Archive for the Philosophy Category

Omega Point Theory – Resurrection! (Pun intended)

Posted in Philosophy, Physics, pseudoscience, skepticism, Spirituality with tags , , , , on September 10, 2010 by cpolsonb

It sure has been along time! Around 2 months since my last post and I do feel bad about it…

But what now has finally brought me out of my intellectual stupor? Why it’s my old buddy Omega Point Theory of course! For those who are interested or need a little refresher here are the two previous posts I’ve written on Omega Point Theory:

Omega Point(less?) Theory

Omega Point Theory – Redux!

After the long silence from Mr James Redford, presumably because he had not seen my blog entries, Redford has written a characteristically lengthy reply. Please sit back and relax while I examine this reply openly and honestly and see what it has to offer.

Without further ado, here is James Redford’s response.

Hi, Christian Polson-Brown.
Your write in reference to the abstract of my article “Jesus Is an Anarchist” (Social Science Research Network [SSRN], revised and
expanded edition, October 17, 2009 [originally published December 19, 2001] http://ssrn.com/abstract=1337761 ): “Mr Redford describes the implications his research have on the world as ‘profound’, a small slice of hyperbole if I’ve ever seen it!” It’s hardly hyperbole if Jesus Christ exists and he is God’s Messiah. Your response is the logical fallacy of circular reasoning, as you’re assuming as true that which has not been demonstrated to be true: that Jesus Christ doesn’t exists and he is not God’s Messiah.

For the historical reliability of Jesus Christ’s existence and his bodily resurrection, and the untenability of theories which deny his
resurrection, see Prof. William Lane Craig, “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ”,
Truth, Vol. 1 (1985), pp. 89-95. http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth22.html For more on the historicity of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 3rd ed., 2008), Chap. 8: “The Resurrection of Jesus”, pp. 333-404, particularly pp. 360 ff.

It is empirically impossible to prove the non-existence of something, and science does not claim to. This point is articulated elegantly by Carl Sagan with his “dragon in my garage” story, printed in Demon Haunted World and available to read here. Burden of proof in this situation lies squarely on those making the claim of existence. For the life of Jesus of Nazareth to be accepted by the scientific community his existence needs to be proven, rather than his existence not disproved. Every argument that flows from the existence of Jesus is therefore based upon a false premise. The reference you cite regarding historical evidence for Jesus comes from a highly suspect journal. The journal “truth” existed for only three volumes and is written from an openly admitted “distinctively Christian perspective”.

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Chronicle of Belief: Part 3 – Nature’s Value

Posted in biology, personal views, Philosophy with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2010 by cpolsonb

This third installment of Chronicle of Belief is about a subject very personal to me as a budding Biologist; nature. It is very easy to say that the natural world is a thing worth protecting and few fellow skeptics or rationalists would disagree, but why? What is so important about nature and is there an objective rational justification for why nature has value? To begin with let’s look at what my particular field, Conservation Biology is really all about.

For many people I imagine conservation conjures images of protesters and hippies, marching in the streets or standing in front of bull dozers. That sort of naïve environmentalism is however often irrational, counter-productive and/or used as a means to push some other ideological agenda. Conservation Biology is a scientific discipline that looks at how biological communities react to change, how different species and the environment interact with one another and how we as humans can ensure the continued existence of these systems. At it’s core Conservation Biology has a number of guiding principles:

Principles of Conservation Biology

1. Evolution is the basic axiom that unites all biology. Conservation biologists do not aim to conserve the status quo, nor stop the evolutionary process but to ensure that populations can adapt naturally to environmental change.

2. The ecological world is dynamic and non-equilibrial. Conservation based on a static view of nature is fundamentally flawed and a mis-representation of the natural world. A dynamic view allows for a deeper understanding.

3. The presence of humans must be included in conservation planning. Conservation biologists aims to integrate humans into the equation and study their impact.

