Archive for September, 2015

Hell Bound

September 29, 2015 3 comments

At this point we are all probably sick of hearing Atheists complain that members of a religion are telling them that they are going to Hell. I know I am, and unless there’s a cool twist on the story or a nice burn toward the accuser there is little new to be added to that conversation. So today’s post isn’t about me, it’s about my oldest daughter. No one told my oldest daughter that she is going to Hell, but they did give her the “information” that people like me are.

As I understand the story, a friend of my daughter explained that people who don’t believe in god are damned to Hell. Oh, here is where I note that she is seven. With that information in hand, a student at her school told her that he didn’t believe in god and she then decided to tell everyone else about his lack of belief because she likes to stir up trouble. Upon coming home she told my wife probably thinking that it was going to be a good laugh. Why was it supposed to be funny? No idea, but then again this is a seven year old and logic isn’t exactly their strong suit. Also, it’s worth pointing out that none of them probably remembered the next day, and it’s probably also worth pointing out that none of us really have a context for how any of this began. That being said, it doesn’t excuse what my kid did. She shouldn’t be going around blabbing about other people’s beliefs. That wasn’t right.

The first child in the story, explained to her that Hell is the place where god’s love doesn’t reach. This tells me that she is parroting what her parents have told her because there is no way a seven year old is going to come up with that kind of definition. Back to my wife: she heard the story and didn’t laugh, instead she asked, “You do know that your daddy is an Atheist right?”

“Wait, so he’s going to hell?”

This is why I write things like this. Yes Jesus did say that he would turn families against each other (Luke 12:53, Matthew 10:35-36) and that is the one thing that he and his teachings have done. This must have been exactly what the people who made it up meant. The average seven year old believes that a magical faerie turns teeth into money and that’s who is judging people like me? I’m afraid not kid. I’m not ragging on my daughter, nor her friend. My problem is with the type of parents who would instill that kind of thinking in someone so young. Children’s Bibles don’t include this kind of thing, she couldn’t have found it on her own. Occam’s razor attaches, the simplest explanation is the parents are teaching their kid to hate people who think differently than her.

I explained to my kid that if there was a god and it was just, I’m not going to Hell. Hell isn’t about justice it’s about vengeance. If the god isn’t just, well then I’m not calling him god but I’m screwed all the same. I further explained that actions speak louder than belief. Is it just to take a decent person and throw them in Hell because he refuses to believe the words in a book that contradicts itself, gets basic facts wrong, and uses horrifying imagery to make its point? No. I explained that I’m an Atheist because I’ve seen no evidence of divine existence and really, neither has anyone else. If her friend learned that from her parents, they were wrong too.

Was I harsh? Sure, but deservedly so. Random theists who have stumbled here might be thinking that I have no right to criticize another person’s beliefs in telling my kid that another was being incorrect. Yet that’s a bad claim because I have every right to defend myself against an accusation that I’m somehow deficient because I don’t believe the same thing that they do…especially when it comes to my own daughter. I’m sure I can pick up their book and find ten things that will earn them divine wrath, we learned last week that you don’t even have to do anything. This type of thinking is disturbing because in their mind I’m an unfit parent and an unfit person. I’m on the path to the Inferno so they couldn’t think otherwise. This is the exact type of thinking that begins wars, causes murders, and induces strife. Just, apparently, like Jesus wanted.

If there is a Hell someone needs to explain to me what it’s purpose is supposed to be. Robert Ingersoll commented that it’s torture for the sake of torture as there is no possibility of parole or release. No lesson can be learned there, no comfort given (Luke 16:20-25), so the point is merely to entertain a tyrant that doesn’t like it when people don’t acknowledge.

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Has Anyone Actually Read the Book of Job?

September 21, 2015 4 comments

When the movie “Noah” came out, there was a lot of criticism because the movie portrayed Noah as a drunk and kind of a jerk. Fox and Friends did a segment where two of the anchors discussed how the movie wasn’t a faithful portrayal of the story that they remembered. The problem with that is that it may not be what they remembered, but it is faithful to the story. Noah gets drunk on wine and passes out whereupon his youngest son Ham (although that’s not exactly clear as Japheth is often named last among Noah’s sons), sees him naked and is then cursed for having done so. He’s also a jerk for not taking on his wife’s family, or his son’s wive’s families into the ark…unless they came from wicked families as well.

