My novel on parallel worlds, God and drugs

Here is the introduction to a novel I’ve been writing in English for eons…and perhaps even in some parallel world 🙂

Hier ist die EinfĂĽhrung in einen Roman, den ich auf Englisch seit Ă„onen geschrieben habe…und vielleicht sogar in irgendwelcher parallelen Welt 🙂

Ceci est l’introduction du roman que j’ai Ă©crit depuis de très nombreux mois…peut-ĂŞtre mĂŞme dans un monde parallèle 🙂

paralel

*************

Magonland…a world not entirely unlike ours but not completely similar either.

Magonland…eine Welt, die unserer nicht ganz unähnlich ist, obwohl sie auch nicht ganz dieselbe ist.

Magonland…un monde qui n’est pas vraiment diffĂ©rent du notre, bien qu’il ne soit pas tout Ă  fait identique.
For countless centuries, the whole planet has been ruled by the iron fist of the “Grand Consil”, whose manipulative skills have grown so strong that they managed eventually to convince the large majority of Magoners that they live in a democracy and are sovereign over their own existences.

Seit zahllosen Jahrhunderten wird der ganze Planet von der eisernen Faust des “GroĂźen Consils” regiert, dessen manipulativen Methoden so stark geworden sind, dass es ihnen schliesslich gelang, die grosse Mehrheit der Magoner davon zu ĂĽberzeugen, dass sie in einer Demokratie leben und ĂĽber ihre eigenen Existenzen entscheiden.

Depuis de nombreux siècles, l’entière planète a Ă©tĂ© gouvernĂ© par le poing d’acier du “Grand Consil”, dont les techniques de manipulation sont devenues tellement matures qu’ils ont finalement rĂ©ussi Ă  convaincre la grande majoritĂ© des Magoneurs qu’ils vivent dans une dĂ©mocratie et dirigent souverainement leurs propres existences.

manip

But political oppression is far from being the only problem plaguing humans.

Aber die politische UnterdrĂĽckung ist keineswegs das einzige Problem, das Menschen plagt.

Mais l’oppression politique est loin d’être le seul flĂ©au affligeant les humains.

Many eons ago, at a time when religions had not yet been eradicated, Ankou, a terrifying drug devouring the bodies and souls of its victims, had been introduced into the world by a powerful sect which disappeared shortly thereafter.

Viele Äonen zuvor, zu einer Zeit als die Religionen noch nicht vertilgt worden waren, wurde Ankou, eine furchterregende Droge, die die Körper und Seelen ihrer Opfer verzehrt, in die Welt hineingebracht von einer mächtigen Sekte, die kurz danach verschwand.

Dans un passĂ© très lointain, alors que les religions n’avaient pas encore Ă©té  Ă©radiquĂ©es, Ankou, une drogue terrifiante qui dĂ©vore les corps et les âmes de ses victimes, fut introduite dans le monde par une puissante secte qui disparut peu après.

junkies

And so did belief in Kralmur, the God of all gods whose glorious return so passionately preached by forgotten prophets never happened.

Und ebenso verschwand der Glaube an Kralmur, den Gott aller Götter, dessen glorreiche Rückkehr, über die vergessene Propheten so leidenschaftlich gepredigt haben, nie geschah.

Et il en fut de mĂŞme pour la foi en Kralmur, le Dieu de tous les dieux, dont le glorieux retour prĂŞchĂ© tellement passionnĂ©ment par des prophètes oubliĂ©s, n’arriva jamais.

Despite a wealthy existence, a fantastic girlfriend and a decent job he feels passionate about, Curt Sunbloom no longer wants to live on.

Trotz einer wohlhabenden Existenz, einer fantastischen Freundin und einer anständigen Arbeit, wovon er sich begeistert fühlt, will Curt Sunneblum nicht länger weiterleben.

Malgré une existence aisée, une fantastique petite amie et un travail décent qui le passione, Curt Sunbloom ne veut plus vivre.

gott

Apart from having the same name as his dead father who tyrannized the planet for decades, he constantly feels a deep emptiness in his innermost being that nothing had ever been able to drive away for long.

Ausser der Tatsache, dass er denselben Namen wie den seines toten Vaters hat, der den ganzen Planet während Jahrzehnten tyrannisiert hat, fühlt er ständig eine tiefe innere Leere, die kein Ding dieser Welt auf die Länge hatte vertreiben können.

