Monday, March 9, 2009

Prejudice and Suffering of Buddhism

I believe it to be readily acknowledged by many atheists and anti- theists that certain concessions are made (or have been made) for the religion of Buddhism so as to make it an exception to deserving rigorous assault. Perhaps this is justified in some respects. Certainly it is the Abrahamic faiths which currently stand at the forefront of mankind’s demise. It is also a quality of Buddhism to both be and not be a religion - burring the spiritual with the philosophical perspective. I hold little to none grudges towards the latter, but the former deserves my full attention. There are at least two customs of the spiritual version of Buddhism that begs and receives exploitation; that of prejudice and suffering, which are not all that unlike Christianity. After traveling through large concentration of Buddhists and experiencing first hand how Khmer, Laos, Vietnamese, and Thai people live, I have developed a new disrespect for the traditions of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

As a quick preliminary, from what I've seen Buddhists are far more content and peaceful than those of the Abrahamic faiths. Whether or not this is related to the living conditions or the religion itself is an open question since Buddhism does not exist in non-impoverished locales. However, Muslims and Christians alike can also be found to be concentrated in impoverished areas and are far from content or peaceful. So perhaps there is something to say that Buddhism is a more benign religion, but I'll leave that as an unknown. I need not squabble over whether one or the other is a lesser evil if neither such evil need exist in the first place. I intend to show that Buddhism (pertaining from here on to the spiritual sects of Buddhism, not the philosophical) is indeed an evil.

One of the most common traits of all religions is prejudice, and there is no escape for Buddhism. Both Theravada and, up until recently, Mahayana Buddhism have been the propagators of sexism. Women are seen as inferior reincarnations of life forces and it is believed that only male humans (monks to be more precise) are capable of reaching nirvana. Women are taught, or rather told, to pray or hope that in the next life they will be male. The women cannot even be allowed to sit with or touch a male monk. This distinction directly results in not allowing women to become monks. Perhaps, one might say, that this is actually an advantage to the female species if I claim Buddhism is so horrible. But a Buddhist monastery is not the place of eunuchs like we see with Christianity. There are many perks to becoming a monk in the developing world, including: free education, free food, free time, and unquestioned free will to leave the monastery at any time.

For most males in S.E. Asia who attend a monastery, the objective is to receive an education for free in return for providing spiritual guidance to the commoner in the form of blessings. Basic subjects including the very valuable English language - valuable for tourism where the most money is made in these developing countries - are taught for free along with the Buddhist teachings. In any part of the world, education is a distinctive economic advantage, giving these males in SE Asia opportunities to escape their harsh farmer lifestyle. And from the farmers the monks receive free food. To a westerner that's merely pittance, but for the people of these countries, who work long backbreaking days in hot climates just so they can survive another day, it is a contribution indeed. Meanwhile, the monks sit and recite scripture indoors and occasionally sprinkle some water or go for walks to collect money from the villagers. Whether or not the monks or the villagers recognize this exploitation matters not. It is what it is, and it is no the females who benefit.

If the sexism began and ended in the monastery this would be nearly a moot point. But the relative laziness and sex superiority reach beyond the temples and is reflected in the lifestyles of the men and women. Similar to before the time of the feminist movement, while the men relax after a days work, the women, who have been performing the same (or more) hard labor of their husbands, are not relieved from their work by the setting of the sun. Child care, cooking, and home maintenance is their job. There are exceptions, many in fact, but in general and on average this is the dynamic. A guy from Holland I talked with who married a Khmer woman and had been working on a farm he owned for the past eight years near Battambang, Cambodia (one of the poorest in Cambodia) first echoed this sentiment to me. In all the SE Asia countries you'll only see male motorbike taxi drivers who can be found asleep most of the day. You'll also see a very high ratio (read quite nearly infinite) of male to female locals in restaurants eating food and enjoying a beer.

Whether these differences are an effect of culture or of religion it is again perhaps hard to say. But it is unquestionably being supported by the exclusion of females from monasteries and the teaching of female inferiority, not at all unlike Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I agree that sexism has lasted even in Western countries that are less religious and that perhaps there are life guidance benefits specific to Buddhism that could outweigh the sexism. However, there is a far more dangerous tenet of Buddhism that fails mankind - that is the idea of necessary suffering.

Again like the Abrahamic faiths, Buddhism teaches that each cycle of life through reincarnation is played out by karmic principles related to past live and the respective current life. Suffering is seen to be caused by wrongdoings performed during anytime in past lives and thus a necessary component of life to pay for their actions in order to eventually reach nirvana. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths, however, is the adherence to strict pacifism. Both Jesus and Gandhi are considered champions of pacifism, but both also justified violence in self defense, and certainly Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism can hardly be described as peaceful religions. All life is taught to be a precious thing in Buddhism since the mosquito you just squashed may have been a relative from the past. Though very few Buddhist followers actually practice vegetarianism and preservation of life, the monasteries do and it is something revered by the communities.

