non-natural), Gof requires such to accept him on 'faith' (non-reason), he wants us to love others unconditionally (non-values), he wants us to live this life his way (non-reality) for a chance to live in another. When a dictator asks me to trust him to deliver a better life, I am cynical. When a ghost does it, I laugh. When >50% of the population think this is a reasonable proposition, I consider democracy dangerous.

Religious people seem to accept the notion that there was a Big Bang. I prefer to believe that there was a succession of Big Bangs every 24 billion years or so, that in fact the universe was not created or destroyed, but rather is recycled. I see no evidence that matter can be created or destroyed, just that it changes forms, whether at a chemical or sub-atomic level. The universe explodes, expands, coalesces, contracts, then explodes again. I dont see the need necessarily for a single 'symmetrical' Big Bang, because I see no structural reason for assymmetry. But maybe the assymmetry of the universe is reason to believe there are sometimes multiple Bangs or the coalition of matter. I don't know all the dynamics. I know that the ethics underpinning religion are flawed and contrary to human nature (ie. faith is not compatible with reason).
I dont think the creation of humanity is such a mystery. Nor do I think that the conditions for the development of life are so stretched. I think the problem is the low probability of sustaining conditions on a planet long enough (billions of years) without some meteorite destroying it. But we dont know we are alone. Maybe the odds are higher than we expect. Maybe lifeforms are on their way as we speak.
I dont think there is a wrong or right amount of energy, since there is a focus of area where conditions where conditions would have been right somewhere in the universe. The problem was not that there was no place suitable, the problem was sustaining those conditions. The 'cratered' moon shows Earth was spared destruction, that humanity was given the opportunity to evolve, because we had an atmosphere. Some want to believe it was because of God. But Earth is not the only planet with an atmosphere, or with oxygen. So where is the 'intelligent design' that requires God.
The next question is really a nonsense question. "Why were we created?" There is no answer to this question because its an illegitimate question. Its like asking the reason for reason. It just is. Reason is inherent in the transformation of things, not in the things themselves. You can't ask why an orange is yellow instead of green beyond understanding the light that causes it. It just is. At root this question is really 'why do life forms evolve?' to give it a non-religious bias? We just do. The nature of things is so organised. If we destroyed everything it would happen again, and not because of God's grace. What possible explanation could God have for the meteorite explosion that wiped out the dinosaurs? Did this perfect God decide to reschedule human evolution? Duh!
Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Filipinos and religion

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I have made the point that religion is a terrible philosophy because it creates a dichotomy between moral and practical action. The problem is shared by all collectivist philosophies. Religion is worse because you only get salvation after you are dead. Though I'm sure you could find a few faithful socialists who are still clinging to the dream. Here is a dialogue between my girlfriend and a relative that strikes me as not too unfamiliar in the Philippines. See 'A Sense of Entitlement'. My point with this post is to provide a practical example of the altruist creed that 'its moral to give, but practical to take'. This is how an altruist manipulates people into bestowing them with benefits.
I thank my girlfriend for the recount of her conversation. Her court scribing skills are appreciated.
Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A positive spin on religion

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Is there anything positive we can say about religion? I think there is. Religion was man's first attempt to explain the events that shape his world. Its not surprising that religion is based on fear since in an age before science, there was a great deal that was unknowable. But we now know. It is not surprising that he is depicted in negatives, because we really have no relationship to him. Afterall isn't he a he because we dont know any better. Isnt he 'supernatural' because 'he' or 'it' is not natural.
So the most positive thing you can say about religion was that it was humanities first attempt to explain the world and the elements that shape it. But why do people still believe it today? I suggest its because fear-ridden people communicate the same fears and confusion to their kids.
Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Science quashes the existence of ghosts

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This is a little off-topic but then, if you believe in God, I guess other forms of mysticism are not much of a stretch. Here is an interesting documentary I watched the other day. It presented evidence to disprove the evidence of ghosts - see http://www.tvokay.com/documentary/5th-dimension-ghosts.htm. Several of the conclusions were:
1. Magnetic fields are often around us, and they can cause people to feel a burning sensation on the skin or a sense that something has brushed by them. This can cause the person to think there is a presence in the room.
2. Dark places can make the most ardent 'ghost skeptics' believe there is something in a room. Being in a dark room elevates stress levels and this can cause people's sight to deteriorate, particularly peripheral vision. This observation was actually proven by a scientist who thought he was in the presence of a ghost. He tested his own hypothesis.
3. Rationalisations - people want to believe in certain things because they dont have the critical mind which would question the validity of their conclusions.

