The Burden of Proof

bonjour skeptics,

As a skeptic, it is important to understand the workings of science, and how and why science is a good way of investigating the nature of our universe. One of the most important parts of the process of science is the burden of proof. I am going to try to explain when the burden of proof applies to certain claims, and why it is that certain way. The burden of proof is, in science, the idea of which side of an argument needs to find evidence to prove its claim. In most circumstances, it falls on the side of the affirmative, the one trying to prove something does exist. I am going to use 3 different scientific hypotheses to demonstrate different stages of a scientific hypothesis, and how it applies to the burden of proof.

The first hypothesis I will investigate is where most scientific claims fall. It is the claim of most theists, the claim of god. Because god is unproven, and god is not a generally accepted scientific theory, the burden of proof is on the affirmative. Its the same way with all unproven claims (some will disagree there is no burden of proof on the atheists, but that’s another post). Until there is any proof for the subject, no proof is needed against the subject, and this brings me to my next claim.

Once a claim garners enough evidence and proof to become accepted by the scientific community, then the burden of proof is reversed. The scientific theories of special relativity are a good example of that. When relativity was first hypothesized, it already had good mathematical evidence to suggest it, as it was not much different from Newtonian gravity under low energy systems. However, proof was needed to separate relativity from Newtonian gravity. This first chance to prove relativity came during the first Venus transit after relativity’s hypothesizing. We all know the story, and that became the first evidence of relativity as scientific theory. Nowadays, relativity has enormous proof behind it, so the burden is on the other side now. These days, instead of scientists saying “this will be a good chance to try to provide evidence for relativity”, they now say “this experiment will be a good chance to try to disprove or revise relativity”. The burden has switched, and now the burden of proof is on the negative.

The third type of debate requires proof from both sides, but is much rarer than the other two examples. While the first two examples deal with situations where the debate is “does this exist, or does it not exist?”, the third example deals with the rarer question of “is it this way or this way?”, and the question of anthropogenic global warming is a good example. While I am on the side of most of the scientific community, the idea that global warming is mostly man-made, this question still ensues, and was more relevant a few years ago, before more evidence came to bear. This question deals with two options, Is the global warming we see caused by humans, or is it caused by natural fluctuations and other natural causes? In this case, unlike the other two, both ideas are affirmative. In the first, it was god or no god, or relativity or no relativity, now it is natural or man-made, which are both affirmative possibilities. The burden of proof was on both sides, as both sides where making claims as to how the earth was warming. Therefore, they both needed to prove their claims.

The burden of proof is a sometimes confusing and blurry concept, but is very simple at its roots. Most of the time, it falls under only one side of the argument, mostly affirmative, but occasionally is required by both sides. In the transition between the first two examples, it is important to note that both sides need to put forward evidence, and it is best to make a judgement by looking at both sides, and not by picking a side and simply saying that the other side needs more evidence, like in the case of anthropogenic global warming.

Is the Great wall of China Visible from the Moon?

cześć skeptics,

Today I am going to be talking about one of the most scientifically ridiculous memes in popular culture. Most people seem to believe that the Great Wall of China (, if you have lived under a rock your whole life) is the only man-made object visible from space, or from the moon, depending on your myth. It has appeared in every fact book or app I have ever read, and is one of the most popular myths in society. However, this myth is wrong on almost every conceivable level, which I will delve into today.

The level most impossible in this story is the idea that the Great Wall of China is the largest man-made object on earth. Even if it is true that the Great Wall of China is visible from space, the moon, or where ever, the Great Wall is not going to be the only thing visible. Consider the Great Wall of China. It is a pale white-brown coloured wall, and is, in the stretches of best condition, a few meters wide and in reasonable condition. It is very, very long, and in the bad stretches it is no more than rubble remains, in some stages. The Wall, when viewed from above, is a pale brown colour on a backdrop of green or brown mountainous area. This in itself points out something, a brown coloured anything on a similarly coloured background, is not going to be clearly visible from any reasonable distance, due to a low contrast.

