Monday, September 4, 2017

A Brief Comparison of Rand’s Toohey and Lew’s Screwtape

Even though Ayn Rand would have probably have been appalled by this comparison, Toohey's advice is very similar in many ways to that of the devil-like character in C S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, wherein the devil-like character writes to his nephew, a lesser, novice devil, on how to demoralize and weaken the religious faith of his human victims.

I say Rand would have been appalled because of course she was an ostensible atheist, while Lewis was a prominent Christian. I say "Ostensible atheist" because there are places in Rand's writings that suggest some non-atheistic features of her thought. At one point in the Fountainhead someone says of Roark that though he will say he does not believe in God, he really does. Rand has also written somewhere that "God is a psychological reality". Isn't that a type of belief?

There are differences between Screwtape and Toohey, however. Whereas Toohey is trying to destroy humankind's hope and spirit, Screwtape's aim is to corrupt human souls, and, ultimately, to lead them to damnation (in the Christian theology).

This brief comment was inspired by the youtube video at


Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Problem of Identity

There are a number of problems that might be termed “Identity” problems, or issues. Many of these have bothered me all of my life, and I have had trouble even framing some of them in words. But I am going to try here.

Basically, they are all related to “why is something one thing and not another”?

One question is: How does the identity of the whole depend on the identity of the parts?:
I have often heard that our cells that comprise our bodies are replaced every seven years. There is the old classic “Ship Puzzle”, which was apparently posed by the ancient Greek: a ship, lets call it “The Proud Mary”, is replaced one board at a time. As the old boards are taken off, they are placed in a scrap pile. Eventually all of the boards are replaced, so that not one of the original boards is still in the ship. Since this happens gradually, the ship retains its identity as “The Proud Mary” at all times. Then one day, someone goes and puts the original boards all back together and says that one to be the true original ship “The Proud Mary”. The other one, he says, is a copy or duplicate. To some people this seems a frivolous problem, but to me it has always seemed to contain some genuine grounds for puzzlement. This puzzle would seem akin to the issue of how we maintain our personal identity in view of the fact that our individual cells are replaced.

Teleportation of bodies, such as is imagined to be possible in the Star Trek TV show, raises similar, even more daunting, paradoxes. If your molecular configuration is radiated to some other location and reconstructed there, is it really you? What if the original is not destroyed In the process of sending the molecular information? Which is the "real you"?
Consider cloning, which in spite of some the popular misconceptions does not pose an identity problem, any more than does the phenomena of identical twins. A few years back, a sheep was cloned. This caused some controversy. But I do not understand why. I suspect that it threatens people’s underlying concerns about identity, though they do not know that that is the cause of their uneasiness about it. In fact, cloning, in contrast to the teleportation problem, poses no such problems. The cloned organism is a different organism, and as it grows it will have no connection with the cell donating original.

What if my leg were replaced? Would I still be me?--of course, there's no problem with anyone accepting that. What about all of my internal organs being replaced? Again, I don’t think there is any question that it would still be “me”. But what about the brain itself? It appears to be an organ, but it is the one that appears to be responsible for my thoughts, for me being who I am. So if Bob's brain is replaced by Mary’s, isn't the being in Bob’s body now really Mary? That is, the person you would perceive in Bob’s body would in fact be Mary. This would clearly argue that the real me is my brain. Just as the real nature of a computer is defined by its processor and memory. All of the organs and limbs are just “peripherals” that have little to do with the personal identity.

But can we imagine dividing the brain somehow? That is, what if the memories are Bob’s but the processor is Mary’s. Is there some reason why this is inherently a contradictory achievement? Is the person standing in front of you with Bob’s body, Bob’s memories, but Mary’s processor Bob or Mary?

Consider this question: “Can two separate or distinct entities be exactly alike?” In our everyday experience, this is of course not something that would ever occur to us, because compound or complex objects (trees, chunks of concrete, baseballs, rabbits, and so on) always have numerous traits that would allow us to label distinct members of their class. Maybe it is not always evident (as with baseballs where they all look very similar), but surely no one doubts that there are differences that could be discerned upon very close inspection. To carry it even further, we note that even if one insisted that there were no discernible differences, then differences could be added (the basketballs could be numbered, or the owners name etched on the surface somehow, etc.).

