Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Miracles and the supernatural

I've been thinking...

The conservation of energy seems to be one of the most fundamental and well established laws in physics. It has a pretty strong mathematical basis thanks to Emmy Noether (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noether's_theorem) and really is the basic foundation for all of our understanding about how things work in the universe. Basically, energy can't be created or destroyed, it can only change form. Since it is also pretty firmly established that mass and energy are equivalent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass-energy_equivalence), the same applies to everything we generally interact with in the world.

So, my thought is that miracles, and the supernatural in general, would be at their heart violations of the conservation of energy. We all have a pretty intuitive understanding of this, which is why they would be considered something special at all. (Despite the fact that this site pretty much thinks that's a perfectly reasonable thing to have happen, they have a nice list so I'll link to it.)

So, the interesting thing about such powers is that they "seem" to be fully controllable (yay, free energy!) until you actually try to test them under controlled conditions (resulting in the typical tired excuses).

Now, I suppose that, in theory, telekinesis could work, as long as the person doing the telekinesising (that is so not a word, but so should be) is actually expending as much energy as is being used to apply a force somewhere else. Of course, if we could actually determine the mechanism by which this sort of action-at-a-distance is being done, it would no longer be supernatural, and merely a new understanding of nature.

Now, I'll be honest here, I don't know that I really had a point to this post, so it will be difficult to wrap up. I'm just thinking. That's why this blog is called Inverse Thinking.

So, if your deity of choice is omniscient and omnipotent, how does that work? If God is embedded in every part of the universe, but has the ability to introduce an unlimited amount of new energy into it, why build a universe that is so utterly strict on the energy thing? And why be so utterly stingy about it?

I suppose the point is this: If you accept the conservation of energy as absolute, you also have to dismiss the notion that God intervenes in the universe. You also have a pretty solid baseline for dismissing all other supernatural claims.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What is offense?

I was thinking... what is offensive? I'm not sure it's actually possible to offend me. There may be things people say that make me angry, but that seems to be a different concept from offense. Some people may say things that make me uncomfortable, but that's not really offense either.

Offense simply seems to be a reaction that people have when reality contradicts their deeply held beliefs. Perhaps "militant delusion response" would be more accurate than "offense."

On this basis, why do we seem to believe that people have some sort of right to not be offended?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Game Haters

There are certain people in the world who are Game Haters. They hate computer and video games, the Grand Theft Auto series in particular, and would love to have them all banned.

The thinking seems to go something like, "Video games take over your mind and turn otherwise good and kind human beings into precision killers."

Curiously, this line of reasoning seems to come from the Christian right. If I am not completely mistaken, I would expect this group to have some concept of free will ingrained into their theology, otherwise the concepts of sin and salvation become a little hard to sell.

So, which is it going to be? Are people free to make their own choices, or are these people actually suggesting that video games (of all things) are a powerful force that can literally bypass an individual's God-given free will?

OK, OK, even I can't tell where the sarcasm ends and the reality begins in the above. It just struck me as clear hypocrisy the other day - that a group that depends on free will to have any validity in their beliefs apparently also believes that there are tools of absolute mind control. Since I figure they're pretty much as wrong as it is possible to be wrong, on pretty well all counts, perhaps I should not be surprised. I just wish someone in the media would call them on it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why atheism?

I responded to a post asking how/why one becomes an atheist. I thought I would post it here because this is a pretty good summary of why I believe what I believe.


I am an atheist because I believe physical evidence is and should be the final arbiter in all questions about reality. I'm not entirely sure how else you could define reality.

I am an atheist because I believe that doubt (not faith) is the path to truth. This is to some extent the core principle of science, and it has proven a very effective method for dispelling misconceptions.

I am an atheist because even the briefest investigation into brain injury or disease would demonstrate that there is no reason to believe that our memories, thoughts, emotions or personality ("soul") are separate from the physical nature of our brain.

I am an atheist because religion is arbitrary. Most people in the world follow the religion of their parents. Culture plays a significant role in which parts of a religion are followed (and which parts are ignored).

I am an atheist because I understand that every part of my body is composed of the same elements that everything else in the universe is made from - hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, phosphorus, iron, etc. There is nothing inherently "special" about life. Life is just self-replicating molecules, some of which have managed to replicate more than others because they are better suited to their environment.

I am an atheist because there has never been any repeatable experiment that in any way demonstrated supernatural or psychic powers. More to the point, everyone who has ever claimed to have such powers and has been subject to scientific inquiry has proven to either be mistaken or, more frequently, and outright fraud.

I am an atheist because I find all (or more) of the wonder, beauty and excitement in knowledge and learning that others seem to find in religion (with the added bonus of actual evidence). I feel sorry for those who can't or won't experience it - though I'm sure the feeling is mutual.

Ultimately, I think everyone needs to decide whether they are going to follow reality-based and physically-based evidence and knowledge, or mythologically-based knowledge. I can't fully understand why anyone would choose myth over evidence, as it strikes me as intellectually dishonest, but it happens with great frequency.

It is possible to form a world view that fills all of the gaps in our knowledge with "God did it," and requires that all evidence contrary to this be dismissed as "Satan did it" or "God is testing me." This world view has proven to be mistaken on countless occasions, and it seems to me to be of little value. I believe it only persists because it denies all reason that might be used to argue against it.