Now consider other things which are of similar shape and/or size. A four or six lane highway, large buildings like the pentagon, and sports stadiums are all wider than the great wall of china, and would be sighted quicker due to their greater contrast in background. A 6 lane highway is black, on an often light or grey coloured background, the pentagon is grey on a green background, and sports fields are green and often situated in cities, grey in colour. So it is clear that the Great Wall of China is not the most contrasting in its background, or the largest man-made object around. So there are things more visible from afar than the Great Wall.

The second problem with this myth, is the facts. The two myths being questioned here, both have different answers on this subject. The Great Wall of China is NOT visible from the moon, but is visible from low earth orbit, just like highways and buildings.

The third speed-bump in this myth is the definition of space, a big question, with no real answer. I have already mentioned one possible definition of space, low earth orbit, the orbit which is taken by the space shuttle and others, allowing for orbit of the earth every 90 minutes. Another definition would be when 99% of the earths atmosphere is below you, then you would be in space. It could be the geostationary orbit taken by our GPS satellites. There are many possible choices, and the point is, space is not clear-cut, so when a claim is made about something being visible from space, you have to ask which space it is visible from.

The myth that the Great Wall of China is visible from the moon is ridiculous, while the idea that the Great Wall of China is visible from space is very blurry, and is only visible along with all of the other big things we have made.

Ideomotor Effect

Halo skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about a very interesting psychological effect which has its hands in a lot of different pseudosciences. Amongst other things, the Ideomotor effect is credited with the natural explanation of Ouija boards, facilitated communication, dowsing and automatic writing.

The Ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon where a person performs slight actions subconsciously. In its most pure form, this effect accounts for bodily actions which take place without conscious decision by the subject. The production of tears is a result of the ideomotor effect in reaction to strong emotions. Instinctive jerking actions which happen when a person is injured in some way are effects of ideomotor. However, it has much more subtle and suggestive effects.

Dowsing, also known as divination, the pseudoscience in which a person holds some sort of stick or rod, and attempts to find water, or metals and ores, gemstones and many other objects, by feeling the vibrations or swaying of said held stick or rod. While dowsing also employs plenty of other logical fallacies and scientific phenomenons, like cherry-picking and confirmation bias, the most common phenomenon involved is the ideomotor effect. By holding out a stick steadily, your body will subconsciously make your hands move in slight ways which effect the direction the stick is pointing in. These small hand movements are what dowsers are following when they search for ground water.

Another common pseudoscience which involves the ideomotor effect is contacting spirits through a Ouija board. The way a Ouija board is set up is that a Board is set up with a smooth cloth layed over it. On the cloth are numbers, letters and sometimes the words ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘try again’ or ‘maybe’. An eyepiece of some sort is then placed on the board. Partakers in the activity then all place their hands on the eyepiece lightly, and watch the eyepiece as it seemingly glides around the board, spelling out words, questions, and making conversations. It’s great fun to play with, and the underlying factor in all of it is the ideomotor effect. The reason that the eyepiece is spelling so well and making correct sentences is because all of the players are subtly moving the eyepiece towards where they think it should go.

There is a very simple way to test this. By blind folding the participants, the effect is completely removed. Instead of the eyepiece moving elegantly around the board spelling eloquent sentences, it is just a mish-mash of random letters and numbers. If the body has no way of knowing how to subconsciously control the eyepiece in a certain way, then the body cannot do it, and nothing happens.

However, the most pseudoscientific, and obvious, use of the ideomotor effect is in facilitated communication. The concept of facilitated communication is as follows. A mentally disabled child will attempt to communicate with the outside world. It is done with the help of a facilitator. This facilitator will hold the hand of the mentally disabled child, while the child seemingly points towards letters on a board, presses keys on a keyboard or other simple communication types. This process has long been shown to be pseudoscientific from a few different lines of reasoning. It is now well-known that ideomotor effects on the part of the facilitator are responsible for the writing of the children.

The children who are communicating, if they are communicating, are writing poetry and pieces of literature well above their age or mental ability. They are also saying things which are well above their knowledge, claiming things about having problems in a specific part of the brain, despite this being well above their intelligence. However, the most definite piece of evidence is the same evidence which can be used to disprove a Ouija board, as they both rely on the same phenomenon. By simply blinding the facilitator, the effect is completely removed, and the children write random letters and numbers, with no specific words being made.

The ideomotor effect has another name, which it is commonly called by, the Clever Hans effect, so-called because of a show horse from around 1900. This horse, unlike other show horses, didn’t jump barrels or other fancy stuff like that, he did arithmetic. A spectator from the crowd would shout out a simple arithmetic sum, 4 + 3, for example, and the horse would tap its hoof 7 times. The horse and its trainer traveled showing off its amazing talents, but in 1907, an investigation was conducted by psychologist Oskar Pfungst, to find out how Clever Hans could conduct his arithmetic. After his investigation, Pfungst concluded that Clever Hans was not actually performing feats of simple maths skills, but was only cuing in on subtle, subconscious actions on the part of the trainer, who had no idea he was giving off those clues. This was probably one of the first recorded observations of the ideomotor effect. I suppose it is still fair to call Hans a ‘clever’ horse, because its clever of him to notice those small clues, and get his reward.

This is probably one of the first recorded observations of the ideomotor effect. The phenomenon is still remembered in tribute to Clever Hans, as it is the start of a long line of pseudosciences which have cued in on this subtle psychological effect to produce random results, cherry-pick data and use confirmation bias to create pseudosciences. I hope you enjoyed and learned from my special on the ideomotor effect and go away armed with another tool in the skeptical tool belt, to fight pseudoscience and illogic with science and knowledge, knowing that all pseudosciences use the same fallacies in their logic.

Is Lawrence Krauss’ Nothing Really Nothing? – Does it Matter

Sveiki Skeptics,

Not to long ago, Lawrence Krauss published a book entitled “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?”, and there was a lot of hype over it, he made all the rounds on the scientific, atheistic and religious podcasts, and was often criticized for many reasons. One of the most commonly argued points by the religious was that the nothing that Lawrence Krauss describes is not ‘strictly’ nothing. Today, I will not try to argue that it is nothing, or that we know how to get something from ‘strictly’ nothing, I am going to argue that it doesn’t really matter, and try to and explain why it is an important part of the progress of science.

First of all, an explanation of Lawrence Krauss’ ‘nothing’. When he talks about something coming from ‘nothing’ which has been proven by science, he is talking about  the vacuum of space, as well as a TOE and electromagnetic fields and gravity. In the vacuum of space, matter and antimatter are created fleetingly, and then come back together and collide back into nothingness. This has been proven by science, and is the reason Hawking radiation exists, causing the shrinking of black holes. One particle of antimatter goes into the black hole, and the other particle of matter goes off into other places, taking down the net weight of the black hole. This happens all the time, everywhere.

When he suggests that the universe can be created from nothing, he is talking about absolute nothingness + a TOE. He gets a lot of flack from the religious about that. They argue that it is really not nothing, and I agree. However, it is unscientific to just say, “Well, its not nothing, ergo God.”

The process of science is to continually discover more and more about the universe, and at no time saying that there is no more that can be found. Science works by looking and looking. But for the religious to just dismiss it because it isn’t quite nothing yet, is just terrible.

Another argument is that you cannot get something from purely nothing, and therefore it is pointless to even bother. But for the religious to just say that something can never come from nothing is hypocritical. The whole concept of religion is that god just IS, ad will always BE. Yet they say that everything has to have a cause.
“Everything has to have a cause… except God.”

The point that Lawrence Krauss’ makes, that something can come from almost nothing, is a valuable scientific contribution, and is important for the progress of science. And religious criticism of this is completely hypocritical, as is almost all cosmological arguments for god, or against natural arguments against god.

Deepak Chopra, Cosmic Consciousness and Heisenberg Uncertainty

hei skeptics,

Yesterday I blogged to you about how physicists have discovered the Higgs Boson, after it being predicted 40 years ago. Today I am going to be blogging about a spiritual person abusing and misinterpreting the work of physicists to try to prove his particular ideology. Deepak Chopra has, for a long time, been trying to prove his western ideology that consciousness creates matter, and recently, I got into a bit of a twitter debate with him. I’m fairly sure I came out on top, with him resorting to ad hominem attacks and fallacious reasoning, but here i will post an elaborated explanation of my argument, as it is difficult with only 140 characters.

