Wednesday, 28 January 2015

What's wrong with the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

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The Kalam argument is essentially that every action has a cause, and that an infinite set of cause/effect events can only stretch from an exact starting point into the future (e.g if yesterday you launched a rocket into space on an infinite journey).  It proposes we cannot have an infinite number of events in the past because the current event will always be waiting for an infinite number of prior events to complete.

Any amount of events could logically occur, even an infinite amount of events, if they all occurred at the same time. The important clause in the infinite regression argument is that because we are looking for a cause of the universe these must be cause/effect events, so A must always initiate (but not necessarily complete) before B is initiated, and so on. No matter how small an amount of time elapses between the initiations of A and B it will always be above zero.  Therefore it will always take an infinite amount of time to perform an infinite amount of cause/effect actions, because any number above zero (time) multiplied by an infinity is also an infinity. Effectively we end up waiting for an infinite past to expire before "now" can arrive, and it would seem, at least intuitively, that this cannot happen.

William Lane Craig (and thus Hamza) use this as an argument to claim there must have been an initial cause that was itself not caused.  In this way we could have a finite starting point and can reach the event in question (in this case the big bang). If the initial cause was some intelligent agent that decided to create the universe then the first action occurred 13.8 billion years ago and took 13.8 billion years worth of cause/effect events to get to point when I would start to write this post.  No previous cause is required because it was a decision that started the events from a fixed point and not a previous cause/effect event.

These proponents use the term "infinite regression of events" because they need to hide the fact that it is actually the infinite amount time that is the problem.  They convert a non-action into a first action by invoking an intelligent agent which makes the decision to act.  Using "total number of events" as a unit of measurement the sequence can be initiated with a non-physical event (a decision) and thus provide a termination to avoid a historical infinity. When using time as a unit of measurement the same trick cannot be employed, because there will always be an amount of time between the decision and the action, and also an amount of time before the decision itself.  Using the terminology of events is an attempt to avoid the question "So how long did this intelligent agent exist for before creating the universe?"

When asked this question the answer always seems to be the claim that the agent is eternal. The use of the word "eternal" here is to avoid saying the agent existed forever, because that is an infinite amount of time and we end up with the same infinite regression problem.

The use of the word "eternal" instead suggests that the agent is somehow able to "exist" in a kind of timeless dimension, and in doing removes the necessity of it having to exist for an impossibly infinite amount of time before it created the universe.  So here the proponents of this argument sacrifice the existence of time itself, and have it appear as part of the creation of the universe.

So now the proponents have argued that there is no infinite regression of events, just 13.8 billion years worth, and they have also argued that there is no infinite regression of time because the intelligent agent was without time. However this just leads to a different problem, did this agent have any choice but to create the universe?

In order to have free will one must be at a point where there is a choice to make from numerous options. In this case the options would be to create or not create a universe (putting aside the incalculable options of what form it should take). Importantly, to have free will, the agent must then be able to make a decision based on those options.

The problem is that you must have the options before making the choice, there needs to be a logical precedence in order for free will to work, it essentially boils down to cause/effect of an intelligent source where the cause is the choice and the effect is the intelligent decision that was made.  That is where the problem is, to have cause/effect, even of an intelligent kind, you need time!

Without time either nothing happens, or everything happens at once in a non-deterministic way. How can an intelligence non-deterministically determine how to create a universe?  Did the universe not spring into existence at all because nothing happens in a timeless dimension? Obviously not!

So if everything in a timeless dimension happens at once then this requires the decision to create the universe, to exist simultaneously with the choice of whether or not to create one at all, while simultaneously the universe is already in existence.

If this agent created time before the initial state of the universe in order to avoid the paradox of the universe seed both existing and not existing simultaneously, it just moves the problem to time itself. Time itself would simultanously exist and not exist in this timeless dimension, and then not even as an effect of an intelligent decision to create it.

Without time there can be no logical sequence of evaluating options, making a choice, and then actioning that choice. These are essential for the freedom of will and freedom to act.  Without freewill and/or freedom to act this intelligent agent is impotent, its intelligence is redundant.  Powerful non-intelligent events are called "nature", rendering the existence of the universe an unknown (and very perplexing) natural event.

With time in this dimension there can be no way this intelligent agent can exist for an infinite duration. Without time the agent is irrelevant.

One thing seems pretty certain, and that is 13.8 billion years ago the universe was very tiny. There is no evidence to suggest the universe didn't exist prior to this time, we only know it existed in a different form. We don't even know it started to expand at that point in time, we just know that at a certain point in time it was expanding at a rate we could actually measure.

To even say there is evidence the universe was "created" or "began to exist" is wrong, and all of the logical fallacies built on top of this erroneous basis which require a complex reality of timeless realms are worthless on account that they are both unprovable and unfalsifiable.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Scorning the Prophet is an act of violence - Tim Winters in The Telegraph

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Tim Winters, also known as Abdal Hakim Murad, is a British Muslim theologian and broadcaster. To some he might only be known for video footage in which he explains how homosexuality is an "inherent aberration" and how homosexuals themselves are "ignorant people who don't know what their bodies are for" (See here) The video footage is 15-20 years old and Timothy Winters has apologised for the offence caused by his statements and has distanced himself from them, although I've yet to find a statement from him saying that homosexuality is not an inherent aberration and that homosexuals are not ignorant of what their bodies are for.

This morning I read the article "Scorning the Prophet goes beyond free speech, it's an act of violence" in The Telegraph. It starts with the words "The Paris murders aside, the law has a duty to protect us all from insult and abuse". I thought the opening line seemed to set the whole article up for a session of victim blaming, and it seems I wasn't wrong.  Here are my objections to the article:

The Paris murders aside, the law has a duty to protect us all from insult and abuse

No, this is simply not something you do.  You do not put aside the murder of numerous people merely for causing offence, and then go on to say they should not have offended the killers in the first place.  The law does have a duty to protect people from abuse, but it does not have any duty to protect us from insult.  Don't tell people to forget the disproportionate response in order to get to see how upset you were that some people drew some cartoons.

Muslims believe in every jot and tittle of the Second Commandment. We are to make no graven images of any living thing, irrespective of whether such images might or might not lure the unwary into idolatry.

Here's the thing...I am not a Muslim. I don't believe in the second commandment, My beliefs (or lack of) do not constrain me to avoid drawing pictures.  If that is what you believe that's nice for you, don't do it, but don't tell the rest of the world we have to adhere to your beliefs.  The more you demand the drawing of Muhammad should be forbidden, the more necessary it is for unbelievers to draw him in order to maintain the freedom of our non-Islamic laws.

Unlike some other commandments, notably those against murder, adultery and theft, the Second is treated as a somewhat marginal issue in the classical manuals of Islamic ethics and law. Making pictures of people is forbidden, certainly, but it is hardly as wicked as missing a prayer, or neglecting the welfare of parents.

It should be treated as a marginal offence, for Muslims within a state ruled by Islamic law, and not a more serious offence like (as mentioned) deliberately missing prayers which, by the way, warrants a death penalty.  Let's not forget that Muslims themselves have painted pictures of Muhammad throughout the years.

The murders were the acts of criminals with troubled pasts and little religious knowledge...The difficulty lay in the evident intention to mock, deride and wound. To portray the Prophet naked, or with a bomb in his turban, was not the simple manufacturing of a graven image. It was received, and rightly so, as a deliberate insult to an already maligned and vulnerable community.

The problem with the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is that they were offensive.  Something which, according to hadiths, carried a death sentence during the life of Muhammad.  In this hadith (story from Muhammad's life) a singing girl used to mock Muhammad, and upon his conquest of Mecca he ordered her to be killed even if she was seeking refuge on sacred ground; and in this hadith Muhammad was told about a blind man who stabbed to death his own wife, his wife who was also his slave.  Muhammad was about to rule on his punishment when he was told the murdered women used to abuse and disparage him with her words, in response to these accusations Muhammad declared there should be no punishment for the murderer.

Perhaps these killers were inspired by these stories from Muhammad's own actions, stories which were probably made up over a hundred years after Muhammad's death and shouldn't even be part of Islam?