These principles are text-book simplifications of a complex scientific field and highlight the dynamic, integrated approach that conservation biologists must take when approaching questions. It is also valuable to note that conservation biology is a ‘crisis discipline’, having been born from the outrage at anthropogenic mass extinctions and environmental destruction of the last few centuries. In this way it is also a science of eternal vigilance, there can never be a complete theory conservation biology as it is reactionary and time dependent. It is also not an exact science, biological systems are far too complex to ever predict with the certainty of say for example, a chemical reaction.

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Richard Dawkins on ABC’s Q&A

Posted in News, Philosophy, Spirituality with tags , , , , on March 12, 2010 by cpolsonb

This past week Richard Dawkins appeared on the ABC program Q&A to answer some predictably heady questions. For those of you who don’t know Q&A is a weekly panel program where questions are posed to the panelists from the live studio audience or via the internet. The members of the panel change each week with some occasional repeats. Topics discussed vary greatly between weeks but if it’s a burning social, political or philosophical issue you can bet it’ll be featured on Q&A. It was really great of Richard Dawkins to accept his invitation to appear on Q&A, he must be aware that his reputation will precede him no matter where he goes and that he’ll often be fighting an uphill battle. Nevertheless he strides brazenly straight into the enemies line of fire and comes back safely having taken no prisoners.

For those of you in Australia you can watch the episode in full from the ABC website by following this link: ABC iViewNow unavailable

Everyone worldwide can still watch the episode in this slightly poorer quality version found here: Vidoemo

The other panelists alongside Richard Dawkins were the following:

Patrick McGorry – Australian of the Year
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio
Tony Burke – Minister for Agriculture
Julie Bishop – Deputy Opposition Leader
Steve Fielding – Family First Senator

If you’re curious about the questions that were asked, here is a complete transcript of the questions. You’ll have to watch the show to hear the answers though…

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Omega Point Theory – Redux!

Posted in Philosophy, Physics, pseudoscience, skepticism, Spirituality with tags , , , on March 9, 2010 by cpolsonb

Just when I thought I was done with talking about Tipler’s Omega Point theory it starts swinging back in anger! First for a little background I recommend you go back and read my first post on Omega Point Theory (if you haven’t already) which can be found here. I mentioned and quote in my opening paragraph from a question posted on the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe forum. As well as replying to the query on my blog I also shared my thoughts with the original poster back on the forum. He was appreciative of my summation and for a while it looked like the thread was going to sink into obscurity as all threads do eventually. That is until a brand new member signed up specifically to speak in defense of Omega Point theory!

James Redford (both his username and his real name) posted a 1,300 word reply to the original poster’s question followed by a 2,300 word specifically targeting each of my points! Quite honestly I was a little flattered to have caught the attention of such a die-hard Omega Point believer. It is quite obvious from Mr Redford’s writings that has studied Omega Point Theory in depth and I don’t doubt that he has a far deeper understanding of it’s inner workings than I do. I do not profess to be an expert on physics or quantum mechanics fortunately such expertise is not needed to point out the obvious flaws in the theory. Such flaws are covered in my earlier post on the subject with much help from Michael Shermer. Right now I will concentrate on Mr Redford’s defense of Omega Point Theory and will endeavor to write a blog post in the near future detailing some advice I have for other skeptics with how to deal with similar situations they might find themselves in.

Before I replied to Mr Redford I thought I’d take a look to see if I could find any of his footprints elsewhere online. The most obvious hit for the same James Redford came in the form of a paper published in the Social Science Network . The Social Science Network is not a scientific journal, nor is it peer-reviewed. Rather it a collection of papers written by interested individuals based not on their qualifications or expertise but on their association with others in the network. More about the way Social Networks operate can be found here. The paper that Mr Redford authored is titled “Jesus is an Anarchist” and the following abstract is given:

The teachings and actions of Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha’Mashiach) and the apostles recorded in the New Testament are analyzed in regard to their ethical and political philosophy, with analysis of context vis-a-vis the Old Testament (Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible) being given. From this analysis, it is shown that Jesus is a libertarian anarchist, i.e., a consistent voluntaryist. The implications this has for the world are profound, and the ramifications of Jesus’s anarchism to Christians’ attitudes toward government (the state) and its actions are explicated.

