Recently in Morality, Religion & Philosophy Category
The basic idea behind Boltsmann brains is that if intelligence arose randomly in the universe, it's vastly more likely to arise as a lone speck of order in an "entropic soup" than to arise in the middle of a huge bubble of order like we observe around us. Most significantly, it's an approach for refuting the selection bias argument against the anthropic principle.
Boltzmann proposed that we and our observed low-entropy world are a random fluctuation in a higher-entropy universe. Even in a near-equilibrium state, there will be stochastic fluctuations in the level of entropy. The most common fluctuations will be relatively small, resulting in only small amounts of organization, while larger fluctuations and their resulting greater levels of organization will be comparatively more rare. Large fluctuations would be almost inconceivably rare, but are made possible by the enormous size of the universe and by the idea that if we are the results of a fluctuation, there is a "selection bias": we observe this very unlikely universe because the unlikely conditions are necessary for us to be here, an expression of the anthropic principle.
The Boltzmann brain paradox is that any observers (self-aware brains with memories like we have, which includes our brains) are therefore far more likely to be Boltzmann brains than evolved brains, thereby at the same time also refuting the selection-bias argument. If our current level of organization, having many self-aware entities, is a result of a random fluctuation, it is much less likely than a level of organization which only creates stand-alone self-aware entities. For every universe with the level of organization we see, there should be an enormous number of lone Boltzmann brains floating around in unorganized environments. In an infinite universe, the number of self-aware brains that spontaneously randomly form out of the chaos, complete with false memories of a life like ours, should vastly outnumber the real brains evolved from an inconceivably rare local fluctuation the size of the observable universe.
This is the first I've heard of it, but Dan Gainor claims that Warren Buffett has given over a billion dollars to pro-abortion groups since 2001. I'd like to learn more, maybe some reporter will investigate the details.
Popular Science has a fantastic article about robot ethics, with a focus on robotic cars. The whole thing is worth reading, but here's a taste.
It happens quickly--more quickly than you, being human, can fully process.
A front tire blows, and your autonomous SUV swerves. But rather than veering left, into the opposing lane of traffic, the robotic vehicle steers right. Brakes engage, the system tries to correct itself, but there's too much momentum. Like a cornball stunt in a bad action movie, you are over the cliff, in free fall.
Your robot, the one you paid good money for, has chosen to kill you. Better that, its collision-response algorithms decided, than a high-speed, head-on collision with a smaller, non-robotic compact. There were two people in that car, to your one. The math couldn't be simpler.
In my opinion, your robotic car should has customizable ethics options that let you, the owner, choose your priorities. If you want to protect your family above all else, then you should be able to select that and bear the legal consequences.
"Buy our car," jokes Michael Cahill, a law professor and vice dean at Brooklyn Law School, "but be aware that it might drive over a cliff rather than hit a car with two people."
Okay, so that was Cahill's tossed-out hypothetical, not mine. But as difficult as it would be to convince automakers to throw their own customers under the proverbial bus, or to force their hand with regulations, it might be the only option that shields them from widespread litigation. Because whatever they choose to do--kill the couple, or the driver, or randomly pick a target--these are ethical decisions being made ahead of time. As such, they could be far more vulnerable to lawsuits, says Cahill, as victims and their family members dissect and indict decisions that weren't made in the spur of the moment, "but far in advance, in the comfort of corporate offices."
In the absence of a universal standard for built-in, pre-collision ethics, superhuman cars could start to resemble supervillains, aiming for the elderly driver rather than the younger investment banker--the latter's family could potentially sue for considerably more lost wages. Or, less ghoulishly, the vehicle's designers could pick targets based solely on make and model of car. "Don't steer towards the Lexus," says Cahill. "If you have to hit something, you could program it hit a cheaper car, since the driver is more likely to have less money."
These questions seem futuristic, but our robots will be making a lot of split-second decisions for us based on the rules we set up in advance. We need to think about what those rules should be.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, formerly archbishop of St. Louis, is pushing back against the compartmentalization of religion in the public space. He asserts that free exercise of religion permeates society and is not confined to the walls of a church.
The former archbishop of St. Louis stated that Obama is trying to "restrict" religion.
"Now he wants to restrict the exercise of the freedom of religion to freedom of worship, that is, he holds that one is free to act according to his conscience within the confines of his place of worship but that, once the person leaves the place of worship, the government can constrain him to act against his rightly-formed conscience, even in the most serious of moral questions," Burke said.