The point of this is that most of the bible stories we know are not the actual bible stories, it’s the children’s versions that we were taught when we were young and now when we hear them repeated we just default back paying no attention to the actual versions that are in this book. If you were to actually sit down and pay attention to the popular stories you’d draw one of two conclusions: the first is that the “heroes” are actually monsters and that none of it could be true.

No, I’m not going to dwell on the parts that condone and even recommend genocide, slavery, and the mistreatment of women. Those are all horrible, to be sure, but that’s been ground that better writers than I have tread before. I’m not even going to get into the parts that contradict each other or that make absolutely no sense. I’m writing about the rampant absurdity and immorality of the more famous stories that are held up as paragons of moral thinking and virtue. The best story for this case is the story of Job. This is the story where Job does turn out to be a faithful person, but Jehova turns out to be a horrible tyrant. Reading the book carefully, I wonder who Satan was really testing: Job or god?

Job 1:6 tells us that god’s sons came before him and Satan was among them, because he’s either a son of god or friends with them, and god inquires as to what Satan has been up to. He replies that he’s been around, just chilling. Which somehow prompts god into asking if Satan has considered Job, who really loves god, which must be the conclusion of an earlier conversation that we are not privy to because it literally is out of nowhere. Imagine you had the following conversation:

“Hey Bill what’s up?”

“Not much, just hanging out.”

“Have you thought about Mike? He’s a really good friend.”

Seems out of the blue, but Satan takes the bait, “Uh yeah, I’ve noticed that the guy who has had a lot of good luck really adores you. Why wouldn’t he? You could easily test that though.”

Then starts the story we all know. God grants Satan the power to murder Job’s entire family, take away his fortune, and then afflict him with a variety of diseases. The story we are familiar with, ends with us being told that Job kept his faith and was rewarded with a new family, fortune, and an exceedingly long life. If they made it a movie like they did with Noah, it would still be this story but it would have to include the part that everyone always skips.

As Job is suffering, his friends come and ask him what it was that he must have done wrong. Those of us who have been taught the story in more detail are probably somewhat familiar with this part. It lends more to the helplessness and despair of our title character who never waivers. However, that is a very simplistic view of what is happening here. The three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all try and explain that god is just and would not punish him if without cause. Alright, fair enough, however Job himself rebukes them demanding that god answer for what has happened. In a way, he agrees: a just God would not do this which means that it cannot be a just god, or else the nature of Job’s crime was hidden from him. None of them aware that it was not a crime that Job committed but rather the sin of pride committed by god himself who bragged about Job’s faithfulness to the one person that ever dared to challenge him.

Job responds to them all by repeating the unfairness of his lot in life. He had done nothing wrong, in fact, he had done everything right but now he’s wrapped in sack cloth and living in the dirt. How is this justice he asks?

Then comes the part that none of us are reminded of, that no telling of the story repeats, because it’s utterly absurd and cruel. This is when god shows up to answer Job’s cries, only he never does. He never mentions that he was the pawn in a bet, that all of it was a test. Instead he answers Job with a long screaming fit through a tornado about how powerful he is and how he was there to lay the foundations of the Earth and if he wanted to he could shake it all loose by grabbing the ends of the Earth (Job 38:13, because according to the Bible the Earth is flat). It was he that made the monsters Behemoth and Leviathan and Job dares question him. The whole thing reads like a “don’t you know who I am and what I have done? How dare you question my judgment!”

If this being was truly just he would have confessed the whole thing. He would have said unto Job, “Look, I made a bet that you would stay faithful and you have. I can return to you all that you have lost (even though he doesn’t, his first wife and children are still dead) and I’m sorry that you suffered.”

Yet god comes off more like Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic who answers Socrates that justice is the interest of the strong (338c) than an enlightened omniscient being. His retort to Job’s request is merely, “I am more powerful than you therefore what I do is never wrong.”

