Good Read: Intellectual Impostures

The first time I stumbled upon “Intellectual Impostures” was when I was reading Moti Ben-Ari’s easy, but very exciting book “Just a Theory: Exploring the Nature of Science“, which I think is a great introduction into philosophy of science. At that time though, unfortunately I forgot to go after “Intellectual Impostures”. But recently I bumped into it in a bookshop, and remembering the excitement from reading about “Sokal affair” in Ben-Ari’s book, I decided to buy it.

I assure you that this book is worth it. I remember when studying about Paul Feyerabend’s Anarchistic-relativistic version of philosophy of science, I kept thinking to myself: “But there must be an answer to this nonsense!”

Aside from pointing out abuses and dishonesty of postmodernist’s “version” of philosophy and science, I think that “Intellectual Impostures” provided an answer, to my own question as well: By simply asking the postmodern relativist philosophers “What would happen if you apply your own nonsense to your ordinary lives?!”

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Richard Dawkins has also written a review on this book. You can see it here.

The Derivation of God from Science: “Knock Knock! No One’s Here”!

I was watching the following part of the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Frank Turek, when a question popped into my mind. having a look at the video and Hitchens’ answer, paying attention to the well played part in debate “infinitely expanding tautology”, it is only fair to ask: But why? Why is it that the idea “God did it” can be attached to these scientific theories and never go away?

We know that science is bound to uncertainty and falsification. Karl Popper’s methodology of falsification clearly showed that we can never be truly sure (to level of faith) that we have found the truth. Many scientific theories (and maybe even facts) turned out (and still can turn out) to be false through out the history of science. This means that if you derive your God from science, you are in fact putting yourself in a very bad Epistemologycal position: How do you derive certainty (faith) from uncertainty? What will you do if that theory is falsified? If you derive your God from it, Doesn’t that mean that your God is falsified?! (1)

IF scientific theories that these guys base their God on are falsified, what are religious people going to do? Are they going to say that the God that they had found in that theory is falsified?! Of course not! Instead, they are going to take their idea of God, and derive it from another theory. Maybe the theory that would take the first one’s place, like many Muslims that have started interpreting Koran based on evolution (2), which is ridiculous because of the same uncomfortable logical position.

But how is it that the derivation of God is saved and always makes a come back?! The reason is, it was not falsifiable to begin with! No actual evidence was there to connect science and the none falsifiable idea of God, and no direct evidence for the existence of such being. This is what makes the idea of deriving the existence of any God from science a “really” bad logical stance.

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(1) I am not even remotely suggesting that evolution or DNA are false, my point here is absolutely different.

(2) Well, at least they don’t reject the whole truth, throwing facts out of the window like many Christians do!

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P.S: I will think more about this post. Revision or expansion may happen.

Unfair, or What?!

I am sure at some point somewhere someone has told you: “Well, Life isn’t fair…”

It isn’t?! My goodness…! I really, sincerely, thought that it was!

Don’t worry, I’m not running around my room with my tongue out cursing the world; and no, I have not gone crazier than I was! The thing is, if the answer to “But this is not fair!” is “Life’s not fair!”, something is most definitely wrong. You see, the fairness of one matter has got nothing to do with the unfairness of life or the world. If the world has become Hell itself, it does not make an unfair thing fair, nor justifies it. 

An attempt to justify unfairness with more unfairness is usually a successful crime against logic. It is successful because many of us think “Well, that could have been worse”. Think again: It could have been better!

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P.S: I have no specific reason for writing this, except of course it is only fair to defend fairness!

Arguing With Theists (1)

In my university, there are many religious organizations and most of them are Christian. It is, I believe, an amusing habit of theirs to suddenly jump in front of you in your way to your lectures, like a brilliant marketer with a very interesting advertisement plan to ‘sell’ their religion to you. Now, as annoying as this may seem to others, it’s been an amusement for me in recent weeks because I had never seen such behavior before. Where I come from, the Middle East, there was no advertisement of this sort, only belief.

