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Reasons for Joy; In Gentleness, and Respect.

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1
The idea of objective moral facts (in a transcendant sense) has always seemed like a dumb one to me. Of course there is no such thing. Morals are not like physics, they are a part of human behavior, not the fabric of the universe, that's just absurd. But I don't think that fact has any particular importance for life whatsoever. What exactly are people afraid of here? Are they simply upset that they have no basis for righteous moral lecturing of others? Why are they afraid to admit that their dearly held values do not come from anywhere except themselves? It's really not a big deal the way I see it.

The sooner we give up on this silly and archaic idea the sooner we can build a better world built on the subjective values that most of us humans share.

2
I went to an interesting talk the other day, from someone who has been looking for signs of variation of the fundamental constants. Specifically they were interested in a dark matter scenario where dark matter takes the form of an ultra-light particle. It turns out that extremely light dark matter could interact with ordinary matter in such a way that it mimics the effect of variation of fundamental constants; basically it can modify the way that ordinary particles interact with each other, which looks the same as modifying fundamental constants.

Anyway I mention it because the speaker made the interesting point that this kind of scenario would solve "fine-tuned for life" type questions, because it would mean that different "patches" of the universe can have different effective values of the "fundamental" constants, which makes anthropic solutions to fine-tuning viable (i.e. we only see life in this patch of the universe where the effective constants just happen to support life). So one can get the benefits of a "multiverse" type solution to fine-tuning without actually having to resort to a true multiverse. We just have a regular extremely big universe where the fundamental constants change extremely slowly from place to place, so that one has to go far outside the observable universe before reaching a place where the constants are different enough that stars etc. no longer form.

Anyway I thought it was an interesting scenario, figured some here might be interested also.

3
Choose Your Own Topic / The violinist argument plus gambling
« on: May 29, 2019, 06:48:44 am »
Those concerned with abortion should surely be familiar with Thompson's "violinist" argument. The usual scenario is that you wake up after having been kidnapped and find yourself hooked up to an unconscious violinist, such that he is kept alive by sharing your bloodstream (or some such). The argument is that it is clearly morally permissible to disconnect yourself from the violinist, even though this will result in his death.

This much is usually agreed upon, however pro-life people usually say it can only justify abortion in cases of rape, not pregnancy from consensual sex.

So let us change the scenario slightly. Rather than being kidnapped, suppose you are voluntarily playing a dice game in a mafia den. Say in this game you have a 35/36 chance to win and get $1000 (or whatever), but if you roll snake eyes then you still get $1000, but the mafia will also kidnap you and hook you up to the violinist.

Is it still morally permissible to unhook yourself from the violinist, causing his death? Even though you voluntarily participated in this game, knowing the terms? I would argue that clearly yes, it is. Note that the mafia still forcibly hook you up to the violinist, you don't do this part voluntarily. You just played a game where this was a possible outcome.

4
Choose Your Own Topic / Original sin again
« on: April 29, 2019, 06:39:48 am »
I'm sure we've had many threads like this, but to be honest I still have no idea what Christians really think with regard to original sin.

On the one hand, it appears to be absolutely critical to the entire Christian doctrine. It appears to be absolutely pivotal to typical solutions to the problem of evil and complete lack of divine perfection in God's various creations. But on the other hand, it is an obviously allegorical story and it is ridiculous to believe that any of the events described in Genesis ever actually occurred in the history of the world. There was obviously never a Garden of Eden on Earth, nor any Adam or Eve. The imperfections in creation that are supposedly due to this Original Sin have been in existence since at least the beginning of life on Earth, long pre-dating the existence of humans.

So what the heck do reasonably-minded Christians actually believe about Original Sin? The doctrine appears to make no sense without a fairly literal Adam and Eve, yet the story clearly did not ever literally happen and seems to be intentionally allegorical. I doubt that the writers ever intended it to be taken literally. So what is going on here?


5
Choose Your Own Topic / Suggestion for God: ID code for DNA
« on: April 18, 2019, 02:33:34 pm »
So bear with me because I'm not a biologist and maybe I forget how this really works. But consider viruses. These are pesky things that kill a lot of people and make a lot of other people sick. But they can't replicate themselves. They need to hijack our own cell machinery to do it.

But what specifically happens? If I remember right, the virus pretty much just injects its own DNA or RNA into our cells. This then floats around until it encounters one of our ribosomes, which are usually busy reading our own DNA and creating proteins from it. However, the ribosomes cannot tell the difference between *our* DNA and the virus DNA. So if the virus DNA floats by then the ribosome just blindly starts making the virus proteins instead of ours.