This is further evidenced by his actions toward Job’s three friends when he demands that they offer sacrifice in order to repent. What do they have to repent for? They were defending his actions against the admonishing of Job, that they got it wrong isn’t their fault. As far as they knew, God was too just to undeservedly afflict Job in this manner (the book ends with the implication at 42:11 that it was not Satan but god who was responsible for everything). Perhaps that is why god himself punishes them, he was ashamed because he knows that he did wrong, but like the cruel tyrant that he is he isn’t going to admit that. Rather, he’s going to punish them for making him feel bad for his actions.

Nowhere is it admitted of the bet. God basically ignores the entire situation as if he came upon a sick destitute person out of the blue who was questioning his station in life. If that were the case it would at least make more sense then the actual story we’re presented with. While we are not really permitted to question whether or not Job passed the test (I have doubts) it is quite certain that god failed it. The bet could have easily been about whether a beggar was as faithful as Job, but instead god allows a pious individual to be tortured so that in the end he can cloak himself in a tornado and shout about his own power to four people.

Rigging the Cosmos 2

September 15, 2015 Leave a comment

As promised this is part two of an academic paper I’ve been working on. Last week I thought it would be good to take a detour into current events as it’s a completely different style of writing than many are used to. Without further delay here is part 2:

Calibrating the Cosmos Machine

Cicero’s argument consists of two branches which both come together to make an argument substantively similar to the premises for the teleological argument. The conclusion of the “straw contest” is essentially that the conditions in which the Earth and the Cosmos were created, against the odds, for the express purpose of generating sentient life.

Van Inwagen’s argument begins with the identification of what is known as the “Fine Structure Constant.[1]” This constant also going by the label “a” governs the electro-static charge between elementary particles such as protons and electrons. Van Inwagen wonders “what features would the Cosmos have if the fine-structure constant had twice its actual value?[2]” This question is answerable: a change of a 4% increase  of   and stellar fusion would be unable to produce carbon an essential element of life. If the constant were > .1 stellar fusion would be impossible.[3] Without the fusion of H à He all of the other elements which make up our day to day interaction with matter would not be possible. We can also theorize that if the gravitational force were stronger then the universe would be full of masses compressed into singularities forming only black holes. Too weak, and material attraction falls apart causing not only planets failing to obtain orbits but atoms whose nuclei fail to “stick” together. This list can go on, we can posit everything from electromagnetic wavelengths being inhospitable to organic compounds, laws of thermodynamics which operate in reverse, etc. However in keeping with the theory we will stick with “a.”

What’s problematic with the example though is that a is not merely conducive to life, but rather conducive to matter. We can leave the dial on the machine at 7.2973525 x 10­­-7 and never achieve sentient life. In fact, all of the physical constants of the Cosmos could remain in the machine and human life is still not necessary. Changing a changes the nature of matter, which would affect a change in sentient life, but that is not the immediate effect. By drawing the “death straw” it’s not just that Adam3 dies, but all other contestants go with him as well. Perhaps that is the point, the odds may not go up but the stakes are certainly higher. Despite that, there is still the glaring omission of evidence that these constants exist for a purpose. In claiming that the features of the Cosmos are such that they are purposefully directed toward producing sentient life, Van Inwagen is merely rewriting an older argument given by Cicero, through the Stoic Balbus. It’s a deviation of the standard formulation of the Design Argument, which I am terming the “Climate Argument.”

While appearing in roughly the same portion of “De Natura Deorum” as the more popular Design Argument the “Climate Argument” is thematically different. All formulations of the Design Argument follow the same pattern: they use a natural object and compare it to the most complicated artifact that the day provides.[4] By making this comparison, the arguments seek to compare the object of human invention with the natural world to show the lesser against the greater. If small human artifacts are the products of reason and design then the natural world, which is thought to be greater, must also be the product of reason and design. Chaos cannot produce more magnificent feats than order. The teleological argument does not do this: it instead diverges by postulating a hypothetical machine that would be needed to construct the Cosmos. It’s a subtle difference but in the fine-tuning of a we have no earthly parallel. We can’t use an ex gratibas[5] argument since we have to direct our travels downward. The machine produces a Cosmos specifically designed for us, because the Cosmos is habitable and we are in it.

