Wednesday, 26 September 2012

veganism needs a marketing company

I think that vegans also fail to distinguish their arguments and bombard people with all of them. They need to find which argument works on whichever person, and address only that aspect.

So, for example, (a) most people in the west, which is the biggest meat consumer, accept and are worried about global warming. If you can show evidence that a large proportion of it is due to cow flatulence and deforestation, you can make an argument for reducing consumption of burgers, for example.

The other arguments are (whether true or not): (b) it's morally wrong to kill any sentient being, (c) mass farmed animals are full of hormones/antibiotics/BSE/whatever, (d) meat is actually not healthy for you (e) we're not biologically 'designed' to eat meat.

So for example, I only find (a) to (c) compelling; (d) and (e) don't really persuade me, because of palaeontological evidence that humans have been doing it for 1.6 million years - ie from a time BEFORE we were actually modern humans (which is only in the last 100-200 000 years or so - I can't recall the exact timeframe).

Moreover, even (c) isn't that compelling if you go for free-range meats or venison. From my point of view, the moral argument is the strongest. The bigger the frontal cortex, the more it can suffer, the less you should consider eating it.

Lastly, as for raw food vegans: Processing isn't inherently bad. I mean think about it. If you put aside preservatives, colourants and flavour enhancers, you're left with "processing" which usually means "liquidising and mixing". How is that any different from what your teeth do?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

etymology of wolves and foxes

I find it interesting that the Latin term for a fox is 'vulpes'. If you apply Grimm's law to this, it becomes "wulf" in Germanic. Now, in Latin, u v and w were interchangeable as long u (oo), and uniformly written as v. This is seen in Hawaiian as well, where some islanders pronounce the name of their home 'hava-yi', and others as 'hawa-yi'. Likewise, in Welsh, a 'w' is a long u, e.g. 'cwm'. So this leads me to consider the following theory.

Consider Latin Lupo - a wolf. If you swap some letters - a common occurrence in speech - think of people who say "ecsetera" and "arks" instead of "et-setera" or "arsk". Or consider "three" versus "third" - the r and the e swap places. Now, If you take Latin Lupo, it's quite plausible that at some stage it was 'ulpo'. Now, if you apply Grimm's law to that, you get 'ulf', which is the Norse Germanic word. So the original Indo-European word for a wild dog must have been 'ulf' or 'ulp'. But since Latin uses 'vulpes' or 'uulpes', to spell it correctly, for a fox, it suggests that Latin added that word later, since it's closer to the Germanic letter-order of 'ulf'. This suggests that the Latins had the word "lupo" for a wolf, but then, when they went further north, and met the Germanic tribes, they encountered foxes, and decided to borrow the Germanic word 'ulf' for a fox. Hence, a wolf is 'lup-', and a fox is 'ulp-'. IE it's the same word, and reintroduced in the Germanic letter-order.

This is an interesting occurrence, since the Latins developed their civilisation sooner (into the Roman Empire), and hence, the Germanics tended to borrow from Latin, not the other way around, as seen in this case. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

homeopathy debunked


The best comment:


I'm glad that every glass of water I drink has infinitely small concentrations of every possible homeopathic remedy, so I know I will never get sick from anything.
Doug Selsam

"water molecule retention of energetic information"
1) this doesn't happen. Basic chemistry and physics.
2) if it did, every molecule of water on the planet would already have the signature of every substance that has ever been, because the water cycle has been going on for about 6 billion years and it all gets churned up constantly. So, again, if homeopathy worked, just drinking plain untreated tap water would have the exact same effect.
If there were really a "memory of water" which was detectable by any means, then any lab in the world should be able to take an unlabeled sample of homeopathic medicine, and one of plain water, and using whatever techniques are claimed to be able to detect the difference, figure out which was which. This has never happened. The only people who have claimed to be able to tell the difference are those who were already proponents of homeopathy in advance of the experiment, and they do not explain their methods, (or when they do, those methods don't work for anyone else).