I have never heard of any set of parents, or even close friends, who have trouble distinguishing the separate identity of twins (although casual acquaintances may have a great deal of trouble telling them apart). In other words, there are always some small distinguishing characteristics that permit the distinction between them to be made.
But electrons are imagined, in physics, as being fundamentally indistinguishable from each other. The same is true of other sub-atomic particles, and even all molecules or atoms of a given type are identical to each other. But, in our experience, can any entity be exactly the same as all others? What insights into the identity problem can the Pauli exclusion Principle give us? The electrons may be in different states, but in a sense the basic electron is assumed to be in every way identical as every other electron in the universe.

Reflect that physics/chemistry/biology do indeed say that our bodies are comprised of particles, atoms, and molecules. As groups of molecules string together, the possibility of distinguishing the configurations becomes possible.

Is it meaningful to imagine being someone else? Why am I me and not someone else (or how do I know I’m have not been someone else, but have just forgotten?). Maybe the question makes no sense, but why does it seem to arise in our minds? What does it mean when we refer to “being in someone else’s shoes”? We seem to be imagining, at least to some extent, what it would be like to be somebody else? Does this make sense, or can it be in any way imagined to be meaningful? While it seems relatively easy to imagine our selves being positioned somehow in another’s body, that would not really seem to be being them. As Douglas Hofstader asks in his anthology “The Minds Eye”, “What is it like to be a bat”? Does it make any sense to ask this, or related questions, that involve our self being transplanted into some other beings consciousness? Does it depend on whether the transplant involves beings of the same order of complexity and intelligence (i.e., does it make sense among humans, but not between say a bat and a human?). Is it possible that our self will really cycle through all possible people’s lives? Would this be a just eschatology? (sort of an analogy with Feynman’s one electron scattering back and forth in time).
Does this have some bearing on what Christians might believe about the nature of Jesus Christ and the incarnation--that is, is it possible, consistent, or reasonable to imagine that Jesus Christ was God but was somehow limited by having to occupy a physical body?
Ann Rice, in Tales of a Body Thief, simply imagines without dwelling on the difficulties, that such an exchange is possible. In fact, this very ingenious and imaginative author has depicted many variations of the mind-body switch scenario...

Aren’t such moral principles as the “Golden Rule”, and Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” based on the perception that it is possible to imagine being someone else? Maybe even on the possibility that in some sense you are or will be that someone else. You are sympathetic at least in part because you can imagine being them.

Isn’t the Marquis deSade’s arguments that he puts into his philosophical (but perversely randy) villains mouths about how morality is a ruse and that no one really has to care about anyone else base on his perception that we are all utterly removed and detached from each other, that there is no reason to care about another because you will no, can not, could not, ever be that other person.

But where does this stop? That is, how different can the being be before it is clearly impossible to imagine being the other? The old Jewish prayer of thanking God that I am not a woman springs to mind. It seems to assume that “I” could have been either. But does the “I” come into existence after my body, or was it there before? Is this just the issue of whether we have a soul or spirit? (Could this be related to the abortion arguments?)I can imagine being a woman, so it seems to be a reasonable switch. In fact, people even have sex change operations. Does a man really become a woman with such an operation? With the above example involving interchanges or transplants involving Tom’s brain and Mary’s body it seems clear that such a switch is possible or at least plausible.

But what about a being interchanged with another being of a different level of complexity? Of course, this could even be an issue within the human realm: IQs differ (but how widely in an absolute sense?)...But can I imagine being a slug, or a sheep, or any living animal.

What if I maintain that in fact you are always being interchanged with other people? That one moment ago you were John Smith, but now he is you and you are him. He has all of the memories and capabilities of me, and vice-versa. Maybe this just keeps happening, involving large numbers of people (or maybe all people). But his probably makes no sense, as it would be indistinguishable, would it not, from no interchange taking place at all.

And of course the big question: What is it like to not exist? Of course, we have in a sense all known this, as we presumably did not exist before we were born (or if we did, I for one do not remember it). Woody Allen said, “I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens”. “To be or not to be” isn’t the only question (even if that is an option, and Hamlet went on to question that)--there is also, what is it like to “not be”?


Related to this is the issue of, or the position of, solipsism, and the question of how this differs from materialism/atheism picture (where death involves annihilation and hence non-existence). In other words (and this is hard to explain, so bear with me), if we are annihilated at death, then for me the universe does not exist anymore. If it is inconceivable or meaningless for me to imagine being another conscious organism or being, then might I just as well argue that for all practical purpose, solipsism is true. At least in a practical sense.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Three short philosophical reflections as 2016 draws to an end.



