An exercise in reduction.

– Written 13th June 2010

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I like thinking about what you can reduce things to.

Take your computer for example. At glance we can reduce a computer to its components of either hardware or software. Where the hardware is stuff like the screen, the speakers, the hard drive, the circuit board – all the “physical” things, the things you can hold. Then there’s the software, which is stuff like Windows, iTunes, internet browsers, and all the programs, which you can’t touch. They seem to be composed of information, as if they have some other mode of existence compared to the solid hardware components. But really they’re both reducible to material substance. All the information in a computer – the images, the text, the sound – exists according to the physical state of the computer; in the various switches turning on and off and whatnot, or the code imprinted on the CD being read by the laser. Everything that we see on a computer can be explained by some physical component located in that computer.

But further than that, all these components can be reduced to things smaller and smaller; everything in a computer can be reduced to the substances (plastic, silicon, metal) they are made out of. And then, all those substances can be reduced to their molecular structure, and all those molecules reduced to the different atoms that compose them. And all these atoms are only differentiated by the number of protons, neutrons and electrons that form them. That all means that a computer, with all its capabilities, can be explained by as little as its exact arrangement protons, neutrons and electrons.

It is clear that almost everything in the world we see is reducible to physical matter. In fact the only thing that might not be is the mind. Philosophers and scientists alike are asking the question these days; is human consciousness reducible to the physical states in the brain? Continue reading

– Written 6th April 2010


It is true that at social and political levels, religious conviction, if incorrectly interpreted, can be a very, very dangerous thing…

…but the trouble with atheism is that it has the power to be cataclysmic, and probably societally fatal, if interpreted correctly.

The Creation of Evil.

– Written 7th Febuary 2010

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I’ve heard a lot of questions people ask to try to point out flaws in the idea of God. And we get pretty used to a lot of them, even bored of them (I know I do). But there’s one question I occasionally hear which is just an odd question, really. Here it is:

Let’s assume God exists.

He created everything, right?

And evil exists, therefore God created evil.

So doesn’t that mean God is evil?

Now I know that technically and grammatically, questions can’t be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but seriously, the question is wrong! On many, many levels it is wrong and I honestly find it odd that it still gets asked.

The first thing is pretty simple. The question half-defeats itself with its bias. It says God created evil, but forgets that God must have created good as well. So it would be better to say, after all the question’s premises, that God is half evil, half good. Or he is not completely good. That just makes a lot more sense than, “he’s created a little bit of evil therefore he is completely evil”.

But if we let that slide, we get to the second level of wrongness – and the textbook answer to this question. That answer in a nutshell is that in the way that darkness is the absence of light, and cold is the absence of heat, evil is simply the absence of good. So God created good, and evil is in all the places where good isn’t. Therefore God didn’t actually create evil. I like the elegance and simplicity of this answer. And I think the answer is mostly right, but when you really think about it, even this answer is being pretty generous to the questioner.

Because there’s a really fundamental problem about this question which totally neutralises it, but that for some reason, I have never heard raised before. And for that reason, I’m gonna raise it.

I would want to ask the questioner how they define the concept ‘evil’. What they think evil is. What is it really? The best answer they, or anyone, will be able to come up with is “absence of or opposition to good”, which I would agree with. But then you must ask – is that really something that one could create? I mean, think of all the things God created: atoms, stars, planets, oceans, rocks, trees, animals, people. And then you’re trying to say God created “the opposition to good”. You soon realise that this whole thing doesn’t make any sense, and the atheist’s entire question has fallen apart.

It’s because we’re treating the word wrongly. We’re treating ‘evil’ as an object, which it clearly is not. Evil doesn’t fit into the same class as stars or trees. So in defining ‘evil’, we really need to step back and look at what type of thing evil is: not an object, but a characteristic. Evil is a characteristic, not a thing in itself. Things in themselves can have the characteristics of good or evil. So the noun, the concept of ‘evil’ is really subsequent to, and derived from, various things having been described by the adjective ‘evil’.

It’s similar to ‘yellow’. God didn’t so much create ‘yellow’ as he created things that are yellow. And according to the way the laws of logic and reason work, ‘yellow’ naturally formed itself into a concept as well. But the concept is secondary. The concept of yellow doesn’t really exist. It’s not actually independently there.

So in the same way, there is no actual creation called ‘evil’, but there are creations, things, that are evil, or that perform actions that are described as evil.

And THAT is why the answer to the question really lies in free will. God didn’t create evil. In fact, to take the last few paragraphs to their logical conclusion, God didn’t create good either. He didn’t. What God did was he created the Heavens, the Universe, and us. And to us he gave purpose and preference. God gave us the ability to act in any way we choose. But he told us how he would prefer us to live, and the purposes he designed us with. It is these preferences that are definitionally good – they are the desires of God. And all the different ways we can choose to act that oppose his preferences are definitionally evil.

That is the true origin of good and evil.

Empathy.

– Written 19th January 2010

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Imagine that you are traversing a land completely unknown to you. You have never been there or heard of it, nor has anyone you know. In fact, the land is totally unexplored and uncharted. You know you are the first to set foot there.

Now imagine that in your lengthy explorations, you encounter a strange community of green creatures. They’re green. They are also humanoid in shape. They are, on average, a similar size to most humans. You might even say that, apart from being green, they pretty much look like humans in all the basic ways like hands and feet. They seem to have male and female with the same gender-distinguishing characteristics as us. Their faces look much like ours, though their noses are generally longer and pointier than ours and they have very small ears. They don’t have eyebrows, but they all have dark blue, curly hair. None of them have any hair anywhere else on their bodies at all, except that some of the women have moustaches. That’s right. Moustaches. They all have dark red coloured eyes, and their skin is a very bold, bright green.

The creatures seem to have language, but theirs is obviously completely alien to you, impossible to decipher and translate at this stage. They even appear to have some organisation to their community but their customs come across as totally arbitrary and flat out ridiculous.

And my goodness, they’re so green!

What a shock it would be to see such a thing.

Now that you’ve imagined this scenario, I ask you this question. Are these creatures human?

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Reflecting on the elusiveness of infinity. (pun intended)

– Written 27th December 2009

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I was with some friends one day and we walked into one of those lifts that have mirrors on each interior wall. One of my friends said she didn’t like those lifts with mirrors on all the interior walls, for whatever reason. There are probably a number of possible reasons; perhaps nausea, disorientation, maybe an incident where, in such a lift, she was unable to hide mushroom soup that she miraculously managed to spill on her own back. I digress! I digress. The reason is unimportant. (not that I consider the friend to be clumsy at all). Yes, the reason is relatively unimportant. The point is she didn’t like the lifts. She didn’t like them…

…well that’s not really that important either. What’s important is that I replied “How can you not like them?! It’s like looking directly into infinity itself!”

At which point I realised something. Continue reading