Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Refutation of the Argument From Design

The following is my short refutation of the Argument for God, from Design:

The Argument from Design purports to show that God exists by showing that only he could have designed the universe (or some part of the universe.) So, what does "design" mean? The relevant definition here would be: "conceived in a mind [God's mind] and intentionally implemented in reality." So the concept of "design" requires the existence of a mind (conceptual faculty) to conceive the idea for the object(s). Further, in order to do anything, the mind must have an intention or purpose. A "purpose" is a goal of a conceptual consciousness; the value for which it acts. Take careful note of the meanings of these concepts in reality and their relationships to each other; it is these concepts on which the Argument from Design rests.

The refutation of the Argument from Design is to observe what is actually required to infer design in an object and to show that this cannot be done with "God." To infer design from an object: a) You must already know of some type of purposeful entity (based on other evidence) whose goals could potentially be served by the object. b1) Further, you must be able to observe some sort of purposeful function for the object as a whole (the object is a means to a goal beyond itself, whether practical or artistic.) OR: b2) You must be able to find evidence of a method of purposeful manufacture that is already known as such by other evidence. c) In order to observe that (b1) or (b2) is true, you must be able to contrast the purposeful nature of the construction of the object in question with something else that was not manufactured and has not been altered for a purpose.

The argument from design is capable of producing evidence of human-like aliens from observations of human-like alien artifacts, since human goals could potentially be fulfilled by such artifacts. But because of (a), the argument from design can't apply to an immortal and radically different creature, whose alleged goals we cannot fathom. We have no basis for thinking that living beings have any purpose beyond themselves. They grow, metabolize, reproduce, and die in an endless cycle. The forms evolve over time, but to no clear goal beyond their own continuance and survival. Of what possible value could a succession of mortal humans be to an ultra-powerful, immortal, unchanging being? There's no basis even for speculation, because there's no basis even to consider it possible for an immortal, unchanging being to have values. (This supposition is arbitrary.)

The only known reference we have for purposes, and the relationship of designer to designed object, is humans and their creations. Indeed, the very concepts of "purpose", "goal" and "value" only have meaning in reference to temporal, living entities that face an alternative between life and death. Goals and values are what living entities pursue in order to keep themselves alive, growing, flourishing, as opposed to deteriorating, suffering, dying. The concept of "purpose" is the same as "goal," except that "purpose" involves the conceptual consciousness of a living being that is intent on the goal.

Thus, to say that an immortal and unchanging being has a "purpose" is literally meaningless; it defies the actual basis of the concept. Therefore a "design" by such an entity is meaningless and impossible to hypothesize.

In other words, whenever anyone talks about "God's design" or "God's purposes," they are literally not making sense. The only way such phrases can be made comprehensible at all is by anthropomorphizing this alleged God into a mortal, very powerful human. (For more on the nature of concepts and values, I refer the reader to Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Exp. 2nd Ed. and The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand, and to Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality by Tara Smith)


Related Posts:

Link Highlight: Introduction to Objectivism Playlist

The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

The Quran Promotes Violence Against Non-Muslims

The Axioms of Objectivism

Proceeding from Axioms in Objectivism -- YouTube Edition

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fossil Fuels and Environment: McKibben vs. Epstein, Full Debate

On November 5th at Duke university, renowned environmentalist and AGW proponent, Bill McKibben debated Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress, on the effect that fossil fuels have on the human environment. Bill McKibben took the position that fossil fuels were harmful and an immediate threat to the human environment, while Alex Epstein took the position that fossil fuels continue to improve the environment we live in.

 Here is the YouTube video of the full debate:

 Here is a debate highlight from the question period: What does Bill McKibben really advocate?

Another highlight: Are affordable fossil fuels a "market failure"? 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bernie Madoff: Not Rationally Selfish, But Self-Destructive

Bernie Madoff is sometimes held up by critics of Ayn Rand's ethics as a poster boy for the evil of self-interest. But far from being an example of Ayn Rand's ethics, Madoff is a type of person that Ayn Rand explicitly condemned, because he undertook an irrational--and therefore self-destructive--scheme.