One of the main arguments Chopra uses which has some reasoning and comes from real science, is the idea of observation of quantum systems. His argument is as follows. If the act of observing quantum systems (wave function collapse) changes a system, then this means that the act of our consciousness observing something has an active effect, which shows that our universe is just created by our conscious, and that matter is an illusion, created by consciousness.

There is one problem with this argument (other than that conscious probably doesn’t exist), and it is his assumption that observation is the only way to cause wave function collapse. He is right, observation is enough to cause the collapse, but it is not the only way. What actually causes the collapse of wave functions is the interaction of particles.

What is important to know is that observation is itself an interaction, but not all interactions are observations. When an interaction occurs, a particle (usually a photon) bumps into another particle, and exerts a force on that particle, and then goes on its way. This force changes the way the particle acts. Now, that is an interaction. An observation is when this photon goes on and subsequently hits somebody’s retina or a sensor designed to detect photons. This is an observation. Observation requires interaction, but not visa-versa.

This interaction, which results in observation, is what makes the uncertainty principle an impossible nut to crack. This photon running into the particle always has an effect on it. And seeing that we cannot observe the particle any other way, we can never find out perfectly where it is and where it is going, but that’s another time.

Deepak Chopra then decided to call this an oxymoron, which is just ridiculous, and called me ‘a materialist kid’ and a ‘teenager’ as insults (ad hominem!!!), before insulting my spelling when my phone auto-corrected consciousness to conscience, and then refusing to debate me until I learnt to spell and use perfect grammar on a social networking site which has a rule of only 140 characters.

He threw many other arguments at me, which I will tackle at later dates, but this one was his most prominent argument, which is based on a false premise (he attacked me for accidentally spelling it premace while debating him) and has no real tangibility with quantum mechanics.

Higgs Boson Discovery

hallo skeptics,

Yesterday was witness to one of the biggest events in scientific history. A triumph for the scientific method. At the university of Melbourne, a large congregation of physicists and science journalists were assembled to listen to what was hyped as an important presentation. There was leaked information which suggested that this was going to be a big story in the scientific world. After a large amount of formalities, introducing of speakers, explanation of the processes and equipment involved, and then they got down to the results. (never mind the comic sans typeface) Here is a graph of the data:

that red line jumping above the green line means… Higgs Boson!

When the results were shown, every thing went crazy, though I wasn’t in the room, I was following the live blog and as soon as that was read on the screen, my twitter feed exploded with tweets about the Higgs Boson and for a few minutes, only Higgs related material was trending world-wide. The Higgs Boson had been discovered at 125.3 GeV with 5 sigma certainty.

Sigma is important in physics, so I’ll explain it briefly here. Sigma is the term used to describe Standard deviation, used to work out probabilities. Standard deviation is the maths relating to how far a result deviates from the mean, or in more layman’s terms, how likely it is that something is just a fluke of data noise. In any experiment, there is noise, random fluctuations which occur in the data, it isn’t large, but it has an effect. so when a result is measured, you have to ensure that it is unlikely the result is noise. The gold standard for this is 5.0 sigma. I won’t go into the maths of calculating sigma, but 5.0 sigma is equal to 0.0002% chance the result is just a fluke of noise.
Previous tests have been done which have shown results around the 3 sigma range, but physics errs on the side of caution and needs 5 sigma certainty for something to be claimed a discovery. And last night, they hit the target and confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson.

The Higgs boson was first predicted in 1964 by physicist Peter Higgs, Who was present yesterday. It is the particle predicted by the standard model which gives mass to all the other particles in the universe. Since its prediction in 1964, physicists the world over have been trying to find this particle. It was one of the holy grails of physics, to be able to prove the existence of this particle.

I’m not going to talk about the meaty parts of the Higgs and its field, and what it does for the universe, but I am going to talk about how much of a triumph for science it is.