-- Jacob Baziza

Thursday, 13 September 2012

zeitgeist debunked

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

responses to critics

I recently gave a talk on evolution vs creation. These replies to criticisms below should be self-explanatory.

Please note that I am unable due to time constraints to engage further in debate.


1. That my argument contains non-sequiturs and fallacies of affirming the consequent (FAC). That would be because it is an inductive, probabilistic argument. All inductive arguments are structured the same, logically speaking, as FACs. (If A, then B, B, therefore A). If you consult Swinburne (2004), the Existence of God, you’ll see that he justifies God’s existence using probabilistic arguments based on Bayes’ Theorem, which is bidirectionally implicative, unlike formal logic, which defines any bidirectionally implicative proposition as a fallacy or circular or self-justifying. IE in this argument the premises entail the hypothesis, and the hypothesis entails the premises. But all science is like this: a hypothesis derives from observed evidence, and predicts future observations or evidence, by stating a theory which has law-like entailments that the future will resemble the past. The evidence entails the hypothesis, and the hypothesis or theory entails future evidence of the same kind. So this criticism isn’t revealing anything I wasn’t aware of, hence my originally placing the Bayesian equation in one of the pages.


2. That my presentation doesn’t show nuance as to the various types of evolutionary arguments or presentations of sub-models etc. Yes, this is not a formal academic presentation or paper, in the sense of intended to show detail to an academic audience who are experts in evolutionary theory. I was presenting an intelligent layperson’s comprehendable model of evolution which an educated layperson could follow, and was limited by time to not go into detail. You may notice, for example, that the last few screens of philosophical argument do not go into as much technical detail as this response collection here. The reason is the same: if one has one minute per slide, it’s not possible to go into technical detail. I apologise for misrepresenting anything, however, or oversimplifying.


3. That the present research ignores recent research by Intelligent Design proponents. See my reply to (2) above regarding limitations. 


I also responded to this particular criticism by pointing out that the scientific consensus is in favour of evolution, which my interlocutor accepted as true. This does not, of course, mean that scientists are right, just that ID proponents need to get more peer-reviewed articles on ID published in scientific journals if they want to be taken seriously, by presenting incontrovertible evidence of something biological that had to have been designed, for which no mechanism would suffice as an explanation. I am not aware of any such journal article, but I look forward to reading one. 


In particular, my objection to ID is not that it is covertly theistic. My objection to ID is that it assumes that a complex designer, with complex (universe-sized and universe-detailed plans) pre-existed the universe, and pre-existed life, which means that something more complex than our existing universe pre-existed our universe. That strikes me as highly improbable. In our observation, less complex things come first and are followed by more complex things, hence, bacteria and jellyfish first, then fish, then amphibians, reptiles, etc. Or to use a human analogy: fire, spear, Boeing, not, Boeing first. If we use Bayes’ equation of probability, then, given that in our observation, complex things usually appear after simpler things in technology and in nature, it seems as if the prior probability of there being an intelligent designer is low. Given the massive explanatory power of evolution, barring perhaps an as-yet-unexplained example here and there from the ID camp, it seems to follow that the posterior probability of ID is low, too. From Bayes’ equation, it follows, that the total probability of ID is low. ID supporters have to provide an argument, like any other species of creationist, as to why they think the prior probability of a universal designing intelligence that wants to design and create, is high. Swinburne (2004) provides such an argument, as do Unwin and Plantinga. But they’re all mistaken if they consider such a being to be ‘simple’. For my detailed argument, see Ostrowick (2012), South African Journal of Philosophy, available on


4. That evolution is inherently a materialistic hypothesis and comes from the materialist paradigm, and is therefore anti-religious. If this were true, then Evolution would threaten religion broadly. But I do not think it is true. The specific simplified model of evolution presented does not require materialism to be true. It’s agnostic towards metaphysics. If angels were capable of genetic mutations, they’d evolve. Thus, if evolution is one possible answer to the problem of natural evils, and if evolution does not contradict Deism, then it follows that evolution helps a theist (or specifically a Deist) to respond to the problem of natural evils.