UK hospitals have been burning aborted and miscarried babies for fuel in "waste to energy plants". May God bring an end to this evil and have mercy on the souls of these children.
One of the country's leading hospitals, Addenbrooke's in Cambridge, incinerated 797 babies below 13 weeks gestation at their own 'waste to energy' plant. The mothers were told the remains had been 'cremated.'
Another 'waste to energy' facility at Ipswich Hospital, operated by a private contractor, incinerated 1,101 foetal remains between 2011 and 2013.
They were brought in from another hospital before being burned, generating energy for the hospital site.
Many are comparing this atrocity to the practices of the Nazis, but it reminds me of earlier child sacrifices to Molech, Cronus, or Saturn.
I don't know the ins and outs of the Arizona religious freedom bill that Republican Governor Jan Brewer is considering now. However, I'd like to comment on the issue in a very broad sense.
People have a right to choose who they associate with. The government should only be able to force or prohibit associations when that is the least restrictive method for satisfying a compelling public interest. (And I'd define "compelling public interest" very narrowly, likely limited to life-or-death situations.) As a consequence of this right of association, people are free to discriminate in their personal lives for or against whomever they want. Unjust discrimination is immoral, but not everything that is immoral should be illegal. Business owners have a right to grant or deny service to whomever they choose; employees have a right to grant or deny services to whomever they choose; and owners can fire employees whose choices conflict with their own.
People also have a right to choose and exercise their religious beliefs, but in the context of business service I think this right is largely subsumed by the right of association. A person's religious beliefs will be one factor he uses to choose his associations, but he is free to choose his associations based on any criteria he prefers.
(Note: the government does not have a right of association and cannot be allowed to discriminate unjustly. The government is a representative of all the people, and does not have the right to treat one person different from another without a compelling reason.)
Louis CK uses "of course, but maybe" for comic effect, but this is an amazing technique for influencing people. "Of course we can't do X, obviously. Of course. But maybe it would work! Just imagine."
James Altucher describes the laws of reciprocity and commitment bias in the video, and that's a great examination of the foundation, but presentation is everything.
(HT: James Altucher.)
It should be obvious that the proposal to erect a statue of Satan for the Oklahoma Capitol isn't really about Satan.
I'll venture a guess and say that 99% of "Satanists" don't believe in Satan. The purpose here isn't to honor a real set of beliefs but simply to mock Christians. This is pretty pathetic, because American Christians are generally peaceable and tolerant. If the Satanists really want to be edgy they should try this in any other the capitol in any other country in the world and see what happens.
At the risk of inciting mockery from my intellectual superiors, Satan is very real and is actively working to subvert and destroy humanity. The Bible describes him this way:
1 Peter 5:8 "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
I don't believe it's worthwhile to spend a lot of time talking about Satan. He will ultimately be defeated and is God's to deal with.
"The monument has been designed to reflect the views of Satanists in Oklahoma City and beyond," said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the group, in a statement reported by the AP. "The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation."
The group is based in New York, but says it's not fair for Oklahoma lawmakers to let a Ten Commandments statue stand at the building, without also allowing monuments that reflect other spiritual beliefs, The Associated Press reported. The Ten Commandments statue was privately funded. The American Civil Liberties Union sued to have it removed shortly after it was place, AP reported.
And the Satanic Temple isn't the only group seeking equal access to the site.
The AP reported that a Hindu head in Nevada wants to put a monument at the Capitol, along with an animal rights group and the -- satirical -- Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In response, the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission has put a moratorium on deciding new requests.
The Christmas season is often a time of charitable giving, but sometimes it can be hard to figure out the best way to give. Fortunately, a twelfth-century Torah scholar named Maimonides developed guidelines describing eight differing levels of charity that seem pretty reasonable to me.
There are eight levels of charity, each greater than the next.
 The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .
 A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the "anonymous fund" that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.
 A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.
 A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.
Pope Francis has remarkably announced that all it takes to get into Heaven is to follow your conscience. To simultaneously invoke Godwin's Law and reduce the Pope's position to its most absurd: do sincere Nazi's get into Heaven?
In comments likely to enhance his progressive reputation, Pope Francis has written a long, open letter to the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, stating that non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.
Responding to a list of questions published in the paper by Mr Scalfari, who is not a Roman Catholic, Francis wrote: "You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don't believe and who don't seek the faith. I start by saying - and this is the fundamental thing - that God's mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.
"Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience."
It's certainly true that anyone can be forgiven for any sin if they turn to Jesus Christ and accept his death as payment for their sins. However, that decision must be made before the point of death. The Bible is clear that there is no opportunity for repentance after death. So, God's mercy is unlimited, but you have to accept it before you die. Hopefully that resolves some ambiguity in the first part of the Pope's statement.
It's really the last two quoted sentences that are completely off the rails. Sin is not merely disobeying your own conscience. That would be an absurd standard for God to use. Does the Pope believe that when you get to Heaven you can continue living according to your own conscience? Or will you have to obey God when you get there? Why would a person who has denied God his whole life even want to go to Heaven if he then has to start obeying God?
Jeremiah 17:9 -- "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
Man's conscience is twisted. We are not "basically good". If the only standard God has is for each man to just do whatever seems right to himself then God is subservient to man. This is a popular view, even among those who call themselves Christians and who like to remake God in their own image. It is always tempting to reject what God has revealed about himself through the Bible and to substitute our own opinions, intuitions, and emotions. However, God is not subject to our control or to the prevailing culture of our age. God does not conform himself to our expectations or desires, but rather expects us to conform to him.
"Gun-free zones" -- where only criminals have guns -- are good enough to protect our kids, but politicians get taxpayer-funded security guards. It's almost as if they know that the "gun-free zones" aren't effective, and they're more concerned with their own personal safety than with the safety of children or even with ideological consistency.
Here is the response of the White House:
Working to Keep Everyone Safe
Thanks for your petition.
We live in a world where our elected leaders and representatives are subject to serious, persistent, and credible threats on a daily basis. Even those who are mere candidates in a national election become symbols of our country, which makes them potential targets for those seeking to do harm to the United States and its interests. In 1901, after the third assassination of a sitting President, Congress mandated that the President receive full-time protection, and that law is still in effect today. Because of it, those who are the subject of ongoing threats must receive the necessary and appropriate protection.
And so forth. Basically, if you're rich and powerful then you can get taxpayers to pay people to guard you with guns; if you're a regular citizen then you and your family are at the mercy of criminals.
I know that most people probably think I'm sort of right-wing nut, but the fact is that my nuttiness is much more esoteric. For example, here's some "leftist" thought I can agree with. I'm eliminating all context and isolating the phrases I like!
[the] law protects those already in power and manipulates the electorate to support the continuation of that power. Rhetoric about reverence for law is the way to acquire power in America, and Obama was great at that.
It looks like FDL is devoted to the rule of law, all the time, on every issue, but Kos is saying the rule of law is a con, and powerful people use it selectively, to protect what they want.
The rule of law is important, but it's also important that The Law isn't used as an excuse to prop up the status quo for the enrichment of the powerful. Why don't leftists realize that the huge, powerful government they tend to favor (these days) renders so many of their aspirations unattainable?
I agree with Hannah who writes that there's no such thing as "soul mates". Her wise father told her:
And then he gave me some of the best relationship advice I ever got: There is no biblical basis to indicate that God has one soul mate for you to find and marry. You could have a great marriage with any number of compatible people. There is no ONE PERSON for you. But once you marry someone, that person becomes your one person. As for compatibility, my mom would always pipe up when my girlfriends and I were making our lists of what we wanted in a spouse (dear well meaning Christian adults who thought this would help us not date scumbags: that was a bad idea and wholly unfair to men everywhere) that all that really mattered was that he loved the lord, made you laugh, and was someone you to whom you were attracted. The rest is frosting.
This is profoundly unromantic advice. We love to hear of people who "just can't help who they love," or people who "fall in love," or "find the one person meant for them." Even within the Christian circle, we love to talk about how God "had someone" for someone else for all of time. But what happens to these people when the unstoppable and uncontrollable force that prompted them to start loving, lets them stop loving, or love someone else?
What happens is a world where most marriages end in divorce, and even those that don't are often unhappy.
My marriage is not based on a set of choices over which I had no control. It is based on a daily choice to love this man, this husband that I chose out of many people that I could have chosen to love (in theory, don't imagine that many others were lined up and knocking at the door). He is not some elusive soul mate, not some divine fulfillment, not some perfect step on the rigorously laid out but of so secret "Plan for My Life."
I've already emailed this to my daughters' future email addresses, and I'm sure it will provoke some wonderful conversations in the future!