It can be quoted by great philosophers that until mankind treats animals well, mankind cannot treat itself well and perhaps this is a part of why Buddhists might be more peaceful than other religious zealots. However, the strength of the pacifist movement is derived from the coupling with the idea of necessary suffering. What better way to be a pacifist than to be convinced that your dire situation is necessary?

When Pol Pot (who attended a Christian school, by the way) and the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh, and thus Cambodia, the Khmer people were sent to work in communes led by vicious and scared cadres and were placed in living conditions which, in at least my opinion, were far worse than any concentration camp during the holocaust. The malnutrition and long hard labor, the clockwork killings, the Tuol Sleng prison where tens of thousands were tortured for months, the rapes, the disease, and most of all the unending fear make 1970's Cambodia a horror story (1/4 of Cambodia's population - 12 million - was killed off during the Khmer Rouge control). It's not hard to meet a Khmer who survived the Khmer Rouge to tell you a personal story of their family getting killed off and being tortured or underfed with a face of indefinable sorrow. Massive graves are still being unearthed with unidentifiable remains, many of which can be viewed in a stupa on-site. Bones of infants, children, adults, and the old can all be seen as grim reminders of their end by either being smashed against a rock and thrown into a cave, decapitated by a palm tree branch, or bludgeoned to death by an axe. These people suffered like no other. What's more astounding, though, is that there is no evidence of any uprisings by the Khmer people - that is no uprisings by any Buddhists groups of Khmer.

There were no shackles or jails that kept the vast majority of Khmer from uprising against their cadre. There was ample opportunity to rise up with farming tools in hand as a group and take their country from the hands of tyrants. The only thing holding them in check was fear... fear and Buddhism. So why didn't they revolt? According to a woman from on of the commune districts, the people accepted their situation due precisely because they thought they were supposed to be suffering for karmic reasons. For them, the Buddhists, if they could repay their past life actions by suffering so then they could be reincarnated as a more privileged human being. What a novel idea indeed!

But, says the cynic, and rightfully so, who's to say that a person of another faith or non-faith wouldn't do the same - that is wouldn't accept their situation as is by not revolting? A fair question and I can answer accordingly. There were two other religions that existed significantly in the country of Cambodia. There was a group of Muslims in the south east, known as the Chams, and the animists of the hill tribe people in the north east. Both of these groups, independent of each other, did in fact rise and revolt against the Khmer Rouge cadres of their respective districts. These are distinctly the only areas of evidenced revolt. You have to ask yourself why that is so. It is merely coincidence that those areas where the revolts took place were not Buddhist? Maybe because they were on the border? There were no revolts on the western border. It seems too simple to me to chalk this one up to coincidence when there is both reason and evidence to support the claim of a curse of dogma relating to the idea of necessary suffering, coupled with pacifism, which plagued the Buddhists in Khmer Rouge Cambodia. Pacifism is a novelty idea that, like most things, taken too far can be as dangerous as its opposite. Aristotle would agree.

As evidenced by history and the state of things in Buddhist areas, there seems to be enough reason to mark Buddhism as sufficiently dangerous for the anti-theist to take notice, especially with the additional mention of the fact that Buddhism supports all other religions. Let us not gloss over religions that appear peaceful, for behind every dogma lies enslavement.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Unprovability of a God's Existence

I submit to you a proposed proof, expanded on a basis from David Hume, that nothing can be proven to exist, other than the mind, including God, thus eradicating the possibility of any proof based on knowledge (not based on arguments a posteriori, or based on empiricism) of a god's existence, including the traditional cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments, et al.

As a preliminary, I only ask that we accept the laws of logic as knowledge a priori since otherwise nothing is communicable or tenable without.  Of the laws of logic, I will only invoke the usage of axioms derived from intuitionistic logic, but claim knowledge of the excluded middle principle only as an indicator that a narrow acceptance of that which is logical still applies to the broader realm of sets of axioms of logic.  I make mention of this exclusion of the excluded middle, and others, because it is debated whether it is tenable (see Quine's Paradox).

  1. The only way to prove something a priori is if its opposite implies a contradiction.

Let's first take a look at whether if the opposite of a statement a priori implies a contradiction, then the statement is true.  Given logic, we have the law of (non-)contradiction.  It says that two contradictory statements cannot be both true.  Now, the only way to test an a priori statement is to subject it to other proven or accepted a priori statements.  The only statement we've allotted a priori is logic, which means that we assume logic to be absolutely true.  Therefore, if an a priori statement were to be true, then the opposite (being a priori itself) would have to be false, by the law of non-contradiction.  If the opposite implies a contradiction with another statement a priori (for us we only so far have logic), then it must be false (because the other statement a priori is proven or accepted as true) and the original a priori statement in question is thus true.  Thus if the opposite of an a priori statement implies a contradiction, the statement is true.  Next we have to ask whether it is the only way. 