5. I’d like to point out that the purpose of the presentation was to show that it is possible to coherently hold that God exists and that evolution is true, provided that one rejects scriptural infallibility. By self-identifying as a creationist, as two audience members seemed to do, one is presuming the truth of something and then afterwards interpreting the evidence in the light of that. 


One audience member suggested that “we’re working from the same evidence” but just “interpreting it differently” based on our “prior assumptions”. I am not certain that that is how science works, but I stand to be corrected. My understanding of the scientific method is that (i) one makes an observation, (ii) one draws a theory from it, and then (iii) one makes a prediction, which, if confirmed, (iv) confirms the theory. Theism, Intelligent Design, or creationism omits step (i) and starts at step (ii) - postulating a theory first, which is why it is unscientific. It starts by assuming that there’s an intelligent creator - the “theory”. If an ID supporter wants to dispute this, he has to explain why it is, then, that he thinks that intelligent purposive/teleological explanations are the only suitable ones, when less complex explanations that fit the normal scientific efficient-causal framework are available. That seems to be his starting point. 



Of course, he will then point to various examples of evolutionary oddities that are prima facie hard to explain from within evolutionary theory, without reference to an intelligent designer. All I can say in response is that this seems to require that we assume that they’re inexplicable, ipso facto, without a designer, that they are, ipso facto, purposive, and that ipso facto, science will never ever be able to explain them sans a designer, using a purely efficient-causal model like evolution. All three of these assumptions are false, and the latter, that “we will never find a mechanistic explanation” for how certain miraculously complex things eventuated, is another inductive assumption, prone to fallacy of affirming the consequent, like any induction. In this latter case, one is arguing from Bayesian probability and saying, it seems prima facie improbable, for example, that the eye could have evolved, and was not created. My response is that it depends on one’s intuitions, and these derive from one’s assumptions. So, if one assumes, ipso facto, that God exists, one will no doubt see his design in things. And if one assumes, ipso facto, that he doesn’t exist, one will no doubt see the “design” as explicable, at some stage, by a mere mechanism. 




So I acknowledge that my interlocutor was right about how our prior commitments lead us to assume different types of explanation. However, I disagree on the notion that these prior commitments must assume intentional design prima facie, or that it is the preferable explanation, and that we will never find a mechanistic explanation, for evolutionary oddities, or that a materialistic presumption is somehow ruled out prima facie. To be charitable, one must see which explanation best predicts the type of thing one is seeing. 




In one case, one explanation would be that God wanted bacteria to have flagella, and designed them meticulously. In the other case, one would say that some virus injected a cell, and the cell erroneously copied the DNA and produced instead a motile flagellum-bearing cell rather than another virus with an injector. Which of these explanations seems prima facie more probable? It strikes me that saying “God did it” in this case is really bringing up further questions, like, “Why did he want to do that?”, whereas the materialist explanation seems to bring up no further questions, just as one would not ask “why did the dice land on a double-six?” - They just did. The trick here is that "Why" is ambiguous. It can mean "For what goal or purpose?" and it can mean "Due to what previous cause?". It is this intuitive difference in the style of explanation one accepts that leads one to prefer ID or evolution.




6. That genetic mutations always destroy or remove information. This was a bald assertion, and is demonstrably false. As pointed out, certain genetic diseases exist because of the addition of codons, and meiosis involves the merging of two sets of DNA, and meiosis is one of the mechanisms of mutuation - indeed, probably the main mechanism. Hence evolution can occur because of adding, removing or changing quantities of DNA codons or information, provided that the changes have some effect as to the animal’s fitness for survival.




