Monday, 24 November 2014


Christopher Hitchens said it best when he said that talking about the goodness of the church was distracting from the main question whether gods exist, or not. “it's a time wasting tactic”

Yet, whenever the subject of taxing the church comes up, people use it as a counter-argument.
Let's look at the “good” the church actually does.
  • Parochial support for affiliated charities.
  • Direct financial support to affiliated charities.
  • Giving people hope*.
* IMO the hope (of heaven) the church provides is annulled by the fear (of hell) the church instills first. As atheist say; The church provides an imaginary cure for an imaginary disease.
I can't estimate the amount of money parochial support translate into. Suffice to say that the churches own buildings and these would be unoccupied or under-occupied without these Christian charities. Opening these buildings, apart from maintenance costs and electricity, is free and it's publicity. More on that below.
The financial support to affiliated charities is a pittance. Let's look at the Catholic church and it's affiliate Caritas in Spain because it's a well documented case.

The Spanish income tax forms have a checkbox for assigning money to the Catholic church. This means that 0,7% of the income taxes of the people that check that box goes directly to the Catholic church. That's nearly 250 million euros... (up from 159 million euros in 2012).

Yearly, the church donates 2 million euros to Caritas (less than 1% of the 250 million). This means that the church can still spend 248 million euros, each year, on maintenance costs and electricity for their parochies... Does that cover their costs? I don't know. In fact, the Catholic church receives state money for just that (maintenance) estimated over 600 million euros. Source (Spanish)

The same Spanish income tax forms have a parallel checkbox for assigning money to charity. Of this money, 84 million (depending on the year) goes to Caritas. Caritas receives 2% of the Catholic church, 38% of the Spanish state and 60% out of private donations.

Circular logic:
  • Give money to the church to enable them to do “good”.
  • The church spends part of the money on doing “good”.
  • The church gets credited with doing “good”.
  • Give money to the church to enable them to do “good”.
This circular logic applies to all churches around the globe. Churches spend a tiny amount of their money on charity (less than 5% on average) in return for tax breaks that exceed the amount of money they spend on charity. It's win-win for the churches, synagogues, etc. Compare that to regular charities that spend around 90% on … charity (Program Expenses), while the other 10% goes into infrastructure and administration.

Spain spends, in total, over 10 billion euros on church related issues (including religious teachers assigned by the Catholic church to public schools (See Spain spends less than 4 billion euros on R&D.

The opportunity cost of spending money on the church instead of, say, research is huge. How many jobs could have been created by spending 250 + 600 million euros on cancer research? How many lives could have been saved? We'll never know.

A similar story to Caritas holds true for Catholic Charities USA – CCUSA
2010 – Revenue 4,7 billion. 2,9 billion from US government and 140 million from diocesan churches. Source Wikipedia.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

What the fuck is Intelligent Design?

I contend that nobody knows. According to IDelists I've come across with, other IDelists are wrong. It may be that I'm constructing a Strawman logical fallacy, but I think ID is deliberately constructing a logical fallacy of confusion.

Here's what I understand.

  1. ID is against the scientific theory of evolution, because evolution doesn't explain abiogenesis.
  2. ID explains abiogenesis with an unnamed designer, either supernatural or … alien.
  3. ID does not accept evolution but adaptation (what's the difference?).
  4. ID is guided evolution/adaptation.
  5. ID is unguided evolution/adaptation.
  6. Design is everywhere (look around you).
  7. Design is undefined.
  8. Irreducible complexity is the key.
  9. Irreducible complexity has been debunked, now we believe in inconceivable complexity.
  10. DNA is a genetic code therefore it's designed.
  11. Human DNA is more than 90% functional therefore Intelligently designed.
  12. The best explanation for some natural phenomena is an intelligence cause [Added - November 2nd, 2014]
  1. ID is against the scientific theory of evolution, because evolution doesn't explain abiogenesis.

    Abiogenesis is the scientific hypothesis that life started on earth about 4 billion years ago. Chemicals reacted with each other to form biochemical compounds that formed primitive cells with primitive cell-walls and primitive RNA. There was no 'information' on the primitive RNA. This hypothesis is being investigated for it's plausibility. So far, it looks like it's plausible. Google Jack Szostak, for instance, or just read the Wikipedia article about abiogenesis.

