William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 148 of 758

Atheists Claim There Is No Such Thing As Gravity—Or Shakespeare!


How’s this argument grab you? There are many competing theories of (quantum) gravity. They cannot all be correct. Therefore, they must all be wrong and thus there is no such thing as (quantum) gravity. Here’s another. There have been many theories about the model of an atom. These are often contradictory. Therefore, they must all be wrong and there are no such things as atoms. Another. Many historians disagree about the birthplace of Homer. These historians cannot all be correct. Therefore, they must all be wrong and Homer was born no place or Homer never existed. (Substitute Shakespeare or any of hundreds of other figures.)

Contrast those (and the myriad you can easily think up) with this one. There have been many gods worshiped in many places. These gods and their cults or religions are often contradictory. They cannot all be the true God or the true gods. Therefore, none of these gods exist and none are the true God or the true gods.

Atheists (no, not all) are fond of the last argument and think themselves clever for using it. In September of 2013, the University of North Georgia Skeptics Society set up a miniature “Graveyard of the Gods”, which included tombstones for Osiris, Zeus, Krishna, and a few others. Inspired, the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics group at the University of Wisconsin, Madison created their own with 200 faux stones. A sign at the entrance to the prank read, “God Graveyard. Here lie the graves of thousands of dead gods. Once worshipped by entire civilizations, now only myths. How much longer will the gods of today last?” They stuck mostly to Western contributions to the pantheon. Good thing that didn’t go after Hinduism, which has 330 million deities.

Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins in his The God Delusion said, “I have found an amusing strategy when asked whether I am an atheist to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon-Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.”

Michael Shermer, chief Skeptic, echoed Dawkins in his book The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths said, “What is the probability that Yahweh is the one true god, and Amon Ra, Aphrodite, Apollo, Baal, Brahma, Ganesha, Isis, Mithra, Osiris, Shiva, Thor, Vishnu, Wotan, Zeus, and the other 986 gods are false gods? As skeptics like to say, everyone is an atheist about these gods; some of us just go one god further.”

(Shermer also said in that book “Once beliefs are formed, the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation.” Somehow he has been able to escape the confines of his brain.)

Instances of the Gravity-Doesn’t-Exist Fallacy litter the web. It’s rarely blatantly stated, but it is surely implied (it is in Dawkins and Shermer). Notice the Christian bias of these authors, which is natural enough. The GDE is a double-fallacy if it’s also used to imply a proof has been given for the non-existence of Zeus, Apollo, Baal and the other gods. Of course, no such proof is found here. And if such proofs do exist (and are accepted as background premises), these proofs can actually support knowledge of the Christian God.

We can weaken the GDE so that it’s not a fallacy. Many mean the GDE in this way: “Look, men have made many mistakes about gods. Therefore, they probably always do or will.” This is not a fallacy. But then this changed argument is useless to the atheist! If Zeus, Apollo and the rest are shown to be false, we could then say, “Since Zeus, Baal and a host of other gods have been shown not to exist, it’s more likely the Christian God does.” This is not a fallacy either. After all, some rivals to the God have been removed from consideration!

No, the GDE is a cutesy argument for the lazy. Those who use it imply they have proof Zeus et alia don’t exist therefore God doesn’t, either, plus, belief if God is just as silly as belief in Zeus seems to them. But this, as we have seen, is no argument at all. It is a mere statement of prejudice. And most likely uninformed prejudice.

The examples given at the beginning have the notion of increasing knowledge through time. We have abandoned various models of the atom since Democritus’s time and say we have a better one now. Perhaps the standard model is not the best or final model, but it is certainly better than one entertained, say, two centuries ago. There are two points here. The existence of other gods, or rather the existence of claims of other gods. While these claims don’t and can’t disprove the existence of the one true God, they can be said to show a humanity groping towards knowledge of this Deity. Incomplete and flawed efforts, perhaps. But we don’t chuck out all Science because false threads are often followed.

The second is that knowledge at least of the Christian God has changed through time. His existence hasn’t of course, but our understanding of Him has progressed. Followers of the series on Summa Contra Gentiles will know of this.

The Battle Over Sexuality In The Catholic Church Begins


Phase two of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family has kicked off at the Vatican. Perhaps you recall the “earthquake” set off at last year’s Phase one. Here’s a refresher.

Much is at stake. One faction wants the Church to adopt the ways of protesting Christians (which include the inaptly named Orthodox) and admit that Jesus was only kidding when he said “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” That God. What a card! Not uncoincidentally, this faction is largely German-led.

That same faction plus another of unknown size since much of it is underground, wants the Church to adopt the ways of the oldest Western protesting Christians and admit that God was only kidding when he had Paul say “Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.” The whole New Testament is one big yuck fest!

Many of these would-be protesters, based on reasonable but inconclusive evidence, believe Pope Francis is one of them. Whether this is so, the belief (or hope) that he is has emboldened some protesters to reveal themselves as protesters. Take Msgr Krzysztof Charamsa, a Polish priest who not only publicly announced his same-sex attraction, and who not only displayed his lover for all to see, but who went to the trouble of issuing a manifesto of demands to the Church.

Demands? Yes, sir. Demands. Before we get to these, recall that becoming a priest is voluntary. Charamsa knew what he was doing when he signed up, and knew the rules to which he was binding himself.

The rules in short form are these. That there are no such thing as “homosexuals” nor “heterosexuals”; there are only men and women. That mankind reproduces sexually and this requires and introduces a complementarity—the man and woman become one flesh. That any behavior that does not respect this complementarity is necessarily a (reproductive) disorder. (Divorce is also a disorder in this sense, since it breaks apart families, which are the reproductive unit.) This is not only the proper view of sexuality theologically via the natural law, but scientifically.

Some more preliminaries. The word disorder is often objected to, because it’s harsh and judgmental. But nobody said the truth had to be soothing, and nobody said life was fair. You aren’t cured of cancer by refusing to call it a disease. And then there is a saying that the Church doesn’t view “homosexuality” as a sin, but even though this is true in a sense the battle is lost when this kind of language is used. What should be said is that temptation is not a sin, which applies to everybody. Further, temptation is not a good place: “…and lead us not into temptation” goes the prayer taught to us by God Himself.

What those who are tempted to same-sex activities are attempting (get it?) is to be awarded special status because of their temptations. They hint or outright claim that their temptations are gifts. They say they are their temptations, and that their temptations are good. And this is preposterous. Why? Because that means woofies would have their own temptation-gifts to offer. And so would you with your temptations, as long as you can find enough people to form a political class.

So finally to Charamsa’s demands. They are nothing unusual. And they reveal that Charamsa knows almost nothing of the rules he swore he would learn and uphold. I don’t mean to single out this man. He is only the bravest. There are many more like him without the guts to come forward, though this Synod might draw more out. Here are the “demands:”

  1. Disposal of homophobia and anti-gay discrimination,
  2. Condemnation of punishment for homosexuality,
  3. Cessation of the Church’s interference in guaranteeing human rights by democratic states,
  4. Canceling incompetent and prejudicial documents,
  5. Immediate cancellation of discriminatory instructions about denying the priesthood to homosexual persons,
  6. Initiate a serious interdisciplinary scientific reflection over the morality of human sexuality,
  7. Revision of the interpretation of biblical texts on homosexuality,
  8. Adoption of ecumenical dialogue with our Lutheran and Anglican brothers about homosexuality,
  9. The need to ask for forgiveness toward homosexuals,
  10. Respect for and belief in homosexuals and change in the distorted position of the Church on what a homosexual Christian life should look like.

These are the headlines, and to understand them the descriptions should be read, too. We’ll see how these play over the coming weeks.

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Cannot Will The Impossible

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

We’re deep inside contingency and necessity this week. And one good joke. Regular followers of this series will recall St Thomas was not immune of the temptation to pun. Chapter 83 may be skimmed.

Chapter 82 Objections Against The Statement That God Wills Not Of Necessity Things Other Than Himself, In That It Involves Impossibilities (alternate translation)

[7] …Likewise neither does it follow that there is changeableness. For if there is no potentiality in God’s will, the reason why, in His effects, He does not of necessity give preference to the one alternative, is not because He is considered to be indifferent to either alternative, so as to be at first potentially willing either, and afterwards willing actually (whereas He is always actually willing whatsoever He wills, with regard not only to Himself but also His effects); but it is because the thing willed is not necessarily related to the divine goodness, which is the proper object of the divine will; in the same way in which we say that an enunciation is not necessary but possible where the predicate is not necessarily related to the subject.

Hence when we say: God wills this effect, this statement is clearly not necessary but possible, in the same way as a thing is said to be possible, not in reference to a potentiality, but because it is neither necessary nor impossible for it to be, as the Philosopher teaches (6 Metaph.). Thus the statement that a triangle has two equal sides is possible, yet not in reference to a potentiality, since in mathematics there is neither potentiality nor movement. Therefore the exclusion of the aforesaid necessity does not remove the unchangeableness of the divine will…

Notes As always, recall that God is outside time. God creates time. This is why the discussion of unchangeableness. We must relate to God, who is changeless and outside time, from being inside of it. Time is change. We cannot therefore ascribe to God’s mind powers that only belong to us. These few chapters thus answer the seeming objections that “God changes Him mind” or “God is or was surprised” or “God is open to the future” and such like.