Self-interest, for Ayn Rand, does not equate to simple monetary gain, or the pleasures of any given moment. Self-interest is defined by achievement of a deeply happy life over as many years as possible. Ayn Rand recognized that it is impossible to build long-term happiness by theft or fraud. One's long-term happiness can only be based on the production of life-sustaining/enhancing values, along with honest dealings with oneself and others.

Do you think Bernie Madoff is happy now, in prison? What about while he was running his scheme? This interview should give you a sense of how much he enjoyed himself while defrauding other people:

Does this sound like a man determined to pursue his own happiness and live his life to the fullest? What must it mean for Madoff to be happier in prison, when he has no freedom and no control over his own life, than during his con? His primary emotion while in the middle of the con scheme was fear, which indicates that he sensed his life was out of control. His lies were constantly threatening to catch up with him, and it was just a matter of time before something slipped and he was caught.

Even under the best case scenario he could have hoped for, where he had escaped to a foreign country that would not extradite him, he still would not have been happy. Everyone would find out about his fraud, and he would never be able to come back to the US. He would be despised by good, honest people everywhere, so if he wanted to have relationships with such people, he would have to manufacture more lies to keep his identity secret. No one could be allowed to know who he was; no one could be allowed to get to know him intimately. If people didn't find out who he was, he would be isolated and lonely, living a lie. If they did find out, he would be isolated from honest people by their contempt for him and fear of his dishonest schemes. Either way, he would end up lonely, or surrounded by scum.

Under this scenario, he would still live with the fear of being identified, or, if he lived openly, with the fear that the country in which he lived would change its extradition policy or make an exception in his case.

A country that would not extradite a fraudster to the US is not friendly to the US, and so is probably not going to be a very free or prosperous country. Also, no honest employer would want to hire him, and the whole alleged point of his scheme was to be able to live without honest work. He wouldn't be able to travel freely and enjoy seeing the world, since every time he traveled, he would have a very well-founded fear of being caught by agents of the US or its allies. So, under this scenario, Madoff would likely be trapped in a poor, statist, corrupt country--far from an ideal place to live--with no ambition, no freedom of travel, no intimate friends, no challenging, satisfying, productive job, and a constant, nagging fear. He would end up a lonely, drunken wastrel, escaping his pain and fear by spending the ill-gotten money on booze. Any sex would be meaningless sex with sluts/prostitutes, or fraudulent sex with some woman he duped (for a while).

Again, I stress: This was the (allegedly) best scenario he could have hoped for; i.e. the scenario where he "got away with it" and wasn't caught.

As Ayn Rand recognized, any man who wages war with reality will lose. Attempting to live without a productive pursuit and without respect for the truth is irrational, and will result in long-term pain, fear and despair, because such an attempt contradicts facts about fundamental human nature. By attempting to perpetrate fraud, someone like Madoff puts himself in conflict with his own basic nature and needs as a human being, and with the rational self-interest of every human being on the planet who comes into contact with him. 

To quote Ayn Rand, "There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery [or fraud]. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level."

To live long, fulfilled, happy lives, human beings need to live by their minds, pursuing rational values by means of the virtues of independence, honesty, productiveness, integrity, justice and pride. They also need to respect the individual rights of other people. Without adherence to these principles, any "self-interested" action is a blind, futile flailing in the dark that will lead to self-destructive consequences of one sort or another.

This is why the heroes of Ayn Rand's novels are ruthlessly honest, relentlessly productive, and concerned with earning their own way through life. Unlike Bernie Madoff, they know what is really in their long-term self-interest.

Here is a link to "selfishness" in the Ayn Rand Lexicon: "Selfishness."

For those who don't have backgrounds in philosophy, but want to learn more about Ayn Rand's moral code, I recommend reading The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle. For those who are more philosophically oriented, I also recommend Viable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Dr. Tara Smith.


 Related Posts:

 The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

 What Caused the Financial Crisis: It Wasn't Capitalism or Deregulation

 Related Links:

 "The Unselfish Bernie Madoff" (Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights)