The Cosmological Axis of Evil: not nearly as awesome as it sounds

Question from James:
Has there been any discussion on here about what’s known as the cosmological “Axis of Evil” which shows that earth’s ecliptic plane is aligned at the center of the universe and therefore contradicts the Copernican Principle? Isn’t this phenomenon well documented by scientific data?

Answer by SmartLX:
Not until now, but I didn’t have to look far to get the general idea. Some data suggests that there is something very special about the way the Solar System is aligned, perhaps even put-there-deliberately level special. That data is suspect, and ambiguous even if accurate. So…documented, yes, established, no.

The Divisible Brain

Question from Ratburn:
In 2017, two scientists did tests with split brain patients, and even with the left and right hemisphere severed, there still seemed to be a unified consciousness. Here is the actual study:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28122878/

Here is an article which elaborates on it:

http://theweek.com/articles/728869/medical-mystery-splitbrain-patients

Would love to get some insight.

Answer by SmartLX:
The implication here is that split-brain subjects behaving more normally than first thought possible may contradict materialism, as two separate halves of the brain are still somehow communicating and functioning as one consciousness. Red flag right off the bat: this is an argument from ignorance if one were to make it directly, because the mere absence of an explanation is used to assert the influence of the supernatural. Even if it sounds convincing subjectively (not to everyone, by the nature of subjectivity) it can’t be called logical until every natural possibility is ruled out. In this way it’s similar to the mysteries of consciousness itself.

That said, here are some points that make it sound less convincing.
– From the article: once the main link is severed, “the hemispheres have virtually no means of exchanging information” (emphasis mine). If there is any means at all, it will be working overtime to compensate for the lost connection as much as possible. This is what the brain does to cope with any injury, as described in this article from Carnegie Mellon University.
– The classic experiment is to put objects in different hands for the subject to describe. A lot of the writing is ambiguous about whether the opposite eye is blocked off for this; if the side of the brain that controls talking gets any information for itself it may be able to learn to process it independently.
– See this response from Neuroskeptic: the subjects had been brain-split for decades, giving every opportunity for the brain to knit itself back together, functionally or structurally, any way it can. The author of your article is one of the authors of the study, which admits this.

A Scattershot Against Science

Question from A:
“science is religion… people think gravity is proven, it has never been proven, and name the experiment that “proved” it, or at the very least, wasn’t disproven…… as nikola tesla said “science has substituted experiments for math, and it has no relation to reality”…. then u have things like cancer, that have easy cures…..

and the earth is flat……. i suggest u all thoroughly look into it, science is satanism… funny how the quantum physicists say we r in a simulation now, due to experiments like the delft quantum entanglement experiment or the double slit anomaly…. “future humans put us in a simulation” they try everything to take god out.. they admit (orion missions, 2013) we can’t get by the thermosphere or the vab.. the wires alone get fucked by heat and radiation.

chicago skyline from 60 miles away? not possible on a 24901 mile round ball….. seeing from end to end on a 100 mile salt flat? not possible…. v2 rocket from white sands new mexico, 65 miles high, no curve, yet in 1935, explorer 2, 13 miles high was the first picture of the curve………eh?

u think they r using science to just lie about stupid shit? nooooo….. they warped ur perception. the greatest deceiver in the world convinced us the world was different itself. ptolemy and copernicus r still being argued over int he science world lol…. waka that lying jap physicists says “we look like we r the center, BUT I CHOOSE NOT TO BELIEVE THAT” WATCH THE PRINCIPLE, he says that in that documentary lol”

Can someone explain?

Answer by SmartLX:
Yes I think I can explain. You have a deep mistrust (possibly even paranoia) of science in all its forms, and have chosen to accept and disseminate the specific material which purportedly discredits science to attempt to persuade people to abandon their confidence in science and trust only in God. This leads you through multiple pseudosciences and conspiracy theories, from easy (but supposedly suppressed) cancer cures to the simulated universe to the flat Earth to geocentrism. This journey arms you with multiple reasons to trust God over science which are good enough for you but not nearly good enough for others who see the issues with your material, so you remain resolutely reassured while failing to persuade anyone else, most or all of the time. This must be terribly frustrating for you, whenever it actually registers.