En plus d’avoir le mĂŞme nom que son père dĂ©cĂ©dĂ©, qui a tyrannisĂ© toute la planète pendant des dĂ©cennies, il sent sans cesse un vide intĂ©rieur que rien au monde n’a jamais pu chasser pour longtemps.

As rumors of a gate toward another realm surface, he doesn’t hesitate and decides to search for it.

Als Gerüchte über ein Tor nach einer anderen Dimension auftauchen, zögert er nicht und entscheidet, danach zu suchen.

Lorsque des rumeurs concernant un portail vers une autre dimension surfacent, il n’hésite pas et décide de le chercher.

torandererdimension

But at the same time, mysterious lights are beginning to move around in the sky.

Aber zur gleichen Zeit beginnen gerade mysteriöse Lichter am Himmel, sich herum zu bewegen.

Mais en même temps, des mystérieuses lumières dans le ciel commencent a se déplacer erratiquement dans le ciel.

And Ankou seems to be evolving into something more sinister than it ever was.

Und Ankou scheint gerade, sich in etwas zu verwandeln, das noch dĂĽsterer ist als es je gewesen ist.

Et Ankou semble ĂŞtre entrain de se transformer en quelque chose encore plus sinistre qu’elle n’a jamais Ă©tĂ©.

anopu

Soon, Curt finds himself in the middle of a confusing war whose significance might transcend everything he believes in.

Bald befindet sich Curt mitten in einem verwirrenden Krieg, dessen Bedeutsamkeit alles übersteigen könnte, woran er glaubt.

BientĂ´t, Curt se retrouve au milieu d’une guerre dĂ©routante, dont la signifiance pourrait très bien transcender toutes ses croyances.

transenence

********************

So, aside from my work as an emerging scientist, this novel is the main reason why I’ve been blogging less frequently for the last months.

Also, neben meiner beruflichen Tätigkeit als Nachwuchswissenschaftler ist dieser Roman der Hauptgrund, warum ich im Laufe der letzten Monate viel seltener gebloggt habe.

En plus de ma profession en tant que jeune scientifique, ce roman est la raison principale pourquoi j’ai rarement bloguĂ© pendant les derniers mois.

At the moment,I am undecided as to how to publish it.

Momentan weiĂź ich noch nicht, wie ich ihn publizieren werde.

En ce moment, je ne sais pas encore comment je veux le publier.

I consider it much more important to be read by many people than to make money out of it.

Ich betrachte es als viel wichtiger, von zahlreichen Menschen gelesen zu werden, als dadurch viel Geld zu verdienen.

Je considère beaucoup plus important d’être lu par beaucoup de personnes plutĂ´t que de gagner de l’argent a travers cela.

In the parallel world I created, English is the common tongue but some people speak in French and other people speak in the Germanic dialect of my region.

In der parallelen Welt, die ich erschaffen habe, ist das Englische die gemeinsame Sprache aber einige Menschen sprechen Französisch während andere Personen den deutschen Dialekt meiner Region reden.

Dans le monde parallèle que j’ai crĂ©Ă©, l’anglais est la langue principale mais certaine personnes parlent en français tandis que d’autres s’expriment dans le dialecte germanique de ma rĂ©gion.

So people interested in linguistic might like it 🙂

Also Leute, die an der Linguistik interessiert sind, könnten es mögen 🙂

Ainsi, les gens intéressés par la linguistique pourrait l’apprécier 🙂

mainwilla

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On Dawkins, God, ET and the nature of reality

I just listened to a talk given by Richard Dawkins.

For those who do not know him, he is the most influential “new atheist” (anti-theist) whose deepest wish would be to rid the world of all religions. Besides that, he is a very gifted evolutionary biologist and writer.

Given his track record and his habit of constantly lumping together all Christians and Muslims and his failure to appreciate the historical and religious contexts in which the Bible and the Koran were written, I expected a highly biased presentation of the facts.
I was pleasantly surprised by his (relatively) moderate tone and even ended up enjoying his show.
The same cannot be said of his followers and the person who titled the video. As we shall see, Dawkins did not “debunk” deism and the “simulation hypothesis”.
At best, he only showed that some arguments for these views are flawed.
In what follows, I want to offer my thoughts about several things he said, albeit not necessarily in a chronological order.