Of the six axioms of logic, three of them (commutativity, associativity, and distributivity) say nothing about why a proposition would be true, rather it describes equivalent statements.  Identity only says that which is, is.  The excluded middle only says that which is not, given that which is, and whose use in a proof invokes the law of (non-)contradiction.  Therefore, the only option left of logic is the law of (non-)contradiction or something derived from it.  Thus, by elimination and the previous proof that contradiction of the opposite proves a statement a priori, we have that the only way to prove something a priori is if its opposite implies a contradiction.

  1. If something implies a contradiction, then it is inconceivable.

We, as human beings, are capable of logic, and that which is illogical is indeed inconceivable.  You might say that surely you can conceive of say a square circle by simply the fact that you can say it.  But it is not the phrase 'square circle' that is in question; it's the object the language is targeted at.  An object cannot both have 4 sides and no sides.  It's a contradiction and it's inconceivable.  You might be able to come close in having 4 circles with radii approaching infinity thus giving the appearance of 4 straight sides of a square, but in actuality it is impossible (or inconceivable) to have a circle with 'infinite' size radii.  We can think about it by abstracting from a finite case, but it can never be realized.  Similarly, the Penrose stairs might give the appearance of stairs in a loop that always increase, but closer inspection shows that this is an optical illusion of perspective and could never be realized in three-dimensions, i.e. the 3-dimensional objected that our brains try to project when we view the 2-dimensional drawing is inconceivable (try it).  More succinctly, you cannot conceive of something that both is and is not.

  1. Everything can be conceived not to exist, except the mind.

I did make one change to the traditional way this argument is made, and that is the part 'except the mind'.  The only a priori that need exist is that thought exists and that there is a perspective that I call (or is called) me, or I.  To paraphrase Descartes: "There are thoughts as viewed from a perspective that is called I."  Why this might be the case is given by the statement in question.  We require the ability for things to be conceived, which requires that there exists a mind (defined as nothing more than a thought or collection of thoughts) to do the conceiving (not as a descriptor of action).  Thus, we require the small caveat of 'except the mind'.

What follows, then, is that the only thing we can ascertain is that there are thoughts which by all means does not necessitate for there to be a cause of these thoughts.  I can conceive thoughts to just exist in a non-temporal 'existence' of which nothing exists but thoughts.  Pain, laughter, anger, joy, etc. are all products of the mind which may always have existed in a determinate manner only as thoughts and not dependent on anything else existing.  Thus all things that I might conceive to exist externally from my mind can also be conceived to not exist - them being merely thoughts.  My body may be all an illusion, as might be the whole external world.  Time may not be existent as I can never be sure that what I thought before wasn't merely what I always thought when I reflect upon it now.  I might very well be a single state thought with an illusion of having previous thoughts (that being one of the thoughts I have now).  Therefore, everything that might exist, apart from the mind, can be conceived to be only a thought, and thus can be conceived to not exist outside the mind (or to exist as merely a thought).

Now, I know a lot of this is deeply metaphysical and in all practical sense is easily disregarded.  I won't pretend that I don't assume many things without knowing that they are true, but I will always acknowledge the valid objections to such assumptions.  Since proofs of a god's existence definitively relates to metaphysics, it is proper when considering whether a god(s) exist to ask ourselves all the appropriate metaphysical dilemmas, of which this is one.

  1. Nothing can be proven to exist, apart from the mind, a priori, including God.

This is a direct result of our previous theorems.  The proof is as follows using the law of (non-)contradiction: Assume, without loss of generality, that something X other than the mind can be proven to exist a priori.  Then by #1, the opposite of X, namely that X doesn't exist, implies a contradiction.  By #2, X not existing is inconceivable.  But #3 says that everything can be conceived not to exist.  So by #3, X not existing is conceivable.  Therefore we have a contradiction.  Therefore it is false to say that something X other than the mind can be proven to exist a priori.  Ergo, nothing can be proven to exist, apart from the mind, a priori, including God.

This is the case for why a god's existence, or rather anything supernatural, is not provable, which should be indicative (or, rather, necessary) that all attempted and to be attempted proofs of god's existence based off necessity derived from a priori statements are both fallacious and futile.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Impossibility of Evidence.