    The scientific theory of evolution explains how these primitive cells evolved into modern cells and into all lifeforms we see on earth.
    As you can see, abiogenesis is related with evolution at the most elementary level.

  2. ID explains abiogenesis with an unnamed designer, either supernatural or … alien.

    Could you please make up your mind? If it's a supernatural designer, then you have a religion and if it's an alien... where the fuck is the alien? How did the alien get here? How did the alien come into existence? Etcetera.

  3. ID does not accept evolution but adaptation.

    What's the difference? The fact of evolution is defined as “changes in allele frequencies in populations”. This is a truism. Alleles (gene variations) are differently mixed (their frequency changes) in different generations. In other words, the number of blue eyes vs brown eyes changes from one generation to the next.

    I suspect 'adaptation' is the IDelist term for micro-evolution. What genetic mechanism stops micro-evolution to continue evolving into macro-evolution?

  1. ID is guided evolution/adaptation.
    Where's the guide? Is there a goal to evolution? Are we the goal (surprise!)?
  1. ID is unguided evolution/adaptation.

    Again, what's the difference (see point 3 above). How come some IDelists hold on to the notion that ID is guided and others that it's unguided. That's confusing, folks.
  1. Design is everywhere (look around you).

    The natural world is all around us, also known as reality. So far, we have zero evidence for the supernatural (designer or not) or for aliens. If you have no evidence, why hold on to a silly belief?
  1. Design is undefined.

    Haw, haw, haw.

    The fact that design is undefined is a strong point of ID. Something undefined cannot be attacked.... unless you think about it. The lack of definition of ID can be attacked as it's incredibly unscientific to not define the object of study as precise as possible.

  2. Irreducible complexity is the key.
    Irreducible complexity is the concept that some structures (DNA, the bacterial flagellum) cannot be reduced without breaking it's functionality therefore it was 'created' fully functional by a designer.

    The RNA/DNA world hypothesis doesn't require any creation event.

    The bacterial flagellum is actually an evolved trait. All components that make up the bacterial flagellum can be found functioning in other organisms. The flagellum most likely evolved with more parts, each additional part beneficial for it's host, and then, later, evolved to a less complex form...

    Abiogenesis/evolution can account for all irreducibly complex arguments.
  1. Irreducible complexity has been debunked, now we believe in inconceivable complexity.
    What is inconceivable for one person is conceivable for another person. This is a personal incredulity logical fallacy. I, for instance, cannot conceive of the Higgs boson but that doesn't mean the boson was designed by a supernatural designer. The Higgs boson cannot have been designed by aliens as aliens must be formed with, amongst others, Higgs bosons (and there go the aliens nobody believed in anyway).

  1. DNA is a genetic code therefore it's designed.
DNA is compared to computer code by geneticists because it's a reasonable analogy. However, DNA is not a computer code. Let me explain.

Computers understand zeros (zero voltage) and ones (an electrical current). Humans have designed machine languages composed of zeros and ones... (which is the only thing computers understand, sorry for the repetition).

Humans can program computers by using computer languages. The computer languages can be understood by humans because it's text, but cannot be understood by computers.

Computer languages get converted into machine languages through a process called 'compiling'. The first step of compilation is the elimination of all comments and all white space (tabs, caret returns, double spaces, etc). Comments in computer languages are texts that cannot or should not be compiled.

The resulting machine language is 100% executable code. To make the analogy with DNA, this would mean that 'machine language' DNA is 100% functional. IDelists claim that human DNA is over 90% functional...

Geneticists believe human DNA to be about 8% functional.

The rest of the DNA, are 'comments' the compilation phase of human designed compilers eliminate.

Humans put a number of things in 'comments'. Some information about what the function is doing, who wrote it... and old code.

Old code is commented out by novice programmers. Old dogs eliminate old code altogether because humans have designed 'source control' and all old code is kept there indefinitely. This means that the non-functional DNA in the human genome is left over by either incompetent or novice 'intelligent designers' who had no access to source control... nor to compilers.

