Barnes Still Not Listening on the Bayesian Analysis of Fine Tuning Arguments

Cover of Christian physicist reference guide to multiverse arguments, entitled Who's Afraid of the Multiverse, by Jeffrey Zweerink, showing a bunch of bubbles full of stars lined and stacked in black space.Last month I caught up on an old thread with On the Bayesian Reversal of the Fine Tuning Argument by Sober, Ikeda, & Jefferys (against Barnes & Lowder). Luke Barnes has now thrown up a bunch of responses that are even more bizarre. One of the things I observed is how he never addresses any of my actual arguments. And now he keeps doing this yet again. And I think he sincerely doesn’t even know this is what he is doing. It looks like he delusionally believes I argued things that I didn’t, and delusionally doesn’t see the things I did argue, even when I explain them to him. I don’t know how to interact with someone like that. And on top of that, now he seems to be contradicting himself and isn’t aware he is. This is genuinely strange.

Because continuing this looks impossible—Barnes has so consistently ignored what I actually say, that I do not see the likelihood of his ever actually responding to me, making any further engagement a waste of my time—this might be the last time I bother addressing him. I’m giving him one more shot only because he’s supposed to be an actual cosmologist and not some rando. But be aware, yet again, he is already refuted by everything I already actually wrote in the original TEC article and in my latest reply to him (with one exception I’ll get to below). So honestly, you could just go back and read those. That’s all you need to see how irrelevant or wrong everything he keeps saying is. But I’ll survey it anyway.

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On the Bayesian Reversal of the Fine Tuning Argument by Sober, Ikeda, & Jefferys (against Barnes & Lowder)

Computer map of the known universe in oval form with spectral and other key items indicated, on a black background, with the text beneath saying Christianity, the belief that a god created a universe 13.75 billion lightyears across containing 200 billion galaxies, each of which contains an average of more than 200 billion stars, just so he could have a personal relationship with you. Someone has crossed out the 13.75 and relaced it with 93, writing a note at the bottom that 13.75 billion is the age of the universe, not the size. In fact the size is determined by the distance the farthest known stars have traveled in the 13.75 billion years since the light we now see reached us. Which is between 91 and 93 billion lightyears. And that's not the size either, just the size of the visible part.Clearing the dusty shelves of old unanswered things. One such is the Lowder-Barnes critique of my application of Bayesian reasoning to reverse the fine tuning argument into a case against God, rather than an argument for God. Actually this is not my argument. It is the argument of three prominent mathematicians in two independent studies. My popularization of it (in conjunction with more data from other physical scientists I cited) appeared in my chapter “Neither Life Nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed” in The End of Christianity (ed. John Loftus 2011).

The original versions of the argument appeared as cited therein: Michael Ikeda and Bill Jefferys, “The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism” (an earlier version of which appeared in Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier, eds., The Improbability of God in 2006) and Elliott Sober, “The Design Argument” (an earlier version of which appeared in W. Mann, ed., The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion in 2004; which corrects my footnote in TEC).

Cosmologist Luke Barnes critiqued this in a series of posts, and Jeff Lowder concurred somewhat in The Carrier-Barnes Exchange on Fine-Tuning (which also rounds up all the links in the debate, including my contributions). My principal point then was that Barnes wasn’t even responding to my actual argument (and thus neither to any of the mathematicians, one of whom also an astrophysicist, who originated it). He still hasn’t. Barnes had also tried the same tactics against Victor Stenger on much the same point. In my comments debate with Barnes it became increasingly clear he was a kook who simply never understood or addressed what I actually said in my chapter, and continued to refuse to after repeated requests that he do so. A debate with such a person is impossible. One would make more progress arguing with a wall. So I have nothing further to say to him. My chapter as actually written already refutes him. Since he has never responded to its actual content.

But Jeff Lowder is not a kook. He is a responsible philosopher who listens, takes considerable caution, and will strive to get an opponent’s arguments correct. So I am writing this entry today in response to his take on our debate (a take which wisely avoided even discussing most of Barnes’s weird and irrelevant arguments). [Read more…]

Tai Solarin: The Greatest Nigerian Atheist & Humanist

Cover of Babalola's book on Tai Solarin, with the title, subtitle, and author in black on white background, with a photograph of a young Tai Solarin in black and white against the background.Do you want to cuddle in with an interesting biography on a subject you probably never imagined reading about? Then I have a book recommendation for you. It’s a little personal. And a lot about humanism as a movement today, and its global importance, not just local.