Perhaps more impressive was the fact that they even showed how these physiological responses occurred using a simulation when a person was placed under these types of conditions. Check it out!
Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Ten Commandments - a new translation!

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Christians have long been blessed with a simple rule book for living - the 'Ten Commandments'. What could be simpler? Well I am a little perplexed by it. Might reality be a little more complicated. I dont know about you but I was given a different rule book growing up. But thats ok, I eventually reached my current thinking for similar reasons. These commandments come from the New Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible: Exodus 20:2–17, and I have got this from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments. Lets consider the rules:

1. Do not have any other gods before Me: Hmmm, can we take it that God is not an advocate of free markets and competition. Why then did he make competitors? Why didn't he just make me - one human with one subordinate woman like Eve. That would have been consistent at the very least since we are expected to be subordinate to him. And on that point, why do we have to worship him. My parents gave birth to me. Do I worship them because they might claim to have invested 18 years in me. No, because if they didn't have a selfish motive, why did they do it. How can he give man free will, but not let him exercise it. How can he pretend to give you a choice if you the choice is submission or damnation. Its like the choice you get from the tax office or any other common criminal. This strikes me as a big vague anyway coming from a God. It would need a court room interpretation. If I was looking for loopholes, I would say I am free of damnation if I praise no God since by doing so I am placing no God before, because I am not accepting any.
2. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: OK, well I do think alot of myself, and I think anyone with a healthy self esteem would do the same. But I dont care if you are a God, I dont accept flacky arguments that dont add up. I always thought weak people have idols, whether footballers or shrines. Frankly I think this rule is God trying to be intangible so he can grab market share. A cynical ploy. I think his strategy is to be everything so he essentially kills all competition. But if he is 'the sun, the light, the holy spirit', is he not 'the idol' as well....see so he's not consistent.
3. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me: Dont worry I would never be so pathetic. Get this next section...He is a jealous God. That strikes me as rather insecure and not very understanding. How can you justifiably punish a child for the behaviour of their parents if you believe in free will, as God is supposed to. And if that was ok,why would you stop at the 3rd or 4th generation, and if you were perfect, why couldn't you decide which one - 3rd or 4th. This Christian God is looking pretty pathetic. I think he's pretty insecure, consider that he seems insolent like a child 'those who reject me'...classic manic depressive symptoms. He's like a school bully.
4. but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. This doesn't make sense either for the same reason. OK I can understand him being rapped at the idea of getting attention, but why should generations 2-999th get a free ride, and why stop there. Cant he count higher?
5. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. I grew up with a different understanding. I thought we were supposed to not use God's name in vain, but this has a different meaning. This new interpretation seems to place a copyright on the use of God's name. Very smart! In fact its the first smart thing he has said. But even his commercial astuteness doesn't pass because he has on many occasions deplored the accumulation of wealth as a terrible sin, and what are royalty cheques but a blatant receipt of the 'almightt dollar'. This strikes me as an act of idolising.
6. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy: This one is a bit vague. Ok I grant God his Holy Day. Dont like shopping anyway, so I dont see myself missing Sunday's anytime soon. Mind you, this doesn't require me to go to church. He in fact doesn't even define what 'holy' is. But he does tell us in the following commandment - what it isn't.
7. For six days you shall labour and do all your work: Ok I dont agree to this one. But I can live with it because like a great many things it depends on how you define your terms, and I have yet to see a book called the 'Holy Dictionary' which means that everything is pretty much in the air. Mind you, I think a sensible God would not be so loose with his commandments, so he doesn't retain much credibility with me. For instance, does Sunday start at 12AM as that time format was estsblished later.
8. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. Ok he's starting to sound like a lawyer now. But read this - God is actually giving credence to the notion of slavery. He is tacitly supporting slavery. I am overwhelmed. No wonder why religious institutions seem to be constantly rewriting or revising their old interpretations. This is damning evidence that God is a closset fascist - and not even a benevolent fascist like America's Thomas Jefferson who also had slaves. At least Jefferson treated his slaves well....I cant say the same for God - apart from the Sunday holiday. And its not like he offered time and half...that came much later. And if you think its 'money' ok, but its money to the employer too, so why should it not go to the person with more need. No sense there.
9. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. This item seems a bit redundant. For a perfect God he's a bit repetitive.
10. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Ok this is grounds for impeachment. Firstly my parents made a great many mistakes. Second, why should I honour parents intrinsically when you dont. If we are living on the same earth, why is your moral code different from mine? You damn them and their children for 1000 generations, so why would I dogmatically honour them for that.
11. You shall not murder. Well I dont agree with this. I think it depends on the situation. If my life was threatened by others, I would feel compelled to kill them to retain my life. That is to say I would kill only in response to someone else initiating force. I think God stuffed up on this commandment. Poor judgement. How can you justify placing others right to kill above your own right to live. People will rationalise that you should have faith, but I've got no confidence in this God. I dont even think I want to capitalise his name any more...so 'god'...shame on you! Pity your disciples a 1000-fold. His mistake here is clearly that he stated it as a dogma, not as a principle that needed to be held in context of other facts. eg. Whom is seeking to derive a sense of value by fraud or force. That is the basis of philosophy, and why religion has nothing to add on ethics. Shame on him!
12. You shall not commit adultery. I think this commandment is the closest one could come to a credible commandment. Certainly you should not engage in extra-marital affairs without your partners knowledge, that would be lying. And as above, it would amount to trying to receive a value by deception. Here again, definition is important. If you have an open and honest agreement with your wife to have an open relationship, that should be legally ok, though I think it undermines the legitimacy of the relationship. But then that is not in question. They might be doing it to preserve the stability of family for the kids. I dont think its necessary if handled correctly, but its an error that I dont think anyone should be damned over. I give his half points for this one because I am a generous person, or generous God based on his performance.
13. You shall not steal. This suffers the same error - definition and context. I think its ok to steal from people who have stolen from you, though I think one needs to establish a support for objectivity, otherwise its likely to lead to rationalisation. That objectivity comes from confessing your actions after the fact so that an independent legal authority can determine the merit of the counter-claims. One could argue that this results in mob rule, but I think there is a context in which it might be ok to steal. eg. A society in which government has the moral right to steal (taxation). I dont care if one person or a person claiming to represent 50% of the population steals, it is still stealing. Righteousness is not a popularity contest.
14. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour: I think this commandment is not bad...but its not very comprehensive, so falls short, so I give him half points for this one. Its one thing to lie to others, but its equaly important that one doesn't delude oneself.
15. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. This is good too, but its not clear why? The problem is we dont know whether he is speaking metaphorically, whether one's 'neighbour' is a peer in the community, or anyone. I suspect anyone. If that is a universal principle, might this commandment be suggesting that we shouldn't covet any wife, slave, animal (whether for sex or possession I guess...lets not quibble) or possessions. Anyway it makes sense in as much as you shouldn't covet things because others possess them. This suggests that there is nothing wrong with honest ambition.