To clarify this. DNA is not a designed code as it does not have the features of designed code. It's a useful analogy for geneticists, but it's not the real McCoy.
  1. Human DNA is more than 90% functional therefore Intelligently designed.

More than 90% still isn't 100%, but what the heck? Let's accept, for one moment, that human DNA is over 90% functional.

What does ID say about other organisms? Surely, if human DNA is 90% functional, other organisms should be comparatively similar? That is, shouldn't all mammals have about the same number of genes (and chromosomes) as humans? Shouldn't all trees have about the same number of genes as the other trees? Or single celled organisms?

Yet mammals have widely different numbers of genes (and chromosomes). Trees have widely different genomes amongst themselves. Unicellular lifeforms are champs. Some have very small genomes and others incredibly large genomes. How does ID explain the 90% functional genomes in similar organisms with widely different genome sizes?

What does ID say about genome size? If genomes are 90% functional, then larger genomes should have more functionality, right? How come amoebas have hugely larger genomes than humans? How does ID explain that? I'd like to know.

Evolution, on the other hand, doesn't make any claim on the size of genomes. It does make claims about similarities between genomes. Similar organisms must have similar genomes... phylogenetic trees confirm this.

Humans share 99,5% genetic information with other humans... because we're closely related. Humans share less genetic information with trees because we're less closely related.

Phylogenetic trees find the genetic similarities between organisms on a number of criteria. How does ID explain that, for different criteria, phylogenetic trees find the same tree of life?

Phylogenetic trees confirm that our shagging ancestors are closely related to chimpanzees through their shagging ancestors... all thanks to meiosis, but ID doesn't accept that... or maybe it does?

  1. The best explanation for some natural phenomena is an intelligence cause [Added - November 2nd, 2014]
Today, I got fresh information about ID. This is a very short analysis.

It seems that my claim that nobody knows what ID is, is false. It is defined as:
Intelligent design is a scientific theory that argues that the best explanation for some natural phenomena is an intelligence cause, especially when we find certain types of information and complexity in nature which in our experience are caused by intelligence. Source
But where in our experience do things like language, complex and specified information, programming code, or machines come from? They have one and only one known source: intelligence.

That's reasoning by analogy. Things look complex and therefore they are designed.

The definition is vague; 'certain types of information' 'intelligence'.
The theory doesn't actually explain anything at all because it doesn't answer the 'how' question. This is very similar to saying 'Goddidit'. Charles Darwin called it (referring to creationism) 'a restatement of fact'. His example was that things were like they are because 'it pleased the lord'.

These people say that DNA is caused by an intelligence. How?

Anyway, they have their sense of humour.
But if you want to know whether something was designed or not, turn to the study of intelligent design.

Monday, 18 August 2014


I've had a long convo with -a person who wants to remain anonymous-, a former Young Earth Creationist (YEC) about evolution (and religion, and abiogenesis, and morality...). This convo is ongoing with the exact same result; -S- returning to her default position of denial (of evolution) and affirmation (of creation). The latest development is that -S- is now a believer of Intelligent Design (ID); her beliefs have evolved (changed over time). She's not a Christian any more.

I'm not sure if she's gone from YEC to Old Earth Creationism.

It seems nearly impossible to convince -S- that evolution is possible, probable and, in fact, a scientific fact.

Still, one can only try :-) and try, and try, and try again.

The thing is that -S- needs to look at evolution from a different angle because she has been bombarded with creationist' propaganda that she chooses to believe over the biologists' evidence.

How can you convince someone who believes the earth is 10.000 years old, or less?

All these points have been explained... to no avail. Whatever scientists measure, check and double check, it fails to make an impact. All these independent fields of science give ages older than 10.000 years.

Dendrochronology has more than one uninterrupted chronologies over 10.000 years old. It also has a method of cross dating which yields results up to 50.000 years old, the maximum limit of carbon dating.

Maybe she doesn't know about weathering of stones (similar to erosion) or about Igneous rocks.

The point being that multiple scientific disciplines, each boasting countless observations and experiments, all point to an old earth. Sediments, for instance, accumulate slowly as is observed and tested. Granite weathers slowly... as is observed and tested. Plates move slowly... as is observed and tested. Etcetera.