The origin of life and intelligent design

origin-life
Dawkins recognises that at the moment, we don’t know how life originated. There are several theories out there but they all have their problems and no consensus has been reached.
Of course, our current ignorance cannot be used to argue that no natural phenomena could have been responsible for the appearance of the first self-replicating system.
Dawkins is ready to seriously consider the possibility that life has been seeded on earth by space aliens, which shows a certain mind-openness.
But he is adamant that such creatures could only have evolved through a slow process because the probability of their being formed spontaneously is extremely low.
This begs the question against people holding a religious world view who would say that the creator(s) of life are God(s) who always existed.
This also doesn’t fit in with his beliefs about the origin of the universe, as we will see later on.

Extraterrestrial intelligences and  Fermi’s paradox

Dawkins endorses the principle of mediocrity which stipulates that we shouldn’t suppose there is anything special about us.

Thus, since we know there is (advanced) life on earth, we should assume it is widespread across the whole universe.

While being still popular among mainstream scientists, the Principle Of Mediocrity (POM= has grown more controversial over the last years.
Philosopher of science John Norton wrote an article entitled “Cosmic Confusions: Not Supporting versus Supporting Not” where he shows the problems related to the POM.
Basically, the principle of mediocrity is justified through the principle of indifference (POI), according to which if we know nothing about a situation, we should attribute the same probability to each possibility.
I explained what I consider to be fatal objections to the POI here and here.
As Norton demonstrated, the principle of indifference conflates the difference between knowledge and ignorance and very often leads to arbitrary results (depending on the prior probability distribution one uses).
There is a fundamental distinction between
Situation A) We know that life on earth wasn’t the result of a fluke but that of non-random natural processes
and
Situation B) We know (almost) nothing about this.
Dawkins went into a paradox mentioned by nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi.
If advanced life is so common in the cosmos, why don’t we see any trace of it?
Several explanations (such as the near impossibility of interstellar travel, the short duration of technological civilisations or their reluctance to interact with such primitive beings as we) have been offered to solve the paradox.
To my mind, while these may be plausible reasons why ten or even hundred extraterrestrial races never approached the earth, they seem extremely far-fetched when applied to millions (let alone billions) of civilisations.
Therefore, I believe that Fermi’s paradox strongly calls in question the conviction that the universe is teeming with advanced life forms.

The fine-tuning argument and the multiverse

fine-tuning

Physicists have long since been puzzled by the fact that the constants of nature must lie in a very narrow domain in order to allow for advanced life to exist.

Many theistic philosophers reason like this

  1. All sets of parameter values must have the same probability of being true (applying the Principle Of Indifference mentioned above)
  2. Therefore, the probability of their belonging to a small region is extremely (if not infinitely) small.
  3. It is very unlikely that we are the products of purely natural processes not involving God.

While mainstream cosmologists agree with steps 1 and 2, they then go on to postulate the existence of a (nearly) infinite number of parallel universes covering all intervals of parameter values. A natural consequence of this is that the appearance of a universe such as ours is bound to happen even if no supernatural creator intervenes.

Dawkins considers this the most plausible explanation of the problem.

I have come to the realisation that the whole concept of a fine-tuning problem is misguided because of its reliance on the principle of difference.

The fallacy of doing so has been demonstrated by Norton.

Miracles in an infinite multiverse

According to Clarke’s law, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Dawkins believes there are probably creatures out there who are so superior to us that we could only regard them as gods if they were to visit us. But he insists that they would have been created through evolutionary processes and would not be supernatural beings.

But this means that in order for him to dismiss out of hand the testimonies of witnesses of paranormal events and miracles, he would have to either show that they violate the laws of physics or give us plausible reasons as to why such creatures would not visit us.

He also faces another problem stemming from his belief in an infinite number of parallel universes.

In an infinite space, any event which is physically possible is bound to happen somewhere.

This has led physicists to consider the possibility of so-called Boltzmann’s brains which would pop into existence because of random fluctuations.

Bolzmann-brain
Bolzmann’s brain

While physicists disagree about the frequency of their appearances in a vast multiverse, they all think they will at least exist somewhere.

Actually, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has been able to convincingly demonstrate they would be very rare.

Anti-theists like to mock Christians by comparing their belief in God to the belief in a flying spaghetti monster. flying-spaghetti-monster

But if we truly live in an infinite multiverse, flying spaghetti monsters too will necessarily exist somewhere.