The world as a simulation:

If the universe is a simulation for the “benefit” of earthlings, perhaps it would not be necessary for the “overlords” designing and creating the simulation, to simulate all of space time. I think this was broached in the Truman Show, where the world of the main character (played by Jim Carrey) was actually a very small region of space, perhaps the size of a small village, but surrounded by solid walls.

Following along with this idea, the seemingly distant and vastly numerous galaxies would not have to actually be objectively there, they would only have to appear to be from earth based observations. Similarly, cosmological time could be greatly truncated to merely the historical times of humans. The Big Bang and the eons of cosmological and geological evolution need only be made to have apparently occurred. The simulation would not need to actually include these eras of time.

Would all of the apparent “creatures” in the simulation need to be conscious? No, as aforementioned, some could be “zombies” (to use the term popular in consciousness writings, robots of a sort with no subjective lives). To introduce a bit of cynicism, this might explain the seeming stupidity of so many people in the world today.

The HBO series “West World” depicts this idea, where, if I am understanding it, only a tiny fraction of the beings within the simulated world are actual sentient beings, the rest being robots. Star Trek the Next Generations’s “Holideck” simulations of past epochs of human history also involve only fractional populations of conscious beings.

Robotic Consciousness:

Today, many AI workers and theorists tend to talk as if this is certain to be achieved by the end of the 21st century (if not significantly earlier). But how will they know for sure that a robotic AI unit is really conscious, and not a “Zombie”? Indeed, we do not know which of our friends, relative, colleagues, and members of the human race at large possess consciousness. We assume that organic humans have it using “Occam’s Razor”: isn’t it the most straightforward assumption that they are conscious, just as we are ourselves? But it is far from certain (for example, consider the point made above in connection with us living in a simulated world).

Yes, there is the Turing Test for intelligence, but this test is not for detecting consciousness. I think it is easy to imagine a platform with intelligence that does not possess subjective consciousness.

However, as so brilliantly and poignantly illustrated in the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation (in connection with the robot known as “Data”), if a robot, or artificial human, seems to be conscious, it seems the only morally acceptable approach is to assume it is conscious. The opposite approach, treating such a being as not having consciousness, runs the risk of treating a conscious being as inanimate, and expendable, machinery. This would be unacceptable morally, horribly so.

Free Will:

It is not only difficult to see how we humans can have free will, it is difficult to even define exactly what it means. Where did the agent supposedly having free will come from? 

The first difficulty comes from “physicalism”, the idea that all motion in the universe ultimately results from causal behavior of elementary particles obeying some kind of “laws” of nature, and nothing can escape from these---certainly not the atoms comprising our brains, or the nerve impulses that seem to represent our thoughts. While quantum mechanics suggests that there is a random element in how the micro-world is realized in the macro-world of our everyday, such randomness does not really seem to be what we want free will to be.

The second sticking point is that “Nature plus Nurture”....i.e., our genetic makeup plus the effects of accumulated experiences would seem to exhaust what could determine the behavior of an individual human. Each individual human begins life as an infant with certain instinctual drives and capacities, but surely decision making invoking free will would only come later after experiences, in conjunction with the physical body,  have molded the character and personality of the human person.

It would seem that a mechanism similar to this would hold even if each person has a spirit or soul that has developed in time (or something like time in some transcendent realm, what we might call “hyper-time”). As long as the decision making nature of a being is formed from some kind of a starting point plus accumulated experiences, whether in this physical realm in another, it would seem that the concept of free will in such a being becomes untenable.

Everything a person does, whether constrained by the physicalist model or the nature plus nurture model, is, at root, just due to random effects. This makes us think that such things a praise and blame, punishment and reward, admiration and condemnation, are all quite unjustified at the deepest level.

There would seem to be a way out of this trap, however---admittedly a highly speculative one, and one that I doubt very many moderns want to entertain for even a moment. But I want to proceed with it here because I firmly believe that each of us do in fact have free will. Furthermore, I think ALL of us believe we do have free will, no matter what is maintained in formal philosophical writings.

So given that I believe we all do have it, a far out idea that is almost surely impossible to prove might compel some degree of acceptance, simply because of the explanatory power of the idea. Suppose that each person has a soul of some kind that is eternal, or at least outside of any kind of time, much in that way that I believe Plato and certain other Greek philosophers imagined.

There are precedents in science for entertaining, or taking seriously, ideas or models that are, at least currently, beyond empirical verification, but that have explanatory power. Examples would be string theory of elementary particles or gravity loop theory, either of which hold out hope of incorporating the gravitational force into the presently incomplete “standard model of particle physics”.

This idea of an eternal soul does suggest that a type of reincarnation might be in operation. Suppose that upon death in this world, your soul goes through some kind of review process in a temporary realm, and that you then maybe even have some say as to what realm you are going to next. Just as dreams fade rapidly upon awakening, so the soul might only very briefly recall or sense fragments of the formal life. Such an idea, if I understand it correctly, is put forth by William Wordsworth in his beautiful poem “Ode on Intimations of Immortality....”. The Irish fantasy writer Lord Dunsany has also toyed with similar ideas in his eschatological short story, The Last Voyage of the King

The subsequent realm does not necessarily have to be Earth, or even this galaxy or universe. It could be in a parallel universe, as some kind of a creature such as was imagined by H.P. Lovecraft, perhaps as a tentacled creature with 7 eyes or legs, or as some conscious being wholly unimaginable to us in our present human state. It would not even necessarily be represented or instantiated in an individual manner, maybe the reincarnated being could be composite of several beings, whether former Earthlings or other.


The speculations along these lines could clearly go on for a long time. but having sketched the broad outline of such a (greatly enlarged from the usual popular idea of it) reincarnation model, now want to move on to other topic, perhaps returning to this one at a later date (in 2017 or beyond).

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Physician Assisted Suicide

Should I be able to commit suicide legally? The question seems absurd. What if I am caught in the act and my attempt is aborted? What are they going to do? Execute me? Well, mission accomplished, LOL.

No, but seriously, the real crux of this issue is whether a physician should be legally allowed to help any of us who wish to painlessly “shuffle off this mortal coil”. While recognizing that there are potential dangers associated with physician assisted suicide, I think the answer should be a resounding YES!

The dicey issues and pitfalls are obvious: members of the family that are heir to the dying person’s wealth might wish, if they are bad, greedy people, to hasten the sick person’s death, even in cases where recovery might in fact be possible. So safeguards need to be put in place to prevent this. What exactly are these safeguards? I do not know, I am not a lawyer, but I am confident that such safeguards can be put in place.

Surely such safeguards would involve getting a panel of, say, three or more independent physicians to attest that there is no chance of recovery, and that the dying person has no chance for any quality of life unless a lethal medical method is employed to bring about termination of life. Perhaps as part of a person’s “living will” he/she would list the relatives or loved ones he/she trusts to be involved in the life-ending decisions.

What confuses the issue is the religious objection to suicide. Well, that is fine for religious people to choose to suffer because they believe that it is part of God’s plan for them to do so, but it is not defensible for them to impose that upon those of us who are non religious, or secular. In other words this is a “separation of church and state” issue.

It is fine with me if ones religion forbids him/her to seek a painless exit from the living, but it is not OK if you force others to suffer because you feel it is God’s plan. 


Would I choose to seek a physician to end my life via, for example. some kind of painless injection? I actually do not know. I may come down on the side of the religious objectors to such a procedure, in my case. Maybe I would feel, when actually in that position, that there is a meaning in my pain and suffering. But that is not for the government to decide, and I very much resent the attempts of Christians or other religious groups to deny me the right to seek such a “final solution”.
A few random philosophical thoughts on metaphysics, consciousness, and free will.

Does consciousness originate within the brain, or is there some kind of a generalized consciousness “field” that couple to an individual that gives that individual a subjective conscious awareness? An analogy with the “Higgs field’ of the standard model of particle physics would be apt, where in that case elementary particles get their mass by coupling to the Higgs field.

It is hard to see how science, neuroscience in particular, can satisfactorily answer this, since science is based on making observations in objective realty, and consciousness is subjective.

Many, if not most, of the questions that concern thoughtful humans are metaphysical questions that cannot be answered, or even broached, by the methods of the empirical sciences. Do we have free will? Is there a God? Does our consciousness in survive, in some form, our biological death? Why does the universe exist, or “why is there something rather than nothing?”.

This last question stands apart from the others in than I don’t think a satisfactory answer can even be imagined. As philosophers like to say, what would an answer even look like? Just imagining an answer makes us realize we would need t make use of already existent things

Now to be sure, for some of us, science can tend to suggest, or hint at, answers to some of the above questions. For example, the amazing design of the universe seems to suggest something like the “Einsteinian God” (or gods?). I think many theoretical physicists like to make reference to “God” or a deity when discussing how these physics laws were made to be consistent, and pregnant with deep complexity, although it is usually couched in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek style.