Take the Siberian traps, formed by flow basalt and massive. Creationists claim there were huge volcanoes during the flood... those would have resulted in other basalts because under water the lava cools rapidly. As is confirmed by 'observational' science.

But, lets return to the subject of evolution. Biology defines evolution as “change in allele frequency in populations”. As implied in my post about meiosis, this is really a truism. So much so, that creationists have started to adopt the phrase 'micro-evolution'... as if there exists a method for stopping 'macro-evolution' from happening.

Some people represent evolution as a causal process (even convinced 'evolutionists' do that); “this happened therefore life adapted”. This is a common misrepresentation. The real story is slightly different; “random genetic mutations happen all the time and some are better adapted to the changing environment”.

Lets examine an example. There is a population of prey and a population of predators. Some animals are faster because of their genetics and some are slower. The predators are capable of capturing the slower animals... The next generation of prey have more of the genes of the faster animals and, over time (over many generations), the whole population will become faster.

The same applies to the predators. They have faster and slower members and the slower members will be left without food and die. Therefore the slower animals will have less offspring and the whole population of predators will become faster.

Natural selection is an arms race between predator and prey... The real world is a tat more complicated as there are multiple prey species and multiple predators in an area.

One of the many strawman logical fallacies of -S-, is that “working guts need to be in place” for the evolution of the eye, wings, hands, etcetera to take place. In other words, guts need to have evolved before eyes, wings, hands, etcetera. The funny thing is that she's right. Biologists who have read -S-'s objections to evolution got seriously worried that the bar-room theory of evolution would collapse. That, or they had already taken that into account. You never know what scientists think of...

Here is a very short story about how the guts might have evolved. I'm not a biologist, so the following should not be taken too seriously.

  1. A single celled world. All you can see, some 600 million years ago, are micro-organisms. Bacteria, virus... whatever else there is (amoebas). Evolution had been going on for 3 billion years already, so competition for food is fierce. One single random genetic mutation results in the collagen molecule causing bacteria to lump together.

    - A double celled organism in a sea of single cells? That's a competitive advantage, as it's harder for a double celled organism to be eaten, or it's easier for a double celled organism to trap food...

    Once collagen binds two cells together, this 'information' gets passed on to the next generation and this allows another generation to form groups or clusters.
    Suddenly, all single celled organisms die out overnight! As the brilliant “Why are there still apes?” question implies. 

    Or maybe not. The single celled organisms in New York are hardly affected by the death of a single celled organism in Sidney. Some cry a little when they read about it in the newspapers ("The Unicellular Times", "Cambrian News").

    Most lifeforms to this date are single celled organisms. No harm done.

  2. The clusters of bound cells without structure, by single random genetic mutations over countless generations, become bigger and bigger as long as there is a selection pressure to increase size (predators and preys become bigger). At some point, a single random mutation makes the cells cluster in an unusual form which happens to get more nutrients to all cells.

    - A structured group of cells in an unstructured world? That's a competitive advantage, as the structured group of cells can grow bigger and get more food more easily.

    Once structure starts evolving, all single celled and unstructured clusters die out magically! That, or they are unaffected and evolve in their own peculiar way, generation after generation.

    Sponges are groups of cells without much structure. Push a sponge through a sieve and it will form another sponge. Sponges continue to evolve. No harm done.

  1. The structured group of cells, an animal feeding off floating particles, other animals or plants, sticks to the seabed thanks to one single random genetic mutation.

    - An animal sticking to the seabed in a world of drifting food? That's a competitive advantage, as the food floats by. Animals sticking to the seabed keep evolving, just like the other organisms around it keep evolving; one generation at a time.

  2. The animals evolve (a branching process) into wildly different shapes over millions of years. One single mutation makes a funnel shape. This might (I dunno) increase the water flow and get more food to the animal. A funnel evolves into a tube, one generation at a time. One single mutation at a time.
    A tube with water entering at one side and exiting at the other side is a rudimentary gut. This is the result of millions of generations of minute genetic accumulation. But evolution never stops.