Chapter 83 That God Wills Something Other Than Himself By A Necessity Of Supposition (alternate translation)

[2] …For it has been proved that the divine will is unchangeable. Now that which is once in an unchangeable thing cannot afterwards not be therein: since we say that a thing is changed when its condition is different now to what it was before. Therefore, if God’s will is unchangeable, supposing that He will something, it is necessary by supposition that He will it.

[3] Again. Everything eternal is necessary. Now that God will some particular effect to exist is eternal: for His willing, like His being, is measured by eternity. Therefore it is necessary. Not however if we consider it absolutely: because God’s will has not a necessary relation to this particular thing willed. Therefore it is necessary by supposition.

[4] Further. Whatsoever God could do, He can do, for His power is not diminished, as neither is His essence. But He cannot now not will what He is supposed to have willed, since His will is unchangeable. Therefore He never could not will whatever He has willed. Therefore it is necessary by supposition that He willed, as also that He will, whatever He willed: neither however is necessary absolutely, but possible in the aforesaid manner.

Notes Say this one three times fast! Okay, so this is true, but unsatisfying in some sense, and will be, too, because it doesn’t tell us why God does what He does nor how. But then we aren’t God and our finite minds cannot comprehend such things anyway. Think about Job!

[5] Moreover. Whosoever wills a thing, necessarily wills those things which are necessarily requisite to that thing, unless there be a defect on his part, either through ignorance, or because he is led astray from the right choice of means to the end in view, by some passion. But these things cannot be said of God. Wherefore if God, in willing Himself, wills something other than Himself, it is necessary for Him to will all that is necessarily required for what is willed by Him: even so is it necessary for God to will that there be a rational soul, supposing that He wills a man to be.

Notes And so He did will.

Chapter 84 That God’s Will Is Not Of Things Impossible In Themselves (alternate translation)

[1] HENCE it is clear that God’s will cannot be of things that are impossible in themselves.

[2] For the like are those which imply a contradiction in themselves: for instance that a man be an ass, which implies that rational is irrational. Now that which is incompatible with a thing excludes some of those things which are required for that thing: for instance, to be an ass excludes man’s reason. If, then, He wills necessarily the things that are required for those He is supposed to will, it is impossible that He will those that are incompatible with them. Hence it is impossible for Him to will things that are simply impossible.

Notes Ha ha ha! Anyway, here’s the answer to the unstoppable cannon ball meeting the immovable flag pole or any other man-made contradiction such as God can will 2 + 2 = 5. God cannot will the impossible. And this isn’t a limitation, but a perfection. This, really, is the reason the universe is predictable and comprehensible. The next arguments amplify this. Incidentally, how many readers made it to the joke?

[3] Again. As was proved above, God, by willing His own being, which is His own goodness, wills all things as bearing a likeness to Him. Now in so far as a thing is incompatible with the notion of being as such, it cannot retain a likeness to the first, that is, the divine being, which is the source of being. Wherefore God cannot will that which is incompatible with the notion of being as such. Now just as irrationality is incompatible with the notion of man as such, so is it incompatible with the notion of being as such, that anything be at the same time a being and a non-being. Hence God cannot will affirmation and negation to be true at the same time. Yet this is implied in everything which is in itself impossible, that it is incompatible with itself, in as much as it implies a contradiction. Therefore God’s will cannot be of things impossible in themselves…

Notes Hence mathematics! And don’t think about going all Godel here. That man’s theorems are about proofs, and proofs are the collection of necessarily true premises that demonstrate the truth of a proposition. Things can be true without us proving them. What Godel showed was that men cannot prove everything without assuming; indeed, this was always plain. Axioms, initial premises, are assumptions. And these axioms, given by a certain form of induction (I use this word in classical and not modern sense), must be in a sense, gifts of God.

Newly Discovered Ocean Cooling Process Implies Climate Stabler Than We Knew

Today’s post is at The Stream: “Newly Discovered Ocean Cooling Process Implies Climate Stabler Than We Knew.”

A new paper about how certain chemicals produced in the ocean might cause more atmospheric cooling than was previously believed is causing a sensation, with some asserting there is much less urgency to do something about global warming. Another source hopefully boasted the results will “scupper the Paris climate talks.”

Let’s put the results from this new paper into their proper context and see if the sensation is warranted.

One thing which is beyond debate in climatology — all scientists and not just a “consensus” are in agreement — is that climate models do a very bad job of predicting the climate. The discrepancy between what the models forecast and reality is large and growing larger. Models are running hot.

But be careful…

Go there to read the rest.

Those who have some chemistry should also read the paper, which is pretty good. I’m not expert enough to know all the limitations, but the demonstration of the effect is convincing. Their estimates of world-wide isoprenes created in this new way is open to investigation, of course.

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