Mr Redford describes the implications his research have on the world as “profound”, a small slice of hyperbole if I’ve ever seen it! Mr Redford’s attempts at analysis of the story/myth of a 2000 year old pseudo-historical character are deeply flawed in premise. Whatever sliver of information regarding the life of a 2000 year old Jew named Jesus once existed has no doubt been stripped down, rebuilt and massaged to the point where no meaningful historical account remains. Whilst Mr Redford’s attempt at a scientific paper critically analyzing the exploits of a mythological figure do not invalidate any other argument he makes they do help us develop a picture of the ideology that may be driving his arguments. Based both on Mr Redford’s paper and our exchange on the message boards it is clear that he writes from a perspective that is firmly grounded in the Judeo-Christian myth of which he is a part.

Now comes the rundown of Mr Redford’s to the points I made against Omega Point Theory based on Michael Shermer’s arguments in his book Why People Believe Weird Things.

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Chronicle of Belief: Part 2 – Secular Humanism

Posted in personal views, Philosophy with tags , , , , on March 6, 2010 by cpolsonb

It’s time for the second installment of my “Chronicle of Belief” where I attempt to put into words my own world-view and the opinions and positions that help define me. This entry is about my identification with the label Secular Humanist, a particular world-view with which I sympathize and identify strongly. Before I begin explaining secular humanism I should start by clarifying my position on other terms commonly used by those who reject the supernatural and/or demand falsifiable evidence for claims about reality. Of these people some of the most common terms I hear used are skeptics, rationalists, critical thinkers, agnostics, atheists and humanists. I must make clear that this blog entry is not about arguing for or against the existence of divine beings. I am planning on dividing my evaluation of particular arguments for divinity into a series of future blog posts. This is simply about which branch of non-believers I identify with and why. I am also not discussing which particular belief systems I believe are objectively “better” than any other. While I do believe strongly that beliefs in the supernatural range along a spectrum with demonstrably harmful on one side (Jonestown) and perfectly harmless on the other (loose deists) this post is not a discussion on such matters. I shall enter now into a case by case discussion on particular labels associated with a rejection of the supernatural:

Atheism vs Agnosticism
This issue is perhaps one of the strongest and most passionately debated topics dividing non-believers today. At the core of the issue is a true lack of definition for each of the terms. As well as this there are a myriad of sub-divisions and cross-overs between the camps. I couldn’t dream of covering the issue in any real depth, there are hundreds of pages of blog entries and forum threads which have attempted to do that already. Instead I’ll hit on a couple of main points as I see them.

One interpretation of atheism is that it requires an assertion that no gods exists. In this particular strand a truth claim is made that positively argues that there are no gods or divine beings. While this view is an honest interpretation of atheism it is also commonly set up as a straw man by believers in order to characterize the atheistic world-view as dogmatic and unscientific. I reject this view of atheism as there is no scientifically verifiable way to prove a negative. There is an equal amount of proof that the god of Abraham doesn’t exist as there is that a Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t exist. All that can be done scientifically is to prove that any interaction with reality claimed to be divine (like prayer or creationism) actually occurred through natural means. So far this effort has been successful and I’m not aware of any testable divine claim that has turned out to be truly supernatural.

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Chronicle of Belief: Part 1 – Labeling

Posted in personal views, Philosophy, Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 23, 2010 by cpolsonb

I thought I’d take some time to draw out a sketch of my own beliefs or worldview. There is far too much to condense into a single entry so I shall instead space it out over a number of broader topics. Before I begin I wish to stress that all of these posts will be an attempt to put into words my current belief and are subject to change via rational arguments. This is an important difference between people similar to myself (whatever label they wish to use) and those who follow dogma blindly (which is only a subset of people with supernatural/divine belief systems), in so far as I am perfectly willing to modify and refine my personal beliefs as I learn new information and mature as an individual.