  1. Maybe the first muscles already evolved before the tube was closed, or maybe they evolved afterwards. At any rate, getting a contraction (with tube or without tube), is a competitive advantage, as water flow increases (and with water, nutrients). Pulsing tubes have more offspring and their pulses become better over thousands of generations. Each tube having multiple offspring and the fittest offspring having more...

And then a mouth evolved and an anus and gills and spines and fins and eyes and teeth and on and on and on and on evolution goes, accumulating tiny changes over generations.

The thing is that according to the theory of evolution, there once lived a common ancestor of all lifeforms with guts, from insects, to vertebrates. So, yes -S-, the gut was in place when eyes started evolving.

What's interesting is that evolution is a branching process where some organisms can maintain a successful shape for a long time. Single celled organisms are still hugely successful. Sponges are still around. Sea squirts are still there... and barnacles also...

Mutation (Genotype) → Characteristics (Phenotype) → Fitness → Meiosis → Repeat

-S-, I hope there's finally a click in your brain.

Ps. Karl Meyer (@karlmeyer), who has beer-reviewed this post, proposes a similar approach to sexual reproduction.
Pps. Edited at the request of -S-

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Faith, no more

One of the recurring arguments theists use is 'We have faith'. This is a strange, seemingly unassailable position. The word 'faith' means 'to believe without evidence'. The point is that 'the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence'.

This may sound convincing, to some, at first glance (and second, and third), but if examined closely, the argument fails utterly.

First of all, if there is no evidence, why should one religion be chosen over any other religion? In other words, maybe a deity exists, but how can anybody claim its name is Yahweh, Jehovah , Allah or Vishnu (let alone, Zeus, Thor or Ra...). To have faith in the deity of someone’s parents, or of their own choosing, seems to be quite arbitrary.

Secondly, and this is the main issue, there is evidence to the contrary. The 'holy' books (Torah, Bible, Koran or Bhagavad Gita) all contain creation stories that are in conflict with current scientific knowledge... Genesis is wrong about space-time. Genesis is wrong with respect to the moon as a source of light. Genesis is wrong on account of the 'firmament' being a solid dome.

It's not faith to believe in something unbelievable when there's evidence to the contrary; it's madness.

Any religious person can hold onto talking snakes (highly improbable as they are); they are 'miraculous'. Miracles, per definition, only happen once and can't be scientifically tested or falsified. But, what faith does it take to believe in 'the corners of the earth'? It's just ludicrous.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Fallacies 'R Us

After debating with religious people on Twitter for a number of months (mostly Christians, some Muslims and a few... stray bullets), I thought to myself that all arguments for gods are based on flawed logic. A short convo confirmed that, indeed, my fellow atheists on Twitter believe the same. This is a short list with the most common logical fallacies I've encountered. This post will be updated to incorporate new fallacies when they present themselves.

The Fallacy Fallacy

Warning: Using flawed logic doesn't mean that your conclusion is necessarily wrong, it just means that you cannot base your conclusion on that logic. Let's think about an example to clarify this. Suppose you are going to visit your family, and they ask you at what time you'll arrive. You take into account the inevitable traffic jam and estimate an hour. Then, you step into your car and lo and behold, there is no traffic jam... but you get a flat tire. You arrive at the estimated time, but not because of the traffic jam you were worried about.

The same applies to the arguments in favor of gods. The fact that all arguments are based on flaws doesn't mean there are no gods... It just means that the religious shouldn't base their faith on those flawed arguments.

Saying that all arguments in favor of gods are flawed and concluding therefore that there are no gods is the fallacy fallacy.

The Proof by Assertion Logical Fallacy

Saying that something is true, doesn't make it true. Repeating a lie doesn't make it true either.
  • God exists
  • There is a heaven / hell
  • As sure as there is a god
  • Allah Akbar
Only affirmations based on evidence should be given any credibility. “Gravity exists” is not an assertion logical fallacy, because we experience it daily. Julius Caesar was an historical figure because there are historical accounts and archaeological evidences that he, indeed, existed.
  • The evidence of god is everywhere. Look around you
This is still an assertion logical fallacy. Whatever we can observe is called “reality”. Supernatural gods, cannot be observed as per definition. Saying that gods obey the laws of nature is admitting that gods are powerless... nonexistent.