Therefore I play their game, but I try to make it mine in the process. I engage in semi-debates, or probably better say friendly arguments, with them to see what they say to my thoughts, especially to the ones that are about internal inconsistencies and dilemmas of a religion like Christianity (or maybe Islam).

This particular conversation was between me and two Asian members of one of these groups (separately), but I had met them earlier that week when they gave me a flier about God. That flier was basically about human need for a God, which aside from its fancy words was logically useless because human beings have needs for many things, and that is not a base for the truth of those things. (1)

A week later I saw the same guys in the same day, but separate from each other. I started talking to the first one in a sidewalk close to our student center, and at some point the direction of our conversation drifted toward morality. Now, this is an area that I (as a gay man) feel to be the weakest point of any religion, and Abrahamic ones are the worst in this topic.

I started by asking “How do you think that the Bible is a good moral book?” He answered by mentioning “it contains a lot of good moral things, like the ten commandments.” I went right to asking: “Well, let’s take stealing for example. Is that ‘why’ you don’t steal things? Is it because the Bible says so?” Here I think he realized it would be a very bad case of appealing to authority if he says yes, therefore he went on by saying “No. I won’t steal from you because if I do that you’d be upset.”

I think you can guess my answer, “So you do not do good because the Bible tells you so, you do it because you have sympathy for others.” Which clearly meant that the good cannot be from that specific book. I went even further than that that: “How can we say the Bible is a good book while we have something like the story of Lot, a ‘prophet’ of the lord who ‘offered’ his virgin daughters to the mob, and then his daughters got him drunk in cave and slept with him?!”

He didn’t give a clear answer, and the first conversation of that day ended there. I hadn’t gone that far when I bumped into the second Christian “marketer”. After some chatting we reached to the rest of that conversation, which was very interesting for me. I went on by the story of Lot again, but this time the guy tried to justify the story: “But the story has a lesson for us.” I suppose he made an effort to make it more plausible as a metaphor, though he did not mentioned it directly. “You see, the immorality of the people in Sodom corrupted Lot.” and he continued by stating something like a conclusion on how we should not tolerate immoral behavior.

That of course begs the question of where morality comes from, but that is not my main problem with such justifications of religion. I first pointed out that there are a lot of stories to ‘justify’ in the Bible, like the stories of David in the old testament. Then I made my main point: “How is it that these stories need justification? Weren’t they supposed to be true to begin with?!” he could not answer, and we said goodbye at this point, but let me carry on a bit:

There is a dilemma here: “If these stories need to be justified from time to time, and new moral values are to rise to challenge the old ones, like the ideas about Homosexuality and sin, or about the rate of interest (which is interesting because not many people now know that it was strictly forbidden in Christianity in the past, and for Many Muslims it still is), there could only be two possibilities: Either the books are false,or we have made a mistake in understanding them, which means they are not understandable enough. If they are false, well, atheists are proven right; and if they are not understandable, how can Christians and Muslims possibly justify their so called ‘laws’ and ‘values’? What makes religious people think that they can ‘ever’ trust that they have reached to be the ‘truth’ (about morality or anything else)? (2)

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(1) I actually know that such fliers seem very meaningful at times, especially when people feel emotionally vulnerable.

(2) This idea is actually quite funny: Is your God messing with your head? I mean, what kind of a God would send the vaguest of books to their followers? I know: A ‘prankster’ God!

Joining The Atheis Blogroll, and Eddie Izzard!

As you can see Heresy has joined The Atheist Blogroll and I have linked it under likeables on top and in the link box in the right side under blogroll. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Seeing the links on the Atheist Blogroll amazed me actually, because there are more than a thousand blogs written by Atheists at the moment. This reminded me of some piece of stand-up that I recently watched: Eddie Izzard, who I think is one of the greatest stand-up comedians of our time, and an Atheist nonetheless, recently had a show on Madison Square Garden.

