The inconsistencies of God and free will

So I was reading the Objections and Replies to Descartes’s Meditations for class tomorrow and I think I have stumbled upon one of the most damning arguments against any sort of omnipotent, omniscient creator-god, specifically the Abrahamic one.

So, if you’re not familiar with the Meditations, in the First Objection Caterus engages Descartes on a dialogue about cause and effect, which essentially concludes with the assertion that God is the efficient cause of everything (i.e., he is the ultimate cause of all that was, is, and ever will be). This seems like something that most theists could get behind. However, if this is true, and if God is both omnipotent and omniscient, wouldn’t this make free will impossible? It seems so, since if God is the efficient cause of everything, he is responsible for all of our actions.

If God is omnipotent, he could have created the universe in any way that he wanted. If he was also omniscient, he would have also been able to fully understand every single consequence of his actions. Therefore, when he created the universe, he consciously and knowingly set in motion everything that ever will happen, and all of time is set in its tracks, completely predetermined without any chance of deviation aside from direct intervention from God. Therefore, if God exists, and is both omnipotent and omniscient, free will is impossible. This may not be a problem if you’re like most superstitious Americans and believe in the paranormal phenomenon known as fate, but what are the repercussions of a lack of free will? The most startling one is that it puts the blame for all evil in the world squarely on the shoulders of God.

If all of time is predetermined by God, then every action any individual makes is directly caused by God. This means that if I choose to murder someone, it is not my choice, but God’s. Therefore, I am not to blame for my actions; it was really God who murdered my victim. Therefore, God cannot be all-good as the Jews and Christians (and Descartes) believe he is.

Anyway, to me this last bit seems to pretty much put the nail in God’s coffin. If God is the cause of all evil, why the hell should I worship him?

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A chat with some Mormon missionaries about miracles

So my Mormon missionary friends returned today and had me watch a video about Jesus. They asked me what I thought and I explained to them that I’m highly skeptical of miracles.

First of all, I don’t believe that Jesus’s miracles were fabricated out of whole cloth. I think that Jesus was probably a real person and that he probably performed some feats which the uneducated and uncritical masses took to be miracles, but really weren’t all that miraculous. A combination of bad judgment, faulty memory, and the fact that the Gospels were written centuries after the fact based on oral tradition led to a massive instance of confabulation. People were considerably more superstitious back then. (People are still considerably superstitious, but now they use faulty science and lack of knowledge of simple math to rationalize their superstitions.)

I also mentioned that I find it unusual that there have been no recent instances of miracles, to which the missionaries replied that they’ve witnessed all sorts of miracles. They explained that they believe in faith healing and cited this as an example of a modern-day miracle. Instead of wasting my breath on a lengthy explanation of the fact that there has never been a documented instance of effective faith healing, I simply pointed out that we seem to have different definitions of the word “miracle.” For me, a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. (Some people say this is an incredibly narrow definition of miracles, but I say it is incredibly broad, as it includes any sort of paranormal or supernatural event, such as hauntings and psychokinesis.) Spontaneous recovery, the placebo effect, and the false placebo effect are not violations of the laws of nature. (I didn’t bother to mention the fact that most faith healing leads to disastrous results in the form of people thinking they’re healed only to stop medical treatment and have a relapse go undiagnosed and untreated. In retrospect, I probably should have brought this up.)

I still haven’t kept my promise to pray, but I figure I might as well since I can’t envision any harm coming of it. Maybe I’ll do that later.

A rebuttal of dualsim: some thoughts on human essence

So’s we’re talking about Cartesian dualism in class and I gotta say, any type of dualism is nonsense. I’ll explain why I feel this way.

First of all, for those of you who aren’t familiar with dualism, it is basically the belief that there are two realms in the universe: the physical and the mental (or spiritual, for New Age dualists). These realms are totally distinct. The main issue with this sort of view is that if these realms are distinct, then there’s no way for them to interact without any sort of miracle. If you believe in miracles, then dualism may be your thang; if you believe in science and reason, you may have trouble buying this garbage.