Now, while the DNA to protein transcription process is indeed a miraculous looking thing that I don't blame people for thinking that perhaps it required a designer, if we think about it a little more, a real designer would make some obvious improvements. The first one would simply be a mechanism for identifying the organism's DNA and rejecting foreign DNA. How? Well pretty much any computer scientists could give you a solution; have a password, or ID code of some sort. If the virus DNA doesn't contain the password, just dismantle and recycle it, don't make the proteins like a fool! Now viruses are constantly mutating (if they can survive somehow with this system in place), so perhaps they might "guess" the password eventually, but on the other hand DNA is a couple of gigabytes worth of code, whilst a 128-bit password is, well, 128 bits, so it seems like there is space for a highly secure password. And those are impossible to brute-force crack on the worlds best supercomputers in billions of years, so that should give us quite a lot of antivirus protection.

I'd be interested to know if I am forgetting something and we actually do have something similar to this protecting us. But I don't think we do. Our immune system focuses on killing the viruses outside our cells, and killing the cells that have been infected. I don't think there is any anti-virus mechanism internal to cells.

Anyway, just some thoughts about design vs biology.

6
Choose Your Own Topic / FTA and the simulation hypothesis
« on: April 09, 2019, 07:24:20 am »
I just now found myself wondering, why should we conclude God from the FTA? Supposing we accept that the FTA is successful and we must posit a designer of the universe (for the record I don't think it is a good argument, but let us assume it works for this thread). Why should that designer be God? In fact, fine-tuning things seems to be a human way of solving problems, not the method of a supreme divine being. As has been pointed out in other threads, God could keep us alive in a perfect Eden in the core of the Sun if he felt like it. So there is no need for him to tune anything.

On the other hand, if we are all a kind of intelligent, conscious "AI", that have arisen within a sophisticated world simulation created by some beings not so much unlike ourselves in some "external" universe, then it would make rather a lot of sense why they would need to tune their simulation, assuming that they ultimately wanted to simulate life. After all, that is exactly what we do with our own scientific simulations. So on the face of it I should think that the FTA favours the simulation hypothesis over God.

7
This came up in another thread but got lost in the noise, so I want to focus on it here. It explores the consequences of God's omnipresence combined with the relativistic structure of space-time.

Consider the following:

1. God is omnipresent (let us suppose this means that he is a conscious observer at all spatial points on some spatial hypersurface of relativistic spacetime).

2. It would be arbitrary to pick a single preferred reference frame in which God is omnipresent. So suppose 1. is true for all reference frame choices.

3. From 1+2 it follows that God is omnipresent at all *temporal* locations in spacetime, due to the relativity of simultaneity.

4. But if God is "already" present at all past and future times, then time cannot be "elapsing". In other words the A theory of time must be false.

This can be evaded by picking a preferred "God's eye" frame of reference in 2. But which one is it? Special relativity indicates that all frames are equivalent in a strong sense.

One might also just admit that the B theory is true, but this seems to me to be a problem for theists and their views on free will and consciousness etc. Also it doesn't seem possible for God to create a B theory universe, since B theory universes have a timeless existence.

8
Choose Your Own Topic / The brutal unfairness of life
« on: March 02, 2019, 07:25:52 am »
It occurs to me that theists might often misunderstand when atheists say things like the title of this thread. So to clarify: I am completely at peace with the random and cruel nature of our universe. It sucks, but a lot of the time it is outside of anyone's control. It therefore doesn't make sense to be angry about it, and I'm not. For example, screaming at a hurricane as it destroys your house would just be dumb.

...*unless* God exists. Then there is plenty to be angry about. Everything is within his power to change, therefore circumstances can no longer be considered to be randomly unfortunate. Instead they are preconsidered to be necessary evils by an omnipotent supernatural entity.

The point being, atheists aren't actually angry about this. It is a counterfactual scenario to us. Well, speaking for myself, anyway. Some ex-theists who have not shaken old theistic feelings might still have feelings of anger about this sort of thing.

9
Choose Your Own Topic / Why omnis?
« on: November 06, 2018, 03:29:01 am »
I have little to no education in classical theological arguments, so I wonder if anyone feels like giving me the short version of why God must be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and/or omnibenevolent? Seems like a lot of theists' problems would be solved if they just decided that God was not so extreme in his properties. So I wonder what the main reasons to believe them are? Presumably they are not even biblical, they are quite modern inventions if I remember right. Well, by modern I mean post dark ages :).