Scorn towards despised minorities is a hazardous business. During the days of Nazi terror, cartoons supplied a key weapon of anti-Jewish polemic

This is an awful misrepresentation.  As you have just said yourself, the Nazi's propaganda was anti-Jewish, it was not anti-Judaism, and it certainly wasn't a mere mockery of the claims of Judaism itself.  The Nazi's didn't mock stories of burning bushes, or bread falling from the sky, they produced material which portrayed Jewish people as sub-human, people to be despised. To compare this to a mockery of the idea that non-Muslims have to abide by blasphemy rules of a belief system they do not believe in is absurd beyond words.

To laugh at the Prophet, the repository of all that Muslims revere and find precious, to reduce him to the level of the scabrous and comedic, is something very different from “free speech” as usually understood. It is a violent act surely conscious of its capacity to cause distress, ratchet up prejudice and damage social cohesion.

A violent act?  If someone is violent towards you then it is easier to understand a violent reaction, and it is clear that this is your intention when labelling it as a violent act.  Who was physically injured by this violent act?   This is a very poor attempt at excusing violent reprisal! Could you please supply a list of victims, their injuries, and at which hospitals they were treated?  To classify those cartoons as violent acts is as erroneous as classifying the ensuing murders as art.

an atheist activist was convicted for distributing anti-Christian images in the prayer room at Liverpool Airport. The deeply distressed airport chaplain took him to court, and won easily.

Again, I object.  The offender mentioned in this case went to a place of worship and distributed his materials, he was pushing the information onto people who did not want it.  The problem with his case isn't that he was producing material insulting religious ideas, but that he was being anti-social in distributing this material without permission on private property, it was harassment, it was material that contained images of a sexual nature being distributed in a public place where there are children.

My second objection is that this story has been misrepresented as a man being prosecuted for distributing "anti-Christian" images, this simply is not the case.  According to this news article, which also appeared in The Telegraph, the images consisted of

  1. Jesus on a cross next to an advert for "No more nails."
  2. Islamic suicide bombers at the gates of heaven being told "Stop, stop, we've run out of virgins"
  3. Two Muslims holding a placard demanding equality for everyone except women and homosexuals.
  4. A drawing of the Pope with a condom on his finger.
  5. A women kneeling in front of a Catholic priest captioned with a crude pun.
  6. An image where sausages were labelled as "The Koran."

Labelling pork as "The Quran" would be considered a massive offence by many Muslims.  From these descriptions it seems these leaflets were more derogatory about Islam than Christianity.

The crime for which this man was arrested was harassment, and rightly so. I would be equally as willing to condemn anyone for handing out Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Muhammad in a Mosque in order to cause offence, that too would be harassment!

Mr Winters was obviously aware of the details of this case, so why pretend it was a purely anti-Christian act that resulted in the successful prosecution of the perpetrator?  His purpose was simply to make it look as though it is an example of double standards when it comes to mocking Islam.  It is an attempt at making the Muslim community victims of injustice.  Whether this injustice actually exists or not I do not know, but the cited case is a clear example of faking such injustice.

It is for the many Muslims who now populate the Inns of Court to discover whether these legal precepts can in practice be used to protect non-Christians from abuse. A series of complex cases would trigger an overdue national and perhaps Europe-wide discussion on the right to protection from hate speech. Not all the lawsuits would succeed, but the community would have shown that it is determined to enjoy the protection of our country’s laws.

Go ahead, that is what the courts are for! If you don't like the ruling then that is what appeals are for! These laws that apply to any case on the mockery of Christianity also apply to the mockery Islam, these laws that apply to dehumanisation of Christians also apply to the dehumanisation of Muslims.

You should perhaps be careful what you wish for.  The freedom of speech laws which permit people to mock your beliefs are the exact same ones which allow Muslims to call for the establishment of an Islamic system of government in the UK, to say non-believers are worse than cattle, and that we are people of no intelligence.  British law does not protect people from hurt feelings, nor should it.  If it did then religious books such as The Quran and The Old Testament, which deride homosexuals and unbelievers would be amongst the first to be censored.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Blasphemy and the BBC

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Recently I read this excellent article on the BBC news website by the historian Tom Holland.  Once again the BBC have not published  examples of the cartoons that caused the offence.  Personally I think it is important to show these kinds of images so that people can get a fuller idea of what exactly what was perceived as so offensive that it resulted in the murder of twelve people,  It is important that people see these images so they can be more appropriately outraged at the horrendous reaction to such irrelevant cartoon pictures.