What evidence would it take for an atheist to believe in a god? This question comes up often enough to be worth a lengthy response, and, in short, my reply is that such evidence is impossible. I claim that any event that should ever occur to be observed by man that could suggest the existence of a deity will always, in every case, and indefinitely never amount to sufficient evidence for such an existence through no obstinance or arrogance of the atheist, but through mere logic and reason. My argument is as follows.  

First, I'd like to draw attention, yet again, to the heroic (arguable) David Hume. Concerning miracles, Hume stipulated that in order for a miracle to be accepted as having occurred, the falsehood of the testimony would have to be more miraculous than the miracle itself. After all, the lesser 'miracle' would be more likely to have occurred, just as it is more likely that I am typing this text rather than it just appearing without any direct or indirect user input. To quote Hume:
"When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion."
This fairly accurate worded phrasing puts the nail in the coffin concerning that which would be required for a testimony of a miracle to be accepted as factual. We then have to ask ourselves how such a falsehood of testimony could ever be more miraculous than the miracle itself.  

*On a quick side note, I can foresee the argument that my terminology only suggests that I will accept the more probable event, and that while winning the lotto is less likely than not winning the lotto, both are possible outcomes, and thus I erroneously equivocate the less likely (or improbable) with impossible. However, before you can suggest something to be possible it has to have been given evidence to support the claim. Miracles have yet to be shown possible and thus I do not run into the obstacle just described. Winning the lottery is indeed possible and has been proven so. Moreover, the analogy is a descriptor of what happened before the lottery numbers were picked, not after. After the lottery numbers are known, it's either impossible that I've won if I haven't, or impossible that I haven't won if I did. One merely needs to look at the numbers and submit it to the lottery board to find out. The claimed miracles in question have already occurred and their validity of being called a miracle is in question, not the perception that it has occurred.*  

When David Copperfield, the magician, made the statue of liberty disappear, no reasonable person thought that he actually made the statue disappear. To the viewer, however, the statue did indeed disappear. Similarly, we've probably all seen women cut in half with a saw and rabbits being pulled out of hats by many self-proclaimed magicians. While we do enjoy these illusions greatly, very few, if any, people actually think that the event was anything more than an illusion. Ask yourself why you don't believe the magician actually suspended the laws of nature; why you believe it's a trick of mirrors or the likes; why the idea that what you just witnessed was a miracle does not enter your stockpile of possible explanations. You'd probably answer because we know that people can be deceived. We've seen these tricks before, and some guy wearing a mask explained how a lot of them were done on FOX. But magicians aren't the only people or objects which are capable of deceiving.  

Lyre birds are capable of mimicking the most unusual sounds, including the sound of a chainsaw cutting through a trunk of a tree. We constantly deceive children into thinking there's a Santa Claus. Mirages occur to people travelling through a desert. Derren Brown can use his powers of deception to convert an entire room to believe there might be a deity, or to convince people that a losing race ticket is a winning one. Hallucinations will form to those who are mentally ill or extremely physically sick. People actually believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist, and the Saddam Hussein actually had WMD's. Hell, you've probably even thought that it was your left hand that was shaving your beard, looking in the mirror.  

Pick up any psychology book and you're bound to find numerous instances defining some sort of mental disorder which creates illusions. Are aliens really infiltrating our minds? Is the government wire-tapping my phone line? Am I the next Messiah? Why do the pink elephants steal my pillow at night? When will Nessy wakeup? Who is Bigfoot? We are in constant reminder of the ability of people to be deceived, and yet we never give them any credit to their illusions/delusions. On all levels, and in every corner of the globe, people are deceived, have been deceived, and will continue to be deceived. But what we have never witnessed anywhere near as much is the laws of nature to be suspended. Even if the miracles claimed by the various religions were indeed to have occurred, they are far outweighed by the instances of deception that is continually being put to use for bad and good intentions, and sometimes unintentionally. Thus it is always vastly more probable should you witness or be told by a witness of a miracle to occur that you and/or said person was deceived, and your first inclinations should be as such.  

But let us assume, for the moment, that by some 'miracle' the likelihood of deception was actually outweighed by the miracle itself. That what we saw really did happen and what happened went against the grain or was unknown of our current knowledge of the natural laws of the universe. Do we really attribute it to miraculous circumstances? When scientists discovered that light bent around a planet, did we think it was a miracle that it went against Newton's law of gravity? When the animist of old witnessed lightning, something they certainly didn't understand the physics of, did it command miracle status? Is birth still considered a miracle after biologists have dissected the process of specie fertilization; that of sperm and egg, meiosis, and mitosis? No.  

In any instance in history where there has been a verifiable observed seeming suspension of natural laws, it is not the event that is deemed miraculous; it is our ignorance of the natural laws. Never do we (or ought we) assume that which we don't understand a miracle. Especially since the introduction of quantum mechanics, even some of the most improbable and counter-intuitive events could conceivably occur by no suspension of what is natural. It will always be more likely that we will yet discover what happened by the natural order of the universe than for such an event to actually have ignored the true natural order.  