On the other hand, “New Atheist” Richard Dawkins has pointed out, somewhat plausibly to my mind, that biological evolution tends to imply that there is no God, no Designer. Natural selection seems to satisfy all the questions one might have about how life forms are so wonderfully adapted to the biosphere, and since this selection process is “nature red in tooth and claw” (as Charles Darwin famously remarked), if there is a God He/She seems unnecessarily cruel. But the most straightforward response to this is that there is , in fact, no God, no designer.

But when Dawkins goes on to say that there is no evidence of God, or Nobelist Steven Weinberg says that the “more we learn about the universe, the more pointless it seems”, they are on shaky ground. What evidence of a God, or a purpose to the universe, could possibly be found through empirical study of the universe?

Free will is a topic much “in the news” today, at least among philosophers and neuroscientists. I am guessing that the vast majority of people working in these ares would readily say there no such thing as free will. And more often than not, they would add that “science has proved that there is not”. But of course, they cannot act on this, or even convincingly argue for it consistently, since, if their thoughts and actions are compelled, it seems there is no reason to believe what they say is true. We don’t ascribe any plausibility to the output of a puppet. Strict determinism seems to quickly undermine itself.

But let’s not be hasty here. Neuroscience aside, is seems very difficult to see how to escape from the constraints of “Nature plus Nurture” (NpN) since what an organism does would seem to be entirely dues to its “initial state” (its genetic makeup) and its experiences, which in effect add software to the organism.
So, while it is easy to escape from the “physicalist” form of determinism through the inherent uncertainties of quantum mechanics of the microcosm, NpN is a real sticking point for the free willist. In fact, this is even true if the physical universe is non-deterministic.The real thrust of the NpN mechanism is that since the organism has a beginning in time, there can be no agency associated with its decisions other than what has been added onto its physical make up by its time-ordered experiences.

The fact is, it is even hard to specify exactly what free will would even mean. Free will is one of those things that we all “know”, or at least assume, that we and others have. In a sense it is axiomatic. In a way, we say, it is caused, but it is caused by our reasoning processes in our heads. And this seems correct, since the strict determinist has the onus of explaining why reason would have evolved, if it is not to allow an individual organism how to think and act. In a sense, determinism and reason seem to “over determine” the behavior of an organism. If its behavior is unfolding according to necessity, what possible purpose would reason serve from an evolutionary perspective?

The strict physicalist determents has another problem. Recall Laplace’s argument that if he knew the positions and velocities of all the particles in the universe, then the later states of the universe would all be predictable. This is usually brought up in writings as being hopelessly naive, in view of chaos theory whereby the slightest uncertainty in these parameters would quickly lead to the universe being entirely unpredictable. But again, not so fast, chaos theory would completely render to predictability argument wrong. But a chaotic system is still a deterministic system. Conceptually, Laplace would seem to be correct, at least with the confines of “classical physics”.

Quantum mechanics,which certainly seems to well describe the micro-world, does seem to change this, although only according to some interpretations of it. For example, the “Copenhagen” interpretations involves separating the observer from the physical system, and the act of making an observation on a physical system cause it to collapse to a classically describable state. Hence, the overall deterministic nature of the physical universe is under cut by this view.

However, one might argue that if the atoms of the observer are included in the quantum state of the universe, physical determinism still holds. Following this line of argument, it would seem inescapable to infer that there really is nothing that could happen that was not preordained. But again, in this picture, what would be the “reason for reason”, and for consciousness? Truth and necessity seem to be incompatible.

(to be continued)

Friday, May 13, 2016

This is my response to an Atlantic article criticizing Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’s positions on certain aspects of Islam. The article is at  http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/10/bill-maher-dangerous-critique-of-islam-ben-affleck/381266/ 

This article is plagued by a great deal of confusion, and in addition contains many half-truths (plus some out right baloney).

Taking Maher and Harris together, it is not so much that they want Americans to “denounce” Islam, as to have a critical discussion of it, hoping to eventually improve the lot of the muslim’s lives. In particular, they do want “liberals” in the west to denounce many of the cruel and rights-violating aspects of Sharia (such as stoning of adulteresses). And they also make a call for humans everywhere to stop believing and acting on words written in “sacred” texts long ago by people who through no fault of their own were ignorant. In his writings, Harris often makes the point that the West, where Christianity still has a significant foothold, the 18th century Enlightenment has today greatly reduced acceptance of the Old Testament’s brutal injunctions.