7. That natural evils are not evil, because no free-will or evil choices are made by animals. This observation is probably correct, however, animals are subjects of morality, in that they have moral worth. So their suffering is morally significant. Therefore, if they are subjected to wanton cruelty or other futile forms of suffering, they are morally significant as sufferers, and hence, as subjects of some ethical concerns. One such ethical concern might be the question as to why God allows them to suffer. The quickest and strongest response, in my view, is that it is so they can evolve into better creatures. No other response will suffice. My interlocutor at this point suggested that that is a bad argument, and I agree, but since I am, as it were, playing “God’s advocate”, I must stop there and not explore further lest I find the answer inadequate to support theism. The point I was making was it seems, prima facie, that theism and evolution are not incompatible, and that evolution might help theism. That’s all. Again, for reasons of time limits, it’s not practical to go into too much detail about whether an argument is really good or not.




8. The purpose of the talk was primarily to reassure theists that it’s not necessarily the case that evolution is a threat to theism. You have to first demonstrate that it is a threat, and I believe that I have shown that evolution is not necessarily a threat, particularly if the theist opts for Deism. This means that arguments such as ID which assume that evolution is a threat, are starting from false assumptions (that ‘designed-looking’ things can’t appear by accident), and hence, their entire argument becomes a moot point (whether evolution occurs). If evolution supports theism, as I argued above, then it follows that everything that has evolved might also have been intentionally pre-designed to do so by God, and allowed to manifest through evolution. Etc. So my point is that an argument can be made for the compatibility of evolution and God, and that theists are barking up the wrong tree by attacking evolution; they should be attacking neuropsychology. 




9. As for designed-looking things appearing spontaneously, I mentioned the clock experiment in which a mathematician showed that random clock parts can and will spontaneously evolve into working clocks, given just the requirement that non-working clocks ‘die out’. Moreover, chaos theory shows that certain convergence points of statistical randomness, called ‘strange attractors’, exist. Just this fact alone is sufficient to explain a large proportion of the apparent order that we see in the universe. Indeed, whorls like galaxy shapes or flowers follow from fractal mathematics. Likewise, crystals are organised and structured in a manner that looks like intentional artifice, but quantum mechanics explains it away. Design, then, could just be an illusion. So to assume design instead of evolution is an assumption. It is stronger to argue instead that God just created the laws of evolution.




10. That evolution is a tautology, and predictions from it derive from a mere tautology. I am not sure that this is a criticism. Many tautologies are useful, e.g. I saw three tigers enter my forest, and now I see two leaving (3-2=1). That tells me I ought to watch out. I go to the shop and buy something and pay $5, and the item I bought had a price tag of $3. I get $1 change. That tells me something: that I’ve been short-changed (5-3=2). So tautologies are not necessarily bad. As for whether evolution is a tautology (“Things survive because they’re fit to survive”) - that’s neither here nor there regarding my argument. My argument was that it’s apparently coherent with the theory of evolution to be a deist, and that evolution may help answer the problem of natural evils. What exactly the theory of evolution says, and how its logic is structured, doesn’t really matter for my argument. Moreover, I don’t think evolution has the logical structure of a formal tautology. I think it has the logical structure of a predictive model, ie “Things will probably survive if they have a feature which will probably lead them to survive”. This is not virtus dormitiva, it’s statistics. Moreover, the claim is more like this: “Things will probably live long enough to breed if they have a feature which will probably lead them to survive”. Since it’s a probabilistic argument, it means that it’s Bayesian, and hence, bidirectionally implicative, or inductive. That means that it cannot, by definition, be a tautology.


11. That we might just not know God’s plans for evil, and that is the better response to the problem of evil. I address this criticism in my PhD research. The reply, briefly, is that this argument, called Skeptical Theism or Appeal to Omniscience, is simply that if we cannot claim to know why God allows evil, we cannot appeal to theodicy, which relies on providing an exact answer as to why God allows evil. IE you can either appeal to skepticism as to our ability to understand God’s purposes, OR you can appeal to a theodicy such as free-will, but not both. If you appeal to skepticism, moreover, you lose the claim to know that God wanted to create the universe and did do so for good purposes. So skeptical theism actually costs you too much in the end; it costs you theodicy and cosmology, which are the strongest theistic arguments.