What is more, physically very improbable events (such as the resurrection of a man from the dead) are also going to happen somewhere through random processes.

 

As a consequence, the atheist can no longer say “your belief in the miracles of the New Testament is silly because they violate the law of physics”.

The best he could say would be: “While such events really occur somewhere, their relative frequency is so low that it is unreasonable for you to believe they really took place.”

This is no doubt a weaker position which has its own problems.

 

The simulation argument

Actually, Dawkins discussed the so-called simulation argument elsewhere.

According to it, it is more likely we live in the simulation of a universe than in a real one.

Far from “debunking” this possibility, Dawkins recognises he cannot show it to be very unlikely in the same way he thinks he can reject the existence of God.

I think another interesting thesis can be formulated.

Consider the following proposition:

“We live in a simulation run by unknown beings who created everything five minutes ago and gave us false memories of the past.”

Brain in the vat: "I'm walking outside in the sun!"
Brain in a vat. My thought experiment here is far broader than that and includes the possibility of being part of a simulation of beings radically different from everything we can conceive of. Or being fooled by a deceitful demon about whose abilities and psychology we know almost nothing.

I don’t doubt that this idea sounds emotionally absurd to most of us.

But can you show it is very unlikely to be true WITHOUT smuggling in assumptions about the real world?

I have searched the philosophical literature but could not find any demonstration which does not beg the question.

I think that you can only reject it pragmatically through a leap of faith that does not rely on reason and evidence.

Consequently, I also think it is impossible to justify all our beliefs through evidence and logics.

We all walk by faith.

 

The atheist in front of God’s throne

Finally, I want to go into how Dawkins considers the possibility of being judged by a God he didn’t believe in.

Dawkins says he would react like the late British philosopher Bertrand Russel:

“Confronted with the Almighty, [Russell] would ask, ‘Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?’

This assumes that God would be mostly offended by Dawkins’ and Russel’s unbelief.

I have argued elsewhere against the notion (held by fundamentalist Christians) that atheism is immoral and that people dying as atheists will be punished because of their unbelief.

I think it is incompatible with the existence of a supreme being which would necessarily be more loving, just and gracious than any human.

But what if the dialogue between God and Dawkins went like that:

Dawkins: So, you really exist after all! I did not believe in you because I couldn’t see enough evidence.

God: Fair enough. The universe I created is ambiguous and it leaves people the choice to  develop a solid moral character or not. I won’t condemn you because you did not believe in me. Yet, we do have a score to settle.

Dawkins: What do you mean then?

God:I gave you a conscience and the knowledge of good and evil. You knew in your heart that you ought to treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated. But you often disregarded this principle. You and your followers have frequently bullied, mocked and ridiculed respectful opponents. You even loudly proclaimed this was the right thing to do.

Of course, this conversation is completely fictional. I don’t know the content of Dawkins’ heart and cannot rule out the possibility he will be in heaven.

Conclusion

I find that this video of Dawkins is really intellectually stimulating.

I did not feel challenged in my faith/hope there is a supreme being.

On the contrary, this strengthened my belief that atheists cannot confidently assert that “there are probably no gods and miracles.”

Of course, I must recognise there are many atheistic philosophers who are far more sophisticated than Dawkins out there.

But it is worth noting that Dawkins’ books (especially the God delusion) caused many people to lose their faith.

I think that their conversions to atheism are due to his rhetorical skills and not to the strength of his arguments.

 

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Invisible burden of proof

Progressive Evangelical apologist Randal Rauser has just written a fascinating post about the way professional Skeptics systematically deny a claim they deem extraordinary.

 

I’ve talked about God and the burden of proof in the past. (See, for example, “God’s existence: where does the burden of proof lie?” and “Atheist, meet Burden of Proof. Burden of Proof, meet Atheist.”) Today we’ll return to the question beginning with a humorous cartoon.

Religion cartoon

This cartoon appears to be doing several things. But the point I want to focus on is a particular assumption about the nature of burden of proof. The assumption seems to be this:

Burden of Proof Assumption (BoPA): The person who makes a positive existential claim (i.e. who makes a claim that some thing exists) has a burden of proof to provide evidence to sustain that positive existential claim.