In 1995 I wrote an essay on Tai Solarin for my African History course, just a year after his death. Which I soon after published on the Secular Web (“Tai Solarin: His Life, Ideas, and Accomplishments“). Because I thought this guy needed way more press. I often did this in my history courses: ask the prof who the most famous atheist was in the culture we were studying, and research and write about them. Because famous atheists in other cultures? Not usually much talked about. In my Ancient China course, this would be Wang Ch’ung, for whose discovery I am forever grateful (thank you, Professor David Keightley!). In my African History course, it was Tai Solarin (thank you, Dr. Ola Washington!).

If you want a quick introduction to the man and his importance to the history of Nigeria, and Africa, and atheism and humanism therein, definitely read or skim my article. There is now of course a Wikipedia entry on him. Which relies a lot on my essay and its research, but adds even more. And now also a website dedicated to his memory and biography.

I researched my article largely through reading archived African newspapers at UCLA. As well as Norm Allen’s interview of him in Free Inquiry. And the few books there were by and about him. And ever since I posted it online, I’ve had a lot of people express their gratitude for publishing it. Both people who knew him or of him, and his work, in particular his co-founding (with his wife Sheila) and running of the most famous secular humanist school in the country…or possibly anywhere (the Mayflower School); and people who had never heard of him and were so pleased to have had the opportunity to.

Now, of course, his memory is everywhere on the internet.

But a new development of note has transpired:

Dr. Dele Babalola (M.D.), though himself a Christian, has written the most admiring and comprehensive and personal biography of Tai Solarin and his school. By a mile. Babalola was a student at Mayflower when Solarin was still teaching there. He has numerous personal memories and recollections of him and his friends and family, and of the school and what it was like, and some of his fellow students there and what became of them. As a historian, I value works like this. This is memory that would have been lost had it not been written down and made available to the world. And that material only enhances Babalola’s general biographical treatment, which is also well-researched and well-informed. He consulted historians and leading lights in African and African-American humanism, as well as all manner of sources besides. Babalola covers Solarin’s whole life, including his path from Christianity to Secular Humanism, and the political and social context of his goals and accomplishments.

This is a great read for anyone curious to get a look into the memory of someone who was there and knew the man, and who gathers the facts well beyond, of a great humanist, atheist, and champion of education, and his creation of a secular humanist academy where one might least expect. Tai Solarin was the most famous atheist and humanist not just in Nigeria, but all of Africa. His fame and influence there can be equated with that of Dawkins or Harris in America or the UK. Though unlike them he co-founded and ran a school that taught humanism and its values. A school that still operates today, teaching some 6000 pupils a year.

Definitely get a look at this book. Get a peak at what’s going on and has gone on in the rest of the world, through the lens of the life and achievements of a great humanist and educationalist: Tai Solarin: Africa’s Greatest Educationist and Humanist by Dele Babalola. Available in print and kindle, hard cover and soft.

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Dear readers: I’d love it if you could show your appreciation or support my work with a one time donation through PayPal or become a regular Patron for even just a dollar a post. Simple information posts like this I don’t count for that. But I write on all manner of other subjects, from history and philosophy, and socio-political concerns, to traditional counter-apologetics. For more options, including buying my books in any format, visit my Support page. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

January Counter-Apologetics Course: Now Including Islam!

Logo for Partners for Secular Activism. The letters PSA in blue, in an art decco font, over a light grey watermark of a compass pointing near to north, all on a white backround.Next month I’ll be teaching my popular course Counter-Apologetics: The Best Ways to Refute Arguments for God. And this time I am including material on how to counteract Islamic apologetics. The required course text is still Murray’s comprehensive yet succinct Atheist’s Primer (which you should get as soon as possible in print or Google). Material on how to interact with Islamic apologists will be provided in-course for free, and is based on Dr. Carrier’s considerable experience debating Muslims (in podcasts, stage debates, and articles), and his contact with ex-Muslims, including some who became “ex” because of his work. He can provide key insights from that.

Most of the course will remain focused on generic arguments for and against the existence of God (and miracles and religious experiences generally), because they are equally effective, or equally necessary, against all forms of theism. And special attention will be given as always to popular Christian apologetic tactics and arguments, not only because they are increasingly being adopted and adapted by Muslims in defense of their own religion, but also because by far the largest barrier to material and moral progress, and human and civil rights, in the West, is still Christians and Christianity.

