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.

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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.

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.

Was I indoctrinated to Atheism?

Hello skeptics the world over,

Recently, in a discussion with my mother about whether I should be heading to church on Sunday, she made the claim that I was indoctrinated by podcasts such as ‘The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe’ and other science and skeptical podcasts and websites, and said that I am ‘just as brainwashed’ as I claim Christians to be. I will be hoping to respond to this question in-depth tonight.

The first thing I will point out is the contrast of ‘indoctrinations’ between my skepticism and Christianity as a child. When I was indoctrinated to Christianity as a child, I was given the whole nine yards, Genesis creation, the flood and Noah’s Ark, Tower of Babel, Jesus, all the bible had to offer. When I was ‘indoctrinated’ into skepticism and atheism, it was almost the exact opposite. Instead of being given a list of things I had to believe, how to believe them and a book to read it from, when I was indoctrinated by The Skeptic’s Guide, I was only given a list of things which are logical, and most importantly, a list of things which weren’t logical. That’s why I am a champion of skepticism, not atheism. yes I am an atheist, but I am an atheist because of skepticism. Skeptics don’t tell you what to believe, they just give you the package of logic and evidence.

I wasn’t told to become a skeptic and an atheist by ‘the skeptics guide’, I was just told, “Hey, some of what you believe is not very logical and has no evidence to support it, look at what we think, be logical and look at the evidence, and make your decision.” and look at where I am now.

The other main difference between my two ‘indoctrinations’ is choice. When I was indoctrinated into Christianity, I didn’t know about atheism, humanism, naturalism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, or any other amount of religions. I was just having Christianity handed to me on a silver plate, with a bit of evolution thrown into the mix, as I still had to have some science. But there wasn’t much choice for me. When I was introduced to skepticism, I had heard about all the other religions and world-views, and I chose to go with agnostic atheism, and later onto agnostic anti-theism. That’s also why I am a champion of free-thought, because giving a child the choice is the most important thing they can have. I will talk about free-thought and children in a later post.

I was not indoctrinated into atheism or skepticism like the way children born into christian homes are indoctrinated, I was given a choice and I was not forced into it, and that is the key difference… choice. That’s all for today, I’ll leave you with a quote from an anonymous author/sayer of words, “Trying to close a mind that has not yet had the chance to be opened, is the worst form of child abuse.”

Does Science Uncover What the Scriptures Predicted?

Hello there, skeptics and critical thinkers,

I have recently been listening to ‘Unbelievable?’ the podcast on Premier Christian Radio, and they have been championing a view which I have heard by quite a lot of Christians. They believe that the new discoveries of science all point towards what the bible has been saying for the last couple of thousand years. They say that the bible has been saying things about the multiverse, fine-tuning of the universe and evolution for years and years, and will point to specific verses in the bible which is said to talk about these topics. Today I will be giving my two-cents about this idea.

One of the most common verses is that the bible says that the earth is a sphere, and point to Isaiah 40:22, which states, “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth”. Many point to this and say, “See, the Bible thought the Earth was a sphere even before Science thought it”. Other’s will point to Hebrews 11:3 and say, “Aha! The bible also predicts atoms!”, Hebrews 11:3 actually states “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do”. A few things can be said about these verses. First of all… VAGUE!!! These are just a small snippet of the amazingly wishy-washy talk which is the bible. Most psychics could make much more specific claims than what we just read, and we all know how vague and unspecific psychics are.

The second is that these verses are open to quite a lot of interpretation. Take Isaiah 40:22, for example. This verse could be interpreted as meaning that the world is a flat disc. Seeing that it says ‘circle’ and not ‘sphere’ would probably suggest that it means ‘circle’. It’s quite a leap to go from “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth” to “the Earth is a sphere”. When people bring up this verse to suggest a circular earth, they often also say that the ‘science’ of the time and throughout the middle ages thought the earth was a disc. What they are forgetting is that they probably made that judgement based on what they read in these few passages.

Another thing to bring up is this. When people scour through their bible to find passages like this that support the science of today, they are forgetting and reading past the MOUNTAINS of biblical scripture which is in direct contradiction with science. They ignore the entire Genesis story, the rising of Lazarus and Jesus, parting of the seas, and countless miracles which are strictly in disagreement with what science thinks about the universe and nature.

There is a large scope of views on this point, from Hugh Ross, founder of ‘Reasons to Believe’, who thinks that all of modern science has been predicted by the bible, to views like mine, who think that they are all just some lucky guesses amongst a vast sea of incorrect statements, logical fallacies and falsehoods, written in a vague, wishy-washy talk which is similar to the psychic predictions we are all familiar with. But I hope that I have swayed you towards a more skeptical view of these claims.

Moral Relativism – An Overview

Hello skeptics of our local cluster,

Today’s post is going to be about moral relativism, and how it is a secular replacement for the morals of the bible. As an atheist, I am often asked this question or similar “As an atheist, where do you get your morals?”, and I often give a condensed description of moral relativism to them. Religious people often object to atheism because a set of morals are not set out by a deity, and it seems to be without any set of morals, but most atheists are moral (less than 1% of prisoners in the US are atheist), so there must be some morals which we all seem to follow, or something like it. But without a concrete basis for our morals (god), there has to be another way to make moral decisions.

The moral system which I choose to live by are those of moral relativism. At its core, moral relativism is basically just the aim to reduce harm, and this seems to be a logical decision to make. There is no gold standard of morality in moral relativism, as there is in most religions, just a sliding scale of ‘immoral things’ on the far left, over to ‘moral things’ over on the far left. By always just choosing the option which causes the lest harm, you are keeping yourself open to doing anything, so long as it is the right thing to do.

I asked my religion teacher during a lesson about evils, if it is morally right to kill 1 person to save 100 hundred people. I gave the story of a man who had a boy, and worked operating a train draw bridge over a canyon. One day, there was a train which approached, but the man noticed that his son was playing in the large gears of the bridge, there were only two choices the man could make, lower the bridge and save the lives of the hundreds on the train, and kill his son, or keep the bridge up, kill hundreds on the train, and save his son. To my surprise, my teacher said that he would not kill 1 to save 100, and he said that god is the ultimate decider on the right thing to do. This is a circular morality with no clear way to make decisions, because one cannot simply ask god every time a decision has to be made, and even if you could, science is of the opinion that you are hearing your own thoughts reflected back on you, dressed up in gods voice.

Another question asked by champions of absolute morality is “Is it absolutely morally wrong to rape a child and enjoy it?”, and to that I answer “no”. If somebody says to you, with a gun in hand, “Rape this child and enjoy it or I will kill both of you and your families”, you sure as hell will rape that child, and maintain a smile throughout. That’s the great thing about moral relativism, its flexible to all decisions, just make sure to reduce harm. In my above hypothetical, a Christian would run into a wall, as both paths result in some sort of immorality, either raping a child or being responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen people. A moral relativist has an easy decision, because death is of the utmost importance.

Moral relativism is a great moral system, as it never runs into any paradoxical hypotheticals, and it is a good (better) alternative to absolute morality which is championed by so many religions of today.

Roy Williams… Again

Hello there skeptics, atheists and scientists,

Today I am going to be blogging about Roy Williams again, I haven’t blogged about his arguments for a while now, I’ve been saving this one up. In his book, ‘god actually’ , Roy has a section entitled ‘Tackling arguments against a designing god’, today I am going to be rebutting some of these ‘rebuttals’. Most of his arguments are completely ridiculous in here, as he completely misses the point of particular arguments.

He discusses the idea of naturalistic, evolutionary, reasons for a religion to exist, and he misses the whole point of the idea. This argument is just a rebuttal of an argument used by Christians for religion. They say “If religion isn’t true, why does it exist. Religion must have some truth to it because otherwise why would humans have made up the concept in the first place. Natural explanations for religion like an evolutionary advantage to belief, or a ‘god center’ somewhere in the brain, are not arguments against god, as Williams portrays them as, they are rebuttals of arguments for god. And somehow, in all of it, Williams blames us for non-sequiters by saying that this is not an argument against god.

Another argument which Williams ‘takes on’ is the ‘god of the gaps’ argument, apparently, used by atheists. This is the first time I have heard god of the gaps being used to argue against god, but there you go. For as long as I can remember, the god of the gaps has been a logical fallacy describing religious people, not an argument against god. It has always been just like most, a rebuttal of theist arguments, not arguments of our own. Williams also happens to say that his beliefs are not god of the gap arguments, despite using arguments like irreducible complexity and creation of the universe, and quite often saying, “Science cannot explain this”, which is kind of the definition of the god of the gaps argument.

These are just a few of the arguments ‘taken on’ by Roy Williams, and they demonstrate the way Williams argues. He is completely unaware of the whole idea of most of the atheism VS religion debate. When it comes to science and logic, the burden of proof is on the affirmative (religion), and it is the job of the negative (atheism) to show the logical fallacies and factual incorrectness which may be present in these arguments. It’s quite fine for the religious to counter-rebut these arguments, but it’s not okay for them to claim that these are direct arguments against god, and then to just say that they are using non-sequiters. If he wants to tackle some real arguments against god, not some rebuttals, take a look at some of the apparent logical contradictions in god, the concept of cause-and-effect, or the idea of something from nothing.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from H. L. Mencken, “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”, H. L. Mencken, an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American culture and scholar.

Bad Argument Against God

Hello there skeptics,

On the Bus yesterday, I was sitting down, doing my merry thing (playing logosquiz) when somebody asks somebody behind me “Do you believe in god?”. Never mind how rude I think this personal question is, but he asked everybody around him this question, and then he backed up his atheism with some logic. I will give you his logic now.

“How can animals have been just dropped straight into their environment, they have to adapt to the environment, evolution, otherwise they won’t survive. Therefore, evolution is real and god is not.” In a nutshell.

There was one thing which struck me about this argument, first of all, this is an argument for Evolution, not for atheism. Evolution and belief in a god are incompatible, but that’s another day. This is possibly one of the worst arguments for evolution I have heard in a long time. Here’s why:-

This argument is wrong in its stipulation that animals cannot have just been dropped into their environment and told to survive. The story of creation in the bible goes that the animals were created to suit their environments, and visa versa. If god were to have created the earth in six days 6000 years ago, he would have made sure that the animals where good in their environment.

The reason why I rebut this argument is for one simple reason, which can be summed up with a quot from Christopher Hitchens, “It’s not what you think, its how you think”, And that is how I live my life. This person on the bus’ final conclusion, I agree with, but his thought process is completely wrong, and it needs to be corrected.

Lets think for a moment what happens when this person on the bus (named Shaun from now on, and to protect the innocent), goes to their ethics and faith class in a few days, he will probably take this argument to fr. Iain and have it rebutted all the way over the pickets for 6 (cricket). This may convince Shaun of God, and that’s not what I want. I need to get to him while he is in this critical thinking and questioning mode, and get the bad arguments out of him, and the good arguments in to him.

He may take this argument to a prolific Christian debater, and this Christian will go to town on it, and this Christian will be able to add a tick to his bucket list of Atheists arguments to rebut. He can put it on his resume.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Christopher Hitchens, “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” Christopher Hitchens, and Atheist, Author, Journalist, Skeptic, and essayist of some note.

Roy Williams – Chaos Theory – Doesn’t Mix

Hello there skeptics, freethinkers, critical thinkers and atheists,

Today I am going to be blogging about another claim which Roy Williams has made, which contradicts science and reason, and happens to also support his claim.

Roy Williams, in his book god, actually, makes the claim that the universe is not deterministic, and that this allows for things like free will, conscience and god to exist. He tries to show some natural examples of our non-deterministic world, and he chooses the weather. He makes the claim that Chaos theory shows that the world is deterministic, and this applies to other systems, like our brain. This claim is factually false.

Chaos theory is actually a case example of how deterministic our universe is, that it is deterministic to such a detailed scale. Chaos theory is really, and explanation of how a deterministic universe works. Lets take the weather, which Williams uses. Chaos theory, when pertaining to the weather, shows that a small change in conditions, like the classic example, a butterfly flapping its wings in Britain can cause a cyclone to develop in the USA, because the small effect can be multiplied out by larger forces, and a large force, like a huge line of industrial fans on the South American coast-line, can be neutralized by a small force, like a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere in the world.

Chaos theory shows that, even when the universe seems chaotic, uncontrollable and non-deterministic, there is reason behind everything happening. Lets us use the example of the Mandelbrot set. If an uneducated person where to look at something like the Mandelbrot image below, they would make the assumption, as I did when I first saw the image, that this was a completely random, non-deterministic picture. But as most of us know, this image is actually defined by a single, inch long maths equation, zn+1 = zn2 + c, and I found this amazing when I found it out, that this complex structure, with all its intricacies, was just created from a maths equation.

This, my friend, is a Mandelbrot set.

This is what Mandelbrot, and all the other mathematicians of the time, set out to do, find simple mathematical laws which describe the seemingly random branching of trees and fingerprints on hands, and they found that they are deterministic, but very sensitive, and could be influenced by just the tiniest change in conditions. The only reason why we haven’t yet found a mathematical sum to predict the weather, is because it is very, very, very complex.

Chaos theory shows how seemingly random things can be described with mathematical sums, and that they are really deterministic, this can be extrapolated to the brain. Once you know how the weather, Mandelbrot sets, tree branches and fingerprints can be explained, you can start to see how one day, we will be able to find out a mathematical sum to describe our brain function, of course, this equation will not be one inch long, it will be many inches long, but we will have described the brain.

Roy Williams, by mentioning Chaos theory, has stepped into a spiraling vortex of facts, knowledge and maths. That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Benoit Mandelbrot, “Science would be ruined if (like sports) it were to put competition above everything else, and if it were to clarify the rules of competition by withdrawing entirely into narrowly defined specialties. The rare scholars who are nomads-by-choice are essential to the intellectual welfare of the settled disciplines.” Benoit Mandelbrot, a French/American Mathematician of some note.

Another Roy Williams example of idiocy

Hello there, skeptical friends,

Lets all guess what I’m going to be blogging about today? That’s right, I’m sure you all guessed it, I’m going to be continuing my constant crusade against Roy Williams and his idiotic arguments, which seem alright on the surface, but soon seem not so alright when you actually look at them deeply. Today’s post is about an argument which was used by Williams to demonstrate the ‘deep, designed plan’ of the universe. Williams has made the claim that the fact that the moon lines up nicely with the sun, points towards the fact that there is design in the universe.

But unlike ‘the other creationists’, who say that the moon, with its protecting of the earth from asteroids and things, shows that god is looking out for us, Williams makes the claim that the fact that there is a solar eclipse shows proof of a god. This allows for things like the first proof of relativity, (with the measuring of the lensing of the stars) to occur. This is all part of Williams’ “God designed the universe to allow humans to figure out its inner workings.” Idea. I have some rebuttals for this argument.

The first point is that our moon is not that special. The fact that the moon eclipses the sun perfectly once in human history is not a big deal. There are a couple of factors which make this occurrence not all that rare. The distance from the earth to the moon is changing quite a lot, meaning that the size of the moon in the sky changes a lot. This means that sometimes the moon is a bit big for the sun, and sometimes the moon is not big enough to cover the sun completely, this is why you should never look directly at an eclipse. This means that there is a big variance and this leaves a big window.

The other thing that varies a lot in the sun, moon, earth system is the distance from the sun to the earth. This means that the size of the sun in the sky varies a lot. So this opens the window even more. The last thing that would change this is the fact that the moon is getting further and further away from us all the time. This means that at one time in early history, very early history, the moon appeared very large in the sky, and in a few more years, the moon will be very small in the sky, and it will not cover the sun at any time.

The second point against this argument is this. There are a lot of things that could be a certain way, but aren’t, why doesn’t god make them line up nice and pretty?

The last argument I will use is this. The eclipse of 1919 is not the only proof of relativity, there have been thousands of since proofs of relativity, and the only reason why this eclipse is still remembered is because it was the first one.

I will leave you with a humorous quote from Brian Greene, “No matter how hard you try to teach your cat general relativity, you’re going to fail”, If you don’t get it, get of my blog, or read my Quantum Mechanics posts. Brian Greene, A theoretical physicist of some note.