I think dualism probably comes from the basic human desire for immortality. If there’s a part of us (which I shall henceforth call our “essence”) that is separate and distinct from the physical body, then it stands to reason that that essence can transcend the death of the physical body. This is highly unlikely, because as I will show, essence is inseparable from physical form.

Think of a pen. We could say that the essence of the pen is something like “to write things.” This is what it exists for, its essential something that makes it a pen. If I were to throw this pen into that massive junk grinder in 30 Days of Night and chop it up into a pile of scrap, would its essence still be writing? I think not. I don’t think it would have an essence any more. Therefore, it stands to reason that essence is a direct function of the physical form of a thing.

In the case of humans it may be more complicated, as the human form is an incredibly complex machine, but I think there is a universal human essence, or at least three essential quests with which all humans of normal psychology are concerned: the quest for truth, the quest for meaning, and the quest for pleasure. I think that all aspects of normal psychology can be reduced to these three essential quests.

Another rebuttal of dualism: Think of color. Color is not strictly speaking a physical thing. I arises when certain critters (such as humans) perceive certain wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation (light). Therefore, although it is distinct from light and perception, and although it is not strictly speaking a physical thing (nor does it “exist” in the strictest sense, as it requires perception to exist), it is easily reducible to physical phenomena.Remove the light or the perceiving entities and there is no such thing as color. The mind, therefore, can be thought of as similar to color, and entirely reducible to physical phenomena (perhaps certain chemical reactions in the brain). Remove these physical phenomena, and one has no mind.

In short, there is no reason to believe in an immortal spirit/soul/mind. The essence is a function of the physical composition of a thing, and is entirely reducible to physical phenomena.

Some progress on the voice front

So, I can pretty confidently do a breathy bimbo voice. However, it’s not the voice I want. Bummer. I did get a decent female voice on Friday night after about fifteen minutes of intense effort, but I got so excited when I realized that I had finally done it my voice broke mid-sentence and I have no clue how to get back there. Right now I’m just going with my male voice in classes for the sake of ease, because it takes a lot of concentration even to maintain the breathy bimbo voice. Plus, I don’t want folks thinking I’m a breathy bimbo. I’d rather them think that I was a cross-dressing tranny. I suppose now all I have to do is figure out how to maintain the feminine voice and remove the breathiness. Oh, well, I’ll just keep working at it and eventually I’ll figure it out.

UPDATE: Nailed it! Except it really kills my vocal chords. Eeep. At least now I know how to get there (I tried going in and out to make sure), so as soon as I get those particular muscles used to working more than usual I should be able to get it down.

Some thoughts on pantheism and deism

So I’ve been contemplating the mysteries of life (as usual) and I feel like I want to share my thoughts on two intriguing religious pgilosophies: deism and pantheism.

I’ll start with pantheism, since it’s the only religious philosophy I can get behind (given a few provisos). Pantheism is the belief that the universe, natural world, or nature is equivalent to god. I can get behind this idea, because the universe is the highest power I can think of. It is literally perfect; it could not exist if it wasn’t. It’s also indifferent, though, so New Age pantheists with their rituals and whatnot really blow my mind. That’s my first proviso for my endorsement of pantheism: that it ackowledges God’s indifference. My second proviso is that it is of the naturalistic variety, simply because I think knowledge is a function of the natural world, and if it did not exist, we would have no knowledge. Think about it: what would we truly know if the natural world did not exist? Our senses and minds would have lied to us; how could we know what’s true?

Deism, on the other hand, is somewhat more respectable than theism, if only for the fact that a noninterventionist god is more compatible with mainstream science’s understanding of the universe. However, I reject the argument that god can be known through reason. I know of no logical way to prove or disprove god; all strong claims one way or the other require a leap of faith. This is why I prefer so-called “weak” atheism.

Finally, I’ve come up with yet another way to describe my attitude towards god and the afterlife: spesism. Basically, I hope that there is something more out there, but I won’t hold my breath.