Lightning, medicine, gravity, stars, chemistry, etc were all once thought miraculous or magical and since then there has been substantial proof that deeming such things as miraculous is to admit our ignorance of natural laws, not of such events being actually miraculous. And since all of our current knowledge of the universe has been preceded by our ignorance of it, it will always undeniably be far, far more likely that we as of yet do not understand how such an event has occurred than for such an event to be truly miraculous.  

That is why no evidence will ever suffice for the proof that miracles happen. That is why the falsehood of the testimony and our ignorance of the natural world will always be far less miraculous than the miracle itself, and thus not command our belief. And that is why I, as a rational human being, will always be an atheist.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Theists Dance - or Pigeon-Logic

Some years ago, a researcher named B.F. Skinner set-up an experiment where Pigeon’s were kept in a cage and fed at random intervals of time by an automatic pellet dispenser.  The pigeons were observed for any odd behaviour associated with the feeding.  What the results were was that the pigeons developed a sort of dance that seems to have evolved from movements by the pigeon when a pellet was dropped from the dispenser.  The idea behind this is that the food would come and the pigeon would try to copy its previous movements at the time of the pellet dropped before in order to get another pellet to eat.  If the movement seemed to work again in the future, that movement would be incorporated in the repertoire.  If the movement seemed to fail to get a pellet, the pigeon would revise or remove said movement.  On top of that, movements were combined in the idea that some combination of movements would and wouldn’t get a pellet.  After a while, the pigeons in their cages began performing elaborate dances including twirls, head bobs, and footloose all based on previous trial runs. 

Now the thing to remember as the dance evolved was that the dance really didn’t have any effect on getting the pellet.  The pellet dispenser was set to dispense pellets using a random number generator from a computer.  In fact, one not even need to know that the computer existed to know that the dance didn’t have any effect.  One could simply observe the statistical data and show no correlation between the dance and the pellet drop, and I doubt the pigeon itself thought of creating a controlled experiment to test its dance. 

For me, and probably for many others, this behaviour pattern is reminiscent of the irrational cause and effects that theists claim to exist that are due to the deities they respectively believe in.  It’s probably more readily observed by the more primitive indigenous people who perform rain dances and blood sacrifices for a good harvest, but it can also be seen in the more ‘major’ religions which historically have had many of the same superstitious rituals as the rain dances and blood sacrifices. 

Prayer is used by theists to achieve something they desire.  When it ‘works’ they think their god caused it and believe similar prayers will work again.  When prayer doesn’t work, they think they’re not worthy of the answer.  So they either conform the prayer to ones that have worked or try a new one.  As an example, when people pray for a loved one to be cured of cancer they probably go through a series of slightly different prayers until one works, or rather this has already been done and priests will claim to have the developed prayer already necessary to have the desired outcome.  If it doesn’t work, oh well, someone must have been doing something wrong or god doesn’t think it should work this time.  If it does work, the people will think their prayers work, even though all research into the effects of prayer have shown no effect other than a few cases of placebo (sometimes having the opposite desired effect). 

We can also see this behaviour in theists reasoning.  They’ll argue a point but then be shown that their point doesn’t work.  So they revise their point (by changing the words or the meaning of the words) or try a new one.  They’ll repeat this process and even sometimes come back to their previous points that they have been shown to be invalid in hopes that some combination of unreasonable points will make a difference or more simply for the single reason that the theist and/or his/her arguer has forgotten why the point doesn’t work.  Then all it takes is one or two arguers against the theist to fail to recognize a counterpoint (or give-up on the theist being able to reason) and the theist will claim triumph, even though subsequent arguers will show them wrong.  But it worked in the past for the theist, and by their logic (or pigeon-logic) there must be something right about their argument.  We can observe this readily in this group as we see the same people bring up the same arguments and get refuted over and over… and over.  And many times they’ll distance themselves from the original point only to come back to it again in hopes that such distancing removed any counterarguments.  This group is a testament to the claim. 

The basic surmise is that theists generally use this sort of weaseling, wriggling, and twisting of arguments or actions to justify their claims, even though any person could readily test their hypothesis and show it to have no correlation between the action and the outcome.  But showing the theist this isn’t enough because they will always claim there was something wrong with the experiment, not their claim.  Or if they admit something wrong with their claim, they’ll just argue that their claim was mostly right, but it just needed a little adjustment even though they and many others have undoubtedly gone in circles with their adjustments.  I suggest (as many others before me have) that pretty much all of theists supernatural claims (including witch trials, football team wins, lucky charms, etc.) are a result of this sort of ‘dance’ that theists do in order to make one falsely believe in correlation when there is none.  This is pigeon-logic. 

But if theists are so similar in behaviour to pigeons, doesn’t it beg the question of whether or not we should treat theists any differently than we do pigeons?  Should we feed them a bunch of uncooked rice? More importantly, shouldn't we not let them perch on higher ground so they can shit on the rest of humanity?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Stone is a Paradox?

For those who are unfamiliar with the Stone paradox, it is basically this: Can an omnipotent being create a stone so heavy that said being cannot lift it? 

It's essentially an argument against omnipotence being tenable since the question posed seems to give a contradictory response either way you answer the question.  If an omnipotent being can create a stone so heavy that said being cannot lift it, then said being is not omnipotent.  If an omnipotent being cannot create a stone so heavy, then said being is not omnipotent.  Thus we have the paradox.  There are other arguments against omnipotence, but I want to focus on this one. 

Introductions aside, there is something I felt wasn't quite right with the argument… not that feelings really have any say about it.  My question concerning the paradox is whether the question posed is a valid question, i.e. is it loaded or the likes?  So I tried to think of an appropriate analogy.  Since omnipotence deals with the infinite, I decided upon using the set of rational numbers (here forward known as Q). 

Here's the analogous question I pose: Can the set Q contain a rational number so large that said number cannot exist in Q? 

Any mathematics degree holders will tell you the answer is no and prove it so.  Would we then assume that the set Q doesn't really have the quality we assume, or alternatively would we assume that such a hypothetical number does not exist and therefore the answer is no by a vacuous argument?  Now, I admit there are some fundamental differences in the analogy given.  But let's use the ideas that might have been triggered by my analogy to try to understand the Stone paradox a little better. 

The Stone paradox starts out with the assumption that an omnipotent being (here forward referred to as OB) exists.  We can then consider that all things within the power of OB could do, namely everything – hence the transliteration 'all-powerful'.  However, there is one constraint that we would put on such power.  That is that an OB is restricted to logic.  What I mean by this is that OB cannot do that which is logically impossible, such as an OB cannot create a square circle (or squircle).  A square circle has no meaning and is logically absurd.  What is a square circle anyways? 

Now, within the set of things that an OB could do is certainly create a stone of some finite weight, and should certainly be able to lift that stone.  Just as certainly a rational number exists in the set Q. No matter how big a stone could be created, it will always have a finite weight* and so an OB should always be able to lift it by the simple principle that whatever finite weight (or force) that the stone has, we can assign a force to OB greater than the weight by a factor of, oh, say 10 (arbitrary number greater than one) which is well within the limits of infinity and would then automatically be sufficient to lift the stone.  You can continue to increase the stone's weight ad infinitum and you could still conceive a greater force than the weight of the stone.  So if the question were to be "Can an omnipotent being create a stone of any weight and then lift it?", we would have to answer yes. 

Return, then, to the original question: Can an omnipotent being create a stone so heavy that said being cannot lift it?  What is it we're really asking here?  Are we asking about the stone or are we asking about whether an OB could lift it?  Certainly the stone is mildly arbitrary and as we already saw an OB can create a stone of any weight and then lift it.  We then seem to be asking whether an OB can do something such that the OB cannot do something.  Is that a valid question or not vacuous?  I don't think so, and I'll do my best to explain. 

No matter what size stone an OB can create, it will always have a finite weight*, as discussed, and so the OB will always be able to lift it.  So we ask to create a bigger stone, and a bigger one, and so forth till we get to a stone that the OB cannot lift.  But this is absurd.  As discussed, the OB can always have more force than a conceived stone's weight just as no matter how big a number you can think of, there's at least one bigger (actually there's an infinite number bigger).  So it's no longer a limitation of the OB's power, but a limitation of the weight of a stone.  No such stone could exist such that it would have more weight than what we could conceive a force having, just as no such rational number can exist that it is so large that it exists outside Q.  So by a vacuous argument, since no such stone could exist, the question is logically invalid because it requires a stone to have an 'infinite' weight– what we posed was necessary to not be the case when we consider an OB's power to have the restriction of logic. 

But perhaps there's something else that an OB can do so that the OB cannot do something.  We could ask: "Can an OB create a number so large that the OB cannot count in numerical order to it given as much time as needed?"  But again, such a number would have to be finite, and so the real question would again be "Can an OB do something such that an OB cannot do something?"  But doesn't this seem to be a loaded question?  You're both assuming that the OB is both all-powerful and not all-powerful, so of course you're going to get a contradiction.  It'd be similar in asking how nothing can have the property that it has no properties – it's a kind of word game.  What I pose is this: In the set of things an OB can do, there is nothing that would automatically lead to an OB not being able to do something else.  Perhaps I'm wrong, and I'd like to see an example of something that would make this truly a paradox. 

*A stone with an infinite weight has no meaning.  Infinite is not a number and so cannot  be assigned to a measurement for anything except perhaps abstractions, which even then tends to be non applicable as a measurement especially when you consider that there are 'different sizes' of infinity.


Friday, September 12, 2008

On Logic and Reason, the Bible, and A Priori Statements

The delving into metaphysics needs some clarification concerning objections to logic and reason.  The premise is the logic and reason are limited to understanding the true nature of existence because it's not possible to give the a priori statement in question because it requires that one uses logic and reason to conclude it.  I'm not going to argue against that objection because it is valid, though perhaps not conducive.  But I will argue against the Bible being the, or a, gap filler.

The first thing to look at is the premise that logic and reason are limited.  What this suggests is that while logic and reason are valid, they are limited to understanding the true nature of existence.  But what it does NOT say, and what I would suggest no one would claim, is that logic and reason is invalid.  Indeed, in order to have any sort of meaningful conversation, one requires the use of logic and reason to make communication coherent.  To accept logic and reason as tools of understanding is to accept that logic and reason are not contradictory, since by definition it necessitates non-contradiction.  Therefore, if there is a single exception arising from a separate a priori statement which removes the premise that logic and reason being valid, then logic and reason as a whole is invalid since it exists as a single a priori statement.  Since we accept logic and reason to be infallible (though human application of logic and reason is fallible) we must assume that should another premise invalidate the premise that logic and reason are valid, then we would throw out the other premise.  For a simple example, think about the premise that addition is valid so that one and one make two.  If we suggest a separate premise that gives rise to us concluding that one and one makes three, then we assume this separate premise is invalid, not the premise of addition being valid.

To summarize, I would suspect that we all believe logic and reason to exist and to be valid.  At the very least, logic and reason is therefore a subset of our understanding of existence.  To find an exception to logic and reason is to invalidate logic and reason.  We assume logic and reason to be valid.  Therefore, any premise that would invalidate logic and reason is invalid itself, and logic and reason remain.

Now the argument of the Bible comes into play.  The premise suggested is that the Bible gives truth to our existence (from here on out referred to as BB) beyond the limitation of logic and reason.  If we can find that this new premise leads to a contradiction with the premise of logic and reason, we will assume that the premise of the Bible is invalid.

As it goes, the Bible is in fact contradictory in its literal form and thus would necessitate an exception to the a priori of logic and reason (from here on out referred to as L&R).  Therefore we automatically can reject the idea that the Bible gives truth to our existence in its literal form.  Thus, in order for BB to hold weight, we must assume that the Bible must be interpreted.  As it is, the Bible has been interpreted many different ways that are mutually exclusive, as evidenced by the number of denominations of Christianity.  Since they are as whole mutually exclusive, they cannot all be correct and furthermore only one or few (if some small set of the denominations are not mutually exclusive) can be correct because otherwise they would constitute an exception to L&R.  Since this is the case, there is a very small minority of people (if any) who interpret the Bible who are correct in its interpretation.  But here's the kicker.  Roughly at least one person who follows any single interpretation will be just as convinced (or at least it cannot be proven otherwise) as someone else with another interpretation.  So how do we know which interpretation is the correct one?  In what capacity can we measure which interpretation is correct?  There is no answer to this and thus one can never assume to have the one true interpretation.  For any a priori statement to be made, it must be clear (i.e. not vague) and the very meaning of the a priori statement would have to be agreed upon or obvious, though not necessarily accepted.  Therefore, BB needs some extra clarification, specifically that it would be necessary to transform it to say that "a specific interpretation of the Bible, as written , gives truth to our existence" (from here on referred to as IB).

There's not much to say (that I know of) to someone who considers their interpretation to give rise to the IB in question.  All one can say is that there are perhaps an infinite other possibilities which could take the place of any particular IB (including other IBs) and it would suggest a delusion of grandeur for one to admit that only his/her interpretation is the true interpretation, though not invalid.  The only way to avoid this is to not accept L&R, which I again would suggest no one ought to or would do.  As it stands, the correct interpretation cannot be discovered by other a priori statements that don't have the same problem themselves, i.e. there is no objective means to discover the correct interpretation.  Since, then, very few people will agree to accept anyone's particular IB, it doesn't stand as a very strong a priori statement.  Moreover, interpretation requires another a priori of subjectivity, since interpretation is specifically subjective.  Specifically, one would require an a priori statement which decrees that subjective statements can be decided as true (from here on referred to as ST), for if it cannot be decided as true then no person can claim that their interpretation is correct, which implies that no person may claim any particular IB.  ST really opens up a whole floodgate of statements based on subjectivity including but not excluded to: faeces taste good as fact or theism is a good thing as fact (who's to say that these are not true?).  From merely an argument of absurdity, it would suggest that ST is not a valid a priori statement, and thus neither can an IB since it requires ST.

To summarize, BB is not sufficient in literal form since it would require an exception to L&R.  Thus, BB must be specialized to an IB.  IB is not self-evident, and requires ST.  ST leads to absurd statements (suggesting an exception to L&R) so we would/should not accept it.  Therefore, since IB relies on ST and ST is presumed not valid, IB is not valid.  Thus, BB in any form is not valid since it leads to an exception of L&R which no person ought to or would do.  Ergo, the Bible does not and cannot fill the gap (if it exists) where logic and reason leave off.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Problem of Interpretation

The Bible is so full of contradictions that I need not delve into them as they can readily be researched by anyone equipped with Google and a keyboard.  Because of these contradictions, the bible cannot be taken literally, and I suspect that very few Christians indeed take the bible literally.  Thus, most all theists interpret the bible as they see fit.  But who has authority on these interpretations?  Which interpretation is the correct way to view the bible? 

When you take an English class, you inevitably are required to interpret some novel and write an essay about it.  It has long been stipulated that there is no wrong interpretation (so long as you backup your interpretation), and if you happen to interpret a novel differently from someone else then both views are accepted.  Indeed, most theists who are members of one of the over 200 denominations of Christianity agree to disagree about their varied interpretations of the bible – to a certain extent.  There are those who think you’re actually eating Jesus at communion, and there are those who think it’s only symbolic.  There are those who think that you have to believe to get to heaven, and there are those who think you get there by your actions.  Then you get to the interpretations that Christians more likely disagree to disagree (not inclusively or exclusively): women’s rights, homosexuality, abortions, sex out of wed-lock, contraceptives, indoctrination, etc.  But who’s right? 

Obviously, you cannot know how to interpret an object from the object itself.  There must be an outside source.  We can no longer ask the writers, and so far as we know they didn’t write out how to interpret their own writings.  So who do we get our interpretations from: the pope, the priest, your parents, yourself, the guy on the soap-box, the mentally ill, etc.?  Regardless of where you get your interpretation from, others will get theirs from somewhere or someone else.  Everyone will be convinced that theirs is right.  You might tell me that you just know that yours is right because you (and probably only you) truly know how to correctly interpret the bible because of your supreme closeness and understanding of your god, but then I’d feel obligated to send you to a Psychiatric ward with a toe-tag labeled ‘Delusions of Grandeur’. 

But here’s the question that’s being begged:  What are the limits to interpretation?  Who’s to say that I cannot interpret the bible as condoning child sacrifice, raping virgins of captive nations, going to war over religion, etc.? Who’s to say that I cannot interpret the bible as nothing more than the equivalent of Homer’s The Iliad where there may be some historical relevance but for the most part it’s all the product of human creativity?  Once you allow room for interpretation, there are no barriers to how much is to be interpreted and in how many ways. 

Now if you argue that there are some things to be interpreted and some things to be taken literal, you still have the problem of deciding which of those things are which.  You cannot have your cake and eat it too.  Further, it’s not really that you’re taking a part of the bible literally, but rather interpreting that part of the bible as if it were to be taken literally.  And so I am equally able to interpret that bible as not literal.  Let me explain: If you are to read a book as being literal, you need not read the book first before deciding whether it or which parts should be read literally; just like I don’t need to read a scientific book before I read it as being literal because the book itself is designed to be read literally.  There’s no interpretation either required or intended.  The bible does not have this quality – one has to read it first to decide which parts should be taken literally, and so it is for any book which has room for interpretation.  So, if a book is to be read for interpretation, I need to read it first to know which parts are to be taken interpretively and which parts are to be taken literal.  But then I am only interpreting those parts deemed literal to be literal; just like I can interpret literally Hamlet saying ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’ as meaning there’s some organic substance decaying in the state of Denmark (maybe he was referring to his lunch and was getting hungry?).  The quote itself is not inherently literal, but it can be interpreted as if it were literal. 

So much emphasis is put on the bible and yet so very few people can agree on the same interpretation of it.  If you allow free interpretation, then I’m free to interpret it as a fable and equally as a guide (and proponent for) on how to torment mankind – and you should not think it wrong of me to do so since you allow yourself equal maneuvering.  If you allow for only your interpretation, then you delude yourself with thinking you’re the only one who really knows what it’s all about.  And let me tell you this: no matter how much you are convinced that you know the true interpretation, I guarantee you there’s someone else out there with a different interpretation just as convinced as you – neither of which can be verified since it is a completely subjective stance.  If you allow for no interpretation, you’ll be committed to removing all contradictions from the bible which would ultimately leave you with not much of anything.