He said that he had been Agnostic “which was a good place to be in case he (God) was there!”, but recently he has become an Atheist or none Theist “I just don’t believe in the floaty boat!”. And proceeded by saying: “Apparently there are almost a billion none believer in the world. It’s quite a big congregation (I don’t know if that’s the word), a big group of people… if we all get together and do nothing!”

Anyhow, if you’re a fan of Stand-up comedy don’t miss his shows…

What has ‘is’ got to do with ‘should’?

I think some people know this as a fact that we cannot derive should and shouldn’t from what there is. If that is true, then science would have nothing to do with morality and values. That, I believe has problems. It is indeed true that we cannot derive values directly from is and are, but ‘what there is’, is at least one of the two steps that we use for reasoning in favor of our justification of our values (‘what there should be’).

Take this one good and obvious example (It’s my favorite as well): ‘We should not smoke’. The reason is quite obvious for all of us: Because ‘smoking is bad for our health’. Now, there is another assumption that is so simple and obvious that we usually ignore: ‘We should not do things that are bad for our health’.

Now let’s look at the logical structure of how we derived should from a combination of is and another should.

  1. Smoking is an action that is bad for our health.
  2. We should not commit an action that is bad for our health.
  3. (Conclusion)
    We should not commit smoking.

A more simplified logical structure would be as follows (I will use this form from now on):

  1. Smoking is bad for our health.
  2. We should not do things that are bad for our health.
  3. (Conclusion)
    We should not smoke.

Now, if someone wants to disagree with that conclusion, he or she has to prove that at least one of our two assumptions is wrong. One can simply attack the second should: ‘We should not do things that are bad for our health’. But that statement is common sense, therefore the only way would be to falsify the first: ‘Smoking is bad for our health’. And in that case I could simply say good luck with that!

As we see above, at least one of those steps that we take to derive the conclusion of ‘should’ is an ‘is’, and a scientific one none the less. To disagree with that conclusion is to disagree with those facts. Let’s see a more sensitive example:

  1. Homosexuality is an unnatural sexual behavior.
  2. We should criminalize all unnatural sexual behaviors.
  3. (Conclusion)
    We should criminalize Homosexuality.

Of course, nowadays nobody advertises such nonsense in a western society (except maybe the bible belt of the United States), but in Arabian and Islamic countries this is still a problem with many faces, and this is one of those ugly faces. How can we attack that conclusion? In two (or maybe three) different ways:

One way is to simply state that ‘natural sexual behavior’ cannot be defined easily; But that is not our topic. The other two ways would be attacks from two sides: We can either argue that Homosexuality is not unnatural, or we could simply deny that we should criminalize all unnatural sexual behavior, or we could do both.

Historically, the latter has happened first. Long before scientist knew that this phenomenon was actually quite common among different species of mammals and birds, and even long before psychologists come to the realization that this was not a mental disorder, Liberals had started asking this question: “What does a government care about private lives of individuals?”

Really, why should a government be concerned about what people do and how people live their lives, as long as those people are consenting adults acting consciously? The liberals may not have known the fact that this is not a disease or a mental disorder, but that didn’t stop them from objecting to the unjust and unnecessary conclusion. Of course, now we know this as a fact that ‘Homosexuality is NOT an unnatural sexual behavior’, and obviously for most of us it’s easier to use this other approach: the scientific one.

This is how science changes our values, and this is how ‘is’ will aid us to reach a better and more justified ‘should’. Let’s have another example about Racism. The following could be considered a common racist argument:

  1. There are different human races.
  2. At least one human race is superior to the others.
  3. The superior race should rule over the other races.
  4. X is the superior race.
  5. (Conclusion)
    X should rule over the other races.

We can probably guess how many ways is there to attack this moronic and yet very dangerous and horrific argument. One way is of course the Liberalistic way, but this time it is a very fundamental issue and that is ‘individualism’. A Liberal (in Nazi Germany for instance) could simply point out that the race is of no importance, and the fact that we can find many smart and intelligent people all over the world aside from their race, is proof of that itself. This is probably why Nazis were so afraid of Liberalism, and frankly fundamentalists still cannot bare the sight of liberals.