The Appeal to Authority Logical Fallacy

It's very easy to confide in the knowledge of others, especially when they are presented as experts.
  • Parents say that god exists
  • Preachers say that god exists
  • Teachers say that god exists
  • Weird people on street corners say that god exists
Parents, preachers, teachers and weird people commit the assertion logical fallacy... and you believe their affirmation, which is the appeal to authority logical fallacy.
  • Einstein, Newton (or others) believed in god
Whatever somebody (Einstein or whomever) believed is irrelevant, as long as they have not provided any evidence for the existence of gods. Basing your believe on the believe of others is not basing your believe on anything solid.

The Bandwagon Logical Fallacy

The fact that loads of people think that something is true, doesn't mean that it's actually true. Not so long ago, everybody thought the sun revolved around the earth. Then Copernicus came and, posthumously, changed all that. Now we know the earth revolves around the sun, and the sun around a massive black hole in the center of the milky way.
  • 2 Billion Christians/Muslims can't be wrong (the numbers change somewhat, sometimes)
  • Islam is the fastest growing religion on earth, therefore it's true

The Anecdotal Logical Fallacy

This is one of my favourites. Somebody tells you a story and you believe the story. For instance, Mary told Joseph that she was inseminated by the Holy Spirit (if you accept the story that they actually existed).
  • The old testament featured talking bushes
  • The apostles wrote eye witness accounts of Jesus
  • The Koran features Muhammad rising to heaven on a winged, flying, horse.
The 'holy' books contain stories. Maybe these are true, maybe not. Most of these stories are impossible to verify, especially when containing supernatural events. That's why I call the bible the tallest tale ever told (paraphrasing George Carlin). 

The Appeal to Emotion Logical Fallacy

Somebody tries to join two unrelated issues with an emotional link. Think about all the people that suffer hunger; eat. The fact that you eat (or not) doesn't affect the person who suffers hunger in any way. If you actually want to help people who suffer hunger, you can give to a charity that feeds them... or that teaches them how to fish.
  • Jesus died for your sins
  • Missionaries put their lives on the line
  • Martyrs died for their faith
  • God loves you (+ Assertion Logical Fallacy)
Appealing to Jesus' death is emotional blackmail. The logical fallacy is to try to do something for Jesus, as he can't be repaid... ever.
(Some) Missionaries are putting their lives at risk, voluntarily. So what? That proves they believe in their deity. It is not evidence for the deity actually existing.
Dead missionaries are martyrs. Same thing. It's no evidence for gods.

Note: The appeal to fear logical fallacy was brought to my attention shortly after publishing this. It's a special case of appeal to emotion logical fallacy.
  • You'll burn in hell (with caps lock)

Circular Logic Logical Fallacy

In formal logic, basing your premise on your conclusion on your premise on your conclusion.... is a flaw. Stating that something is True, because it's True doesn't make it true. It's an elaborate Assertion Logical Fallacy.
  • The bible is true because it says so in the bible
  • The creator created the creation (look around you)
  • God sacrificed himself, to himself, to save you from himself.


Non-sequitur Logical Fallacy

This means 'it doesn't follow'. If Aristotle is a man, therefore the sky is blue.
  • We don't know therefore gods
Mostly, this fallacy is used with the god of the gaps idea. If there's a gap in the scientific knowledge that's where gods are (Which god?)

Special pleading Logical Fallacy

This fallacy occurs in conjunction with the above, non-sequitur god of the gaps.
  • What caused the first cause? Ah, gods are uncaused.
Also known as the Kalam Cosmological Fallacy.

Black or white Logical Fallacy

Ever heard of Pascal's wager? He said that you're better of believing in 'god' because of the chance of ending in hell was smaller. That might be so if there would only be one god. But there are thousands. According to Christians, non-christians will go to hell. According to muslims, non-muslims will go to hell... So, with only Yahweh and Allah, your chances of going to hell are getting worse... if there are gods, that is.

Logical Fallacy of Confusion

The aim of this logical fallacy is to render the conversation useless by confusing the opponent. The person utters total nonsense. For instance: Creationists like to talk about 'Kinds' which has no scientific definition.