10
Choose Your Own Topic / Stewardship of the Earth?
« on: November 01, 2018, 11:06:09 am »
How's that working out, Christians?

https://theconversation.com/earths-wilderness-is-vanishing-and-just-a-handful-of-nations-can-save-it-106072

"Our maps show how little wilderness is left, and how much has been lost in the past few decades. It is hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009 a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres of terrestrial wilderness – an area larger than India – was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures. In the ocean, the only regions free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are confined to the poles or remote Pacific island nations."

11
Interesting evolutionary psychology article that may interest people here:

https://theconversation.com/how-understanding-animal-behaviour-can-liberate-us-from-gender-inequality-102981

"Our evolved instincts might be one of the reasons why women feel so much internal resistance to challenging men, as well as why this is met with such backlash. The feminist movement itself collides with this “natural order” because it is a collective uprising against this male domination.

Feminists violate expectations when they refuse to be unthreatening, unchallenging, uncritical, polite, pleasant and apologetic. The unpalatability of insubordinate women might also explain the popularity of brands of feminism that refrain from making any criticism of mens’ behaviour.

A minimal amount of critical thinking might compel many of us to want to resist the pressure and the compulsion to submit to male domination. The way out of this trap begins with becoming aware of our involuntary submission.

A greater awareness of these unconscious processes is likely to reveal a more immediate source of our submissive responses: the natural, instinctive, and adaptive fear that arises in the heat of the moment when faced with a very real and unpredictable threat of aggression.

Unfortunately, this fear can sometimes drive us to stay silent at times when the risks to our personal safety and economic security are low.

So what could we cultivate to help us overcome the fear that compels us to back down and stay silent when we should be speaking up?

Courage."

12
Choose Your Own Topic / Indefinite causal order
« on: September 09, 2018, 01:35:54 am »
There has been some discussion of causality here recently, so I thought I'd share this interesting little experiment done by some researchers at the University of Queensland:

https://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2018/09/quantum-weirdness-chicken-or-egg%E2%80%99-paradox

Abstract:

Quantum mechanics allows events to happen with no definite causal order: this can be verified by measuring a causal witness, in the same way that an entanglement witness verifies entanglement. Here, we realize a photonic quantum switch, where two operations A and B act in a quantum superposition of their two possible orders. The operations are on the transverse spatial mode of the photons; polarization coherently controls their order. Our implementation ensures that the operations cannot be distinguished by spatial or temporal position—further it allows qudit encoding in the target. We confirm our quantum switch has no definite causal order by constructing a causal witness and measuring its value to be 18 standard deviations beyond the definite-order bound.

Paper: https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.121.090503

13
Choose Your Own Topic / New human
« on: August 30, 2018, 03:38:19 am »
I've chatted with some of you for quite a few years now, so I just thought I'd let you know that my daughter Eleanor was born happy and well last week. She is my first, so wish me luck!

14
In another thread AnimatedDirt has asserted that the primordial sin of Eve is the root cause of the existence of evils such as cancer. I'll go out on a limb and suppose that this extends to evils like earthquakes and so on too.

So, what I want to ask is why does anyone believe that this is a reasonable scenario? What is the internal logic here? We know perfectly well that cancer and earthquakes existed long before any humans did, so are you postulating some retro-causal effect here, that affected the very rules that govern the universe? That the whole universe suddenly changed, and all this evidence we see of it being old is just cooked up by God for some reason? That Adam and Eve existed in some divine realm and their sins there affected how God decided to make the universe? (which wouldn't seem to gel with WLCs views on the nature of time btw).

Furthermore, none of those explanations make it clear that these things exist because of Eve's sin. They just sound more like God was cranky about it and punished the whole universe. So if you don't think that either, well what then? What causal mechanism are you proposing if not God?

15
You probably heard about the 2017 Nobel prize in physics going to the discovery of gravitational waves. Well now here is the encore: gravitational waves observed from colliding neutron stars (previously only colliding black holes were observed). This time the collision was also accompanied by light emission all across the electromagnetic spectrum, since neutron stars contain lots of actual matter which can explode in a spectacular fashion, whereas black holes just merge without the light show.

The news is everywhere but the NY times article is pretty good.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/science/ligo-neutron-stars-collision.html

I particularly like this paragraph:

"As astronomers gather for news conferences in several cities around the world, a blizzard of papers are being published, including one in The Astrophysical Journal Letters that has 4,500 authors — a third of all the professional astronomers in the world — from 910 institutions. “That paper almost killed the paperwriting team,” said Vicky Kalogera, a Northwestern University astrophysicist who was one of 10 people who did the actual writing."

Practically every telescope in the world was pointed at this thing once the trigger came from LIGO and VIRGO, thus the huge number of astronomers involved.

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