Then to mention the infamous Ben Affleck appearance on Maher’s show as if it were some rational discussion is absurd. Anyone who watches that show (and it can still be seen on youtube) will be astonished by the idiotic, illogical ranting of Affleck. He in fact make no serious contributions whatsoever, he just rants loudly and offensively as some spoiled child might do. My suspicion is that, were it not for the undue respect Americans accord physically attractive actors, the vast majority of people would be disgusted by his behavior on the show.

The article uncritically bandies about the terms “democracy” and “Islamophobia”. Americans today, on both the left and the right, are largely ignorant regarding the distinction between a “democracy” and a “republic”. In the US, we have the latter. A strict version of the former would lead to a “tyranny of the majority”. “Islamophobia” is a bogus term that should be dropped from any discussion of Islam, because implies that those who criticize Islam are somehow “afraid” of it, or are actually bigoted against muslims, whereas usually the criticism is motivated by a desire to actually improve the lives of muslims living under theocracies that still implement Sharia. As the article actually points out in one place, Schlesinger’s term “doughfaces” could be applied to many on the American left who are quick to ridicule and reject any thing that hints of a negative attitude toward Islam, much as they did in the 19th century on the subject of balck slavery in the American south.

To say “After all, other Muslim-majority countries have elected female heads of state”, as if this shows that women’s rights are not being violated in many Islamic countries is disingenuous. Surely the author knows that women politicians can be involved in laws that violate otehr women’s rights just as much as men politicians can. 


Another dubious thread in this essay is that, whereas one is justified in vilifying certain implementations of communism, one cannot condemn the concept itself. I take issue with that. Surely anyone who has the slightest insight into human nature can see that joint ownership of all property is a sure road to disaster. Mr. Orwell has presented convincing fictional visions of this in Animal Farm and in 1984. Of course, in a free market, free society, people who want to live in a communal way can always do so in small voluntary enclaves.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A few more thoughts regarding atheism and agnosticism:

One must distinguish a belief in one of the gods of the world’s religions from an open, and wondering attitude about there being some kind of mind behind the universe (maybe even behind the “multiverse”, if there is such). I think many of us physicists that study the strange and intricate mathematical laws that seem to underlie the material world may often entertain such speculations (though perhaps there is a tendency to not want to admit it for fear of appearing philosophically “soft”).

Maybe when one says he/she is an atheist, one must specify the particular “god” one does not believe in. As Dawkins and other “New Atheists” have often said, virtually everyone today is an atheist with regard to Zeus or Jupiter. And I agree that the Gods as portrayed in the Bible or the Koran are almost certainly inventions of the human mind, party motivated by wishful thinking about the promise of a glorious afterlife.
But beings such as the oft-heard example of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” are really off the mark, as these are presumably tangible, material creatures, in the same class as the Lochness monster, and in principle could be detected, if they did exist, via methods of investigative science. And these creatures are not, as far as I can tell, put forward to solve any metaphysical mystery.

Some will argue that the miracles described in the ancient scriptures violate what we know about how the physical world works, and what its limits are. Walking on water, parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, and so on. This is certainly true, although I suppose if the alleged miracle supported some deep metaphysical truth and was a one time event for that purpose, then perhaps we could not dismiss it with certainty. In that regard, I disagree with Hume, who wrote, if I understand him, that we should disbelieve a miraculous event if we had not observed such things happening in our experience. But it seems hard to understand what deep truths would be supported by these miraculous events. So it seems rational to view them with extreme skepticism.

But, as for miracles: There are two huge mysteries, or seeming miracles, staring us all in the face every day, (1) the fact that there is something rather than nothing (the puzzle the philosopher Heidegger was know for being obsessed with), and (2) the mysterious property of animal consciousness, in particular, human consciousness, that has apparently allowed we humans to put together at least a tentative theory of how the physical world behave at the quantum level, far below the realm of our direct sensory experience.

I continue to be puzzled by the claims of many “New Atheists” that “there is not a shred of evidence” for a God or Deity. Once one understands the claim of a believer to be about a metaphysical reality, it then seems irrational to expect the believer to produce evidence of a physical nature. By contrast, a believer in the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” would be, quite rightly, be expected to produce physical evidence if he is to be taken seriously.


I for one am humbled by the mysteries of existence and consciousness cited above, and while it is not clear that a god, deity, gods could solve or explain them, they are why I am inclined to say I am an agnostic. If there is a position that is called “agnostic theism”, it might come close to describing me.