High Heaven

Question from Vlad:
This is a video which uses the bible to try and justify belief in heaven. It is a 20 min film, and most of the facts presented are of little value, but the first two min and forty five seconds make an interesting argument, I would love your opinions of it, just watch to 2:45 and I would like to know if you ever came across this argument. How would people at the time that the bible was written have known that we live in a vast universe? The scripture basically states that God and heaven exist outside our universe. Even today, a person trying to say heaven exists would say that “God and heaven exist outside the universe”. Whether that is true is one thing, but it is interesting that people of that period could come up with that. I would love your opinions. Thanks

Answer by SmartLX:
Before I start, the visuals in this first part of the video contain CGI footage from the film Men in Black in a way I do not think constitutes “fair use”, so if anyone wants to file a takedown request I think they might be justified.

Scripture says God and Jesus are above, or higher than, the sky or heavens. It says nothing about the size of the universe, only that God is physically above all known space. Specifically above in every passage quoted, not outside or beyond. This makes no sense in the context of a universe, which has no up or down outside of an individual’s position relative to the specific gravity of a large body like a planet.

So without any reference to how big the universe is (though one look at the night sky will give anyone the impression that it’s big, even if you try to condense it into arbitrary “spheres” like early astronomers did) there’s not much here in terms of divine knowledge of scientific fact. All that remains is an assertion that God is too high in (or above) the sky to see. That seems intuitive, since none of us can see Him when we look up. Scripture carefully places God and Jesus somewhere we can’t easily check for them, making it very difficult to prove the negative and letting believers imagine them being just past the reach of their eyes.

0 = 1 + -1

Question from Herman:
Hello!
For so long I have tried to understand the atheistic theory of the creation of “everything”.
I get the answer that before the big bang there was this waves/energy/*something about density I am too much of a aesthete to understand * or that there is negative matter so that it is really zero matter, but there still is something here right? I guess my question is the ultimate “what happened before that”.

My thinking goes thus:
Energy can’t be created, just altered. Therefore either we believe in eternity and something that has existed without ever being created. Or something outside of the laws of physics must have started it, that in turn must be able to create itself.

Help me understand!
Best regards and holiday greetings!
The Deist from Sweden

Answer by SmartLX:
Holiday greetings to you too Herman.

The idea of the “negative matter” is antimatter, which has been observed and even generated and “captured” in labs. It really is the negative of matter; when it comes into contact with matter the two annihilate one another. If there is as much antimatter as there is matter in the universe then it all comes to zero in a very real sense; it just hasn’t recombined to level out, so there are local positives and local negatives.

Regarding the origin of this system, the answer to the question, “Why did something come from nothing?” in this context is, “because ‘nothing’ is unstable.” Quantum fluctuations can apparently cause matter and antimatter to spontaneously emerge or erupt from an area of zero matter, which violates no laws because the total matter is still zero. This is what has been caused in labs on a very small scale to produce detectable antimatter. This on a large scale can produce a universe’s worth of matter, and if it happens quickly then there’s your Big Bang.

This is of course one theory of many. Another is that, as you say, matter has always existed in some form without ever needing to be created. As for something outside the laws of physics, that’s another possibility but it may only be outside our laws of physics, e.g. another “progenitor” universe in a larger multiverse with its own separate physics (and possibly in an infinite series).

I’ve written a lot about this over the years; search the site for the keyword “origins” to find most of it.

There Will Always Be an Argument About Information

Question from Sam:
Hi, so I was casually surfing the web when I came across a video in “Answers in Genesis” which was basically said it could disprove evolution in 3 minutes with two simple facts. The second fact, which they championed, made the claim that it was impossible (there are no possible means by which this can occur) to add to genetic code in any way, meaning there was no possible way for an aquatic creature to create genetic code to grow legs, etc. (Disproving evolution) Of course, I questioned this bold claim, especially since they were extremely vague about their sources and provided no sources or further material for study. As such, I haven’t a clue how they came upon this claim, or the legitimacy of it, could you lend some further insight into this?