More details on the course structure and content:

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The Moral Bankruptcy of Divine Command Theory: Matthew Flannagan’s Failed Defense

Cover of Doctor Hector Avalos's book Bad Jesus: The Ethics of the New Testament, yellow background, with a frame including the key focus of a painting depicting Jesus whipping people in the temple square.Theology has no salvageable theory of morality. Theists complain atheists have no reason to be moral. But in fact theists have no reason to actually be moral, as in: to elevate compassion, honesty, and reasonableness above all authority, even the authority of their own gods. Unless they covertly adopt a naturalistic moral theory (and most do), they are not actually moral people. They are minions. Theists are essentially the unquestioning gestapo of whatever monster manufactured the universe. Or rather, whatever monster some men made up and duped them into thinking it made the universe. Which means, they are essentially the gestapo of whatever random ignorant madmen wrote their scriptures and now thumps their pulpits with sufficiently fiery claims of special divine communications at bedtime.

I’m sorry to say, but that’s the truth. Theism actually has no moral theory.

This is why.

Hannibal Lecter created the universe? He escaped from a future holodeck simulation and then used a stolen TARDIS to Make the Universe after evaporating God by discovering the Babel Fish? Oh crap. Well, I guess we better get down with murder and elegant cannibalism or else he’ll be angry with us and send us to hell. Because he is now eternal and the supreme being and made the universe. So we can’t deny, his will and character is now the ground of all morality. And, oh yeah. This all totally makes sense.

Is that any more sensible than…?

A cosmic Jewish zombie named Jesus who telekinetically fathered himself by a virgin and now resides in outer space, is possessed by the spirit of a supernal ghost that is in some sort of parallel-dimensioning identical with but distinct from himself and an ancient Canaanite storm god, and promises to make you live forever in an alternate dimension if you symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood, and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that has eternally tainted our mammalian flesh ever since a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. So you better do what he says.

And lest we forget, that’s the Jesus who has nothing to say against slavery or the subjugation and disenfranchisement of women or the execution of homosexuals, other than, at best, that you shouldn’t invite sluts and homos to legally murder the sluts and homos because that would be hypocritical (John 7:52-8:11, a forgery). Oh no, you are supposed to wait for Jesus to murder them (Matthew 3:12). This Jesus is actually a morally dubious person.

You can always invent any Jesus you want, of course. A Jesus who fought for abolition and women’s suffrage and the decriminalization of homosexuality—and, oh, let’s say, promoted democracy and human rights and universal education (also not things Jesus ever says one word for in the Bible). But that’s just a guy you are making up in your head. Because you don’t like the guy on paper. Except… That you have to invent a better Jesus than the one that’s in the Book, really says all that needs saying here.

Matthew Flannagan & My Article for Philo

Several years ago (though it entered print only a couple years ago) I published a paper in the philosophy journal Philo, responding to Christian fundamentalist Matthew Flannagan on behalf of noted atheist philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, whom Flannagan had written an article against, defending William Lane Craig’s Divine Command Theory against Sinnott-Armstrong’s rather scathing destruction of it. Sinnott-Armstrong was probably bored at this point. I was recruited to write the rebuttal. The result is Richard Carrier, “On the Facts as We Know Them, Ethical Naturalism Is All There Is: A Reply to Matthew Flannagan,” Philo 15.2 (Fall-Winter 2012), pp. 200-11, I think so far my favorite paper for a peer reviewed philosophy journal.

The abstract reads:

In responding to Matthew Flannagan’s rebuttal to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s argument that ethical naturalism is more plausible than William Lane Craig’s Divine Command Theory of moral obligation (DCT), this author finds Flannagan incorrect on almost every point. Any defense of DCT is fallaciously circular and empirically untestable, whereas neither is the case for ethical naturalism. Accordingly, all four of Armstrong’s objections stand against Flannagan’s attempts to rebut them, and Flannagan’s case is impotent against a properly-formed naturalist metaethic.

In this paper I found Sinnott-Armstrong indisputably correct on every point but one, and even on that one he was correct, he just didn’t adequately prove it. My other peer reviewed paper on normative ethics, the chapter “Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them)” in The End of Christianity (ed. by John Loftus: Prometheus, 2011: pp. 333-64, 420-29), is an example of proving the point he intended, which is that grounds for morality not only do, but necessarily must exist independently of any gods, because in no other way can moral claims be sufficiently motivating so as to be true.