Nameless, faceless drones

So I called the cable company today and notice a psychological phenomenon that I’ve noticed several times before but never really thought much about. As anyone who’s called a call center knows, they usually start by asking your name and then they tell you theirs. I hear it every time, but I can never remember their names; they go in one ear and right out the other. For the life of me I can’t remember any of their names even two seconds after they tell me; it just doesn’t even register.

I’m sure this is because to me they are simply nameless, faceless drones, completely interchangeable. They’re just a means to me, not an end. Kant would be ashamed. (Good think I think Kant was a shitty moral philosopher.) I was completely shocked to find that I functioned this way, since I generally value people pretty highly. Next time I call a call center I’m going to make an effort to remember the agent’s name, even if I have to ask them a million times. They deserve respect, or at least a name.

More on Descartes and God

So I’m reading Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy not just in History of Modern Philosophy, but in Theory of Knowledge as well (although in that class we’re only concerned with the first two Meditations). I’ve been puzzling over Meditation Three (“God”) since last night (I only got a few hours of sleep because my brain was working overtime analyzing Descartes’s argument). I think I’ve got some responses to Descartes, but I’m still uncertain, so if you’re not convinced by what’s about to follow, then don’t be shocked. These ideas are still in their infancy.

First of all, despite Descartes’s fame, he was by no means the greatest philosopher or logician that ever lived. In my opinion, his major contributions to philosophy were in his epistemological work and his methodology. For instance, there are a few logical inconsistencies in his First Meditation. I won’t get into them here, but ask yourself: are you really unable to tell whether you’re dreaming right now?

Anyway, one thing I’ve been puzzling over is the list of attributes he claims God has. But before we get into that, let me fill you in on his line of reasoning at this point (which really is evident as early as the First Meditation). He’s working with this theory that causes cannot be any less real than their effects. So, in order for something more perfect to come into being, even in the mind, something more real (or perfect, perhaps; I’m not sure if that’s an adequate substitution, though) had to create it. Using this line of reasoning, he begins to wonder how the idea of a perfect being could have been created in his mind. He goes on to list the attributes of God:

  • infinite
  • eternal
  • unchangeable
  • independent
  • supremely intelligent
  • supremely powerful
  • created Descartes and everything else

To me, these all seem like attributes of the universe, so to me it seems like all Descartes has done is prove that the universe exists. Let me deal with them one by one.

  • Infinite: This one should be obvious: anyone who has looked up at the sky knows that it’s infinite.
  • Eternal: Time is a function of the universe, so by definition it is eternal.
  • Unchangeable: The laws of physics cannot be changed. Although the elements of the universe may change, the fundamentals are eternally the same.
  • Independent: This one is a little more puzzling because I’m not quite sure what Descartes means by “independent.” I suppose it means it doesn’t depend on an external source for its existence. In that case, the universe is clearly independent: it supports itself.
  • Supremely Intelligent: This one requires that you subscribe to my epistemological views. I believe that we can only have knowledge of the natural world (as I have said elsewhere) and that therefore knowledge is a function of the natural world. Since the universe is the natural world, it is the source of all knowledge. Therefore, it is supremely intelligent.
  • Supremely Powerful: Again, this one is obvious. The universe is the most powerful thing known to humanity.
  • Creator of Descartes and everything else: Again, super-obvious.

I’m not sure how tenable all of this is, but it’s a start.

Also, I think I can use Descartes’s own conception of knowledge against him to force him into agnosticism. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Cartesian conception of knowledge, this is its basic formulation:

S knows that P iff

  1. S believes P
  2. P is true
  3. P is indubitable

This should be simple. Even is we grant that the proposition “God exists” is true, no reasonable person can claim that it is indubitable. Therefore, Descartes cannot truly claim knowledge that God exists.

Like I said, I’m not sure how tight these arguments are. I’ve been puzzling over them for a while and am not completely sold on them, mainly because I haven’t tested them in the laboratory of the classroom, where 30 other philosophers (one with a Ph.D.) can poke holes in them and force me to defend them.

For more on my theories of God, see my post from half an hour ago.