Friday, December 15, 2006

Science and Religion

For a long time I have thought that the main reason that science is compatible with religion is that people have a high tolerance to inconsistency. Living with sets of mutually contradictory beliefs may be the norm in fact.
For anybody who is interested in the relationship between science and religion I would reccomend the downloadable mpegs of a recent conference on this topic involving many of the usual suspects (Dawkins, Joan Roughgarden, Steven Weinberg, Lawrence Krauss, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer and others) which you can find here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Transcendental Logic.

I came across this cute site recently. Have a go and see if you can spot any flaws in the proof.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Quantum Ethics

Are moral values things that are part of the universe itself in the sense that they would exist even if all sentient lifeforms had ceased to exist? One of the pillars of the theist worldview is that some moral values express things that are objectively true. But wait a minute, haven't we all learned that you can't derive an 'ought' from an 'is' ? Yet people experience the world as if some things are objectively right or wrong. If this cannot be because of the way the world is, theists conclude that the guarantor of these objective moral truths must be God. There is a well known problem with this: it is the Euthyphro dilemma. Is something good because god commands it, or does God command it because it is good? If the former, then what if God had commanded otherwise? It makes morality seem arbitrary. If the latter, then 'good' already existed and God cannot be its guarantor.
So how would a secular account look? Does secularism entail moral relativism in the sense that what is 'right' or 'wrong' is just a matter of cultural preference or societal sanction? I think not. I think that evolution by natural selection has provided us with the ability to track certain aspects of the world. Part of our world is the social nexus. We have a theory of mind. We can predict what somebody else will do sometimes because we can imagine what it is like to be them. This has consequences in terms of which sets of behaviours will maximise survival. Go around arbitrarily killing and stealing and you won't last long enough to reproduce. So we are equipped with a set of 'ethical drivers' which profoundly influence our perception and emotions about our possible behaviours. There is no guarantor in the sky, but just as Noam Chomsky speaks of 'universal grammar' such that humans have a predisposition to develop language, I am postulating (I'm sure I'm not the first) a universal ethics. Does this analogy fit? Well different societies have different ethical codes, but there are some invariant properties. There are no societies where murdering your firstborn is considered 'good'. Similarly English and German are very different but they both have verbs, adjectives and nouns.
So in order to function within a viable ethics, moral values must have certain invariant principles and in this sense there is an objective component. If humans went extinct tomorrow, the scavengers and saprophytes would feast on our corpses without any moral qualms and in this sense morals are subjective on a species level.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Evolution and the Soul

Pope Pius XII in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, recognised the following problem and it applies to the majority of Christians of all denominations who accept evolution. It is this: at what point in the continuum of the evolution of humans did God decide we should all get souls and why then? The standard christian defense is that we cannot know the mind of God. This catch all seems unsatisfactory though. Have any of you theological Ninjas out there got a patch for this bug?
Ideas are welcome.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Formal Proof of 'ought' implies 'can'

I have been looking into this problem since posting on ephphatha's blog philochristos.
I must admit I have found nothing satisfactory so far. Deontic logic seems beset with problems. Can anybody help?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Free Will

While I am getting to grips with the control interface I want to put forward one of the main difficulties that I see with the traditional Christian worldview. It is the Problem of Evil. I will state this briefly now.

If God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenificent, how can there be suffering in the world?
This topic has been dealt with at length by philosophers and theologians and is still debated on blogs and message boards to this day. What really makes me curious is this:
What is it that makes people find the argument that suffering is a result of us having free will convincing?
I know that all the predicates such as omnipotence have limitations such as avoidance of logical contradictions. It does not follow from this, however, that the world we see is the best of all possible worlds given those necessary parameters.
It just does not seem credible, whether you take this metaphorically or not, that God should create a universe bounded by the categories of time and matter in order for it to be a habitat for humans. Further why, foreseeing every move that the feckless, weak willed and covetous creatures would make, He nonetheless created them only to be outraged by their sin? The notion that He would then sacrifice part of Himself to Himself in order to atone for sins which are breaches of moral absolutes that He encoded into the universe in the first place is counter-intuitive. All this so that despite a lack of good evidence for His existence, we, as rational beings could have the free will to chose to have a relationship with Him via his sacrificed son? Why is the concept of atonement morally acceptable anyway? How does somebody else's sacrifice influence the moral status of what I have done? Nor does the suffering seem related in a simple way to free will and sin. Malaria, earthquakes and the like are morally indiscriminate, they kill innocents and guilty alike. The remark that we are all sinners after the 'fall' seems an outdated and morally abhorrent concept. Why did God not create us to enjoy eternal bliss, without the wish or predisposition to do evil? Would any loss of free will that this would entail be a bad thing? I think not.
So as a whole picture, the Christian solution to the Problem of Evil seems incoherent.

Secular Thoughts

Secular Thoughts

Control of the interface for my own blogs is the first priority so I hope you will bear with me while I figure this out as I am a complete noob.

Friday, April 14, 2006


These posts will consider some of the arguments for a rationalist worldview as well as some of the philosophical problems that this entails.