12. That I have not acknowledged how other religions cope with things such as evolution or the problem of evil. Hinduism, in particular, has replies to these. My reply was yes, I acknowledge that, but I am primarily addressing Abrahamic religions as they seem to be the ones complaining about evolution,

Monday, 10 September 2012

Friday, 7 September 2012

'the secret' debunked

The chief problem is that if you attract what happens in your life, and that is the exclusive explanation of your life (like the Karma doctrine), then it means that no matter how bad something is (e.g. rape, murder, etc., - it means YOU DESERVED IT and WANTED IT). That's called 'blaming the victim'.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Diet fads

I'm often fascinated by how people obsess about diet and follow all the latest fads without question. I consider it a sign of stupidity. For a while, there was the Atkins diet, for example. But Atkins died. I'm pretty sure it's because of his eating plan. Now again, recently, the high-protein diet fad has re-emerged (it went to ground for a while), and again, people are shovelling in the meat and being told by doctors, to not take starch. I consider this horribly irresponsible and stupid for a number of reasons.

(1) Ethical. Meat is murder, especially the more conscious or intelligent the animal. If you think about it, Westerners are leery about eating dogs and dolphins. Why? Because they're intelligent. But they don't think much of cows, chickens or fish - because they're not intelligent. This is my intuitive understanding of our superstitions about which animals we eat. On the other hand, pigs are as intelligent as dogs, so we technically should be reluctant to eat pigs, too. But we're not. So I think, really, that it's got to do with tradition. Outside of Judaism, in the West, eating pigs is traditionally acceptable, so we do it. If we look at various cultures, they have different types of animals that they consider acceptable to eat. Indeed, some cultures consider eating humans to not be 'disgusting'. So I think there actually is no dietary truth here. The recommendation I'd like to suggest is that we base our meat-eating practice not on tradition, but that we reject our existing traditions, and ask just how sentient the animal is. I'd like to suggest that sentience is an increasing curve, and that within any particular order of animals (mammalia, reptilia, gastropoda, insecta, arachnida, crustacea, aves, etc.) that there is a grade of intelligence, and that we should avoid eating creatures on the higher-end of the intelligence scale PER ORDER, simply because they are more sentient, and therefore capable of greater suffering. This means, for example, that squid and octopus are forbidden, because they're actually very intelligent, whereas, for example, bugs might not be forbidden, because they're almost automata. In mammalia, no chimps, monkeys, dogs, etc., but maybe buck or anything dumber than that. What makes mammalia tricky is that smaller animals like mice and rats seem to be very intelligent compared to much larger things like sheep, so it is hard to tell whether they really are stupider or not. I'm contemplating giving up eating mammalia altogether because of this problem. Broadly speaking, I'd say that the orders of intelligence are probably something like this: insecta/arthropoda/arachnida/crustacea (dumbest), gastropoda, pisces, amphibia, reptilia, aves, mammalia. IE evolutionary age gives a rough indication of intelligence, with more recent phyla being more intelligent.

(2) Environmental. The more you encourage people to eat meat, the more rainforest etc., has to be levelled to make cattle farms. Then their flatulence attacks the ozone layer and contributes further to global warming. So that, at least, is a scientific reason why not to eat meat. 

(3) Dietary arguments. Some writers claim that eating meat promotes a variety of ailments or dangers to health, e.g. claiming that it might promote cancer or whatever. These arguments often also take the form of claiming that our dentition or intestines are not like those of carnivores, and therefore, that we are not "meant" to eat meat. I have two responses to this. Firstly, it's a naturalist fallacy: that whatever nature 'designed' is how things are "meant" to be. Moreover, it's teleological, which is unscientific. That's why I've put quotes around "meant" and "Designed".

I can give a few examples of phenomena that seem to be natural functions, and point out how humans violate them. Consider excretion. Consider how that is a natural function. Now consider how some subcultures, e.g. homosexuals or certain fetishists, make use of those functions. Are we to prohibit such persons from practicing their lifestyles because it's putatively 'unnatural'? I do not think so. Piercing your ears is unnatural. Driving a car is unnatural, and causes lots of deaths.

