30 September, 2010

How Ireland compares to other Eurozone countries

A nice overall comparison of the economies of the Eurozone countries can be found here, although it hasn't been updated since June 2010.

All this on the day that our finance minister, Brian Lenihan, announced that the support for Anglo Irish Bank would cost from 29.3bn euros to a "stress scenario" bail-out of up to 34bn euros ($46.4bn; £29.2bn). The cost would push the Ireland's fiscal deficit to 32% of gross domestic product (GDP).



24 September, 2010

The Atheist's Nightmares!!!


By the way, I'm sure you've all seen these before but in case you haven't, the above videos are for realz. Yep.

The only possible response:


18 September, 2010

I expect you to die!

Saw this over at SMRT and laughed. Lots.

"You spin me right round, baby, right round, in a manner depriving me of an inertial reference frame. Baby."

(Hat-tip to Quasar at SMRT)


14 September, 2010

When a complete moron meets an absolute idiot

Irish politicians can be stupid, like Dermot Ahern. Or very stupid, like Willie O'Dea. But occasionally they are so stupendously stupid that it defies all belief....

Meet Conor Lenihan (our complete moron).

This man is the Minister for Science, a position you might think entails encouraging the best in science and rational thought. Why then, you might ask, did this complete moron agree to attend the launch of "The Origin of Specious Nonsense", an anti-evolution book by a crank called John May (our absolute idiot)?

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with idiots launching books, but I do have a problem with a highly-paid public servant - who is supposed to be the Minister of Freakin' Science - actively promoting it. The fact that he eventually withdrew from the launch is irrelevant. He should have never even flirted with the idea. Hell, he should have been fundamentally opposed to it to begin with!

Let's have a quick look at what he almost gave an official Irish government stamp of approval to. From May's website:

Eh, what? H2O is oxygen. Oh and evolution doesn't explain astrophysics, THEREFORE IT'S WRONG!!!!!! TAKE THAT EVOLUTIONISTS!!!!!

His painfully stupid '15 tennis ball' analogy shows his complete ignorance of evolution, probability and large numbers. As I explain here (scroll down to no 12 on the page), his error is that he is predicting in advance what the outcome will be - all balls to land in a circle in correct order. This is not analogous to how evolution works so he is simply attacking against a strawman. The balls have to end up in some orientation, just as life had to evolve in some way. In fact, it is actually evolution deniers who believe that life improbably *poofed* into existence fully formed. May is so stupid that he doesn't even realise his astronomical numbers argument goes against his own beliefs.

But not only is the subject matter laughable - it is full of grammatical errors. Indeed, he is clearly unimpressed by the modest comma and yet he can't seem! to! fit! quite! enough! exclamation! marks! in! (hmm, a true sign of a scholarly genius?). Bad grammar is no crime of course, but along with the basic language used in his book (see here for a sneak preview), this suggests that May is less than proficient in the brain department (fittingly for a friend of Minister Lenihan it would seem). For example, take these quotes as attributed to May in the Irish Times:

In publicity material for the launch of his book on the theory of evolution, Mr May accused “Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C Dennett, et al” of having sacrificed reason on the altar of Chance, Mutations, Randomness . . . Mr May called on “the world’s atheists, scientists, evolutionists plus tens of millions of their duped followers” to stop pretending they had “any facts whatsoever to support the greatest deceit in the history of science”.

No facts! Eh, try here and here for starters.

Furthermore, with respect to the bolded phrase above, an acquaintance of mine who is a notable Irish physicist and accomplished debater mused...

We used to get first years to work the phrase "sacrificed [noun] on the altar of [another noun]" into their debates as a kind of an in-joke in debating circles. It was such a hackneyed cliche that it would be a silent nod to older debaters from other teams that these were freshers and to go easy on them.

Speaks volumes.


13 September, 2010

If Facebook had always existed

In the beginning...

5,600 years later...

249 years later...