Christians are being kidnapped, tortured, and held for ransom on the Egyptian-controlled Sinai peninsula. Egypt is descending into chaos, and there may not be much we Americans can do right now other than pray.
This man is just one victim of this widespread modern-day slavery, kidnapping, and torture trade in the Sinai desert. There are many pictures and videos of this horrible practice on the Internet.
For this story, this Christian man from the African country of Eritrea is going by "Philip," but that's not his real name. CBN News covered his identity for his protection.
"In some cases, we were tortured simply because we were Christians," he told us, his chest trembling slightly as he spoke.
"Sinai was always a place for human smuggling, but since around two years ago -- even a bit more -- it started also to be a place of human torture," Shahar Shoham, director of Physicians for Human Rights, told CBN News.
Shorham has documented more than 1,300 cases of torture in the Sinai. Those survivors, like Philip, made it to Israel. But most of the cases of torture are not documented.
Many people enjoy being victims and evading responsibility for their lives, but I've found it to be very empowering to take the opposite approach: everything is my fault.
Derek Sivers writes about his experience with the philosophy of responsibility:
But to decide it's your fault feels amazing! Now you weren't wronged. They were just playing their part in the situation you created. They're just delivering the punch-line to the joke you set up.
What power! Now you're like a new super-hero, just discovering your strength. Now you're the powerful person that made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it. Now you're in control and there's nothing to complain about.
This philosophy feels so good that I've playfully decided to apply this "EVERYTHING IS MY FAULT" rule to the rest of my life.
It's one of those base rules like "people mean well" that's more fun to believe, and have a few exceptions, than to not believe at all.
- The guy that stole $9000 from me? My fault. I should have verified his claims.
- The love of my life that dumped me out of the blue (by email!) after 6 years? My fault. I let our relationship plateau.
- Someone was rude to me today? My fault. I could have lightened their mood beforehand.
- Don't like my government? My fault. I could get involved and change the world.
Of course, the flip side to this philosophy is arrogance, because you aren't really responsible for everything. Still, I'd rather start with the assumption that I am responsible than to immediately look for someone else to blame. Being responsible means that you can change the situation, you're an active player, you're a wolf among sheep, you're alive.
James Taranto -- one of my favorite thinkers and writers -- has published a long and compelling explanation of how the Gosnell infanticide atrocity could fundamentally shift the public's view on abortion.
Welcome to the mushy middle, Roger. This columnist has been here for quite some time, as you can see from this 1999 piece. But we too, when we were very young, were a "pro-choice" libertarian. We came to question, and ultimately rejected, that position, although fully accepting the "pro-life" side of the argument remains a bridge too far for us. ...
The reductio ad absurdum of the pro-abortion side is Kermit Gosnell. That is why the Gosnell case has crystallized our view that the current regime of abortion on demand in America is a grave evil that ought to be abolished. It is murderous, if not categorically then at least in its extreme manifestations. Maintaining it requires an assault on language and logic that has taken on a totalitarian character. And it is politically poisonous.
He also points to recent testimony by Planned Parenthood which believes that doctors should be allowed to murder "abortion survivors".
The "Roger" that Taranto refers to is Roger Simon, who is also in the midst of re-evaluating his previous support for abortion.
I can give you two guinea pigs to prove this point -- my wife Sheryl and me. We were in the kitchen last night, preparing dinner, when we saw a short report of this story on the countertop TV.
Both lifelong "pro-choice" people, after watching only seconds, we embarked in an immediate discussion of whether it was time to reconsider that view. (Didn't human life really begin at the moment of conception? What other time?) Neither of us was comfortable as a "pro-choice" advocate in the face of these horrifying revelations. How could we be?
Yes, Dr. Gosnell was exceptional (thank God for that!), but a dead fetus was a dead fetus, even if incinerated in some supposedly humane fashion rather than left crying out in blind agony on the operating room floor, as was reportedly the case with one of Gosnell's victims. I say blind because this second-trimester fetus did not yet have fully formed eyes. (Think about that one.)
So I don't think I'm "pro-choice" anymore, but I'm not really "pro-life" either. I would feel like a hypocrite. I don't want to pretend to ideals I have serious doubts I would be able to uphold in a real-world situation. If a woman in my family, or a close friend, were (Heaven forbid) impregnated through rape, I would undoubtedly support her right to abortion. I might even advocate it. I also have no idea how I would react if confronted by having to make a choice between the life of a fetus and his/her mother. Just the thought makes my head spin.