Answer by SmartLX:
I’m assuming the first of the two facts didn’t do anything for you, which does not surprise me.

The source of the claim amounts to “it stands to reason” which is what people say when they don’t want to bother reasoning through something. It’s one variant of the argument from ignorance I’m always pointing out, specifically, “I personally don’t know how additions can be made to a genome, therefore there is no way.” People don’t know this because they literally have not checked at all, because the relevant material can be found online in seconds.

This TalkOrigins article from 2001 fits the bill nicely. The mechanisms by which information is added to the genome are quite simple, for instance gene duplication, or essentially random noise from mutations. What’s harder to comprehend is how this information proves useful, and particularly allows new features to emerge.

The answer to this is straightforward though the detail is immense if you drill into it: natural selection helps to eliminate the information which is not useful, leaving that which is. There are countless analogies for this, so to pick one arbitrarily, genetic material is thrown into an arena and under constant attack, so whatever survives does so because it makes a difference to the fight.

The true difficulty is in convincing creationists that this kind of argument doesn’t convince anybody, which does seem to be true in my experience; its purpose nowadays is instead to reassure creationists. Or perhaps they know this already, but it doesn’t stop them from using it to reassure each other.

Atheism Before Darwin

Question from Amanda:
Where did atheists believe humans came from before Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution existed?

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s some information on this here. There were theories of what would come to be called evolution long before Darwin, though none that fit the evidence nearly so well. Among some biologists there were inklings of the basic concept of common descent, for instance the idea that humans and apes were related, but without the strength of Darwinian theory this opinion was highly controversial and one risked one’s reputation by airing it.

So for the lay atheist minority worldwide, our best answer to your question was that they just didn’t know. Since they didn’t think a god existed, let alone created humanity, they reasoned that there must have been a natural mechanism to allow modern life forms to develop some time after the birth of the planet. With what they knew then, they were unable to take it any further.

This basically meant that evolution in that period was in the same position abiogenesis (the initial emergence of simple life from non-life) is in now. No mechanism was clear despite various conjectures, but if a god didn’t seem likely to you then this inspired confidence that a mechanism existed and might eventually be found. Darwin came through for his field, but we’re still waiting for “the Darwin of abiogenesis”. While we wait (and while some of us work at it), we have to content ourselves with not knowing, because to demand an answer when information is lacking is to open ourselves to a wrong answer.

Psychology 20 Questionnaire

Question from :
I’m currently taking Psychology 20 in school and would like to ask you a few questions about atheism for a project on spirituality if you have the time. The questions are:

1. How does your faith or understanding of the world shape your worldview?
2. How do you justify your actions (good and bad) for your belief system?
3.What gives you meaning and purpose?
4.What are ways you express yourself and why?
5. How do you view the idea of the soul and/or the afterlife?

Hoping for a quick response and thank you for taking the time to answer.

Answer by SmartLX:
Not my quickest response ever, but not bad. Here we go.

1. My view of the world is that it’s shaped and influenced by natural forces, which are powerful but undirected and certainly not worth pleading with. I’m acutely aware that many do not feel this way, so I see what appears to be a great deal of effort wasted because it’s spent trying to please gods that I don’t think are there.

2. I care for myself, and as a social animal I care for the people around me. My awareness of the world beyond my immediate surroundings extends that expression of care to all the people of the world, generally speaking. I justify my actions in terms of the benefit and harm they do to myself and other people, not necessarily in that order, with a view to maximising benefit and minimising harm. The exact meanings of those two quantities I often re-evaluate based on the situation, so that I’m not thinking in a way that doesn’t apply to the circumstances at hand.

3. I choose what my purposes are. From personal achievements to the welfare of selected others (that is, not all purposes are selfish), I devote myself to realising those things I want to bring to fruition. This gives my life meaning to me, and to many others, though not to everyone. This is enough, because whether my life matters to all strangers is not something I worry about.

4. I speak, I write, I sing, I draw, I work, I dance, I play, I struggle, I love. I do these things because I can.

5. The soul does not appear to exist, because identity and consciousness are products of the brain and are damaged or destroyed when the brain is. After the death of the brain there is nothing left of a person to experience any kind of afterlife.