Flannagan has since published replies to my critique of him on his website (“Richard Carrier and the Arbitrariness Objection,” 5 September 2014, and “Richard Carrier and the Abhorrent Commands Objection,” 5 October 2014, and “Ethical Supernaturalism Is Still More Plausible Than Naturalism: Carrier’s Preliminary Objections,” 20 August 2014). Below I will summarize my paper in Philo, which summary already refutes most of what Flannagan now says—since what he now says pretty much ignores what I said, so restating what I said is a more than adequate rebuttal. And then I’ll address the remainder of Flannagan’s new rebuttals. The end result is not any different from where we started…

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Support Skepticon This Year!

Logo for Skepticon 8I’ll be attending Skepticon this November just as a regular Joe. But it’s a fantastic event that deserves your support. A thousand and more people benefit from getting to attend a free, well-run, kick-ass godless conference in the middle of the Bible Belt. There a number of different ways you can help. Some come with great perks! So click that link and see what you can do. And if you attend and can afford to pay any amount with your registration, throw some cash in when you register to go (and always please register, even if for free, so they know how many people to expect).

Please Donate to the Southwest Secular Student Conference!

Snapshot of the front website page for the conference, showing Heina Dadabhoy, who will be speaking at the event, along with many others.This September the SSA is putting on a conference for students across the U.S. at the Claremont Colleges. They need financial support to pull it off. They will announce a full lineup of speakers and workshops soon, but they already have Heina Dadabhoy, Greta Christina, and Sikivu Hutchinson on deck, and more to come. I’ve been to several. These conferences are generally pretty awesome. So please donate today!

I’ve explained before why the SSA deserves your financial support in general (so if you don’t know, definitely see what I’ve already said about that). Conferences like this are needed to grow the size and number, and improve the effectiveness, of campus groups throughout the Western states (the SSA helps fly student leaders in from campuses all over the West to get trained and motivated at these conferences), to spread reason, secularism, and liberation from religion. And to college students, the future of our country. This is especially needed to combat Campus Crusade for Christ and similar organizations pushing religion onto students.

My readers might like to know in particular that Claremont Colleges is where the innovative New Testament critic Dennis MacDonald holds a professorship, and where Dr. Phil Zuckerman has launched the first college major in Secular Studies in America (and he might be a featured speaker as well). So this is a great rallying point for an SSA conference. Indeed, if you can attend, you might want to! Especially if you want to get more involved in community activism, as a lot of what these conferences cover is how to kick ass at that.

But above all, help spread godless freethought across the colleges of the Southwest by helping support this conference financially. Anything you donate will be useful.

Monster on Sunday! (with Shelley Segal & Steve Hill in San Diego, August 7)

Flyer for the upcoming show discussed in the blog. In addition to the details mentioned there, shows photos of all the artists performing at the event, but otherwise contains all the same info included in the blog text.Earlier this year I got to party on the town with a gaggle of groovy atheist activists in San Diego. And among them was the cool new musical duo Monster on Sunday, Steve and Tally Cass. The both of them were awesome and beautiful company. And I was really keen to hear their first album. Not only because there is a dearth of good hip new atheism-anthem music, but also a dearth of real hard rock in general…

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Help Win Secular Students Week; Play a Board Game with Richard Carrier

Photo of a game in play of Star Trek Catan, which Richard Carrier took while playing with his family.Okay, so. The Secular Student Alliance, one of the best run and most important atheist community organizations we have, is running a fundraiser this week. They want to reach 500 new donors by June 17th. I asked them what minimum donation would count and they said $5. And I said “phhhhllllt!” to that. For my haughty self will only count donors who give at least $35, the minimum to become a supporting member for a year. Because, hey, You Should Join the SSA (At the Very Least!). I mean, if you want to cultivate the best future for atheism, or do not want to live in a world where Campus Crusade for Christ outspends us tenfold on winning over college students. So I’ll ask the SSA after the 17th if they got at least 500 donations of at least $35. And if they do, this is what I’ll do…

I will play a board game with the top five donors who want the pleasure of my gaming company. In person. (Or via live feed if they prefer.) That is, the five who (1) gave the biggest donations and (2) want in on my offer. If you score (1) and (2) on that (and ties will be won by chronological order of donation: s/he who donates first, gets the prize!), then you will get to choose one of the following two options:

  • We can schedule a live feed game anytime that suits us both (I can do Skype, Google Hangout, and Facetime), and you can invite as many other players as you want to join in on your end. This option presents some technical challenges we’d work out in advance (possibly requiring you to also invite one non-player attendee to be my physical proxy for holding cards and moving pieces and whatnot).
  • Every time I will be in your city for any other reason (and you might be able to cajole some local organization(s) to create that reason) I’ll check ahead of time with you if we can arrange a game date, with you and again as many others as you want to invite, until it happens.