Science predicted this particle to exist, and the whole story of the Higgs is a case example of how the scientific method should be conducted. A scientist, from looking at data and doing maths, predicts that this certain particle should exist. Then, science goes out and tries to find it. We test the hypothesis that the Higgs exists in a certain place, we don’t find it, so we hypothesize another place and look for it there. After hundreds of trials-and-error, we finally pinpoint where it is, but we don’t have enough evidence yet, we are only at 3 sigma, so we look with finer tools and better measuring devices to see if we can more definitively say it exists. And alack, we find it.
It is a testimony to science, and now, I wish to put up another prediction.

As it has been with all other scientific discoveries for the last 400 years, science has found out that something exists, and then for the next few weeks, while the scientists are off partying about their discovery, the religious scholars comb through their respective texts to see if there is some vague scripture reference that could be twisted, manipulated and exaggerated to sort-of fit with the scientific discovery of the time. I talk about it here –> in-depth, but I’ll summarize here. When science (back then it wasn’t science but the religious) said the earth was flat, “The circle of the earth” meant a flat disc which is a circle. Then, when real science looked at the issue and decided, “No, it’s really actually a sphere”, then “The circle of the earth” was interpreted as how a sphere is viewed in 2-D. This sort of manipulation of text occurs every time science finds out something ground breaking. Even when its a flat-out contradiction, it suddenly becomes “Just a metaphor.” from then-on-in.

The Higgs boson discovery is a triumph for science and a great testimony to the effectiveness of the scientific method, and is going to be the arbiter of a lot of new physics for years to come. Tomorrow, I will be blogging on about the Boston Celtics, as well as about a person who is using the discovery of the Higgs as evidence for his claims, Deepak Chopra, and I will be tackling the claims of his cosmic consciousness.

Confirmation Bias

Hallo skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about one of the most commonly used logical fallacies out there, confirmation bias. It is used in a range of topics including alternative medicine, religion, UFOlogy, astrology, psychics, mediums, and almost all topics which skeptics keep tabs on. Confirmation bias is a logical fallacy which is often referred to as cherry-picking, however is slightly different. While similar, cherry-picking refers to picking single studies from a sea of negative papers, confirmation bias is the picking out of specific results, not specific studies.

One of the most simple and common uses of confirmation bias is praying. I recently saw one of those Facebook like-hoarding pictures which asks for likes to confirm ones religious views, which read “Like this photo and in the next 120 seconds god will do you a favour”… it had over 30 000 likes. I read that and immediately saw it as a perfect example of confirmation bias. To anybody who likes that status, I can almost guarantee that something good will happen to them in the next 120 seconds. The reason is that people want it to come true. If something slightly good happens to that person in the next 120 seconds, they will attribute that to liking the photo… your basketball team makes a buzzer-beating game winner? God did that. Mum decides to give you a little extra ice-cream for dessert? god did that. Get a new twitter follower? god did that. Whatever happens, god is the reason.

It doesn’t even have to be within 2 minutes, you will remember anything that happens for the whole rest of the day and give credit to god… because a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years, or some post hoc reasoning like that. Even if nothing good happens, that means the devil was going to do something bad to you but god saved you because you liked the photo.

This photo is a perfect example of how confirmation bias works. Another common example is in alternative medicine. Lets say somebody gets cancer, and they decide to, along with their doctor approved, scientific medicine, have a chiropractor try to fix it. Once the cancer has been removed, the patient might only remember the chiropractic treatment that cured the cancer, and forget all the scientific medicine that actually removed the cancer.

Confirmation bias is one of the most common fallacies out, and is often combined with other fallacies like post hoc ergo proctor hoc, placebo, reliance on memory and the availability heuristic to form the greatest of all fallacies, the anecdotal evidence.

The Naturalistic Fallacy

Üdvözöllek skeptics,

Tonight I am going to be talking about the naturalistic fallacy. When it comes to fallacies, it doesn’t get much more fallacious than this. The naturalistic fallacy is an argument used relentlessly by naturopaths, herbalists, homeopaths, and dozens of other pseudoscientific claims. In a nut-shell, the naturalistic fallacy is the claim that something is naturally better because it is found in nature or that it contains only natural products. At almost every level, there is something wrong with the naturalistic fallacy.

The most fundamental problem with the naturalistic fallacy is that there is nothing inherently different or special about things from nature. At the chemical level, there is nothing different about the vitamin C found in oranges and vitamin C which is produced in a laboratory.
If a company creates a banana flavoured confectionery out of flavour chemicals they extracted from a banana, they can call it natural. But if they manufacture these chemicals at the factory, rather than getting the from the banana, then they can no longer call it natural. There is nothing different between the two chemicals.

Another issue with the naturalistic argument, other than the argument which says “its better because its natural”, is the one that says, “if its natural, its good.” and there is something wrong with this argument for a very basic reason. Anybody who has watched survival shows on the television knows that there are very few things you can eat in the wild. No doctor would recommend going out into the forest and eating a random plant. Most of what you find in nature is dangerous or has no benefit to eat.
Nature doesn’t care about us, there isn’t any natural selection towards plants that are safe to eat, in fact, the natural selection is towards plants which are not safe to eat.

There is no advantage to a plant for it to be safe to eat the flowers (reproductive organ) off of it. If it was tasty and safe for animals to eat the reproductive organs of a specific plant, this species would soon go extinct, because there is no way for the organisms to pass down their genes t the next generations if they cannot reproduce. Some may say “aha, what about all the plants which are safe to eat, bananas, oranges, pears, apples, strawberries, the list goes on.” and this brings up another argument against the naturalistic fallacy.

All of the foods we eat today are not the foods that were found in the wild thousands of years ago when we first started to cultivate. The banana plant which we all know and love was just a stupid, disgusting little herb thousands of years ago, not the extravagant yellow fruits we know of today. We have selectively bred our food over the years to make it tasty and safe to eat. There is cyanide in apple seeds, because thousands of years ago, before we bred them, they had a lot of cyanide on them, now they have very little in them, because of our selective breeding.
The point is that the things we think of as nature are actually our own designs, which we have sculpted over the years to be tasty, safe and look good on a plate. It’s not nature just because it comes out of the ground, and it certainly doesn’t mean we haven’t interfered with it at some time.

Food or drugs are not better because they are natural, being natural does not make them safe, and a lot of the things we thin of as natural today are not what we found in the ground thousands of years ago.

Richard Dawkin’s Gene Analogy

përshëndetje skeptics,

I have recently started to read Richard Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Show on Earth, in Which Dawkins summates all the evidence available for evolution, and puts it in a book, trying as best as possible to explain evolution to somebody who does not agree with it. It is a very interesting book to read, with plenty of interesting examples from nature and analogies, which have enhanced my knowledge of evolution and how to explain it to others.

While I was reading, I came across an analogy which I just had to hear, which answers a question often raised in rebuttal to evolution. When talking with a creationist, the idea that genetic diversity cannot occur often comes up (in contrast to the genetic diversity of the human species from just 2 humans? But that’s another story). They say that in a population, genetic diversity cannot occur. They make an analogy with genes as paint. If you take a species, which ranges in colour from red to blue, and you go about procreating, every time you mix two animals, you will only get closer and closer to purple, and genetic diversity will shrink. Eventually, all you will be left with is purple. How can evolution happen if it works like that.

Dawkins argues that evolution does not work like this. In fact, it works quite differently. He proposes that instead of mixing paint, it is best to imagine evolution as shuffling cards. This is how evolution works, and the evidence is right in front of us.

By imagining evolution as card shuffling, it is much easier to get the idea of evolution. Instead of animals being created by mixing of paint, it is more like they are having two decks of cards shuffled together. In this way, instead of just ending up with a disgusting purple mess, you end up with the world as it is today.

This can be used to explain our tweaking of the canine species. Say for some reason a breeder wants to lengthen the tail of Labradors. When he does it, he picks the Labradors which have the most ‘long tail’ genes (cards), and goes about creating a new species. By isolating these dogs with longer tails from the dogs with shorter tails, you can ensure that more and more ‘long tail’ cards remain in the sub-species every time you shuffle the deck.

The logic behind this ‘shuffling and re-ordering’, as opposed to mixing, is actually pretty clear and is presented to us roughly every 5 seconds. When you breed a man and a woman together, one who subscribes to the ‘mixing’ analogy would expect the baby to come out as a hermaphrodite. Instead, this doesn’t happen, we get either a boy or a girl. This is just the mixing of a deck of 1 card. With one card having M on it, and one card having F on it.

Now, imagine this happening with the whole genetic code. Instead of just the one gene for gender (gender isn’t determined by genes, but it makes no difference to the analogy), you have this going on with every single gene in the code. When a baby is being ‘made’, this process will be occurring. Take a single gene in the code. If the mother has gene A, and the father has gene B, the baby will not have a mixture of A and B as their gene, they will get either ‘A’, or ‘B’. This happens all along the code.

Hopefully, I’ve done a good job at explaining this analogy, and haven’t butchered it. That’s all, by shuffling of cards, not mixing paint, with occasional cards falling out of the deck, or 2 being stuck together and coming apart due to plenty of shuffling, you get evolution.

Is God the Final Arbiter of Morality?

Ciao skeptics,

In today’s post, I am going to be talking about an argument which originally I could not find a problem with, due to the fact that it had all the bases covered. I knew there was something wrong with the argument, but I couldn’t find any holes with it. First though, some background.

In Ethics & Faith a fortnight ago, the topic for the lesson was morals, and I thought to my self how easy it would be to sweep the room, seeing how immoral the old-testament god is. I brought up the old idea asking whether or not killing 1 to save 100 is moral. He told me that killing the 1 to save 100 was immoral, and that he would do nothing, due to the fact that his bible told him to never murder. I then proposed the point that if killing 1 to save 100 is immoral, then god wiping out 2 whole cities, Sodom & Gomorrah, to stop them from a bit of rape and blasphemy must be magnitudes more moral. What he said next is the argument which stuck me up, he told me that god is the final arbiter of morality, what he says goes, and that his ways are higher than our ways.
I’d heard many Christians say before “God’s ways are higher than our ways”, but I had never heard the murder of the old-testament god justified by this cop-out. Basically telling me that god writes the rules, he can do whatever he wants because what he says goes, and that the definition of morality is god.

I immediately had to think about this one, and I could not find anything wrong with it, if you accept that god writes the rules. But both of the eventual holes I found with the argument came about during more recent discussions with the school father.

The first comes about due to a story about Jesus. When Jesus is growing up, he goes fasting in the desert for a while, and is tempted by the devil, so that he can experience the ways of humans. When I was reminded of this story, I had a light-bulb moment. If Jesus is god, and god can justify his actions due to the fact that he is god, then why doesn’t Jesus succumb to temptation and do what the devil says. I mean, it’s not a sin when Jesus does it, because god writes the rule book. Jesus can do what ever he likes, turn the stones into bread, because he can write a loop-hole in the rule book which allows him to do it. After thinking “So god can write and re-write the rules when he likes then… that reminds me of something I know” I had a second argument against this excuse of god.

The second inspirational moment I had was during school worship, when our Father told us (and god) that God is worthy of much worship and praise. Any god who can do what they want, when they want, even if it is against the rules they write, is definitely NOT worth praise!

Anybody who has ever been outside around children has met somebody who changes the rules when they like to suit them. There are people like that who still act that way into their adulthood. When you spend some time with them, you get very angry at them, and have some thoughts about them which can be summed up with “Hypocrite!”
Now imagine that this person is your god! If you knew that your god could kill you right now, as well as the rest of your family and friends, for no particular reason, and justify it by saying “Well, I write the rule book, so I can do what I want.” I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of eternity with this bloke, living by his rules, which could change at any time, whenever he wants to do something the rules don’t allow him to.

God, if he is allowed to do whatever he likes, because he writes the rules, is not going to be a very good god to live with, and is a god who I would not call god. He would be the sort of guy who would say “Do as I say, not as I do.” which is a huge sidestep on morality.