The Stoic argument through Balbus is that there is an inborn conception in the minds of all people for the existence of some divine being. He admits that the various details may differ among the races of men but that conception is universal[6] and arises from four causes, “Second was the one which we (Romans) received from the magnitude of the benefits which we get from temperature of climate, the earth’s fertility, and the vast array of other advantages.[7]

The climate argument is deeply flawed, presenting the position that one group of people is favored by the gods and is thus granted a favorable location. In this respect it puts in reverse cause and effect. Rome enjoyed a favorable location, but that is probably the reason the city was founded there rather than divine influence changing the climate of a region to accommodate a particular group of people based on their piety or the gods’ favor. It also implies that people in less than favorable climates would deny the existence of the gods simply because their climate was bad, or perhaps consider that their gods disliked them for some reason. Other civilizations would ascend to empire with vastly different climates, some of which were considerable less comfortable than the Romans.

In either case the Stoic argument is raised because it bears an obvious parallel with the “Fine-Tuning Argument.” The claim that the Cosmos has been specifically created, adjusted, and then fine-tuned specifically to create what we know as sentient life is no different than saying the climate of the Italian peninsula was such for the specific reason of creating the Roman Republic. However, it is easy to imagine a situation where perhaps the gravity is a bit stronger and sentient life is just a bit shorter. This is easier to imagine when we consider that sentient life is certainly possible in other areas of the universe. While we typically feel that conditions such as our planet are those that are the only ones that can produce life being within what is known as the “goldilocks zone”—being neither too far nor too close to its central star. However extra-terrestrial life could exist on the ice moon of Europa, for instance, which would normally be thought of as too far and thus too cold from a stellar body to be hospitable. The view that our type of sentient life is the only one is far too narrow.

An objection might be that I am asking too much of the argument. That’s just because the claim that sentient life is the goal of the features of the Cosmos that the argument is disavowing other forms of life, but I don’t think I am going too far. The idea that it is only the features of the Cosmos ignores that our existence is also the result of a series of chronological events. Various extinction level events, meteor impacts, extreme climate changes have also contributed to our evolution into what we are now. This sequence of events is only second to the physical features in that this sequence emerged from the physical properties. It stands to reason that our existence is the result of catastrophic events that were in no way conducive to life on this planet and only by what could best be described as fortune that life at all exists on this planet. While this is also a result of the Stoic argument, the Stoics were hard determinists: they don’t have to consider free will issues.[8] Their omni-benevolent deity has ordained the actions of the Cosmos through the machinations of fate including our actions. The proponents of the teleological view might be unsettled by the idea that this kind of purpose implies a control of natural events that scuppers ideas of total free-will.

A Puddle Rebuttal

The ultimate problem with the teleological argument is that it plays on predispositions to thinking. If the person is already of the opinion that they the game is rigged or that the machine has been calibrated for the purpose of creating their existence then the argument is going to be found compelling, but that reduces the argument to a reliance on a vague circular logic: I believe the argument therefore it confirms my belief. Adam3 may feel the game favored him, but that’s only because the result worked in his favor.

A person without such a disposition may view the argument differently. Rather than coming to the conclusion that the Cosmos was designed to support sentient life, they would take the view that sentient life came about in a Cosmos where it was possible. The difference is subtle but let’s take our straw contest winner Adam3 and say that he’s walking down the street and sees a puddle in the sidewalk. Now he can come to one of two conclusions, the first is that the depression in the concrete and the soil below it, as well as perhaps the shoddy job that the person who poured the concrete, as well as the material strength of the substance itself were all done with the intent of one day creating that specific puddle which Adam3 is now stepping over. We can add all of the other factors to it as well: the meteorological events which made it rain that day, the tree whose branches grew in such a way that the leaves didn’t shield the depression from the falling water, all of this with the intent of creating the puddle. That, however, is not the reasonable conclusion; what is more reasonable is to think that the puddle merely formed because the depression in the sidewalk was there, and that the rain merely filled it in.[9]

In the cosmic scale, sentient life is such a puddle. When the Cosmos created a gap in its chronology that allowed any life at all to exist, life began which then ultimately led to sentient life. It is not reasonable to say that the entire history of the universe has been driving at the goal of producing the brief period of time that the known sentient life has been in existence. To claim that we are the ultimate result of history is anthropocentric and unjustified by this argument. Not to mention that the vast majority of the Cosmos is inhospitable to any form of life. Like the objection to Cleanthes we exist because the conditions allow it, but the conditions do not exist for us.