[More here]


08 September, 2010

Arguments for the existence of God

Here I will list arguments for the existence of God and my responses. If you have an argument that I missing please post it as a comment and I will add it to the list. The description of each argument is taken from Wiki or here. I don't claim that any of my responses are novel and I haven't read any deep philosophical thoughts on these issues. They are just my thoughts. If you disagree with anything, feel free to let me know.

1) The cosmological argument argues that there was a "first cause", or "prime mover" who is identified as God. It starts with a claim about the world, like its containing entities or motion.


-This argument depends on the idea that everything and anything that happens must have a cause. The trouble is that if this is asserted, then it must necessarily also apply to God - what caused God? If the argument is that God does not need a cause then it is inconsistent to apply that criterion to everything else - a fallacy called 'special pleading'. If God does not need a cause, then perhaps energy/matter does not need a cause and might have existed in some form prior to the big bang. Indeed, I have posted before about the possibility that energy/matter has always existed.

2) The teleological argument argues that the universe's order and complexity are best explained by reference to a creator God. It starts with a rather more complicated claim about the world, i.e. that it exhibits order and design.


-This is the classic argument from design and has been brought to the fore in recent times due to the Intelligent Design movement. There are many flaws to this argument (which I discussed in detail with Casey Luskin here) but the simplest is that it is simply an argument from ignorance. The proponent can't think of how a complex system could have come about and so concludes that it must have been designed by God - 'Goddidit'. Of course, we do know how complexity comes about in many cases, such as in a snowflake or a crystal lattice - through purely natural processes. Computer simulations like Avida have shown that, given enough time, a simple program can generate incredible complexity.

-Also, there are many examples of bad design in biology, which is at odds with the concept of a perfect creation by an omnipotent designer.

-A further issue with this argument is that it results in an infinite regress. If God is capable of designing the universe, it stands to reason that he is of sufficient complexity to require design. So who designed God? Perhaps another God - but then who designed him? Etc.

3) The ontological argument is based on arguments about a "being greater than which cannot be conceived". It starts simply with a concept of God. Avicenna St. Anselm of Canterbury and Alvin Plantinga formulated this argument to show that if it is logically possible for God (a necessary being) to exist, then God exists.


-This is a very weak argument - essentially that if God is perfect, then he must exist as to not exist would be considered 'less' than perfect. Firstly it is begging the question since the existence of God is already assumed in the first place.

-Also, this 'proof' can be used to 'prove' the existence of anything, as famously shown for Gaunilno's Perfect Island. If you can conceive of anything that you consider to be perfect, then it must exist. This clearly shows the failings of this particular argument.

-It is similar to using Curry's paradox to prove the existence of something, i.e. "If this sentence is true, then God exists". They are nothing more than word games.

4) Arguments that a non-physical quality observed in the universe is of fundamental importance and not an epiphenomenon, such as beauty (Argument from beauty), love (Argument from love), or religious experience (Argument from religious experience), are arguments for theism as against materialism.


-These types of arguments have no solid foundation as they are completely subjective. Beauty and love are fuzzy concepts that mean different things to different people, while religious experience, by definition, is a personal phenomenon. These arguments might, therefore, be considered compelling to an individual, but they are not persuasive as all-encompassing reasons to believe in the existence of God. If beauty is evidence for God, does this mean ugliness is evidence against God? Similarly, if the sudden recovery of a terminally ill patient is evidence for God, then a healthy person dropping dead is surely evidence against God? It doesn't work only one way.

-The claim that beauty and love are transcendental is also weak, as different degrees of 'love' are known to be simulated in people on recreational drugs, strongly suggesting that they are products of purely physical processes involving hormones.

-Furthermore, religious experience cannot be trusted for the simple fact that most testable declarations based on revelation turn out to be false - most notably end-of-the-world predictions.

5) The anthropic argument suggests that basic facts, such as our existence, are best explained by the existence of God. The conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur when certain universal fundamental physical constants lie within a very narrow range, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different the universe would be empty, or even non-existent.