Two Types of Burden of Proof

Admittedly, it isn’t entirely clear how exactly BoPA is to be  understood. So far as I can see, there are two immediate interpretations which we can call the strong and weak interpretations. According to the strong interpretation, BoPA claims that assent to a positive existential claim is only rational if it is based on evidence. In other words, for a person to believe rationally that anything at all exists, one must have evidence for that claim. I call this a “strong” interpretation because it proposes a very high evidential demand on rational belief.

The “weak” interpretation of BoPA refrains from extending the evidential demand to every positive existential claim a person accepts. Instead, it restricts it to every positive existential claim a person proposes to another person.

To illustrate the difference, let’s call the stickmen in the cartoon Jones and Chan. Jones claims he has the baseball, and Chan is enquiring into his evidence for believing this. A strong interpretation of BoPA would render the issue like this: for Jones to be rational in believing that he has a baseball (i.e. that a baseball exists in his possession), Jones must have evidence of this claim.

A weak interpretation of BoPA shifts the focus away from Jones’ internal rationality for believing he has a baseball and on to the rationality that Chan has for accepting Jones’ claim. According to this reading, Chan cannot rationally accept Jones’ testimony unless Jones can provide evidence for it, irrespective of whether Jones himself is rational to believe the claim.

So it seems to me that the cartoon is ambiguous between the weak and strong claims. Moreover, it is clear that each claim carries different epistemological issues in its train.

Does a theist have a special burden of proof?

Regardless, let’s set that aside and focus in on the core claim shared by both the weak and strong interpretations which is stated above in BoPA. In the cartoon a leap is made from belief about baseballs to belief about religious doctrines. The assumption is thus that BoPA is a claim that extends to any positive existential claim.

I have two reasons for rejecting BoPA as stated. First, there are innumerable examples where rational people recognize that it is not the acceptance of an existential claim which requires evidence. Indeed, in many cases the opposite is the case: it is the denial of an existential claim which requires evidence.

Consider, for example, belief in a physical world which exists external to and independent of human minds. This view (often called “realism”) makes a positive existential claim above and beyond the alternative of idealism. (Idealism is the view that only minds and their experiences exist.) Regardless, when presented with the two positions of realism and idealism, the vast majority of people will recognize that if there is a burden of proof in this question, it is borne by the idealist who denies a positive existential claim.

Second, BoPA runs afoul of the fact that one person’s existential denial is another person’s existential affirmation. The idealist may deny the existence of a world external to the mind. But by doing so, the idealist affirms the existence of a wholly mental world. So while the idealist may seem at first blush to be making a mere denial, from another perspective she is making a positive existential claim.

With that in mind, think about the famous mid-twentieth century debate between Father Copleston (Christian theist) and Lord Russell (atheist) on the existence of God. Copleston defended a cosmological argument according to which God was invoked to explain the origin of the universe. Russell retorted: “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all.” With that claim, Russell is not simply denying a positive existential claim (i.e. “God exists”), but he is also making a positive existential claim not made by Copleston (i.e. “the universe is just there, and that’s all”).

In conclusion, the atheist makes novel positive existential claims as surely as the theist. And so it  follows that if the latter has a burden to defend her positive existential claim that God does exist, then the former has an equal burden to defend her positive existential claim that the universe is just there and that’s all.

Here is was my response.
This is another of your excellent posts, Randal!

Unlike most Evangelical apologists, you’re a true philosopher of religion and don’t seem to be ideology driven like John Loftus (for instance) obviously is. This makes it always a delight to read your new insights,

I think that when one is confronted with an uncertain claim, there are three possible attitudes:

1) believing it (beyond any reasonable doubt)
2) believing its negation (without the shadow of a doubt).
3) not knowing what to think.

Most professional Skeptics automatically assume that if your opponent cannot prove his position (1), he or she is automatically wrong (2), thereby utterly disregarding option 3).

skeptik

All these stances can be moderated by probabilities, but since I believe that only events have probabilities, I don’t think one can apply a probabilistic reasoning to God’s existence and to the reality of moral values.

While assessing a worldview, my method consists of comparing its predictions with the data of the real world. And if it makes no prediction at all (such as Deism), agnosticism is the most reasonable position unless you can develop cogent reasons for favoring another worldview.

Anyway, the complexity of reality and the tremendous influence of one’s cultural and personal presuppositions on reality make it very unlikely to know the truth with a rational warrant, and should force us to adopt a profound intellectual humility.