The BBC seem to have a policy of not showing images that depict the Islamic prophet Muhammad, but why?  This got me thinking, are the BBC as equally sensitive about not displaying images that upset people of other religions?

The first thing that sprung to mind was the Jeremy Paxman interview with the Jesus and Mo author.  During this interview the author was shown drawing a typical cell from one of his cartoons.  The BBC showed the footage only as far as him drawing Jesus, and then cut before he started to draw Muhammad (3 min 25 secs).

A quick browse through the BBC news website revealed that the level of "respect" shown for the feelings of Muslim's is higher than that of people of other beliefs.  I have deliberately chosen a few examples not just of images the BBC have shown, but specifically ones where the story is about how people were offended by those images for religious reasons.

The first article is about a modified depiction of Da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper.  I am not sure how it was deemed offensive but this poster, advertising a clothing brand, was ruled as "a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people's innermost beliefs" by a judge in Milan and the poster was banned.  The BBC wanted us to see the offensive material so we could judge for ourselves whether or not this was an overreaction.  Article here.

The second article contains not one but two prints of posters that received complaints on the grounds of religious offence.  The campaign seems to have centred around the idea of selling ice cream by promoting indulgence in carnal pleasures.  The first image depicts a pregnant nun, and the second depicts two priests in a homoerotic pose clearly about to passionately kiss each other.  Again it seems it was important for the readers to get an idea of the content of the posters that had raised complaints. Article here.

The third article is about how a news paper advert for a betting firm was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority who said it was "likely to cause serious or widespread offence".  Even though this image was banned from appearing in newspapers (mainly for breaching advertising standard on associating gambling and sex) the BBC thought it was necessary to show an image of Jesus with a bottle in one hand and a bikini clad Brazilian woman in the other. Article here.

The final article is a story about how a billboard poster in New Zealand was causing offence to Christians.  It depicted a downcast Joseph in bed with Mary accompanied by the caption "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow".  The offence here presumably is that God's impregnation of the Virgin Mary (Miriam in Islam) was an act that physically pleasured Mary, or in other words, God gave her one and it was the best ever. Article here.

Joseph and Mary are revered in Islam.  So why is it that depicting Muhammad is seen as such a taboo when the portrayal and mockery of other Islamic figures (and even God himself) is okay?  Muslims consider Allah to be the god of the Torah and the Bible, so why is it okay to say "God was a hard act to follow" but not "Allah was a hard act to follow"?
**Update: I mistakenly listed Joseph as a prophet.

Is seems it is okay for the BBC to show material mocking "God", but wouldn't consider showing material mocking Allah.  It's okay to show material mocking Jesus but not Muhammad, even when it is on the same piece of paper.  Why is this?

The answer lies not in the perceived insult of people (and God himself) revered by Islam, but in linking the identities of the mocked specifically to Islam.  It's okay to mock Joseph/Jesus/God as long as you aren't mocking them by their Islamic specific names Yusuf/Isa/Allah.  Mocking the Islamic terminology is seen as a threat to the institute of Islam, something empires simply cannot afford to tolerate in case it weakens its control over the masses. This is why Muslims wishing to install Islam as a world political system (read "Empire") try to whip up such a frenzy of offence amongst the world's Muslim population whenever Muhammad is mocked in a cartoon.

The BBC should be neutral when it comes to reproducing materials, either show offending material or don't.  If  an image will offend people then it is quite noble of the BBC not to reproduce it, but to avoid reproducing images that are a vitally important part of the story is simply ridiculous.

The sad thing is that the BBC has been reproducing offensive images of Islamic prophets for years.  They are not avoiding offence, they are (possibly inadvertently) only avoiding shaking the foundations of an Islamic empire.  How many other states are afforded the same privilege?