This position isn't difficult to understand. The important fact to grasp from Simon's narrative is that he and his wife now concede the evil of abortion. It's no surprise that he -- like many people -- would find it hard to willingly suffer for this new-found principle. Despite this understandable reluctance, the shift in principle that Simon describes is significant. We can only pray that a similar shift will develop in the larger population.
You will be disgusted to watch this Planned Parenthood representative advocate that mothers and doctors should be allowed to murder a baby born alive after a botched abortion.
"So, um, it is just really hard for me to even ask you this question because I'm almost in disbelief," said Rep. Jim Boyd. "If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?"
"We believe that any decision that's made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician," said Planned Parenthood lobbyist Snow.
How horrible is that? This isn't a medical issue, it's a moral issue.
Rep. Daniel Davis then asked Snow, "What happens in a situation where a baby is alive, breathing on a table, moving. What do your physicians do at that point?"
"I do not have that information," Snow replied. "I am not a physician, I am not an abortion provider. So I do not have that information."
How is this even a hard question? Any human being who sees a baby "struggling for life" should do everything possible to connect that baby with the best medical care possible.
Planned Parenthood gets hundreds of millions of dollars every year from your taxes.
"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is the archetypal "fire and brimstone" sermon, a style which is largely rejected by modern preachers but can nevertheless frame the nature of God's hatred of sin and love for humanity in a powerful, and terrifying fashion. Here is an excerpt from "Sinners" on the uselessness the schemes that a man crafts to keep himself out of Hell.
All wicked men's pains and contrivance which they use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take effectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.
But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow. The greater part of those who heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are undoubtedly gone to hell; and it was not because they were not as wise as those who are now alive: it was not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape. If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected, when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be the subjects of misery: we doubtless, should hear one and another reply, "No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself -- I thought my scheme good. I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief -- Death outwitted me: God's wrath was too quick for me. Oh, my cursed foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction came upon me."
Alex Tabarrok has an insightful post about how closeness and severity affect the perception of torture. Read it all, but here's his conclusion:
The theory has interesting lessons for entrepreneurs of social change. Suppose you want to change a policy such as prisoner abuse (e.g. Abu Ghraib) or no-knock police raids or the war on drugs or even tax policy. Convincing people that the abuse is grave may increase their belief that the victim is guilty. Instead, you want to do one of two things. Among the patriotic you may want to sell the problem as a minor problem that We Can Fix - making them feel good about both the we and the fixing. Or, you may want to create distance - The problem is bad and THEY are the cause. People in the North, for example, became more concerned about slavery once the US became us and them.
I think research in moral reasoning is important because understanding why good people do evil things is more important than understanding why evil people do evil things.
It's very interesting to consider whether there are really any "good" people in any objective sense. Within the torture context the experiment that Alex describes demonstrates that each participant believes that he is the good guy, even if they think that someone else is acting evil. Christianity resolves this problem by asserting that there is an absolute standard of right and wrong, but absent God is there a humanistic way to examine "why good people do evil things"? Or is it more meaningful to simply ask "why do some people do things I don't like?"
A family that lived isolated for 40 years in the Siberian taiga.
Thus it was in the remote south of the forest in the summer of 1978. A helicopter sent to find a safe spot to land a party of geologists was skimming the treeline a hundred or so miles from the Mongolian border when it dropped into the thickly wooded valley of an unnamed tributary of the Abakan, a seething ribbon of water rushing through dangerous terrain. The valley walls were narrow, with sides that were close to vertical in places, and the skinny pine and birch trees swaying in the rotors' downdraft were so thickly clustered that there was no chance of finding a spot to set the aircraft down. But, peering intently through his windscreen in search of a landing place, the pilot saw something that should not have been there. It was a clearing, 6,000 feet up a mountainside, wedged between the pine and larch and scored with what looked like long, dark furrows. The baffled helicopter crew made several passes before reluctantly concluding that this was evidence of human habitation--a garden that, from the size and shape of the clearing, must have been there for a long time.
It was an astounding discovery. The mountain was more than 150 miles from the nearest settlement, in a spot that had never been explored. The Soviet authorities had no records of anyone living in the district.
Great story, and yet a horrible thing at the same time. Intentionally raising children in the manner described is hard to fathom or justify.