The upside of the first option is that it can happen as soon as we have a mutually open schedule. Because the downside of the second option is that it may be a very long time before I pass through your town. The offer is good until fulfilled, though. It is also good for encounters in other cities, but you’d have to let me know about that well enough in advance to see if we can make that work (e.g. if you’ll be attending a conference I’ll also be at, and you bring the game you want to play, etc.).

What board games? Pretty much any tabletop game you have and can teach me to play. Including most card games. I’m already well familiar with various sets of Catan, for example. Depicted above is a photo I took of the state of play of a fun game of Star Trek Catan I enjoyed with my parents and sister recently. I also like some really obscure and complicated things you’ve probably never heard of, like Iron Dragon, Titan, Merchant of Venus (original set; never buy the new one, which they dumbed down to stupidville). Talisman of course. Love Shogun (now known by the stupid name Samurai Swords because a certain novelist was a dick). Oh, hey, and, you know, the game I invented when I was a teenager. Back then I actually used to play Squad Leader a lot, too (and still have an old ASL set). I own some version of Axis and Allies and Conquest of the Empire (sort of a Roman Empire version of Axis and Allies). Various other stuff. Yes, I know how to play Cards against Humanity. And poker. And Scrabble. And traditional Mah Jong. Etcetera Etcetera. But you can teach me stuff, too! Someone recently taught me the delightful game Gloom. So, you know, it can be almost anything you want. (But no Role Playing Games. I’m reserving that get for a special future fundraiser. For this get, it’s board games only, or any card games that aren’t collection based, e.g. I won’t play Magic: The Gathering).

Even if you aren’t into gaming. Help the SSA out and make me proud. To hit their target of 500 donors, and my dream of 500 donors at $35 level or more, tell lots of people about this post, spread the word, especially to any friends you know are into tabletop gaming. And donate yourself. And if you want to try for winning a game meet with me, try to donate a lot!

If you want to know more, the SSA this week is collecting a number of special guest blogs and interviews of am.azing students they’ve helped who have inspiring or fascinating stories about it. Check those out.

* Plus, be aware! If the SSA meets their goal of 500 new donors, they unlock a $20,000 challenge grant! So you have even more incentive to give just something. Even just five dollars! *

Myths of Charity: The Enduring Sham of Arthur Brooks

Photo of an actual Louisiana Disaster Assistance debit card or automated benefit card, produced by the department of social services.Six years ago Arthur Brooks published Who Really Cares (which has gone through several subtitles, from America’s Charity Divide to Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters to The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism). This book is still triumphantly cited by many conservatives and libertarians as proving various dubious things, but especially two in particular: that atheists are less charitable than religious believers, and that privatizing all social welfare would improve social welfare.

But this book is largely a sham. It cooks the numbers and uses devious logical tricks to make it seem as though its conclusions are true, when in fact they demonstrably are not (or at best are demonstrably undemonstrated). A good skeptic doesn’t just believe what she reads; she checks the facts and the logic to make sure she’s not being snowed. Sadly, libertarians (usually men) who cite this book at me (as happened last year in a private communication) are bad skeptics. Because they don’t treat this book skeptically. At all. It just corroborates their ideology, so obviously it can’t be incorrect about anything, and one shouldn’t even think to check if it is.

This struck me the moment that exchange happened: a notable man claimed to me that data in Who Really Cares proves that “the working poor” give “three times more” to charity than anyone “on public assistance” at the same income level, and therefore public welfare makes people less charitable. Of course, right away I was suspicious, since it seems absurd to think someone who can only survive by receiving charity should be expected to give anything to charity. (Can you imagine badmouthing a disabled homeless person dependent on your soup kitchen and group home for not giving anything to charity…that lousy miser!)

But more importantly to today’s lesson, I was immediately suspicious of the statistic. [Read more…]