  • "God made the wild animals according to their kinds" Genesis 1:25 
How can creationists claim that the domestic cat and the lion are of the same kind, as some do, saying that 'kind' equates to family?

Logical Fallacy of Equivocation

Similar to the last logical fallacy, this one misuses the meaning of words. For instance, belief.

  • Do you believe things without evidence?
Well, yes, I do. Not all beliefs are religious beliefs and I can believe loads of things without evidence. I can believe my wife is faithful to me, without evidence. I can believe that the state will provide a hospital when I need one. I can believe the snake-oil salesman. The important part isn't what I can believe or not believe, but what is rational. 

Selective Attention Logical Fallacy

FimusTauri commented on this logical fallacy, also known as Cherry Picking. The verses of the holy books that appeal to the reader are considered true, while the verses that are not are ignored.

--- Help me add the logical fallacies I've missed. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Kalam Cosmological Fallacies

I didn't think I would need to continue writing about atheism, but circumstances force me. Noblesse oblige, and all that shite.

In other words, I ran into somebody who thinks you can prove god logically... in the twenty-first century, using the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Well, let's rip that one apart, shall we?

I'll focus on the formal logic here. Others have more practical objections to Kalam.

The form of the argument is as follows.
Premise A: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
Premise B: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion C: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

If premises A & B are true, conclusion C must be true. While it can be argued that premise A may not be true, let's just accept this argument. “The universe has a cause”

So far, so good, nobody got hurt in this exercise?

Now, Kalam makes magic happen... [see the update below]

Let's do a “non-sequitur” logical fallacy

“therefore cause of the universe is god”

Whoa! Wait one second! We were not discussing god there, did we? What happened?

Conclusion D: Therefore, the cause of the universe is god.

See, we were happily jogging along with the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and all of a sudden, a new conclusion was introduced, as if that was a logical result of the premises.

Let's rewrite that:
Premise A: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
Premise B: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion D: The cause of the universe is god.

Formally speaking, the conclusion D doesn't logically follow from premises A and B.

Let's do a “Logical Tautology”

Maybe, we got this wrong, and the conclusion D is correct, so let's fix premise A.

Premise A: Whatever begins to exist is caused by god.
Premise B: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion D: The cause of the universe is god.

Now, we have eliminated that nasty non-sequitur logical fallacy. Maybe people have problems accepting the premise A (without proper indoctrination), but we have to consider another problem. As we're focusing on the formal logic side of Kalam, we see that it takes the following form: “If A therefore A”. This is a logical fallacy.

It's true, of course, but it's true for every value of A. If “god” therefore “god”. If “no god” therefore “no god”.

This fallacy is called a “logical tautology”, “begging the question” or plain and simple “circular reasoning”... Many names for the same error.

Let's do a “Special Pleading” logical fallacy.

But even if we accept the Kalam Cosmological Argument and we do suppose that god is indeed the cause of the universe, we have another problem. Let's apply Kalam to god.

Premise A: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
Premise B: God began to exist.
Conclusion C: Therefore, God has a cause.

Wait, god did not begin to exist? That's a clever little construct to prevent regression and save god from scrutiny. Why would god not begin to exist? That's a special pleading logical fallacy. You declare god to be outside time and space, he doesn't begin to exist but still exists?

Can we agree on premise B, that god began to exist? Should we say:
Premise X: Whatever exists has a beginning.
Premise Y: God exists.
Conclusion Z: God has a beginning.

Now, we're introducing Premise Y and we're not going to agree on that one, are we... without evidence?

Let's do a “God of the gaps” logical fallacy.

The problem with the beginning of the universe is that it happened billions of years ago, and physics... breaks down before the beginning of time-space. In other words, physicists do not know what happened.
“We don't know therefore god” is placing a deity in the gaps.

Let's jump to conclusions.

Not a logical fallacy, but just a little finishing note. Even if god (a deity) does exist, or did exist, or did cause the universe to begin... what does that mean? Does that mean that he still exists, that he still causes the universe to exist?

There is no evidence in physics, to assume that there is a god (so why assume there was a god?) who acts on the physical world.

The problem is that, even if we say that god diddit, does that mean that *your* god diddit? Ra, Vishnu, Thor, Zeus... Yahweh? That's a huge leap, going from 'a deity' to 'your god of choice'.