My Ten Commandments
As a final word....I am wondering why all the talk of 'Ten Commandments' because I can identify about 12 here - allowing for the fact that he is a little repetitive. I did not see much value in these commandments. I was trying to be generous - I give him 2 out of 12 points, and thats being picky about what you call a commandment. So thats just over 16% - not a good rating for a 'god'. But what is interesting is the things that he left out. Are there any acts of morality not covered in the Twelve Commandments? Well I can think of a few:
1. Be honest with thyself - not just others
2. Dont attempt to attain values by coercion or deception - more comprehensive than 'god's'.
3. Empathise with vested interests - but dont live for their sake
4. Live by your own judgement and place nothing above it
5. Live in accordance to your own hierarchy of values - Live for your own sake
6. Identify and pursue your values with a integrity and deliberance
7. Find purpose in everything you do - except your personal rehabilitation
8. Embrace reason as the standard of value
9. Take 100% responsibility for your achievements and failures in your life - even if others fail you
10. Feel free to junk these commandments and do what you like, but be prepared to pay the consequences on this earth - there is no other pertinent to your life until another is discovered

Mind you - you dont have to call me God. And I really couldn't care a F**K if you followed these rules or not. Its your life to screw up....you wont need damnation in another world, you will have it in this one. You will experience it in your career, your relationships, your personal sense of self worth. Have a nice day!
Attention all atheists!!
In fact anyone who has had an interesting encounter with a Christian which involved manipulation, deception or blatant rationalisation. This is research or material for a forthcoming book. I am not suggesting that all Christians are criminals, dangerous or threats to society, but I am suggesting that Christianity is a basis for moral inefficacy. There is a reason why Christian nations are always at war. There is a reason why former Christians (or children of Christians) have a tendency to drift into cults and extreme religious groups. Thank you for any life experiences you can recall. ----------------------------------------------- Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com