There is one more way that would refute the conclusion of that argument, and that is a scientific claim. Simply put: ‘There are NO different human races’. We are all Homo sapiens that started coming out of Africa almost two hundred thousand years ago. This claim goes against the stupid racist division of human beings based on the color of their skin and giving it made-up names like ‘Nordic race’. Of course now we can see that it is also possible to attack that argument from both sides as well. We could also refute other assumptions of that argument from the liberal and the scientific point of view.

The point that I want to make here is that changes in our scientific understanding of the world could have moral consequences. They can significantly and more importantly effectively change what we have in mind about what we think we should or should not do.

I believe that the effectiveness of science is crucial here: Although we have a variety of powerful arguments in defense of Liberalism, and I personally believe that Liberalism can triumph over fundamentalism; but if we ‘only’ had ideologies to attack ideologies, we would never have been able to progress effectively; and since in these kinds of discussions Liberalism could be taken (and dismissed) by the other side as ‘just another ideology’, it may never be as effective as scientific progress. But evidence based science cannot be dismissed as easily, not at all. Except of course, you live in the bible belt of United States!

“Without God everything is permitted”… Not!

Perhaps many of us have heard of the famous quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s great (but incredibly boring) book, “The Brothers Karamazov”: Without God, “everything is permitted.” having this in mind; I am going to analyze some of the arguments from believers about morality.

One particular argument that keeps repeating itself among people is the one based on fear or reward:

– Is God the source of our morality?
– Yes, because if we know whatever we do, we wouldn’t be punished, then it would be permitted (or lawful) for us to do “anything”. But if we know that there is always someone watching us, and we cannot escape from his watchful eye; then we wouldn’t dare doing bad things.

First of all, somehow the same argument about fear happens about capital punishment (and especially about certain brutal ones like stoning to death). ‘Fear’ does not stop bad people from doing bad things, because the reasons for those bad deeds are absolutely separate from the form of punishment. That is why ‘reform’ is suggested, instead of ‘punishment’, and that is why reason and education (proper education) are necessary.
On the other hand (and more importantly), is it not true that many people (religious or not) are actually ‘good’ people? Many atheists do not believe in any kind of God, Abrahamic or otherwise, but they are still good people. Also, this thing strangely applies to ‘good’ believers as well: personally, I have known many Muslims and Christians that are kind, understanding and generous. So am I (or are they) to believe that they are not actually good, but fear (or lust for a reward) has made them ‘act’ this way? It is like saying that people are all criminals, but since the law forces are always watching them like the big brother, they ‘act’ like they are law abiding citizens! This is most definitely absurd.

There is another particularly intriguing argument that religious people make:

– Is God the source of our morality?
– Yes, because “God is goodness itself”. And goodness is the source of morality; therefore God is the source of morality.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have heard the quoted statement in the Middle East. But in there when religious people say that, it is mostly in an emotional state of mind, not to build a good argument. That is because in their minds there is nothing that questions this certain belief, and in reality no nonbeliever would dare questioning it there. I have heard this in some Christian-Atheist debate as well, but this time as a legitimate argument.

But now I shall ask: Why god is goodness? Is it because God is something (or someone) that comes with specific qualities (being kind, generous etc.), or is it because whatever God is, goodness is? If the first one is true, then the qualities of goodness are different from God, and so you can be good without God. But if the second is true, then we have to accept that if God was to be cruel or malicious, then cruelty or malice would have been qualities of goodness! To every religious person’s mind God is “not” cruel or malicious, exactly because these are qualities of being bad.

The source of morality therefore has to be something different from the ever watchful eye the unseen God, and also it is separated from him (whether he exists or not). To be clearer, I shall give my argument in an orderly way here:

1. God and morality are two separate things that have no intercept.
2. Without God, we cannot have Abrahamic religions.
3. (conclusion)
Abrahamic Religions and morality are two completely different things and have no intercept.

The conclusion could also be shown in a Venn diagram based on Set theory: