Who’s the Smartest?

Posted in Apparent Design on March 3, 2011 by Jonathan

We humans are pretty amazing creatures (you have to agree with me, because if you’re reading this, you’re probably human). We have discovered how to build shelter, make fire, refine chemicals, send information without wires…we are an amazing race! We are such an advanced race, mainly due to our minds, which are completely and utterly beyond the minds of any other race. We are impressed when a parrot repeats a word, however humans speak thousands of words each day. We call dolphins intelligent creatures, however they can’t perform simple arithmetic which most children can do easily.

Can a monkey do calculus? Of course not; it can’t even physically comprehend the sort of maths involved. It doesn’t matter how talented the monkey is, it will never be able to understand calculus. Although calculus is an important mathematical concept that we use in many applications today, it will always be a mystery to the monkey, well beyond its comprehension.

What if we humans are like the monkey? (some would reasonably argue that we are monkeys, but that’s not what I’m discussing here) What if there are mysteries that are way beyond our comprehension, no matter how talented or gifted we are, just because we physically can’t comprehend them?

It would be the biggest form of arrogance to say that we are advanced in our understanding; it would be just like the monkey claiming that it is advanced in mathematics.

Maybe we humans aren’t so smart after all. I think we should be a bit more humble about our own understanding, don’t you?

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Too Much Culture?

Posted in General on January 10, 2011 by Jonathan

It’s always worth stopping and thinking about important stuff every so often. A bit like a progress report – or yardstick measure. We tend to believe a lot of things in our lives, for a whole series of reasons, both good and bad. When it comes to our worldviews (see wikipedia for a overly complicated definition if you want), I think that we often give our culture too much credit.

Now please understand: I’m not saying that people should ignore their cultural identity, or forget about their cultural heritage or something like that. Our culture makes us who we are, whether we like it or not.

However when it comes to our worldview, I think we need to leave culture at the door. For example, in a country like Afghanistan, many people become Muslims as a result of culture. Similarly, in a country like Sri Lanka, many people follow Buddhism or Hinduism simply due to their cultural identity. This is often the case with Croatians (who are often culturally Catholic) and Serbians (who are often culturally orthodox). Sadly, in the predominantly western culture of Australia and the US, many people are Christians simply due to their parents or their background – once again the influence of culture. Even more devastating is that within many universities, the culture is atheism, so much so that people who believe differently are often frowned upon.

A person should adopt a worldview because it’s true. Simple as that. Culture should have no place in the choice of a worldview. Sadly, the simple fact of the matter is that often the highly religious and the highly non-religious fall into this same problem.

So as you enter 2011 I’d like to invite you to stop and think. Leave your culture and upbringing at the door, and spend some time thinking about your worldview, and whether it’s true or not. Hopefully this blog keeps you thinking about worldviews, and things that really matter. So stay tuned, keep watching this space, and have a happy new year!

Free Will

Posted in Logic and Reason on November 23, 2010 by Jonathan

What is free will? I guess its the ability to choose stuff. I think it means that we may have a variety of scenarios that could occur, but through our choice, only one of those scenarios happens. The other scenarios could have happened, but didn’t, because of our choice. For example, I could catch the train, drive a car, take the bus or walk, but I CHOOSE to catch the train. The key for free will is that we have responsibility for our own actions, we can’t blame things around us for what we do. Many smart people disagree whether we humans have free will or not. This post is not trying to determine whether we humans have it or not. Rather, I’m trying to say something different.

Many people believe that we humans are made up of only physical things. Things like nerves, muscles, bone, blood, brain and others. This worldview is known as naturalism. Naturalists do not believe in things like a soul, or things like a mind, rather, they say that we act according to the chemicals stimulating our brain.

Now if we are purely physical beings, we act according to the stimuli we get (the things we see, smell, hear, taste and touch). This stimuli causes our brains to produce chemicals which then determine how we react. Therefore, everything we do is ultimately determined by the stimuli we receive.

But if everything we do is determined by the stimuli we receive, do we have any choice in the way we act? After all, our actions only occur because of the stimuli we receive, not because we chose them. When I buy an ice cream, it’s not because I chose to buy it, but its because the things I saw and felt (etc) at the time put a thought in my mind to buy it. Actually, I had to buy the ice cream, I couldn’t refuse to buy it even if I wanted to, because my feelings and senses forced me to buy it!

Other people believe in dualism, which is the view that the body is linked to a consciousness or mind, which can’t be seen. This view allows for free will, since the consciousness does not get directly influenced by physical stimuli, and thus makes genuinely free choices for the body.

Therefore, as I understand it, under the naturalistic worldview there is no free will. Do we need free will? Is it ok to live in a completely determined universe…kinda like The Matrix (1999 film)? I guess we have to assess all the worldviews we have available, and decide which one has the best evidence. Once again, it comes down to the evidence. Have fun looking for the evidence, whether you ‘choose’ to or not!

A Game of Monopoly

Posted in Apparent Design on June 22, 2010 by Jonathan

I heard someone mention this interesting idea and it made a lot of sense, so I thought I’d share it here.

Imagine you and I decided to play a game of monopoly. You come over to my house, and we begin to play. However I tell you that the rules are different this time. When its your turn, you can do whatever you want!

So we play! It’s your turn, and you roll the dice and start stacking houses and hotels all over the board. When it’s my turn, I tip the game board upside down. Its your turn again, and you grab all the pieces and set everything up again, and place even more hotels and houses on the game board. When my turn comes, I tip the board over again.

It shouldn’t take long for you to start to realise that there is no meaning to the small things within the game (getting property, houses, hotels etc) if there is no meaning to the game in general (since the board keeps getting tipped over!). If the whole game has no meaning, then all the small things within it don’t really have any ultimate significance.

Is that the case with human life? Is there ultimate meaning in human life? If not, then why should all the small things we do (study, get a job etc) be any more meaningful?

A Wager

Posted in Logic and Reason on April 14, 2010 by Jonathan

Here’s an interesting idea. I can’t take the credit, or the flak from it, since I didn’t come up the idea myself. The whole idea goes to a guy called Blaise Pascal, a mathematician and philosopher who lived during the 17th Century.

He asked an interesting question – if the probability that God exists is 0.5 (equal chance of God existing and not-existing), then should we believe in Him or not? Pascal says to consider what you have to lose. If someone believes in God, but was wrong (God doesn’t exist), then he loses nothing after he dies – his fate is the same as the person who does not believe in God. However if someone does not believe in God, and was wrong (God does exist), then he loses everything – his fate is eternally different to the person who does believe.

Now let me clear up some misconceptions about this argument. This argument assumes that the evidence for and against God’s existence is 0.5 i.e. there’s a 50/50 chance (or thereabouts) that God exists. An atheist does not believe the evidence is similar on both sides, thus this argument does not apply to them. However an agnostic (who considers the arguments to be similar on both sides) will have to consider Pascal’s wager here, and is forced to jump on either the theistic or atheistic side.

So I think Pascal makes a wager for agnostics to consider. Will the agnostic bet on God’s non-existence or on His existence?

He who has a mind, let him think!

Posted in General on March 28, 2010 by Jonathan

I just want to clarify a couple of things relating to this blog.

1. You don’t need to have a doctorate in philosophy to comment on here (although it will be cool if you did!). In fact, you may not even understand what the point is exactly. If that is the case, comment asking for clarification! So feel free to comment, even if you have never read anything philosophical in your life! That’s the way you’ll learn and progress!

2. The purpose of this blog is not to make you believe what I believe. The purpose of this blog is to make you think about things that matter. My purpose is to get people to think for themselves about ideas that we normally don’t bring up in our day to day conversation. So if you have a mind, use it! It may mean that you change your views on certain things, or it may mean that you will consolidate your views already. But I simply want you to think about it yourself! (I would like to thank a certain ninja for reminding me of this point!)

3. I hope everyone will be willing to learn, and to treat each persons views with respect (Just like the people who have commented so far! Thanks guys!). Both of these are important: if you’re not willing to learn, reading this blog is not going to benefit you at all, so don’t bother reading or commenting. Respect is important because we may have different views, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t seek the truth together. I welcome differences in opinion and conviction, but I won’t tolerate lack of respect.

Thanks everyone! Feel free to sign up your email address on the “Email Subscription” link on the right, which will send you an email whenever I post something new! Keep exercising that grey matter!

An Empty Box! Or not?

Posted in Logic and Reason on March 22, 2010 by Jonathan

Imagine I showed you a box, and asked you whether it was empty or not. You have no other information about this box: its just a normal closed box.

Now, based on this, you can reply in one of three ways:

1. “The box is empty.”

2. “The box has something in it.”

3. “I don’t have enough information to know.”

Notice that (1) and (2) both are a claim to knowledge. They both claim to know something about the box – thus they both require justification. However (3) is different, because it doesn’t say one way or another. (3) implies that the arguments for both the other ones are evenly matched, so more information is required before a decision can be made.

Now lets change the question. “Does God exist?”

Once again, we have three possible responses:

1. “Yes, God does exist” – Theist

2. “No, God does not exist” – Atheist

3. “I don’t have enough evidence to choose” – Agnostic

Similarly, (1) and (2) are both claims to knowledge. The theist must provide evidence that God does exist. But the atheist must also provide evidence that God does not exist. The only truly impartial view is that of the agnostic, who does not choose, because the amount of evidence for (1) and (2) is similar (too close for him to choose one way or another).

So the question is…where does the evidence point?