Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Rather Silly Tumblr

Because apparently it's the new craze among the kids. I'll be posting in both areas.

Can be found here.


You can do it your own way...If it's done just how I say!

- 'Eye of the Beholder' by Metallica

I've mentioned before to those that I know how as an atheist I had reached the conclusions of bothexistential and moral nihilism. While I should get around to how I arrived at those conclusions at some point (and further justify them as I no doubt did not consult literature when deciding such things) what I had never considered was epistemic nihilism; I had always assumed the existence of the material universe as philosophy seemed to be utterly useless without such an axiomatic belief. Of course, any theist who would have criticized me on taking that on faith would be completely right in their assertion.

More importantly, and relevant to this sketch,1 is the fact that I was a determinist in my view on free-will. This resulted from the philosophy class I took as a freshman, coupled with some of the science on the subject I had recalled from my high school psychology class which showed how decisions were made in the sub-conscious before being relayed to the conscious. The more I reflected on the matter, the more sense it made to me as an atheist; if I was the result of physical/material processes that functioned off of cause-and-effect, then that means every thought, action, etc, that I had was also the result of cause-and-effect and not a 'choice'. I, after all, wasn't a human being made in the image of God, but a biochemical machine.

But I never took the denial of free-will out to its full implications.2 To review: physicalist atheism3 seemed to lead to determinism since nature works via cause-and-effect. While quantum mechanics seems to contradict this, there are two important points. Firstly, quantum mechanics functions at such a micro-level that it probably has no effect on macro-level systems such as the will. Secondly, even if this is not the case, quantum mechanics shows the universe to be at a level of randomness and chaos. This is in no way synonymous with free-will as all it would mean is that our choices are either determined by the antecedent state of the universe or are completely random.

If, then, we are the products ofcausality, this means our very beliefs, or lack thereof, are not the result of conscious deliberation and weighing of the facts. Nor are they the result of critical thinking or skepticism. They are the result of the antecedent state of the universe and nothing more. I was an atheist and am now a Christian because I had no choice but to be such things. The Christian who apostatizes because he feels that his religion is irrational is not doing so for rational reasons but because he had no choice but to become an atheist.

The one retort may be that while this is all true, atheists may have more accurately perceived the world around them, they have created a better mental model. At this point I will quote from an article by R. M. Manion:

“Then,” I said, “if the mental models of a thing correspond to knowledge and the assessment of those models correspond to reason, we would have a paradigm for the evolution of knowledge and reason. We already have mechanical representations of this in artificial intelligence systems. We have robots that identify objects in a room from video input and make a sufficient analysis of these models to navigate around the room. If we set up an experiment where robots that ran into objects disappeared while those that successfully avoided objects reproduced with minor changes in their programming, we would eventually evolve a collection of robots with an astute knowledge oftheir environment and ability to assess and navigate it. In like manner, man has evolved the ability to form extremely detailed and accurate models of his sensory input of the world and to make sophisticated analysis of that data. Hence, man has evolved knowledge and reason. True, this system is still deterministic, and man is still a part of the natural system he has come to know. But, he knows it none the less. It is a case of nature knowing itself. A sort of feedback loop, or self-diagnostic routine.”4

After pointing out the inherent dualistic language of the above, the second character of the dialogue gives the reason as to why such a feedback loop does not do us any good:

“The robots know nothing. Simply, the ones set up to avoid obstacles, avoid obstacles, the ones that don’t, don’t. Can we say that water flows to the ocean because it knows the way? Does water that finds its’ way to the ocean know something that other water doesn’t? You see, water simply does what nature would have it do. So the robots do what their environment, sensory apparatus, and programs would have them do. Their actions are caused. They cause nothing. In like manner we believe what nature would have us believe. We do nothing. We are the repository of certain thoughts. I do not create my beliefs. I am simply a repository of belief. All of it, my beliefs, my thoughts, my reasons, even the language by which I try to explain them, are simply acts of nature.”5

To transpose this, the Christian is a Christian because he was set up to be that way. The atheist is an atheist because he was set up to be that way. Their very deliberations, thoughts, analysis of evidence,and their very perception of evidence is all programmed. At no point can a person somehow transcend nature and peer behind its curtain to try and see whether or not its lying to us, because by adhering to physicalism we have already thrown any kind of transcendence out the door. There is nothing but the physical – that is it.

Ultimately, this leads one to an epistemic nihilism, or that we cannot know anything. The previous quote gets at the heart of the matter, that “we are the repository of certain thoughts...I am simply arepository of belief. All of it...are simply acts of nature.” The issue is that nature is everything in the physicalist worldview; it is the Alpha and Omega of this brand of atheism. But the problem is that non-physicalists exist, orrather, that there are differing claims about existence. The universe is the only source of information, but it has somehow has given contradictory answers, and we have no way of knowing which one is right. Hence, we cannot know anything – epistemic nihilism.6

Therest of the dialogue goes on to talk about the self-refuting nature of such a stance, but I am not going to do that here; this sketch was rather to bring out physicalism in regards to free-will to its logical conclusion. Again, given the rough nature of any sketch it isopen to being easily criticized, but I do invite any criticism or thoughts as long as the tone is appropriate. Oh, and read the article mentioned; it is better than anything I could type out here.


1 I keep saying that my works are sketches because of their very unpolished nature. My current job prevents me from sinking too much research and time into anything, especially as the job is rounding its last leg. Thankfully, I will be able to devote more time to my writings once its finished.

2 I should mention now that this is merely a hackneyed version of a brilliant article posted over at Energetic Processions on metaphysical naturalism and its moral and epistemic implications. I highly suggest that one reads it in its entirety and read the comments section at the bottom of the post.

3 The view that there is no God and that only physical systems exist.

4 R. M. Manion, The Other Side: Metaphysics and Meaning. November, 1993. retrieved 5/7/2012.

5 Ibid.

6 Needless to say, while I could (and probably should) go on to comment on morality and purpose, if one agrees with this conclusion then such essays are rendered rather superfluous; if we cannot have knowledge, then there is no way to ascertain morality or purpose.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's a Madhouse!

When I remember my times as an atheist, one of the disconcerting things I ran across frequently was when atheists clearly didn't understand the argument of a Christian apologist, and yet were content to lambast away with ad hominem in the comments section of a YouTube video (of course I'm not applying this universally; there are many atheists who act intelligently with courtesy, and likewise there are many Christians who act in quite insipid and unintelligent ways, if not anti-intellectually). What also baffled me, and this has become more apparent the longer I've been a Christian, is how many atheists really don't know the Scriptures or theology well at all. How many times, whether on YouTube or a Freethinkers meeting, have I heard this dead-horse comment:

Well, the Bible also says you shouldn't eat X, Y, and Z, but you don't seem to follow those rules, therefore you just pick and choose what you do!

People, the answer is in Acts and the epistles of St. Paul. All you have to do is read the Bible and you'd have your answer. And1 I ask that you please don't see this as the ranting and raving of some fundamentalist evangelical Protestant (whose Solo Scriptura isn't even close to what Martin Luther had in mind when he put forth Sola Scriptura). I believe in evolution, in critical thinking, in sound science, that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that the universe is 15.4 billion years old, that people who are gay never chose their sexuality, etc. I also would agree that Christians, especially of the folk-evangelical ilk, have spouted a lot of anti-science, anti-intellectual, and anti-loving dialogue in the last decades. I'm in firm agreement with Archbishop Lazar Puhalo that the main reason why people don't like Christianity is because of the hypocritical and unwarranted self-righteous attitude that many Christians have simply because they are Christians.

The thing is, I felt this way before I had become a Christian, and long before it as well. I remember not caring for moral arguments against the existence of God because I had already landed myself firmly in moral nihilism, and quite frankly, if you don't believe in morality to begin with how are you going to lodge it as an argument against the existence of God?2 People can talk about how insignificantly small the planet is compared to the universe, the 'pale blue dot' of Carl Sagan, but the fact of the matter is that the size and apparent insignificance of something doesn't mean its intrinsically insignificant. Yes the Bible is an ancient collection of books that existed before modern science, but the age of something doesn't automatically mean that the information contained therein is false – objective morals, dogma, and spirituality are objectively true no matter how much time passes by. Furthermore, the fact that there are multiple religions claiming to have an objective truth doesn't mean that they're all false. It is entirely logical that one could be true and all the rest are not. In fact, that's exactly what Christianity claimed when it was preached to the multi-religious society of the Mediterranean world. Yet somehow we've forgotten that and the mere fact that Islam or Buddhism exists is put forward as a kind of defeater for the Christian.

Perhaps I am just insane.

There is a point to this post; I think that I'm going to imitate David Withun and Pious Fabrications and start commenting more on atheism, though I want to avoid the typical polemically charged rhetoric that is unfortunately passed around too often.3 I simply want to take things to their logical conclusions and see what people think.

But as for the relation between the Old Testament Law and Christianity, I leave you with Fr. Alexander Schmemman:

Soon it was no longer a question of individual conversions or exceptional cases; now there were whole Christian communities of Gentiles. Did the ritual prescriptions of the Old Testament, which had remained in force among the Judeo-Christians of Jerusalem, apply to these people? St. Paul answered this question with a flat "No!" Nor did he see the problem in terms of the best method of converting Gentiles; he believed this was an issue involving the very essence of the Christian Good News. First in his Epistle to the Galatians, written in the head of controversy, and later in a more academic manner in his Epistle to the Romans, he developed his doctrine concerning the relation between law and grace and the freedom of Christians from the law. He was not in the least inclined to deny the importance of the Old Testament. "The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12). But the law simply defined evil and sin, it gave no power of salvation from sin. Even when a man knows what is good and what [is] evil, he is often powerless to crush the latter. "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7:19). Man is the slave of sin and he cannot free himself from his servitude. If the setting up of a law or norm -- the knowledge of it -- included the power to avoid going against it, there would be no need for salvation in Christ. But in giving man law, God reveals to him the abnormality of evil -- a sinful violation of his will concerning the world and mankind -- and at the same time condemns him; for sinful man, lacking the strength to save himself from sin, lies under judgment [hence the verses where the law is called a curse]. But He who is without sin has taken upon Himself the whole burden of our sins and their condemnation under the law; by His death He has redeemed us. In Christ law died and grace ascended the throne, and through faith in Christ and union with Him in the baptismal death man ceases to be a slave and receives a share in His life.

"Nor has this salvation been granted to the Jews alone, but to all mankind. St. Paul never denied that the Jews were a superior people, God's elect, but for him they excelled other nations not because the Word of God had been committed to them, but because through them the way had been prepared for the advent of Christ. Any person who believes in Christ and shares in His life and death must realize that now there is "neither Jew nor Greek" (Gal. 3:28); if he still thinks to obtain justification through fulfilling the ritual injunctions of the law, let him know that "Christ is become of no effect unto you, are fallen from grace" (Gal . 5:4). For in love lies the whole meaning of the law, yet the law itself has no power to give love. In Christ love is freely bestowed upon men, and through Him and in Him the law thus becomes unnecessary. In Him "circumcision in nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (I Cor. 7:19).

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, "The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy", pp. 21-23

1You should never begin a sentence with 'and', I know, I know...
2I'm sure there may be a way, but that's not my point at the moment.
3Which I know that I've probably failed at that here. Please, forgive me.