[1] Pg 172 Van Inwagen

[2] Pg. 173 ibid

[3] Barrow, J.D. “Cosmology, Life, and the Anthropic Principle” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 950 139-143

[4] This does not necessarily mean the most advanced artifact. The example of the armillary sphere in Cicero might have been both, but the idea is that in complexity we see the grandeur of the device’s construction. Pocket watches have a beautiful complexity in their operation, which is why Paley chooses it for his version but the pocket watch is debatably not more advanced than say the atmospheric steam engine.

[5] (Hunter, 2009)

[6] LS 54 C 1-2, The Hellenistic Philosophers, ed. Long, A.A.; Sedley, D.N.; Cambridge University Press ©1987

[7] LS 54 C 4

[8] LS 46, LS 52, esp. LS 55

[9] I have to give credit to comedian Ricky Gervais from whom I first heard this analogy.

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Let’s Talk About Jobs and Religion

September 8, 2015 2 comments

Why the hell not? Everyone else is.

Kim Davis, as you probably know, is currently in jail under contempt of court, for not doing her job in issuing marriage licenses. She’s an elected official, elected to the position wherein her job is to issue marriage licenses among other responsibilities that a county clerk is supposed to do. Kim Davis really doesn’t like gay marriage and in protest of the Supreme Court ruling decided to go with the “nuke them from orbit” option and stop issuing any marriages. For this there was a court judgment that ordered her to do the job. When she refused, and in turn ordered her office to refuse, to do she was jailed for disobeying the court order. As of this writing, she’s still in jail.

Charee Stanley, whom you probably didn’t know, is a woman currently suing an airline she worked for three years which placed her on administrative leave because two years ago she converted to Islam and refused to serve alcohol as it violates her religion. On August 25th, Express Jet, sent her a letter placing her on administrative leave which is unpaid and informed her that her position may be terminated after twelve months.

Are the two cases similar? Yes, both involve people who are unwilling to do their jobs because of their religion. Are the cases the same? In other words, if you think Davis should be in jail are you compelled to also think that Stanley should be fired? Not exactly. Stanley’s case is slightly different when you consider that the airline allowed her to refuse alcohol service for nearly two years, then all of the sudden decided that they would no longer give her that accommodation. The accommodation, I should note: was the airline’s idea. They cited a co-worker’s complaint about that alcohol issue, as well as a headress, and a book with “foreign writings.” Davis on the other hand, has sworn to uphold the law and then decided that neither her, nor her officers, should do that even at the direction of the courts.

The cases also differ in that Davis is in jail for defying a court order while Stanley is unemployed.  Otherwise the two situation have a lot in common. Davis should be in jail. She’s not in jail for being a Christian she’s in jail because she’s elected official who is refusing to do the job that she ran for office to do. Would it be fair if she decided that eating meat was wrong and she refused to issue hunting licenses? No, but once we take the religion out of the equation we can see how absurd the situation is. Yet, in the interest of consistency, we must ask if Stanley converted to Christian Science would it be ok for her to refuse to issue aspirin to a customer who was sick would it be the same situation? Only if, the airline allowed her to refuse but then allowed someone else to issue the aspirin–then a few months later decided that the policy was no longer going to work for her. If all that was the case, then we would have the same situation.

The problem is very similar: if your job violates your conscience, quit/resign. In Davis’s case, the Supreme Court has ruled that marriage is for consenting adults of any sex. Her particular brand of Christianity should have the part in it where Jesus recommends that a person cut off the sinful part because it’s better to be in paradise with no job then in hell with a job (Matthew 5:30, Mark 9:43). If Stanley doesn’t like serving alcohol, she shouldn’t do so by taking a job that doesn’t involve the serving of alcohol. Again, though, Stanley’s case is different because the airline directed her to a work around and then pulled the plug on it. If the airline hadn’t done so, I would have to say that they are both deserving of the consequences of their actions equally.