This is why I define faith as HOPE in the face of insufficient evidence.
I believe we have normal, decent (albeit not extraordinarily) evidence for the existence of transcendent beings. These clues would be deemed conclusive in mundane domain of inquiries such as drug trafficking or military espionage.
But many people consider the existence of a realm (or beings) out of the ordinary to be extremely unlikely to begin with.
This is why debates between true believers and hardcore deniers tend to be extraordinarily counter-productive and loveless.

The evidence are the same but Skeptics consider a coincidence of hallucinations, illusions and radar deficits to be astronomical more plausible than visitors from another planet, universe, realm, or something else completely unknown.

magonia

In the future, I’ll argue that there are really a SMALL number of UFOs out there (if you stick to the definition “UNKNOWN Flying Objects” instead of a starship populated by gray aliens)

Of course, the same thing can be said about (a little number of) miraculous miracles.

 

The Myth of the Good Alien: on Skeptical Wishful Thinking

Deutsche Version: Der Mythos des guten AuĂźerirdischen: ĂĽber das Skeptische Wunschdenken

Image

We all know that: while the thinking of religious people is dominated by all sorts of irrational processes like confirmation bias, wishful thinking, personalization and so forth,  self-professed Skeptics are (almost) always thinking rationally whereby their emotional states have only a very small influence on their reasoning abilities. Almost all conclusions they reach are well-grounded and it is Reason and evidence alone which lead them to conclude that reductive materialism is true and that one ought to mock and ridicule everyone disagreeing.

However to an outsider like me, it appears obvious that Skeptics are as prone to cognitive and psychological biases as everyone else.

The whole idea that the overwhelming majority of intelligent space aliens are beings full of empathy and love is a very representative example. Whilst it is certainly not a belief held by all Skeptics, it is extremely popular among many Skeptical circles around the worlds, especially those actively supporting the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project.

Michael Shermer’s influential article The myth of Evil Aliens should always be used as a case study for this type of self-deception.

I will let the FERMI-paradox (if there are so many alien civilizations out there, why don’t we see them?) aside and grant for the sake of the discussion that there are actually countless extraterrestrial races in the universe.

The great astrophysicist Stephen Hawking expressed worries about one possible consequence of contact with another intelligent race. As Shermer reported it:

“According to Stephen Hawking, we should keep our mouths shut. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” he explained in his 2010 Discovery Channel documentary series. “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.” Given the history of encounters between earthly civilizations in which the more advanced enslave or destroy the less developed, Hawk­ing concluded: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

While Hawking certainly does not think that every extraterrestrial civilization would act in this way, his concerns sound quite reasonable to my mind. How does Shermer dismiss it?

“I am skeptical. Although we can only represent the subject of an N of 1 trial, and our species does have an unenviable track rec­ord of first contact between civilizations, the data trends for the past half millennium are encouraging: colonialism is dead, slavery is dying, the percentage of populations that perish in wars has decreased, crime and violence are down, civil liberties are up, and, as we are witnessing in Egypt and other Arab countries, the desire for representative democracies is spreading, along with education, science and technology. These trends have made our civilization more inclusive and less exploitative. If we extrapolate that 500-year trend out for 5,000 or 500,000 years, we get a sense of what an ETI might be like.

In fact, any civilization capable of extensive space travel will have moved far beyond exploitative colonialism and unsustainable energy sources. Enslaving the natives and harvesting their resources may be profitable in the short term for terrestrial civilizations, but such a strategy would be unsustainable for the tens of thousands of years needed for interstellar space travel.

In this sense, thinking about extraterrestrial civilizations forces us to consider the nature and progress of our terrestrial civilization and offers hope that, when we do make contact, it will mean that at least one other intelligence managed to reach the level where harnessing new technologies displaces controlling fellow beings and where exploring space trumps conquering land. Ad astra!”

 Now I believe that Shermer’s wishful thinking already begins with his enumeration of the alleged current progresses of our own kind.

He leaves aside the harmful consequences of the wild capitalism and neocolonialism he actively supports.

This will be the topic of future posts. For the sake of this discussion I will just assume that he is completely right with respect to human moral progresses.