-This is also known as the fine-tuning argument or the Goldilocks argument. Firstly, according to some scientists the properties that are spoken of as being fine-tuned do not necessarily have to be as they are. But even if we grant that they must be as they are for this particular universe, it is conceivable that different parameters would simply result in a different universe (whether we can comprehend this universe or not).

-To take the example of life, we have adapted to live in the conditions that exist - not the other way around. An analogy is to imagine pouring water into a glass. The water fills the glass according to whatever shape the glass is. However, an anthropic glass proponent might suggest that the glass was perfectly designed to hold the shape the water assumes in the glass - no other shaped glass could accommodate it in that specific shape. So everything in the universe, including life, has adapted to the conditions inherent to the universe.

-Perhaps there are (or have been) many universes and this is the only one we can exist in. If so, it is not surprising that we find ourselves in this universe asking these questions.

6) The moral argument argues that the existence of objective morality depends on the existence of God.


-Proponents of this argument contend that an absolute standard of morality, God, is needed in order to know what is right and wrong. This fails on several levels. Firstly, there is Euthyphro's dilemma: "Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good (meaning it is independent of God), or is it morally good because it is commanded by God (meaning it is arbitrary as God could make anything good)?"

-Secondly, it is only assumed that there is an absolute moral standard, not actually demonstrated. Different cultures have had different morals over the years, so moral relativism is an alternative. A typical counter to this is that this means that child rape is not absolutely morally wrong, putting the moral relativist in the awkward position of having to agree as they believe in no absolute moral standards. This is simply an attempt to insert an emotionally-charged subject into the debate. It can also work in reverse - if God decided tomorrow that child rape was morally good, would all Christians embrace it and actively engage in it? I doubt that they would - this shows that morality exists apart from God.

-So if morality doesn't come from God, where does it come from? The obvious answer is through the evolution of a social species in which the majority live by the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated). How else could we survive? A society in which lying, murder, rape, etc are considered morally good by the majority would never thrive. This doesn't mean that the reverse society (i.e. our society) cannot harbour individuals with bad morals, but just that the majority need to be morally good.

-Finally, there are many thought experiments on morality which show the inconsistency of claiming that there is an absolute moral standard.

7) The transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) suggests that logic, science, ethics, and other things we take seriously do not make sense in the absence of God, and that atheistic arguments must ultimately refute themselves if pressed with rigorous consistency.


-This is probably the argument I have the most experience in dealing with, mainly through my discussions with Sye TenB. This approach, also known as presuppositional apologetics, is fundamentally flawed because it is dependent on the idea of absolutes and certainty - two things that the proponent demonstrably does not have. Indeed, despite making claims of certainty, the proponent cannot even prove that they exist for certain.

-This approach is simply a device in order to 'win' debates by pointing out inconsistencies in a non-Christian's 'worldview' using engineered circular arguments. The proponent will resist all attempts to critically examine the problems with their own 'worldview' because this would be putting God on trial. Convenient!

-For further reading on the failings of TAG see Presuppositionalist Nonsense Parts I, II and III.

8) The will to believe doctrine was pragmatist philosopher William James' attempt to prove God by showing that the adoption of theism as a hypothesis "works" in a believer's life. This doctrine depended heavily on James' pragmatic theory of truth where beliefs are proven by how they work when adopted rather than by proofs before they are believed (a form of the hypothetico-deductive method).


-This argument is completely subjective and is in no way an argument for the existence of God. There are many 'believers' who find that their belief or religion doesn't work out and leave their faith. So if this argument has any merit, then these reconverts have to be accepted as evidence against God. This contradiction highlights the failings of this approach.

9) The argument from reason holds that if, as thoroughgoing naturalism entails, all of our thoughts are the effect of a physical cause, then we have no reason for assuming that they are also the consequent of a reasonable ground. Knowledge, however, is apprehended by reasoning from ground to consequent. Therefore, if naturalism were true, there would be no way of knowing it—or anything else not the direct result of a physical cause—and we could not even suppose it, except by a fluke.