I've received some critique that I need to include the “magic” part of the argument as well. The author of the original piece tells me I'm committing a strawman logical fallacy, and who would want to continue committing logical fallacies?

The reason I didn't include the “magic” babble in my original piece is simple: I was analyzing the formal logic of the argument as presented. Premise A, Premise B, Conclusion C.

Formal logic is a tool for understanding one another better. The text should reinforce the premises and conclusion. Period. The babble part of the “logical” argument, as presented, doesn't reinforce the formal argument, but takes the conclusion one (or more) steps further.

At any rate, Alex (@SelfExamineLife) was so kind as to transform the informal “magic” babble into a formal logical form.

To take the argument seriously, you need to include all the premises, like so:

P1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
P2: The universe began to exist.
C1: The universe had a cause.

C1: The universe had a cause.
P3: There are two known kinds of causes: material and mind.
P4: A material cause would entail an infinite regress (an actual infinity in time).
P5: Actual infinities in time can't exist because we never would have reached the present.
C2: The cause of the universe was a mind.

Laid out like this, the premises are easier to deal with and challenge. There is plenty of room for error here, but I don't see a non-sequitur being one of them.

I must accept Alex' verdict that this is not a non-sequitur logical fallacy... 

Short look at the new premises.
P3 seems suspect to me, as the (human) mind doesn't seem to affect the real world. 
P4 seems to be a "proof by assertion" logical fallacy. 
P5 seems to be a bit silly, but I'm not a philosopher.

My biggest gripe is with P3.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The burden of proof – There are zero gods

I was discussing the “burden of proof” the other day. I lost the discussion, but I learned some things.

The burden of proof is a philosophical concept where, whoever asserts something (anything), has to support the claim with evidence. For instance, if you say you own a race-horse, somebody would want to see you with the horse.

Atheists, all over the world, are cautious when discussing the existence of gods. Usually, we say that we reject the claim of gods until there is evidence in favor of gods. That is, the theists will claim there is a god, and the burden of proof lies on the theist.

Atheists, normally, do not say 'there are zero gods', because, then, the burden of proof lies on the atheist to prove there are none, which seems impossible.

As I don't mind making a fool out of myself, I will claim that there are no gods. This means the burden of proof is on me.

What is a god?

My claim relies on the basic concept of gods; they are supreme beings and have supernatural powers. The supernatural is defined as being 'beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature'. Meaning there either is a 'god of the gaps' or the laws of nature do not apply to gods.

The idea of a 'god of the gaps' is not compatible with supreme beings. The gaps in scientific knowledge are getting smaller. Besides, I don't accept that 'not understanding' something means it's 'supernatural'. If it can be repeated and investigated, it will be understood sooner or later... and it will turn out to be natural. “I don't understand therefore supernatural” is a non-sequitur logical fallacy.

The idea of a being that defies the laws of nature is more in line with my idea of what a god should be. In other words; a god, if he exists, should be capable of affecting the natural world in such a way that the laws of nature do not apply while the god doesn't want them to. Levitation, the suspension of gravity, would be a good example of that... only scientists have already developed a method of levitation using lasers.

The only way for a god to demonstrate his existence is by deliberately altering the laws of nature... in a controlled manner. Something that has never been scientifically documented.

The supernatural is “beyond the laws of nature”. That could also mean that gods simply are beyond our scope of observation. Science only observes the natural world. The supernatural world cannot be observed... by definition. What I mean is that, the supernatural, if it exists, will never be observed, as it's beyond any possible future method of observation. The goal-post will move ever away from us. We can observe the atoms on a pinhead, but gods will always elude us.

And that's it. Either gods exist, but can't or won't show themselves. Or gods simply don't exist.

Some people will argue that the possibility of gods still exists, and they are right, but nobody doubts that Harry Potter is fantasy... There is the possibility that Harry Potter is real. You can't rule that out applying the same logic.

Other fantasies that need debunking as rigorously as Harry Potter are the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot or Ice Giants (this list is near endless, just like the list of gods).

Another view on the god doesn't exist argument, by a philosopher, so expect long words :-) No, no worries, this is really readable.