At face value, his reasoning seems compelling and reassuring. Shermer grants the obvious point we cannot answer this question empirically since we’re the only one subject in the sample, but we can, on logical grounds, conclude that any such advanced species would have reached high moral standards in the same way mankind is heading towards that goal. So, we’ve good grounds for thinking that interstellar traveling aliens are peaceful and loving.

Yet a closer examination shows that such an argumentation lacks an important step.

In order to get an advanced alien civilization full of love and empathy, the following conditions must be successively satisfied:

1)      On an ideal planet, an intelligent species emerges through evolutionary processes

2)      This species evolves a strong propensity for love, empathy and altruism (LEA) besides other instincts

3)      Through a technological and cultural evolution, this species designs social, political and ethical structures which allow LEA to be optimally expressed

I tend to agree with Shermer’s optimism that given enough time, the extraterrestrial civilization is going to develop structures and ethical principles leading its basic moral instincts to be expressed in a maximal way.

But this is the sticking point: what if the species lacks LEA and has evolved other ways to become a powerful intelligent race?

Given the extraordinarily high number of possible places where intelligent life could evolve in the universe (let alone in the multiverse!), it seems almost certain there will be countless worlds with intelligent beings having moral intuitions radically different from ours.

And I’ve never read or heard any reason to think otherwise which does not beg the question in one way or the other.

Image

And this clearly greatly undermines atheistic attempts to define an objective morality. If our moral intuitions are evolutionary contingent, we cannot assume they are true in an absolute sense any more than another intelligent species with conflicting intuitions could do.

And if evolution (or more generally nature) does not define what is right and wrong, how can a worldview denying the existence of any kind of transcendence provide us with a grounding for morality?

Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

Deutsche Version: Erfordern außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise?

https://lotharlorraine.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/4e4f9-1797-dog-walking-on-water.jpg

Answering such a question proves much more difficult than many people like to think.

The famous Skeptic of parapsychology Richard Wiseman from Britain was once asked why he rejected Extrasensory Perceptions (ESP) and specifically remote viewing. His answer was very revealing:

“I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.

“If I said that there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me.

“But if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more evidence.

“Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionize the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don’t have that evidence.”

Such an approach to anomalous phenomena is often backed up by the legendary Bayes’ theorem, according to which one can actualize the likelihood of the truth of a theory by incorporating the information conveyed by new facts.

I’m going to keep a critical examination of the related philosophy Bayesianism to future conversations.

In the second book of the Narnia series “The King Of Narnia“, the famous writer C.S. Lewis completely rejected this method. The young Lucy came into Narnia, a parallel world, after having hidden within a wardrobe. Back in the house, she ran to her siblings who utterly denied the reality of her experience.

Worried that their small sister kept holding fast on the truth of her incredible story, they searched Professor Kirke who rebuked them for not trusting Lucy. After they retorted that her claim was extraordinary, he replied:

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

That is to say, for the old wise professor, normal evidence was sufficient for vindicating the wild claim of the little girl.

At this point, I am kind of confused about both principles.

On the one hand, it is clear one should always take our background knowledge into account before evaluating a new hypothesis or theory.

On the other hand, if a set of facts is sufficient to prove an ordinary claim, I don’t see why a similar set of facts should fail to prove an extraordinary conclusion.

Let us now see some concrete examples of well-known phenomena which were rejected in the past due to their alleged extraordinariness. Saying in hindsight they weren’t extraordinary after all would be all too easy for this was the way they were perceived by scientists at that time.

The existence of meteorites was once thought to be an outlandish claim and the normal evidence was explained away in terms of purely terrestrial phenomena or witness hallucinations.

In 1923 the German geologist Alfred Wegener found normal evidence for continental drift, but failing to present a mechanism which worked, his theory was ignored and even ridiculed during decades.

The same thing could be said about ball lightnings which were often dismissed as stemming from illusions or hallucinations experienced by the witnesses.

http://csironewsblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/balllightning_joethomissen.jpg

Nowadays a similar phenomenon can be observed for the small proportion of flying objects which are truly unidentified.

If extraordinary claims demands extraordinary evidence, then UFOs (in the present) does not and continental drift, meteorites and ball lightnings did not (in the past) exist.

But if one only seeks for normal evidence, a strong case can be made that some UFOs (according to the original definition as “unidentified”) really exist. I am going to explain this in future posts.

We will also explore together the possibility that there really exists normal evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

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