We should treat these cases as to the FACTS of the cases and not what we want to believe or think about them. There are supporters of Davis who think Stanley is wrong and vice versa. Yet these people all seem to lack the common sense that if it were not for religious superstition none of this would be an issue. The thing that both individuals seem to miss is that they are not the ones that are committing the sin. At 2:219, the Quran says to stay away from alcohol and gambling (it’s pretty clear on this issue unless you consider 16:67 where it seems to be saying that it’s ok provided the drink comes from date palms and grapes) with the understanding that it’s about imbibing alcohol and not serving it. Can’t she just serve alcohol with the knowledge that the drinkers are going to hell? The same I might ask about Davis is she’s following several of the obscure passages in the New Testament which regard homosexuality as sinful (there are many problems with this, for instance 2 Timothy 3:3 uses the word “Astorgos” in Greek, but that doesn’t mean homosexual as is commonly thought, the same problem exists in Corinthians 6:9-10, the word that “Paul” is using is a word he made up and is thus impossible for us to determine the definition of), can’t she just issue the license and then pray for their souls? That seems to be the more Christian route.

Sure we can make an issue of the weird aspects of each character. The fact that Davis had multiple marriages before or that Stanley was a practicing Muslim for over a year before she found out that alcohol was forbidden; but those aren’t central to the issue. The issue is whether or not they should do the job they signed up for. In both, if they didn’t like it, the responsible thing to do was to quit or keep their mouth shut and continue to do the job. Again, Stanley’s case is slightly different. Their religious beliefs are their beliefs, they have every right to them and no one is trying to change them. What certainly should not be allowed is for them to push them on other people.

Rigging the Cosmos

September 1, 2015 Leave a comment

What follows is a draft for a paper I have tried to get accepted to a conference. It’s more academic in nature than I have normally posted (with a couple of exceptions). It’s rather long, so I’m going to post it in two parts with the second following next week. I welcome any comments, even pedantic grammar comments. It deals with flaws in a couple of versions of modern instantiations of “the design argument” and what is known as “the teleological argument.” I hope you enjoy.

That we exist is not under question. What we need to ask is how we exist, not merely standing in this room but the entire race of homo sapiens with that prized possession of sentience that is thus far unique among all other creatures in the known universe. Our knowledge of existence is incredible, we have learned more about the nature of the universe in the last century than in all other time periods combines. We have delved into the very fundamentals of material reality to discover the “rules” by which the Cosmos is governed. Our ingenuity has created the largest and most complicated machines ever to study the smallest and briefest of existence that may make up the very foundations of our world. Yet all of that direction of inquiry seeks to figure out the what, but not the why.

The deeper and deeper we delve into the invisible reality that underwrites our physical existence the more and more it becomes apparent that existence is extremely fragile. Without certain interactions the basic blocks of matter decay so quickly that calling it “instantaneous” is a mere technical difference in definition. Even if material was permanent we have forces which cause the matter to join, to repel, and to change; these forces which are just as fundamental as the material are so absolutely necessary to our existence that changes in them would severely change and possibly impair our existence. The changes need not be that much as well. It only takes a slight weakening of the already weak gravitational attraction and atomic nuclei would not attract each other: meaning that Hydrogen atoms do not come together to form gas clouds and ultimately stars, in which the gravity of the atoms form a fusion furnace churning out heavier elements such as Helium, and especially Carbon with its tendency to bond to just about anything except those snooty noble gases. We can also keep our rules and just move things around a bit, push Jupiter a bit further out from the sun and its gravity wouldn’t affect the path of asteroids as it does. Perhaps then the dinosaurs do not suffer extinction, etc. These are interesting lines of thought to follow, and perchance even fun things to hypothesize. Yet despite our imaginative diversions there is the fact that our existence right now is the result of a specific sequence of events and a series of immutable laws.