-The fact that humans can reason is self-evident. Any attempt to disprove that humans can reason must use reason in the disproof. It can be said to be axiomatic, as I have argued here for other concepts such as perception and truth. Since we must use reason to make any argument, this means it is pointless to try and argue that God is the necessary precondition for reason. If this was so, one should be able explain this without using reason. To put it simply, reason is not contingent on God, but the very concept of God is contingent on reason.

10) The modal cosmological argument, the argument from contingency, suggests that because the universe might not have existed (i.e. is contingent), we need some explanation of why it does. Wherever there are two possibilities, it suggests, something must determine which of those possibilities is realised. As the universe is contingent, then, there must be some reason for its existence; it must have a cause. In fact, the only kind of being whose existence requires no explanation is a necessary being, a being that could not have failed to exist. The ultimate cause of everything must therefore be a necessary being, such as God.


-This fails for many of the same reasons that the cosmological argument fails. Also, on what basis can it be asserted that the universe might not have existed? This is an unjustified premise for this argument. I have argued before that there is no reason to suspect that nothingness ever existed (so to speak).

11) Pascal’s Wager is an argument for belief in God based not on an appeal to evidence that God exists but rather based on an appeal to self-interest. It is in our interests to believe in God, the argument suggests, and it is therefore rational for us to do so.


-Pascal's wager is the eternal hedge bet. The idea that you are better off believing in God just in case he does exist is a bit of a 'last resort' approach. If God is omniscient, he will know that you don't really believe in him and you are just hedging your bets.

-Plus, I don't see it as being as simple as just believing in God. According to most Christians you have to dedicate your whole life to him. Screw that - that's no hedge bet, that's a life sentence.

12) The argument from improbability explains that it is mathematically virtually impossible for the chain of events to have happened, that must have happened, in order for us to be here. This impossibility points to an omnipotent creator.


-This argument, made famous by Fred Hoyle's flawed 747 and junkyard analogy, suffers from a lack of understanding of probability and large numbers in general. I agree completely that it is virtually impossible for this reality, including biological life, to have *poofed* into existence almost exactly as it is now. But this is not what most nonbelievers believe happened - this is actually what many theists believe! The error here is that the proponent of the argument is predicting in advance what the outcome will be. It is also virtually impossible to win the lottery, but people win it all the time. Is this a miracle, or is it just inevitable given the large numbers of people who buy tickets? So the thing that is actually virtually impossible is to predict who will win the lottery in advance, not whether or not someone will win it.

-Another good analogy is that of a sequence of 52 cards. Imagine the odds of a particular sequence of 52 cards coming up (8.06582E+67 to 1 apparently). That is virtually impossible! Now deal out a deck of cards. Is the sequence that appeared impossible? No, of course not - the cards had to be dealt in some order, just as the universe (and life, once it appeared) had to evolve in some way.

[This is my 100th blog post. Hurrah!]


02 September, 2010

Stephen Hawking ends speculation

Prof Stephen Hawking has roundly rejected the notion that he accepts the role of God in the creation of the universe. This was previously asserted by some creationists due to the following passage from A Brief History of Time:

If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we should know the mind of God.

It was clear to most people that Hawking was using poetic licence here, not actually talking about a literal God. But that obvious fact doesn't stop some from using the quote for their own means.

Anyway, confusion over...

Citing the 1992 discovery of a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun, in his new book, Hawking explains:

That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions - the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass - far less remarkable, and far less compelling as evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings.


Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing... Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist... It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

Good man Steve.


01 September, 2010

Infinite regress - sort of

Islands. Lakes. Islands inside lakes. And lakes in them too. And islands in them.

So this is an island in a lake in an island in a lake in an island.....I think.

I wonder if there's a puddle on it?

Anyway, have a look...