Another example of this kind of thing follows. Chimps are genetically very close to us (98-99%). Yet they've been known to hunt with spears, and are omnivorous, as are baboons. So we could argue that since in nature, chimps are omnivorous, so should we be. Moreover, ancient palaeontological evidence shows that humans practiced carnivory probably before they could speak, so it follows, if we accept the argument from 'nature is right', that we ought to eat meat. But this is just another naturalist fallacy.

Comparitive anatomy is a bad argument. The 'dentition' argument, for example, strikes me as particularly fallacious since gorrillas are vegan and have the same dentition as us (but massive canines), which suggests, if canines are for eating meat, that they ought to be meat eaters. Likewise, ruminants lack top front teeth except molars and have four stomachs, so if we were meant to be plant eaters, I could argue, we should have four stomachs and no top front teeth. So the gut structure/dentition argument is fallacious or tenuous at best. One might as well say, well, our legs are very different to a leopard's, and leopards climb trees, therefore we ought to not climb trees. That kind of comparitive argument is nonsense. Chimps also don't fly planes, so we ought to not fly planes, too, then. The problem with the naturalist fallacy is it assumes the truth of the design hypothesis - that we are designed. We are not designed. We are the accidental products of a process of evolution in which our bodily features either helped us reproduce, or did not prevent us reproducing. In cases where a bodily feature prevented a creature from reproducing, that creature went extinct. Therefore, since humans have been omnivorous since the start of recorded time, it follows that omnivory is irrelevant to our survival as a species, and that our bodies are “designed" to cope with omnivory. Gut length, dentition, etc., is an accident of nature and genetics, which doesn't dictate what we "should" or "shouldn't" do; our dentition and gut dictates merely what is more or less efficient for our bodies to process as a food source. Some food sources are better than others. For example, we can't eat paper, but termites and cows, technically speaking, can, because they have bacteria in their guts which can digest cellulose, which is an isomer of sugar. We don't. So paper isn't a good food source for us. That's the only kind of relevance our gut and dentition structure has. I mean, my molars are good at crushing sweets; does that mean I must eat only sweets? Our wrists are "designed" for brachiation. That seems to imply that we should swing through the trees rather than walk. That is obvious nonsense.

Humans are a mish-mash of features that have resulted from evolution. The fact that we still exist, six million years after splitting from the chimps, shows that omnivory is not harmful to us as a species, or unnatural. It shows, in fact, that omnivory is correct for us, since we still exist. Only if omnivory drove us towards extinction (i.e. the world population started drastically decreasing), should we start to reconsider the scientific merits of the practice.

I think the only kind of argument from dietary appropriateness would follow from a scientific study of the effects of percentages of meat consumption, and I'm sure such studies have been done. Here's my requirement for a legitimate study. Put 1000 people or more on four different diets (Western - the control -and Atkins, Vegetarian, and Vegan - the experimental diets). Then see what their health is like after a year. So, if, for example, it was found that a mostly-meat diet correlated highly with bowel cancer, then we could conclude that a lower quantity should be consumed. If we noticed that only people on the Western diet got obese, we would know that that correlated with obesity. What needs to actually be established, scientifically, is what the actual required daily amounts are for all forms of foods (and note: protein does not mean 'meat', it means nitrated organic compounds). For example, most people take vitamin supplements, on the assumption that it's necessary. It is not. Unless you have scurvy or another vitamin-deficiency related disease, you have no reason whatsoever to take extra vitamins: you're just making, as I heard a doctor put it, "expensive pee".

It is for these considerations above that I consider the ethical and environmental arguments to be much stronger than dietary arguments for reducing meat consumption.

(4) In my view, I am convinced of only one thing relating to meat consumption and health. Some varieties of arthritis and kidney stones are caused by buildups of uric acid crystals, which are byproducts of protein digestion. It seems to me that adults should therefore simply reduce their protein intake from ALL sources. There are also plenty of plant proteins that do not suffer from the above problems (1-3). Lentils, gluten and soya being obvious examples, but there's no proof either way whether they would also cause buildups of uric acid if eaten in excess.