Curiously, there is no necessity to these laws. There is nothing which logically necessitates that the gravitational constant has to be 6.673 x 10-11Nm2/kg2 ­rather than 7. The Cosmos would still exist, just that we wouldn’t be in it. This leads to a conclusion for some that our world is specifically created with the idea that we are supposed to be in it. This idea first germinates in an argument from Design, probably best laid out by Cicero (although there were some prototype arguments in both Aristotle and Plato[1]). This is given a focus in what is known as the “Teleological Argument.” Metaphysician Peter Van Inwagen in “The Wider Teleological Argument[2]” takes up the mantle and argues using two thought experiments: the straw game and the Cosmos machine in order to make the point that the Cosmos was specifically created to produce sentient life. I will argue that neither of these two experiments are compelling and draw from an earlier Stoic argument based on climate given by the Stoic mouthpiece Balbus in De Natura Deorum.


The first conclusion that Van Inwagen makes in his wider Teleological Argument is that the game is that the game is rigged. He creates a thought experiment in which a person must draw a specific straw in order to avoid an immediate annihilation. This situation is that the safe straw must be drawn out of a pile of 1,048,576 straws of which only one allows us to live. Now the game being played is that of live or die, and the odds are certainly stacked against us.[3]

Let’s assume that these parameters hold and our first contestant, “Adam” steps to the pile. He pulls a straw and is immediately annihilated. This occurs again with Bob, then Charlie, etc. until finally Adam 3 (having run through a large amount of possible names) finally pulls the “live straw” and the game ends. The argument is that Adam3 would likely come to the conclusion that the game was somehow rigged in his favor. This assumption, by Adam3, is that the odds against him living are so high and winning is so improbable that it can be no fault of Adam3 that he did live. Something else must have guaranteed his survival. The only other alternative, according to Van Inwagen, is to think that someone had to win eventually, so Adam3 had no better chance than Gwendolyn2 only that he won and she lost.

The issue with the alternative choice is flawed though. There is no reason to think that anyone had to win. Van Inwagen does not choose this number at random, he derives it from a similar metaphor of flipping a coin a number of times and getting a specific result which had the odds of 1048576:1.[4] In a coin flip the result of heads or tails is not exhaustive, i.e. throwing heads does not eliminate heads on the next flip so we can assume that the person who draws a “death straw” does not eliminate that straw from being chosen again. We assume that each straw is replaced upon choice. The probability of winning doesn’t necessitate that eventually there must be a winner, only that we can predict winning is unlikely by any specific person and that there will be far more losers than winners.

When Adam3 wins he is to think that someone meant for him to win, but why should he think this rather than ascribe his continued existence to mere fortune? For Adam3 to think that someone wanted him to win he would have to consider that there were two factors at play: 1) that he was somehow more special (in some respect) than all of the other candidates. That the provided thought experiment is not impartial but that Adam3 was fated to win. If that were to be the case the probability aspect of the argument must be tossed, because it wouldn’t matter if the probability was a googol:1 or 2:1, Adam3 isn’t playing a game he’s merely a puppet going through the motions of pretending there is a game. 2) If the person running the game can influence Adam3’s decision in picking the winning straw then we can assume that he lacked the free will to choose for himself.

Adam3’s conclusion that the game was rigged in his favor has these derivations from it. As a rigged game he had no ability to lose and could not have chosen differently than he did. This raises the spectre of determinism. If sentient life is the goal then certain consequences must stem from arranging the game so that Adam3 wins. Perhaps the game is set so that once Adam3 wins he gets his prize and can do whatever it is that he likes with it. If that is the case, we can certainly bust the determinism ghost, but it then means that Adam3 is a placeholder and it wouldn’t matter who won as long as they pulled the right straw. This analogy is weak given the probability, literally anyone could have won but no one had to. There is no reason to think that the game is rigged in any manner by the contestants, the only reason to think that is if one had the predisposition to think that already which makes it mere confirmation bias.

[1] See Sedley 2007 Creationism an its Critics in Antiquity

[2] Van Inwagen, Peter, excerpted from Metaphysics ©1993 Westview Press c.f. Philosophy of Religion ed. Rowe, William J.; Wainright. William J. ©1998 Harcourt Publishing

[3] Pg. 176-177 Van Inwagen

[4] Pg. 176

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