The Face Of Jesus

Question from Vlad:
Last night I got together with a few friends, and we were talking about how in Islam for example, there is very little imagery (if any) of the prophet Muhammad or Isa (Jesus) but how in Christianity, there are numerous depictions and drawings of Jesus. One thing I found curious was that many of the so-called visions people have of Jesus in dreams, or even according to some individuals “in real life” generally cater to the images they were brought up to believe. A Christian living in Texas, for example, who believes he or she encountered Jesus, is likely to describe him as having long dark hair, pretty light skin, a thin build, etc. However, I brought this up during our conversation, and one of my friends (who is very religious) told me that Jesus did actually look like the way he is depicted in photos. I know quite a few people on here may not even believe Jesus ever existed, but assuming he did, I would have thought that he would have likely looked less “European”. My friend told me that recently, a cloth with Jesus’s face on it was discovered apparently where he was buried, and there are documentaries about this. Apparently carbon dating was done to prove that this cloth existed around his time. He said the only thing they could not verify was Jesus’s skin colour, but that it is actually known what his physical structure looked like. I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with these recent claims, but I would like to know, what would your opinion be on this? Does this give these visions any more credence?

Answer by SmartLX:
Islam, or the widely practiced version of it, expressly forbids depictions of Muhammad. That was the whole basis of the furore surrounding the Danish cartoons depicting him, and the resulting attack on the publication in which they appeared. That’s why there are so few images of him. As for Jesus in the Muslim tradition, he’s only a relatively minor figure in that mythology, and not being able to depict Muhammad makes it difficult to express images of any of the other figures regardless.

The “cloth with Jesus’s face on it” was the Shroud of Turin, which I’ve covered before. Its whereabouts have only been traced definitively back to the 14th to 15th century, and the majority of carbon dating tests done on it so far place its origin around that time. The Christian image of Jesus had mostly been standardised by the 6th century, so if the shroud is a fake then it creators were already working from the image we’re familiar with from so many paintings.

There are claims that those tests were invalid because they were supposedly done on newer patches of cloth, but even the strongest advocates of the shroud’s authenticity can only point to a test which indicates a date range that includes the time of Jesus, but also includes the year 1000 BC and the year AD 1700. In other words it’s useless.

Coming back to your question about people’s visions of Jesus matching the image on the shroud, they also match the accepted image of Jesus from all the art. Even if the shroud is genuine, the supposed visions would only be amazing just for matching the shroud if the shroud were the only surviving source of that type of depiction of Jesus. To sustain the claim, a Christian would have to go on to claim that every famous artist who painted that kind of face for him had a similar vision, because otherwise the face comes to people’s minds for other reasons than that Jesus has paid them all a visit.

The Concept of The Blind Watchmaker

Question from James:
Why does Richard Dawkins use the analogy of a “blind watchmaker” to describe natural selection?

Answer by SmartLX:
Straight from Wikipedia:
“In his choice of the title for this book, Dawkins refers to the watchmaker analogy made famous by William Paley in his 1802 book Natural Theology.[1] Paley, writing long before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, held that the complexity of living organisms was evidence of the existence of a divine creator by drawing a parallel with the way in which the existence of a watch compels belief in an intelligent watchmaker. Dawkins, in contrasting the differences between human design and its potential for planning with the workings of natural selection, therefore dubbed evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker.”

Essentially, natural selection clearly does not plan. Paley’s argument is that if a watch suggests the existence of a watchmaker, the supposed appearance of design in living things should suggest the existence of a designer, but on closer inspection life is not as it would have been if designed by an entity with all its faculties intact. The reasons given by Dawkins include vestigial organs and features, inefficient physical arrangements of a body’s components (like the recurrent laryngeal nerve), inefficient solutions to simple problems, easily avoidable susceptibilities to malfunction, disease and death (see here for examples in humans), and needlessly expensive competition between individual organisms. Life functions, sometimes barely, but it could be so much better if someone had actually designed it rather than natural selection procedurally applying the simplest short-term solution to everything.