One issue over which my opinion has been rather fluid as of late is that of labels. Often times I avoid the use of labels, arguing that they provide others with opportunity to make unfounded assumptions and put into practice pre-conceived notions. As we come to learn new labels we inevitably begin a process of shaping our opinion of that group of people. This opinion is formed through a number of means, chiefly our personal meetings with these people, stories or memes that circulate through society, media image and place in popular culture. As a quick demonstration of what I mean please conjure into your mind thoughts and feelings associated with the following ‘labels’: fundamentalist, emo, atheist, nerd and bogan. These images in your mind both consciously and subconsciously shape your interaction with any individual who self-identifies as or you identify as belonging to these groups. In sociology this is referred to as “Labeling Theory” and is described as follows:

“The theory is concerned with how the self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them, and is associated with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping.”

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Omega Point(less?) Theory

Posted in Philosophy, Physics, pseudoscience, skepticism, Spirituality with tags , , , , , on February 22, 2010 by cpolsonb

After my somewhat silly blog post about the Unidentified Foreign Obstacle I feel everyone deserves a post with a bit more substance. To this end I wish to explore Frank J. Tipler’s “Omega Point Theory.”

A member of the “skeptics guide to the universe” forum recently posted the following in the religion/philosophy section.

I wonder if anyone is familiar with Dr. Tiplers’ theory of the Omega Point. It’s been dubbed a kind of scientific explanation of heaven. I am currently in the process of creating a graphic novel about the mythology of religion, in so far as it’s all myth. Anyway, I want to include this in the part about “heaven” but I want to include the criticism of the theory but I’m not a scientist. It seems preposterous and definitely gets my skeptic red flags out but I’d like to hear what’s wrong with the equation/theory in question.

Well I’m not a scientist (yet) either but thought I’d put some reading time in and tackle the question. I shall briefly summarize the idea behind Frank Tipler’s “Omega Point Theory” in as simple terms as I can. I am no expert (or even amateur) physicist and am myself only vaguely able to understand some of the physics behind Tipler’s theory. Despite my (and many readers) lack of physics background the logical principles and critical thinking involved in criticizing the theory are easily accessible and comprehensible to all:

The “Omega Point” is the term given by Tipler for the ultimate fate of the universe. Tipler argues that the universe will undergo a sort of “big crunch”, a hypothesis still circulated as a possibility by modern physicists. Some calculations have predicted that this big crunch might occur around 42 billion years from now. A big crunch involves the universe eventually contracting back on itself until it reaches a primordial state (perhaps initiating another big bang). For this to occur then the gravitational force of all the matter in the universe needs to be sufficient to counteract the energy with which the universe is expanding. Unfortunately for Tipler and other proponents of the big crunch it is now almost certain that rather than the expansion of the universe slowing and reversing it’s actually speeding up! This could instead result in a sort of big rip as the fabric of the universe tears itself apart.

Irregardless of scientific evidence Tipler’s Omega Point Theory proceeds under his specific notion of the end of the universe. To cut to the meatier part of his theory Tipler argues that as the universe contracts exponentially fast, so to the maximum computational capacity of the universe will increase (faster than time runs out). In essence he’s saying that a computer could theoretically use the contraction of the universe to power itself and operate at a speed which is faster than time, giving it infinite energy (apparently). How exactly this would be accomplished is beyond my understanding, but this theory gets even better! This ultimate computer with the infinite energy could then use it’s power to effectively resurrect every human that ever lived. This computer or “God” as Tipler refers to it as will then go about simulating a paradise reality for every human being. In case you haven’t figured out what this “simulated paradise” is yet I’ll give you a clue.

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